A volcano long ago ripped through the island of Thera, now commonly called Santorini. It’s a gorgeous Greek Isle just north of Crete and was probably a colony of the ancient Cretans. A line in one of my books expresses a character’s take on the result of that blast.
They sailed into the bay formed by the fierce volcano that tore a hole in the island, where the wash of water had kissed the broken places and turned this into the most beautiful spot she had ever seen. She wanted to feel that healing.
I had visited Santorini in 1995 seeking healing of my own and was deeply touched by the spectacular beauty. I wanted to see it again and explore the gentler coast across from the more famous rim. Now as before I took a ferry from Crete to get the sense of the sea beneath me.
I had only one full day in Santorini, two nights, and had two primary objectives. I wanted to walk across the narrow part of the island to visit the gentler slopes opposite the volcanic rim, and I wanted to see the unusual Santorini grapevines grown in a basketry of branches that shield the vines from Santorini’s brisk winds.
But of course you can’t visit Santorini without taking a moment at the spectacular rim of the caldera filled with the bluest imaginable water of the Mediterranean. Like my character I found this one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen.
I stayed at the Hotel Thira and Apartments, which overlooked the island’s gentle side, a beautiful spot itself, and I came to enjoy each of the three generations of the family who owned the place.
I told the younger woman about my plan to walk across the island from the hotel in the town of Fira near the rim to a restaurant at Exo Gialos on the eastern shore and she assured me it was much too far. Google Maps had it at 2 miles, a 51-minute walk. That didn’t seem too far, but I wasn’t clear on the landmarks or roads, which didn’t always show street. The route could get much longer if I lost my way. She offered to drive me partway, but I wanted to get the feel of the distance because I had people in my stories walking it and riding up and down the slope on horseback. I wanted to have a sense of that and also find a place for a villa.
I thanked her for her kind offer and sought clear directions. I did have my iPhone and believed I could use the map feature to help me. Together we considered my route and in the morning I set out, planning to have lunch at the Yalos restaurant across the island at Exo Gialos.
The top of the slope was all city streets of Fira, often little more than cobblestone paths winding down the hill. I watched my progress on the phone’s map feature but soon ran into a maze of walkways and didn’t know how to get out.
I could see downhill to the flatter open land where I wanted to go but I didn’t see any way to get there. I saw a guy on a motorcycle and asked him. He pointed uphill, the way he was going. That seemed counterintuitive but I followed and soon found myself in a busy shopping area. When I asked a storekeeper how to get to Exo Gialos, she shook her head. “It’s too far to walk.” I didn’t argue with that, just asked if she could tell me the way. She pointed. “To the bottom of the street. Turn left. That goes straight to it.”
But the straightaway soon came to a stop against a wall of buildings. Checking the phone map again, I found the name of a hotel that appeared to be on the edge of town the way I wanted to go. I asked a man how to get to that hotel–so I didn’t have to hear again how much too far it was to Exo Gialos–and I followed his simple directions. Once I passed the hotel I came out into the open where a broad road crossed the flatter land with wide sidewalks that would take me right to the intersection I sought. Hopeful, I charged ahead.
I came to a crossing with more than one choice and checked my phone map to see if I had reached the right intersection, and if so, which of the roads to take.
No map. No signal at all. My only guide out here had gone blank.
There was a house at the crossing where I might have asked, but a big sleeping dog lay by the gate. I wasn’t going to wake it. I made a guess and took one of the roads that seemed to lead the right way.
By now it was getting warm and I really needed a bathroom. I knew I was heading toward the sea but unsure I was heading for Exo Gialos and the restaurant. A few houses scattered over the land. The road might just lead to one of those. I saw several people going into an isolated hotel and decided to seek help there. The young woman at the desk was friendly but uncertain of the route. A young man came in and she assured me he would know.
An angel with a beard.
First he asked if I had water. I said yes. Satisfied, he gave clear directions and told me Exo Gialos was 30 minutes away. With some hesitation, I asked if they had a bathroom I could use. He kindly agreed. I was saved.
I returned to my trek with high spirits and immediately passed one of the interesting vineyards with the grapevines that had been trained in a circle of branches like baskets, the new growth inside for protection from the wind. Check off one more for the itinerary.
I paused to talk to donkeys, the animals that trek up and down the cliff on the caldera’s rim every day, hauling tourists the old-fashioned way.
Farther down the road I saw a man cutting a huge field of grass with a short-handled scythe. He saw me and stood to watch me for a few moments. By the slump of his shoulders I guessed he was seeking consolation. The heat was turning fierce.
I looked back toward the town of Fira on the rim to see the way I had come, imagining my characters rushing up that hill for the moments that awaited them. I also wondered where I had gotten lost in the maze of Fira’s winding passageways. My trek was taking much longer than Google’s 51 minutes, thanks to those detours.
I passed possible locations for a villa in my story. I especially liked the one shown below with its overlook to the sea and vineyards and windbreak of trees. The sight of the water gave me hope. Not too far now.
The directions of the bearded angel in the isolated hotel were good–and the signs he mentioned.
There in print! Signs to my destination. I couldn’t miss it now. And by now I was hungry. I was ready to see that restaurant.
It turned out to be a pleasant place, right on the beach. Music played, the sound becoming one with my thoughts and the wash of the waves. I floated on that sound and rested. For lunch I opted for another Greek salad, this one with a Santorini twist, cherry tomatoes instead of large, capers instead of Greek olives. Different but good. And of course the wonderful Greek bread.
After lunch I walked up the beach. White waves rolled onto the black sand against a remarkable backdrop left by the volcano. Ashen sand created tortured formations and left caves the people now barricade for storage. I have some dramatic scenes here and let myself slip into that world of story.
