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Thursday, December 30, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT # 75 : SO IT ENDS


Ptolemy Soter

Prologue: Babylon, the 28th day of Daesius (June) 323 BC
Ptolemy, companion and illegitimate half-brother of Alexander the Great writes in his journal:

'Today, the 28th of Daesius ,an ominous darkness has descended over city. Alexander is dead. When I looked at him, he seemed to be at peace at last.  There was, in his eyes, a look of calm acceptance.  I have wept for him. He was a god and man. He will continue to live, I think, forever and ever, for thousands and thousands years.

Ptolemy wrote memoirs on Alexander's campaigns.  He was one of Alexander's most faithful companions and friend,  allegedly an illegitimate half brother of Alexander.  He could have tried to take over the army after Alexander died, but he chose instead to go to Egypt and establish the city of Alexandria as Alexander had wished.  He became the first Ptolemaic Pharaoh of Egypt and his dynasty lasted for many years. (The Cleopatra that we know in the histories was from his lineage.  'Cleopatra' was in fact a Macedonian royal name.)  In "Shadow of the Lion"  he is the royal blue thread in the tapestry,  telling Alexander's story in the prologue and epilogue and appearing throughout the novel.  Although some historians saw him as self-aggrandizing,  from what I have read and researched, I saw him as an honest, loyal and honourable man.  He is one of the sympathetic characters in the novel, and the 'uncle' who Iskander (Alexander's son) sees as a savior.

It has been a long, long journey for me writing this novel.  Many stops, starts, several hiatuses when I was working on other writing (plays, memoirs and travel writing.  Even some poetry related to the story, my collection of 12 Homeric Hymns "Hymns to Gods and Heroes").  But now, at last, my journey has ended.  The telling of the tale, for sure, but there's still work for the 'editor' to do: polishing, tweaking, cutting, looking for an agent/publisher.  Still, when I wrote the end this week I felt a great sense of accomplishment.  And I have a lot of people to thank for their encouragement and assistance.  There will be a page of acknowledgements in the front of the book when it's published.

The journey started in Babylon for my characters, taking them through the Middle East, Egypt, and finally north to Macedonia.  It was a journey of almost 13 years.  Mine took longer than that, including a year and more of research before I began;  an attempt to write it as a juvenile historical which I abandoned after a year when I realized the story was too political and complex. I spent a lot of time in Greece doing research, with the help of Classical scholars, the Greek Ministry of Culture, the secretary of the Society of Macedonian Studies and many friends there and here. There were a lot of halts on the journey, conflicts, problems,  joyous times and sad times.  But now, it's done.  Do I feel relief?  Am I sad?  Well, I have had the ending written right from the beginning, so I already knew how it would end, so it wasn't quite as much of a shock to me as it might have been had it been really 'fresh' writing.  I think when I wrote the end of the epilogue I felt the impact.  But it probably won't be for a few days yet that the full realization comes over me.  It's done!  It will be strange to not be thinking about it 24/7, jotting notes down in my notebook, getting up in the night to record lines of dialogue or setting detail that I suddenly thought of.  I have been living with these characters for a long, long time.  They are real people in my mind,  just as most of them were real people in history.  So, yes, I will miss them. 

Epilogue: Alexandria, the 28th day of Daesius (June) 310 BC 
Ptolemy has received word from Amphipolis, Macedon, and writes this in his journal:

'And now Alexander’s dynasty has ended. Such is life, the way of men -- that in the twinkling of an eye an Empire can collapse. We are driven by greed to win fame and power in unrighteous ways and the more we have, the more we covet, until greed and blind ambition destroys us.’


SO IT ENDS


Funeral urn containing the remains of a Macedonian Prince(When I asked the archaeologist at Vergina, the Royal Tombs, if they might be those of Alexander IV, he said they believed so, because he (my Iskander) was the only royal boy of that age, about 14, who had died at that time.)



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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT #74: When You Reach the Finish Line


Silver coin,  Alexander the Great wearing the horns of Ammon
(I wear a ring made of a copy of this coin, and also have it as a medallion)

I compare the writing of this novel, "Shadow of the Lion", to a long and arduous journey.  Like running a marathon, though I've made some rest-stops along the way.  The story itself is a journey, beginning in Babylon in June, 323 BC and ending in Amphipolis, Macedonia in June 310 BC.  And that journey itself took years!

Just like a marathon runner, a writer must persevere if you want to reach the finish line.  Sometimes you might stumble and almost fall;  sometimes you get so tired you might want to quit; sometimes you lag behind and wonder if you're ever going to reach the finish line.  But you keep on persevering, in spite of discomfort, obstacle, discouragements.  And finally you see ahead of you,  your goal!

Before you set off on this long, long race, of course you need to prepare  yourself,  "get into shape", know what's in store.  Writing a novel is a long project and one that requires discipline if you want to achieve your goal and finish.  Before I began writing Shadow, I did months of research.  I already had a lot of knowledge and a great love of my subject (Alexander the Great) and I enjoy doing research  -- a kind of brain 'gym' work,  getting prepared for the big 'race'.  Sure, you sometimes make a false start and have to begin over.  I actually spent a year writing "Shadow" as a juvenile historical,  thinking it would be a short run and I'd be finished the project in no time.  Then, as I delved deeper into the history and saw how complicated the events were, I realized it was not going to work as a story for youngsters.  It was far to complex and political.  So I was advised to start over. (That first year was just a 'training run').  And so I did.  I started over and wrote it with a multiple point of view, complicating matters, but allowing me to really develop the characters and tell the story of the fall of Alexander's dynasty with all the political complexities and scheming that finally brought it to the end.  Certainly, once I established the theme: How blind ambition and greed brought down a world power, the way became clear and I was able to tell the story the way it needed to be told.

Yes, it has been a long, long journey.  But this week I finally came to the end of the final chapter.  And now, before this week is over, I should have the Epilogue finished with a bit of extra work on the Prologue, tying it all in together. 

Was I excited and emotional about reaching the finish line?  I actually had the final chapter written almost from the beginning, so I knew how it ended.  But I had to proceed slowly when I wrote the final chapter, making sure I kept the tension high and not giving away the ending.  I wanted it to have an emotional but satisfying ending and hope I have achieved that.  At least I know I have given it my personal best.  This, of course, is not the grand finale.  There will still be some edits, rewrites and cuts to make.  And I won't be completely 'finished' until I write THE END when I finish the Epilogue.  My goal is to finish it this week, before the New Year.  Can I do it?  Yes, I can!


A painting of Amphipolis with Mount Pangeion, the lake and the River Strymon
(in my research I have visited here twice)











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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Progress Report #73: The Never-ending Task of Research

Alexander the Great on his horse Bucephalus


One of the things I always remind writers in my novel writing classes is that part of the job of the writer is also to do the research.  And if you are writing historical fiction this is no small task!  Even if you are writing fiction of any kind, make sure you know your subject and have a keen interest in it or you will soon became overwhelmed with the research that is necessary to make your characters realistic and your settings as accurate as possible.  This is even true with 'modern' settings.  For instance, if  you are writing about someone who is a nurse or a lawyer,  make sure you know what it entails to be in that profession.  Interview people who are, or read up on it.  If you are writing about a bag lady or a drug addict, you don't need to go out and sleep on the street or shoot up heroin but you must study and observe what it is to be like those individuals and perhaps chat with a few to find out.  (For instance, my play "The Street" was a cautionary tale about heroin addiction written after my boyfriend and his friends became hooked on the drug unwittingly back in the 1950's before any of us knew the dangers.  I personally saw what happened to these people when they became unfortunate addicts and as the play was set in the East End of Vancouver I knew the setting and period of time very well.) 

