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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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