Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Alexander the Great

It's not always easy to go back to a place you left a long time ago because sometimes, when you do, you find things just aren't the same as you remembered and it is often a disappointment.  On the other hand, 'going home again' can also resurrect a lot of nostalgic feelings,  good ones as well as perhaps some unhappy memories.  When I returned to my little mountain village in Evvia, Greece, two summers ago I was very upset to find it so deserted, so changed!  Houses were shuttered.  People were gone.  Probably a lot of the elders had passed away.  It was an eerie experience wandering through that tiny place where I'd spent so much time -- my Garden of Eden.  I thought of returning last year but somehow couldn't bring myself to do it.  I'd rather be left with the memories of when I lived there part time and frolicked on the mountainside with the shepherd and my village friends.

This week I returned to Alexander's world,  the world I had created in my novel "Shadow of the Lion".  I'd finished writing it at the end of 2010 after many years of labour including reams of research,  traveling to sites in Greece and Turkey,  and spending some of that time living in Greece while I researched and wrote.  It seemed to take forever to write the novel.  People kept questioning me why it wasn't finished yet.  Of course, I'd had other projects that took up my time as well as during the first couple of years I worked full time.  But finally, it was finished, and I had said goodbye to my old friends in Alexander's world. 

It's a funny thing when you get to 'the end' of a novel.  It still hasn't really sunk in, partly because I had written the ending almost from the beginning, and as it was based on a historical time-line I knew how the story would unfold.  But it was my imagination and creative license that made the characters come alive, and having visited many of the places that set the scenes in the story,  I was really 'living' the story.  Perhaps I'm still not totally grasping that it's done.  For the first week afterwards the characters kept speaking to me until I had to silence them.  The writer's task is over.  Next, the editor will take over.

But to celebrate I decided (as I'd planned for some years) to have a 'wrap' party.  And that is coming up this weekend.  A celebration of the completion of the writing.  So I had to make a visit to Alexander's world again to choose what segments I would read to my guests as they have all been waiting to hear the story.

The Ishtar Gate, Babylon

It was interesting going back to read the early part of the novel that was written so long ago.  Scary, in a way, because your writing in the beginning may not be as good as the more recent writing.  However I was delightfully surprised to find that I was reading almost as a first-time reader would.  It had been written long enough ago that most of it was really 'fresh' to me.  And I some of it, as I read, even brought tears to my eyes! 

I decided to begin my reading for the reception at my home with the very opening part of the novel, which is set in Babylon at the time of Alexander's death, because this sets the scene and indicates the conflict.  Later, for the short reading I intend to do at the taverna party, I'll read some smaller parts describing the women in the story.  It took me a couple of days to choose which parts to read and to make sure they weren't too long.  I have read bits of Shadow in the past at various readings so I'm used to hearing it aloud.  In fact, when I first started writing it, I used to tape it and play it back, to hear the cadence of the prose. (This is an interesting experiment for writers to try.)

I'm getting quite excited about the wrap party.  A lot of people requested invitations and it's somewhat overwhelming planning how to fit everyone in, but I'm sure it will work out just fine.  And it is certainly something to celebrate!

Now I'm ready to start the final edits, which I intend to work on next month.  And when the book is finally marketed and published, there will be another grand party:  a 'launch' party!

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011



In spite of the euphoria of having finished my novel, and once the Christmas/New Years celebrations were over, planning my next moves,  the past few weeks have been somewhat chaotic.  Instead of getting terribly distracted, I've tried to create a semblance of order so that I could stay focused on my next plans.

Things were going along fairly serenely after the holiday season and I was relaxing, taking time to sort out what to do next, in order of important.  For one thing, I'm giving the novel a rest (at least, giving my brain a rest and refused to let the characters keep bugging me after that first few days.  Now I am not thinking about it so constantly other than what next?)  What next will be the editing and I have plans to begin it the weekend I go up the mountain to Sun Peaks Resort.  Yes! What a grand surprised to be invited up to the resort by my daughter and her partner to celebrate their birthdays and the visit of my grandson and his girlfriend from California.  There'll be other people there as well, as it seems they have rented a condo or something, but as many of the guests will be skiing or 'boarding I figure it will be a good time to start the editing (on the page first, before I edit the on-line manuscript which I'll do once I get home.)

Then I made plans about what to do with my writing next. Once I had preps made for my Winter classes, I knew it was time to start catching up on the list of travel stories I have yet to produce.  And I also promised myself to blog and write in my journal more frequently.  This is the writing part of the program.  I also had promised myself to get more consiencious about exercising and getting myself to the waterfit classes.  And as two of my morning groups are cancelled that frees up this important time for me.