Writing historical fiction though, is a much more daunting project.  Again, you really need to be passionately interested in the subject you intend to write about, read everything you can about that period (including other novels), and be prepared for lots of unending work.  I was introduced to Alexander the Great when I was still in high school and spent a good deal of my last year of school researching and writing an Alexander themed novel. (Nearly failed because of it!).  There were no computers, videos, movies (other than that horrible one made during the 1950's starring Richard Burton where even the sets were phony) so I relied on library books.  Nowadays you can research on-line as well as at libraries and the sources are endless.  However, to get a real feeling of the locations, wherever possible, it's a good idea to go and visit.  Of course, when I started to write about Alexander I relied only on book research however when I eventually visited Greece many years later I was astounded to see how accurate some of my descriptions had been of locations.  For my current novel, "Shadow of the Lion", I was not only able to research in libraries and on-line, but I have some very valuable contacts who are Classical Scholars and was able to visit most of the locations in northern Greece (Macedonia) and some in Turkey.  Of course, getting to Iraq was impossible (and the first part of my novel takes place in ancient Babylon) but I at least was able to view videos and get a pretty clear idea of what it might have been like. 
Pella, the royal city where Alexander was born.

In researching my novel I have visited as many of the sites where Alexander lived that I was able to.  I got a real feeling of 'place' by doing this.  Of course a vivid imagination is also a valuable asset, however I always try to be fairly accurate in descriptions so I can get across the sense of 'being there'.
So it was a thrill to visit Pella several times. (The site of the palace is still being excavated but I was at least able to get an idea of the layout of the city and imagine it.)  I have also visited Dodoni, where Alexander's mother lived in the mountains of Epiros, the island of Samothraki where she met her husband Philip, King of Macedon and Alexander's father, and the town of Pydna where part of my story takes place where the royal family (Olympias, and Alexander's Soghdian widow and son were staying while the city was under siege).  I have also been twice to Amphipolis, an important site for the last part of my novel.  Someone said that Classical Greece is dead.  But it isn't.  Certainly there are a lot of things that are no longer there and sometimes the landscape has been altered, but when you walk among the ruins and see the lay of the land you can visualize it as clearly as it once existed.

If you are writing a more current story,  set in New York city, for instance, and you've never been there (especially if you're from a small town) you should treat youself for a visit, as New York city is an experience like no other and to capture the essence of it is part of the exciting detail you'll want to add to your story.



Mieza, the school Philip built where Aristotle taught Alexander and his Companions.

But getting the settings right is only half the battle. There's all those other details too,  like what did people eat back then?  What did they wear?  What was their mode of transportation?  How long did it take to get from point A to point B on horseback?  It's never-ending.  I seem to be always stopping to check some tiny detail.  As someone once told me,  "If you have them eating potatoes in the first chapter and potatoes didn't exist at that time, it will shoot down your credibility."  My Classical scholar friends have made sure even things like the way sacrifices were made was accurately portrayed.  And all that meticulous detail is what often makes historical fiction take so long to write.

Some tips for doing research are necessary.  I learned a long time ago to make a list of what I needed to know at that moment and only research those subjects.  It happens I love doing research and can spend far too many hours browsing books or surfing the net.  So I usually only look things up as I need to know them and keep a file with notes, photos or whatever I need to keep on hand.  Then, when you are doing the writing, use only what you actually need.  Don't bog your story down with too many details no matter how fascinating they are.  Just ask yourself, "is this necessary for the plot?"  If it isn't, don't use it.  (Sometimes, a book can be so full of meticulous research details that it becomes boring.)  Remember, you're not writing a history text, you're writing a story. So you want to keep it interesting as well as informative.









Saturday, December 18, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT # 72 : DREAMING


Lately I've been having a lot of unusual dreams.  I used to be diligent about recording any significant dreams in my journal, because often you can look back on them and 'interpret' what they possibly meant.  Sometimes dreams can be visitations from people who have passed beyond.  Other times they are reflections of our lives,  stressful periods or joyful times.  I find dreams fascinating.  Even the unpleasant, scary dreams (nightmares) we sometimes have are interesting if you try to analyze just why those frightening images came to disturb your sleep.

Once, when I was in my teens, I had one of those 'non-dreams' where you really can visualize something has happened.  In this case, my sleep was disturbed and I woke to find two men standing by my bed.  One was an oriental man, the other a tall man wearing an overcoat and fedora.  They didn't speak, just stood by my bedside grinning at me.  Of course I was frightened and I sat up and cried out.  Then they vanished.  Who were these two men?  I can still see them as clearly as if it were yesterday.
The most mysterious part is, when some years later, I told this 'dream' to a friend, she related exactly the same incident happening to her at about the same age.  She described two similar men.  Where they guardian angels?  And why did they appear?

I have often used dreams in my novel "Shadow of the Lion".  In ancient times, dreams were important and were part of the psycho-therapy used in the healing shrines.  The person who came to the shrine to seek advice was given wine or some other potent drink,  wrapped themselves in an animal skin and slept. In the morning the priest of the sanctuary interpreted their dream and give them advice.

There have been a couple of times when I had a dream but realized that dream really belonged to one of my characters.  It's important though, if you use dreams in your stories, that you use them carefully so that they meld in with the story.  You must never write a story and in the end say "Then she woke up. It was all a dream!" That's a cop-out.  So if you use dreams in your story, they must make sense as if they are a dream your character might really have, and for what reason?
 
 There are 'waking dreams' too...those moments when our mind drifts off to other worlds or fantasies.  "Imagining", while we are awake.  These moments can also be used with your characters.

Dreams can be curious, playful, wishful-thinking, memories, visitations or powerful foreshadowing.
Here's a dream sequence belonging to Roxana,  the Soghdian widow of Alexander and mother of his only heir, Iskander (Alexander IV)  She and her son, heir to the throne, are held in a fortress at Amphipolis under the guardianship of Kassandros, one of Alexander's enemies, until Iskander comes of age and can legally take over the throne of Macedon.

Roxana and Alexander the Great

Roxana  went to her dressing table and took the combs out of her hair letting it tumble loose. She sat awhile, holding her bronze mirror as she wiped the paint from her face. She was barely

past thirty and already felt like a beaten old crone. The mirror’s reflection showed her pale complexion, the tiny lines around her mouth and creasing her brow. There were dark pouches under her sad eyes. She saw herself as a dowager, not Alexander’s proud widow, mother of the future king of Macedon. All her hopes had been dashed. Alone in the silence she shed tears of remorse.

That night as she slept, a horrible vision came to her.

She sees a cavernous room with walls of alabaster and floors of black marble. In the centre is an open sarcophagus and inside it lays the corpse of a man. She sees him clearly, the serene features are familiar to her: the nose, cheeks, the coppery hair springing from his forehead, the hands folded over a shield that bears a lion’s figure. Alexander. Then she sees Iskander ascending the steps, slowly, reverently. He approaches the casket and reaches out his hand, then bends over to touch Alexander’s face, and slowly as if performing a ritual, he climbs into the sarcophagus. She sees him lying there, and now it is no longer Alexander, but her son who lays in that marble casket.

She woke drenched in sweat, her heart pounding. The dream was so real that it felt as if she had flown to Alexandria and beheld it herself.

Trembling, she crawled out of bed and bent over a basin by her bedside. A wave of nausea came over her and she retched.

Was the dream an omen?

It was a dream ….only a dream. She repeated this until the spinning in her head ceased and she felt her heart beats slow. She decided not to tell Iskander.

It was a dream, that is all, she told herself. I cannot alarm my son when he needs to keep his thoughts clear.

*  *   *

This week in my novel-writing coaching group I asked the writers to choose one of their characters and write a dream that this character might have,  then relate it to an incident in their character's life, possibly a foreshadowing.  This proved to be a very useful exercise.  Try it yourself!  Those dreams will tell you many things about your characters -- or even yourself! 











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Friday, December 03, 2010

SOME INSPIRATION FROM THE MUSE


SAPPHO

This week I had some unexpected encouragement about one of my works-in-progress that has been shelved for the last couple of years:  my play about Sappho, the lyric poet,  titled "House of the Muses".

I had begun writing this play after being encouraged to do so by an artistic director/actress I know and before I began I got a membership in the Playwright's Centre so that I could qualify for some workshops.  I even made a special trip that year when I was in Greece, to visit Myteline (Lesbos) and to go to the town where Sappho once lived (Eressos).  I did tons of research before I was prepared to begin writing.

