Thursday, February 28, 2008


Ah, those "time lines" ... from the goals you set for yourself to the ones you might be following in your historical fiction plots.
In both cases I seem to have myself in a bit of a snaggle, although I think now I'm untangled and ready to proceed.

What with doing editing for my travel web site, teaching classes, attending events and just plain dicking around, I seem to have fallen a bit behind in my own 'time line'. I'd hoped to have the novel wrapped up at the end of 2007. Then I extended the date to the end of January. Now, once again, extending my finish date to some time this Spring.

I got a little messed up with the sequences of events in the novel. Had written a couple of excellent scenes then discovered I had the 'time lines' wrong. What to do? Did it mean I'd have scrap those pages I'd already written or what? I stewed about it for about a week, tried proceeding the way things were, but seemed to be stuck. So finally I decided to take the manuscript out, look back over the previous chapters, and figure out what was the best way to untangle myself. In the end, it was only a minor flaw. I had the arrival of Kassandros back in Macedon placed too early and therefore the rest of what I was writing was not logical. It meant only that I had to cut and paste two pages of a chapter segment and do some small rewrites on the other segments I'd already written. And once I had that sorted out I was able to do that without too much fuss and tinkering. Now I'm ready to proceed again.

Meanwhile, I've been feeling pretty miffed because the school board seems to have screwed up my Spring schedule for classes by neglecting to put in two of my classes, allowing me only one (novel writing) and a night-school-in-one-day class (for which they haven't even sent me the contract). And it seems the programmer is bent on destroying my Fall schedule too. So I've been in a bit of a stew this week, feeling really upset about this mess-up. Hopefully it will be rectified. At least today I met with my Memoir group and they've decided to carry on independantly for the next month until the Spring session starts in April. And no doubt they'll want to carry on at least until the end of June as well. I've also applied to do a twice a week workshop for the VSB during the month of July. Of course it depends on enrollment as to whether the classes go on or not. I can only keep my finger's crossed and hope they do.

This weekend I'm going to school myself -- a one day workshop on editing at Simon Fraser Univ. downtown. This will be a major help to me when I have to do the final edits on my novel, so I'm quite excited about it. I'm also planning to attend another all-day workshop on March 14th which is "from the desk top to the publishers". It's good to be able to take some courses for my own professional development and I'm sure they will be very useful and stimulating.

So, onward and upward! As they say : If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!
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Saturday, February 23, 2008


L'Ephebe on l'Alexandre d"Agade
(a statue of Alexander's son, in the style of Lysippos, museum France)

"Goodnight, goodnight! parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I should say good night til it be morrow."
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616 "Romeo and Juliet" II, ii

I've been writing some sensitive passages of "Shadow of the Lion" this week, in between bouts of editing for my travel web page. I sometimes have avoided working on the novel, distancing myself from the scene as I approached it, perhaps remembering episodes in my own life when I said those final farewells.

Everyone, at some time in life, has to say goodbye to a loved one, knowing it will be the last goodbye. Travelers, like me, are always saying 'adios' 'adieu', 'ciao'. But does it get any easier when it's a special friend you must part from? (You can always go back to a place, but often you know you may never see that friend again.)

One goodbye I've never forgotten was at the Istanbul airport in 1975, when I said goodbye to my Turkish lover, Hakki. I didn't want to believe that I'd never see him again. I cried all the way back home. I have never forgotten that day, or him.

My soul-brother/friend Roberto who I shared so many memorable hours with during my life in Greece, would never say goodbye when we parted. Each time I left him I'd wonder if it would be the last time. He would always kiss me on each cheek and say "Misbehave!" Until one year when I returned to Athens, he was gone forever.

I remember my last meeting with Mitso, my shepherd from the village in Greece.
We met on the road when I was walking back down the mountain to board a ferry to Athens. We talked awhile, though my Greek wasn't always fluent enough to grasp immediately what he was saying to me. He said something, and then we parted. And a few minutes later as I was on my way down the road, I realized what he'd said was "When will you marry me and come to live in the village?"
I thought about for a long time. He was a lovely man and we'd been friends for a number of years. But by the time I decided to reconsider the proposal, he too was gone, suddenly taken away by lung cancer.

