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Thursday, December 27, 2007

FAMILY CHRISTMASES

This is the way my family celebrated Christmas. My son Stevie is playing with his toy gun, front left.
Cousin Gracie is holding my 1 year old daughter Alex in back left, next to her cousin Lynette, Auntie Grace, my friend Sylvia, Mom holding Gracie's baby, cousin Merilyn, my Dad standing right front. At the table playing checkers, Uncle Frank and my husband Mike. Watching are Gracie's husband Gordon and cousin Adele.
We celebrated every Christmas in this way with games and entertainment after our turkey dinner. Lots of good cheer as we drank gingerale and ate Christmas cookies around the Christmas tree.

This was a different kind of Christmas.

CHRISTMAS WITH THE IN-LAWS.

Christmas for me has always been a family affair. From the time I was a small child, it meant visits from the relatives, everyone gathered around the tree on Christmas eve drinking ginger ale, eating the delicious Christmas goodies Mom had baked while we played games like monopoly and crokinole or snakes and ladders. The men would tell funny stories. My Uncle Frank always recited “’Erbert Burped” and Dad’s famous singing of “When Father Papered the Parlour” never failed to send us into rollicking laughter. Mostly Christmas meant remembering the true meaning of the Season with carol singing and stories of the birth of the Baby Jesus.

The children (me, my sister and various cousins) would be tucked into bed with the proverbial visions of sugar-plums dancing in our heads, convinced Santa could be heard stomping on the roof, and going off to slumber-land with happy dreams of the surprises we’d find Christmas morning under the tree and in our stockings.

Christmas dinner was a festive event. Turkey and all the trimmings, Christmas pudding with money hidden inside, and everyone gathered around the table with bowed heads while Dad or Grandpa or Uncle Frank said the blessing.

This is the way my Christmases always were in my family. And I thought it that way for all everyone.
What a surprise I got when I got married and was introduced to Christmas at the Ukrainian in-laws. The first time my husband took me home to spend Christmas with his family I was shocked and amazed. It was my first introduction to a hard-drinking, hearty-eating Ukrainian way of celebrating the holidays.

There I was, the new bride, sitting in the midst of a party of elderly folks, a bottle or two of rye whiskey plonked on the coffee table and water glasses filled to the brim -- neat! It was the first time I’d tasted rye straight and it made me gag. I guess I was too polite to say ’no’, so when nobody was looking I passed the glass down to my husband who eagerly downed it, matching glass for glass with the old folks. As the afternoon wore on, the merriment grew more boisterous and argumentative. It was a wonder to me how those elderly folks could drink so much.

I’ll never forget one of the Christmases we were invited for dinner. We’d already had my family’s Christmas dinner but we also had to go to the in-law’s house or they would be offended. Lena, my father-in-law’s common-law wife, was a great cook. She made the best cabbage rolls and perogis. This Christmas she had prepared a very large turkey to feed all the friends who were to drop in. By the time the bird was cooked and ready to come out of the over, she was so drunk that as she removed the turkey from the oven she teetered over and the bird slid off the pan and dropped on the floor. Without missing a beat she picked it up and plonked it on the platter. I was an eye-witness. The others were probably too drunk to notice. Anyway, it was a delicious dinner and as usual, she was constantly filling your plate. “Eat! Eat!” or your glass “Drink! Drink!” It didn’t occur to me, the naive youngster from the tee-totalling family, that all that booze was eventually going to be my husband’s downfall.

Oh yes, those Ukrainian Christmases were memorable. Especially the one when my father-in-law almost cut off his hand when he was demonstrating the new chain saw he’d got for a present. He was drunk, of course, and hardly felt any pain. But he bore the scars forever after and in fact caused serious nerve damage so his hand was never the same. Did that deter the constant partying? Never!

They were good-hearted folk though, and I know their intentions were well-meaning.
My mother-in-law, on the other hand, was a different story. My husband’s parents had been separated for many years and it was easy to see why there was no communication between them. She was a Seventh Day Adventist, strict and totally lacking the joviality and good nature of Lena and Harry. In fact, I was sure she had the ability to put the evil eye on me and quite frankly I was a bit scared of her. She had weird eyes and would sit scowling at me when I arrived with my husband and baby. She had her own ideas of how I should be handling my new baby boy and I know she didn’t approve of me one bit.

She’d cook us dinner once in awhile, never Christmas dinner, because she didn’t celebrate Christmas the way the rest of us did. In fact, my husband’s younger brother, still a teen-ager, lived with her, and at Christmas he was not given any gifts because she said it wasn’t Lennie’s birthday. It was Jesus’s birthday. I always felt sorry for Lennie so we’d invite him to our place and made sure he had lots of presents, and of course he’d drop by his father’s for the Christmas meals too. Maybe the way he was brought up warped him because he grew into the most avaricious nasty man, a bank-manager who had total control over both his parent’s finances and wills and made sure when they died neither of my children got a cent -- it all went to him, his Ukrainian wife, and their two kids.

Those Ukrainian Christmases were memorable, mainly for the vast amounts of food and booze that were consumed and the chaos that reigned as a result. Invariably it would somehow end up with a fight breaking out. I didn’t realize it then, but my father-in-law was not the jolly guy he seemed to be and poor Lena was often the brunt of his drunken temper.

It was an experience worth remembering, but to this day I prefer the old fashioned Christmases of my childhood.
Instead of spending Christmas with a massive hangover I’d rather enjoy what it is really meant to be, a time of good cheer spent with relatives and friends, presents stacked under the tree, stockings hung by the chimney with care and children nestled in their beds waiting for Santa to arrive. (He didn’t get a glass of whiskey at our place, just some ginger ale and home-made Christmas cookies. There weren’t any fights, Mom never ever dropped the turkey on the floor, and nobody ever cut their hand off with a chain saw!)

* * *



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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

CHRISTMAS AT GRANDPA'S

Grandpa's house in Stratford Ontario.

Christmas in the ‘40’s was a time when all the relatives came to celebrate at Grandpa’s house. We would troop down to the train station and stand waiting on the wooden platform, our breaths puffing like the steam from the locomotive engine, the frosty winter air nipping our cheeks into roses. The train chugged into the station, the coach doors opened and travelers spilled out onto the platform. Happy greetings filled the air as merry as caroler's songs, families embraced and made their way down the snowy streets.

When my uncle, aunt and cousins arrived, we all went back to Grandpa’s house. How my grandparents found room for everyone, I can’t imagine. All the Aunts, Uncles and Cousins crowded into the small living room around the Christmas tree to chat, the crackling of the flames in the hearth sounding like pop-corn. After a few games of monopoly and Chinese checkers, my Uncle Frank would performed a comical rendition of “Herbert Burped”, tongue-in-cheek, about a little boy who gets swallowed by a lion. Then all of us children were tucked snugly into beds, often three in a bed, the middle one squished between the other two, warm in our flannel nighties, while the grownups sat up late eating Christmas cake and drinking ginger ale.

