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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A WRITER'S BUSY LIFE

"How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every operning flower!"
Isaac Watts 1674-1748 "Against Idleness nd Mischief."

I've been so busy lately there's not been much time left over to work on my novel. It seems that every once in awhile I get bogged down with the 'busy stuff' of living a writer's life. For one thing, I'm teaching writing classes two nights a week for the School Board, one night at home in a private workshop and one morning a week with my Memoir's group. This is my 'bread and butter', my 'employment' as a writer. Aside from that I only have my pensions to live on or the occasional (rare) sale of a travel article (peanuts these days!) or the bonus of being invited to do special workshops. (I did a travel writing day at a college which paid super well and I'll be doing a travel writing workshop at the Summer Dreams Festival this summer.) I have also started to do editing on the side as a supplement to my income. Of course, all these tasks, which are necessary to keep the bread on the table (and the wine on the shelf) take up some of your writing time.

Living the writer's life means you do not make very much money and have to be constantly out there looking for ways and means. (Sam has a very good blog right now about how much money writers make on their book sales http://samanthawinston.blogspot.com and questions whether writers should post their work as self promotion. I can tell you travel journalism is paying very poorly right now and a lot of publications expect you to give away your literary treasures which you've toiled hours over. Writers have to promote themselves and for some of us, that's hard to do. And often posting their work on web sites or blogs is a handy tool of reference for potential 'buyers'.) I do make quite a bit on tax refunds every year -- enough to pay for a ticket to my next exotic destination. But in order to collect back tax you have to also pay into it and show you are trying to make a living at your self-employment as a writer.

It's important also for writers to keep in contact with others of like mind, and to be involved in organizations that might help forward your career or at least allow you more contact with people in the 'trade'. I'm on the boards of the Pandora's Poetry Collective, the Theatre in the Raw, and the B.C. Travel Writer's Association. I'm also a member of the Federation of B.C. Writers. The Poetry Collective puts on the Summer Dreams Festival. The BCATW is hosting a gala in May. The FED is having their annual general meeting this weekend so I'm going over to Victoria to attend it. As well, they are offering workshops so I'm taking one on Memoir Writing. You can never learn too much! It's also an opportunity for me to visit my cousins. And a weekend away on the Island is always a treat. (I may even find enough time to visit the Titanic Exhibit at the museum.)

In addition, I attend my weekly critique group, the Scribblers. And this is what keeps me on track with my own writing. When I know I'm up to read, it helps me focus on getting on with my writing. Without this valuable input and influence I'd perhaps never gotten as far as I have with my novel (which is coming close to being finished.) I think it's important for writers to keep in close contact with other writers for support and encouragement. That includes keeping a blog and/or website. I've made valuable contacts with other writers right here on blogspot.

So goes my week these days. Busy as a bee. But it's all for a worthy cause -- money to live on and travel with, camaraderie with other writers and involvement in the arts and media events.

What do you do for your 'busy work'?

A business with an income at its heels
Furnishes always oil for its own wheels."
William Cowper 1731 - 1800 "Retirement" (1782) l 615



Monday, April 16, 2007

MEET THE WOMEN

"Who knows what women can do when they are finally free to become themselves? Who knows what women's intelligence will contribute when it can be nourished without denying love?....The time is at hand when the voices of the feminine mystique can no longer drown out the inner voice that is driving women on to become complete."
Betty Naomi Friedan "The Feminine Mystique" (1963)

One month from today my friend Ingrid and I will be on our way to Venezia and from there, we'll be heading for Greece to meet up with several of my other women friends. One of the stops we'll make is at Parga, to visit the Rock of Zalonga where the Souliote women lept to the deaths to avoid being captured by the Ali Pasha's men. The other is to Cape Doukas on the island of Lefkda where the poet Sappho lept to her death after being rejected by a young lover.

