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Monday, December 29, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT #47: THE DEADLINE APPROACHES!

View From My Window

This is the exact view I have from where I sit at the computer. These days I've been spending a lot of time here, working to deadline to complete Part VI of SHADOW OF THE LION.
I have reached the "Interlude" of this section and although some of it was previously written, I have to fill in the details before it's complete. Yesterday I spend several hours just making notes. Today I've had a late start, decided to sleep in and cancel my plans to go downtown shopping due to the deluge of rain and slushy streets. And here it is almost 1 p.m. and I haven't started writing yet!

I had projected a goal to finish the whole novel by the end of 2008, however due to seasonal distractions (and my own expert ability to procrastinate and find other things to do instead of writing -- checking my emails a dozen times a day, for instance), I am behind and instead want to finish Part VI before the end of the year. Not much time left. I'd best be getting busy!

So far, this massive manuscript (which I edit and workshop as I am going along, is pretty nearly 'final draft'. I will have a lot of cutting to do though, once it's done, as it is much too long to be accepted. I'm not too worried about that part though, as I find editing quick and fairly easy.
My critique group has been a big help as well, because sometimes you just can't see for yourself what is okay and what needs to be eliminated or improved upon.

Writing a novel doesn't happen by osmosis. Some people think it will only take them months to write, and some types of books do take months. But a complicated historical fiction novel, written from a historic plot , requires a lot of research. And this particular story has been made more complicated by using multiple points of view and trying to stick as close to 'facts' as possible, in the political sense of what was happening at that time in history, and the reasons why it ended of Alexander the Great's dynasty.

It's been a long journey, but an enjoyable and educational one. And I've been lucky enough to have contact with Classical scholars and to see many of the sites I've described in the story.
The characters have become part of my world and it is difficult to say goodbye to them when the time comes. To me, they are real and we have developed a relationship as I grew to know them intimately. Most of the characters in the story actually lived at that time. There are only a few of them who are fictional, and they are just as dear to me as they are my own creations.

The novel will been written in seven parts, although when the final cutting is done I think it will be shortened to just three or four. Each 'part' has an Interlude (which I may change to "Epitasis" (Greek for: "increased intensity"), the part of a play (Greek drama) developing the main action and leading ot the catastrophe (and that's a Greek word too!). I'll then change the "Parts" to "Acts" as in a drama, because this story is very much a Greek tragedy.

So, now I'd better get back to work. The Interlude is set in Alexandria, Egypt and Pergamon, Asia Minor. (I can't be in Chile, Cuba or Mexico with my friends right now, so this is my 'escape' to an exotic place.)

The following is an excerpt from the final chapter of Part VI taking place after Iskander (Alexander's 7 yr old son) his Soghdian mother Roxana and his grandmother, Olympias have been trapped all winter in the sea-coast fortress at Pydna (located on the north east coast of Greece, south of today's Thessaloniki.) Spitama is the half-breed Scythian horse master who is a friend of young Iskander. "Tempest" is Iskander's horse.


Winter Sunset

In the pale light before the dawn Iskander slipped past the dozing guards and made his way out to the barracks yard. The compound was deserted and the low-roofed stables empty save for a few horses. Most of horses had been eaten during that bleak winter; only royal steeds had been left unharmed though they were half-starved. Spitama had kept them groomed and rubbed down, still their coats were dull, their skin stretched over protruding bones.

He found Spitama sprawled on the hay still asleep. Tempest was tethered nearby and neighed when the child approached. “Shh Tempest...” The horse's ears went up at the sound of his voice. “Quiet, boy...You’ll wake the guards...”

Tempest nudged him, the breath from his nostrils warm against the child’s cheek. Iskander stroked the horse’s nuzzle. “I have nothing to give you, boy . There weren’t even crumbs to bring.” Tempest dipped his head so his forelock fell between his limpid dark eyes. Iskander ran his hand along the horse’s neck. He felt safe now that he was in the stable with Spitama and Tempest.

The horse snuffed the child’s hair and gave a soft whinny. Spitama woke to the sound. He sat up, looking surprised to see the child. He sucked in his breath through his lower teeth. “Tsss! Poh poh...little Captain...you should not be here...”

“You must go away now before all the guards are at their posts,” Iskander urged him. “You will die if you stay here.”

Spitama scrambled to his feet. He looked thin and pale, shivering in his tattered cloak and soiled clothing. He peered at the child sharply, “ What do you mean go? I can not leave you. And where would I go even if I could leave?”

“Go to Thessaly to your father‘s people. Take Tempest...”

Spitama studied him, frowning. ‘Leave ? How can I?”

“You must!” Iskander insisted. “Ride away now. Fast! Fly! Fly from here...Or they will kill you. Don’t you know that?”

“Fuck them all,” Spitama burst out. “I’ll not leave you, little Captain.”

Iskander was trembling. His voice shook even though he tried to sound brave. “If I order you to go, then you must.”

From that day long ago when Spitama had rescued him on the path at the sea camp in Thrace, he had counted the Scythian like an uncle or older brother.

“Here” He took off the luck charm he wore around his neck, the cartouche his Uncle Ptolemy had given him that bore the inscription of Alexander’s name. “If anyone tries to stop you, tell them you have been sent by Alexander, son of Alexander.” When he spoke the name of his father, he felt full of pride. Alexander, son of Alexander! No longer was he Iskander, Ashabal, the little Captain.. He was Alexander.

His command struck Spitama speechless. “Well...”Spitama stammered. “So you are! But as the gods are my witness, I will not abandon you willingly. And if I go, I promise it will be only to seek some help. Perhaps I can rally my father’s kinsmen...”

“Just go!” urged the child. “Tell the gate guards you’re going to Pella with a message for Kassandros...Tell them Alexander commanded you...When they see you are riding my horse they will let you pass.”

“I will take you with me.”