One particular Christmas stands out in my memory. That was the year I bought the best Christmas presents I’d ever bought before. Certainly, the most memorable!

I was nine years old, and I felt very grown up as I went off to town to do my own Christmas shopping. I headed straight for the Woolworths Five and Dime store where you could always get the best bargains. I looked over all the trinkets, trying to decide what would be the finest gifts. It was difficult to decide. I wanted something unforgettable. Something everyone would love.

Then I saw it. A little Chinese clay dragon on a bamboo stick. The head of the dragon was made of painted clay, and it had a red felt tongue that looked like fire shooting from its gaping mouth. The body was accordion-pleated tissue paper. When you waved the stick, the body expanded and the head shot out, tongue flickering, like a real fire-breathing dragon. The Chinese dragons would make the perfect Christmas gifts!

I bought one for each of my relatives and excitedly headed for home, proud of myself for making such an extraordinary purchase. But when I showed them to my Mom, she was not impressed. In fact, she
was upset with me for ‘wasting’ my money on such foolish toys as these instead of buying something more ‘practical’. I felt crushed, disappointed. However, it was too late to return the dragons to the store, so I wrapped them up and put them under the Christmas tree with the other gifts.

On Christmas morning I waited nervously for everyone to open their presents. I felt embarrassed thinking that my relatives would think the presents I’d bought were foolish and useless.

Instead, when the gifts were unwrapped, everyone was amused and delighted. especially my Uncle Frank. He played with his dragon all day. Of course, Uncle Frank always was the life of the party!



My little sister Jeanie and me.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

PROGRESS REPORT #22: BRIDGING THE GAPS


ALEXANDER AND OLYMPIAS

"Each story will dictate its own rhythms."
Jonathan Penner

Here it is three days from the winter solstice, the end of Autumn, and I haven't totally finished my novel, which had been my goal. I am, however, much, much closer to the end and will carry on forging ahead with the hope that it WILL be done in a very short time.

The problem at the moment is 'bridging the gaps' That is...those pesky transitional parts. I have a lot of the story written that I'm threading together and right now I'm puzzling over what to add and what to leave out. I had a lot of ideas written down from long ago but now I'm wondering if it's just too much baggage. Shall I write it in anyway and then edit it out later. Or? I'm trying not to let the internal editor take over because every word is important and I think I'll do what I've done all along...write what seems to want to be written and worry about editing later. It's not that I'm about to go off on any tangents or anything, just that I've been through some heavy scenes and the tension is high at the moment. I don't want to risk losing the tension by adding things that are going to take the story off track. What to do? Hmmm...well, I know it will certainly be figured out very shortly.

It's kind of like being at the cross-roads. Where to go next? Well, here we are at the end of another year and New Years is always a time for new directions. Mine, I hope, will be in the direction of and editor/publisher.

"There's nothing which faintly resembles glamour about the work I do. I spend all of my working hours alone, facing a blank sheet of paper, and myself. For I have to dredge through my soul and my memories every day of my life. Writing novels is the hardest work I've ever done, the salt mines, really. I sit long hours at my desk -- til my neck and shoulders seize up. I make tremendous social and personal sacrifices for my writing, but after all, I chose to be a novelist. Nobody held a gun to my head. So why do I go on? The answer is easy. I can't NOT do it."
Barbara Taylor Bradford

***author's quotes from "The Writer's Handbook."

for a couple of little Christmas Away memoirs, check out my travel blog at:
http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com

HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!
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Friday, December 14, 2007

PROGRESS REPORT#21: WHEN THE MUSE SPEAKS

"Muse of the round sky, daughter of Zeus,
I sing my poems loud and clear to you."
Alkman


I spent most of yesterday trying to sort out some small errors I'd made in my novel, the sequence of some events that didn't seem right. I'd intended to do a lot of writing but mostly puttered away the day, managing only about an hour of work taken from the notes I'd made the night before.

The day was cold and wet, very bleak. I only went outdoors once and that was just to mail some Christmas cards overseas and pick up a few groceries. I played on the computer, watched some TV, cleaned out the drawers sorting my winter stuff and packing away my summer. The whole day went by and really, I didn't accomplish much as far as my novel writing was concerned.

It was very late when I tucked into bed and whereas I usually fall asleep quickly, this night I tossed and turned and could not get to sleep at all. Then, She spoke to me. The Muse. At first it was just a line or two which I knew I had to get up and write down. Then, when I was settling back into bed again, there was another line...a whole paragraph...and I realized that She was telling me what I'd been trying to figure out all day. So I got up and started writing. I wrote about four pages and then I went back to bed and fell right asleep.

Today I got up really in the writing mood. No more procrastinating. Thanks to the Muse, I had a good start on the day. I managed to solve some of the strategy problems I was having, things became a lot clearer to me, and the notes I'd made during the night had actually brought me right up to a crucial anti-climax of the novel. With a few added scenes in between I should be able to sail quickly through this next part and then I'll be on the homeward stretch, with the end very clearly in view.

It's exciting when that happens and it's been awhile since the Muse spoke so strongly to me. I recall when I used to live in the shepherd's cottage in Lala, Euboeia, that often She would speak to me in the night. I had no electricity there, so I'd have to get up and light the lamps and sit by candlelight to write the words, knowing that if I didn't, I'd have forgotten them by morning.

As far as the progress of Shadow of the Lion, I may not meet my goal of finishing by the last day of Autumn, but I'll be very nearly done by the end of December. I'm already visualizing the 'wrap' party I have planned at a Greek taverna in my neighborhood.
Yesterday I consulted Cecilia Holland in regards to whether or not I should find myself a mentor before I start doing the final draft which will entail a good deal of cutting. I feel I need someone who understands the history as well as the techniques of writing. She suggested that I might find someone at the university, but to make sure it's someone I trust or it might not work out. So I'm still thinking about this. Perhaps I will get just as thorough a reader's critic from my Athens friend, Dinaz, who has requested I send her the MSS when it's done. What do you other writers think of this idea? Have any of you had a mentor to advise you on your final drafts?

MIDNIGHT MUSE
written while living in a shepherd's cottage, Lala, Evvia, Greece

My Muse comes after midnight
Nudges me awake,
Whispers urgently:
"Get up! Write!"
I curse her, stumble across the dark room,
Search for matches, light the candle wick.
Where has she been in the daylight?
How many hours did I want for her
Listening for her voice?
"Where were you?" I ask.
"Was it your voice I heard
While I daydreamed in the sun.
Or was it only the sound
Of sheep bells on the mountain,"
"Write!" she demands. "Write!"
If I wait til morning
The words she whispers to me
Will be extinguished
Like this candle flame
As I snuff it out.


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Monday, December 10, 2007

THE PLAY'S THE THING!

As Shakespeare said "The play's the thing..." (Hamlet) and recently I've attended several wonderful theatre events.

