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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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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

PROGRESS REPORT #14: AUTUMN MUSINGS

"There were three ravens sat on a tree,
They were as black as they might be.

The one of them said to his mate,
"Where shall we our breakfast take?"
Anonymous: Ballads "The Three Ravens" st. 1,2

(in this case, just two raven by the sea shore.)


Autumn is one of my favorite times of year, although it can also be a melancholy time with the leaves falling and winter approaching. It's been a time of loss in my life too, so these days I'm remembering dear ones who have left: my mother, my father and my friends Robbie and Anibal. But I love the colours of autumn and every day I get a chance to walk in the park through the fallen leaves, I enjoy taking my camera along to record some of the autumn sights. These were three ravens perched on a piece of sculpture at English Bay. I went for a walk along the sea-shore and into the edge of Stanley Park last Thursday after my Memoir class with one of the women and I took these autumn pictures.

Autumn leaves
are tumbling down
Some are yellow
some are brown.

We've had a lot of rain but some sunny days between. I spent a busy weekend enjoying time with friends and preparing a birthday dinner party for my son on Sunday, then a luncheon with another friend on Monday. So I haven't done as much work on my novel as I'd have liked to. Monday night I workshopped the Interlude of Part V at my writer's group. It gets a little frustrating because a number of the members are new and haven't really a clue about my novel, coming into it right near the end. And we don't allow discussion times. So to try and explain the politics and characters makes it difficult. I wish somehow I had a mentor who understood the history which I'm writing otherwise I have to trust my own instincts and skills. I think it's turning out okay but it does get complicated and I get a bit discouraged from time to time. Meanwhile, I am forging ahead and have reached a part of high drama with a lot of nasty things about to happen. This means putting my head into that rather violent space.
(In particular, into the vicious mind of Queen Olympias). It can be fun though as it really taps your imagination.

I worked on edits today and now I must prepare things for my Prompting the Muse Class tonight. That will be a bit of light entertainment as we will do word games and haiku.

From Friday to Sunday I'll be volunteering at the Surrey Writer's Conference. As I have in the past, I get to introduce some of the workshop instructors (writers and editors). There's a lot of really great things happening at this conference and in my 'free' time I get to sit in on workshops of my choice. So next week I'll have lots to tell in my blog about my experiences.

"That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang!"

William Shakespeare 1564-1616 Sonnet 73, l 1

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

ME AND MY BOOKS




"If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters they might write all the books in the British Museum"
Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington 1892- 1944
"The Nature of the Physical World"1928 Ch 4

Books books books! I recently read a blog by Marie (http://marie-deepthinker.blogspot.com)
in which someone had sent her a meme about books. I got thinking about some of the questions and decided to respond. Why don't you try it to?

Total number of books I own: I really have never counted them. But you can see some of them here on my bookshelves. This long built-in shelf under my salon windows contain most of my fiction or travel writing/memoirs books. As you can see, there are piles of them besides those on the shelves. The big brown book in front is one about Pirates I got last year for Christmas. The book shelf is decorated with artifacts from Turkey among other things like plants. Besides all the books on my bookshelves I have others stored in my closet and some in boxes that are very old books saved from my childhood. On occasions I go through them and discard any I don't want to keep though this doesn't happen often. I hate parting with my books. I don't mind lending them sometimes, but most of the books I have are the ones I treasure most. And a lot of them are research books too.

What is the last book you read? I am almost finished reading a remarkable book by a Canadian author, Karen Connelly, which is about Burma. It's titled "The Lizard Cage". Someone loaned me this book quite awhile ago and I totally forgot about it until the recent uprisings in Burma so I got it out and began to read it. Gripping! Horrifying (because what goes on in her 'fictional' prison with her 'fictional' protagonist is going on right now and went on from 1988 onwards.) Ms. Connelly became well known as a young poet, then traveled to Thailand and later Greece, Spain and France and wrote travel journals. Then she went to Burma and gathered info from people about the situation there so her characters are based on real people's stories. The writing is gorgeous, showing her poetic style in spite of the frightening subject.

What is the last book you bought? I bought a book titled "Rasputin's Daughter"
by Robert Alexander, quite some time ago but before I got chance to read it, I was given a bag of books about Venice to read before my summer holidays. So I haven't read this book as yet. I was also sent a very good book about the seige of Malta titled "The Religion" by Tim Willocks from my cousin. I have started to read it but when I came across the Burma story I set it aside for now and will finish it next. I was also recently given another book for my research collection titled "Envy of the Gods: Alexander the Great's ill-fated journey across Asia" by John Brevas. I've added it to the huge pile of "to be reads' (TBR's) that now grace the shelves of my book cases.
(So many books, so little time!)