This was another period when I basically stalled work on my novel, "Shadow of the Lion",  at least I was working a bit on both, putting most of my energy at that time into the play.  I got the first act written and was prepared to begin the second act when the whole thing kind of caved in.  The people in the workshop, and mainly the director of it, simply didn't get what I was writing, perhaps because I was styling it like the Greek dramas (because, after all, Sappho's story is a tragedy).  A couple of the workshop members made a few critiquing suggestions but basically the director dissed it and told me that the way it was it was unproducable.  He did not offer any suggestions as to how I could fix or improve it.  I was crushed, after all the months I had put into it, so I decided to shelve it and focus entirely on the novel.

Here's a brief explanation of what the play is about:

The story of Sappho is a classic story of betrayal and unrequited love.  Sappho has been misunderstood in modern times. She was not simply a lesbian who wrote love poems to some of her girls. She was a widow, a mother, a woman with male lovers, and most importantly, she was a political activist and a musical super-star of her time. At her House of the Muses private girls school on the island of Lesbos, Greece, she taught the young daughters of wealthy Asians and Greeks the art of music and poetry. Music seems to have been the natural mode of expression and the intimacy of the group was such that there was no secret that could not be shared, no subject that could not be sung. Soon these girls would marry, and it was to this end that their accomplishments were acquired.


In Sappho’s house they learned that virginity kept was glorious, while virginity lost in a wedding bed was an even more splendid thing. One had to be both pure and desirable and the balance was not easy to keep for chastity was provocative. The need to marry well was what brought the members of the Sapphic group together, but marriage also made them move apart again and once they left they could never come back again, could never be girls again. Their change of status (marriage) was as total and as irreversible as the loss of virginity.


So it was with Sappho, when she was sent into exile far from the House of the Muses. Her life was never to be the same again, and when she returned she found her world turned upside down, her school in chaos, her land taken by the tyrants, her most beloved friend gone. Because of her political stance against the tyrants and her love of the girls in her school, she was accused of disorderly conduct and being a ‘woman-lover’. She was slandered and defiled, and most of her poetry was destroyed. In end, betrayed by her young male lover and deserted by her goddess, Aphrodite she committed suicide.


Sappho’s tragic story is a classic story of unrequited love. Her quest for love, acceptance and lasting friendship is what we all seek. With Sappho died some of the world’s most profound and beautiful poetry.

I haven't looked at the script since that time I shelved it until a week after I returned from my holidays in September and was asked to be guest poet at a Sunday poetry reading, Poetic Justice.  At that reading I read the opening monologue by Sappho.  It was greeted with enthusiasm and one of the women in the audience who is an actress expressed that she would love to perform it.  That gave me renewed interest in the project.  Maybe it wasn't as bad as I had been led to believe!

Then the other day  I happened to be in a conversation with another woman, also an actress, who was bemoaning that she hadn't landed any roles lately and considered quitting acting.  It suddenly struck me that this woman would be perfect to play the role of Sappho.  So I asked her if she'd like to read the script. 

I got a phone message from her a couple of days ago and she was very enthusiastic about what she had read so far from the script.  She said that she was 'right there' and really related to all the action etc. She asked if she could do some editing on the dialogues for me (which was just what I felt the script needed). So I am now waiting to hear her opinion about it once she's finished reading Act One.  If she thinks it's worth pursuing then when I am finished Shadow I should go back and finish Act Two.  It would be exciting even if I only got a reading done of it.  I had put so much energy into the play it seems a shame for it to be tucked away in a manuscript box never to see the light of day or hear some talented women reading the lines I have written. (I used as many of Sappho's own words in the script as I could, too!)

So, you just never know.  Sometimes the work you think is worthless turns out to be alright. You just have to give it time.  And put it into the right hands.














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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT #71 : A THROW OF THE DICE

Playing knucklebones

Sometimes life can be a gamble:  'Should I, or shouldn't I?'  "What if?' 'Shall I take a chance?'
'What are the odds?'  We've all had to make these choices and trust our instincts that things will turn out and that our choices are right. 

I'm taking a chance on my novel, trusting that it's going to turn out alright, that I'll find an agent and then a publisher who will love it.  So far I am getting positive feedback from my readers/editor so that's a big relief.  But will the novel sell?  Will anyone want to publish it?  Will I EVER get it done and in shape to send to an agent?  I just have to TRUST that these things will happen, that all my efforts will not be in vain.  Take a chance.  Toss the dice.  Throw my work out there into the big wide literary world and hope it becomes a hit.

The story is drawing to a close and now Alexander's son, Iskander, must make a life-saving decision.  Should he take a chance on it?  Or should he stay and hope that he'll live to take the throne of Macedon, inherited from his father.  It's a throw of the dice.  And he cannot delay his decision.




Knucklebones (astrigali), a popular 'dice' game played in ancient times.


Here is a little scene from my final chapter in which Iskander and his friend Orion are planning their next move...with a throw of the dice.

*   *   *

Later that day Iskander and Orion met in the barracks yard. They squatted on the flagstones in the open, pretending to be engrossed in a game of knucklebones. No-one was nearby except a guard who sat on a slab of marble, too bored to pay attention. Iskander held the leather dice bag, and muttered an incantation over it. The guard, who seemed to have no real interest in the boys and their game, gave an impatient cough

Orion cast an anxious look over his shoulder. “Will he hear?”

“Take no notice of him,” Iskander said . “He’s a new guard and he doesn’t know anything. He’s probably dreaming of the girl he laid with last night.” He poured the five onyx astragali into Orion’s outstretched hand.

Orion threw down the knucklebones and leaned his head closer to Iskander’s. “There’s no way out through the town. The streets will be full of Kassandros’ men. We’ll have to scale the south wall and make our escape down the hill into the ravine.” He scooped up one of the bones and tossed it up to catch it on the back of his hand. “Coan throw!” He tossed another bone and snatched up the others with a clicking sound as he leaned close to whisper to Iskander. “I know all the trails and secret coverts of the ravine. My father and I used to hunt there. We’ll go through the ravine to the river. I know where there’s a boat hidden in the reeds. That way, the hounds won’t be able to pick up our scent.”

“Well done! Chian throw. That’s a five. My turn!” Iskander scooped up the astrigali and threw them up scattering them in the dirt. Then he tossed one up and caught it on the back of his hand.

Orion cheered. “Good throw!” Then he lowered his voice. “I’ve shown you how to find the footholds on the citadel wall. I’ll leave first and wait for you by the river.”

“When do we go?”

“On the night of the Bouphonia, when everyone at the garrison is feasting and celebrating and all the town will be reveling. Arkon’s ship won’t leave port until the morning. We’ll have time to get ourselves down to Eion and slip aboard.”

“What about my mother?” The thought of leaving Roxana behind made Iskander ache with regret.

“There is no other way,” Orion reached out and laid his hand over Iskander’s. “By the next full moon you’ll be of age to ascend the throne, then you can free her.”

“How can I leave her here…with them?” The thought of how his mother had already suffered at Kassandros’ hands made him feel wretched.

“You must save yourself first!” Orion said.

His eyes met Orion’s and held the gaze. What Orion said was right. He threw down the dice bag and reached out to grasp his friend’s hand. “Noble Orion, you have always been a steadfast, loyal friend. I hold you in high regard, and always will.”

Always ready with a reassuring word, Orion replied: “I swear before the gods that I’ll be there for you as long as I’m alive.”

They looked at each other and clasped hands. There was no need to say more.

* * *









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Saturday, November 06, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT 70: Riding into the Sunset

Amphipolis, the Strymon River


We're almost there.  Just two more little bits of the final chapter to finish and a small amount of work tying together the Prologue and Epilogue.  I had actually hoped it would be completed by now but there's been little time for my history writing what with classes to teach and some of the travel writing I get paid to write so must keep on top of.  However, the reviews I am getting so far from what I've written in Shadow of the Lion have been all good and very encouraging.

