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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A BIT OF SELF-PROMOTION

This is just a short blog to blow my own horn a little (toot! toot!) and let my 'fans' (haha) know that there is an interview with me on this travel writer's website:

http://writetotravel.blogspot.com/2008/04/interview-with-travel-writerw-ruth.html.

Some blatant self-promotion...but necessary in this business!

I'm truly grateful for this bit of publicity and the publicity for my travel web site. Every little bit helps just when I've been feeling rather down in the dumps for various reasons (some of which I mentioned in my last blogs here). I think partly it's the weather and I must have SAD because of the ongoing cold unseasonable weather here on the Coast. A glimpse of sun now and then but too much rain and cloud and very cold. I'm still wearing winter clothes and here it is almost May 1st!

I did have an excellent weekend away though, taking advantage of the 1 night's stay and dinner for two at an excellent place in Victoria B.C. which I won at the last BCATW a.g.m.
The place is called Spinnakers Gastro and Brew Pub and there are heritage guest houses where we stayed. The dinner was an 8 course beer and wine pairing extravaganza which I intend to write in more detail about on my travel blog. I also scored a media pass for the Royal B.C. Museum where there was a new show called "Free Spirits". I travelled with a girlfriend who was excellent company so we had a truly lovely time together.

Still when I got home Sunday night I started to feel sad again. Trying to keep myself busy and in a more positive space. And tonight I went out for Beers with Peers with two of my travel writing friends which was quite an excellent way to spend the evening, talking and enjoying adventure stories. Then I got home and saw that the interview was posted on the travel web site, so that made my day alright!

I haven't been working on my novel, but I have been researching travel markets and have had two stories accepted by one that pays!! Also sent a few others out. So now I'm inspired to write those stories that I've been neglecting. First things first, though. I have to get more of the novel finished. I'm so close to the end!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

SOME FUN AND HAPPY MEMORIES

This is the band "Sumalao" that plays at the Latin Quarter on the weekends.

After a busy week of writing, teaching and various other activities, I decided that on Saturday night I'd attend a literary event and then meet my friends at the Latin Quarter (our hangout) for some salsa dancing and fun. It had started out to be a stressful week, and it took me a couple of days to get my centre point again, but then I immersed myself in my writing and teaching and by the weekend I needed to have some R&R. I've decided to attend more literary events as well as the travel media things I go to. It's good for schmoozing and getting to know the literary community of the city (which is a pretty active one.) So I on Saturday night I went to the B.C. Book Prize soiree at a big hotel downtown. It was one of those lah-de-dah affairs where you stand around drinking an $8 glass of wine, nibbling on canapes that the waiters bring round on silver plates. Aside from a well-known poet (a poet laureate) who I am familiar with and in awe of, I didn't see a soul I knew. I really wanted to talk to Mr McWhirter but was just too shy to approach him. I wanted to tell him how much I admired his work on the script of "Hecuba" the play I loved so much and went to see twice earlier this year. But he seemed pretty absorbed with his own crowd so I never did quite get the courage up.

I stood around for as long as my tired back would take it, the found a place to sit at a table with two other women and a guy. I got into a conversation with the older woman who said she recognized my name (that's good!) and when she told me hers, I also recognized it.
But neither of us could figure out from where, except I am a member of the Federation of B.C.Writers and also actively attend some events such as the Surrey Writer's Conference. Anyway I felt kind of thrilled to think my name is 'known' out there in the literary world!
Later, I checked her card, and see is is connected with Suite101.com and it happens I've been thinking of submitting some travel stories to them.

The woman and her party left the table but then I ran into another dear friend and her husband, a poet who used to belong to our writer's group but who has been absent for some time due to a disability. I have great admiration for Mavis, and always read her poetry to my classes when we are doing a poetry night. So it was excellent to run into her and her wonderful husband Paul, who said he'd just had a book published about falcons. (He's very involved in ecology issues). That rounded up the soiree very nicely for me and made me realize how important it is to attend these functions as you never know who you'll meet there.