Here is the other book shelf in my salon which contains mainly research books about Greece, Persia, Egypt, Mesopotamia and others including some books about the poet Sappho. The little curios on the shelves are from Morocco and Turkey which is the theme of my decor in my salon. The painting above it, painted by a friend, is Machu Pichare (spelling???) and Anapurna 1 in the Himalayas. I've had this painting for a long time and it's one of my favorites.

And here, below, is the bookshelf in my bedroom which contains more research books, books about writing, books about Greece, dictionaries and reference books. As you can see, the decor theme in the bedroom is Greece, with lots of pieces reminding me of Alexander and Sappho.

Name Five Meaningful Books: This is a little bit tough to answer as there are so many 'meaningful' books that I've read in my lifetime, including the Holy Bible and the Tao Te Ching. I value all the books written by Mary Reneault, in particular her Alexander trilogy (but most of all Fire From Heaven. I also treasure Homer's Iliad and The Odyssey. Of course you could name the great classics most of which I read when I was young, and they would include, for me, anything by Shakespeare and Dickens.
I also love the Greek dramatists and have several books of plays by Sophocles and Euripides and Aeschylus in my collection. As well, I enjoy poetry, especially the poetry of Pablo Neruda and I have several translations of Sappho's poems. A more recent favorite author is Stephen Pressfield. I admire his work, in particular Gates of Fire about the Spartans. These books are all meaningful to me because of my keen interest in ancient history, and in particular the history of Greece.

What about you and your books?

"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." Francis Bacon 1561-1626 "Essays of Studies."
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Friday, October 05, 2007

PROGRESS REPORT #13: BATTLE PLANS

I've been busy the past couple of weeks getting my night school classes started and recovering from a touch of flu and a cold. Everything is going well now and I'm back on schedule with my writing, having just finished another chapter of Shadow of the Lion. I've been mostly planning a battle scene, but in my 'real' life, I've enjoyed some leisure times too including a trip to the island where my family used to have a cottage last weekend. I'll post more about that later, including some of the photos. This week I'm attending some of the film festival movies. And, of course, keeping very busy with all four of my writing classes. The groups are small this term but very lively and I'm looking forward to them. I also spent a bit of time doing some of the editing/writing for the tour company but apparently those projects are 'on hold' at the moment
so it's a clear field for me to proceed with the novel.

Planning battles is a bit tricky. Everything needs to be choreographed and there needs to be a substantial build-up of tension. I took several days just to research and make notes, but once I got started, it went very smoothly. So I'm going to put a snippet here, a preliminary to the dramatic scene that follows. Things are heating up and I am aiming for the end of Autumn for a finish to this Homeric project. If I can keep my fingers on the keys and my mind in Alexander's world, I ought to be able to do it.

To add a bit of colour to my page, I thought I'd post a couple of the photos I took while in Athens of the Spartans who came marching into Syntagma Square one afternoon while I was browsing around sight-seeing. I heard a parade coming down the road and there were women in traditional costumes holding banners, and behind them a troop of Spartans and Greek hoplites marching toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the National Palace (now the government buildings.) I was impressed by their authentic costumes, even to their hair-dos and foot-wear. Quite a sight!

I thought the photographs would enhance the page a bit for this next little scene I'm going to post.

In this scene, Polyperchon the Regent has fled to Epiros to ask Olympias' help in taking back control of Macedon where the young queen Eurydike has seized the throne and ordered him to surrender her troops. Olympias welcomes him and throws a banquet in honour of the Regent and his generals. Roxana, the wife of Alexander, is attending but is largely ignored as the banquet turns into a war-party and Olympias and Polyperchon plan for battle.

Hour after hour Roxana had sat listening to the war talk, her gaze fixed on Polyperchon, drinking him in like honied wine. She longed to be alone with him, but dared not to allow her erotic reveries be discovered and interpreted by Olympias. An undercurrent of deep emotion swirled around her. Polyperchon paid her no heed and puzzled, feeling slighted, she tried to catch his eye seeking
reassurance. But Olympias was watching, her eyes narrowed. She studied Olympias’ face, paid heed to every word she spoke and move she made. Occasionally Olympias glanced across at her with a faint enigmatic smile, her kohl-smudged eyes hooded. Does she know of our affair? she asked herself. For surely, if Olympias did suspect, then she would be in peril.

Fear and uncertainty swept over her and as the evening progressed she felt more and more isolated. It was as if she was invisible and she felt utterly helpless, with no voice at all, reduced to no more than one of the servant maids who at least had the honour of pouring the wine. When she saw that there was no place for her there, that she had no voice in their discussions, she politely excused herself.

