Friday, September 30, 2011

WRITING EVENTS: Keeping Inspired

I'm always thinking of writing, even when I set off for a day of walking in the park.  Therefore, I always carry a notebook with me.  And sometimes I take my journal along as well.  I have been somewhat remiss in keeping up my journal and vowed to try to write 10 minutes a day in it (so far haven't quite met the quota, but trying).  The other weekend I went for a lovely, quiet walk in the woods at Central Park.  Part of my purpose was to clear my mind and meditate.  And at one point, as I sat by the duck pond enjoying the serenity of the moment, I wrote in my journal.  A man came by and commented on it. "Ah! A writer!"  I wanted to stop writing and ask if he was a writer too, but decided to keep the pen moving.  You have to do that sometimes.  And my purpose for being in the park that day was to write!

There have been a number of inspiring writing events recently and more to come later in October.
Last weekend I went to Words on the Street, downtown at the Public Library.  In spite of a sudden windstorm and rain that suddenly blew down some of the tents and had people running for cover, I managed to take in several excellent (free!) events at the site.

There is always so much to take in at Words on the Street that this time I marked my program with colored stickers indicating the place and time of the events I wanted to see.  My first trip had been to the poetry tent but they were evacuating as soon as I arrived there.  So I walked around and listened to the Carnival Band for awhile as I have a friend who plays in it.  Then I made my way to the Magazine Tent in time for the Haiku in Canada where people were writing haikus about hockey! (I'm not a hockey fan but I thought it was a unique idea!)  Then I stopped by the author's tent and heard some excellent readings including a script reading by a playwright, Lucia Frangione,"Paradise Garden"  which was interesting to me as I also have written plays.  Next was a most amusing monologue by Fringe Festival favorite, TJ Dawe reading from his text of "Labrador. My main purpose of being there, though, was to hear the Chilean Canadian playwright/author Carmen Aguirre presenting her new book publication, "Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter."  Because of my close association with my dear late friend Anibal, anything to do with Chile and the revolution is of keen interest to me.

As the rain was still coming down and the wind blowing, I holed up downstairs in the library after that taking in several excellent panels - everything from helpful hints to increase your writing income, memoirs, book business plans and how to get published.  Very useful information for me at this point in time when I am preparing my novel for publication.

The whole day was inspiring and interesting. Besides that, I ran into lots of friends from the literary scene in Vancouver, and it's always great to net-work!

Writing is such a huge part of my life, in fact ALL of my life at the moment.  So every chance I get to attend literary events is important to me.  In a few weeks I'll be attending the Surrey International Writer's Conference and hope to make some agent/editor appointments.  In the meantime, I'm keeping busy with edits and cuts on my manuscript "Shadow of the Lion" making sure it's ready to be presented to the world.  Lots of work ahead, I know, actually far more than I'd been anticipating thanks to all the information I got at those panel discussions.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Alexander the Great Mosaic

I'm beginning to feel a little bit like a warrior wielding a sword as I chop my way through doing edits on my novel "Shadow of the Lion".  The biggest problem is, for the most part the writing is as near perfect as I could get it and the story is as exciting as ever, even after having read it through countless times.  So knowing what to cut is really a problem for me.  I've already chopped several chapters out and repetitious passages, but I'm still way over the required word count.

I just had another reader's critique and line-editing done by a friend of mine who did a thorough job. She says she has marked a few passages that can be chopped, but for the most part she loved the story the way it is.  As soon as I finish this round of going through the MSS myself, I'll go back and follow all her advice which includes spell-checks and punctuation, although most of that was done on the last round.

Macedonian kopis, weapon used by soldiers

Recently, another published writer friend, advised me to just go by my own feelings as what to cut. I had been discussing the problem with her and said I was so afraid of 'gutting' the story, taking out something vital, and spoiling the story-line by doing so.  It's a complicated political history story with a lot of sub-plotting, but this was necessary to build tension and draw out the characters as well as to explain what was going on in Alexander's world that eventually leads to the end of his dynasty.