Our writer's group doing timed writings in a scenic spot on
Mayne Island where we often went for weekend retreats.
Mavis and I were reminiscing about our writer's group -- the great fun we always had together, especially on the twice a yearly retreats to this lovely coastal island. This last year we didn't go away at all, and there didn't seem much interest generated. I miss this, and so do a couple of other older members. And these kinds of retreats really brought us closer together as a group and as friends. We used to do crazy writer's things, always with a theme (such as a pirate weekend, or favorite writer's weekend, or rites of Spring...all with costumes)
And we'd do writing exercises, like in the photo above, timed writings on the knoll overlooking the sea, when we were out for one of our hikes. I've been feeling very nostalgic about those days lately and wonder if ever we can recreate them again. There were specific things on the island that were precious to our group. One of them was visiting the 'circle tree'. It's an old arbutus twisted into a circle shape and every retreat we'd go there, pose by the tree, drink a toast of wine and toss the lees to the spirits of nature, and in an old hollow stump we have a cache of messages we've been writing over the years, like time capsules. So each time we'd go to the tree we'd unearth the buried cache and read the previous years writings. Oh, I miss all of that so much!


Me, in the circle tree

Anyway, after the literary soiree, I went to meet my friends at our favorite bistro, The Latin Quarter (often referred to here as the LQ)
And that turned out to be another sort of 'literary' evening too. My friend had just returned from Peru, proudly showing off the book of short stories he had published there; another friend who just returned from Beijing came to talk to me about writing a story for my travel web site; there was a whole table of artists/musicians/poets/writers celebrating the visit of a remarkable and beautiful woman who has been living in Turkey (she's a Rumi poet and whirler as well as a singer, dancer) At the same table was another woman who I recognized as someone I'd talked to recently in the neighbourhood Greek taverna -- also Turkish, and a writer from the S.F.U. writing/publishing program. The vibes were simply fantastic last night. And what a grand group of people we all are, we regulars who love to meet each weekend to dance salsa, chat, have fun, give each other hugs and kisses and hang out together. That made my weekend, and I woke today feeling much more settled, though still that cloud of unhappiness is there and will remain until things are solved and perhaps tomorrow at our meeting here it will be. Otherwise I will stick to my resolution to remove myself, as I really have to protect myself from further outbursts.
Today I took myself on a field trip to do some photographing for a blog I am planning about the public markets here. I went on the skytrain to the New Westminster quay and public market. The sun was out, although the weather is very cold -- record lows for April and there was snow on Friday! Enjoyed my stroll around by the Fraser River but the market itself was totally boring and scuzzy so I wasn't too impressed with it. I'll only give it two stars out of five, and that's just because of the historical significance of its location.

Well, here's the end of the weekend. I've just had an hour long reflexology treatment and a long chat with my friend, so it's time to make a late dinner (very late, it's almost 10 pm!) and perhaps watch a movie to round off the day.
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT #35: BESIEGED



I've spent the last days writing and will do so again today. It's important for me to stay focused and work through the difficult chapter segments which are leading to the finale of the story. Yesterday I was still reeling over an incident at my writer's group on Monday night. I have decided that the best way for me to personally resolve this is to move on. At least until the toxic situation is removed from the group. I doubt very much it will change so long as this person is still attending as his issues are psychological and perhaps even pathological. I just can't expose myself to this any longer.

It makes me sad to have to step out of the group which I've belonged to so for so many years. But it's to save myself from future incidents and protect my Muse, because it takes me days after these encounters to get back my balance and to be able to think properly and proceed with this very crucial stage of my writing. I have to protect myself at all costs. And at this point my creativity is more important that being in the group and subjected to the unpleasantness this other person brings into the group.

Yesterday I was happy to get back to my waterfit class and I even picked up a strip of gym tickets so I can start working out again. Then I met another writer friend for coffee and we had a long walk back home. I spent the afternoon editing and taking notes for my novel and my travel web site. Today I'll be writing most of the day (the weather has turned foul again!)
and tonight I look forward to my novel writing class. My classes are the highlights of my week and always fun places to be. That's the way my critique group used to be. But not any more. So sad!

At this point in my novel, I'm setting up the siege of Pydna which leads to the demise of a couple of my precious characters and sets the stage for the final act of the tragedy. It's tricky putting your head into that of a military strategist. Having those notes about ancient Pydna certainly helped set the stage and I have reviewed my research notes regarding the sequences of events that lead to this final stand-off between Olympias and the antagonist Kassandros. Fortunately it's one part of the history that seems to be laid out clearly except for the time sequences, but I think I've safely got those covered. So today I'll continue taking notes and making additions to what I've been writing over the last few days. The weather, having turned gray and chilly again, makes it easier to sit at the computer and plod along!