Last month I went to see a play about Tennessee Williams, my favorite playwright, "His Greatness", which was about a period of time Williams spent here in Vancouver while one of his least successful plays was being reproduced. (It bombed!). Williams (1911 - 1983) was a prolific playwright and author and when I wrote my play "The Street" I was very influenced by his work. Of course one of his most memorable lines was from "A Streetcar Named Desire", spoken by Blanche " Whoever you are -- I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Just after "His Greatness" was performed here, there was a production of "The Glass Menagerie" which I unfortunately missed.

The next play I went to see was Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten". This may be the first O'Neill play I've seen and I was totally captivated. It's said that this play was an attempt to understand a brother he had once idolised then watched fall into the seedier side of life. O'Neill was born in a Broadway Hotel room. (His father was an actor who toured in "The Count of Monte Cristo") His family life was unhappy and he used his own experiences as themes for his plays. He was the first playwright to write a play with a major role for a black actor,
"The Emperor Jones".

Then I went to see a play by a Canadian playwright, George Ryga, a prairie boy from a poor Ukranian family who left school after grade six and worked at a variety of jobs, then won a scholarship to the Banff School of Fine Arts. His first play "Indian" was perfomed on TV in 1961. He received national acclaim for his next play "The Ecstasy of Rita Joe" which was first performed here in Vancouver in 1967. This is the play I finally was able to see, with a cast that was mainly First Nations people. I always thought Ryga himself was part First Nations but he wasn't, which makes this play and it's subject, all the more remarkable -- the deep insights he had into the plight of Indian people who come to the city from their reserves and so often fall into such tragedy. This play, by Ryga is considered by many to be the most important English language play by a Canadian playwright.

This weekend I went to see my most favorite of Shakespeare's plays "Richard III". It's the first Shakespeare play I ever saw, when I was 13 years old, and it resonated so much and influenced me so much that I've never forgotten it. Perhaps that's what propelled me to write tragedy. I was riveted by the acting (especially the actor who played Richard); the costumes, set and makeup all added to the eerie sense of evil and darkness. Who can ever forget those famous opening lines: "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious suumer by this sun of York." I remember that the first time I visited London, in the mid '70's, I had to go to the Tower to see where the young prince's were murdered. Seeing the play brought back so many memories.

One sad memory of my own...the day I came home from the theatre, a young impressionable kid just bubbling with enthusiasm for what I'd seen and heard, I was met at the door by my Mom who sadly told me our very dear pet Spaniel Duchess had been killed by a car that day.
Talk about being immersed in tragedy! I have never forgotten that day, or the play.

I needed some inspiration for the next part of my novel and just being there, listening to Shakespeare's words being spoken by the dastardly Richard, and the various dramatic roles of the women in the play, gave me lots of ideas. So it's back to work on Shadow of the Lion. And I'm getting closer to the end!


Friday, December 07, 2007

PROGRESS REPORT#20: I CONFESS

THRACIAN WARRIOR

Okay, I confess. I've been committing some pretty dreadful crimes of murder and mayhem lately. It's been a grueling task for someone like me who generally abhors violence but is still fascinated by crime and criminals. I was once in charge of the crime files of the newspaper I worked at, my first job as a fledgling journalist when I got out of high school. I ended up in the news-library instead of on City Desk covering the local crime scene, but my job was bios and crime files and I got to know about all the inside dope in the gang warfare and crime scene of the city.

Early on, I used to love Mickey Spillane books and read all of them. But usually I don't read crime or murder mysteries. I did find "Silence of the Lambs" fascinating in the way it was written and research. I love true crime stories such as "Compulsion" and Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood". And I do enjoy some movies about true crimes and stuff like "The Sopranos". Somehow, having to write about it now myself, I've become a little inured to it I suppose. When I had first started writing gory scenes for "Shadow of the Lion" I held back a lot and my workshop critics said "More blood! More blood!" Once I had to kill off an Athenian senator. He was an interesting character and I had described him well in the novel and much to my surprise then met a man who was an Athenian, who fit the description (physically) to a T. But when I got to know this particular person, he turned out to be a real jerk. This revelation happened about when I had to kill off the senator so I must admit I did the deed with great relish. Heheheh!

Now I'm getting down to the nitty-gritty of my novel, near the end when disaster looms at every corner of Alexander's empire, a lot of it propelled by his mother, Olympias, who is on a rampage of vengeance. Consequently, I've killed off a lot of people over the past few weeks and yesterday administered the final blow to a couple of my favorites. And there's more to come...
Here's a little snippet from the most recent turn of events...

Adeia-Eurydike, the 18 year old queen (wife of Philip Arridaios) who has staged a coup against the Regent Polyperchon, is now on the lam, trying to leave the country to get support from her ally, Kassandros, because her own faction has deserted her, all of them terrified of Olympias.

Adeia-Eurydike was captured at the port of Amphipolis where she had intended to board a ship bound for Euboeia, hoping to secure more troops there. Her own faction had deserted her. Nobody wanted to fight against the Epirote witch.

Her youth and arrogance had made her believe she could outwit her enemies, but Aristonous, the garrison commander, under orders from Olympias, sent Thracians to the port and they arrested her there without a struggle. Thracians were wild people, and easily bought. Olympias had offered them more gold than she had, so they had betrayed her.

“Woman, what is your name?” one of them asked in hesitant Greek.
“Are you the slut who claims to be Queen?” queried another. He looked her over as if she were one of the port whores.

They were tough, rugged men, half-clad in tribal tartans and animal skins, their naked skin showing off the swirls of blue tribal tattoos that Thracians bore to show they were warriors. One of them gave her a hard shove. She staggered backwards, then caught her balance and held her head high.

At first she tried to fight them, but before she could draw her sword they overwhelmed her and disarmed her. She refused to throw herself at their mercy and beg for clemency. Implacably she stood her ground. Defiant, she spat in their faces and mocked them, believing that Kassandros would by now have received her desperate messages and would soon invade Macedon and rescue her.

There was no way she would accept surrender, so she drew herself up and faced them fearlessly. “Don’t you know who I am?” she screamed. “I am Eurydike, daughter of Amyntas, wife of King Philip Arridaios.”

They answered her with grunts and insults spoken in their tribal language which she did not understand but she knew by their disdainful looks that they considered her little more than harbor trash. They dragged her away, oblivious to her curses and threats of vengeance.

She had hoped for splendor and victory, dreamed of her triumphant return to Pella, the flower-strewn streets, the Macedonian cavalry escorting her, splendid in their maroon crested helmets and flowing capes, their horses bedizened with gold. Instead, rough heavy hands bound her in chains and threw her into a two-wheeled cart as though she were a piece of camp baggage.