I'll be attending the Surrey Writer's Conference in a few weeks.  I'd hoped to get appointments with a couple of particular editors/agents but found they were not available the day I am attending.  I at least hope I can perhaps nab them in the lobby.  I do have another appointment scheduled but was disappointed not to get the ones I'd counted on.  My aim is to start pitching Shadow by the end of October so it's vital for me to get as much of this final editing done as possible by then.  I do know that if I can get a publisher interested their own editors will do a lot of cutting, but I think it's important to make sure I've done the best I can before that time.  It might mean I will have to hire a professional editor to do the final cuts.  I know this can be very expensive.  But if it means getting the manuscript into perfect order for publication I'm willing to do that.

Meanwhile, it's 'slash and burn' and hope for the best...a compelling, clean copy to hand over to a publisher!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


author's drawing of Caer Gwyn

Caer Gwyn is a fictional Iron Age hill fort, circa. 4th Century BC, located where today's Old Sarum is near Salisbury, England.  There have been settlements in this area since the Bronze Age.  Old Sarum is a Roman name for this ancient site. 

Back in the late '70's, a voice spoke to me.  It was the voice of a young girl named "Olwen".  The story she told me, which I began to write, titled "Dragons in the Sky", tells of her life growing up in a place called Caer Gwyn.  She had been a foundling, left at the great Stone Circle (Stonehenge) and taken in by a Druid she called "Grandfather Maelgwyn" and a priestess/healer named Essylt, who she called "Auntie".  Olwen was an acolyte of the goddess.  They were members of the Raven clan, a tribe of people who lived on the Salisbury Plain. 

I wasn't sure of the location of Caer Gwyn until my first visit to Salisbury after a visit to Stonehenge, when I happened to notice a sign that said there was a hill fort just outside the town. I was killing time waiting for a bus back to London, so I decided to walk there and see what it was like.  As I hiked down the highway, the closer I got to Old Sarum, the stronger the feelings of deja vus and by the time I got there, I realized that this was exactly how "Olwen" had described her village to me.  This was Caer Gwyn!

Old Sarum
In the next couple of years I made two trips to the site and each time those feelings of deja vus grew stronger and Olwen's story became clearer to me.  I had been on my way to visit Greece on that second trip to Old Sarum, and as I traveled I became aware of Olwen's story unfolding, and how there was a Greek connection for her as well as for me. 

I worked on that novel for several years, including during the 5 years I lived in Athens.  But previously, when I'd first started writing it, a writing instructor kept insisting it should be told as a third person narrative, rather than a first person account in Olwen's voice.  I tried switching points of view. It wasn't working.  And after I returned to Canada, when I resumed attending writer's workshops, the critiques I was receiving proved quite discouraging.  So after finishing half the novel I shelved it in order to work on another, "Shadow of the Lion", which is about the fall of Alexander the Great's dynasty.

It took me many years to finish this massive work but now it's ready to go out to a publisher and I want to resume writing Olwen's story.  So far I am just retyping it as the early work was written on a manual typewriter and I must record it on the computer.  But I'm work shopping the chapters as I retype them, and my writer's critique group is loving every bit of it!  I realized when I started working on it again what an unusual and enchanting story it is:  historical fiction but almost 'fantasy' too.  It is written using some Bardic verse and very poetic prose. I recall trying to capture the Welsh lilt to the voice of Olwen and once I'd given it to my Welsh dad to read to see if I had the cadence correct.  Now, in re-reading it, I can hear the voice clear and strong.  But I can't remember how I wrote all those words. Where did they come from?  How did I do it?  I know, for sure, that I was 'channelling' this girl from long ago, and maybe "Olwen" is even me in another lifetime.
Was this the site of Caer Gwyn settlement?

The last two times I went back to England and Greece, I stopped at Old Sarum again to try and conjure up Olwen's spirit.  This last summer when I was there I had a chance to stroll around on my own and absorb the feeling of the place.  I even learned a few more details about the Iron Age settlements that I didn't know before.  And for some strange reason, the first times I had been there I didn't even go to the top of the earth mound where the remains of the fortress walls are (though these are Roman period ruins). 

