Wednesday, November 28, 2007


"Sing, goddess, the wrath of Peleus' son Achilles, a
destroying wrath which brought upon the Achaeans
myriad woes, and sent forth to Hades many
valiant souls of heroes."
Homer 700 BC The Iliad, Bk. 1 l 1

Gold casket containing the bones of King Philip
Royal Tombs, Aigai.

You know the Muse is back when she nudges you just as you are about to settle down for a long winter's nap, and you have to get up and write down the words she spoke to you. That happened to me last night just as I was ready to drift off. I know from past experience, don't ignore her. Because by morning you won't remember what she told you.

I'd been struggling with a few little transitional parts of this new chapter and til then couldn't figure out what I needed to say. But just those few lines helped me get right back into it and today I pretty well finished another chapter. (There's still a few patches which need work but I know that will come to me, so I must keep forging onward.)

The problem with this chapter was figuring out what to dramatize and what to have as narrative. There is a great deal going on, lots of action and intrigue, but as I already am way over the limit for pages in this novel I know I have to cut down somewhere. So it was a hefty decision trying to decide what parts should be actually 'shown' and what parts I could 'tell' in narrative. Hopefully I've found the right balance here. All through the chapter I have tried to keep an equal amount of both so that the story doesn't bog down, or get off on unnecessary tangents. I haven't workshopped it yet, and there may be a few changes to make later, but for now I'm feeling satisfied with what I have written. You'll see by this snippet, it just a small part of a larger scenario of murder and mayhem.

Charioteer, from a wall fresco, Royal Tombs.

Here's a bit of an intro to this section of the chapter. Alexander's mother, Olympias, who had been exiled from Pella, the royal city of Macedon, for over ten years, had now returned, bringing along with her Alexander's widow and son, the heir to the throne. There has been a coup, in which the wife of the other titular king, Philip Arridaios, tried to seize the throne. Olympias means to wreck vengeance on the usurpers which include Kassandros, son of the late Regent Antipater. Here's just a sample of what happens.

Olympias called a meeting of her commanders. Sitting in a gilded chair at the great table in the old council room, she gazed slowly from man to man. She deigned not to ask them for advice, nor accept any. She already knew what she must do.
She ordered the men to sit and then she delivered her orders.
“I know, like myself, that many of you have long time blood-feuds with the Antipatrids. I order you to rout out every one of their clan and slay them. Show no mercy, as Kassandros and Iollas, the sons of Antipater showed none for my son when they delivered to him the fatal potion. We must rid Macedon of these vermin. Once they are disposed of, we will be a united strength against our enemies.”
Someone whistled softly.
She scanned the room with narrowed eyes. “ I want them put to death. Every one of them!”
A gasp went round the room. Men shook their heads in disbelief and looked warily at one another. Her words, powerful as a curse, were like a death knell.
“Does the Regent know of this?” asked one of the grey-bearded elder generals.
“This is my edict. Yes, Polyperchon will agree.”
“But Madam...This clan is the noblest in Macedon,” he protested.
Kronos, her chief commander, cleared his throat and spoke up. “Madam, none of us question your authority, but do you think this is wise? Antipater was well loved by our people.”
Olympias stiffened and glared at him. He stared back boldly at her. “Should we not wait for Polyperchon to return?”
She fixed a malevolent look on him. “Are you with me or not, Kronos?”
Kronos clamped his mouth shut tight. “As you wish. Your orders will be carried out, Madam.”
“Do not question me, Sir,” Olympias said. “Swear by the stream of Acheron that you will obey my will and stay loyal to our cause.” She swept a dangerous look across
their stunned faces. “Or I will consider you all traitors!” Her face was set in a hard scowl, the lines between her brows etched deep. “This session is over. Go now, and do as I have commanded!”
No one dared contradict her. They all knew the power of her dark magic. The generals stared at her incredulously but none dared speak up again. Under her baleful eye they each agreed, though some reluctantly, and went out to follow her orders, not speaking to anyone.