Meanwhile, inside the fortress at Pydna:
Olympias lay on her couch contemplating the Soghdian’s strange snake dream. What prophecy was this? While she meditated, she was aware of the muted sounds of voices outside. Soon the sounds grew louder and she heard the ring of armour, the thud of feet and a rumble of guards’ urgent voices. Someone banged on the door. Alarmed, she called out and the door burst open. Commander Kronos entered. His face looked drained and drawn, ashen coloured as his beard.

“Madam, a day runner has brought news that Kassandros and his army have sailed into Dion. He bypassed Thermopylai by sea and is encamped at the holy precinct.”

Olympias stiffened and tried to hide her shock. Dion, one of Macedon’s most holy sites at the foot of Mount Olympus, was only a two-day ride from Pydna.
“What of Polyperchon?”

“The Regent has withdrawn his troops from the Hot Gates and has retreated to the mountains in Thessaly near the Epiros border.”

Until then, Olympias had considered Kassandros’ threats no more than one of the hundreds of tribal skirmishes both Philip and Alexander had successfully put down during their reigns. Even that old goat Antipater had little problem squelching these incessant clan quarrels. She’d had every confidence that Polypchercon and their allies would drive their enemy back. Now, reading between Kronos’ unspoken lines, she shouted, “We will not
ever surrender!”

Kronos stared at her with incredulity. “What are we to do then, Madam? We are greatly outnumbered here at Pydna and Kassandros has blocked the way through the Hot Gates, so there is no way Polyperchon can bring his troops back to Macedon.”

“He will find a way over the mountains through Epiros.“ Olympias got off her chair and began to pace the room.. “The insolence of Kassandros setting up his stand at Dion. He knows we can not fight him there because it’s sacred ground. We will have to wait until he advances north. Then we will set a snare and trap him.”

“But how, Madam? Where will we find more troops? Even the Epirotes have defected. Kassandros men have infiltrated their ranks and convinced them to return home. He has even sent envoys to Dodoni to treat with the young king, your grandson, Neoptolemos.”

“The wretched usurping swine!“ Olympias cursed. “How did everything turn so quickly? We had strong allies...”

“Hubris, Madam,” Kronos said. “ Polyperchon was too sure of himself. He didn’t count on Kassandros infecting his troops like the plague with promises of gold and glory. Kassandros has welcomed and rewarded anyone who defected.”

Olympias heard every word, but the news left her mute with shock. Half of her was thinking her own thoughts, plotting her next move. Macedon’s allies and even her own countrymen, the Epirotes, were now in Kassandros’ pay. How did it happen?

“ May vultures eat their livers!” she raged. Everything became clear to her then. She thought back on the omens indicated in Roxana’s strange dream. “We will sever the head of the serpent and save Macedon from its deadly venom,” she proclaimed. “Gods damn Kassandros.. We will not let him defeat us.”

“Winter is coming, Madam. We must leave here -- retreat to Pella,” Kronos urged. “ If you stay here, you risk starvation, or you’ll freeze to death -- to be sure a more merciful end, my Lady, than capture by your enemies.”

Olympias held her ground stubbornly. “Alexander survived worse in the
mountains of Asia. We will too!”

Kronos shook his head. “I beg you, Madam. Leave while you still can.”

“No!” she shouted obstinately. “We will stay here. As soon as it’s sailing weather, Eumenes’ warships will come with the new troops. I know he will not let us down. Eumenes will be faithful always to the Macedonian royal house.”

Kronos’ arms fell to his sides. He shifted his tall bulk and gave a resigned shrug. “Very well, Madam. As you command!”

After he went out, Olympias sat immobile, staring at the marble bust of Alexander on the plinth by her bedside. In the dim light she saw the shine of his eyes as he gazed back at her. She put out her hand to touch the sculptured curls. Her fingers brushed the cold marble. She remembered how, whenever she had caressed Alexander’s hair it always seemed to spark.

“My son!” she declared. “Polyperchon may be losing his battle, but we will not lose ours!” She remembered the bloodless victory she and the Molossians had at the Epiros border when Eurydike’s troops had turned and ran. She would rally her Molossions . They were fearless warriors and she knew they would stand by her. Nobody would dare fight the mother of Alexander. Kassanros’ troops would turn tail and run, just as Eurydike’s had.