“No. You must go alone. I can not leave my mother.” Iskander reached up to stroke Tempest’s neck and felt a sudden pang of anguish. “Gods speed, good friend...”
Tempest’s nostrils flared and his black eye rolled sidelong. He gave a whinny, as if in farewell.

Spitama’s face was sombre. “When you are king, little Captain, you will avenge all these wrongs that have been done here. The base and wicked will die; the brave and just will triumph.” He reached out and drew the child against him. “Your father was a great man and you will be too. Perhaps all that has come to pass was meant to be, your moira, the shape of your Fate that will let you be strong , so that when your appointed time comes, you will be as great a hero and as beloved as your father was. You must not be afraid, or give up hope. For the gods will show you the way and protect you.”

“How will I know my moira?” Iskander asked.

“By an oracle, or some prophecy being fulfilled -- some sign. Then you will know the task that the gods have allotted you. And you will reap the glory.”

Melancholy filled the child, cold as winter snow. He did not speak, but laid his head against Spitama’s breast.

“Don’t forget that, little Al’skander.” Spitama bent to kiss him, then took the reins from the child’s hands and mounted the horse.

“Swear me an oath that you’ll not come back lest it’s with an army.” The child’s voice trembled with emotion though he tried hard not to cry.

“I swear...I will remember you and do what I can to help you. May the gods protect you, little Captain.” Spitama spurred Tempest lightly with his heels and rode out into the barracks yard.

Iskander bit his lip to keep himself from bursting into tears. “Send me word, if you can. May you live long...”

Outside, dawn was breaking touching the snow peaks of Mount Olympus with a pink glow. Iskander stood by the stable door and watched as Spitama rode Tempest toward the citadel gate. He heard the sentry cry out and worried that the guards would not allow him to pass. At the gate, Spitama wheeled Tempest around and looked back, lifting his hand in a salute. The sentries opened the gate. Spitama dug his heels into Tempest’s flank and galloped away.

A flood of tears coursed down the child’s cheeks. He stood awhile trying to compose himself, then crossed the barracks yard, stopping at the fountain to splash water on his face so his mother wouldn’t see he had been crying.



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Sunday, December 21, 2008

A SALUTE TO THE WINTER SOLSTICE

HAPPY SOLSTICE DAY!

DECEMBER 21, the winter solstice. It's been snowing all day here on the Coast. There must be at least a new foot of the white stuff. I've been hunkered down all day in my apartment with the fireplace blazing and the Christmas lights aglow, listening to Christmas and Hanukah music while I did my housework and later, my writing.

I had an idea that as a salute to the solstice, I should revisit Olwen's story, DRAGONS IN THE SKY: A Celtic Tale, which I began long ago, then shelved in favor of writing Alexander's story. When I started work on SHADOW OF THE LION, I had no idea it was going to take literally years to write. But now I am almost at the end, and recently I was looking in my archives box, and there was the unfinished manuscript of DRAGONS. I am now anxious to get back to work on it, because it is a unique and important tale, one that I have written by channeling the 'voice' of a young girl, Olwen. The story is written in first person and the reason I set it aside was because my writing instructor at the time kept insisting I should be writing it third person. So I tried, and messed it up. And later realized that no, this is Olwen's story, and it has to be told in her voice, in her own words, first person.


Now, in honor of the winter solstice, which was an important time of year for the Celts, I will post some of the first Chapter of DRAGONS. And in doing so, something exciting happened. When I was researching this story, back in the late '70's and during the '80's when I lived in Greece, I didn't have access to a computer. I did go on some field trips to sites in England and researched at libraries, read a lot of books, made lots of notes too. But tonight when I went to find photos to accompany my posting, I was delighted to find so much information, including pictures, so I know when I revisit Olwen's story it will be much easier to access details.

One exciting thing that happened when I was first researching, I visited Stonehenge, and later while I was waiting at the bus stop in Salisbury I noted a brochure that said there was an Iron Age hillfort a few kilometers out of town. Something urged me to go there. And when I did, I had the most fantastic deja-vu experience. I KNEW this was where Olwen's story took place. On another trip to England I went back there and again, I could visualize it exactly as it was back when she lived there (the site has been occupied since the Bronze Age and my story takes place in the 4thC BC

In the story, I mention (because she told me) that her father had come from a holy place in Wales known as Senghenydd. Later on I had my Welsh father read the text to see if I was achieving the lilt of Olwen's voice. He told me that his grandfather had been killed in a mining explosiON in the town of Senghenydd. (In my research it stated that town had been a sacred place during the time of the ancient Celts.)



This is the hillfort of Old Sarum, where Olwen's story takes place.

The following excerpt is from my work-in-progress DRAGONS IN THE SKY, written in "Stanzas" and Bardic verse. This is "Stanza Two", a first person narrative in the voice of Olwen, a 13 year old acolyte of the Raven cult.

The God speaks and says:
Blood red is the snow,
as blood red as the ragged
leaves of the elder trees.

In Ruis, the Elder month, we made sacrifices to the Sun God at the winter solstice. The Druid slaughtered a white roebuck and divined the omens in the blood-splattered snow. But the gods were not appeased, and Boreas, the North Wind, blew down freezing blizzards across the Plain, burying our village in drifts that reached higher than the edges of the roof thatch.

We huddled in our huts around peat fires, wrapped in furs like hibernating animals, until finally some of us tunneled out through the drifts to snare winter hares and track white stag in the forest. Supplies of smoked meat and fish dwindled with each passing storm, and rafters that had been heavy with drying fruit and roots, were bare. While we counted out the last of the bundles of food and herbs, we muttered oaths ot the gods. It seemed that year we were not in their favour.