With the heat rising, I took a taxi back to the hotel and saw the way I should have gone. No matter. I made it. I had one night left on this beautiful island and hoped to see one of the famous sunsets. But by the time I went to dinner fierce winds had come up and the haze thickened. I checked out of my hotel that evening because I had an early flight in the morning. My host ordered a taxi so I would have no delays. I would miss breakfast at the hotel but hoped to find something at the airport. Near time for sunset I headed up the slope for one last look at the caldera.
Even with the haze that barred the touch of the sun’s orb on the sea, ruling out a spectacular sunset, I could not deny the softer beauty.
NEXT: A Warrior’s Dream
My bout with food poisoning had made me lose a day, but I told myself I had gained a day when jet lag didn’t hold me back. If I ventured out on this last day in Crete I could call it even.
A good night’s sleep after a day of rest restored me enough to keep to my plan for visiting Fodhele Beach and maybe Amnisos. I had only a few scenes at Fodhele Beach, a spot just 17 miles west of Heraklion. I had been in the vicinity on my first trip to Crete and had found good pictures of the site on Google Maps. But I did want to go down onto the beach and get a feel for it. I dared eat a little more for breakfast, corn flakes and peaches, not my usual fare but it went well.
So I headed for the bus station. I didn’t see the man in blue who’d helped me find my bus before, but a tiny young woman with long red hair swept in like an angel in blue jeans and gray cardigan. She seemed to be directing passengers. It’s not unusual for locals to offer help so I supposed she was a local. I told her I wanted to go to Fodhele Beach. She not only showed me the right bus. She said she would show me where to get off. Wonderful! She was going my way.
It soon appeared she was more than a traveler because she started taking money for tickets. The bus meandered up the coast and stopped in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. She smiled at me and indicated I should get off there.
I was a bit dubious. Not many other passengers were getting off, and when the bus left me standing beside the road I heard nothing but goats bleating on the barren mountain of scrubby maquis on the other side of the road. Wild goats? Or tame? The quiet resonated. I watched the goats as they traipsed across the steep rocky slopes. I didn’t see a beach or a town. Where was I? A lone woman started down a narrow road on this side where I finally saw a small sign pointing to a beach. I followed her. Surely my angel wouldn’t have led me astray.
Before long I saw what looked like an elaborate resort perched above a stunning blue bay with a wide sweep of sandy beach. Wooden walkways stretched across the sand for easy walking. I wandered up a few of those, imagining my scene with the battle storming over the beach and I picked out the places my warriors could hide before joining the fray. Once I had a feel for that I proceeded to explore.
Opposite the resort several simpler establishments followed a narrow roadway leading toward the far headland, a few restaurants, some houses. I decided to check them out. One house looked particularly inviting with its pointy gate. Still feeling sapped of energy from my sickness, I took my time walking up the gentle slope. Such a peaceful place for the havoc I created there in my story, but I liked the juxtaposition.
Farther up the road past the buildings I came to a spot where I looked down on water so clear I could see the rocks shimmering far out on the seabed.
The headland on my right jutted into that clear sea, and I could imagine the Cretan fleet coming around that promontory, thrilling my protagonist who so needs to see them.
Hunger led me back to the restaurants. I wasn’t sure what I could eat, but I had to eat something. I chose a place with tables and umbrellas right out on the beach and an open covered deck in the building behind. The day was growing hot and it seemed cooler back in the covered area. I suggested as much to the waiter and he nodded. “Yes, it’s cooler in here.”
I took a place on the outer edge of the deck where I could look out on the fabulous beauty of the beach. I studied the menu carefully and saw only one thing I wanted. A Greek salad with fresh tomatoes, feta, Greek olives, and the works, with some of that wonderful bread they serve in Crete. Did I dare? It sure wasn’t on the BRAT diet. I ordered the salad without the onions and cucumbers. It was lovely. My stomach argued only a tiny bit. The salad was worth it if that was all the objection I got. I stayed for a long time just soaking in the peaceful Mediterranean beauty, happy that the setting worked well for my scenes. Voices murmured and bright white seagulls cried, soaring with black-tipped wings.
The waiter told me where to go to catch the bus. Steps led straight up a steep embankment, partly covered in some kind of succulent. I should have taken a picture. The road’s guardrail blocked the top and I had to step over that. A covered bus stop stood only a few feet away.
Before long the red-haired angel appeared. Angel or Greek goddess? Poof! She’s there!
“You’re everywhere,” I said.
She laughed. She had gotten off in the main village of Fodhele, a few kilometers from the beach. I think she said it was her home. We chatted as we waited for the bus, and when the bus came and we got on she took tickets for new passengers. Just like that.
Back at the bus station I asked how I could reach Amnisos, my last destination in Crete. I got several directions. None clear. The angel had left. After a short rest at the hotel I decided I had time and energy enough to make this last short hop. I finally found the right bus stop in the center of Heraklion and waited. And waited. I was about to give up when the Amnisos bus came.
At my destination I walked down to the golden beach of the ancient village of Amnisos that once served as a port for Knossos, since Knossos lay a few miles inland. The sand was golden as advertised, but I couldn’t help feeling that my character Sarena who loved this place so much might be terribly disappointed with what has happened to it. The place has been thoroughly commercialized. The hills are rockier, more barren than I imagined. But with pretty white block houses overlooking the beach–as in Sarena’s time–it would be nicer. I believe that during her days the climate was wetter, so things would probably have been greener.