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Friday, April 11, 2008

THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING JOUNALS & NOTES: PROGRESS REPORT 34


I wanted to have my own photos of Pydna to accompany this posting but I've searched high and low and can't find them. I have an idea that perhaps they are all just slides, in which case I shall have to get prints made. At any rate, you have the photos from the previous post to refer to, as I am again writing about Pydna, the ancient fortress where Olympias holed up with the royal household and was beseiged by Kassandros back in 317 - 316 BC

Every time I travel, I keep journals, post blogs and make lots of notes. Back in 1992 I began a special journal "In the Shadow of the Lion", in which I wrote about all my research journies in quest of Alexander in Macedonia. Since I first began the diary, I have been to most of the northern sites, often more than once, and visited many of the museums including the royal tombs at Vergina. My journal goes up to July 2003 because I haven't been back up to northern Greece since then. However, I am thinking that next year it's time for another visit there.

To stress the importance of keeping journals and notes, when I started looking through my old journal I found several pages written about my visit to Pydna in September 1994. And because of these notes, I was able to get a much clearer pictures of the setting and was able to rewrite some of the setting details in the chapter I've been working on.

Here's what I wrote back then:
Ancient Pydna: pronounced "Peethna" (near Makrigialos)
The fortress remains are on a high promontory overlooking the Thermaikos Gulf. Behind it are fields and low hills. To the soutwest Mount Olympos is visible -- vague in the heat mist, probably usually very clear, dark blue, rising above the farmlands. (In winter the snow peaks would be distinct). There is nothing visible on the horizon of the sea though later, the Peninsula south of Thessaloniki would be vaguely visible.) **note: this first fortress I described turned out to be the Byzantine site.

Just down the road, south of the fortress, are temple remains. The town of Pydna was built around the harbour. The fortress was walled, buff coloured large blocks of stone (sandstone?) From the East, looking seaward, is a long view of the sandy beach. Water is clear to depths,, pale green near shore, rocks and hsoals black and teal colored farther out to sea. Lots of fishing boats. On the north side of the fortress site is another steep bluff, probably for a watch tower, or beacon post.

Here was Olympias' last view of life -- the sea, and most importantly, a view of Mount Olympos which she undoubtedly watched each day, looking for omens.

Later, at the hotel next to the site I spoke to some people who told me about Olympias ("Olympieada") being stoned to death here and her body buried nearby, but some people think her remains were removed to Vergina to the royal tombs.

I was introduced to two archaeologists (Manos and Nancy) who work on the stie. They said the real fortress was a bit farther north, part of the mud-brick wall and the ditch had been found -- the ditch ("foss") dug by Kassandros to cut off their food supplies, went from the sea all around the city walls. (Manos was the archaeologist who had discovered the ditch site) The city of Pydna was larger than Dion (a Macedonian sanctuary and site of a military garrison in Alexander's time, located some miles farther south closer to Mount Olympos.) The city was an important site since Neolithic times. Olympias may be buried here. The archaeologists have found grave stele of family members at Dion.

I was told that the royal household probably travelled by sea from Pella ( two or three days journey.) They said the town of ancient pydna was quite large and the fortress was big, not necessarily on a high promotory. All the building was made of mud bricks so little of it has remained and most is well below the present earth surface. Walls would follow the lay of the land. There are many important finds coming out of the toms although they aren't sure if Olympias' tomb is still nearby. Her tomb was not believed to be as grand as the other royal tombs as she was the enemy at the time and not Macedonian. The archaeologists said a stele had been found previously marking information regarding Olympias' grave site, but it has disappeared (The site was apparantly recorded in the histories).

What a stroke of good fortune today! (Pythia and Olympias, were your listening?) first the chance, arranged by the lady at the hotel, to speak to the two archaeologists, then an offer of a ride to the bus and en route the man drove us by the grave sites (new excavations) and also the tumulous and general area of the digs where the original fortress was located, which was much bigger than the 6th C. AD Byzantine fortress I had been exploring first.

In regards to Olympias -- I imagined her focusing on the mountain, perhaps facing it as she is stoned to death - her spirit rising to the mountaintop, residing on the summit with the gods of Olympos after whom she is named.

So, after reading through these notes, I was able to edit the small passage I previously posted here, to include clearer setting details, making it a little more accurate.