Then, with plans all made, there was a glitch that turned things into a bit of disorder over the past couple of weeks.  First, I agreed to doggie sit with my friends dear little Pom and at that time my friend from Washington was coming up for a reunion weekend of fun.  The same day I got Nikki here, Corinne was coming here to visit, got lost on the Drive, let her dog Napoleon out for a pee, and he got struck by a car and killed.  It was a trauma like I've not seen in some time.  My friend was totally devastated to the point where she was incoherent, and once safely here (dead dog stored on my balcony) she started self-medicating herself til I thought she herself would O.D.  Meanwhile little doggie Nikki who is very elderly, wouldn't eat or drink water and was hardly able to walk or stand.  By the end of that week I sent her off to the vets who said there was nothing wrong with her.  Meanwhile, my friend's daughter flew up to take charge of her mother and we convinced Cor that she couldn't cart the dead dog back over the border but must get it cremated.  That problem solved, they finally went back home, but by then I was totally stressed out.  The care of the little doggie proved stressful as well because I was worried about her and afraid she might pass away while in my hands.  My friend (Nikki's mom) arrived back from holidays last night and from today I am trying to get back a semblance of order in my life.  You might say I have coined a new meaning to the expression "Dog Tired."


But it doesn't end there:  Besides my dear Welsh cousin Shiela having a stroke the end of November and not responding to treatment, another close friend is near dying in hospital from pneumonia and congestive heart failure, and another very good friend who was one of our role models because of her vibrant, healthy life, had a burst appendix which damaged her bowels and is now incapacitated and probably will be forever confined to care.  It's all a huge shock and hard not to think about it and feel very depressed and upset.

I'm glad I have my writing (and classes) to distract me at times like this.  One begins to feel terribly mortal and vulnerable when friends start falling.  Fortunately I am healthy and stay active.  I absolutely HAVE to because I have to get this novel completely tidied up and marketed.  And as travel writing is part of my income, I need to focus on getting those stories written!

Hence I am trying distract myself from the stressful things that are happening around me.  Of course they are on my mind,  especially my dear friends who are in such dire straights,  but I must not let depressing thoughts take over in place of those important creative ones.  I must create a semblance of order out of all the events that have been and are happening.  There's lots of work to be done ahead of me.  I can't afford to stray off course, no matter what!

Sculpture in National Gardens, Athens

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

START, STOP & START AGAIN: How to Keep Going With Your Novel

Alexander on his horse Bucephalus, riding East to his conquest of Persia

When Alexander mounted his horse Bucephalus, and rode east to drive the Persians out of Greek territories in Asia Minor, did he imagine how long his journey would take, or how far he would travel?
Alexander's journey took ten years with many battles and several stop-overs, ending with his death in Babylon in 323 BC.  His legacy lived on for fourteen more years until the murder of his family members ended his dynasty.

The royal city of Pella, in Macedonia (northern Greece) where Alexander was born.

My journey with Alexander as I wrote "Shadow of the Lion" took just as long, involving much research (which included the first of several visits to Pella as well as other Alexander sites in Greece and Turkey).  At the time, I had been working on a Celtic novel, which also happens to have an Alexander connection, but it had become bogged down, so I changed my focus.  After a year of research I started writing the story about Alexander's little-known legal heir, Alexander IV (who uses his Persian name, Iskander, in my novel.)  "Shadow of the Lion" was intended to be a juvenile historical but after a year of writing, I realized it was too political a story to be told as a 'juvenile' and it was suggested by a published kid's book writer that I begin again and tell it the way it would work best.

Then came the more complicated part as I decided to write it in a multiple point of view. Lots more research required.  Several more trips to Greece (living there six months at a time while I researched and wrote.  note: when I first began the original manuscript I was working full time in daycare.  In 1993 I quit my full-time work so I could concentrate on my novel and during the '90's spent a lot of time living part-time in Greece, researching and traveling to Alexander sites.)  My novel begins in Babylon, at the time of Alexander's death.  It ends in Alexandria, Egypt.  I have as yet not visited Egypt and, of course, could not visit the site of ancient Babylon in Iraq, so this was part of my research.  The Persians play an important role in my novel so I also did extensive research about their culture and history.