I had read that there were Minoan ruins at Amnisos but I never found them. People tried to direct me, pointing, smiling. “Yes, go that way, you’ll see.” “Just up the road there.” But I never saw and could never be sure they understood me. I think they wanted to help but had no idea. The heat of the day had turned fierce, and after many dead ends I headed back for the bus stop, discouraged.
I did get a free bus ride back. The drivers like change. They don’t want bills. But I didn’t have enough change. I handed the driver a 5-euro bill. He scowled at it a moment, then shoved it back into my palm, voice sharp. “Sit! Sit!”
NEXT: Kiss of the Sea
The second day of my journey I planned a bus trip to Kastelli, a small town east of Heraklion, Crete, that’s probably not on many a traveler’s list. But I wasn’t looking for tourist spots this time. My tummy felt a little grumbly so I had to bypass some of the richer dainties among the fabulous breakfast offerings and hurried to the familiar Heraklion bus station. I had only three more days in Crete, and I didn’t want anything to slow me down.
The station is a lively place where Greek exuberance abounds. Yet it can be confusing with announcements in Greek and routes not always clear. The man in blue insisted he would let me know when my bus came. I should sit on the bench and not worry. “Relax. This is Crete. We don’t worry here.”
Okay, but I didn’t want to sit on the bench where people were smoking. So many smokers. The man seemed a little offended, as if I didn’t trust him to remember me among all the other travelers. I wondered how he could possibly remember one among many, but in fact he did.
I was soon on a fine bus to Kastelli. The Greek buses are great. Comfortable, cheap, and they take you to every corner, it seems, often with Greek music playing as they charge around narrow, curvy roads that make the elderly Greek women cross themselves. How can you not be in good spirits?
The bus sailed by Knossos and was continuing south on a thrilling road when I caught sight of one of the destinations on my itinerary, the ancient aqueduct across the Kairatos River at Spilia. I could see the arches ahead.
Before the trip I had been trying to figure out if any bridges had been discovered around Knossos besides one that crosses the Vlychia Stream to the south. That stream flows into the Kairatos River, which runs along the east side of Knossos, and for the people to access points east, they needed a bridge across that main river. I wanted to describe them crossing it. I had contacted Dr. Yuri Gorokhovich, Associate Professor at the City University of New York, who brought my attention to this aqueduct across the Kairatos River built by the Romans and later reconstructed by Venetians and then Egyptians. He said the Romans often chose existing structures to build upon, so there might have been a bridge or aqueduct there in the Minoan period. Pantelis Soupios, Professor at the Technological Institute of Crete, discussed with us the possibility of digging for evidence of an older foundation, but that didn’t seem feasible at this time.
Since I’m writing fiction I feel free to locate my own bridges as long as nobody has discovered something real. In choosing a bridge site Pantelis brought up the consideration of where the river may be the narrowest and the logical route between points of interest. The modern road south of Knossos follows the west bank of the Karaitos River, then crosses it below this old aqueduct to continue south on the east bank. Ancient roads might have taken the same route, given the lay of the land.
I decided to adopt the Spilia site for one of my bridges with thanks to Yuri and Pantelis.
The aqueduct is only a one-mile walk from Knossos so I had thought I might walk there the day of my next visit to Knossos. Now, as the bus rolled along the narrow road with no safe place for pedestrians–and cars and huge buses zipping one way and another–I began to rethink the walk. My bus went right by it, crossing the Kairatos River on the low modern bridge just downstream. I did my best to soak in the sight, and snapped photos. I would look for it again on the return bus.
As we continued eastward I watched the beautiful countryside slip past, places I describe in my books. I had been in the vicinity before and had visited on Google Maps, but I wanted to assure myself I had the right sense of it. I was on my way to Eudora’s villa, a fictional setting. When my settings take me to real places like Knossos, which many people visit and many scholars have studied, I feel the need to have all the particulars as right as I can get them. So I studied Knossos extensively. But for a fictional setting like the villa of the character Eudora, I just want to have the general landscape right.
I’d picked Kastelli on the map because it was about 15 miles east of Knossos, probably a half day’s ride by horseback. Imagine my surprise when I later learned that there’s a Minoan ruin a short walk from the town center. I had to see that. In Kastelli I got off the bus and the driver told me I should meet the return bus in the same place at 3 o’clock, the only bus back to Heraklion that day. I didn’t dare miss it. It wasn’t noon yet. I had plenty of time and I wanted to find the Minoan ruins.
No one at the bus stop knew how to find it, so I went into a store and asked a woman there. She spoke clear English but didn’t know much about the place. An older man knew but didn’t speak English. Between them they gave me directions. Basically head up the hill and go just beyond the top. It’s up there. I headed up the hill, looking for the high point. And there it was. Eudora’s house.
It had turned a little drafty over the years, just the base walls left, but I let my imagination flow. The hills beyond it were just right. I was pretty excited. I spent a long time there, wandering around the fenced ruins to peer inside, sitting on the edge, letting the soft breezes touch me, carry me back to the distant days when people lived here, loved here, bore children here, died here.
Most of the time I had the place to myself. So quiet, except that the cover over the ruins made rippling noises, as if someone were there with me. It was the wind of course, but I couldn’t shake the sensation.
My rumbly tummy sent me down the hill. I told myself I was just hungry. I needed lunch. At a small place not far from the town center I got a lovely gyro sandwich with sizzling meat sliced from one of the vertical roasting spits so popular in Greece (the waiter said it was deer meat), the thin slices wrapped in a pita with tomatoes and yogurt and other trimmings.
My bus arrived early and parked. The driver headed for the taverna–for a coffee, I hoped. I sat in the shade waiting for 3 o’clock, writing impressions in my notebook.