One disappointment was being unable to approach an agent at the recent Surrey International Writer's Festival.  Unlike other years, I was not assigned any room monitoring tasks and only one introduction.  The rest of the time I was stuck in the room registering people for the Blue Pencil appointments so there was no change to 'buttonhole' the agent I had hoped to speak to.  But perhaps I am not quite ready ... or once I am, I will know who to approach as she works for the same agency as the editor who suggested to me a couple of years ago that I send them my manuscript. 

My classes and workshops all end in another week, leaving me more writing time so hopefully I'll make more progress.  Meanwhile I am thinking about it, planning mentally how to approach this next tricky part, in particular how to begin.  I always find the transitions a bit of a sticky point and once I master that I'm generally off and running.

Anyway, here's a little snippet of what I've just finished writing/workshopping and editing.  To explain:
Iskander has been invited to go with his companions to the port of Amphipolis to view some war triremes that are in port.  This is the first time in five years he has been allowed to ride with a royal escort from the garrison at Amphipolis so it is an important moment for him.  Kassandros has kept him a virtual prisoner in the garrison, but the current commander in charge has been more lenient and believes that Iskander should be presented to the trierarchs and the populace.  So in this scene, they are riding down from the acropolis of Amphipolis to the port at Eion. 


I have actually walked up and down this road on a couple of occasions and made lots of notes in my travel journal as well as taking photos.  So I was able to recreate the ride.  The children's bed-time fable that Orion tells Iskander is one that Macedonian parents in that area actually do tell their kids.  A journalist friend of mine who was brought up near Amphipolis told me this, so I used it in the story.

A part of Shadow of the Lion, final chapter.

At midday, the troop rode out of the garrison, through the narrow cobbled streets of Amphipolis town, the boys flanked by an escort of bodyguards, their royal pennants fluttering from tall staffs. Iskander rode in front beside Commander Castor, followed by Orion and the his companions, privileged boys who and were proud to be invited into the royal company.


Even though many of them were older and had already passed the tests of manhood, they treated him with the respect due his royal station and he counted them all as friends, except for Lakis and his two cohorts. Since the near fatal boar hunt he was wary of them. They were resentful boys from the upland hills, sent there by their fathers who were friends of Kassandros’. He knew that Lakis, was favoured by Glaukias. Some of the boys whispered that Lakis was Glaukias’ eremenos, just as Glaukias’ had been Kassandros’ favored lover.

It was the first time since he had come to Amphipolis five years before that he had ridden through the city with a royal escort, and Iskander felt an exhilaration of pride as he cantered his horse past the cheering town people. His horse was a chestnut stallion, prettier than the others, bedecked with silver cheek-rosettes and a red saddle cloth fringed with bullion, fit trappings for a king. Most of the town folk had never seen him before and he heard the twitter of excited voices as they recognized that he must be the royal boy, their future king.

The road led through the west gate of the city, across the ancient stone Nine Ways Bridge that had been built long ago by Shah Xerxes when the Persian had invaded Macedon. As he cantered his horse across the bridge, Iskander glanced at the old moss-covered stele that marked the spot where the Persians had sacrificed nine boys and nine girls to the river gods. He glanced back toward the acropolis of Amphipolis, crowned with its grey stone citadel. He hoped the he would soon leave this cursed place forever. He trusted Castor and the influence the Commander had that would surely help convince Kassandros to let him return to his father’s palace in Pella.

The road curved away from the river, skirting the low forested hills. Just ahead, in a grove of trees, loomed a formidable stone lion, a funerary monument that had been erected to honour one of Alexander’s generals. Iskander remembered, when he was a little boy of four and had first seen that lion, how frightened he had been.

With his flaxen hair blowing in the wind, Orion spurred his horse to ride alongside him.

“My father used to say that when a child misbehaves the Lion comes in the night and takes his tongue.”

“Sometimes I dream of lions,” Iskander called back to him. “And in my dreams, the lion pursues me.”

Orion laughed. “Is it this lion?”

“This is just a stone lion.” He held up his arm to show Orion the bracelet his mother had given him. The gold sparkled as the sun caught it. “See this one? This was my father’s. It’s a luck charm.” He took a breath feeling an overwhelming sadness. He remembered how Nabarzanes had always called him, Ashabal, the Little Lion. “My father is the lion,” he said.”And he is my protector.”


What will happen when they reach the port? 

The Lion of Amphipolis


Monday, October 11, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT #69: MAKING SLOW PROGRESS

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As the Greek's say "sega, sega!" Easy, easy.  And that's how I'm approaching the last bit of work on Shadow of the Lion. It's taken me awhile, as I've only been home 3 weeks from my travels and have been caught up in new classes, some literary events and a bit of recovery from jet-lag and culture shock.  But I'm slowly starting back to work on the finale of the novel.  Who would have thought it would be so difficult to write this last bit? 
Garrison walls, Amphipolis


Where am I now in the story?  I am in the garrison of Amphipolis.  There has been a lull in the action as far as the threats against Roxana and Iskander.  The new garrison commander, in charge while the evil Glaukias is away, has shown some respect and tolerance to them and has allowed the boy and his companions some freedom.  But watch what happens next!

I found that I was dissatisfied with the last chapter segment I wrote, so I've been trying to figure out how to improve it, editing and adding some new bits.  Still not certain it's what I want, but for now I'll let it go and move on to the next bit.  As usual, I always find it hard to write the transitions between chapters or chapter segments so although I have some of it written in note form, I haven't launched into it as yet.

Meanwhile I spent some time writing travel stories and have to polish up one about Pt. Townsend, WA to send off.  And of course I have started submitting to The Vancouver Guide again.  Still, I have a lot of travel stories yet to write so I must squeeze these in between what work I am doing on Shadow.  Fortunately I've had a bit of extra time to do some of it, but it all requires DISCIPLINE and FOCUS which are somewhat difficult to achieve (for me, anyway!)

But, I will continue to post my progress reports and very soon I hope to be able to write THE END.
Watch for more chapter segments to come.

Monday, October 04, 2010

WAX POETIC!

Reading at Poetic Justice



I don't generally consider myself a poet, but somehow lately I seem to have found myself in that category.  A few weeks before I left on my trip,  I was invited to appear on a Co-op Radio show, Wax Poetic as their guest for the show.  I was very honoured to be invited as this program has some of the best local poets as their guests. 

For my half hour reading, I selected poetry that was connected to my historical fiction writing.  First I read selections from my work-in-progress Celtic novel "Dragons in the Sky" which has some chapters written as 'stanzas' in Bardic verse.  Next I read selections from my Alexandrian Collection: Hymns for Gods and Heroes which was written some time ago when a poet friend challenged me to write a collection of poems about Alexander's life, parallel to my novel "Shadow of the Lion".  I followed that by reading a short passage from the final chapter of my novel.

The radio readings were a great success and that put me in an entirely new literary category when other poets heard me read.  I was invited to appear as guest poet at a Poetic Justice reading when I returned home from my travels.  This is a poetry reading group that meets on Sundays in New Westminster (a city just next to Vancouver.).  For this reading I again chose stories that showed my interest in historical fiction writing (including several I had read on the radio show) as well as travel poems.  While I was away in Greece I was urged to write some new poetry and although I can't 'write on demand' I somehow managed to at least produce two new poems, which were included in the collection I read that day.  I had also included (in the historical poetry) the opening monologue from my play about the lyric poet Sappho, "House of the Muses".  I had shelved this almost-finished work a couple of years ago after it was panned at a playwright's workshop I had been attending.  Surprisingly, when I read this monologue (which I had planned to rework), it went over so well that an actress in the audience actually asked me if she could perform it some day!  (It just goes to show you that sometimes first opinions are not necessarily everyone's opinions!)

Yesterday I went to Poetic Justice again and read at the open mic.  This time I read some poems dedicated to my late friend Anibal as this month is the anniversary of his death from cancer 5 years ago.  Again, my poetry was enthusiastically received. 

