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Saturday, August 26, 2006

WHERE DO YOU WRITE?

"A man may write at any time if he will set himself doggedly to it."
Samuel Johnson 1709-1784 From James Boswell, Life of Johnson March 1750

We had a discussion the other night of the places where people situate themselves to write. One woman told of an Irish writer (female) who only likes to write in bed. A lot of famous writers like Scott Fitzgerald and Dylan Thomas used to write in pubs. The "Harry Potter" series was created in a coffee shop. Other writers retreat to solitary places. Where do you write?

I generally prefer to write notes by hand before working at the computer. I sit at the kitchen table and go through research and then make notes for my new chapter segments. Then I retire to my bedroom where my computer is set up, surrounded by a lot of memorabalia of Greece that offers me inspiration (pictures, nick-nacks and other stuff). Some of my initial notes are often made spontaneously while I'm walking, perhaps on the sea wall, or at the beach, and once in awhile at my favorite coffee shop on the Drive. When I was working on my play "The Street" because it had Italian characters in it, The Calabria coffee shop was very conducive to setting a mood as they always play Italian music there and the place is decorated with Italian kitch with photos of famous Italians (movie stars, singers, musicians, dancers) on the walls.

When I travel I don't take a lap-top. I do have a palm pilot but when I decided to use it instead of my word processor, I ended up forgetting to keep the battery charged and lost all my work. So the tried-and-true method of notes is the best policy for me. I also keep daily journals, especially when travelling, for these are invaluable reference tools. I have often written copious scenes and notes for my writing while sitting on the beach, or at a sea-side taverna, or just resting by the wayside.

Where to you prefer to write? What environment inspires you? Do you make notes first or just write cold in front of an empty computer screen? Does anyone still use a manual typewriter? (I've saved my red portable Brother for a souvenier of those days I used to have it set up on the wide stone window sill of my shepherd's cottage in Greece when I was writing away in the village. Those were happy times. Productive too. Frankly I find the computer can be quite a distraction even though it's quicker for making edits and changes.)

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance.
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance,
'Tis not enough so harshness gives offense
The sound must seem an echo to the sense."
Alexander Pope 1688- 1744

Monday, August 21, 2006

HIDDEN SURPRISES AND DRAGONS IN THE SKY!

"If great help comes from on high, this increased strength must be used to achieve something great for what he might otherwise never have found energy, or readiness to take responsibility. Great good fortune is produced by selflessness, and in bringing about great good fortune you remain free of reproach." Hexegram 42 I Ching "Increase"

Something tells me the Muse is having a hand in this move. I had been longing for the inspiration of my classical scholar friends as I struggle to finish "Shadow of the lion" and now I'm in daily contact with one of them, my friend in Norway who is herself working on her doctorate. This past week I've had so many inspiring things happen, including emails from three historical novelists, one of whom was a sort of mentor of mine several years ago who I had lost contact with. As a result my writing energy is in high gear. And as far as the packing is concerned, because I am thrilled about finding an excellent new place to live, I've been a whirling dervish packing/cleaning/sorting/throwing out and preparing.

Isn't it funny how things happen? This sudden move (an eviction) is day by day revealing surprises and rewards. As I pack and sort I'm uncovering hidden treasures -- some of them almost like 'signposts' to my future. Today, as I was clearing out closets and shelves I found
an assortment of important memorabalia that brought back so many memories and some that were hugely inspiring!

(1) a bag of canvases and water-color paper and paints/brushes etc. Just when I have been considering taking up the brush again!

(2) photo albums and stray bags of pictures from my first trips to Greece in '79/'80. And some more recent albums I haven't looked at in ages. It brought me right back there, among friends (some of whom have passed on now). Such a lot of reminiscing.

(3) The special journal notes I kept '799-'80 when I made those first trips first to England and then to Greece. I was in the process of developing my Celtic novel "Dragons in the Sky" at the time, and paid a visit to Stonhenge and later the iron-age hill fort near Salisbury. It was there I had my first significant deja-vus experiences regarding this story and heard Olwen's voice loud and clear. And again, when I arrived in Athens and walked into the agora, I had another significant deja-vus moment. Later at Delphi too. I had carefully recorded it all. There are poems I'd written too, and lots of observations connected to my planned novel.