She was spirited away with a grim escort of heavily armed guards. At each town along the way sightseers stood in expectant clusters watching in silent awe, shamed by the sight of her, yet daring not to make a protest. She huddled in the cart bruised and humiliated; her head ached; her wrists and ankles stung, rubbed raw from the fetters. Now, on the threshold of her final defeat, she felt desolate, yet strangely indifferent, still believing that Kassandros would soon send help to free her. A vivid recollection came to her of that night long ago on the Sardis road when she and her mother had been beset by Perdikkas’ men; how once they had recognized her as Macedonian royalty, they had protected her. As the two-wheeled cart rattled and jolted over the stones, she recalled her mother’s saying ‘You were meant for great things. It is your destiny to rule as a warrior queen, not to grow old at the loom like other women. Your father should have been chosen as king, not Philip. If you had been born a boy they would have chosen you when he died . Now the gods mean you to right the wrong that was done to him.“ She felt a shiver of rage and grief. Surely someone would come and overpower her captors. Did they not recognize her as their queen, Eurydike? She heard a few hesitant cheers of “Long live Queen Eurydike! Long live King Philip!” and gruff murmurs of sympathy, “Poor maid. Forgive them, Lady. Surely they have done wrong.” Still, no one tried to rescue her. It all seemed unreal, dreamlike, as though she might waken and find it all a terrifying nightmare.

When they entered Pella three days later, she noticed the deserted streets, as if dread had seized the populace and kept them hidden indoors. She had heard rumors of Olympias’ blood bath, the arrest of dissenters and killings of Antipatrids clan members. Now she sensed the full realization of the tragedy, smelled the death. It’s certainty made her feel nauseated.

She was taken first to the palace where the guards escorted her to the audience hall where Olympias sat in state on the throne that rightfully should have been hers.

Olympias gave an order to one of the guards and she was shoved forward, the weight of her shackled wrists and ankles causing her to stumble.
“So! Here stands the valiant Adeia-Eurydike, child of a traitor! My men say they found you at the harbor about to board a ship, like a vermin steals aboard.”

Adeia held her head high. “I am Queen Eurydike, wife of Philip Arridaios, daughter of Amyntas, who was the son of King Perdikkas. Your husband, Philip, was my grandfather.”

Olympias’ face tautened with anger. “And your husband, my little trollop, awaits you in the bridal chamber we have prepared for your joyful reunion.” She smiled, baring her teeth, and with a dismissive wave of her bejeweled hand said to the guard. “Take her away. Her husband is waiting for her.”

They led her out, dragging her fetters, their dead weight chafing her ankles as she staggered in an ungainly gait between the guards. She was trooped through the streets of Pella like a felon going to an execution. As they approached the lagoon she saw the row of gallows where corpses of Olympias’ victims had been nailed up like rotting carcasses in a butcher’s larder. Most were no longer recognizable since the carrion birds and scavengers had had their fill of flesh. She glanced at some of the names painted on boards beneath their mangled bodies and recognized several as men who had led her faction. And under one, the name NIKANOR, SON OF ANTIPATER. Her heart sank. Even Nikanor whom she had trusted to help rally her men?

When I first started writing this novel, I felt emotionally attached to the first character I had to assassinate and cried after I did it. Now I'm nearing the end and I suppose I'm used to the carnage because I felt strangely unmoved by what happens next to Arridaios and Adeia, yet I am fond of them because both have been amazing characters to write about. Do real mass murderers become this detatched? (A scary thought!)

I just finished writing another blog on my "Conversations With Myself"
http://ruthakik.blogspot.com on the subject of "Making the Punishment Fit the Crime." I wonder if this applies to me? (LOL) But wait...I haven't finished yet!


THRACIAN WARRIOR

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

I LOVE THE SNOW!

playing in the snow, me at aged 18 months
Estevan Saskatchewan

"One Christmas was so much like another, in
those years around the seatown corner now and out of
all sound except the distant speaking of the voices
I sometimes hear a moment before I sleep, that
I can never remember whether it snowed for
six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it
snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.
Dylan Thomas 1914-1953 "A Child's Christmas in Wales"

me (age 6) and my little sister Jeanie
taking our dollies for a walk in the snow
Lloydminster, Saskatchewan


I love the snow. So when we had the first snowfall of the season yesterday I felt compelled to go out in it and take some pictures. By today it continued until the snow was deep enough to make snow-men and go sledding. But, as usual here on the "wet" coast, by late afternoon when I finally did go out, intending to take more photographs, it had turned to rain. Now the rain has set in and the snowfall has melted causing a lot of problems with flooding and a slushy mess on the sidewalks and roads. It was pretty while it lasted. I stayed indoors with the fireplace on yesterday and did some work on my Christmas cards, made more notes for my novel, and generally enjoyed a weekend of reasonable leisure. I'm only sorry I didn't get out in today it while it was really coming down, thick white fluffy flakes of it, just like I remember as a child living on the Prairies.

I have lots of happy snow-time memories and so long as I'm dressed warm enough I still enjoy it. However, a storm called "the Pineapple express" is heading our way from Hawaii and the weatherman warns of flooding and torrential rains setting a record for the season. And winter has barely even begun! Enough, already, with the rain. I say "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

The first snowfall in the park

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

PROGRESS REPORT #19: THE BALANCE OF SHOW AND TELL

"Sing, goddess, the wrath of Peleus' son Achilles, a
destroying wrath which brought upon the Achaeans
myriad woes, and sent forth to Hades many
valiant souls of heroes."
Homer 700 BC The Iliad, Bk. 1 l 1


Gold casket containing the bones of King Philip
Royal Tombs, Aigai.

You know the Muse is back when she nudges you just as you are about to settle down for a long winter's nap, and you have to get up and write down the words she spoke to you. That happened to me last night just as I was ready to drift off. I know from past experience, don't ignore her. Because by morning you won't remember what she told you.

I'd been struggling with a few little transitional parts of this new chapter and til then couldn't figure out what I needed to say. But just those few lines helped me get right back into it and today I pretty well finished another chapter. (There's still a few patches which need work but I know that will come to me, so I must keep forging onward.)

The problem with this chapter was figuring out what to dramatize and what to have as narrative. There is a great deal going on, lots of action and intrigue, but as I already am way over the limit for pages in this novel I know I have to cut down somewhere. So it was a hefty decision trying to decide what parts should be actually 'shown' and what parts I could 'tell' in narrative. Hopefully I've found the right balance here. All through the chapter I have tried to keep an equal amount of both so that the story doesn't bog down, or get off on unnecessary tangents. I haven't workshopped it yet, and there may be a few changes to make later, but for now I'm feeling satisfied with what I have written. You'll see by this snippet, it just a small part of a larger scenario of murder and mayhem.



Charioteer, from a wall fresco, Royal Tombs.

Here's a bit of an intro to this section of the chapter. Alexander's mother, Olympias, who had been exiled from Pella, the royal city of Macedon, for over ten years, had now returned, bringing along with her Alexander's widow and son, the heir to the throne. There has been a coup, in which the wife of the other titular king, Philip Arridaios, tried to seize the throne. Olympias means to wreck vengeance on the usurpers which include Kassandros, son of the late Regent Antipater. Here's just a sample of what happens.