All this 'waxing poetic' has really empowered me.  Maybe I should take myself more seriously and write more poems?  Usually I have written little snippets when I am sad or lonely or going through some kind of personal dilemma (broken love affairs and the like).  Poetry doesn't just seem to 'flow' out of me the way prose does.  But perhaps I'll pay more attention to the Muse now and see if she wants me to write a poem or two.  I'm even thinking of becoming a more frequent reader at the open mics.  There are a lot of poetry venues around town.  It's just a matter of finding the time and courage to attend.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

THE WRITER ON THE ROAD

Ancient Corinth, with Acrocorinth in the Background.

I've been travelling since August 27, first to Wales then Germany and now I'm in Greece.  While I'm away I have tried to keep a focus on my writing projects.  When I was in Wales I was able to visit St. Fagan's Folk Museum which is a whole village of various aspects of Welsh life.  It included the very earliest Celtic dwellings such as would have been used in Olwen's time.  This was valuable research for me for my unfinished novel, Dragons In the Sky which I intend to resume work on after I get home and do the final chapter of my Alexander novel.

Of course, being a travel writer as well as historical fiction writer, I have been gathering all sorts of ideas for new stories everywhere I go.  And one of my first loves is visiting archaeological sites.  Here in Greece I've been going to museums as well as sites and making lots of notes, some pertaining to my Shadow of the Lion  (little details I can add for the final edits).

I actually brought that last chapter with me as I only have 1/4 of it left to write but so far haven't looked at it. While I was on the islands I was trying to write poetry because I am scheduled to be a feature reader at a poetry even after I return to Vancouver in mid September.   So  you see, I am 'at work' even though I am on holidays. And soon  you'll be getting a new Progress Report about Shadow.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT #68: ALMOST, BUT NOT QUITE...

                                                                 AEGEAN SUNSET
I almost finished that last chapter, but not quite. I got waylaid and bogged down with trip preparations and I knew I wouldn't be able to do the best work on it without total concentration as it was a very difficult chapter to write. I am down to the last 1/4 of the chapter but the next part is rather complicated, so I decided the best thing to do was wait. I have printed out the chapter up to where I am working on it, and I'm taking along all my notes. So once I am quietly encamped on the beach at Naxos where I intend to park myself for a week or two, then I am certain the Muse will be only too willing to co-operate.

So I fly off on my newest adventure tomorrow (July 29) heading first for London where I will keep to my 'literary' theme but going on a historic pubs walk and maybe the Beatles walk and of course will scout out other places around old London town of interest to writers. The pub down the road from the Indian Y where I stay (I think it's called the Fitzroy) was a famous hangout for the likes of Dylan Thomas and many others.

On Sunday I'm taking the bus to Chepstow to meet my cousins and will spend that week in Caerphilly Wales. Part of that week I hope to make the Dylan Thomas tour around Swansea and environs. Then I'll be heading onward to Germany where I will meet my friend Patrick for a few days in Mainz. He's going to be my tour guide and there's lots to see there including the first printed Bible in one of the cathedrals. On August 10 I head for Athens. I'll stay there a few days to rest up and then I'm heading for Naxos with my tent, and will camp at Maragas Camping on Plaka Beach for several days. A travel writer friend who lives in Turkey is going to meet me there and I will then travel to Samos and Turkey with Inka. Back to Athens the end of August for the last 3 weeks of cavorting with my girlfriends there.

I have a copy of part of the Shadow manuscript with one friend here and have the whole manuscript on a flash disk for my friend Dinaz to read and critique. So, as I said, I will be working on Shadow while I'm traveling. Have to finish the end of the final chapter and also the Prologue (Prelude) and Epilogue (Epitasis) need to be complete but are partly done.

Because when I get back I've been invited to be the feature reader at a poetry event, perhaps I'll manage to pen some new poems too. I was recently a guest on a radio show here, Wax Poetic, and read some of my Bardic Verse and part of the Hymns to Gods and Heroes collection which tied in with a small part of my final chapter that I read. It was a big hit (and I must say when I heard the play-back I impressed myself!) so I guess I am now counted as a 'poet' although I have not really thought of myself as that.

I may post here while traveling as I intend to take in some literary sites. But you can also follow me on my travel blog.
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Saturday, July 03, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT #67: THE FINAL CHAPTER part 1: OMENS & PRAYERS

 View of Mount Pangaion

Beginning June 10,1992 (the anniversary of Alexander the Great's death in Babylon), I started a special journal to chronicle the field trips I was making in Greece to follow Alexander's path.  "In the Shadow of the Lion" covers these journies  up to July 2003, but there have been many other return visits to the sites, many new discoveries in my search for Alexander.

All through the writing of my novel, "Shadow of the Lion", I have found these on-site notes invaluable. "Being there" gave me a real sense of place, and with my research trips to archaeological sites, a sense of the 'times' and life of this incredible man and others associated with him.

There has never been much written about Alexander's son, (I use his Persian name "Iskander" to distinguish him from his father) who was born to Alexander's Soghdian wife, Roxana, a month after his death in Babylon, June 10, 323 BC.  Most of what has been written in the histories has not portrayed the women in Alexander's life as fairly or realistically as they likely were.  So much is speculation.  Many of the journals kept during Alexander's lifetime were destroyed, and the histories we know were written more than a hundred years later. 

As a historical fiction writer, getting to know Alexander's world has been invaluable in my writing his story - the story of what happened after his death leading to the destruction of his dynasty.  I wanted to give his little-known son a voice, and the women, too, who were incredibly strong women who have been maligned by the historians in many cases.  Almost everyone closely connected to Alexander, mainly his two sons (his legitimate heir and illegitimate son by his Persian mistress) his mother, sister, wives, lovers and friends were annihilated during the power struggle between his generals.

In writing this difficult last chapter, I have delved into my old on-site journal, capturing the settings down to as many details as I could find or imagine, or recorded on site.  I have been to the garrison of Amphipolis, looked down over the Strymon River delta to the sea, walked down the hillside on a route I imagined the boys would have used for their escape route. (And on that walk, saw the spiral path of a snake in the dust  - an omen?) I have stayed in the shadow of Mount Pangaion, imagined the mines up near the summit that to this day are still visible, scarring the mountainside.

Writing this last chapter has taken me back there to the very first time I saw the formidable acropolis of Amphipolis. As I walked toward it, the sky darkened and a bolt of lightening struck earthward -- an omen, for sure!  Or passing by the great stone Lion near the Nine Ways Crossing -- the lion, a funeral monument to one of Alexander's men; the Nine Ways, the place where the invading Persian king Xerxes ordered the sacrifices of nine boys and nine girls to the river god.  Another omen!

On my second trip, a couple of years later, I went right up to the ruins of the fortress, mostly Roman/Byzantine now, but there were the original stone walls, the wall the boys would scale to make their get-away.  And now, as I read through that journal (July 17, 1993) I'm back there again.  I've come full circle, and the novel is almost finished.  Just two more chapter segments to go!

Here's a little excerpt of part of this last chapter...
 
View of the Strymon River delta from Mt Pangaion

The stony trail led from the glade, up the mountainside where goats and sheep grazed, until the scrubby grass gave way to bracken and thyme. When they reached the bluff, Iskander stood looking out beyond the plain and sea. Far below, the sweeping brown curve of the river coiled around the acropolis of Amphipolis and snaked through the grassy fields toward the sea. To the west rose the mist-shrouded crests of Athos, beyond the long expanse of tawny shoreline. He turned to the east and shaded his eyes against the sun. He could see the long highway, the Royal Road, that Shah Xerxes had built when the Persians had come here, the same road his father, Alexander, had traveled on when he went east to conquer the world.
He had a dim memory of that day long ago, riding with his mother in the howdah, lulled by the rolling gait of Old Pearl. He vaguely recalled his first sight of Amphipolis’ great walled fortress high on the hill between the mountain the river. He remembered how frightened he had been and how his mother said there was nothing to fear. “It is only a hill castle guarding the seacoast and the mines on Mount Pangaion.” But she had made a sign against evil and whispered a Soghdian spell.