I made many notes, spontaneous writing all of which are recorded in this journal. In it I am planning how to write the story and getting in touch with the characters. It's a valuable find for me as in the future I want to go back and finish that novel which I set aside in favour of writing "Shadow of the Lion". It's also a record of my early days in Greece which I want to eventually incorporate into a memoir. "Life Below the Acropolis."

In the journal I had written: "I was reading Mary Renault's "Fire from Heaven" as I was travelling (in Greece) and up til I was almost to Athens, and oddly it was approximately covering territory (geography etc) in proper sequence to my own journey. But she's such a magnificent writer and I'm intimidated to even think I could write a novel dealing with that period of time (Alexander's world). I don't know if I can do it."

Now, here it is all these years later and I am actually doing it!

Here's more notes from that journal:

"Turn to the ancient sources of whatever spiritual path you have chosen..."

"In the words and deeds of the past there lies hidden a treasure that men may use to strengthen and elevate their own characters, the way to study the past is not to confine oneself to mere knowledge of history, but through application of this knowlege, to give actuality to the past."
Hexegram 26 I Ching

I used to throw the I Ching coins and read the hexegrams regularly back then. This weekend I realized I hadn't done so for some time. It's an interesting way to find a focus and to meditate on whatever fortune the coins predict. This is the reading I got on Sunday. Once again,
"dragons" and "good fortune" .

Hexegram 1 "Ch'ien" The Creative Principle (***this hexegram is all about dragons)
1. The concealed dragon avoids action
2. The dragon is percieved in an open space
3. The superior man busies himself the whole day through and evening finds him thoroughly alert. Disaster threatens - no error!
4. Leaping about on the brink of a chasm -- no error.
5. The dragon wings across the sky. It is advantageous to visit a great man.
6. A willful dragon -- cause for regret

Nine in all six places: A brood of headless dragons -- good fortune.

(In China dragons have been regarded as a highly admirable creature of celestial origin.
Interesting, because the infamous Dragon Lady -- my current landlord -- fits more the description of the European dragon, one to be feared! -- rather ironic considering she's Chinese!)






Wednesday, August 16, 2006

DIALOGUES

"There studious let me sit, and hold high converse with the mighty dead."
James Thomson 1700-1748 "The Seaons: Winter" 1726 l 431

Dialogue has always been a strong forte of mine. Rarely do you find me speechless. I must have inherited the gift of the gab from my father who loved to get into long conversations. I recall how often he'd fail to come home when scheduled and it was usually because he was wrapped up in conversation with someone he'd met along the way.

I started writing plays when I was about 10, maybe sooner. So dialogues have always come easy to me. I'm not often shy about regaling my friends with discussions and stories, nor am I usually shy about striking up conversations with strangers on buses, trains or planes. There's always something interesting to talk about.

When writing, it's important to have your characters talk, and more importantly, to speak in their own particular voice, a distinct level of diction unique to themselves. So far in my writing I've managed this well, but occasionally it daunts me, especially when writing dialogue suitable for men's voices, and in particular the voices of Macedonian generals and Athenian senators. Most of the time I think I've 'nailed' it. At least, when men have read or listened to my novel excerpts they haven't criticised the way the men speak. So I assume that the characters are coming over as themselves, not in my own voice, but theirs. There's nothing worse than 'wooden' dialogue.

"Like a strutting player, whose conceit
Lies in his hamstring, and doth think it rich
To hear the wooden dialogue and sound
"Twixt his stretch'd footing and the scaffoldage."
William Shakespeare 1564-1616 "Troilus and Cressida" 1601-1602

I was bogged down for awhile recently writing a specific chapter segment of "Shadow of the Lion". I'm dealing with some intricate political stuff that is important as the final part of the novel hinges on these events. So I've had to read over a lot of research notes, and pay attention to the way other historical fiction authers present their character's dialogues in order to peg the exact way these men would speak when addressing Assemblies or friends. I always start a new scene by making lots of notes, and as this process unfolds, bits of dialogue come to me and paragraphs of action, setting details, descriptions etc. Then I let it gel for a few days, settle my mind, try to listen to their voices in my head. Finally, I go to work writing the scene.