My visit to Athens this time is going to be extra-special. My friend Anna Britt is coming down from Norway for a reunion with me and our Finnish friend Vesa and his wife and son. Anna Britt is a classical scholar, writing her doctorate on Aristophanes.
Vesa is an architect. I met them both in Athens in 1996 when they were studying there. At that time there was a group of us who used to hang out at the To Kati Allo taverna. Some were classical scholars from the Norwegian and Finnish Institutes, some were artists and writers and musicologists. This will be a special reunion and we have named it The Assembly of 2007, as in the ancient Assembly. And the big event will be my birthday party June 3 to be held just behind the Pnyx Hill where the ancient Assembly used to meet.

Another friend, Deborah, is arriving from Canada that weekend too. Patrick is coming from Germany. And of course there are my Athens friends: Dinaz, the Persian princess, and Christina, my good friend from Sweden and her daughter Dani who I used to babysit when she was very small. There are others too, who I am really looking forward to meeting once again. It's going to be quite an exciting time. We plan on making a few trips around together to see the sights and share the fun. I'm lucky to have such great friends, and to have kept the friendships I made all those years I've spent in Greece.

I was hoping to celebrate finishing my novel Shadow of the Lion by the time I got there, but there's still a lot to do although I'm close to the end now. Part of this trip will be to get more ideas for travel writing. But I'm really looking forward to the rich, inspiring talks I will have with my scholar friends and the others who are always so encouraging and know the history that I'm writing so well. Just being back in Greece is sure to give me the inspiration I need to finish.

I've just been writing about the meeting between two other remarkable women. Olympias and Roxana. Alexander the Great's mother and Soghdian wife. These were two very powerful individuals, and dangerous too, both of them capable of murderous deeds and viciously protective of their sons. What happens in this meeting is my ficitional version, but having studied as much as I could about them, I think I know them well. So here's an introduction:

Olympias’ room was on the ground floor, in a suite that had once been occupied by her brother, the deceased king. The door stood open and a gust of perfumed air wafted out to greet Roxana as she entered. The scent of myrrh, lotus and unnameable essences was overpowering and made her feel dizzy. An air of sinister magic imbued the room. It was well known that Alexander's mother knew magic, dark magic that could sap will and spirit. In the small alcove above the bed a votive lamp flickered. Beside it, a gold statue of Osiris stared with agate eyes. A cabinet, full of oddities stood against one wall full of clay tablets and seal stones of sandy chalcedony incised with peculiar signs. She remembered the inscribed scarab she had found wedged in the stones of the Queen's chamber in Aigai.

Olympias was lounging on her sleeping couch, banked in cushions of silk. She was wearing a robe the colour of purple cyclamen, its hems trimmed with a geometric pattern of gold.
For a moment the two women eyed warily each other like two bright serpents.
Olympias raised a hand inviting her to come closer. When she hestitated, Olympias’ brows drew together in a scowl and she clucked her tongue.


“Come child, are you afraid of me? What have they told you about me? That I murder my rivals?”

She moved cautiously to the bedside and bent to kiss Olympias’ cheek “My mother, how happy and honoured we are to be here in Dodona.” Now she was closer, she
could see that Olympias’ lustrous chestnut hair was streaked with grey. She was thin, her face lined and gaunt. Her pale skin exuded translucent glow, like a lamp in a dim room.


She must have been beautiful before she got old, Roxana thought.

“Sit, sit!” Olympias commanded, motioning to the tall carved chair near her bedside.
Roxana obeyed and settled herself. Her eyes strayed around the room taking in the elaborately carved furnishings of gilded olive wood, the painted walls with nymphs dancing about Aphrodite, the floor patterned with a mosaic of vine leaves and clusters of grapes surrounding Dionysos astride a leopard wielding his rod of ivy. She knew she was in the presence of a mystai who ran wild with the Bacchants through the forest to celebrate the rites of the god of wine and debauchery.Polyperchon had told her that Olympias was a priestess of the cult and held Dionysos in as much esteem as she did her god-gifted son.


“I trust you have recovered from your arduous journey.” Olympias’ painted mouth curved into a slight smile. “Washed and rested. Good. It is my wish that you are made comfortable here.”