The news spread quickly throughout Macedon that the titular king Philip Arridiaos had been removed from his wife’s control and was now under guard in the island prison, while his wife, Queen Eurydike was being hunted by Olympias’ men. There were rumours that Adeia-Eurydike had escaped to Euboeia to seek help and wait for Kassandros’ orders. Others claimed she had fled to the garrison at Amphilpolis and would muster a fleet and more troops there.
A reign of terror began across the country. Citizens cowered in their houses afraid to venture forth lest they be mistaken as the enemy and arrested. Search parties torched houses, incinerating dozens of innocents. Arrests went on for days. Anyone who was a kinsman of Antipater or a supporter of the renegade Queen was snatched off the streets or dragged from their homes.
The people of Pella recoiled in horror and panic gripped the city as Olympias’ henchmen went from house to house searching for anyone who might be a friend or relative of the Antipatrids clan. Hundreds fled from the city, making their way furtively by boat or foot southward to join Kassandros in Greece..
Olympias went herself to the necromanteion to watched gleefully as the grave steles of Antipater’s family members were toppled and smashed to bits. She, herself, saw to the defacement and destruction of the tomb of the old Regent’s youngest son, Iollas, who had been Alexander’s cup-bearer, and had served him the poisoned wine.
She pronounced with chilling venom, “Let nothing remain of the murderers! Erase every vestige of their existence.” Her words hung for a moment, then cleaved the air like the swipe of a sword.
After the desecration of the graves, she ordered her fiercest Molossian hill fighters to track down and kill Kassandros’ brother Nikanor who had been tracked to a garrison near the Thracian border where he had taken refuge.
“Show no mercy to him and those who have sheltered him,” she commanded.

All through the country, Olympias’ soldiers kicked down the doors of houses where innocent children played by the hearths and guileful women went about their chores. Taken unawares, the men folk tried to take flight but were cut down ruthlessly by the soldier’s blades and impaled on their spears. There was chaos in Pella and nearby towns, wherever kinfolk of Antipater resided as the queen’s henchmen raided, wrecking vengeance on guilty and innocent alike. Houses were torched, flocks and horses confiscated. Nothing must be left of the Antipatrid’s clan, the Epirote witch had decreed it. Anguished screams of men and neighing horses rent the air as those pursued scrambled to get away only to be caught in the drag-net of Olympias’ men. Dozens of victims were murdered, scores hauled off to prison to be tortured. Nobody dared stop her, lest they meet with reprisals. Her own men, aware of her power, were scared to death of her wrath. Even the toughest soldiers who were inured to killing shrank in horror at the Queen’s bloody rampage. Everyone dreaded her, felt the terror, and recoiled in dismay before the scale of the destruction she had wrought against the noblest clan of Macedon, the wealthy lords and relatives of their once beloved Regent Antipater.
Finally when all was done and they surveyed the scale of the carnage, a hundred victims had fallen to fire or the sword, murdered on the Queen’s orders, left unburied, exposed for the carrion birds to devour their flesh.
The people turned away from Olympias with horror. “Surely the queen is deranged!” they said.


"There is nothing more dread and more shameless than a woman who plans
such deeds in her heart as the foul deed which she plotted when she contrived
her husband's murder.

In the extravagance of her evil she has brought shame both on herself and
on all women who will come after her, even on one who is virtuous."
Homer, The Iliad XI lines 427/ 432
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Monday, November 26, 2007


Face from a ewer, Royal Tombs, Vergina

It's been a cold, wet day today, a good one for staying indoors and catching up on writing and chores. I've been so busy the past week, with my visitor (who left Friday) and other events, that I got so far behind my usual writing schedule. So now it's catch-up time.

I'm still working on this same chapter but nearly have it right now, just a little bit more to go and then I can move on. I also did some editing on an older chapter that I'd recently workshopped. My usual routine is to make notes, then write on the computer, then rewrite as many times as I need to until I get it in presentable shape, then workshop it, then edit again and move on. They call it "Block Editing" and it works best for me. I know there's some people who write the whole book through, one full draft, then go back again and again to revise. But I prefer to get it as 'right' as possible and not leave a mess behind me. So when I come to the end of the book, I'll basically just have a final draft to work on. And actually I do enjoy editing.

