janet fisher~writer

Following strong women through history

Going There #2: Crete in Delight and Distress

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.

Heraklion Bus Station

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.

Delight

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.

Ancient Aqueduct over Kairatos River, Crete

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.

Cretan Landscape near Villa

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.

The Villa

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.

Mountains Seen from Kastelli Ruins

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.

Kastelli Street

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.

Distress

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.

Heraklion Street out Hotel Window

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

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Going There #1: Into Crete’s Ancient Heart

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.

View from Kastro Hotel in Heraklion, Crete

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.

West Court, Knossos, Crete

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.

View to Mount Youktas from Knossos

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.

Receiving Room, Knossos

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.

Steps to Lustral Basin

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.

Grand Staircase and Anteroom, Knossos

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.

Ramp from the North Gate, Knossos

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.

Charging Bull Fresco, Knossos

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.

 

Lower Rooms, Knossos

NEXT: Crete in Delight and Distress

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Going There: The Backstory

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.

Room in the Palace/Temple of Knossos

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.

Prince of the Lilies Fresco, Knossos

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 an elaborate drainage system, 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.

Part of Knossian Procession Fresco

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.

Bull-Leaping Fresco, Knossos

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.

Rocky Headlands on Irish Coast

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.

Bohonagh Stone Circle Portal, Ireland

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?

South Gate to Castro do Zambujal, Portugal

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.

Part of Almendres Cromlech in Cork Forest, Portugal

I had never been to the Iberian peninsula, where there’s 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.

Bluebells on Mountain in Lake District, England

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Going There: Site Research

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.

Knossos Portico Steps

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.

Fodhele Beach

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.

Archeologists at Zambujal

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.

Stonehenge and Ravens

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.

Trail Above Buttermere

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.

Golden Eagle Bay

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.

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150 Years!!

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 . . .

A copy from the first page shows the flowery handwriting of the day (I did my best to transcribe that and took a bit from the second page).

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.

Now, 150 years later, it has become mine, the second woman in the family to own and operate it. I’ve had it for about 10 years now.

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.

The Trilogy

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…

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The Rewrite

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.

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Selling Books at Oakland’s Christmas Store

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.

Photo by Victoria Kietzman

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.

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Introducing Author Debbie Burke

In honor of her triumphant breakthrough into publication I want to introduce my good friend Debbie Burke, who agreed to write this post for my blog. I met Debbie in the late 90s when I moved to Kalispell, Montana, and joined the local writers group. Debbie was a member of my first critique group and a wonderful mentor to me in my endeavor to hone my writing skills so I could become a published author myself. Her input into the first book of my upcoming Golden Threads series was invaluable, and she was a fantastic beta reader for Book Three of the series. I was thrilled to learn of her success in having her new thriller, Instrument of the Devil, chosen for publication after she won the Kindle Scout contest.

The above photo shows a sweeping view of the Mission Mountain Range of the Rockies. In Debbie’s new book, set in these beauties surrounding Kalispell, a terrorist frames a Montana widow in his plot to bring down the electrical grid by cyberattack on the Hungry Horse Dam. When I read it I was struck by the juxtaposition of the glory and the horror.

For the post Debbie writes about mentors. As a recipient of her mentoring, although I wasn’t a young mentee, I appreciate the sentiments. Thank you, Debbie.

Paying It Forward

by

Debbie Burke

Stirling Silliphant was a renowned writer in Hollywood for decades. His screenplay of the 1967 movie In the Heat of the Night won an Oscar. His credits included countless TV scripts and feature films. In addition to prolific writing, he served as a generous mentor to a young Army officer named Dennis Foley.

Dennis started in Hollywood as a military advisor and slid sideways into screenwriting when a director needed an emergency rewrite by the next morning. Dennis delivered and was tasked to redo scripts even though he knew next to nothing about the craft. Stirling took Dennis under his wing and, during many late night phone conversations, talked him through problems and taught him fundamentals.

One day Dennis asked, “Stirling, you’ve helped me so much, how can I ever repay you?”

Stirling replied, “Pass it on. If you don’t, you’re an a**hole.”

For more than twenty years, Dennis has passed it on in a big way by mentoring me and hundreds of other students. If not for his wise counsel and broad experience, many of us would not have been published. [Debbie’s book cover at left.]

