The opening scene of my series starts here in this ancient pre-Greek setting, where protagonist Helaina looks out from the temple of Knossos to the sacred mountain of Youktas on the horizon. It’s a critical morning when she will have to leap a fierce bull in a perilous ritual for her people. Called Beyond the Waning Moon, this historical novel is the foundational book of the entire epic adventure.
It’s a story of poignant desire and guilt, swashbuckling and valor on land and sea, passionate trysts that must never be told, and a love that won’t let go.
I have declared it finished I don’t know how many times. Every time it has come back wanting. And every time I have dug deeper to make it work. I’ve written five more in the series–the second trilogy taking us from Crete to Ireland and points in between. Those five stand waiting, virtually complete.
In late October my agent called me and we had a brainstorming session over the phone. Out of that, I opened my mind to dramatic changes. Once you start pulling at the threads of a tapestry, huge sections may unravel, leaving the possibility of weaving in new images you never thought would emerge. I threw out whole chapters and wrote new. I brought in new characters, took new pathways.
Creative juices flowed as they hadn’t since the muse whispered most of Book Three to me.
Now I love it more than I ever have, and I’m declaring it ready one more time. Can Helaina leap that bull and carry this story on?
History resonates in every Fort Umpqua Days celebration as people come from many places to share a glance back to the early days of Elkton, Oregon. The reconstructed British Hudson’s Bay Company fort provides a centerpiece for the gathering. This year a number of reenactors came to give the fort even more authenticity.
In the above photo reenactor Karen Haas, who describes herself as a weaver of words and fibers, spins yarn on a drop spindle while wearing period dress, such as you might have seen in the days of the original Fort Umpqua.
This is the period of my two published books, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds. But the drop spindle is a device so ancient that I describe a character using one in an upcoming book that goes back roughly 3,500 years. I was glad to watch Karen spin with a drop spindle so I could see how she made it spin. This will help me describe how my ancient character spins with hers. More than one of my characters can be called weavers of story and thread. I think they share an affinity with Karen “Many Voices” Haas.
I had a chance to visit with Karen Sunday afternoon when she stopped at my booth where I was selling my books. After I closed up shop I went down to the fort with my daughter Carisa to see some of the reenactors, and there was Karen outside a Hudson’s Bay Company tent (it must have been an HBC tent because they were waving an HBC flag). And she was spinning. We recognized each other and it took me a moment to realize what exactly she was doing. But there it was. She was working a drop spindle. Every once in a while she would put the spindle against her billowy skirt and stroke her hand across it to keep it turning. Then she would reach up again and make sure the yarn was coming out in an even thread. An amazing process. So ancient. So elegant in its simplicity, yet no doubt requiring considerable skill and practice.
With that we wrapped up another Fort Umpqua Days enjoying a delightful glimpse into our past. Thanks to Karen for showing us one significant thread of that story.
It’s time for Fort Umpqua Days again. It happens every Labor Day weekend in Elkton, Oregon. So step into the past there on Saturday and Sunday, August 31 and September 1, and have some fun. There will be music, food, crafts, books (I’ll be there with mine), and of course the reconstructed fort.
Hold your ears. Mountain men will be there with their black powder rifles. And others from bygone days. Even cannons maybe. Folks at the reconstructed fort will offer some rich history of the area with the realism of places restored to their former charm. If you check out this restoration of the fort’s store (below) you may find someone with a story about the Hudson’s Bay Company that built the original fort during the heyday of the fur trade in Oregon back in the 19th century. They might tell you that this was the company’s southernmost outpost. And they might explain how the trade worked and what some of those items on the shelves are, and the pelts on the wall.
It all happens just west of Elkton at ECEC at 15850 Hwy 38 and down the hill at the fort. I’ll be in one of the vendor booths near the butterfly pavilion with my books that fit right into that past, stories of pioneers and the fur trade in the mid-19th century, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds. I hope you’ll stop by.
That’s what it was all about. And lovers of story came out Saturday for my reading and signing at Izzy’s bookstore in Winchester Bay, Oregon.
You couldn’t find a more delightful setting than a room circled with soft chairs and couches, walls lined with books, except for one wall of windows overlooking the spectacular beauty of the bay where water rippled in the sunlight and boats rocked on the gentle tide. Behind conversation the soft cries of gulls echoed on the wind, and an occasional bird swept past our view.
Our congenial, partially rotating group munched on cookies and sipped coffee while we talked about books and ideas. I read short passages from three of mine, the two that are already out, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds, and one I’ve just completed, which isn’t out yet, its working title, Beyond the Waning Moon. All three fit into my theme of following strong women through history, the first two in the mid-19th century pioneer period in the American West, the new one moving way back to ancient Minoan Crete, opening in 1470 BC. Both eras found women facing significant challenges that demanded their remarkable strength.
My thanks to Izzy for inviting me for her first author reading. It was an absolute pleasure. I wish her well in this new venture of hers. Once known as Conrad Books, the store under Izzy’s new ownership will now be known as Windy Bay Books and More. Her enthusiasm resonates throughout the place.
If you missed the event, you can still visit the store, a great stop in this lovely seaside town. And you can find my books on the shelves there–if she hasn’t sold them already. If she has, we’ll get more.
The beauties of Oregon’s remarkable coast become the focus next weekend when I venture to Conrad Books in Winchester Bay on Saturday, August 24, from 3 to 5, for a signing party and reading of my books.
