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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

WADING IN DEEP WATER

"On a dark theme I trace verses full of light, touching
all the Muses' charm." Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus) 99 - 55 B.C.
"De Rirum Natura - On the Nature of Things) book l518

I'm struggling these days, wading through deep water as I try to unravel the complexities of the political events plaguing Athens/Macedonia in 318 BC . So many of the events are similar to current times and of course there are the usual complex sub-plots and intrigues that all weave together to pattern the eventual downfall of Alexander the Great's dynasty. My job as a writer of historical fiction is to untangle this mess of intrigue and clarify it for the reader to understand. It's a crucial part of my novel, the peak of the mountain so to speak, before the final slide down to the ultimate ending. How to do it? What to include and what to leave out?
And because I'm writing from the actual historial plot I can't make things up -- must try to stick as closely to what has been documented as possible.

Some of the events I've put in direct action; some are conveyed in dialogue; some in narration.
Included is a certain amount of foreshadowing. And interspersed is a bit of lightness, some romantic interludes (though even that is part of the intrigue -- a 'fictional' touch to add interest.)

I felt very discouraged the other night when I workshopped my recent chapter segements at my weekly critque group, mainly because there are several new members in the group who have no idea whatsoever about the story and can't be expected to understand the complexities of it when they have just arrived at page 1200 something. (Yes, I know I have to do massive cuttings later on but for now I must write it all out to the end!). I feel really frustrated at the moment, though I'm sure I'll work through this. It's like wading in deep water and sometimes I feel like I'm going in over my head, so I have to take my time with it, take each step carefully to make sure I don't loose my footing and sink. I'm so close to finishing this novel, which has taken me literally YEARS to write, and I am anxious to get through it. At the same time, I don't want to rush, to cut unnecessarily in case it is something crucial, (I'd rather leave the cutting til the end instead of going back to add.)

Meanwhile, as well as the novel I have other writing to get done -- my bread-and-butter writing. That is, travel stories. (Another frustration: I just had a very good story of mine which the editor liked and wanted to publish, turned down because she didn't like the quality of my photos! This story had been previouslypublished and that editor had no problem with the photos. However it seems now they want high quality digitals so I guess I better ditch my Pentax and invest in a new camera.) I'm working on the first draft of an article right now so I'm trying to balance my writing time between fact and fiction. Fortunately this week I am not working days so I have the time to write. Of course, every evening I am either at a writer's group or teaching writing classes at night school.

One thing I am happy about are the classes, and in particular the private workshop I started at home with members from my previous classes is going very well. It's a small group so there is lots of time for a bit of instruction, discussion and thorough critiquing. And, I have another editing job which is good experience.

I'm sure I'll get through this rough patch of my novel, but at the moment (since the workshop critiques) I've felt discouraged and it makes me wonder if I'll ever get through it.
I guess what I need is someone I can talk to about it as sometimes just talking it through helps clear the path, but unfortunately at my workshop group no time is allowed for explanations or discussions, one reason why I left there this week feeling very frustrated and wondering if it's worth reading it again. Oh, I know I'll get over it. Maybe it's just the mood I'm in. Maybe I've just been too busy with other things to let the Muse speak.

" I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er."
William Shakespeare 1564-1616 "Macbeth" III iv 136

Friday, April 21, 2006

READING ON BUSES

"Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man."
Francis Bacon 1561-1626 "Of Studies"

I always seem to be so busy when I'm at home, usually working on my own writing or research, that I have little time for pleasure reading. Consequently, I'm embarassingly behind in my TBR list. For one thing, I am fairly selective about what I read because of the shortage of time to do it. Usually I read historical fiction, because that's the genre I write, but occasionally if a really good book comes along that grabs my interest, I'll read other literature. (I have rarely ever read romances, never sci-fi, occasionally I like true-life crime stories -- used to love reading Mickey Spillane once-upon-a-time, almost never read mysteries or anything with too much violence, though I did enjoy Silence of the Lambs. I should read more travel journals and memoirs because I write and teach those subjects.)

The other week I went out and bought two books, one to use in my classes titled The Playful Way to Serious Writing by Roberta Allen, which has some useful ideas to use in my "Prompting the Muse" class.