The palace became a hive of activity as preparations were made for the move to Pydna. By mid November, they made their way south. The troops and the war elephants went by land, accepting guest-friendship from their allies along the way, pretending all was well as they assured the citizens that soon a treaty would be signed with Kassandros, and the threat of civil war would be over.

The royal household travelled by trireme. The weather was still mild, the breezes gentle. Three days later, they neared the sandy shoreline of the coast and saw the imposing walled fortress of Pydna and the rough-hewn houses of the town clustered around the harbor. Beyond the fortress and a swath of ochre coloured fields, rose the mighty heights of the holy mountain, Olympos, the wild pine-clad range where wolves and lynxes roamed.

After we left the campsite where we'd spent several days at Platamonos:
This morning there were rainbows over Mount Olympos so I take that as a good omen. We're on the train heading back to Athens after an enjoyable five days of camping and exploring. Following a route, via the Vale of Tempe, similar to that which Philip's army would have taken on their way to Chaironeia. (**in fact, the rail line followed close to the great battle field of Chaironeia!)

The journey was a success in that I saw Pydna and spoke to the archaeologists and visited the wonderful castle at Platamonos, which was likely on a site visited by Philip and Alexander. (It was the site of the ancient city of Heracleion).

Rereading my journals is always a valuable experience and an easy research source as I usually take time to write down setting details and sometimes even draw sketches. As well, I think photographs are a valuable source of research as they will remind you of details you otherwise may have forgotten.

As for my progress on Shadow of the Lion I have completed another chapter segment.
The web of intrigue is getting more and more tangled, the tension increasing, my characters' world coming closer to collapse!


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT 33: MOVING ALONG

View of the plains behind Pydna and Mt. Olympus

I've finally started to feel remotely 'recovered' after a long bout with a cold virus.
In the last few days, as the sun was shining (though it was unseasonably cold) I ventured out on various errands -- prepared the handouts for my night school classes which begin next week, and delivered them; went to the lab for blood tests; and today I got up very early (6 a.m.!) in order to attend a travel agent/media breakfast for a Norwegian cruise line. The rest of the time I've been doing market research for travel, a bit of editing for my travel site, and finally tonight I got out the manuscript of Shadow, read through the last bits I had been so diligently working on up to a week ago, and prepared myself to move along.

A few years ago I had actually visited the site of ancient Pydna on the north-east coast of Greece. Fortune had it that day that I was introduced to the archaeologists who were working on the digs there. I met the archaeologist who had just discovered the trench that Kassandros had dug around the fortress blocking Olympias and the royal family inside for the winter, with dire consequences. At the time, they told me they were searching for a tomb for Olympias -- which, they said, would likely be just an ornamental memorial tomb as they felt her body had likely been moved to the royal tombs at Vergina some time after her death by stoning at Pydna. There wasn't much else to see there but it was quite a thrill to just be there, at the place, where the Epirote queen (Alexander's mother) had died. I imagined that from where she stood, surrounded by the kinsmen of people she'd had murdered, that she could look up toward Mt. Olympus and will herself to be transported in spirit to the home of the Gods. And here I am, once again, in that place - Pydna - on the brink of another crises that ends in tragedy.

I tried to find my own photos of the place but in their stead I have posted some that I found on-line. It gives just a hint of what it was like there. Pydna was a sea port with a garrisoned fortress commanding the seaway of the Gulf of Salonika.
Olympias had insisted on moving the royal household there from the palace of Pella - a crucial mistake, it turned out. Here's just the beginning of the next chapters where everything starts to go horribly wrong.



The ancient fortress of Pydna
THE MOVE TO PYDNA

The palace became a hive of activity as preparations were made for the move to Pydna. By mid November, they made their way south. The royal household travelled by horse and mule-drawn wagons, surrounded by bodyguards. They accepted guest-friendship from their allies along the way, pretending all was well. The army and the lumbering herd of war elephants had gone on ahead to confront Kassandros’ troops at the border. Soon a treaty would be signed and the threat of civil war would be over.

A week later, from a distance they could see the imposing fortress of Pynda lying in the shadow of the mighty heights of the holy mountain, Olympus, and the wild pine-clad range where wolves and lynxes roamed. A wreath of thick, dark clouds hid the dazzling peak where the Gods dwelt.

The weather was still mild, the breezes gentle. Below the ramparts of Pydna the white-crested sea churned. Soon the ships would come and the war would be over, Kassandros defeated.

View of the coast from the ramparts of Pydna's fortress
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