The bus ride back was as delightful as the outbound trip and the driver’s hand steady on the winding roads through hills and valleys blanketed in a patchwork of gray-green olive groves and bright vineyards and villages. Forests of giant cypresses once covered many of Crete’s hills, long since depleted even before the years of my stories, having been logged for local construction and ship building and trade. Crete was known in ancient times for its cypresses. Both the pyramidal and a more free-form variety still dot the land, but not many giants.
Rockier slopes had reverted to the scrubby maquis of hardy evergreen bushes and herbs and tufty grasses common in lands on the Mediterranean.
That evening back in Heraklion I asked for a recommendation for dinner and had a fantastic meal–roast pork with a Minoan bean side dish, complimentary dessert of creamy jelled rice smothered in cinnamon and almonds, a small glass of raki with peach. Delicious.
In the middle of the night the slight nausea that had plagued me for a couple of days hit with sudden force. I lost my beautiful pork dinner. I lost my fresh gyro sandwich. I lost days of previously consumed meals in a siege I thought would never stop. By the time it subsided my mouth was like paper. I felt thin as a post, tummy concave. My bottled water was nearly gone and I wasn’t in the mood to risk tap water despite assurances of its safety. I called downstairs and a sympathetic man brought me a bottle of water.
I was pretty sure I knew what got me. The lukewarm chicken at the Athens airport that had no doubt been sitting out for hours. It had tasted a little off and I’d worried a little at the time. If only I had chosen the earlier flight from Athens to Heraklion I would never have seen that chicken. It could have been something else, but the tummy rumbles had started soon after.
Now I sipped water, unable to sleep. I rested until 10 am or so and went down for tea and dry toast. No pretty dainties. I wished for a banana so I could start on the bland BRAT diet my stomach wanted–bananas, rice, applesauce, toast. They had no bananas. At least I got the toast part. That afternoon after sleeping on and off I ventured out to the market, which wasn’t too far away, and bought two bananas. Lunch and dinner.
The day’s plans were cancelled.
I was glad I had spent so much time that first day in Knossos and that I had gotten a good look at the aqueduct. I only had one day left in Crete, and I still wanted to see Fodhele Beach and the ancient port of Amnisos. Hoping for strength, I gazed out the hotel window and dozed again.
NEXT: Shores of War and Peace
Welcome to the opening day of my journey, which began in Greece on April 24, 2018. Over the next few weeks I’ll share the highlights of that 37-day trip through Greece, Portugal, the UK, and Ireland, where I traveled to research scenes for my upcoming series of epic historical novels. If you read my last two posts, the overview and backstory, you’ll have a better picture of why I went. Now here’s post #1 of the trek.
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I woke up in the morning in the Greek Isle of Crete after a long, long flight from Eugene, Oregon, via Seattle and London and Athens. Waking in the morning might not seem so remarkable, except that morning in Greece is about 10 hours after morning in Oregon. The flight adds 10 hours to the 24-hour day, so I had leapt a day ahead, and jet lag can do strange things with your sleep patterns. Maybe it was a good thing that I couldn’t sleep on the plane. Some say you get adjusted better that way. In all my travels overseas I don’t remember ever experiencing such a bright-eyed morning on the first day. That turned out to be more important to me than I anticipated.
I checked out the view of the Mediterranean from my hotel balcony and headed downstairs for breakfast. I must say, that breakfast ranked with the best on my trip–lovely Greek pastries, a custardy egg dish, muesli, nuts, fruits, on and on.
My plan for the day was to do a quick visit to the ruins of Knossos if I felt up to it. One of my reasons for starting the trip in Crete, even though it was my farthest point from home, was that it was familiar to me and relatively inexpensive, and I assumed I’d find it easy to deal with a day or two of jet lag there.
I had spent a month in Crete on my first trip to the island, about half of that time in the island’s chief city, Heraklion, and had spent a good part of my second trip centered in Heraklion too. Now, on my third visit, I stepped out onto streets I knew, and I enjoyed getting back in touch with this special place.
Feeling good, I soon headed out for the ruins of the temple (or palace) that graced the ancient city of Knossos on the outskirts of Heraklion. It took me awhile to find the bus. The old bus stop didn’t exist anymore because they had turned the main drag into a pedestrian street. I asked for directions and got many confusing answers. That was familiar too. People so want to help, but communication becomes uncertain when their English is limited and my Greek is almost nonexistent. One woman simply said, “Come. Follow me.” I did. Love it when they do that.
Soon I was on my way, rumbling through the streets of Heraklion on one of their many buses and out to the edge of town to a site that has filled my mind for years as the characters of my books stroll through the corridors and halls and surrounding slopes of that ancient city. Knossos, heart of the early Cretan world. A rush of joy lifted me as I entered the compound.
I first came out onto the West Court where Book One opens. I needed to stand on that broad paved courtyard and look around. Could I see what I thought I could from that place? Could I see Mount Youktas on the horizon, the mountain that looks like the face of a reclining person? Were the slopes the way I remembered from my last visit 23 years ago? And from my many recent visits by Google Maps? I stood on the ancient stones and smiled. Yes. I could see the mountain. Rearrange a few trees and I would see it even better. My descriptions held up. I relaxed and let the place wrap around me as it had done so long ago.
I found the spot where I had taken a picture in 1994 that has hung on my wall ever since, an outlook past one of the unique red columns of the site to Mount Youktas beyond the hill of olive groves. This time I took a new picture with the little Nikon digital camera I bought a few years ago to help me illustrate my blog posts.