Olympias called a meeting of her commanders. Sitting in a gilded chair at the great table in the old council room, she gazed slowly from man to man. She deigned not to ask them for advice, nor accept any. She already knew what she must do.
She ordered the men to sit and then she delivered her orders.
“I know, like myself, that many of you have long time blood-feuds with the Antipatrids. I order you to rout out every one of their clan and slay them. Show no mercy, as Kassandros and Iollas, the sons of Antipater showed none for my son when they delivered to him the fatal potion. We must rid Macedon of these vermin. Once they are disposed of, we will be a united strength against our enemies.”
Someone whistled softly.
She scanned the room with narrowed eyes. “ I want them put to death. Every one of them!”
A gasp went round the room. Men shook their heads in disbelief and looked warily at one another. Her words, powerful as a curse, were like a death knell.
“Does the Regent know of this?” asked one of the grey-bearded elder generals.
“This is my edict. Yes, Polyperchon will agree.”
“But Madam...This clan is the noblest in Macedon,” he protested.
Kronos, her chief commander, cleared his throat and spoke up. “Madam, none of us question your authority, but do you think this is wise? Antipater was well loved by our people.”
Olympias stiffened and glared at him. He stared back boldly at her. “Should we not wait for Polyperchon to return?”
She fixed a malevolent look on him. “Are you with me or not, Kronos?”
Kronos clamped his mouth shut tight. “As you wish. Your orders will be carried out, Madam.”
“Do not question me, Sir,” Olympias said. “Swear by the stream of Acheron that you will obey my will and stay loyal to our cause.” She swept a dangerous look across
their stunned faces. “Or I will consider you all traitors!” Her face was set in a hard scowl, the lines between her brows etched deep. “This session is over. Go now, and do as I have commanded!”
No one dared contradict her. They all knew the power of her dark magic. The generals stared at her incredulously but none dared speak up again. Under her baleful eye they each agreed, though some reluctantly, and went out to follow her orders, not speaking to anyone.

The news spread quickly throughout Macedon that the titular king Philip Arridiaos had been removed from his wife’s control and was now under guard in the island prison, while his wife, Queen Eurydike was being hunted by Olympias’ men. There were rumours that Adeia-Eurydike had escaped to Euboeia to seek help and wait for Kassandros’ orders. Others claimed she had fled to the garrison at Amphilpolis and would muster a fleet and more troops there.
A reign of terror began across the country. Citizens cowered in their houses afraid to venture forth lest they be mistaken as the enemy and arrested. Search parties torched houses, incinerating dozens of innocents. Arrests went on for days. Anyone who was a kinsman of Antipater or a supporter of the renegade Queen was snatched off the streets or dragged from their homes.
The people of Pella recoiled in horror and panic gripped the city as Olympias’ henchmen went from house to house searching for anyone who might be a friend or relative of the Antipatrids clan. Hundreds fled from the city, making their way furtively by boat or foot southward to join Kassandros in Greece..
Olympias went herself to the necromanteion to watched gleefully as the grave steles of Antipater’s family members were toppled and smashed to bits. She, herself, saw to the defacement and destruction of the tomb of the old Regent’s youngest son, Iollas, who had been Alexander’s cup-bearer, and had served him the poisoned wine.
She pronounced with chilling venom, “Let nothing remain of the murderers! Erase every vestige of their existence.” Her words hung for a moment, then cleaved the air like the swipe of a sword.
After the desecration of the graves, she ordered her fiercest Molossian hill fighters to track down and kill Kassandros’ brother Nikanor who had been tracked to a garrison near the Thracian border where he had taken refuge.
“Show no mercy to him and those who have sheltered him,” she commanded.

All through the country, Olympias’ soldiers kicked down the doors of houses where innocent children played by the hearths and guileful women went about their chores. Taken unawares, the men folk tried to take flight but were cut down ruthlessly by the soldier’s blades and impaled on their spears. There was chaos in Pella and nearby towns, wherever kinfolk of Antipater resided as the queen’s henchmen raided, wrecking vengeance on guilty and innocent alike. Houses were torched, flocks and horses confiscated. Nothing must be left of the Antipatrid’s clan, the Epirote witch had decreed it. Anguished screams of men and neighing horses rent the air as those pursued scrambled to get away only to be caught in the drag-net of Olympias’ men. Dozens of victims were murdered, scores hauled off to prison to be tortured. Nobody dared stop her, lest they meet with reprisals. Her own men, aware of her power, were scared to death of her wrath. Even the toughest soldiers who were inured to killing shrank in horror at the Queen’s bloody rampage. Everyone dreaded her, felt the terror, and recoiled in dismay before the scale of the destruction she had wrought against the noblest clan of Macedon, the wealthy lords and relatives of their once beloved Regent Antipater.
Finally when all was done and they surveyed the scale of the carnage, a hundred victims had fallen to fire or the sword, murdered on the Queen’s orders, left unburied, exposed for the carrion birds to devour their flesh.
The people turned away from Olympias with horror. “Surely the queen is deranged!” they said.


Pella

"There is nothing more dread and more shameless than a woman who plans
such deeds in her heart as the foul deed which she plotted when she contrived
her husband's murder.

In the extravagance of her evil she has brought shame both on herself and
on all women who will come after her, even on one who is virtuous."
Homer, The Iliad XI lines 427/ 432
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Monday, November 26, 2007

PROGRESS REPORT #18: WRITING ON A RAINY DAY

Face from a ewer, Royal Tombs, Vergina

It's been a cold, wet day today, a good one for staying indoors and catching up on writing and chores. I've been so busy the past week, with my visitor (who left Friday) and other events, that I got so far behind my usual writing schedule. So now it's catch-up time.

I'm still working on this same chapter but nearly have it right now, just a little bit more to go and then I can move on. I also did some editing on an older chapter that I'd recently workshopped. My usual routine is to make notes, then write on the computer, then rewrite as many times as I need to until I get it in presentable shape, then workshop it, then edit again and move on. They call it "Block Editing" and it works best for me. I know there's some people who write the whole book through, one full draft, then go back again and again to revise. But I prefer to get it as 'right' as possible and not leave a mess behind me. So when I come to the end of the book, I'll basically just have a final draft to work on. And actually I do enjoy editing.

This weekend I started to do some writing coaching with a fellow writer friend of mine. I found it useful for myself too, and quite an enjoyable task. And later I edited a chapter of another person's work-in-progress which is going to be workshopped at tonight's Scribblers meeting.

My main activities this weekend was attending the theatre, which I found enormously inspiring. On Friday night my friend and I went to see "Moon for the Misbegotten" by Eugene O'Neill. An amazing play. I was so intrigued by O'Neill's dialogues and his use of similes.
Truly a wonderful performance. Then on Sunday I went with my other friends to see a play I've wanted to see for years,
George Ryga's "The Ecstacy of Rita Joe" This is a Canadian playwright about First Nations people and the tragedies that often befall then when they come off the reserve to the city. It was written in the '60's and at that time would have been quite a controversial play, a white Ukranian writer speaking out for the Indian people. Very powerful, and very true. Next week I'm going to see a production of "Richard III" which is my favorite Shakespeare play, and the very first one I ever saw when I was 13 years old.