This weekend I started to do some writing coaching with a fellow writer friend of mine. I found it useful for myself too, and quite an enjoyable task. And later I edited a chapter of another person's work-in-progress which is going to be workshopped at tonight's Scribblers meeting.

My main activities this weekend was attending the theatre, which I found enormously inspiring. On Friday night my friend and I went to see "Moon for the Misbegotten" by Eugene O'Neill. An amazing play. I was so intrigued by O'Neill's dialogues and his use of similes.
Truly a wonderful performance. Then on Sunday I went with my other friends to see a play I've wanted to see for years,
George Ryga's "The Ecstacy of Rita Joe" This is a Canadian playwright about First Nations people and the tragedies that often befall then when they come off the reserve to the city. It was written in the '60's and at that time would have been quite a controversial play, a white Ukranian writer speaking out for the Indian people. Very powerful, and very true. Next week I'm going to see a production of "Richard III" which is my favorite Shakespeare play, and the very first one I ever saw when I was 13 years old.

I like to study the way the plays are staged, the script, etc. Pretty soon I want to go back and finish my Sappho play which has been shelved while I try to complete my novel. Hopefully this will be accomplished by the end of the year so I can move on with my other projects. At least, the end is in sight and if I can keep to my daily writing schedules again, perhaps I will achieve my goal.

Alexander and his Macedonian royal family
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Monday, November 19, 2007


Not too much progress lately on Shadow of the Lion mainly due to various interruptions, social events and currently a house-guest. My friend Patrick returned from Chile/Peru last week and since then we've been on the go and just spend overnight out in the 'burbs at the home of my friend Anibal's daughters because Patrick had brought gifts for them from their mom in Chile.

One of my enjoyable leisure activities (as seen above) is sitting on the Art Gallery bench after I walk up Robson Street coming from my Memoir classes on Thursdays. I always stop and buy a Bavarian smokey (with saurkraut) and sit there to eat my lunch. My Memoirs are now finished for the season and I'll miss this little weekly routine but lately it's been raining anyway, so I'll take advantage of the lunch stop next time I'm downtown on a sunny day.

The recreations centres, libraries and other things are open now after that all-summer strike. This is our public library, built to resemble the Coliseum. I was strolling around downtown one day and took my camera along to get a few pictures of some of the interesting buildings. It's time for me to make a trip to the library, but first I have to get a new library card as last week I was mugged on my way out one evening, my purse snatched, and all my i.d. taken. Fortunately, I wasn't injured, chased the guy who hopped into a nearby car, and got the license number. There was nothing valuable in the purse except my i.d. and debit cards. But it proves you should NEVER carry your bag over your arm or shoulder. (I usually carried mine as a back-pack but that night didn't bother. Lesson learned!)

We've made a few trips to the Cottage Bistro and other venues where my son plays with his West Coast Blues Review. This past weekend he was playing at a pub up the hill near me, The Admiral, and we went along to enjoy the music. That's him, playing lead guitar. His new CD is doing well, and most of the songs on it he wrote himself.

So I must get back on my routines now. I do have some more notes made for the chapter of Shadow that I'm working on. Perhaps by tomorrow I'll have time to focus on doing more writing. With the delays I probably won't make my deadline of the last day of Autumn, but I will certainly be closer to the finish. I'm also studying Spanish (or trying to, and not being diligent enough about it.)

Patrick will be here til the weekend before returning to Germany, and there's a few more events planned such as going to the jazz club mid-week and on Thursday he's doing a piano recital for some of my Memoir women. (I hope I get a good turn-out but so many of them are busy or away). If the weather clears up we'd hoped to take a bus ride up to Brackendale to see the bald eagles who perch by the dozens in the trees by the river at this time of year. But he also wants to see the Museum of Anthropology so, depending on the weather (which isn't good at the moment) will decide the activities. Somewhere in there I'll make an attempt to do a bit of writing!
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Thursday, November 08, 2007


"Queen of fragrant Eleusis,
Giver of earth's good gifts,
Give me your grace, O Demeter.
You, too, Pesephone, fairest,
Maiden all lovely, I offer
Song for your favor"

My writer's group, The Scribblers, goes on retreats to an island every year. We always have a theme and dress accordingly. This was a Rites of Spring retreat and we followed the theme of Demeter and Persephone. We made flower garlands for our hair and dressed in appropriate costumes. This was me as Persephone.