Young students at the site of Old Sarum

I'm excited about working on "Dragons in the Sky" again.  I realize that it's a unique story and that the first person point of view is necessary for it to be told the way it is in Olwen's voice.  This is her story and it is a compelling story of a young girl's coming of age, her first love, and an adventure led her to another world where she learns to survive and find herself.  As I retype it I am getting in touch with her again, listening for her voice to guide me as the story unfolds.  It's an exciting revelation and I am so glad that I didn't give up on it even though it's taken me many years to retell.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


Note: While I was on the island of Poros this summer, I learned that a very dear friend and member of our Scribbler's writer's group, had passed away.  All of us who knew Dora were devastated.  This poem is in remembrance of her, written on Poros the day after I learned she had died.  June, 2011


The night I learned you had left us,
I walked the seaside promenade
by Poros’ harbour
and paused, remembering you.

The sunset had turned the sea
into a pool of crimson
and against the blazing sky
a four-masted sailing ship
lay at anchor

I remember you, the free spirit,
You who wore purple
and buttercup yellow.
You danced in floral frocks,
amused us with funny stories
about an old lady named Clover.

I still hear your sweet voice,
singing, laughing.
I search that crimson sunset sky,
say prayers, remember you.

The next day, on Kanali beach,
I wade into the water.
A gull soars overhead,
a small white bird circles
as though it is watching me.

Is it your spirit
soaring over the blue Aegean sea?
My tears mix with the sea salt.
I hear the gentle trill of your voice,
telling me not to cry.
How could it be that you are gone,
taken from us too soon?

Dora, you will always be remembered.

From the collection of poems written in or about Greece,
"Songs for Erato" 

Sunday, September 04, 2011


Note: Another poem from my collection "Songs for Erato".  I used to live in the Plaka, Athens and spend a lot of time there each time I am back in the city.  It used to be a place where my friends and I partied and for us women, there was no end of attention from all the handsome Adonis who hung out or worked at the tavernas there.  I wrote this poem one day while sitting at a souvlaki ship reminiscing about the old times.

The Plaka, Athens Greece


 What has happened to those
beautiful Greek boys,
those Adonis who used to
captivate us with their sweet talk?

Where are the Zorbas
who danced with passion
on broken plates
and later broke our hearts?

 Are they these
bald, grey-haired, unshaven men
who laze away their days at kafeneions
bemoaning the state of the economy,
reminiscing of the days
they sailed boldly into foreign ports
like pirates,
seducing the local girls?

They used to loll in Plaka Square,
kamakis poised,
enough of them
to make a girl’s head dizzy,
oozing their Mediterranean charm.

Today I see only tired old men,
ancient as their myths.
Where are those beautiful gods?
Where is Eros
who struck our hearts with
his golden arrows?

 Now they work in tavernas
on hot summer days
slogging beer and souvlaki to tourists
while I sit and watch
remembering those golden days
when Plaka Square was filled
with laughter and love.

 Written in Plaka Square,  Athens.

(note: a kamaki is a 3-pronged fishing spear.  The guys who go out 'fishing' for women are nicknamed Kamakis) 

The Plaka at Night

My friend Aris who I have known since my first trip to Greece in 1979.  He's retired now and gone to live in Patras.  I miss him!


Note:  Almost every time I visit Greece I make a pilgrimage to Delphi.  But this poem is written about my very first visit there, when I spent the night on the mountainside with a friend.  Delphi is one of the most sacred places on Earth and the ancient Greeks actually considered it the 'navel of the earth', with a carved navel stone to symbolize this.

The Temple of Apollo, Delphi

Delphi's Magic

To Kos

I remember how you stole
pomegranates from a tree
and put them on the stone ledge
with the grapes,
sweet grapes from Delphi’s vines.

We stumbled down
Parnassus’ rocky slope
clambered over
shrubs and granite
to find a place to sleep
beneath the stars.
and laid among the holly oaks.

Silver lights winked
from the edge of the distant sea
We would not know til morning
that we had made our bed
on the chasm’s edge.

In night’s chill
we warmed each other
The full moon shone on us
We watched meteors
shower golden trails
across the heavens.

We felt the presence of the gods
understood the mystery
that brings men to this
Sacred shrine.

I keep these memories
forever in my heart
And every trip I make
to Delphi
I remember you,
and the full moon,
and how we were enchanted
by Delphi’s magic.                              