As she fled the banquet hall she caught a glimpse of herself in the bronze door. She paused and met her own reflection, startled at the image of the pale, harried-looking woman. Have I changed so much? she asked herself. Where is Little Star, Oxyartes daughter? What has become of her?

She went to her room where she slammed the door closed and threw herself on the bed, weeping tears of remorse.

As she lay on her bed gazing into the darkness, she heard a sound from the door.
In the dim, shadowy lamplight, she saw a man enter and recognized Polyperchon’s bulky physique. Startled, she sat up drawing the coverlets around her. She had not expected him to come. They had not exchanged a single word during the banquet.

He crossed the room and stood beside her bed. In the dim light, she could see his face, intent, stern. The sight of him filled her with excitement. He pulled her up from the bed and embraced her. She leaned into his arms, half laughing, half sighing as she drew him closer. As her mouth sought his she felt the roughness of his beard against her cheek. Being so near him, his virility and strength was almost more than she could bear. She longed to say “Make love to me, my Lord” but she dared not. It posed a danger to both of them that he had risked coming to her room. She worried lest Olympias be spying on them.

Drawing her to him he held her body against his own. “How I have longed for you,” he murmured. His tongue explored her yielding mouth. His breath smelled
of wine and she wondered if he was drunk. She could feel the tenseness in his muscles and she kneaded the small of his back. His fingers tightened around her arms. In the lamplight he looked grave, his face ashen.

She grasped a fold of his tunic. “What is it? Has Olympias made a divination for you? You look strange, my Love.” She had many questions, some too dangerous to ask. “Will Olympias lend you her army?”

“Yes. The call to arms has already gone out. Envoys have been sent to Thessally and Thrace offering terms in return for their support and we will send peace parties to our other allies because we must make sure that our backs are protected.”

Suddenly he released her and began to pace about restless as a caged wolf. “This is not a war of little consequence. These are solemn matters. It is the beginning of everything -- or the end of Alexander’s Macedon. This is a war where kinsmen will fight kinsmen.”
“When will you go?”
“We are leaving here straightaway.”

Her tears blurred the vision of his face. She clung to him desperately, wishing she could hold him there forever. “Why must you leave so soon, my Lord?” Tears spilled down her face. “Please, my Lord. I beg you to stay with us a little longer.”
He pushed her away. “I’m sorry, Little Star. I can not linger here. We must drive the young cockerel from her roost and then face the bigger beast who hounds us, Kassandros.”

“Can I come with you then?” she beseeched. Alexander had always taken her on campaign. Even Perdikkas had allowed her to travel with the army to Egypt. But this was Macedon where women did not have a place in army camps.

Polyperchon frowned. “No my Little Star. It would not be seemly and it is too dangerous. I will not risk your life or the child’s. You must wait here until I send for you to return to Pella.” He stroked her tenderly and his hand brushed her breasts, near-naked under her sheer sheath. “Then I shall make love to you. We have many years ahead, when the boy is king and I am your consort.”

She could not bear the thought of another long separation from him. Once she would have dissolved in furious tears or flown into a rage as she so often had
with Alexander. Now, just as he would subdue a skittish mare, Polyperchon calmed her, assured her that all would be well and that soon, after the war, they would be together as regent and queen.

They stood silently, face to face, gazing into each other‘s eyes. Finally he bent and kissed her forehead.. “Fare you well, my Lady, until the war is won and I return .”
He left her as silently as he had come. Aching with regret, she stood in the darkness weeping softly. “Oh, my Lord. Alexander was my greatest love. But you I need as a child needs her father. If you do not return, how will I live without you?”


The next morning, as dawn glimmered over the eastern hills, Roxana stood at the palace gate as the armed troops of Molossia and Macedon gathered in the field below. To her astonishment, in front of a platoon of Molossian cavalry astride a caparisoned black stallion, she saw Olympias surrounded by flower-bedecked bacchants playing cymbals and flutes as if she was riding to the woodlands to dance with the maenads instead of to war. The queen sat on her horse, her crimson cape flowing around her. A plumed helmet covered her bright hair and she wore a cuirass that glittered with gold rosettes. She wheeled her mount and raised her fist, shouting an order to the men. “Advance against the foe! Victory and honour!“ At her command the line moved forward, the drums marking time.

Roxana watched as the long train of men and horses make its course toward the mountain pass. She bowed her head and said a prayer to the gods she knew, the old gods of Soghdiana who once, when she was a young girl, had brought her a golden-haired warrior.
“Gods grant them victory,” she whispered. “Else all is lost!”

* * *



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