My guardian, Essylt, was a medicine woman and high priestess of our cult. She was small and bright-eyed, lively as a sparrow; but that winter seemed to tire her, and she began to look grey and care-worn. As the wind howled outside our wattled hut she brooded and I saw her watching the flames of the heart fire, staring silently as though her thoughts had drifted off to other worlds. She kept me busy taking votive offerings to the woodland shrine. The snow as too deep on the trail for her to struggle through, but I made a child's game of it, and kept the pathway trampled clear, carrying offerings of things like dried berries, cups of grain and sometimes a sprig of mistletoe.

The winter's cold took its toll. Almost every day Essylt went out to administer medicines, or to say some words of enchantment against the Raven of Death. We could not wait for the Spring thaw to lay our dead in their barrows, so the bodies were burned on pyres outside the palisade. Most of the victims of the raw weather were the old ones, but once a little child wandered out into a storm and froze, buried in a snowbank. I saw them carrying him home, like a stiff little pup, wrapped in a wolfskin. It grieved me for days, and in spite of the wind and the drifts that reached above my knees, I struggled to the woodland shrine, bringing the last sprigs of vervain to make a supplication to the Mother Goddess.

It was my thirteenth year with the Druids. I had learned all the incantations of magic before I was ten years old. Essylt, being a sorceress and diviner of the auguries, was both my guardian and my teacher. I called her modryh, my Auintie, because she had nursed me in infancy as though she were my natural mother. The Druid said my real mother died in childbirth. I would have been exposed for the wolves if someone had not brought me to the Great Stone Circle on the Plain.

Listen to my song:
I am an honored child.
I am Olwen,
daughter of the Earth Mother,
Child of the Raven.




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Thursday, December 18, 2008

THE BEST LAID PLANS...

THE PET SITTER

Well, I think I over-shot my mark a bit when I declared that I'd have my novel finished by the end of December. One thing after another has come up to create diversions so there were several days I was unable to write at all and therefore fell far behind my goal and schedule. First, I was doggie-sitting for my friend's cute little toy Pom, Niki, who'd had a leg operation so was a bit of an invalid and took a great deal more care than usual. Cheeky bird tried to help by keeping doggie company (not that doggie was amused!) Meanwhile I also had to sort out files as I got a new filing cabinet, empty boxes of papers and stuff from my storage closet just in case Santa brings the new shelves I asked him for, and had a couple of appointments and pre-Christmas events to attend.

MY WRITER'S GROUP, 'THE SCRIBBLERS'

One event was a Christmas party for my Brock House people and then there was the annual Christmas party for Scribblers that includes writing an anonymous story which we all guess who the author was. We also exchange gifts anonymously too. Always a lot of fun and great food for the pot-luck!

This week there were two more pre-Christmas events. My grad class ladies were invited to a very elegant lunch at the home of one of our group and that same evening I attended a Greek dinner with another group of writer women who only meet at Christmastime.


BLOEDEL CONSERVATORY POINSETTIA DISPLAY

Somewhere in between, I made a little field trip to the Bloedel Conservatory Tropical Gardens one afternoon because it was free. Enjoyed an hour or so walking around under the humid dome, looking at the floral displays, tropical plants and beautiful tropical birds that fly about in there including some amazing parrots who greet you and call out to one another. I was doing a little piece for the Planet Eye website to go along with some other Christmas events I have been posting there as Vancouver Expert. This doesn't take up too much of my writing time and it pays well. Except now we have been told that due to the financial crunch from January we are being cut back and will have to make it up according to how many hits our stories gets. So please, folks, try and read my articles once in awhile as it will help the Poor Writer's Survival Fund.( www.planeteye.com )

At the same time, fortunately, I was offered two new 'jobs' with the school board instructing children's writing programs on Saturday mornings. This is a real bonus and I'm pretty excited about it. They are children from 7 - 12 and I've done a bit of work with these age groups before when I was in the Off the Page program for the Federation of B.C. Writers. So it will really expand my writer's resume. And the fact that I was told I 'came highly recommended' is truly a nice pat on the back. We all need our writer's egos boosted now and then.

Well, as for the novel, now that my place is decorated, most of the Christmas shopping done and pre-Christmas parties over, I am back at work on Shadow of the Lion. I realize I may not reach my goal to finish it to THE END by December 31, but I will at least finish Part VI and get a start on the last part some of which is already written. The bottle of champagne is still chilling in the fridge and the wrap party is all planned.

I'm also very anxious to finish because when I was sorting out boxes I found the unfinished manuscript of my Celtic tale and I'm dying to return to it. As well, I think the time has come to write up the Life Below the Acropolis memoirs. That day when I went through my boxes, I found the old manuscript of a mystery novel I had been paid to write from a badly written but intriguing 80 page plot outline, way back in 1984 when I lived in Greece. The guy took the copy I had given him to check over, (first draft) and wouldn't return it. I told him it was only first draft and needed lots of work. He went and sent it to a publisher, and it was rejected of course. Little did he realize I had the carbon copy of it. So the other day I was researching Christmas in Greece and found an article by this guy (he writes like he is writing off brochures). I decided to google him, and guess what came up? The title of the book that I had written for him which he has published in 2000. I am not sure if he has plagiarized any of my original work, but I have ordered the book from Amazon and intend to go through it and see. Likely he's changed it a bit, maybe even got someone else to write it for him. So that was a surprising and rather bizarre discovery adding to the excitement of the holiday season.

Oh yes, more writer's news. I recently had coffee with an actor friend of mine who asked about my Sappho play and requested the script to read over. He's the second actor friend who made this request (I haven't heard back from the first one yet). Anyway, House of the Muses is out there being critiqued. I know I have to do some major rewrites on it, but I still think it's a brilliant idea. So I will wait with bated breath to hear what the actors have to say.

Looks like my work is cut out for me in 2009. Another reason to finish off the novel as quickly as I can so I can get on with the new projects.

I hope you're all enjoying the holiday season. We are snowed in here at the moment, but that's okay. I'm dreamin' of a white Christmas!