“We appreciate your generosity, my mother.“ Roxana was aware of the
tremor in her voice and felt her cheeks flush. Olympias must see her as bold and self-assured. In truth, she was in a state of terror.


There was a rustling sound. On the floor beside her was a winnowing basket containing a tangle of burnished copper cords. Something stirred and she heard a faint hissing. The bronze cord unfolded and a snake lifted its narrow head, swaying slightly, its tongue flickered like a tiny flame.

Roxana let out a gasp and cringed with revulsion.


Olympias gave a throaty chuckled. “Don’t be frightened, my dear. It’s only the house snake.” She reached out her arm and let the serpent coil around it. “His name is Wadjet, after the Egyptian protector of the divine Isis and her son Horus.”

Roxana’s eyes opened wide. She could scarcely breathe she felt so frightened.

“Why are you afraid? He will not hurt you.” Olympias stroked the back of the creature's
scaly head. “Perhaps you have heard the story? How the golden snake of Ammon visited me the night I conceived my son? Yes. It’s true. My son Alexander was Ammon’s gift to me.” The snake wriggled free and poured itself down to the floor, slithering away into the shadows. “Its from the old religion, snake worship,” Olympias said. “I worship Zeus-Ammon. Snakes are my luck daimons.”

"There is no animal more invincible than a woman, nor fire either, nor any wildcat so ruthless." Aristophanes 450-385 BC "Lysistrata" 411 BC

"A woman always has her revenge ready."
Moliere 1622 - 1673 "Tartuffe" 1664 Act II, ii.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

PERSEVERANCE AND SOME GOOD FORTUNE

"'Tis a lesson you should heed,
Try, try again.
If at first you don't succeed
Try, try again."
Thomas H. Palmer 1782-1861 Teacher's Manual 1840

I was pleased to learn earlier this week that some of my hard work researching and marketing travel articles had started to pay off. Two stories have been accepted by one publication (a paying one!) and a couple of others are being considered and/or read. Then the other night I was approached by a writer friend who has a website devoted to new on the Drive and he asked if I'd like to contribute some travel stories for that. I obliged by sending him several of my already published pieces. This isn't a paying gig as yet but it could be and it's a way of keeping my work circulating at least.

One thing I have noticed with a lot of writers or would-be writers, is that they get discouraged early on and quit trying to send out their stuff because they can't handle the rejections. Every writer goes though the rejection syndrome and you just have to keep trying, no matter what. Eventually you'll get the right 'lottery' winner and see your name in print. But sometimes it takes a long time and this can be very discouraging. As the old saying goes, you just have to 'Try, try again'.

I haven't begun to think about marketing my novel yet because frankly I find the prospects daunting. I did some research on agents and publishers quite some time ago and I'm always keeping my eye open for prospects. So when the time comes I have some leads on where I should send out the queries. I didn't want to jump the gun and start sending out queries too early, before I was completely finished this monumental work. But soon it will be time and I want to be ready to pitch to the right places with a professional approach and a completed book.

In the meantime, I am sending out travel stories and in spite of the discouraging finds (most of them don't want to pay much if anything at all) I won't give up because eventually someone accepts them. I'm writing to become rich. That's a fantasy. I'm writing because I love to do it and I must do it. If you think you're going to get rich and famous, that's not likely to happen.
And that's not a good reason to be a writer. You just have to love words, love telling stories, and sharing those words and stories with the world (or anyone who will read them, even if it's just your mother or your best friend.) I think I get some of my best rewards sharing my expertise as a writer with others who also want to writer. It's a rewarding learning experience.

So...keep on writing, no matter what...and keep on sending stuff out into the big wide (sometimes cruel) publishing world. Sooner or later you'll see your name in print and even make a few coins for all your hard word. Best thing of all is the satisfaction of seeing your name in print!

"Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere...
Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind,
spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies."
Robert Louis Stevenson 1850 - 1894 Prayer (on the bronze memorial at his grave site.)