The first time I wrote this new segment it was written too flat. There wasn't enough action and definitely not enough dialogue. So I've been struggling a bit with it, reviewing research and making further notes. Finally, yesterday, it all came to me and I wrote for several hours straight, seven pages in all, and when I went back later to do my edits, I was pleased to find that there was little editing to do. Here's a sample of the kind of dialogue I was writing.

The setting is an Assembly in which the Macedonian Regent, Polyperchon, is conducting a 'trial' for the military governor of Athens, Phokion, who is accused of treason. Polyperchon's rival, the second in command, Kassandros, is plotting to overturn Polyperchon and seize the Regency and control of the Greek city states. Phokion has ignored a royal edict sent to Athens by Polyperchon, allowed Nikanor the garrison commander to escape when the Athenians wanted to arrest him, and thus put himself in jeopardy, accused by his own citizens of siding with Kassandros and supporting the aristocrats who have fared well under the oligarchies imposed by the old regent Antipater. Here is a scene from the 'trial'.

The atmosphere in the Hall was hushed and solemn. The audience pressed forward eagerly, waiting for him to address them. He glanced across at Phokion who sat with his supporters in front of the dais flanked by Deinarchos and Solon. Neither of the men were visibly armed but he did not doubt that beneath their cloaks were hidden daggers. They claimed to have come ‘out of regard’ for Phokion, but undoubtedly they had been sent by Kassandros to protect him.
When questioned earlier, Deinarchos had apologized for their delay in arriving, saying he had fallen ill. Polyperchon felt certain this was a ploy to delay the Assembly. Was Kassandros sailing into Athens on this very day? He’d had no word from his son Alexandros and had to rely solely on what the delegations told him.

His feelings of unease overcame him and before anything else transpired, he ordered both men forward.
“What is your purpose here?” he commanded.

Solon, a thin man with a narrow face and thick brows that shaded his small dark eyes,
shuffled nervously. “In truth, Sir, I have come as a friend of Phokion.”
“And you?” Polyperchon scowled down at Deinarchos, a short, stout man who seemed dwarf-like beside his own height and girth.
“I too, Sir,” Deinarchos stammered. His ruddy face flushed deep crimson. “We are here to speak on Phokion‘s behalf, my Lord.”

Polyperchon asserted his disapproval of them fiercely. “You two men have been Antipater’s agents and thus owe allegiance to his son. If in truth you are lying, and have come here as spies for Kassandros, I will have you put to death as traitors!” He turned to his guards. “Take these men out and torture the truth out of them. And if they prove, as I believe is so, to be Kassandros‘ men , put them to the sword!”

There was a gasp of disbelief from the members of Phokion’s party and from Phokion himself came a cry of protest. The two men stood in frozen silence as the guards came forward to seize them. Solon’s face had gone white. Deinarchos glanced nervously around at Phokion
“They have come in good faith and friendship,” cried Phokion. “You are wrong to accuse them. They are no more traitors than I am!”

Until then he had remained aloof and silent but now, summonsed by Polyperchon to speak in his own defence, he drew himself up to his full height and stepped up to the dais like a general ready to address his troops. Instead, he was greeted by boos and cat-calls.

“Macedonians, fellow Greeks, “ he shouted. His crisp, soldier’s voice cut through those of the dissenters. “These men are loyal friends of mine. They did not coerce me to support Kassandros, but came here in good faith to show their trust in me. I appeal for justice. I need no representative to plea for my own cause. The good have no need of an advocate! These charges that are raised against me are false. I was relieved of my command by the same foreigners and rabble rousers that you allowed to return to Athens. This, Polyperchon, is one reason why I hesitated to obey the decree. I knew it would
irreparably divide the city. Because you ordered the exiles to return to claim their land, Athens would, as it is now, be plunged into civil strife. I have, as you know, been a friend of Macedon. Have I not allowed the garrison to remain at Munychia?”

His strong voice carried to the rafters. There were murmurs of admiration from his supporters which were soon overruled by jeers from the opposing democrats.
Polyperchon shouted a call to order and silenced them. He turned to the old general and gave him an accusatory stare. “You betrayed your citizens by collaborating with Nikanor, allowing him to escape.”