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT # 46: PUTTING A FACE ON THE VICTIM


THE RAGE OF ACHILLES

The first two lines of the Iliad read:

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί' Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε' ἔθηκεν,
Sing Goddess of the rage, of Peleus' son Achilles
the accursed rage that brought pain to thousands of the Achaeans.

Achilles is the only mortal to experience consuming rage (menis). His anger is at some times wavering, but at other times he cannot be cooled. The humanization of Achilles by the events of the war is an important theme of the narrative. (courtesy Wikipedia)

In writing fiction it's helpful to be able to impose the persona of a real person onto your character (or a composite of real characters) in order to help 'fix' them in your mind so that when you write character descriptions and action details (body language, interaction between characters etc) you have a more realistic perspective. Most of my characters in Shadow of the Lion have been 'tagged' in this way by real people I've seen or met or visualize as my characters (such as certain movie actors who would play their roles should the book be made into a movie)

I've spent lots of time while in Greece, for instance, taking down notes of people I've observed who are similar to my characters. Once I spent a lot of time and visits to the post office in Asprovalta observing a man who was identical to my character of General Perdikkas. And when I saw the tall, handsome Middle-eastern man walk into the Latin Quarter one night, I knew instantly he was my "Nabarzanes" the Persian, a fictional character in the novel. Sure enough, he wasn't Persian but from Iraq (a "Sumerian" he says) but most importantly he was actually from Baghdad which is the modern location near ancient Babylon. So, "the Babylonian" and I because good friends and my character came alive.

Lately I've been writing some violent scenes and having to dispose of some of the characters who I've grown very attached too. Whether they were particularly lovable or not doesn't matter when you have been following them around for years and writing their lives. So when the moment comes when you have to kill them off, it's a really tough call. But I found a solution of sorts. Put someone's face on them who you have had a bad experience with, then start chucking the stones or flashing the knife. You'll be able to do it with relish, trust me!

A couple of examples here: This past week there's been a serious run-in with a person who has sent extremely rude, insulting messages to me and my friends. This person has been acting the bitch for quite some time now and though we've tried mostly to ignore it, this last barrage of sheer vitriol and poison was more than we could take. Without responding in kind and lowering myself to this obviously bitter, nasty person's level, when it came to the latest "execution" that I'd been avoiding for awhile, I found it much easier to do the deed when I transposed that harpy's face onto that of my character (who, by the way, though she was also an imperious bitch had a great deal more class and grandeur and was in fact quite likeable. A tough cookie!).

I previously used the same tactics when I had to violently kill of a rather likable Athenian senator. At the time I was writing about him I met a Greek man who resembled the character exactly as I'd described him and in fact was also from Athens. I dated this guy a few times and thought he was nice, and then he showed his true colors -- a real jerk, what we'd call in Greece a "kamaki" who ended up treating me disrespectfully and rudely. How to get my revenge? Pretend it was him in the senator's place when I had to commit the murder. It worked. And I might add, it's a good way to get rid of your anger without hurting anyone or causing a scene. In both cases I was able to walk away knowing that these hurtful, mean characters no longer exist in my space and at the same put my characters to rest. I don't know if anyone else has tried this tactic. But it works!




THE TRIUMPH OF ACHILLES

Sunday, November 30, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT #45: PROMISES



ME, ON MY WEDDING DAY

What do you remember about your wedding day? Do you remember feeling scared, nervous, excited, overwhelmed? Did you have any questions lurking in your mind whether you were doing the right thing or not? What do you remember about your wedding ceremony and the reception afterwards? I remember mine was beautiful. My father married me which was an honor and thrill. And the reception was at the church, with all the church ladies helping with the catering. My new husband's family planned a reception of their own afterwards. Ukranian style. None of my wedding party were invited and to this day I don't know why and should have insisted they come. It was a party where whiskey flowed freely and it carried on for 3 days. (Not that I was there. We had headed down to the States for a brief honeymoon.)

I've been thinking about this as I worked on this recent segment of Shadow of the Lion. I know what Thessaloniki is getting herself into. What I didn't know, when I was a young bride, all starry-eyed and 'in love', was that my future wouldn't exactly turn out as I'd hoped with a fairy-tale ending. How many people's do? Did yours?

What did I, a preacher's daughter from a Christian home, only a kid and very innocent, know about disfunctional families? What did I know about families from other cultures? Nothing.
Maybe if I had, I'd have been cautious. But back then, girls really were geared into marriage at an early age and my parents were very anxious to have me marry this man who they thought very much of. How could we know what would happen less than 10 years later?

There are so many customs attached to marriage. This was another interesting aspect of writing this short piece about preparations for a wedding in ancient Greece. Today we of the Western culture are aghast at 'arranged' marriages, but they go on in quite a few cultures just as they did back in the old times. And actually, even when I was getting married, if the parents disapproved, no way would permission be given. So in some respects, in a lot of places times haven't changed. Our traditional 'white' weddings only started with Queen Victoria and became part of our British culture after that. In other countries brides don't dress in white. And lately I've seen brides even wearing black!

I wonder if other cultures they have the 'something borrowed, something blue' custom? In ancient Greece the brides wore either yellow or red veils to signify 'fire' (the flame of passion, I guess) and a tear-drop diamond reflected that fire.

My wedding dress was made by my mother. (I still have it!) She very lovely sewed it and stiched on the lacy trim and tiny seed pearls. It was a beautiful dress and still is. I bring it out now and then to admire it. Today it seems brides are spending extravagant amounts of wedding dresses.