The other, a historical novel that caught my eye because I'm interested in the subject: Rasputin's Daughter by Robert Alexander. I was going to start reading it as soon as I finished Scott Oden's
Men of Bronze which I had nearly finished before I got interrupted by my Malaysian trip. (Sorry it's taken me so long, Scott!) But then I had a meeting with a former writing student and she presented me with another book that had great appeal. A couple of years ago this same student had turned me on to the writing of a Czech author named Josef Skvorecky who happens to live in Canada now. The first book she loaned me was titled A Swell Season and was an amusing and often poignent collection of stories of the writer's life as a young college student in his small Czech town. I loved this book and always intended to look for more of Mr Skvorecky's work. So I was delighted then my friend loaned me another of his collection of memoirs titled When Eve Was Naked.

I am totally entranced by Mr. Skvorecky's work. Once I begin to read I can't stop. I carry the book with me wherever I go so that if there is one spare moment I can go back to it.
And this week, since I've been working at the daycare by day and bussing it to night school by night I have been reading on the buses, which seems always for me to be the best place to get any serious reading done. I can totally absorb myself in the stories and obliterate all the worldly nonsense going on around me. (I must add here that some of the bus lines I must take to get to my destinations are often the buses that fill up with less-desirable types of passengers). Thus, all week long I have been devouring Mr. Skvorecky's wonderful stories, and I don't want them to end. So I will immediately go hunting down some of his other titles when this one is finished.

Josef Skvorecky was born in the Czech Republic in 1924. He lived through both the German /Nazi and the Russian/Communist occupations of his country and eventually came to live in Canada. He has won many awards for his literature both in his own country and in Canada including the Governor General's Award in 1984 and a Nobel Prize nomination in 1982.
I think at this moment he has become my most favorite writer!

Meanwhile, in this busy life of mine, I have been attempting to write something every day. I did get some work done on my novel and have begun putting together details for one of my Malaysia travel stories. I learned when I returned from my trip that one of my travel articles on the famous O'Keefe Ranch near Vernon B.C. has been published and today I got a response from another newspaper who is intersted in my "Coalpits of Wales" story. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one! It's a tribute to my Welsh coal-mining kinfolk).

So good things are happening in my literary world. Classes are dynamic and inspiring. And I've even had some shifts at the daycare this week and next. After all those months of drought it's great to have a bank account again!

I just wish I had more time when I'm at home to read more often. I'm not one to read in bed. Once I get there, which is generally very late, I am ready for sleep. And during my waking hours if I'm home, I'm at the keyboard writing or at the kitchen table making notes. So this week of bus travel has got me off to a good start with my reading program again.
I wonder when other writers make time for their pleasure reading?

"There is craetive reading as well as creative writing."
Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882 "The American Scholar" 1837

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

CHASING DOWN THE MUSE

"Love passed, the muse appeared, the weather
of mind got clarity newfound:
Now free, I once more weave together
emotion, thought, and magic sound."
Alexander Pushkin 1799-1837 "Eurgene Onegin" 1823 st. 29

My life has been rather hectic lately. First that marvelous, serene trip to Paradise (Malaysia), then the big come-down of landing back in reality plus the jet-lag and a very naughty bird who drove me stark raving mad last week (to the point I really thought of opening the window to let him fly away out of my life!) I resorted to bird psychology and advice from the experts on cockatiel behavior and so far the new tactics seems to be working. (Poor birdie was traumatized because I'd left him with strangers and he punished me by being as shrill and annoying as possible.) On top of this I had to quickly organize all the handout material for my nightschool classes which begin this week and rush it off to the VSB office 2 weeks late!

So by Friday I was ready for a stress break and, as Maurice Sendak wrote in his kid's book "Where the Wild Things Are" "Let the wild rumpus begin!" It started with 'Beers with Peers'
at the Sylvia Hotel, a gathering of some travel writer associates, and then I progressed to making my debut appearance at the Latin Quarter showing off my gorgeous new blue Indian top and gleaning many compliments. The next day I went with two friends to the Cottage Bistro to hear my son's band play Blues. Several jugs of suds later I toddled off again to the L.Q., imbibed a couple of ouzos and somehow eventually made it home. Of course, that pretty well took care of Sunday, but still it was worth it!

By Monday Mr. Cheeky had begun to behave much better with a little more cage time and treats (I didn't want to 'jail' him for punishment as he needs to learn he belongs inside the cage at times instead of pestering his mommy.) I've also been able to put him outside for awhile so he's getting used to communicating with other birds. (He thinks he's a person!)