My last spoken words with my Chilean friend Anibal, were said just the week before he slipped into morphine-induced oblivion. When I was leaving his room I had bent to kiss him and said, "Goodbye, I love you," I turned to leave and he called me back to his bedside and said," You know I love you, really! I have always had feelings for you since the day we first met."

"We will be friends until the end of time," he once told me. And that is true! Gone, but never forgotten.

Ah yes, parting is such sweet sorrow....

Golden box containing remains of King Philip
found in the tombs at Vergina

I've had to say goodbye to many characters in my novel, too. Alexander dies on the first page and his death scene was tragic. Some others were more difficult goodbyes because to end their lives was brutal. I remember sitting at my computer crying the night I killed General Perdikkas. I couldn't believe I'd actually assassinated him. "I killed him! I killed him!" I sobbed. He was a self-serving, arrogant character but still, I had created a living being from my historical research notes and I felt bad about having to do him in.

I grew somewhat fond of the Greek senator Demades, but about the time he had to be brutally murdered by Kassandros, I transferred my thoughts of him to a certain man I knew who reminded me of him, but with whom I was very angry. You'd be surprised what the dark corners of your mind can conjur up! LOL.
But the execution of the Athenian military governor Phokion was more difficult and tragic.

The deaths of the old Chaldean Magus and the old Regent Antipater were easier because I recalled the peaceful parting of my own dear father. And I was strangely detached when I had to do in poor unfortunate Arridaios and his defiant warrior wife Adeia-Eurydike.

I have grown even more detatched as the novel progressed because, like an ancient Greek drama or a Shakespearean tragedy I knew well beforehand that the stage would be strewn with bodies by the time this story ended.

But saying goodbye to one of my favorite (fictional) characters was not so easy.
I knew I couldn't kill Nabarzanes, but still, he had to go. So how would I remove him? And when I removed him from the action, how would it affect the little boy, Iskander (Alexander IV) who he was like a father-figure to. Nabarzanes, the Persian Court adviser and Royal Cousin of Roxana, has been with the child since the day of his birth. And now, he is to be sent away -- banished -- because Olympias will not tolerate his presence and influence over her grandson.

Here are some snippets from the parting scenes:

He knelt beside the child and looked at him straight. "Iskander-shah, one day soon you will be crowned king of Macedon, and all the countries your father conquered will be yours. My time with you and your mother is over now. I must return to my own people."

"But why?" Iskander asked.

"When I was your age, " Nabarzanes said, "I was brought out from among the women and taught to ride and draw the bow. Boys were expected to be chivalrous gentlemen as well as soldiers. We were taught the Good Religion of the great prophet, just as the old Magus and i taught you. Now it is time for you to learn your father's ways. He was a great man and you, his son, will some day be great like him. Never forget who you are. Never renounce the Truth and follow the Lie." He put his arms around the child and embraced him. "Now, I must make ready to go..."

"To go where?" the child clung to him, his bright gray eyes welling with tears. "Will you come back?"

Nabarzaes took the child's face in his hands and kissed him. "I won't go far away," he promised. "Just across the Hellespont. And one day, when you are king, I will return to pay homage to you. Fortune loves you, my little Ashabal." He untangled the child's arms from around his neck and stood. "You must not be angry with your grandmother for sending me away. She did this for you, because of the Macedonians who do not want to believe you are truly Alexander's son. Now it is up to you to prove it to them."

And how does the child react to the parting?

He felt such deep hurt. No words, no amount of tears, could wash it away. All within him was dark and crying. He was left alone with his troubled thoughts, puzzling over the truth in the whispers of the palace servants; the snatches of angry conversations overheard between his mother and grandmother: questions about his birth, his father, who now more than ever, was the vague ghost of a prowling lion in his dreams.