The girls were usually married very young (at 18 you'd be a has-been) and the father chose the groom. Poor Thessaloniki got gyped out of that ritual and got to make her own choice. But did she make a good one? I wonder, that day when Thessaloniki was marrying Kassandros if she had any idea of what the future held for her. She was marrying to 'escape', and because she was frightened of Olympias and by then was considered to be an 'old' spinster, overlooked and abused. Her father Philip had been assassinated before he ever found a groom for her; her half-brother Alexander, took off on his quest to conquer the world and never gave her a thought. She was the off-spring of one of Philip's many campaign wives, and because she was a girl, she was inconsequential. Can you blame her for jumping at the chance to marry a man, the son of the deceased Regeant, from the most powerful clan in Macedon. Little did she know what she was in for, or that she had made a bargain with the devil.



A BRIDE PREPARES FOR HER WEDDING

Thessaloniki stood before the tall copper mirror and carefully inspected herself. It was her wedding day, a day of despair for some women, but for her a day of rebirth. Today she would marry Kassandros, a man who had promised her freedom and a name.

Months had gone by since she had last seen him. There had been no formal pledge as tradition dictated because she had no male family member who would swear before the groom to guarantee she would produce children. Nor did she bring to her marriage a dowry other than, as heiress, her family’s estate.

It was a full moon night, not the favorable month of Gamelion, sacred to Hera the marriage guardian. Even so the seers had boded good fortune. The preparations had been made as Kassandros had ordered, the great Hall garlanded and couches set out for a grand feast. On a dais, chairs of honour for the women attendants flanked a flower-decked throne for the bride. She had invited all her courtiers, ladies of high standing, wives of senior officers, ambassadors and envoys. It had been many years since she could remember such a celebration had been held in the palace.

She stood in front of the gilded mirror and drew in a slow breath. She wore a veil of yellow silk and a simple gown of fine white byssus edged with gold threads; on the shoulder was clasped the ornate brooch Kassandros had given her and at her throat a single tear-drop diamond that had once belonged to her mother.

She had never taken pride in her body, but now she saw its usefulness: the full hips well formed and right for child-bearing, the breasts large, voluptuous; she would bear royal children. Critically, she surveyed her face: her straight nose, high brow, large sorrowful dark eyes. She looked always as she were sulking, her face ravaged by grief. Now though, she felt a quiet dignity, a certain triumph. She smiled, and her image softened, her mouth turned up becomingly, her eyes brightened with hope. Her new husband’s prospects would guarantee her a life of ease, free from all the every day concerns that had, in the past, confronted her. Olympias had thought her inconsequential; the Soghdian had scorned and threatened her. She had little recollection of her own mother; even her father, Philip, had paid her little heed. She had always been lost in the shadow of her remarkable half-brother, Alexander, who had not even cared enough to arrange a marriage for her before he left on his conquests. She had been the forgotten princess, but now Kassandros offered her a chance for fame and good fortune. Kassandros promised to protect her and even name a city after her. No other Macedonian princess could claim that honour. He had already begun clearing out the villages along the gulf, laying the plans for the new metropolis, one he said that would outshine Pella. And if things went his way, Kassandros would soon become the Regent and she would help him rule Macedon.

She went to the altar and lit the incense in its censor. Sweet smoke curled up permeating the room with it’s fragrance. She called upon her father’s Shade to ask his blessing, but did not utter the name of Alexander. She poured a libation of costly myrrh from a golden cup into a bejewelled bowl, speaking aloud the name of the godess in reverence as decreed.

“Golden-throned Hera, wife of almighty Zeus, immortal queen, protector of brides, give me a sign!” Motionless, she waited long for the goddess to speak but silence
was her only answer.

Down in the courtyard the torches blazed and she could hear the sound of flutes and kitheras mingled with the joyous cries of the wedding guests.. The wedding processional was gathering. She heard the maidens singing the refrain of the sacred marriage song. “Ho, Hymen! Ho, Hymen! Hymenaeos! Io!” Soon they would come to lead her to the nuptials. She felt her midriff clutch with nervous tension, then she threw back her shoulders and gave a deep sigh of satisfaction. She had waited all her life for this day.





NOTE: Well Kassandros did keep one promise to her. The city of Thessaloniki is named for her and of all the memorials to Alexander's time, it still exists and thrives as the second biggest city in Greece.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT 44: UNCERTAINTY

Elephants and mahouts

I was uncertain about what to title this blog. For myself, in the last weeks of not being able to find time to write, I was uncertain about if I'd finish by the end of the year as I'd hoped. But my classes are over now and my time freed up. So I'm back at work on the novel and in the last two days I've finished another chapter and perhaps today will complete one more that had already been partially written. This means, if I stay on track perhaps I will achieve my goal.

The other uncertainty has been this nagging thought I've had ever since I was at the writer's conference and sat in on several workshops. Most authors emphasized the importance of point of view in your novel. Well, mine is a multiple point of view. It was suggested that I have a singular point of view throughout that is more important than the others, a main protagonist.
Well perhaps Roxana is the one to fit that role, but there are others just as important who were the key players in the fall of Alexander's dynasty. So I've tried to give them equal voices throughout the novel. Will this work? Will an editor turn down my story because there isn't a strong main protagonist? I refer to the work of Mary Renault, in particular her "Funeral Games" which is the same period of history that "Shadow of the Lion" is, with most of the same characters and events. In that novel she has done what I'm doing in Shadow. There is no singular main character -- unless you say it's the spirit of Alexander -- which in Shadow is really the case. Alexander is the 'shadow' throughout the story from page one, and the entire plot hinges around him and his dynasty even though he is dead. So that's my dilemma. And will that work?

I guess I can only wait and see.

And there's uncertainty facing my characters in this part of the story, too. They've been trapped inside the fortress at Pydna for the winter and many of them have died, including the old mahout Sadu. In this chapter segment, little 7-year old Iskander has witnessed the death of his beloved friend and the full horror of what is happening in his world. It was a grim chapter to write and there's more to come, so it's been a slow process to get the right emotion in the text.
This is new writing that hasn't been workshopped yet, but you'll get the gist of it.