I actually visited Eleusis once with my Finnish classical scholar friend Vesa. He's an architect so was mainly doing research on the archeological ruins at the site, which was part of the Demeter cult in the ancient times. It was interesting to go along with him and see things from a different persepective.

At this time of year, Persephone has gone back to the depths of the Underworld. Poor Demeter, mourning her daughter. But come Spring, she'll return, as Hades promised, and bring new life back to the Earth.

"Reach me a genetian, give me a torch!
Let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of a flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where
blue is darkened on blueness
even where Persephone goes, just now, from
the frosted September
To the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon dark."

David Herbert Lawrence 1885-1930
"Bavarian Genetians" 1932

"We're a beat generation."
Jack Kerouac

Now, here's my favorite persona. Jack Kerouac, my literary hero from the 1950/60's. I fell in love with his writing after I read On The Road in 1957. He was my pin-up boy. I read Allan Ginsberg too, and hung around smokey bistros listening to bongo drums and poetic readings. I was one of them, the Beat Generation. When I finally got to New York City in 1968 and went to stay in the East Village, I thought I'd died and gone to Beatnik heaven. A dream come true. That trip changed my life completely.

This weekend it's my friend's 50th birthday and I'm co-hosting a party for her. It's going to be a '50's party. I thought about going as a June Cleaver kind of character but hey! I''m not and never have been a June Cleaver. So what was I in the '50's? A rebel. A gypsy soul. A Beatnik. Yes! Unfortunately I've left my Kerouac hat out at my friends in the suburbs so I bought a new cap with a tweed look to it, got a black turtle-neck sweater, will search for my red bandana, and have some black slacks that are almost bell-bottom. Cool, man!
Groovy! Jack, this is in memory of you. I always wanted to write like you did. At most, I've managed to stay a free spirit. And I have lots of memories of those days when we were the beat generation!

"But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light up and everybody goes "Awwww!" "

Jack Kerouac 1922 - 1969 "On the Road" 1957
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Sunday, November 04, 2007


The sacred oak grove, Dodona

I've put ads on my blogs, testing the system out, but I didn't wish for this one to be so in-your-face. The one on my travel blog is a more unobtrusive size. Guess I'll have to make some changes. I did this because I am planning to start up my own travel web site in the new year and I was told to try the google ads for it. It's a way to make a little money too, as well as advertising for my own site. But I don't like the look of this one on this writer's site and will have to tone it down.

I've been writing about oracles and the consequences of people or powers who think they can take things into their control to get their own way. The most recent chapter of Shadow that I'm working is full of the grim results of this kind of behavior. We see lots of it in the world today, too. History does tend to repeat itself, as they say.

The oak tree that grows in the place where the ancient oak oracle grew.

I'm making fairly good progress on the novel although this past week was busy with all sorts of distractions as well as work. My classes are winding up; I did some book-keeping for a friend; I had my little visit with Patrick who is now in Chile and heading for Peru before he returns here in two weeks; there was also some respite from the more serious aspects of my writer's life on the weekend when I went dancing, spent an afternoon at the bistro listening to my son play Blues, and then attended the CD launch of a friend who sings jazz at the L.Q. on Wednesday nights. All great fun, but now it's time to buckle down and return to my more disciplined schedule of writing, exercise and diet. There comes a time when the party's over for awhile.

I intended to post this next little snipped of Shadow of the Lion at Hallowe'en but I didn't get time to fine-tune it. (I still haven't workshopped any of this so there may be changes later on.) It had a nice sort of Hallowe-enish flare to it, a prelude to the following chapters in which Olympias unleashes her wrath on her enemies.

In this little scene, which is in Iskander's point of view, she's taking him , (Alexander's son) to the sacred oak shrine in Dodona, to consult the oracle before the royal household returns to Pella. Olympias has been exiled from Pella for more than 10 years so just wait and see what happens when she makes her grand entrance back to Alexander's city.

Early the next morning, before anyone else was stirring, his grandmother came to wake him.