“I counted Nikanor as trustworthy, taking into account his family association with Aristotle,” Phokion retorted. “I had no reason to suspect him of ill-intentions. In any case, I prefer to suffer wrong rather than to inflict it. I did not arrest him because I was afraid of plunging the city into war. I am a man of good faith, sir, and known to deal fairly and I had hoped Nikanor would respect this and do no harm to the Athenians.”

Loud voices broke out among the opposition until Polyperchon’s booming voice reprimanded them. There was a complete silence as he spoke.
“You have endangered your country’s safety by doing so, Phokion, and this violates an important and sacred obligation: that is your duty toward your fellow citizens. It is not a good enough defence that, when Nikanor had betrayed you, you went to my son Alexandros to seek his help. By then Nikanor, who was clearly under Kassandros’ command, had already taken control of Pireaus so that Kassandros might sail in unhindered with his warships. You have thus failed as military commander and chief magistrate of Athens, Sir, and your acts are clearly treasonous against me, the Regent, and my country, Macedon.”

“When I learned that Nikanor had betrayed my trust I was willing to lead out the Athenians...” argued Phokion.
“Your act was too late, Phokion,” Polyperchon shot back. “You ignored the warnings of your fellow citizens and because of this you have put Athens in great peril.”
Then Agonidis, a popular orator Phokion had once saved from exile, stood to speak. He accused Phokion of hoodwinking the Athenians by withholding news at the
time of Antipater’s death; conniving to abort an attempt to seize the Macedonian garrison, and accusing him of ignoring the call to arms by the citizens.

Phokion attempted to shout him down,. He reminded Agonidis how he had negotiated a peace policy between Nikanor and the Macedonians, thus saving the city from an invasion that could have destroyed Athens as Thebes had been destroyed.
An uproar of angry Athenians shouted accusations and derisions at him, their voices raised in condemnation. Phokion stood amid the clamour, stolid as a marble pillar, the barrage of insults and accusations brushing off him like dry leaves. He tried to speak again but Polyperchon interrupted him, so he struck his staff on the floor, clamped his mouth shut, and remained silent.

* * *
"Conversation ...is the art of never appearing a bore,
of knowing how to say everything interestingly,
to entraing with no matter what, to be charming with nothing at all."
Guy de Maupassant 1850-1893 Sur l/Eau (On the Water) 1888
"What is the use of a book," thought Alice "without pictures or conversation?"
Lewis Carroll 1832-1898 "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" 1865 ch 1

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

PAINTERS AND POETS

' "Painters and poets," you say, "have always had an equal license in bold invention." We know; we claim the liberty for ourselves and in turn we give it to others." '
Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) 65-8 BC Ibid III (Ars Poetica) c8 BC

I've spent the last few days painting and retouching my furniture, spiffying it up for the move next month into my beautiful new apartment. I spent three days painting my wicker telephone shelf. Why didn't I spray paint? Well I'm using two colours: saffron and blue -- Moroccan colors -- to match several other pieces of my furniture. It was a long, sometimes tedious job, but pleasurable too. It's been awhile since I had a paint brush in my hands and in this case I did a lot of the work with an art brush because of the curlikews and slender woven wicker pieces. I find painting a meditative task. And it reminded me of how long it's been since I held an art brush and actually did a painting (as in picture).

There was a time, when I had stopped writing for awhile, that I focused my attention to art. I 'inherited' a box of oil paints and some canvases (this is an incredible story which must be retold) and started classes at art school. For several years I painted landscapes and still lifes and occasionally painted from a model. I also painted in water-colors and inks. I have several watercolor painting of my village in Greece on my kitchen wall. I gave up painting when I moved into an apartment and found the lack of space for setting up and working was restrictive and the oil paints too much fuss to work with. I've always intended to try working in acrylics instead, but in the end turned my attention back to writing again. Painting word pictures.

"As in painting, so in poetry." Ut pictura poesis
Horace 1.361 (Ars Poetica)

My daughter became a successful painter while she was living in San Diego. She received many commissions and was doing very well as an artist. Now she's living here again she's had no time to pursue her art and it seems such a shame. So I thought of asking her to paint a picture for me for my new apartment. When I told my son this yesterday he said: "Well, Mom, Why don't you paint one yourself?" It made me remember some of my own work, in particular a very good painting of a Guatemalan village which I was quite proud of. I'd taken that painting to Greece with me when I went to live there in the '80's and when I returned to Canada it got left behind. My intention was to collect it on a future trip. But somehow the painting got lost. Remembering that particular painting gave me the idea that yes, perhaps I can do my own painting. I want a Moroccan or Turkish scene so it's a matter of finding a photograph that I could work from. And then, perhaps for my Fall projects I'll take an art course to refresh me.
Painting and writing do somehow go hand-in-hand. A lot of writers I know are also artists.