Orion was standing with his face upturned, his eyes fixed on the high cliffs above them. His hair shone like white-gold in the sunshine and there was a rosy flush on his tanned cheeks. “If my father was here, we could scale that rock face to the highest ridge. There’s a cave up there dedicated to Pan. Father used to climb there with my mother and he took me up there once. My mother lived on this mountain…tended sheep…She died when I was a baby … after father came home from the wars. And there…you see?” He pointed to a narrow rocky trail that led up the slope from the bluff. “That’s the mule trail that leads to the mines.”

In the distance there was the sound of men’s voices carried on the wind, like the harsh cawing of distant crows and the crack of anvils on rock echoed across the mountainside. Iskander imagined the long line of men making their perilous way into a narrow shaft in the mountain. What it was like the cold dusty depths of the mine pits? Although sometimes these past few years he had felt like he was a prisoner, at least he was not like them, shackled and beaten, forced to go down into the bowels of the earth to dig out the precious metals that had made his father’s dynasty so wealthy. Gold and silver. What gave some men pleasure was a curse to those poor wretches. And what had all that gold and silver bought for Macedon? He had been told that it had financed his father’s campaigns in the East where Alexander had found even more wealth. The quest for riches and power had driven him farther and farther away from home. And in the end, Alexander had died, so now his Companions were at war, fighting over his wealth and empire.

Orion put his arm around Iskander’s shoulders. “What are you thinking?” he asked

“Of Persia….of my father…”

“Does it make you feel sad, thinking of your father?”

“Sometimes. Does it make you feel sad thinking of yours?”

Orion took a deep breath. “I miss him. I wish he were here now.”

“If my father had not died…” Iskander kicked at a stone. “And if your father was still alive, my mother and I would not be prisoners.”

“What will you do, if Kassandros won’t return you to Pella?”

“I will find a way…”

“And I will come with you.”

“Then we must make a plan.”

They looked at each other and smiled.

“Where you go, I will go,” Orion said. He reached out and clasped Iskander’s hand.

Iskander squinted against the sun and looked eastward again. “How many stades do you reckon it is to the Hellespont?”

“Why?”

“If we got an early start – in the dark before dawn, before cock-crow – we could get most of the way there by nightfall.

“And then?”

“We could get a boat across – get new horses on the other side – ride clear down the coast to Troy or even farther, to Ephesus. Perhaps I could find Nabarzanes…”

“They’d have the hounds on us before we even reached Thrace. There’s no way we could chance going by the Royal Road. There’s staging posts along the way and day runners. No Iskander, there must be another way.”

“Mother still thinks we’ll be returned to Pella. But so long as Kassandros is my guardian …unless the Assembly deems it so …or the Diodochi order it …” He hit his fist into his palm. “Kassandros hated my father. If he has his way…” Then he tossed back his hair and shrugged. “No matter…The sea-lanes are open now so if I can get a message to Uncle Ptolemy…For now, with Castor in charge, all is well. But I am mindful of the risks and we must make a good plan, just in case.”

“Just in case!” Orion agreed. “We’ll make a blood oath…”

“Your word is all I need,” Iskander replied.

The orange disc of the sun hung suspended over the sea. Iskander glanced up at the cloudless blue sky and saw an eagle soaring eastward, toward the lands that had once been Persia’s. He became aware of the stillness, and it came to him then that this was the place the Magus had come to die. He remembered how the old man had carried the fire altar up the mountain, ignited the sacred flame, said his prayers and died, and how Nabarzanes had found the Magus lying here, his face upturned to the heavens.

He reached into his leather saddle bag and took out the wine flask and poured what was left of the wine into the earth. It was all he had to offer as a sacrifice. He still remembered the prayers he and Nabarzanes and the Magus offered when they made their orisons at the fire altar at the end of each day. He straightened, and began to sing softly in his sweet treble.

“How manifold are thy works, O Wise Lord”

The words came back to him, the prayers the Macedonians had  forbidden them to utter, the sacred words of their god, Ahura Mazdah. He sang, hesitating at first, in the sweet sounding Elamite he had spoken as a child.

“To Thee I beg with outstretched arms, Ahura. This I ask Thee. Tell me truly…”

Tears sprang to his eyes. He lifted his hands, palms up, facing the dim horizon of the East. “O Holy One, give me counsel…” He thought of the eagle. Had it been an omen? Was it the sacred eagle, Si-murg? “Gather me up in your strong wings and carry me safely to my deliverance…”

Orion came to stand beside him and put his arm around his shoulders. Iskander did not try to hide the tears that splashed down his cheeks.

“Your memories will be mine and mine yours until we die,” Orion said.

The sun had westered. The shadow of Pangaion crept beyond the shoreline and quenched the sun’s glow on the sea. They scrambled back down from the bluff, and led their ponies through the glade back to where their bodyguard waited.



* * *


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Sunday, June 13, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT #66: UP AGAINST THE WALL?

Royal Tomb, Aigai, Greece



I didn't realize that being confronted with the final chapter would be quite so traumatic. As I had already written the very last part of it, I thought the rest would come so easily. Then suddenly I found myself up against the wall! I started writing the chapter, got a few pages done and then realized it was not a chapter 'beginning' but rather it fit the ending of the previous chapter. So I sorted things out, fiddled around with a few other things, went back and did more editing, hoping to get 'unstuck'. But I'm still standing here with my face up against the wall!

Where is the Muse when you need her?

She came to me, creeping up on her silent feet, just before I roused myself out of bed this morning. An entire passage of the 'lead' to this last chapter flooded my still half-asleep brain. Did I get up instantly and write it down? No! I laid there still half in dream-land, and now I can't for the life of me remember what it was. Just a few lines. But it was just what I needed to get things moving.

I have heard other writers say that the last chapter is the most difficult. Not only are you saying goodbye to dear friends but it also has to be perfect, and not slither off into melodrama or pushing the limits of disbelief over the edge. This is a tragedy. It has a tragic ending. So that makes it even more difficult. It has to keep the tension going to the end and not get into melo-drama. There has to be a grain of 'hope' (and that will be shown in the Epilogue).

The thing to do is not to be deterred. Don't let that old 'resistance' get you down. Take a good clear look at things and make sure you know where you are going. Don't let that 'wall' stop you.

I'm thinking of going to the movie "Agora" today in hopes I might get some inspiration spending time in Alexandria where my Epilogue will take place (in the library built by Ptolemy). I'm determined to get this final chapter done before I leave for Greece on July 29.

Can't let the wall stop me!

Wall Painting, Royal Tomb, Aigai, Greece


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Saturday, May 29, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT #65: What's on Your Bookshelves?

Today I received a very special birthday gift from my friend Ingrid: Two volumes of Diodorus Siculus containing books 16 & 17 and 18 & 19, all vital to my research for Shadow of the Lion. I might still have to get 1 more volume to complete the information I need to have on hand.

The above photo is one of my bookshelves containing research books. I have another one in my bedroom. So these two new books, green hard covers written in both Greek and English, will find their new home on the shelves beside all the other books I have about Greek history, namely Alexander the Great and Macedonia.

I am working on the final chapter. Today I got two pages written and I have lots of notes. But I really need to contemplate a bit and get down deeper into the narrative. I'm just playing with it right now, still not 100% sure of if I'm on the right track.

This week I have been reading "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott which I have found interesting and inspiring. This plan of approaching your work 'bird by bird' has helped in sorting out how to begin this final chapter and what it should include. I do what she says, take a deep breath and focus on one tiny picture at a time. It seems to work!

So, my intention is to write all weekend and so far I didn't go outside once today (the rain helped) and I stayed pretty well focused. Now I'm taking a wee break from Shadow and tonight I'll study some Greek (brushing up on my vocabulary for this summer's trip) and I'll write another Planet Eye story for the Vancouver Guide. I just posted a couple of others and was pleased to learn the editor is going to use a Kuala Lumpur story I'd written and submitted as a feature (which means extra pay!) I can submit stories other than local ones and intend to do that as I have a lot of previously published work that can be easily converted and shortened and resubmitted.