Note that the column is larger in circumference at the top than at the bottom, a style found throughout Knossos. These pillars once lined corridors and divided rooms. Most of the large ones are red. Others are black with red trim.
I wandered all around the perimeter seeking the settings of many a scene. Some of those scenes grip my heart and I relived them here where they took place, shedding a few tears for my characters.
Since my last visit the throne room has been opened. Such a thrill to see this room I call the receiving room of the High Priestess of Knossos. The alabaster chair gave a clue to researchers that the person who sat on this small chair might be a woman rather than a man, because a woman might more easily fit in that gracefully molded seat.
Visitors aren’t allowed into the room itself. You walk through the anteroom (also described in my stories) and from there you look across a low glass barricade into the inner sanctum. The barricade is low enough to lean over so you get a good feel for it. The space seemed a little smaller than I had imagined from photos but every bit as powerful with the waving swaths of red giving a womb-like impression.
In my stories, and I suspect in reality, this is a sacred room. So much at Knossos shows signs of the people’s appreciation for the sacred. I put this photo on the banner of my Facebook Author Page, and someone asked if the object in front of the chair was a toilet. The Knossians did have flush toilets some 3,500 years ago, with a plumbing system so advanced it wouldn’t be equaled until the 19th century AD. But those toilets were modestly enclosed behind doors. The basin above was interpreted by scholars as a lustral basin for ceremonial bathing. When archeologists dug these objects out of the earth some things were in a jumble and they didn’t know where the basin belonged. On the far side of the room from the alabaster chair, several steps lead to a lower level.
I believe that would be a more likely place for the basin, deeper in the earth, and put it there in my stories. I don’t portray this room in the first part of Book One, although there were several lustral basins around the temple, and I managed early on to come up with a steamy scene in one of those.
I depict this room as part of the temple’s reconstruction after a dramatic earthquake. The extension of the room beyond the black pillars tends to create a space both infinite and intimate.
The griffins portrayed on the wall represent three aspects of nature, the eagle’s head for the skies, the lion’s body for the land, the snake’s tail for the deep earth. They were likely considered sacred.
The Knossians seemed to wear their religion comfortably. Frescoes show them enjoying life, sensuous, wearing clothing that clearly reveals their sexuality, but without guile, suggesting a healthy acceptance of this aspect of life. You see no seductive scenes like those found in the Roman ruins of Pompeii. Nor do you see scenes of war and aggression so common in other art of the day. Clearly, Knossos was different. But it would not go unchanged.
I stopped in the afternoon to enjoy a wonderful Greek salad in a restaurant within the compound, perfect fresh-picked tomatoes and Greek olives and more, topped with a thick square of feta cheese, sprinkled with dill and other herbs, and drizzled with Greek olive oil, a delicious sliced baguette on the side.
Restored, I climbed the grand staircase. The receiving room is just beyond the anteroom on the ground level to the right of the staircase shown above. Then I trudged up the north ramp past the relief fresco of the charging bull. And I peered into column-lined rooms.
The jet lag I feared didn’t hit. I stayed and saw it all. Sometimes I rested on a low wall and just let the wonder of the place seep in. I took notes. I studied the maps I had copied for the little trip booklet I put together. I imagined scenes and assured myself that I had relayed the sense of place I needed. Uncertainties arose and I went back to check again.
I began to wonder if I needed to spend another 15 euros for the full second day I had planned for Knossos.
That question of necessity turned out to be a good thing. More on that in the next post.
For this day I felt fully satisfied. Resonant with joy.
NEXT: Crete in Delight and Distress
Before I launch into Day One about my recent research trip through Greece and Portugal, the UK and Ireland, it occurs to me that it might help clarify my reasons for this journey and my reasons for writing the ancient historical series if I backtrack to the beginning. My focus on the Greek Isle of Crete started in 1994 when I set out to research a mystery novel on that exotic Mediterranean island. I had been writing books and pursuing publication for about 14 years, without success. I had moved from Roseburg, Oregon, to San Francisco in late 1989, ending a long-term marriage, and I was seeking answers for my life.
During this time I read a New York Times bestselling book by Riane Eisler called The Chalice and the Blade, where she describes nothing less than the overturning of the world’s cultural norms from woman-centered civilizations to a patriarchal world ruled by contentious warriors. I was fascinated. One chapter stood out for me, where she describes Crete as the “essential difference.” Because of its isolation in the Mediterranean Sea, this island remained one of the last holdouts of those woman-centered cultures. Its primary city of Knossos offered stunning revelations about these Bronze Age people when archeologists began uncovering the fabulous ruins some 100 years ago. Eisler describes Crete as the highest technological culture ever found where women were not dominated by men. I wanted to see this place.
When I visited Knossos and stepped into the partially reconstructed ruins of its central structure, the place seemed to wrap itself around me like a mother’s loving arms. I no longer wanted to write my mystery novel. I wanted to immerse myself in this world and come to know the mystery of the ancients who once thrived there.
The British archeologist Sir Arthur Evans who uncovered Knossos in the early 1900s was struck by what he found–grand staircases and pillar-lined corridors, technological wonders like flush toilets and hot and cold running water, frescoes revealing a free and sensuous lifestyle with women standing proud at the center. He believed he’d found a matriarchy but as a man of his times he thought they needed a king to run it. He saw this as the Palace of King Minos mentioned by Homer and Hesiod. But later scholars suggest it may have been a temple, an idea I adopted for my books, and I drew from one of Eisler’s thoughts on King Minos, depicting him as a Mycenaean warrior with designs on Crete–and a couple of Cretan women.
While in Crete I met a man who helped me understand the attraction, the delight, the frustration that can happen when cultures clash. The experience found its way into my story which opens on this peaceful isle on the day the warriors come.