Who would take him riding in the king's paradise if Nabarzanes went away? Who would carry him on their shoulders and play games with him? When would he ever visit the mahouts' camp again? He was just seven years old, but he had already begun to understand that all these things, the conspiracies to seize the throne, the wars, the terrible killings, had been caused partly because of him. Anger welled inside him like a red-hot rod, striking his heart. 'To be king,' he thought, 'What does it mean? To make wars? To forsake your loyal friends?' If it meant this, how could he be the king? He wished with all his heart that he had been born an ordinary boy, not the son of the Invincible Alexander, a man he had never known. Then, perhaps Nabarzanes, who had always been like a real father to him, might never be sent away.

NOTE: An interesting post script to this entry: Last night I was speaking to my friend the Babylonian, who always asks how I am coming along with the novel. (He's my living embodiment of Nabarzanes). I told him about the segment I'd just written and he told me that lately he has been so nostalgic for home and that lately his thoughts have been in Babylon (Baghdad). His family is there but unlike my Nabarzanes, since Saddam killed his father and forced him into exile, he has been unable to return.

Alexander as a youth
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Thursday, February 14, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT #28: The Busy Life of a Writer

Britannia High School
(I graduated from here in 1952 and still go there weekends to study Spanish)

I've been pretty busy lately but managing to get a little more of the novel finish as well as all the other things I've been doing. Luckily I have had some extra classes to teach, two memoir classes back-to-back at a senior's centre; one full day memoir writing class for the school board, and this week I instructed a class of eager young journalism students at the college in a class on travel writing.

I'm really grateful for these extra teaching opportunities. Not only for the extra money, but because it's a real 'learning' experience for me as well. I've done the college classes for several years now for my friend who teaches journalism. It reminds me when I first graduated from high school with the dream of being a full-time writer. As luck would have it, I landed a job as copyrunner (nowdays they'd call it an 'intern' job, in the editorial department of The Vancouver Sun newspaper. Those years I worked up on the fourth floor of the Sun Tower were some of the most exciting and fun times in my life. I really wanted to be a crime reporter, but due to the fact the city editor didn't feel an 18 year old preacher's kid was suitable for that kind of job, I ended up as a news librarian. That was pretty interesting too, and I learned to hone my research skills. (I still got to delve into the crime world too, as I was in charge of the crime files and bios. Pretty fascinating stuff for a naive young gal like I was!)

The Vancouver Sun Tower
(I worked here in the editorial dept. and new library for several years after high school)

One summer just before the Sun and Province amalgamated into one central news building, I worked at the old Province newspaper editorial helping to put their library research files into the same format and order as those in the Sun. That was fun too, but after that I moved away from the city and when I returned after seven years, although former colleagues and work-mates encouraged me to get back into the business, times had changed and I was told I had to have a library science degree to work there (even though the job was the same and by then everyone was learning the computer system, which I could have easily learned as well.) So...after that disappointment, I went into daycare work for a long, long time, directing and supervising at various daycares around the city.

I gave up full time daycare work in 1993 in order to spend more time traveling and writing, and after that just subbed up until a year ago. And now I really am a full-time writer. Strangely enough, I am now also an 'editor/publisher' of my own travel website. That that's one reason why I have fallen behind a little on my work on the novel -- because I have spent some time networking on-line, editing submissions and even writing a few new stories to publish on the site. The new material should be up within a week or so. Check it out at:


The Province newspaper building
(I worked here one summer helping to redo the news library files)

I finally got back to work on "Shadow of the Lion" yesterday and finished off another chapter segment. For some days I was wondering if I had writer's block or was just using every procrastination method in the book to keep myself from returning to work on it.