He straightened his shoulders. Tears shone on his cheeks and a sob escaped from his chest but he lifted his chin bravely. All his life he had been touched by death, stalked by the dark Shades who wait beyond the River. He had witnessed it more times than he could remember -- men fallen in battles, the Chaldean Magus who had been like grandfather to him, the aged Regent Antipater who had called him to his deathbed.. He was haunted always by the Shadow his invincible father, the prowling lion of his dreams, who had died just before his birth. Now, the mahout, Sadu, who taught him how to ride on Old Pearl’s neck, and told him stories about Rajah Porus. And soon, he knew, Old Pearl would die too.

The sun had gone down in the west and there were blood streaks in the sky. He glanced once at the wood pyre where they would burn Sadu’s body and walked away, forcing himself to look stonily ahead. Spitama tried to reassure him but no amount of reassurance could banish the truth. The gods had deserted them. His Mama and Grandmama had lied. The ships would never come, neither would Polyperchon and his army. They were all going to die here.




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Monday, November 17, 2008

THIS AND THAT

Yesterday I had a very busy day, first attending the A.G. M. of the Travel Writer's Association, then dashing off from there to the Vancouver Museum for a special reception held in honor of the Downtown Memory Project. I blogged something about this last May, including the little contribution I had made about starting my career as a journalist in the Vancouver Sun editorial department. The framed contributions were first on display downtown in the Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre campus but this weekend they moved to the Museum to be part of a Vancouver history project on display there. Here's a picture of me posed beside my framed story. I feel it's quite an honor to be up there among a lot of other excellent stories about the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. AFter the reception, my friend and I toured around some of the exhibits, mainly one about the history of Stanley Park. But one that I loved visiting was the little mummy that used to be upstairs in the old Carnegie library back when I first came to the city when I was a 12 year old. I used to go to the library almost every weekend and climb up the marble spiral stairway to the top where they had this tiny museum display. It was the first mummy I'd ever seen and it was a child! Now they have done some DNA testing and investigating and identified it by name from a Greek inscription on the mummy's wrapping. It's a 10 year old boy (very tiny). I should have written down his name but I forgot. However, I'll go back again and have another look as there's lots to see in the Museum.


I've also been busy taking myself on little field trips to do some investigating around the various neighbourhoods for my Planet Eye writings. This is one of the very old art-deco movie theatres in Kitsilano. There's still a couple of these old theatres left in the city, mostly privately owned. And they still show movies. Check out my Planet Eye stories in the coming weeks for stories about the neighbourhoods, including my own 'hood, The Drive. I spent the entire day on Friday writing and researching bits for the Planet Eyes stories...I mean, I wrote and worked on this from about 11 in the morning to 11 at night with very few breaks. It was a bleak, rainy day on Friday so I enjoyed just hunkering down and getting things done.


I usually carry my camera around with me and this Autumn the leaves have been particularly brilliant. This is a street scene in my neighbhourhood. It was an overcase and partly rainy day but still the colors are quite vibrant. I love this time of year and this Fall has been especially lovely.

Now we begin a new week and this morning I will work on the novel, do some editing, and post a couple more small stories for Planet Eye. (www.planeteye.com -- I am the Vancouver Expert.) It's been a busy weekened and I have one more week of classes before the break. However I'll be continuing for a few weeks with my Wednesday Life Writing group which I enjoy a lot. However, there will be lots of time coming up for me to get busy with the novel again.



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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT # 43 : BACK ON TRACK (ALMOST)

Autumn in my neighbourhood.

It's been such a busy Autumn but things are winding down now and after this week I'll have lots more free time. It seems I've been on the go constantly either teaching classes, riding back and forth across town on buses, attending social events and there seemed no end to it. This weekend was a holiday weekend and I intended to write all day yesterday but my bird was being very naughty, screeching from morning to night until I could have strangled him. I have no idea why but the angrier I got the worse he behaved. So, unfortunately that killed any thoughts of focusing on my writing. Fortunately today he behaved and was back to his busy little self, sitting on my shoulder or my wrist while I wrote or following me from room to room, (never one to miss a thing!). It was a cold rainy day outside and I was glad to spend all of it indoors and I'm happy to report that I got another chapter segment written for "Shadow of the Lion" -- a rather difficult piece I'd been avoiding and contemplating for some time. I also made further notes for the next few segments of the novel so I'm much closer to finishing this entire part and moving that much closer to "The End".

The beach at Jericho where I spend my Wednesday mornings

I have really been enjoying my classes this term: 3 Life Writing classes in pleasant surroundings (like the one above) and with very interesting people. And a novel writing class that is small but turned out to be really fun anyway with some fascinating stories on the go. I also did an all-day Write from the Heart class as well that was fun.


Flower stall in the West End

In addition, I'm writing two or three pieces for Planet Eye each week so this has taken me on some very interesting field trips getting ideas for stories and doing restaurant reviews. I have quite a lot of the stories planned for the next few weeks when I start doing a series on all the neighborhoods around town. So check it out on www.planeteye.com (Vancouver expert).
This is a really well-paid gig and I'm grateful to have it as it makes me way more money than any of my regular travel articles pay and takes up much less time as well. I consider myself very lucky to have landed this 'job'.

As far as other travel plans are concerned, I am unable to go to Chile (unless there is some miraculous appearance of funds) so will have to content myself with staying close to home. Except my Auntie in California is very ill at the moment and the family suggests I might like to come and keep her company to perhaps inspire her recovery.

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to a few weeks of respite and writing and hopefully I will keep right on track and finally finish this seemingly never-ending novel!


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Sunday, November 02, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT # 42 : TRAPPED!