Sharing knowledge without expectation of payback is what mentorship is about.

My earliest mentor was my third grade teacher, Miss Parker. She recognized my hunger to write and encouraged it, while giving concrete suggestions how to improve. Years later, I invited her to my wedding…and she came!

Sadly, I lost track of her…until recently, when I looked her up on the internet, found a phone number, and called. “Are you by any chance the Miss Parker who taught at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in the 1950s?”

“Yes, I am she,” she answered, ever precise with her grammar.

She’s 87 and still sounded sharp, retired after 50 years of teaching school at all levels. We laughed about how the “bad boys” were always assigned to her classes. Although she wasn’t much taller than her third graders, she was ferociously athletic. The troublemakers knew she could drop kick them across the playground and they respected her for it.

After retirement, she taught five more years in the jail system. She affectionately called those students “my jailbirds.” I have no doubt they respected her as much as the “bad boys” had in third grade.

During our conversation, when I referred to children as “kids,” she gently corrected me, admonishing “kids are baby goats.” Still editing me all these decades later, but still with kindness. She congratulated me on the publication of my novel and I’m sending her a copy.

Many other mentors have offered their hands to lift me up. I feel a moral obligation to offer the same to those coming after me. But it’s no hardship.

When I help young writers, I always receive more than I give. [Debbie and piano at right.]

They keep me hopping barely one step ahead of them. How to explain active verbs? Pacing? Point of view? If you really want to learn something, teach it to another person.  The more I have to explain an amorphous concept to a new writer, the more deeply I come to understand it myself. When I analyze what is wrong in someone else’s work, I recognize and can fix problems in my own.

My group, the Authors of the Flathead, sponsors an annual writing contest for high school students. One year, a particular story exploded from the pile of anonymous submissions we were reviewing. All the judges were blown away by compelling narrative, vivid characters, and sophisticated themes. We invited the winner, sixteen-year-old Sarah, to read her story at our regular meeting.

That evening, she asked me if I would mentor her in writing. Of course! Who wouldn’t want to work with a bright, energetic, dynamic young woman? Through high school and college, Sarah often sent me essays, articles, and fellowship applications to critique and edit.

Harvard ultimately accepted her and she earned her PhD in astrophysics (totally without my assistance!). By that time, I only understood a few words in her writing—the, and, because.

Two years ago, she defended her dissertation and I flew to Boston to attend. As she stood before a packed audience at the Forbes Lecture Theater, my heart swelled with pride and I used up a whole package of tissues.

Recently Dr. Sarah Rugheimer posted a video lecture on Facebook delivered by a young scientist she’s now mentoring. Her pride in her mentee’s accomplishment glowed all over the post. I messaged her: “Now you understand.”

In Stirling Silliphant’s unforgettable words: “Pass it on. If you don’t, you’re an a**hole.”

The above photo shows the Hungry Horse Dam where shivery scenes take place in Debbie Burke’s Kindle Scout winning thriller, Instrument of the Devil. Available on Amazon, the book also won the Zebulon Award sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

Visit Debbie at: www.debbieburkewriter.com

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Writing and Breathing

A good crowd turned out for my talk at the Roseburg writers group meeting this week. Thanks to my friend Heather Villa for snapping a photo.

I appreciated the friendly reception and the interaction during our lively Q & A afterward. This being a group of writers, the discussion delved into the writing process.

Every author develops some kind of process for writing a book, and when asked about my own I tried to describe what isn’t so much a daily regimen but a progression through the various stages of the project. I don’t write every day. I need to take in a lot of information before I’m ready to write a novel.

This could be compared to breathing. Inhale before exhaling.

As a writer of historicals much of that inhaling is research. Read about my subject. Imagine my characters interacting in worlds I discover. Read other novels to see what other authors do. Visit places. Soak in the smells, the sensations. Open myself to the ideas that will come in if I let them. Listen to my muse.

Scribble down what comes. That’s writing of a sort. Exhaling as I go. Some of those notes may find their way into the final pages, word for word.

Eventually I’ll reach the stage where the flood of ideas must be brought to some pattern, an arc of storytelling that will lead me through from beginning to middle to end. Once that’s organized–and yes, I do outline–the story spills out. Then I’m fully breathing out the air I’ve been breathing in. The long exhale.

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