Ancient Babylon

Alexander made several stops along his route where he established colonies.  He got as far as the Hydaspes River in India and would have pressed farther east had his men not insisted on going back.  My novel got stalled a couple of times along the way,  once when I took two years off to revise and rewrite a play that was later successfully produced ("The Street: A Modern Tragedy", 2000).  I also took breaks to do travel writing and started another play based on the life of the lyric poet Sappho which I later shelved to focus entirely on the novel. 

How did Alexander keep focused on his goal, to conquer the world and bring Hellenism to Asia?  He was possessed by his desire to keep going east and he achieved his goal by determination and skill which was undermined in the end by his manic behavior and excesses.  In writing a novel you have to be possessed by determination and a will to achieve your goal. At times (to your unwriterly friends) it might seem a bit 'manic' as you become consumed with your characters and story.   They will possess your life;  you live with them, consult with them, write about them every day, sometimes (like me) for years.  You need the tenacity of a dog with a bone to be able to not let go until you achieve your goal.  Sure, sometimes you need to take a break, step back, look at things through fresh eyes.  And sometimes doubt and resistance will definitely stand in your way.  But you have to believe in what you are doing and keep your eye on that vision. 

One thing a lot of novice novel writer's do is to work on too many different projects at one time.  Often they don't have a clear idea of where they are going with the novel before they begin, so they get easily lost along the way.  I found that once I established the 'theme' for my novel and mapped out the route (I was writing from a historical plot so knew which way I was going)it was easier to get started and stay on track. 

When I found myself being too distracted, I set aside other work I was doing (the Sappho play, for one) and decided I must focus totally on "Shadow of the Lion" if I ever wanted to get it finished.  As I am a travel journalist and also write weekly for an on-line travel magazine as well as editing and publishing my own, that meant I had to organize my time. Although I am now a full-time writer, I spend a certain number of hours a week instructing writing classes.  And there is always the on-going distractions that we are confronted with:  our day-to-day lives, social and work commitments, and at home those big distractions like the TV, telephone and Internet!

 So I asked myself what was the most important thing?  Well, my novel came first.  Any travel stories I haven't had time to write, I knew I could do once I finished Shadow.  Finishing my novel was the most important thing I wanted to do so I set the goal (for at least the tenth time) to finish it by the end of 2010.  And I did!

Now comes the editing and cutting, which is not the writer's job, but the editor's.  So I can resume my 'writer's' role and now catch up on those travel stories, blogs, and the last act of the play that I have neglected.  And once I am caught up with that I intend to resume writing the other work-in-progress novel that I set aside way back when I thought I could write the juvenile historical about Alexander's son and have it finished in a year! 

There are many challenges ahead on the road to publication, but I can begin 2011 with a great sense of achievement.  The story of the fall of Alexander's dynasty has been told.  Now it must be made available for others to read.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Here I am with the final pages of "Shadow of the Lion" 

What to do next?  It's a funny feeling, finishing a long project like "Shadow of the Lion" has been.  Of course, it's not really over yet, because there is still the final editing/cutting, pitching for an agent and publisher.  But I have those all planned out, it's just a matter of deciding when to start the editing.  My reading critiquer has finished the first two parts, but I felt I needed a little break to clear my head before the 'editor' takes over. I have to say that the first few days after finishing, I kept on thinking about it, wanting to stop to jot down notes.  Until I finally told myself (firmly!) "Quit it! You are done for now!"
After all those years of carrying that story around in my head it has been very difficult to let it go!

Meanwhile, I have lots of travel stories to write as I set aside most of them while striving to finish the novel.  And this week I was offered a gig writing a bio story about a musician friend of mine.  Today I spent the afternoon interviewing her,  later in the week I'm going to photograph her with her blue-grass group.  At the same time I plan to do a restaurant review of the venue.  And, of course I am still producing stories (at least 5 a month -- sometimes more ) for Planet Eye (now iStopOver travel magazine) for The Vancouver Guide.  www.istopover.com  (North America, Vancouver)

Next week some of my classes start and I haven't even begun to figure out this next session's program as yet never mind sorting out handout stuff to take into the School Board office for printing.  Every once in awhile I feel really mind-boggled with all there is to do and meanwhile, the festive social events keep on happening.  I really do need a vacation!

For starters I am trying reorganize my diet/exercise program (the usual, first on the list resolutions).  And tidy up my piles of papers and accumulated junk.  Once I have a tidy work space, perhaps I'll feel more motivated to begin!

My work space (when it's tidy!)

Note: The photo of me, above, was taken by a friend who is doing a bio about me for a magazine.

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