W. Ruth Kozak

Delphi, Greece  1982

Thursday, September 01, 2011


This is another poem in my collection "Songs for Erato".  Vironos Street, in Athens Plaka, is named for Lord Byron who used to stay at a small monastary where the Lysikratis monument is at a corner we called "The Dirty Corner" because of the dust from excavations.

#14 Vironos Street, Plaka

 I walk past #14 Vironos,
touch the gate
recall my life there:
Kyria Dina’s scarlet geraniums
The little spitaki in the courtyard
occupied by writers, artists,
Robbie sipping krasi
expounding on his life
as an Argentine exile

Roberto Hallberg (Robbie)

 At the Dirty Corner
( named because of the dust of the excavation)
the tripod monument of Lysikratis,
won by a chorus at the Dionysus Theatre.
This was ancient Athen’s theatre district.
Poets lived here: Byron, Shelly…
(Vironos is Byron’s Street).
Lysikratis Monument, next to the monastary where Bryon used to visit.

Once these tables at the milk shop
were crowded with friends
sharing wine and stories.
We lived the Greek zoe,
bared our passions to the passersby.
Artists, mad poets,
writers, scholars,
expats and locals.
So much flotsam tossed on
Aegean shores.
Tales were told,
Dreams shared.
Dramas enacted on this street stage.
Relationships began and ended here.
Once I threw a wine glass at Mikalis.

On winter nights
we sat inside the milk shop
huddled around a heater
sipping Metaxa brandy.
the Katherine Hepburn of the Corner
her maniac Canadian boyfriend,
Mary Rogers, the faded debutante,
with a bottle of vodka in her handbag
an entourage of toy-boys in tow.
my soul-brother, Robbie,
telling stories about
his beloved Buenos Aires.
We shared our lives
on that Corner,
knew each other’s secrets and
Now the milk shop is a ritzy café-bar
the dust of the excavations
swept away
along with the memories
Old friends have disappeared,
Left for other places.
Some taken too soon.
Yet their presence
lingers still.
Do the tourists who sit here
sipping frappe and wine
know the Corner’s history?
Can they feel the presence
of the ghosts ?

Last night as I walked,
out of Vironos Street
across the Areopagitou
I saw him,
walking in his slow amble
toward the Dirty Corner.
I recognized
his slender frame,
long grey pony-tail and beard.
Robbie looked up,
caught my tear-filled eyes.
I heard him say
in his mischievous way,
Then, like a shadow,
he was gone.
 So many memories
on that little corner of Plaka.
Yes, the ghosts are there
I see them,
hear their laughter 
as I pass by.

The "Dirty Corner" (now posh and expensive!)

(note: This summer when I passed by #14 Vironos and stopped to touch the gate and peer inside as I always do, the whole front was covered by an iron sheet with a bolted door, sealing all the ghosts inside!)


Kouros (pl: Kouroi):  a representation of male youths which first appeared in the Archaic period in Greece.  It was used to represent the god Apollo and typically used as a memorial for victors in the Games.

Kouros, museum at Samos


In the museum
the marble kouros
stands erect
Long locks brushing his shoulders,
eyes gazing into
an unknown future.

I see them, today’s kouroi,
standing on a street corners,
holding machine guns
in clenched fists.

Are these guns the new kamakis?
Is the broken glass they tread on
From shattered windows?
Instead of plundering hearts
in foreign ports
do arrest they roving marauders
who plunder their city?

They look young enough to be my
grandson, barely out of college
Perhaps recruited from army duties.

Is this what has become of
the young men
who once lolled in Plaka Square
chatting up tourist girls,
stealing hearts?

Do they, like their fathers,
dance like Zorbas on broken plates,
aim their golden arrows
Into the hearts of tourist girls?

Like the museum kouros
these boys face an unknown future
These beautiful
bronze-skinned kouroi
are the new
protectors of Athens

They are today's Greeks
survivors, resilient, daring,
the heroes of a new generation.
Peaceful protestors, Syntagma Square, Athens

Kouros in situ, Naxos Greece

(kamaki: a three-pronged fishing spear;  a term used for the young men who were out looking for girls in Greece)