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.
The people of Oakland, Oregon, sauntered back in time this weekend to live their rich history during Living History Days, and I joined them with my books that delve into these early times.
Betty Tamm kindly invited me to set up my book signing table in her Triple Oak Wine Vault in downtown Oakland, a unique Tasting Room located in a renovated 1892 bank building. In the photo above she’s displaying the art of spinning, which many in our past have done.
Not every tasting room has a bank vault for wine storage, complete with safety deposit boxes. And despite the sign on the front door you would not have found me back in the deep vault sipping wine. I believe the whole establishment counts as the vault.
I actually had a lovely table in the front of the room to set up my books.
Nancy Anderson and Diane Brown brought historic treasures–exquisite quilts, vintage clothing, old news stories, and more–to be displayed in the Tasting Room, so they joined me at my table and we shared some delightful conversation and a bit of delicious, decadent food.
Things seemed to be going quite well. A good crowd meandered through to taste some wine and check out our handiwork, many of them in costume in this town where history resonates through the streets and in every downtown building. So I gave little thought to the gentleman in hat and boots, a gun on his hip, until he stepped to the door with sudden alarm.
Who knew the North and South would be at it again? But there it was on the historic streets of Oakland, yet one more battle brewing between the union and the confederates.
All in all, the weekend event was, as I promised, a rip-roaring good time.
The British Hudson’s Bay Company fort on the Umpqua River takes center stage every year when the people of Elkton, Oregon, commemorate the historic outpost in the annual Labor Day celebration, Fort Umpqua Days. This year’s event starts tomorrow, Saturday, September 1.
The cannon went off at last year’s event, and the sound reverberated across the valley.
A bass tournament starts off the activities tomorrow at 6 am, then a Lion’s Club pancake breakfast at the Elkton Community Education Center at 7. Pioneers and others will parade through town starting at 10, when most of the other activities begin. It’s a two-day event, Saturday and Sunday.
Folks can find all kinds of fun there. Mountain men with their black powder rifles. Pioneer activities for the kids. Vendors selling everything from candles to jewelry to–oh, yes!–books. And more. Of course there will be food and music and the evening pageant under the direction of Cathy Byle–with a historic flare of course.
Following are a few more scenes from previous Fort Umpqua Days events.
It’s all in the spirit of fun–and maybe learning a little about our local history. The weather should be perfect.
Remember these archaeologists in Portugal digging all that dirt last spring when I visited the ancient Castro do Zambujal, and Sónia Cravo and Fábio Rocha gave me that wonderful tour?
Remember Sónia, head of the project, looking over the site on the day of my May visit, seeing the tremendous amount of work yet to do?
So that was then.
This is now.
After three months of digging the archaeologists have cleared many loads of dirt to reveal what once lay buried. The citadel seems to rise into a greater semblance of its once-powerful position above the rolling hills near the western coast of the Iberian peninsula. Sónia sent me three photos taken this month by Fábio, for which he used a drone to get some perspective above the site, the photo above and two more below.
In these new photos I can see places I walked and more walls I wasn’t aware of. This helps me get a better idea of the configuration of this citadel that plays a significant role in part of my upcoming series. And look how clean the rocks are compared to the May photos. It’s a painstaking process, digging carefully, always alert to what might be found in the next scoop of dirt. They’re still working on it. But they have made impressive progress. What a change!
Sónia also sent a photo of the two of them happily waving. When I visited in May I couldn’t help noticing the camaraderie among the people working on the project. The story of my thrilling May visit is here.
I so appreciate Sónia and Fábio sharing these new photos with me and their readiness to answer questions that come up. As I work through my revisions I’m sure questions will arise and it’s good to know I have such friendly sources ready to help me.
We flew out of Shannon airport on our homeward-bound journey. Lynn and I had bought our tickets separately so we weren’t seated together. For the Shannon-Philadelphia leg of the trip I took my seat by the window and a couple of young Irishmen sat beside me. They were on their way to San Francisco, a place where I had lived for eight years. So as the plane lifted off I left their world as they looked forward to visiting mine. They had both just turned 21. Their boisterous excitement was infectious and I laughed with them, caught in their delight.
My trip wasn’t quite over. Setbacks awaited me in Los Angeles when our Philadelphia-LA plane landed late in LAX, where we had a short connection. Seated in the very last row, I had trouble getting past the other passengers, and we had long lines and two slow buses across the tarmac to reach my gate. Lynn was well ahead of me.
By the time I found my gate, panting from my run, there were no passengers left, just an attendant standing alone at the gate. She asked me if I was Janet Fisher. Hopeful they were waiting for me, I answered yes in a gasping voice. She phoned the plane and shook her head at me. “They’ve already left. You’re too late.” No! That couldn’t be. “My friend is already on the plane,” I told her. “I have to be on that plane.”
The phone rang. The pilot had agreed to open the door for me. The plane hadn’t actually pulled away. I broke into tears. The attendant led me to the plane’s door. Once inside, I stumbled down the aisle as passengers applauded with smiling faces. Lynn was beaming and gave me a big hug when I sat down, still crying softly. She had begged them to wait, certain I was coming.
Exhausted, I settled back in the seat for the last leg of our journey, slowly recovering from that arduous finale to a long and wonderful trip—37 days of exploring the world of my ancient trilogies.
During those 37 days I became steeped in the past, as I sought the places that define these stories.
I had the good fortune of meeting several archeologists whose work takes them into the ancient times. And others who simply love their history.
I felt the raw edge of cultures different from my own and the universal embrace of friendly people.