Monday night was my weeky writer's critique group here. And yesterday was the first night of the private workshop which I've started with some people from my classes. It was very successful and has proved profitable as well. (I did this in lieu of teaching travel writing as the School Board wanted me to cut down one class this Spring.)

Yesterday at noon I attended a media event sponsored by Finland Tourism which included a very interesting gallery exhibit and lecture on Finnish Architecture and Design. I have a friend who is an architect in Helsinki, and two other Finnish friends, all Classical Scholars who I met in Greece and who have been so much help with my research. After the gallery show we were treated to a delicious luncheon at a nearby classy hotel. (I'm getting spoiled with these classy hotel events!) Meanwhile, one of the travel writers who attended, the edtior of a small local newspaper, handed me a cheque for an article of mine she had just published. That really made my day!

Later last night I had an email from someone who wants me to edit their novel so that's another bonus. Of course I will have to pace my time because I have so much work to do between writing up the Malaysia stories, working on the back-log of travel material I already have, and progressing with my novel plus teaching classes. So today I began to work on my projects. And thank the Lord birdie is being exceptionally good (so quiet I thought he was ill!). Now is the time for some serious discipline on my part too, otherwise I'll never get things done and will end up in a dither.

Tonight is the Prompting the Muse class. We're going to plot back-stories from paintings. Tomorrow morning is Memoirs and tomorrow night is Travel Writing. Thank goodness it's a long weekend coming up (Easter) so I will try to stay on target and get things at least something started.

Having kept the blogs while I was away is helpful as I write them in a way I can use some of the material in the travel articles. And I'm working on putting together my photo scrap-book with lots of information added for my research. I also have a collection of slides as I've been asked to present a slide show on Malaysia in June. Ah...the busy life of a writer!

"One should write not unskillfully in the running hand, be able to sing in a pleasing voice and keep good time to music; and, lastly, a man should not refuse a little wine when it is pressed upon him." Yoshido Kinko 1283-1350 "T surezure-Gusa: Essays in Idleness" c 1340

Friday, April 07, 2006

BACK FROM WONDERLAND!

"Child of the pure, unclouded brow
And dreaming eyes of wonder!
Though time be fleet and I and thou
Are half a life asunder,
Thy loving smile will surely hail
The love-gift of a fairy tale."
Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) 1832-1898 "Through the Looking Glass" intro. st 1 1872

Yes, back from "Wonderland" with a thud! The culture-shock: the speedy, stressed-out pace on this side of the Pond; the still-gloomy weather; everything and everyone looking dark and dismal. Not to speak of the the jet-lag!

But, slowly this week I've 'recovered'. It's been hectic though, as I had to immediately start preparing stuff for my night-school classes which begin next week, as well as adjusting myself to this more hectic life-style. And my body-clock has been running 16 hours ahead and at quite a more leisurely pace.

It was the most wonderful holiday. If you haven't already read the travel blogs, you can find them at http://travelthoughhistory.blogspot.com Yesterday I got all the photos and slides back and was so pleased to see how well they had turned out. I have to do a slide show in June for "The Armchair Traveller" so I was worried that the old camera I was using wasn't functioning properly. But it was! Here I was, a travel journalist on an 'assignment' trip and when I arrived in Malaysia I discovered my good camera was not working at all. So I had to rely on throw-aways and took slides with my old camera. (Luckily I had taken both!)

Now comes the job of sorting through my notes and taped interviews and writing up the stories. My head has been so boggled this week I wondered if I could get started. But suddenly yesterday the 'lead' for a story about Kuala Lumpur came to mind and I wrote it all down. It's a start.

I've tried to keep writing all week in spite of jet-lag and being discombobulated and dealing with a very naughty bird. (Read my blog on "Bird Psychology" at http://ruthakik.blogspot.com ) Such a distraction I didn't need this week! But hopefully I have it all sorted out now. (Practicing some bird behavior-mod techniques).

By next week I'm sure all will be back on track. The novel is waiting for me to return. And there's certainly lots of travel writing to be done. I have a full schedule of writing groups and classes to attend starting on Monday and the social life has already gotten into full-swing.
My Havana Buddy invited me to a concert last Tuesday at the Centre for Performing Arts to see the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and tonight it's "Beers with Peers" with the Travel Writers. Never a dull moment in my writer's life!

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax -
Of cabbages and kings -
And why the sea is boiling hot -
And whether pigs have wings."
Lewis Carroll "The Walrus and the Carpenter" st.11