If the rain stops, tomorrow I'm planning a nice long sea-wall walk which I find helpful when I'm working through new material for the novel. I might even have a picnic!

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT #64: THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

Alexander, on Bucephalus

I can hardly believe that I am at the final countdown, the last chapter of this long saga about the fall of Alexander the Great's dynasty. Of course, now I've reached this last chapter I'm encountering a lot of 'resistance'. Partly due to lots of distractions such as my classes, editing other people's manuscripts and writing for Planet Eye Traveler. But I'm hoping now that it is a long weekend here, to get some time to catch up and at least get this last chapter drafted out.

Besides the final chapter, I have a bit of work to do on the Prologue and Epilogue but both are partially written.

It has been a long, long journey and it's hard saying goodbye to the people I've grown to know so well. And what makes the final chapter difficult is its tragic ending.

In the previous chapter segement, I bid a sad farewell to one of my favorite fictional characters, Nabarzanes the Persian Court Advisor. He's finally left his long exile and is heading back home to Babylon.

Here's a short segment:

The next morning, as the dawn reddened the eastern sky, Nabarzanes left Ephesus. The city was silent, the streets still hidden in shadows save where a lamp was lit above a door. He had dressed in menial clothes, a homespun tunic and trousers tucked into his soft leather riding boots. He wore no jewelry to display his Persian wealth. The plain clothes disguised him as a travelling merchant, but there was no way to hide that he was a Persian with his ivory skin and sable hair. He travelled light, a goatskin wine bag, a flas of water, a few almond biscuits and dried figs and a small bundle of his personal possessions. What he'd need for food would be provided in viallages along the way. By day he would ride along the King's H ighway, mingle with other wayfarers. By night he would sleep among soldiers who guarded the byways. The Royal Road was well travelled, the craggy heights guarded by ancient fortresses, some that had been repaired by Alexander when he had passed that way years before. There would be caravans on the road, merchants and other travellers making for theports: Phoenicians with blue dyed beards, bejeweled Karians, slaves from Africa bare to the waist, their skin sleek as ebony. Soldiers, Persian merchants, veiled women carrying burdens n their heads trudging beside the donkeys their menfolk rode. Shaqal's long stride would cover the miles quickly down the coast, and across Syria to the Babylonian border, but it would be a good few months or more before he would reach Babylon.

He nudged his heels against Shaqaql's flanks to spur his horse forward, down the hill to the Street of Marbles, south out the city gate.

"Come my faithful steed. Speed us on our way. We're going home."





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Sunday, April 11, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT # 63 : CONQUORING RESISTANCE AND OVERCOMING FEARS





I've encountered a bit of resistance lately, and that is one point I neglected to emphasis in my blog about "Writing is Work". One thing that becomes a problem for me is when I am disrupted from my work on Shadow of the Lion because of other work (in this case, it was all the classes I was instructing as well as the great amount of work I did over the Olympics for Planet Eye Traveler (The Vancouver Guide). I became too distanced from the novel, and when I tried to return and pick up the threads, it was a little struggled getting back into the story, the cadence of the prose, and the time-frame. The disruptions also get me a bit muddled up with the sequences of events and then I have to take extra time reviewing research notes in order to get back on track. But, I persevered, and with a few days 'free' time in order to renew myself with the story and characters, I finally managed to finish another new chapter segment. One step closer to THE END.

In this segment, Iskander (Alexander's son and only heir) is challenged to attend his first boar hunt. This is a dangerous sport and because he and his friend Orion are in the company of their unsympathetic tutor, Timon, an Athenian friend of Kassandros' who has been keeping Iskander and his mother under house arrest at the fortress of Amphipolis. With them are some guards and a group of new companions who have been chosen by Kassandros. There are many reasons why this could turn out tragically because boar hunting is an extremely dangerous sport. But Iskander is a courageous boy, and confronts the danger bravely. In those days, boys were expected to have killed a boar by the time they were fourteen, and a man by sixteen. As he is the titular king, he must rise to the occasion and show his opponents that he is just a brave as his father was.

Here's just a small segment of this chapter. (Yes, I did a lot of research about boar hunts, even watched a lot of U-tube videos about it -- modern boar hunts are dangerous enough, but can you imagine how much more dangerous they were in the ancient times?)

The hunting party, twenty of them, riding light with javelins and bows, followed the mule track that threaded along by the river. Beside them, on the other side of the river, towered Mount Pangaion, its white marble outcrops gleaming above the thick dark forest. Some goats and shaggy sheep grazed on the hillside; a herd boy's piping, like the call of a wild bird, sounded from above. Timon and two of the guards rode ahead on tall horses. The boys, riding stocky thick-maned muntain ponies followed, flanked by the guards, while the hounds ran alongside yelping with excitement.

Iskander was in high spirits astride his new chestnut pony. Orion rode beside him on his shaggy sorrel. The trackway was dank and mossy with the smell of the river and the bay and myrtle that grew along the path. Ahead of them, the river poured into a shimmering lake that gleamed darkly, ruffled with frothy wavelets. A breeze had blown up sending fluffy clouds skimming across the summit of the mountain.

The boys spurred their horses and wheeled off at a gallop, hair streaming, the horse's hooves splashing along the lake shore, calling gaily to each other until Timon and the soldiers drew them to a halt and restrained the baying hounds.

"Stop your rowdy caterwauling, or you'll scare away the boars," Timon warned. "We must be wary at all times. The boars will hide out of sight if they hear you. " He pointed through the thicket a little farther along the shore where a pair of the long-tusked hairy beasts were feeding on the marsh grass.

The burliest of the guards who was well-versed in boar hunting instructed the boys to approach stealthily. " Be careful. Remember what I have taught you. Have your knives handy to protect yourselves. If one of them is speared, keep away in case it revives. Boars have razor sharp tusks and a wounded boar will turn and charge."

He urged the boys forward in order of rank, ordering Iskander to take the lead. "Your father, Alexander, always took the first boar," he explained."It is your right."

Iskander crept through the brush toward the feeding animals, crouching low with his javelin poised. He could smell their stench and was close enough to see their coarse black bristles. The dogs began to bark frantically and raced past him, cornering one of the beasts as the other dashed into the thicket its loud squeals sending a pricking down his spine. He heard the cornered boar squeal and saw it lunge at the dogs. Behind him he heard Orion yell, "Watch out, Iskander! Aim for his shoulder!"

There was a chaos of loud yelps and shrieks as the boar tossed one of the hounds into the air and charged towards him. Iskander poised with his throwing spear, leveling it as he peered about waiting for the boar to rush out of the thicket. He remembered everything he had been shown about boar hunting, so when it lunged from the underbrush, he ran towards the charging animal, aiming the javelin at the vulnerable spot on its shoulder. He threw the spear with all his might and yelled, a shrill high ptiched yell like a battle cry. He could see its little red eyes, blazing with anger as the javelin blade struck. The boar grunted and charged straight toward him. He didn't know in that moment what he would do next, or if he expected to die. He heard Lakis shout, felt the thud as he was jostled and tripped into the boar's path.

Suddenly Orion was beside him, shoving him aside. He felt a sharp, burning pain scorch his thigh and fell backwards. Everything dazzled in his vision. When he opened his eyes again he was lying on the ground, dazed, his stomach heaving with nausea. The boar lay nearby, its legs still kicking in the death throes as the dogs circled cautiously, sniffing and wimpering.

A gabble of voices surrounded him: shouts of praise and others concerned for his well-being.
"What pluck!" "Such a swift kill!" "Are you alright, Iskander?"

He stumbled to his feet, still shaking. Blood gushed from a gash on his thigh where the boar's deadly tusk had grazed him. One of the guards knelt beside him and bound the wound with a rag. "That'll be your first battle scar, boy! Wear it proudly. It was a good, clean kill."