I immersed myself in the book settings and felt my characters walking along these places. As I walked with them I remembered their tears and joys. My own tears came, and my joy.
The novels will be richer for the experience.
If my visit to Knossos in Crete felt like being home because of all the days I lived there in my mind while working on my first ancient trilogy, my return to Ireland felt like returning to another home of the mind. My second ancient trilogy centers in Ireland.
The last time I traveled to Ireland I stayed a month there with my late friend Tilly Engholm. She and I spent six days on the island’s south coast at the small town of Rosscarbery, the central location for the series. The fictional village of my Golden Eagle Clan sets just below the stone circle now called Bohonagh Circle, an easy walk from the Rosalithir B&B where we stayed. This wonderful B&B hosted by Catherine and Finbarr O’Sullivan is one of the friendliest places I’ve visited in all my many travels.
Of course I had to return and wanted to introduce my writer friend Lynn Ash who was traveling with me on this part of my current trip.
Since the last visit to Ireland when I was researching Book One of the Irish trilogy, I had drafted Books Two and Three as well, which took my characters to places I’d never seen. The treks through Portugal and the UK gave me a good look at many of those, but I also had a few new scenes in Ireland in places I hadn’t been.
Before traveling to Rosscarbery I wanted to spend a little time at a location closer to the new settings and chose the historic village of Adare near Limerick.
It’s a charming place with thatch-roofed cottages and a crumbling castle, a lovely river walk, and entertainment by a terrific young Irish musician.
The tourists have found it, but we got a quiet B&B on the outer edge, with a country setting and lovely breakfasts, the Carrigane House.
We stayed three nights to explore the area. I found my beautiful green fields for a big battle scene and the treacherous ford across the River Shannon at Limerick.
(I later found reference in a blog post by Irish waterway historian Brian Goggin that there was likely a more passable ford across the River Shannon about ten miles north of Limerick near O’Briensbridge. He kindly responded to my email to confirm there was probably an ancient ford just below the bridge. Brian had helped me before with information on the River Barrow which figured in scenes for Book Four.)
On one of the three days at Adare I used my bus pass to ramble down to Kilrush on the Shannon and check out another scene, enjoying a stroll to the marina and a tasty salmon lunch at Crotty’s Pub.
We found pub food to be reasonable and delicious. In Adare we had to have at least one meal at the famous Blue Door with its fine thatched roof.
From Adare we took the bus to Rosscarbery with a bus stop at Cork City where we watched the beautiful island clouds rise over this intriguing city.
Catherine at the Rosalithir B&B welcomed us with open arms as I knew she would. The B&B is on a working farm just outside Rosscarbery. They raise fine purebred beef cattle now, having switched from the dairy cattle they had on my last visit. Lynn and I booked only two nights with them, one full day. It wasn’t nearly enough, but we would do what we could.
From the upstairs deck of the house we looked out over the yard to the surrounding farms. Haze screened our view of the sea in the gap. Note the old stone fence on the far side of the road.
Anxious to see the stone circle so central to my stories, I headed out with Lynn in the morning. Catherine told us about a walk to the circle I hadn’t taken before–a lovely hill walk over green patchwork fields with views back to the B&B and forward to the ocean. If you can zoom the first photo below you may see the B&B. It’s a pale-pink building with two facing gables in the middle of a wide field in the upper right.
My heart pounded as I climbed straight up the slope to Bohonagh Circle–called Golden Eagle Circle by characters in the trilogy.
After the huge rings of Almendres Cromlech in Portugal and Castlerigg in England this circle looked small. Bracken and brambles had filled the interior since I last strolled through.
Bluebells lifted their heads above the competition. I remembered those exquisite flowers blooming among the stones from my visit before.
I got down on my hands and knees to climb under the electric wire surrounding the space and made my way into the ring despite the tall growth. I took my time, circling the ring to consider each stone. I remembered the rough faces, the cool edges, the warm, the tall pillars with tops beyond my reach, the low, the wide entrance between portal stones I could barely touch at once with my outstretched arms, the slanted tops, the rounded, fat, slim, one slant that matched the slant of the sea gap beyond. Echoes shimmered. Dancing feet pummeling the ground. Voices of pleasure, pain, supplication. Though left to the wildness of winds and other natural forces the circle still seemed to resonate with a subtle power–maybe more so because of the untamed elements.
Here lay the heart of my Irish stories.
We would visit the better known Drombeg Circle with Catherine. Close to the highway, that one is a National Monument, well maintained by the Commissioners of Public Works for the state.
A sign at the site notes that on the winter solstice the sun sets at a point aligned with the center between the portal stones and the middle of the recumbent stone opposite. In my story this is the village circle of my neighboring Red Deer Village. The circle rests on a bench of land overlooking the broad fields below, the sea lost again in the distant haze. In one of my books the clanspeople of southern Éire face the warriors of Zambujal on those broad fields, and in another a young Red Deer woman faces the wrath of her father. Many scenes there.
We closed our day with a visit to the sea in the softening light. I wanted to revisit Golden Eagle Bay. We drove to the wrong bay first, then found the right one. I hadn’t remembered the shoreline quite right, so the stop helped me form a better sense of place in this important setting. Anguished partings happen here. And poignant reunions.
The wash of the sea brought many memories, like recurring waves.
With one last look at this bay below the site of my Golden Eagle Clan village I embraced the scene, feeling enriched by this and so many experiences over the course of my journey. I would hold these places in my mind and heart, hoping to share and let others see and feel the wonder of it all.