I've finally had some time this weekend to catch up on some of my writing tasks. This morning I posted a new travel blog (see http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com) and later put a shorter version of it and another story up on Planet Eye. www.planeteye.com (Vancouver Expert)
Then I finished editing a story about Bodrum and the fascinating underwater archaeological museum there. Later when the rain stopped I went out on a little field trip for Planet Eye. I'm writing about the various neighbourhoods in the city and had to scout along West Broadway in the Kitsilano district to check on the shops etc.
That was kind of fun and a bit of a trip down memory lane as well, because this is a Greek area of town and there are lots of Greek bakeries and two very good Greek supermarkets there. I went in one and Greek music was playing and most of the stuff on the shelves was like what you get in Athens, and all written in Greek. I lingered for awhile -- will definitely go back soon. I wanted to buy a spanikopita at one of the bakeries but I didn't have enough change on me.

I got home in time for my dinner which was just a left-over dish from Thanksgiving, watched the news, and then puttered around. Now I've just finished catching up on some editing for Shadow of the Lion . I hope that tomorrow I will be able to start working on the next new chapter segment.

I have felt so 'trapped' by not being able to get down to work on the novel. Because I've overbooked myself and always seem to be rushing about, riding across town on buses, going to classes and barely taking a breather, I felt as if I was losing my inspiration. Then, after the Writer's Conference last week, thinking over what so many of the presenters said, about your story needing a solid 'voice' as narrator, and realizing that my story is told from various points of view, I started to get that sinking feeling of, "oh,oh, maybe this isn't working after all!" However, last night I went to see a theatre production with my friend and we discussed this. She said that she could see Roxana's voice being the strongest throughout. So I got this idea that I could do the Prologue in Roxana's point of view from a place near the end when she is reminiscing about Alexander. That way it will connect more directly with Chapter One -- his death-- as the way I have it now she doesn't really get her voice until Chapter Two. That little problem solved, I am now going to quit worrying about it and just see how it goes. Recently I went through the whole manuscript
checking on details about two of my minor characters and in reading through I impressed myself. For the most part, it's tight and well written and as I've been block editing as I go along, most of it is pretty nearly final draft.

So now, it's time to get on with it, 'unstuck' myself and continue.

Here's a portion of the chaotic scenes I am currently working on, just to give you an idea of where I am and how things are working out for my characters who are camped out in the seaport fortress of Pydna while the enemy, Kassandros, is only a few miles away camped at the sanctuary of Dion.

Roxana was wakened in the early hours before dawn by the ill-omened sound of shouting. Without rousing the child who slept on his cot beside her, she threw a woollen cloak over her night dress and ran outside. Up on the fortress ramparts she could see a knot of men, swords drawn, peering over the edge of the wall. Breathless with excitement, she raced up the stone stairway and pushed her way past the sentries.

“Is he here? Has Polyperchon come?”

The sentries, who were debating heatedly with one another, paid her no heed. She leaned over the ramparts and looked down. A light dusting of snow lay on the ground and the pale dawn light glittered on the ice-crusted tufts of grass and shrubs. Below the ramparts she saw an army. A troop of soldiers had cordoned off the outskirts of Pydna town that nestled beneath the south wall. She caught a glimpse of their standards. Her heart sank and a cold shudder of fear overcame her. They weren’t Polyperchon’s men. The town was full of Kassandros’ soldiers. Across to the west where the fields met the salt marsh and sea, a troop of soldiers armed with picks and shovels were digging a trench and erecting a wooden palisade, while others hauled up siege equipment.

She felt her breath go out of her and her knees grew weak. She grasped the stone ledge to steady herself as the horrifying truth became clear to her. Kassandros’ army had come in the night and cut off the citadel from the rest of the city. They were trapped.




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Friday, October 31, 2008

BOO! CELEBRATING THE DAY OF THE DEAD.




AARGH MATIES! GET ABOARD THE GHOST SHIP


Fright Nights are here again. It seems ages since I got time to sit down and blog here. I didn't do a magical disappearing act or get kidnapped by pirates. It's just been a really busy time for me. Seems I'm running around town from morning til night what with classes and other events. My plate has been full to overflowing and frankly I've been somewhat stressed.

Last weekend I spend the entire 3 days at the wonderful Surrey International Writer's Conference. I always volunteer so I can go free and this year I introduced five presenters and attended lots of workshops. There was a mystery/spooky theme there this year with a masquerade to end the sessions on Saturday night. I had taken my pirate gear along but in the end decided to come back into town to my old neighbourhood where there is a big celebration for the Day of the Dead and a Parade of Lost Souls. Everyone dressed up in ghoulish costumes and the houses in the neighbourhood are decorated with spooky motifs. It's lots of fun.

It seemed an appropriate week to be honouring the dead as it was three years ago on Oct 28 that my friend Anibal died. So along with thoughts of all the other dear departed I lit a candle and remembered....

And then comes Hallowe'en. Our building is going to greet the kiddies at the door with treats so we were given a chance to carve a pumpkin to decorate the lobby. This is my Jack O'Lantern. He's waiting down in the hall now for me to come and light the candle. I'm going to put my pirate gear on and take my bags of goodies down for the little ghosts and goblins who come calling. Afterwards I'm heading for the Latin Quarter as Hugo says the band are going to play some of Anibal's favorite songs tonight. I'm sure his spirit will be there.

I hope in a couple of weeks to have more time to resume work on my novel. My classes end in three weeks and then all this endless running around with stop.
Meanwhile, have a safe but spooky Hallowe'en and remember to light a candle to chase away those bad spirits and welcome the souls of the dearly departed.


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Sunday, October 05, 2008

WHAT'S WYNN BEEN DOING?



MOUNTAIN LAKE AND WILD FLOWERS

What's Wynn been doing? Wynn's been on a road trip. These are just a couple of the many photos I took. I'll post a few more soon on my other two blogs, especially the http://travelthroughhistory. blogspot.com Here's how this came about. I was offered a media trip, all expenses paid, to this mountain resort called Three Valley Gap. There's a ghost town there and a wonderful collection of antique cars and railway memorabilia. As I write travel stories mostly slanted to history, this was right up my alley. So of course I accepted.