“It is time to visit the sacred oak shrine.”
She helped him bathe and dressed him in a white linen chiton then placed his gold diadem on his head.

“Your father went often to consult the oracle of the oak tree,” she said. “The oak tree grew from an acorn while Homer was still alive. It is the oldest oracle in Greece, older than time. Dione is worshipped there but it’s power comes from Zeus and the Egyptian Ammon, the greatest of all oracles. The god spoke here at Dodona even before Apollo came to Delphi.”

Olympias took him by the hand and led him out of the palace, past the guards who saluted them at the gates. The morning was fresh and still. From the hills came the melodic jangle of sheep bells as the shepherds led their flocks up the mountain slopes.

The sacred precinct was guarded by a low stone fence. Inside it, a majestic oak spread its huge ancient branches dwarfing the marble altars. Small votives were stuck in the fissures of it’s trunk, left by worshippers to the shrine.
The wind ruffled quietly through the high branches. The child heard the roo-coo-coo of the birds who were huddled there perched in pairs on the leafy branches.

“Those are the sacred black doves of Dodona,” Olympias said.

All around the sacred tree stood tripods holding hollow bronze cauldrons hung with bronze-tipped weighted leather cords that jangled in the breeze. The thrumming of weights against the cauldrons, the cooing of the birds, cast a hypnotizing spell in the precinct.

There was a little stone thatch-roofed hut nearby.

“Who lives there?” Iskander asked.

“That is the house of the black Doves, the servants of the oracle,” his grandmother explained. “They are the priestess of the shrine.”

The inhabitants, Three ragged old women dressed in black, came to the doorway. and shuffled out to greet them, on bare, shrivelled bird feet. They seemed surprised to see a child there. One grey-haired hag, wrinkled as an acorn husk, put out a bony hand to touch him.

“Alexander?” Her filmed and rheumy eyes peered hard at him.
“It’s Alexander’s son, Mother,” Olympias explained.
“Why have you come, Alexander?” the crone said in a creaky voice.
“To question the god,” the child replied exactly as his grandmother had rehearsed him.
“Zeus or Dione?” squeaked the crone.
“We wish to consul Zeus-Ammon,” Olympias said. “Give me the things on which to write our supplication.”

The tallest priestess, who was bent and gnarled as a wind-blown tree, leaned her head toward his grandmother and said, “In truth, only the god will see your question. I will set out the jars. One for the gods to be propitiated. The other containing your reply. Do you wish both?”

“We wish only a reply,” Olympias said.
“Then take care you address the god clearly,” warned the eldest priestess

On a low table under the tree, she placed a jar painted with images of the gods. Another crone handed Olympias a piece of lead and a stylus. His grandmother put the lead strip on the table and wrote out the words, whispering them to him:

“Olympias and Alexander ask Zeus Ammon of the sacred grove: Will our return to Macedon be propitious?” Then she dropped the piece of lead into the jar.
Iskander stood watching, his eyes fixed on the painted terra-cotta jar, thinking about what they had wished. The crones stood under the sacred oak tree with lifted arms, chanting the invocation in a unintelligible jargon, some mysterious tongue with cooing, chirruping sounds that mimicked the doves. Next to him he felt his grandmother’s presence, aware that she was trembling as she stood with indrawn breath.

A strong gust of wind hissed through the leafy branches clattering the lead cords against the caldrons. Startled, the doves suddenly took flight. Above the treetop the child heard harsh caws and screeches. He looked up and saw two ravens fighting. Fascinated, his attention drew away from the chanting priestesses. Black feathers drifted down and drops of blood spilled like tiny droplets of rain onto the grass.

The priestesses ceased their strange monotonous chanting and peered skyward at the warring birds. One raven spiraled down, it’s wing askew, falling just beyond the table where his grandmother’s lead-etched question lay inside the painted jar.
The crones hurried to her, their eyes startled. “Zeus Ammon has spoken. The warring ravens tell of dark destruction!”

The child felt a chill and sucked in his breath, both frightened and horrified by what he had witnessed. When he looked up at his grandmother, he saw that she had a strange smile on her face.
* * *

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