I like to study the way the plays are staged, the script, etc. Pretty soon I want to go back and finish my Sappho play which has been shelved while I try to complete my novel. Hopefully this will be accomplished by the end of the year so I can move on with my other projects. At least, the end is in sight and if I can keep to my daily writing schedules again, perhaps I will achieve my goal.




Alexander and his Macedonian royal family
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Monday, November 19, 2007

PROGRESS REPORT #17: SOME LEISURE MOMENTS

Not too much progress lately on Shadow of the Lion mainly due to various interruptions, social events and currently a house-guest. My friend Patrick returned from Chile/Peru last week and since then we've been on the go and just spend overnight out in the 'burbs at the home of my friend Anibal's daughters because Patrick had brought gifts for them from their mom in Chile.

One of my enjoyable leisure activities (as seen above) is sitting on the Art Gallery bench after I walk up Robson Street coming from my Memoir classes on Thursdays. I always stop and buy a Bavarian smokey (with saurkraut) and sit there to eat my lunch. My Memoirs are now finished for the season and I'll miss this little weekly routine but lately it's been raining anyway, so I'll take advantage of the lunch stop next time I'm downtown on a sunny day.

The recreations centres, libraries and other things are open now after that all-summer strike. This is our public library, built to resemble the Coliseum. I was strolling around downtown one day and took my camera along to get a few pictures of some of the interesting buildings. It's time for me to make a trip to the library, but first I have to get a new library card as last week I was mugged on my way out one evening, my purse snatched, and all my i.d. taken. Fortunately, I wasn't injured, chased the guy who hopped into a nearby car, and got the license number. There was nothing valuable in the purse except my i.d. and debit cards. But it proves you should NEVER carry your bag over your arm or shoulder. (I usually carried mine as a back-pack but that night didn't bother. Lesson learned!)

We've made a few trips to the Cottage Bistro and other venues where my son plays with his West Coast Blues Review. This past weekend he was playing at a pub up the hill near me, The Admiral, and we went along to enjoy the music. That's him, playing lead guitar. His new CD is doing well, and most of the songs on it he wrote himself.

So I must get back on my routines now. I do have some more notes made for the chapter of Shadow that I'm working on. Perhaps by tomorrow I'll have time to focus on doing more writing. With the delays I probably won't make my deadline of the last day of Autumn, but I will certainly be closer to the finish. I'm also studying Spanish (or trying to, and not being diligent enough about it.)

Patrick will be here til the weekend before returning to Germany, and there's a few more events planned such as going to the jazz club mid-week and on Thursday he's doing a piano recital for some of my Memoir women. (I hope I get a good turn-out but so many of them are busy or away). If the weather clears up we'd hoped to take a bus ride up to Brackendale to see the bald eagles who perch by the dozens in the trees by the river at this time of year. But he also wants to see the Museum of Anthropology so, depending on the weather (which isn't good at the moment) will decide the activities. Somewhere in there I'll make an attempt to do a bit of writing!
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Thursday, November 08, 2007

TWO PERSONAS



"Queen of fragrant Eleusis,
Giver of earth's good gifts,
Give me your grace, O Demeter.
You, too, Pesephone, fairest,
Maiden all lovely, I offer
Song for your favor"




My writer's group, The Scribblers, goes on retreats to an island every year. We always have a theme and dress accordingly. This was a Rites of Spring retreat and we followed the theme of Demeter and Persephone. We made flower garlands for our hair and dressed in appropriate costumes. This was me as Persephone.

I actually visited Eleusis once with my Finnish classical scholar friend Vesa. He's an architect so was mainly doing research on the archeological ruins at the site, which was part of the Demeter cult in the ancient times. It was interesting to go along with him and see things from a different persepective.

At this time of year, Persephone has gone back to the depths of the Underworld. Poor Demeter, mourning her daughter. But come Spring, she'll return, as Hades promised, and bring new life back to the Earth.

"Reach me a genetian, give me a torch!
Let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of a flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where
blue is darkened on blueness
even where Persephone goes, just now, from
the frosted September
To the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon dark."

David Herbert Lawrence 1885-1930
"Bavarian Genetians" 1932

"We're a beat generation."
Jack Kerouac

Now, here's my favorite persona. Jack Kerouac, my literary hero from the 1950/60's. I fell in love with his writing after I read On The Road in 1957. He was my pin-up boy. I read Allan Ginsberg too, and hung around smokey bistros listening to bongo drums and poetic readings. I was one of them, the Beat Generation. When I finally got to New York City in 1968 and went to stay in the East Village, I thought I'd died and gone to Beatnik heaven. A dream come true. That trip changed my life completely.

This weekend it's my friend's 50th birthday and I'm co-hosting a party for her. It's going to be a '50's party. I thought about going as a June Cleaver kind of character but hey! I''m not and never have been a June Cleaver. So what was I in the '50's? A rebel. A gypsy soul. A Beatnik. Yes! Unfortunately I've left my Kerouac hat out at my friends in the suburbs so I bought a new cap with a tweed look to it, got a black turtle-neck sweater, will search for my red bandana, and have some black slacks that are almost bell-bottom. Cool, man!
Groovy! Jack, this is in memory of you. I always wanted to write like you did. At most, I've managed to stay a free spirit. And I have lots of memories of those days when we were the beat generation!

"But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light up and everybody goes "Awwww!" "

Jack Kerouac 1922 - 1969 "On the Road" 1957
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Sunday, November 04, 2007

PROGRESS REPORT #16: WHAT DO YOU WISH FOR?

The sacred oak grove, Dodona

I've put ads on my blogs, testing the system out, but I didn't wish for this one to be so in-your-face. The one on my travel blog is a more unobtrusive size. Guess I'll have to make some changes. I did this because I am planning to start up my own travel web site in the new year and I was told to try the google ads for it. It's a way to make a little money too, as well as advertising for my own site. But I don't like the look of this one on this writer's site and will have to tone it down.

I've been writing about oracles and the consequences of people or powers who think they can take things into their control to get their own way. The most recent chapter of Shadow that I'm working is full of the grim results of this kind of behavior. We see lots of it in the world today, too. History does tend to repeat itself, as they say.

The oak tree that grows in the place where the ancient oak oracle grew.

I'm making fairly good progress on the novel although this past week was busy with all sorts of distractions as well as work. My classes are winding up; I did some book-keeping for a friend; I had my little visit with Patrick who is now in Chile and heading for Peru before he returns here in two weeks; there was also some respite from the more serious aspects of my writer's life on the weekend when I went dancing, spent an afternoon at the bistro listening to my son play Blues, and then attended the CD launch of a friend who sings jazz at the L.Q. on Wednesday nights. All great fun, but now it's time to buckle down and return to my more disciplined schedule of writing, exercise and diet. There comes a time when the party's over for awhile.