Yesterday I took a little walk and as usual, I get lots of ideas flowing when I'm walking. Suddenly the whole sticky scene came to mind. I realized that one reason I'd procrastinated was it is a scene that is quite sad ...the departure of a beloved character from the lives of Alexander's Soghdian wife and her son, little Iskander (Alexander IV). This is my Persian fictional character, Nabarzanes, who has been with them since they left Babylon. He is Roxana's Royal Cousin and chief court advisor, dedicated to protect and be loyal to Alexander's child who he calls Iskander-shah. Of course, Olympias will not abide anyone, especially a Persian, having influence and control over her grandson. So Nabarzanes' is told to leave...or else! Well, after my walk I went home and wrote the scene. It could probably be a little more emotional but I didn't want to go over the top with dramatics. Perhaps I am feeling distanced from it as I've anticipated it almost from the beginning. At one time I had thought I'd have to kill off Nabarzanes along with the many others (real historical characters) who have to die, because that's the way it was...But, I decided I couldn't kill off someone who is so gentle and kind. Instead I would banish him. He will play a bit more of a role in the novel, but at a distance from Roxana and Iskander. However, basically he's out of the picture now. Which is kind of sad, because I've grown to love him and he is 'real' to me.

The next few scenes leading to the end of Part VI in the novel are also going to be rather brutal. Why am I feeling so distanced over the killings? I guess I'm innured to it now, because when I had to assassinate the first character in the book I actually cried. Now I am more objective. I suppose the test will come when I read through the entire text and see if it needs more tension or if I get the right emotion over when then these events happen. At any rate, I am back on track after a couple of days doing travel stuff. Now I'm travelling with the Macedonian royals down the coast to the sea-port fortress of Pydna. Just wait til you find out what happens there!
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Sunday, February 10, 2008


This award is yours if you've been following these handy writer's tips.

A couple of weeks ago Marie awarded me this Powerful Words award from the Shameless Lions Writing Circle. I'm not sure which individuals I should 'tag' to receive this award, so it's yours if you've been hard at work, focused and nose-to-the-keyboard accomplishing what you can of your works-in-progress.

The gist of this meme is to list three important things that help make your writing powerful and good. Well, here's three things I always stress to the people who join my writing classes:

1. If you want to succeed, you need to be dedicated, disciplined and driven. You will not accomplish a great work if you only dabble in writing once a week or once a month. You need to write daily and often even if it's in a journal or for 10 minutes while you take a coffee break. Just as a musician must practice every day to become accomplished at whatever instrument he/she plays, so must a writer write. And be prepared to do lots of rewriting. It's all part of learning the craft and making your work excellent. Being in a critique group is especially helpful.

2. Carry a notebook with you at all times. You never know when that fabulous line of dialogue, description or narrative is going to pop into your head and you need to write it down immediately. It's those spontaneous bits of writing that give your work it's zip and shine and immediacy.

3. Write about what you know or are fascinated with. And be prepared to do endless research in particular if you're writing about historical periods (and that includes 'near history'.) If you're writing a story set in New York and you've never been to that city, then you'd better take yourself there! And most of all DON'T GIVE UP.

In addition to this 'award' meme, Marie has recently posted another fun exercise.
See how many of these questions you can answer:

1. What was the last thing you wrote?
I've been editing and rewriting a piece about Papua New Guinea for my travel
web site. (It's another person's story but I had to do some additional text for it.)
2. Was it any good?
It is now!
3. What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?
A hand-written little 'novella' about pioneers, written when I was 12.
4. Write poetry?
5. Angsty poetry?
6. favorite genre of writing.
historical fiction/ drama
7. Most fun character you ever created?
There's been a few but I love Nabarzanes, the Persian Court Advisor (a fiction
character in "Shadow of the Lion"; and Olwen, who I 'channeled' in "Dragons in the Sky."
8. Most annoying character you've created?
Maybe that would be Alkides, the soldier poet in my Sappho play.
9. Best plot you've ever created?
"Shadow' is written from a historical plot, so I didn't create it. I'd say the
best one I actually created is the plot for "Dragons"
10. How often do you get writer's block?
Not too often and usually it's brief.
11. Write from facts?
"Shadow" and "House of the Muses" (a play) are based on historical facts.
12. Do you type or write by hand?
I usually write notes by hand first, and often write paragraphs of narrative,
some dialogue and always jot down lots of ideas and possibilities.
13. Do you save everything you write?
I save on my hard drive file as well as on CDrom and flash disc as well as
keeping hard copy. If I erase something from the computer I always make sure I have the hard copy just in case i decide it's something I can use after all.
14. Do you ever go back to an old idea long after you abandoned it?
15. What's your favorite thing you've written?
Currently, I'm loving my work on "Shadow". I also feel an urge to return to my
Celtic tale "Dragons" though I'd shelved it out of frustration. I'm also quite
proud of my play "The Street" which was successfully produced in 2000.
16. Do you ever show people your work?
All the time. I believe that a good critique group is one of the most helpful
learning tools a writer can have.
17. Did you ever write a novel?
I've been writing novels since I was in my teens.
18. Ever written romance or teen angst drama?
I love writing drama. "The Street" was a drama based on a true story from
my late teens (and written first when I was 18); I tried writing romance
(such as Harlequin) but I'm not that fond of that genre. I do love putting
romance in my novels though.
19. What's your favorite setting for your characters?
In the case of "Shadow" that would be Greece, of course. And "Dragons" is set
near Stonehenge in England.
20. How many writing projects are you working on right now?
I am mainly working on "Shadow" (have put "Dragons" and "House of Muses"
on hold til it's done) But I also write travel and currently do a lot of editing for
submissions for my travel web site. Also do editing for people in my writing
21. Do you want to write as a living?
Of course! I'm now a full-time writer but I mainly make my writing money from teaching, editing, some travel submissions, and occasionally one-on-one
writing coaching or workshop groups. (Don't expect to get 'rich' from writing)
22. Have you ever won an award for your writing?
I once won first prize in a 1 page writing contest. My "awards" are publication.
23. Ever written anything in script or play format?
I began writing plays when I was about 10. I wrote "The Street" when I was 18
and rewrote it in 1998 (it took 2 years to rework it including taking a playwright's course). I have a script in progress "House of the Muses' about the poet Sappho. I love the theatre!
24. What are your five favorite words?
I love dictionaries and thesauruses.
25. Do you ever write based on yourself?
"The Street: a Modern Tragedy" was based on a true story involving me and
the first love of my life who became a heroin addict. I think the protagonist,
"Olwen" in "Dragons in the Sky" the voice of me coming from another time.
26. What characters have you created that most resemble yourself.
"Angela" in "The Street" and "Olwen" in "Dragons"
27. Do you favor happy, sad or cliff-hanger endings?
Well, I'm a drama queen and love tragedies. "The Street' was a true tragedy,
'House of the Muses" is also tragic and the ending of "Shadow" is strewn with
the bodies of people I've grown to love.
28. Have you written based on an artwork you have seen?
Yes. Art is a great prompt for writing. I have written a poem based on
29. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Not in my first drafts. I try to keep the internal editor out until I'm ready
to let her take charge for later and final drafts.
30. Does music help you write?
Music is another powerful prompt. But while I'm writing I am fussy about
what I listen to as it has to set the tone for my thoughts and what I am writing. I listened to a lot of '50's music and jazz while I wrote "The Street
I have a CD of Sappho's poems set to music (with an ancient tone) for when
I am writing writing "House of the Muses"; I have Persian and some special Greek music, classical or music from certain movies I listen to while writing "Shadow".
31. Quote something you've written
"It was my thirteenth year with the Druids. I had learned all the incantations of magic before I was ten years old. Essylt, being a sorceress and diviner of the auguries, was both my guardian and my teacher. I caller her modryb, Auntie, because she had nursed me in infancy as though she were my natural mother. The Druid said my real mother died in childbirth. I would have been exposed for the wolves if someone had not brought me to the Great Stone Circle on the plain.
Listen to my song: I am an honored child.
I am Olwen, daughter of the Earth Mother, Child of the Raven."

From "Dragons in the Sky: A Celtic Tale."