Three Valley Gap is about a six hour drive from the Coast so I invited my friend Andrea along.
She drives a nice little jeep and I knew we'd have a super time together. They listed her as my official 'photographer' so the two of us were off on 'assignment'. It's a lovely drive to the mountains and the weather was absolutely perfect, glorious autumn weather, warm and sunny.
We enjoyed our leisurely drive there, arrived late afternoon.





THE LONG, WINDING ROAD
The chateau was far more than we'd expected. It's a huge complex right at the convergence of three mountain valleys, at the end of a lake. The size of it was rather daunting, especially as it was the end of the season so hardly anyone was staying there. Quite something to have the place to ourselves -- well, more or less!

Problem was, the restaurant there closes at 7 pm and there is no bar. We didn't think to stock up on wine for the weekend. But we enjoyed ourselves wandering around the place, and especially touring the ghost town which has a lot of historic buildings from various places around the area all put together like a frontier town, with lots of artifacts and interesting things to look at including this incredible antique car collection, and a collection of old rail cars that brought back some childhood memories.

We drove into the nearest town, Revelstoke, the next day but it was closed up tight because it was Sunday. You could have shot a cannon down the street! It's basically a railway town built in a very pretty mountain setting.

Before we left the chateau on Monday we treated ourselves to a six minute helicopter tour. If I can figure out how to put movie clips up on my blogs I'll add a clip of the tour. It was so quick that it hardly seemed it had happened before we were landing again, but it was fun.

On our way home we stopped at another historic railway site -- where the last spike was driven connection the rail lines from East to West. And then, because the weather was so gorgeous, we took back roads, meandering through the mountains and valley by the lakes and farms. We stopped at Salmon Arm and had coffee with my daughter, stopped at a farm to buy fresh produce, home made sausage and at another place where they make fresh cheese. Then we pulled into Vernon and had a little visit with my friend Rosie.

It was midnight before we arrived home again after our little adventure. Then I've had this very busy week starting with an early breakfast meet Tuesday with Argentina Tourism and then my classes.

I'll have to write a new blog about my classes, especially my new Life Writing group which is so exciting and inspiring! Besides this I've been catching up on writing and just finished my story about walking the barrios of Santiago Chile. Now it's time to get back to the novel so I will be posting a new Progress Report soon.



THE CHATEAU, THREE VALLEY GAP B.C.


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Monday, September 22, 2008

THE ROVING REPORTER



KAYAKING ON INDIAN ARM

This past week has been a time of several 'firsts'. I'm living the life of the 'roving reporter' these days, submitting stories weekly to Planet Eye (www.planeteye.com) and as a result have had a couple of great opportunities to do things I had never done before. First was this kayaking tour.
I've so often watched the kayakers out on the waters around Vancouver, but never imagined me being out there. But as a result of requesting an interview with an adventure tour operator, I was invited to join one of the kayaking tours up the Indian Arm inlet near Vancouver. What a thrill! I'll be writing a longer blog just about this on my travel blog, so watch for it. And I've already posted a short blurb about Lotus Land Tours on my Planet Eye "Vancouver Expert" page.


LOUNGING ON THE BEACH IN MID SEPTEMBER!

After a rainy August, the summer weather returned in September and I was able to spend a day at the beach with my son and his wife picnicing and sunning. We did intend to swim but the water was chilly and a lot of algae floating around the shore so we opted to just sit in the sunshine. There were a lot of sail-boarders out in the Inlet and kite fliers on the shore. It was a lovely day just to relax in the midst of a very busy time.

My friend Patrick arrived from Germany for a holiday and I have been very busy preparing for my new writing classes which all begin this week. One new memoir group started last Tuesday, a small group which I agreed to do even though it means I won't get paid that much. I wanted to establish myself in this new community centre and the few women who came are very nice so it should be interesting. This week I start my other new Life Writing group at Brock House, which is a prestigious group out near the university, and also my other downtown group that has been going now for several years. I have two night school classes starting this week (novel and travel writing) and next month a "night school in one day" Memoir class.

So, along with these preps, visitors, other social events and writing my weekly blurbs for Planet Eye, I haven't had much time to work on my novel. However today is a writing day at home and that's what I will be doing for the rest of the day. Tonight is my writing critique group. So it will be day-long writing for me, something I've missed lately!


A DAY ON THE MOUNTAIN

One of the other 'firsts' that I did last week was to take the gondola up Grouse Mountain. With Patrick along, it made for a grand day. I had never been up Grouse on the gondola. The last time I recall going up there (on the t-bar) was when I was 14. I was reminiscing to Patrick
(who is from Germany) that when I went up Grouse back then, I was with some young German visitors and was trying to speak German to them (which I studied in school for two years -- and never mastered!) They kept laughing at my attempts. I gave up the language after that. I never did care for the sound of it compared to Spanish or Greek. I never mastered French either, although I should have because I live in a bi-lingual country.

Anyway, Patrick and I went up Grouse for the day. It was another warm sunny September day and although the view from the top was a little hazy, it was just lovely up there. Some of the entertainment was finished for the season but we did see the logger's show and had a look at the two grizzly bears in their habitat and also the wolves. I will write a travel blog about this adventure on my http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com site. This was also an opportunity for more stories for Planet Eye. I'm really enjoying being the Roving Reporter! (and I get paid for it too! A bonus!)

The next day Patrick and I went to Little India (the Punjabi Market) and a quick browse through Queen Elizabeth Park which was still gorgeous with all the flower beds and green mowed lawns. Having this Vancouver Expert's job keeps me on the go trying out new places, doing restaurant reviews, exploring areas of the city I've never been to before. So it's quite a lot of fun and there's no end of things to write about.

Check out some of my stories there. They are quick and easy to write. Not a long slog like the historical fiction is. But...I promise...I'm back to work on the novel right now! So there'll be another Progress Report coming up soon!



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