I intended to post this next little snipped of Shadow of the Lion at Hallowe'en but I didn't get time to fine-tune it. (I still haven't workshopped any of this so there may be changes later on.) It had a nice sort of Hallowe-enish flare to it, a prelude to the following chapters in which Olympias unleashes her wrath on her enemies.


In this little scene, which is in Iskander's point of view, she's taking him , (Alexander's son) to the sacred oak shrine in Dodona, to consult the oracle before the royal household returns to Pella. Olympias has been exiled from Pella for more than 10 years so just wait and see what happens when she makes her grand entrance back to Alexander's city.


Early the next morning, before anyone else was stirring, his grandmother came to wake him.

“It is time to visit the sacred oak shrine.”
She helped him bathe and dressed him in a white linen chiton then placed his gold diadem on his head.

“Your father went often to consult the oracle of the oak tree,” she said. “The oak tree grew from an acorn while Homer was still alive. It is the oldest oracle in Greece, older than time. Dione is worshipped there but it’s power comes from Zeus and the Egyptian Ammon, the greatest of all oracles. The god spoke here at Dodona even before Apollo came to Delphi.”

Olympias took him by the hand and led him out of the palace, past the guards who saluted them at the gates. The morning was fresh and still. From the hills came the melodic jangle of sheep bells as the shepherds led their flocks up the mountain slopes.

The sacred precinct was guarded by a low stone fence. Inside it, a majestic oak spread its huge ancient branches dwarfing the marble altars. Small votives were stuck in the fissures of it’s trunk, left by worshippers to the shrine.
The wind ruffled quietly through the high branches. The child heard the roo-coo-coo of the birds who were huddled there perched in pairs on the leafy branches.

“Those are the sacred black doves of Dodona,” Olympias said.

All around the sacred tree stood tripods holding hollow bronze cauldrons hung with bronze-tipped weighted leather cords that jangled in the breeze. The thrumming of weights against the cauldrons, the cooing of the birds, cast a hypnotizing spell in the precinct.

There was a little stone thatch-roofed hut nearby.

“Who lives there?” Iskander asked.

“That is the house of the black Doves, the servants of the oracle,” his grandmother explained. “They are the priestess of the shrine.”

The inhabitants, Three ragged old women dressed in black, came to the doorway. and shuffled out to greet them, on bare, shrivelled bird feet. They seemed surprised to see a child there. One grey-haired hag, wrinkled as an acorn husk, put out a bony hand to touch him.

“Alexander?” Her filmed and rheumy eyes peered hard at him.
“It’s Alexander’s son, Mother,” Olympias explained.
“Why have you come, Alexander?” the crone said in a creaky voice.
“To question the god,” the child replied exactly as his grandmother had rehearsed him.
“Zeus or Dione?” squeaked the crone.
“We wish to consul Zeus-Ammon,” Olympias said. “Give me the things on which to write our supplication.”

The tallest priestess, who was bent and gnarled as a wind-blown tree, leaned her head toward his grandmother and said, “In truth, only the god will see your question. I will set out the jars. One for the gods to be propitiated. The other containing your reply. Do you wish both?”

“We wish only a reply,” Olympias said.
“Then take care you address the god clearly,” warned the eldest priestess

On a low table under the tree, she placed a jar painted with images of the gods. Another crone handed Olympias a piece of lead and a stylus. His grandmother put the lead strip on the table and wrote out the words, whispering them to him:

“Olympias and Alexander ask Zeus Ammon of the sacred grove: Will our return to Macedon be propitious?” Then she dropped the piece of lead into the jar.
Iskander stood watching, his eyes fixed on the painted terra-cotta jar, thinking about what they had wished. The crones stood under the sacred oak tree with lifted arms, chanting the invocation in a unintelligible jargon, some mysterious tongue with cooing, chirruping sounds that mimicked the doves. Next to him he felt his grandmother’s presence, aware that she was trembling as she stood with indrawn breath.

A strong gust of wind hissed through the leafy branches clattering the lead cords against the caldrons. Startled, the doves suddenly took flight. Above the treetop the child heard harsh caws and screeches. He looked up and saw two ravens fighting. Fascinated, his attention drew away from the chanting priestesses. Black feathers drifted down and drops of blood spilled like tiny droplets of rain onto the grass.

The priestesses ceased their strange monotonous chanting and peered skyward at the warring birds. One raven spiraled down, it’s wing askew, falling just beyond the table where his grandmother’s lead-etched question lay inside the painted jar.
The crones hurried to her, their eyes startled. “Zeus Ammon has spoken. The warring ravens tell of dark destruction!”

The child felt a chill and sucked in his breath, both frightened and horrified by what he had witnessed. When he looked up at his grandmother, he saw that she had a strange smile on her face.
* * *

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

AARGH MATEY! : PROGRESS REPORT # 15

HAPPY HALLOWE'EN!

(I'm the one with the eye patch!)

I always loved Hallowe'en and usually I'm getting prepared for a costume party. But not this year. The above photo is from one of our Scribbler's critique group's 'theme' writer's retreats. It was probably the most fun one of all, a Pirate's weekend. We even had buried treasures!

We haven't gone on any retreats this year and for some reason the enthusiasm for these special events seems to have waned. I find it disappointing as it was what made our writer's group special. Every time we went we had a different theme which made it even more fun for those of us who love costumes and pretend.

Well, I have a class tonight, so I'll be sure to see some little spooks along the way there and I think I'll take my camera along just in case. On the weekend it was the annual Parade of Lost Souls on the Drive and I forgot my camera, although I was only there for a short while because my friend and I were going to see a play. (Which, by the way, was a very good one-woman show about Mary Pickford.)

As far as progress on my novel is concerned, I wrote copious notes last week but then things got busy. Late Saturday night my friend Patrick arrived from Germany and he's been visiting the last few days while en route to Chile. On the weekend it was the 2nd anniversary of my friend Anibal's passing so we spent all day Sunday out in the 'burbs at his daughters' house visiting the family. Patrick is on his way to visit with the girls' mother, Cecilia, and grandmother (who we visited last year.) I envy Patrick so much and wish I could have gone along. But, next year, including Argentina. He'll be back here in two weeks with lots of news and adventure stories.

So today I'm back at work on Shadow of the Lion writing a very intense, dark and somewhat horrifying chapter segment (suitable for Hallowe'en). Perhaps I'll post some snippets later. Right now I still have a few notes to do and then I'll start working on the computer with the things I've jotted down by hand. (I always start a new chapter segment by writing notes first, and from the prompts I get while doing this I end up with longer passages for the chapter.