It’s time for the town’s celebration of Kool Coastal Nights, and Izzy Pescadero, new proprietor of Conrad Books, asked me come share the fun. Conrad Books is a great little bookstore with a big heart and fantastic view overlooking the bay, just west of Griff’s seafood restaurant.
It’s at 156 Bay Front Loop about five miles south of downtown Reedsport, off Highway 101.
Under Izzy’s new management it’s a friendly place with new and used books, even vintage, soft couches, music, art, poetry. And the coffee’s always on.
I’ll be reading short segments from my Oregon Trail stories, A Place of Her Own and Nancy Pearl Book Award Finalist The Shifting Winds, and possibly a little preview of my upcoming book of adventure and romance in the exotic pre-Greek world of ancient Crete. And of course I’ll have books there to sign and sell.
If you’re nearby or looking for a destination of fun and spectacular beauty, please come join us. Listen to a snippet of story while watching the sun drift low over the bay and share laughs in the good company of book lovers.
My fiction turned real a few days ago when I was working on a bull-leaping scene for my book of ancient Crete, trying to give the work more dazzle with yet one more edit. The Cretans did leap bulls with long, sharp horns back in 1470 BC, and they painted frescoes to illustrate it, like the one shown here.
I wanted to portray the scene so a reader could live it with me. I was digging through the big dictionary checking on a word for that very scene. Imagine my surprise when a similar bull with very long horns charged onto my property.
Now, there’s a little inspiration for dazzle. My agent, Rita Rosenkranz, had been pushing me to give more polish to this first book in my series about the Minoans of ancient Crete, and she finally convinced me to hire a professional editor. I contracted with editor Judith Lindbergh to review the first 126 pages. And review she did. She was thorough and incisive. It was a little overwhelming. No, strike “a little.” Edit that out. It was overwhelming.
But I was plowing through, sort of like that visiting bull plowed through fences. New inspiration struck. I became excited, obsessive.
All progress stopped when I looked out my window and saw this fellow coming down my road, wagging his impressive horns.
Trevor Cooley, who helps his dad, Ed, run cattle on my place, had a problem on his hands. The bull had already burst into the fields below to challenge Ed’s bulls and steers. Here, right outside my door, the critter tossed his head at Trevor with an aggressive display. That electric wire gate looked mighty thin as Trevor phoned for help. I grabbed the camera, keeping the front door open and assuring Trevor he could run inside if need be.
The bull kept coming.
Trevor flung a little gravel at him and the critter turned away to trot down the grassy slope, tangling himself in electric fencing as he went. But he soon broke through and made his way down into the brushy gully.
By evening someone had located his owner. The man walked right up to him–almost. I was impressed. The owner couldn’t quite catch him and couldn’t drive him into the corral. After many tries he gave it up. The next morning the bull was gone. Last I heard it was on the far side of the mountain at the neighbor’s property.
But the bull did leave me with a touch of reality for the story.
My protagonist leaps a horned bull like that, one that even has a similar dapple-brown coat like the bull shown in the fresco. She has help. Grapplers hold the bull by the horns while two young men kneel in front of him, hands together. She jumps on their hands for the lift she needs to soar up and grab the ridge on the animal’s head between the deadly horns. Then she performs a front flip, her feet going over her head and down on his back–the critical crossing. One more flip and she lands on her feet on the ground behind him, into the arms of her catcher.
Of course, it being a story, the thing can’t go that smoothly. It needs tension. It needs dazzle.
Watching that bull, I was glad my protagonist did the leap, not me.
Back in February of this year I announced in a blog post that I had done a major rewrite on Book One of my trilogy set in early Greece. Having put so much effort into recasting the story, I felt certain I had it ready this time. After all, I had been improving it for 20 years.
I proceeded to update Book Two and Book Three to reflect those changes and wrote a blog post in early April on the whole trilogy, putting a bow on it.
I thought it was done.
With that accomplished I headed out in late April on my trip to Europe to research settings for the full series, having drafted six books so far.
The emphasis on my trip was the second trilogy, since I thought the first was essentially complete. Of course I was open to any tweaking my new explorations might dictate.
My impulses first drew me back to the center of it all, the fabulous ruins of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete. I hoped I wouldn’t see anything that would require significant changes, but I opened my senses to the wonders around me.
On my return home I was happy to report that in the first trilogy my descriptions held up. Except for a couple of additions I wanted to make in Books Two and Three, that trilogy was virtually ready to go.
Then reality hit. I received a harsh critique on Book One. Because of that critique and because this first book is the foundation of the entire series, my agent asked me to focus only on this one now and to give it another thorough revision with feedback from new readers. Another comprehensive rewrite!
I backed up and approached it one more time. I plunged into new research, including discussion with experts on the setting and technology. I gave it substantial new polishing, new scenes, clipping and reshaping of old scenes. I received new critiques by beta readers who never saw it before, did more adding and clipping to address their concerns, and more thorough polishing to see that everything works together.
Last February I thought I couldn’t make it better. Now I know I could because I have.
Besides all that clipping and adding and reshaping, whispers of memory infused the pages from my recent visit to the site. I could see it more clearly through the eyes of my characters because I had just seen it through my own eyes.
Yesterday I sent off the new rewrite of Book One with hope that this time is the charm. Fingers crossed. I can say for certain it’s another milestone in the process.