The frescoes shown here are reproductions of originals that are housed in the excellent Archaeological Museum in nearby Heraklion, Crete, the island’s primary modern city. The bull-leaping fresco appears in the opening scene of my Book One, now called Beyond the Waning Moon. And readers will experience a bull-leaping event in the second scene when the protagonist faces a fierce bull in the court.
I wrote the book and continued editing and revising for several years as I sought its publication. Riane Eisler kindly critiqued the opening and when I addressed her concerns she called the result powerful, responding “Brava!” The novel eventually became a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. The next year I found a way to tie the people of Crete to their counterparts in the distant isle of Ireland, another place that had touched me deeply and where I have personal roots.
My search for life’s answers led me to mythologist Joseph Campbell and especially his four-volume work, The Masks of God. My focus riveted on his discussion of Ireland and how he could see behind the Irish myths to a culture of Mother Right, essentially a matriarchy that would have preceded the later patriarchy. As Eisler points out in Chalice and the Blade, this isn’t the flip side of patriarchy where women rule over men but more of an egalitarian society accepting the full worth of both genders. Neither writer suggests any kind of utopia but at least a much more equal situation than we came to know.
I first visited Ireland in 1993 because of my roots and had set one of those mystery novels there. But I wanted to tap into the ancient times that paralleled my Cretan story and find the lost culture of Mother Right, which Campbell talked about.
The Cretans of my ancient story decide to send out a fleet in search of a place the warriors haven’t come. These early Cretans were known as mariners, their frescoes and other art showing them sailing around the Mediterranean. I figured if they could sail around the eastern Mediterranean they could surely venture to the west and even out through the gate to the Atlantic, as long as they kept the shores in sight. But for a little excitement they get caught in a horrific storm and one ship crashes on the rugged rocks on Ireland’s south coast. Voila! A sequel–albeit loosely tied.
I completed the sequel in 2004 and went back to Ireland in the spring of that year, focused now on stone circles and this rugged south coast near Rosscarbery in County Cork.
I again entered the PNWA literary contest, and this Irish one was a finalist too, just one year after the Cretan book. I thought I was surely on the road to publication then, but could not find an agent for these stories of strong women facing formidable challenges of their time. I began to get discouraged.
My father died in 2007 and I decided to keep the farm founded by my great-great-grandmother Martha in 1868. I left the ancient stories on the shelf and pursued a story about Martha, discovering I had a strong woman in my family who’d faced challenges of her own time. Finally I found an agent, Rita Rosenkranz, who helped me meet my goal of publication with Martha’s story.
But I hadn’t forgotten the ancients. I had a flash of inspiration about Book One and decided to make some substantial changes. When I finished those I realized I definitely needed another sequel that would be closely tied. I wanted to launch into it but I had another story set in the same pioneer period as Martha’s story. My agent and I agreed I should take advantage of the publisher’s interest and bring that pioneer story out first.
By the spring of 2014, with the two pioneer stories in the pipeline, I finally had time to draft the closely tied sequel to the Cretan book. By Christmas I was ready to write one more book to continue the ancient line, but it just wasn’t happening until my muse started whispering to me. I told about that experience on this blog here so won’t repeat it. Suffice it to say this fourth book was drafted by the spring of 2015. I had planned to write a fifth that would bring Crete and Ireland back together but realized I had a 16-year gap in the Irish years. Why not fill the gap with another story?
Because of all the questions I had left at the end of the first Irish book, I wanted to portray the events of those 16 years. I would take readers to the homeland of the Iberians who’d been capturing slaves off the coast of Ireland. I would show my bad guy back in his personal haunts.
But the Iberians couldn’t all be brutes, could they? I learned about their amazing citadel of Zambujal north of today’s Lisbon. They must have enjoyed a sophisticated culture I needed to know more about.
And I would take readers to the Grand Isle of Britain where my protagonist runs into some intriguing outlaws in the Lake District of northern England.
I finished the rough draft of the gap story in 2016. Then in 2017 I drafted what became Book Six, or the third in the second trilogy, which took me back to Iberia.
I had never been to the Iberian peninsula, where they have a stone circle (or oval) more ancient than the circles of Ireland. I needed to see that, as well as Zambujal. And I had never been to the Lake District in England.
Also, the new books ventured into places in Greece and Ireland I hadn’t visited before. Thus the need for another trip. Once you’ve crossed the pond, that’s the biggest single expense. I decided I might as well put it all together.
So, that’s how the project started and why the extended trip. Next up, I invite you to come with me on my solo journey in Greece and Portugal and my continued trek with writer friend Lynn Ash through the British Isles. I’ll start the next post with Day One in Heraklion, Crete, and the nearby site of Knossos I have come to love.
I’ve just returned from a trip to research sites for my upcoming trilogies set in Greece and Ireland and points in between and will be sharing my adventures on this trek over the next few weeks. I started in the wonderful Greek Isle of Crete where I visited the center of the first trilogy, the ancient ruins of Knossos.
This fabulous site was uncovered about 100 years ago after being buried for some 3,000 years. The archeologist restored parts of the buildings, the unique red columns, steps, and rooms, a controversial practice not accepted by today’s archeologists. But the reconstructions do offer a sense of the place I found intriguing. It was a visit to Crete several years ago that started my whole series. When I saw Knossos I knew I wanted to write about these ancient people known today as the Minoans. So I began to write what would become my First Golden Threads Trilogy.
I visited Greece a couple of times before this year’s trip and Stonehenge in England, and visited Ireland a couple of times as well, but as I continue with the series, new books take my characters to different places in these lands, sites I had not seen before, and I wanted to see those places on this trip.