In my writing classes I always point out, when writing descriptions you are actually painting a picture with words, using all the senses so the reader can visualize being in that scene. I guess because I like to look at things with an artist's eye it makes my descriptive scenes visual and real. Now, if I can reverse that and get my written and mental images down on the canvas, I might come up with something really fantastic!

"Painting is silent poetry, and poetry painting that speaks."
Simonides 556-468 BC From : PLUTARCH, De Gloria Atheniensium iii. (346)

Friday, August 04, 2006

EVICTIONS, CONVICTIONS...WHATEVER, I'M MOVING ON!

"Those opposed to righteousness meet with injury.
Those who do what is right win great success.
Those opposed to righteousness will suffer and have nowhere favorable to go (for without integrity what remains for them?)" I CHING, Hex 25 "Integrity"

I haven't had the time to post here during the past week or so what with all the upsets going on around me. I was no sooner getting over the near-death sudden illness of my son and the almost fatal heart-attack of one of my friends, when my sleazy landlords slapped me with an eviction notice. Not surprising these unscrupulous, dishonest shysters would pull such a stunt...only the timing was, for me, quite upsetting. I didn't waste any time, though, filing for an arbitration hearing as I don't t hink people like this ought to get away with their dirty tricks without the authorities knowing about it. This isn't the first time they've pulled this off. Since they took over the building two years ago, after the first week they evicted a long-term resident who had lived here over 20 years. Then another. Then another. And who knows how many others since then, besides all the dishonest dealings that have been going on here. Anyway, I get my day in tenant's court on Aug. 24 and I will make sure they don't get off too easily.

Meanwhile, though, fortune smiles (on the 'good'?) My son is recovering and so is my friend so that crisis is over. And not a week went by after the eviction notice before I found myself an excellent new apartment, one owned by friends of mine, where I will move in mid September, after my trip to New York. The nasty landlords here will have to give me a month's rent, and I will only give them a short required notice of my move. I'm not sure if the arbitration board will award me more, but I intend to keep an eye on things. They claimed (as always, and probably a lie, as always) that the Dragon Lady wants to move into my suite. If she doesn't, she'll pay, as required by law she has to live in it for six months. And, as I am certain she's evicting me in order to raise the rent, that probably won't happen. In which case, I can sue them for another two months rent back-pay. I don't intend to let these sleazy people get off scott-free.

All this just when I'm about to begin a new chapter in my novel in which the Polyperchon, the Regent is meeting with Phokion, the military governor of Athens, with the intention of banishing him so he can take over the city. The Athenians are accusing Phokion of treason because he refused to insist the Macedonians remove their garrison from Athens, and stop the return of former exiles to the city. They want the death penalty for Phokion. Meanwhile, Kassandros, the villain of our story is about to sail into Pireaus with a fleet of battle-ships and armed troops. The country is on the brink of civil war. Who will win?

Well, at this point, regarding my 'eviction', I know that I'm going to win because these landlords have been pulling off dishonest stunts since the day they took over ownership of the building two years ago. Everything from wrongful evictions to partioning suites and renting them out as 'rooms' (illegal) as well as some accusations of thievery and other dishonest deeds.
I knew from the very first day I laid eyes on Dragon Lady, seeing her greedily eyeing my apartment, observing the shennanigans and dirty-dealings that have been gonig on here, that is was only a matter of time before they'd pick on me. A couple of times I wanted to move out, but dug in, determined not to be 'forced' out of my suite which I happen to like a lot, and out of a building that I have called 'home' for over ten years. In the end, I'm moving on to much better things -- a secure, well-maintained building, an apartment with all the amenities, two new 'landlords' who I know, who are talented, honest, creative, friendly people. Kind people with integrity. Something the people who operate this building certainly don't have!

"The good have no need of an advocate." Phokion, 402-317 BC
from : Plutarch, Apothegms, Phocion sec 10