Friday, April 06, 2007

MY FANTASTIC FANTASY LIFE

"Pleasure is the beginning and the end of living happily."
Epicurus 341-270 BC from DIOGENES LAERTIUS, Lives of Eminent Philosophers bkX, sec 125

"I am giddy, expectation whirls me round,
The imaginary relish is so sweet
That it enchants my sense."
William Shakespeare 1564-1616 Troilus and Cressida (1601-1602) III, ii 17

I was reading on some other writers' blogs how we writers often tend to be off in Lala land, especially when coming down from an intense date with the Muse. And some of us recount having been like that from childhood. Daydreamers. Gypsies. Eccentrics. I've even been told once that I was "weird". True. That's the way it is with us writers who spend half our time in fantasy worlds and astro-travelling to other places. Frankly I'm only half-here most of the time.
I even decided, a long while back, that so long as I was having an 'affair' with Alexander, trying to write the story of his dynasty's tragic end, that I had no time for any 'real' man in my life.
Well, being the romantic that I am, I have on occasions, strayed off and two-timed Alexander, but frankly having a real living man (as in 'relationship") take up all my time (the amount of time Alexander has in the past years) I'd never have gotten any writing done at all. So that was my choice. And I like my half-fantasy world.

A friend said the other night, "You know so many interesting and unique people." And that's true, because I am drawn to exciting, exotic and like-minded people and enjoy filling my space with them. Some of them are even the living versions of characters in my novels. Others might be traveller friends, gypsies like myself who are not afraid to take risks and leaps of faith into the wild unknown, others are friends who share common interests like music, art, writing.

I've been spending the last few day sorting through old photo albums because tonight two of my women pals are coming over to discuss our up-and-coming Greek adventures. It was a nostalgic trip down memory lane going through those photos. Sad that a great many of the old Plaka crowd are now gone, especially the dear ones like Roberto and Graham. Roberto and I always celebrated our birthdays together and I have lots of photos of our parties, several of them on the rocks behind the Pnyx where I'm planning to have this year's sunset birthday celebration. Of course we'll drink some toasts and pour some libations for the departed and their spirits will be with us. How often since he passed in 2001 have I sat at the To Kati Allo taverna and 'seen' Roberto come round the corner, his slow, ambling walk (those last years he used a cane) and that gruff rumbling chuckle of his, those blue, blue eyes -- the colour of the Argentine sky. Boy, how I miss him! He was not just a friend but my Gemini soul-brother. And Graham, who lived across from the TKA, was one of my favorite drinking buddies. We'd sit long at the taverna over carafes of krasi discussing jazz (he was an aficionado and had a great collection. Used to play sax himself when he lived in England.) Sadly, he died quite unexpectedly just before I got to Athens two years ago.

They are only a couple of the many people who had touched my life, those special people -- artists, writers, explorers, gypsies like myself (Roberto was a painter.) There are still friends in Athens who I will be spending time with. And each time I launch out on another adventure I gather more of these precious sheep into my fold. Speaking of 'sheep', one of my main focuses this time is to get back to the village up on the mountain in Evvia. I know it's not the same now that the shepherd is no longer there, but his spirit is there and that was my Garden of Eden for such a long time I simply can't neglect a visit this year, an afternoon of musing in the shade by the water-fall, a time to put some myrtle on my shepherd's grave, a little visit with the village folk. (Mitso, another of my unique relationships, was my mountain man...a Greek Clint Eastwood. Who would have thought he'd be gone so soon!)

I'm thinking seriously now of beginning my travel memoirs -- my extraordinary life -- my fantastic fantasy life. There's just so much to write about it -- and many of the memories are captured in those photographs. So, as soon as I can get the end of the novel written, I shall begin! (How am I doing with the novel? Well, forging ahead as quickly as I can and the end is definitely in sight!)

"The poet is in command of his fantasy, while it is exactly the mark of the neurotic that he is possessed by his fantasy."
Lionel Trilling 1905- 1976 The Liberal Imagination (1950) Freud and Literature.

"Ever let the fancy roam,
Pleasure never is at home."
John Keats 1795 - 1821 "Ode to Psyche" (Fancy, l. 1)