So, why do I go? I could try to create an entire world in my own imagination, with a little help from Google Maps. But if my setting takes the reader to a real place, I’d like to see and feel the place firsthand. Why isn’t my imagination enough? Well, for one thing the natives tend to get annoyed when you misrepresent their landscapes. But there’s more to seeing a place than getting the description right.
I believe every place has a personality that comes out of the nature of the land, the people who touch it and change it. For historicals, can I feel the echoes of people who lived there before? Echoes of events that affected their lives? Maybe. I’d like to believe so. It certainly seems to happen.
Maybe I’m only reflecting my own feelings off the land around me. But what if there’s a resonance reflecting back? I’ll reach for that. Open myself to it. Let it come in, perhaps in the moment I walk in that place, perhaps later as memory and inspiration slip into my mind.
While in Crete I also visited peaceful Fodhele Beach where a battle rages in one of my books. The water is so clear you can see the rocks in the bottom far out from the shore.
From Crete I went on to the Isle of Santorini, officially called Thera or Thira. Anglicized spellings vary in Greece due to the translations from a language with a different alphabet. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
Next stop was lovely Nafplio in the Peloponnese peninsula on the Greek mainland. From there I took day trips to the ancient Mycenaean sites of Tiryns and Mycenae itself, home of the warriors who sail to Crete in about 1470 B.C. and change the island forever.
From Greece I flew to Portugal to visit the ancient citadel of Zambujal north of Lisbon and had an amazing experience I’ll talk about in a later post. It had to do with modern-day archeologists working on this site, as shown above.
More wonderful encounters awaited me near Évora in Portugal’s interior.
From Portugal I flew to London’s Heathrow Airport where I met my writer friend, Lynn Ash, who would continue the trek with me.
After a little struggle finding each other (more on that later), we took a bus to the charming town of Amesbury, which is only a couple of miles from the famous stone circle, Stonehenge.
The next day we visited those massive stones, along with a gazillion or so ravens. Caught a couple in my photo. They seemed to add to the haunting aspect of the ancient circle.
From Amesbury we traveled north to the Lake District where we were surprised by the rugged mountains and thrilled to the beauty of the lakes. I got partway up a trail above Buttermere Water, where the outlaws in one of my books hang out. The trail never got much easier than what you see below.
From the lakes we wended our way into Scotland and across to Cairnryan on the coast where we caught the ferry to Ireland, center of my second trilogy, which intertwines with the first. We finally reached Rosscarbery and the bay I call Golden Eagle Bay for the Golden Eagle Clan of my story whose village lies a short way above this cove.
As daylight dimmed on the bay the search for story sites came to a close. I had a much stronger impression of the places I visit in story. It will take time to absorb all I’ve seen, but already these worlds have become clearer in my mind, and I want to pass that clarity on to my readers. From this overview I’ll share the highlights on my blog in more detail in the coming weeks and hope you’ll join me on this trek from Greece to Portugal to the UK to Ireland, 37 days of reaching into the hearts of lands where my characters roam.
Martha’s Century Farm, whose story I told in my book A Place of Her Own, just hit the 150-year mark today.
On this day of April 24, 150 years ago, Martha A. Maupin purchased a farm on her own, according to the document filed in Douglas County, Oregon, from H. M. Martin To M. A. Maupin, which reads in part:
This Indenture made the 24~ day of April 1868 between Howard M. Martin & his wife Margaret Jane Martin of Elkton precinct, Douglas County, State of Oregon, of the first part and Martha Ann Maupin of the said County and State of the Second part Witnesseth that the party of the first part for and in Consideration of the sum of One thousand dollars lawful money of the United States to them in hand paid at or about the unsealing and delivery of these presents by the party of the second part, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged have bargained sold transferred and Conveyed & by these presents do transfer and convey unto the party of the second part her heirs and assigns, forever, all the following described premises to wit Donation Land Claim No. 46 beginning at . . . containing 320 acres more or less situated in the above County and State To have and to hold . . .
As told in the book, this purchase was no small matter for a woman in 1868. Martha had lost her husband a year and a half before and either could not or would not depend any longer on the aid of family and friends. She chose to make a home for her children and herself. However, she didn’t have the $1,000 she needed to buy this property. A man in nearby Scottsburg had the money to loan her, but he would not negotiate with a woman. Her son Cap, thirteen years old, had to negotiate for the money, but he was too young to own the property. It became her farm, owned by her alone, 320 acres along the Umpqua River.
In 1968 the property qualified as an Oregon Century Farm, having been in the family for 100 years. Now it has been in the family for 150 years and will qualify as a Sesquicentennial Farm.
A big day for Martha’s farm. I’d like to think she would be pleased.
For more of Martha’s story, you might want to check out the book, if you haven’t already. You can ask for it at your local bookstore or see the sidebar for more options.
So, here it is–my trilogy–wrapped up with a bow on it.
These epic historical novels of adventure and romance bring to life the exotic world of the ancient Greek Isle of Crete, and I’ve been working on the series for many years. They just got a comprehensive update and a new bit of polish.
I thought these books were finished in 2015 when I completed Book Three, Talia’s story, which started out with some special help from my muse, as described in a 2015 blog post. (Note: If you read that 2015 post and see that Talia’s story was labeled as “fourth in the series,” please note there’s been some juggling and additional stories, so we plan to present Talia’s as the third now. The one that was third will be part of a second trilogy.)
Anyway, after thinking these three were done, my agent sent me back for changes in Book One, Helaina’s story, the foundational book in the entire project. I talked about that in my last blog post, The Rewrite.