Iskander swayed unsteadily, feeling the blood drain from his face. He was aware of Orion yelling at Lakis who was bent over the boar tugging at the javelin.

"You pushed him! He might have been gored to death!"

Lakis looked around and retorted:" The boar charged at him. I was only trying to get him out of the way."

"You almost had him killed!" Orion shouted. He turned to Iskander, his cheeks flushed with anger. "Are you alright, Iskander? You had the kill, but Lakis interfered. He pushed you straight into the boar's path. You might have been killed."

Timon strode over, glaring under his thick brows. "What's this?" When he saw the blood on Iskander's leg he yelled, "Foolish whelp! What did I tell you? You could have got yourself killed!" When Orion protested Timon pushed him aside and put his arm around Lakis' shoulder. "Never mind, Lakis. Good boy! You did what was right -- saved him from a goring."

The other boys and some of the guards crowded around. "How lucky, he only grazed you leg! He killed one of the hounds."

"Did you see the length of those ivories? A mean beast, and a big one too!"

"You should be proud. A boar on your first hunt!"

One of the soldier's patted his shoulder. "It was a good, clean killing, boy! It would have made your father proud!"

Iskander accepted their compliments with good grace, but he heard the tallset boy, a fair-haired Illyrian, whisper to his companion: "The way he took that boar...his first one...do you suppose it was...?"

The other boy, whose father was a rich landowner from Thessaly, cocked an eyebrow. "He's the titular king. Of course it was set up for him! It wouldn't do for one of us to kill our first boar before Alexander's son got his!"

Orion, had overheard them, and dared to speak up. "Of course it was set up! It was meant to kill him!"

"Who can prove it? He tripped and fell, that is all!" the Thessalian boy retorted.

Iskander studied the faces of his companions. He saw Orion give him a secretive glance and heard the confused whispers of the other boys. Orion's accusation to Lakis resounded in his head: 'You almost had him killed!' He had counted too much on the protection of the guards who had always befriended him. He had even trusted these new companions. But now he wondered if any of them were true-hearted or were they, like Lakis, placed in his company by Kassandros for a more sinister intent?

He collected his wits and started to walk away. Timon went after him and grasped him by the arm. "You...stay here!"

Iskander jerked his arm away and stared hard at the man. Deliberatly, in fastidious Greek, he said "Take your hand off of me or you will regret it!"

He limped back toward the copse where the ponies were tethered. Orion ran after him. "Are you alright, Iskander? You should have been better protected. I should have been there..."

"You were there," Iskander said. He glanced back toward the group of his companions and saw Lakis helping the guards truss up the dead boar. "You saved my life," he said, and put his arm around Orion's shoulders. They smiled at each other.

"Iskander and Orion. We are brothers," Orion said.

"Forever, I swear it," Iskander replied. "I know i can counton you."

They spoke together in their Macedonian tongue, something Timon did not allow. Orion laughed. "You should have seen Timon's face after you walked awy. He puffed up like an adder and fairly exploded."

"I hate him!" Iskander said.

Orion frowned. "Then we must find a way to get rid of him and that filghy toad, Lakis, who tried to kill you."

Sunday, April 04, 2010

I AM A BOOK



Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a book? Well, this past week I had an opportunity to be one: a "book" in a "living library". When I was first invited to participate in this unusual all-day event, to be held at a local high-school, I was not only pleased to be asked but very curious as to what this would mean and what the exact concept was of the "living library". You know that saying "You don't always know a book by it's cover"? Well, this is kind of like that. It's a unique group participation developed in Denmark to break down prejudices and misconceptions about people. The 'books' in this 'library' have many different titles, just as people have many different roles in their lives. You might look at a book and say "I don't want to read about that. That's a boring/unpleasant subject". On the other hand, once you open the book and start to read it, you might find it is very interesting and intriguing and not at all what you'd first thought just by glancing at it's cover.

Every 'book' in this 'living library' had several titles, just as there are many various titles for books that might cover similar or the same subjects. Or some books might have several different stories within it's covers. It's the same with people. You never know the whole story until you have heard/read it. You'll be surprised at what's inside some of those 'books'.

The idea of the 'Living Library" began in Copenhagen, Denmark initiated by five young people after a mutual friend was stabbed in a brutal attack. These five kids wanted to do something to raise awareness and to use their peer group to educate them against violence. So a youth organization called "Stop the Violence" was formed. You can read more about it and the history of the ''human library" at http://www.humanlibrary.org

Moscropt Secondary School in Burnaby, BC. is the only high school in North America to offer the concept although a few colleges have tried it. You can read a blog about our experiences as 'books' in the "Living Library' at www.beyondthebeadedcurtains.blogspot.com

After participating, I would say that ALL high schools should think about offering this 'living library' opportunity to their students. It might break down a lot of barriers, open up possibilities and help to eliminate prejudices and misconceptions about people. It might
help stop bullying!

The people invited to be in the Living Library were asked to come to the Moscropt School a week before the event would take place so we could be briefed on what was going to happen and what was expected of us 'books'. We chose titles (there could be more than one) and later on, wrote those titles on a paper. Then we all went around and wrote our idea of what those books were about (what kind of people those books were.) It was quite surprising to see the results, some of them rather harsh. Those comments would be later put into paragraphs for 'bios' of the 'books' and circulated to the students who would be visiting the Living Library the following week.

My titles were: "Elder" "Travel and Historical Fiction Writer" and (here's the one that caught the kids' attention! "Wanna--be Crime and Investigative Journalist."
Other titles were: "Anti Capitalist Activist" ,"Adopted as a Child", "Young Adult Gay Male Survivor of a Brain Tumour" , Costume Designer/Former Figure Skater" "Omni Sexual/Drag Queen/Photographer: "Ex Gang Member/Ex prisoner/ Ex addict
/son of a KKK father" Big and Beautiful/ Formerly size 5 and bulimic", "Politician/MLA" "Person with a Disability" Gay Lawyer/Farmer/Figure Skater" "Plumber" (this was a single parent woman!) and many others. We were given tips about"what makes a good book" and "how to be a bestseller", how to initiate discussions with the 'readers' and the general protocol of being a 'book'.

On the day that the Living Library program took place, we met at 8.30 in the school Library and were given cardboard signs with our book titles and sat at tables where the kids would come to 'read' us,. The school classes took turns coming into the library and were escorted by volunteer students to whichever 'book' they wanted to 'read'. Usually there were two or three kids at a time, although occasionally only one student came and, in the case of the ex-gangster/addict/prisoner/son of a KKK father, he had swarms of kids around him all day long. And so did the gay books. You would never know to look at the 'books' who they were or had been so it was very interesting to hear the questions the kids asked and see their reactions. I think this is an excellent way of educating people about others who live very different life-styles and in this way it breaks down those prejudices and misconceptions.

My 'readers' were mainly interested in travel, where I'd been and good ideas for budget travel for students. A few were really interested in the writing aspect of my life and were kids who aspired to be writers too. I answered questions about 'voice' and 'setting details" One special coincidence happened when a young fellow said "I don't write but my grandfather does. He used to be a writer for the Vancouver Sun". It turned out that his grandfather was a reporter/BC history writer who I had great respect and admiration for when I was a copy runner at the Vancouver Sun newsroom back in the 1950's. Another young man, who is from Bangladesh, expressed an interest in visiting surfing beaches. I told him my grandson was a surfer who lived in California. This boy has never surfed but that is his dream, and part of the dream is to return to Bangladesh where there are some good surfing beaches. One of the volunteer students sat down with me at the end of the day and it turned out he was a Macedonian Greek from Thessaloniki. We had a vibrant chat about places both he and I love to visit such as Thassos Island. I thought that he was much like my Iskander in Shadow of the Lion -- not only with his intelligence and curiosity but his looks were what I visualize Iskander to have been like.

The entire day was an amazing experience and although I came home at the end of it feeling exhausted, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I not only learned a lot about my 'readers' but I hope they learned something from 'reading' me as well.

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