My novel writing class last night was so much fun and the energy is so inspiring. There are only four guys in the class (and one is leaving us for a trip overseas) but each of them are so involved and enthusiastic about their writing, so they are all making good progress with their novels. This class is "Getting Your Novel Started" and of course there are a lot of people who sign up, thinking novels are an easy thing to write, but soon drop out when they discover the amount of work that goes into the writing/research and then (alas!) the marketing. So it's always encouraging when I get a few of the real keeners like these guys are. And their boundless enthusiasm has made the class real fun. (I'm also impressed with their writing skills.)

I have been asked to do some writing coaching, which will be fun for me. I wish I had my own 'coach' (mentor) at the moment -- someone who knows the history as well as writing. But at least I have some valuable contacts on line, including from this blog site. It's so important to have like-minds to bounce ideas off of or to talk about problems etc. Even just to discuss the story and characters is really important. For this I'm really missing some of my scholar friends from my days in Greece.

But...progress is being made and I am hoping to keep close to my scheduled 'finish' date (the last day of Autumn). However, if I'm lagging behind I will for sure aim for the end of the year. I'm writing as fast as I can and the end is definitely in sight!








Wednesday, October 24, 2007

IN THE COMPANY OF WRITERS

Rainbow over Galiano Island

"For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss."
Vladimir Nabokov 1899-1977 "On a Book Entitled 'Lolita'" 1956

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of spending three days at the Surrey International Writer's Conference (www.siwc.ca )
(Surrey is a suburb of Vancouver.) This writer's conference has won the reputation of being the best in North America and the largest in the world. People come here from everywhere to attend and there are several of the presenters who have attended year after year.
The last three years I have volunteered in order to be able to afford to spend the whole weekend there. This not only allows me a chance to meet some of the presenters personally but also to sit in on several workshops. All three years I've been given the job of introducing presenters and this is quite an honor. This year I also helped monitor the Blue Pencil Cafe where people bring some of their manuscripts in to be critiqued by the presenters. Besides the writers, there are many agents and editors at the conference and you can make appointments to see them. (15 minutes for the Blue Pencil Cafe, 10 minutes for the editor/agent appointments.)

This year I had the privilege of introducing Anne Perry, an award-winning author of Victorian mysteries from England; Bruce Hale, author of children's books, Calif. ; and Lisa Rector-Maass, editor/writer from N.Y. I also attended some excellent workshops besides these including a panel: History as a Platform for Contemporary Issues, Panel members included Diana Gabaldon, Jack Whyte, Cecilia Holland and Eric Walter (a Canadian historical writer). I also sat in on Capturing the Spirit: The Keys to Writing Biography and Memoir, and an excellent workshop presented by Cecilia Holland on Holistic Historicals: What is the Value of Historical Fiction?

This last workshop I found of particular interest and value and was able to ask a lot of crucial questions that will help me in finishing my novel. During the workshops I also learned a lot of valuable hints to help with the final edits.

I made a lot of notes and thought I'd share some of the highlights with my blog writer friends. I was so inspired and encouraged by these workshops that I came away full of new energy and knowledge that will help me immensely. So perhaps some of the tips I got will help you too!

In Anne Perry's workshop "The Butler Did It: Character Development in Fiction", she gave some tips on drawing out your characters. As yourself what are some of the negative things in a character that you find tedious and boring in a story (such as self-pity, stupidity, someone who is 'perfect', etc) And what are some positive character traits (vulnerability - to a certain extent), fear (is OK if it's real) redemption, etc) If you look at your characters and see what traits they have you can build a stronger character.
She suggested writing out the plot from the antagonist's p.o.v. to find the vulnerability in the antagonist and discover the strength and weakness of your character that will help you understand how they will overcome it. Remember the protagonist must change whle they are on their journey.

Most importantly she said "Go inside yourself. What matters to you? Your main character's strength comes from inside YOU."
Also, give secondary characters a life in your imagination but you don't have to give many details about them.
Every character has to have a life, goals achievements, etc.
And, she says if you are using multiple point of view, to use only up to five characters.

In Lisa Recto-Maass workshop "Deep Down Revision" I got some good tips to help me with my final draft. One thing she mentioned was regarding secondary characters. If you have too many who are not doing enough, whose paths don't cross, or cross only for resolution, characters who have no real purpose to further the plot, either get rid of them of amalgamate some of them into one characters. As yourself: Do they incite a plot line? If so, give them a second plot line. What is their hidden agent? (
Look for secondary motivation in everything they do.)

All the writers talked about the antagonist. What happened in their life to make them into the villain? What could come into their life to change things? What have you taken away from the protagonist to give to another character? Find conflicts: go point by point. How do your plot points connect to keep the story from being disjointed? Have a connected threat. What is your THEME? The theme is your connected thread. What if your characters had to go to a place least expected? You must go there in order to write powerful characters.
FOCUS: #1 protagonist #2 antagonist #3 plot.

In the Historical Fiction panel some interesting questions were raised and each writer on the panel had a chance to answer. As Jack Whyte said, "There is nothing new under the sun. Everything echoes in the past."
Anne Perry said: "Beliefs shift, but things in the core of us are the same. Things spring from human nature, good and evil is always much the same."
Diane Gabaldon said " History is talking about differences in people and times. To be political (politically correct) stuff isn't into the mind set of the time. Don't editorialize!"
Cecilia Holland said: "Get rid of preconceptions to get into the story and be faithful to it. Things that happen now have antecedents in the past.
Eric Walter said: "You are writing fiction and you have to get emotion in."
And three more things. "Be honest. Don't make deliberate distortions of the past. Be honest about the characters. "
"Never give up!"
"Be historically accurate but don't let history overwhelm the story."

In Cecilia Holland's workshop on historical writing, I was totally entranced. I felt an immediate connection with this writer who says she has been writing historical since she was twelve (same as me!). I asked a lot of questions which were very helpful. One was a problem I have with events (historical) that occur perhaps a year or so apart. She suggested that you can condense some time lines (and leave out dates). She also said "Don't layer in and give a history lesson. Give a sense of the values of the time."
In a question regarding historical fiction vs fantasy: "Fantasy has fantasy elements in it -- seeing the future, visions, premonitions, people doing unusual things like spitting fire"
There is also Alternative history such as: "What if the South won the Civil War?"
Using nicknames is OK. Play on words OK. For minor characters if there's names the same and you can't change or shorten, drop them.

After I got home from the conference on Sunday, my mind full of knowledge and completely inspired, I decided to email Cecilia Holland to thank her for sharing her expertise. And I was thrilled to get an immediate response thanking me and telling me to contact her if I needed 'cheering on." I was also completely surprised when Lisa Rector-Maass came over to thank me for my introduction. We talked, she asked about what I write, she said she does historicals and handed me her card. "Send it to me when you're done," she said. Wow! I was totally thrilled. Believe me, this conference is the best thing a writer could do for them self. My head is still spinning with all that I took in. And I am more encouraged and inspired than ever!

Now...back to work on my novel!

"This is a work of history in fictional form -- that is, in personal perspective, which is the only kind of history that exists." Joyce Carol Oates 1938 - Author's Note 1969.



West Coast sunset over the islands.
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