The beauty of writing a trilogy or series is that you set up your scenario–which in an ancient historical novel means creating a world–and you carry that into the next books. That world becomes familiar and real. I know these characters who walked the earth more than 3,000 years ago. I know the places they walked. I know their children, who grow up and carry their society forward, meeting the challenges of their day. The stories are fictional but the people and places are as true to life as I can make them, based on the archeology and other clues left behind.
The down side of writing a trilogy or series is that you have to maintain consistency. This can be difficult enough in a large novel. Were her eyes green or blue? Did the ships have oars or just sails? Was the bridge north of town? Or south? What was his father’s name? When you have multiple stories, that consistency has to be maintained through a lot of pages.
Ah! Thank goodness for the search feature.
I was particularly aware of this need for consistency when I did dramatic, substantive changes to Book One in the big rewrite. Some of those changes trickled down into the other two books. So each of these had to be rewritten, if not perhaps as thoroughly. And they had to be read carefully because sometimes the effect of changes can be subtle.
This latest rewriting project has kept me busy for long days since the big rewrite of Book One, which got underway shortly after Christmas. Kudos to my beta reader Carisa Cegavske for her insightful feedback on all three.
Now it’s a pleasure to see them done–hopefully done, unless my agent recommends more changes. I am so glad she nudged me to the rewriting, because they all feel so much stronger. It’s all part of the process. Write. Rewrite. Feedback. Rewrite again. More feedback. And one more time. And again…
As every writer knows, the rewrite is an integral part of writing. Nobody lays down a perfect manuscript in the first draft. However, there are rewrites, and then there are major rewrites.
If I’ve been a bit absent from social media lately it’s because I was in the throes of one of the majors. And all I have to show for it is a pile of paper. It’s there. And it’s in that laptop. All that work and for now that’s all I can show you.
Two months of work, long days. Nothing to show but words. How do I show you the places I’ve been in those two months? The exotic city of an ancient civilization, the sparkling Mediterranean, the craggy mountains of the Greek Isle of Crete. How do I share the joys and fiery passions and torments of people living their lives in the harrowing times I’ve experienced with them? The words.
I could tell you about these people, these places, but until you read the words I don’t want to spoil the story for you. What a pleasure when my critiquers plunge into that story and I can talk to them about the people I’ve been visiting for two months–no, not just visiting. I’ve been living their lives, seeing through their eyes
So what’s different about this rewrite? For starters, I wrote its first incarnation over 20 years ago. And I will say it’s easier to sit down and write a new one than to bring an old one up to speed. I learned a lot as a writer in 20 years.
It’s a book I have declared finished probably a dozen times, maybe more. In its early incarnations I submitted it to agents. I read it in critique groups and open mike sessions. And I revised. While the story grabbed readers it never quite lived up to the excellence it needed. In this time of the Olympic games I would have to say it didn’t quite qualify for the gold. So what could I do?
In recent years this book has become the foundation story of a series–or a couple of trilogies. Having written six of these books now, I have quite a bit of creative energy invested in the project. Because I loved this story I told myself it was as good as the new ones. But was it? It’s so easy to look at something that sounds good and tell yourself it’s all right. So easy, for instance, to accept that this scene should be written this way from the viewpoint of this character. But what if I change viewpoints? What if I add all-new scenes? Is that scene even necessary?
My agent kept nudging me until I finally took a hard look at it and found so much I had left intact from the early incarnations that no longer worked. Once I admitted that to myself, I was ready to make substantial changes.
So there it is. Reborn. It’s all in the words.
Note: The store will continue to operate as the Oakland Community Store and Learning Center with the same hours as before, Sundays through Thursdays 11 am to 4 pm and Fridays and Saturdays 10 to 6. My books will still be on sale there and I’ll stop by occasionally for signing.
The community of historic Oakland, Oregon, has a new Christmas Store for the holiday season, now open daily for business, featuring unique handcrafted items created by local artists and crafters. My books are on the shelf for sale there and I’ll be in the store on Thursday afternoons, beginning on December 7, from 1 to 4 pm. If you buy a book when I’m not there, you’re welcome to come back on one of those afternoons and I’ll be happy to sign it for you.
This is a new venture led by Victoria Kietzman and the First Friday in Oakland crew. You’ll find selections from many First Friday artists, as well as vintage items. My thanks to Victoria for inviting me to join them with my books.
Some days you may walk into the store and be met by the tantalizing smells of home-baked goodies, so you can stop for a bite and a little tea while you shop. Or if you’re from out of town, you might want to plan on lunch at one of several delightful restaurants in Oakland, and take a stroll through town–where the town itself is a stroll through the past–then drop by the Christmas Store to shop for someone on your Christmas list.
Books do make great gifts. So for book lovers on your list who love a little local history I present my two titles: A Place of Her Own, a story of my pioneer great-great-grandmother who came over the Oregon Trail and ultimately bought a farm on her own in Douglas County; and 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award Finalist The Shifting Winds, another story of Oregon’s pioneer era.
Gift wrapping service will be available.
You’ll find the Christmas Store at the historic building shown above, all decked out for the holiday, at 208 2nd Street across from the Oakland Post Office. The photo below gives a glimpse inside. Some of the merchandise may change, Victoria said, as artists bring in new creations.
The store is scheduled to be open Sundays through Thursdays from 11 am to 4 pm and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 to 6. Currents plans are to keep the store running until January. I’ll do at least three Thursdays, the 7th, 14th and 21st, and may pop in other times as well.
If you have any questions about the store you can call 541-315-2613. I hope you’ll stop by.