Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

Xandros February 7, 2012

Xandros.

Alexandros of Macedonia aka Alexander the Great. Warrior. Emperor.
What we know of him from history reflects his excellent understanding of the strategies of war, his passionate nature, the strength of his character, his knowledge of power and how to manipulate it, his charisma.
How to translate that for a modern audience in a way that makes him an entertaining character, but is somewhat true to history? The thing about writing is, that we can re-interpret historical truth. We can manipulate facts into fantasy, and so we do.
My Xandros likely bears little resemblance to the historical figure, whom I imagine was actually much more brutal than my version. Mine is full of passion and dedication to his task, but does so with humour. He does know how to manipulate and intimidate, and uses those skills on the other men, in particular. It’s a worthy ability.
I think the real Alexandros had a dark spirit. According to Annabel Lyon’s research for her novel The Golden Mean, bred from birth to his role, blooded at an early age, it is likely Alexandros spent most of his life in a state of Post-traumatic Stress. If not, he was psychopathic or sadistic. Considering he was adored by his men, I think that is unlikely.

I’ve seen PTSD up close over the years.  It is a debilitating condition that can make emotions volatile.  Power battles insecurity.  Fear battles rage.  On the surface, a vision of self-control must be observed by all.  It reveals a deeply conflicted character, a frail human who is never safe to reveal his frailty.

When you know there is a tender heart beneath the bristling exterior, you can try to reach it.  I hope the Xandros that I’ve written shows something of this dichotomy.  Can the reader feel his heart beneath his bravado?  Can you?

 

Zeus January 31, 2012

Filed under: Alpha-biography,Mythology — Shawn L. Bird @ 3:43 pm
Tags: ,

This is the first entry in a  section called an “Alpha-biography.”  The exercise is to work through the alphabet, commenting on a word that connects somehow to your world.  My students are doing this in English 9 this semester, and I am modelling it by creating my own alpha-biography.  For myself, I will be focusing on how I am interpreting, synthesizing and contemplating the Greek/Roman gods as I’ve been exploring them in the process of crafting the Grace Awakening series.  (I’m working backwards, so that in the blog they’ll eventually appear A-Z instead of Z-A, as they end up ordered by time).

Zeus:

Sky, thunder, lightning bolts. That’s what I think of when Zeus comes to mind, and while sky can be memories basking beneath balmy blue skies, it also can mean clouds and rain or snow. Summer storms are all about power unleashed in the heavens, with a suddenness that captures boats out on the lake or starts forest fires. It’s a power that is beautiful and dangerous.
Mothers can be like that. They’re all balmy (in the British sense) where their kids are concerned. Cross them, and lightning bolts are flying, and you find yourself electrocuted and sizzling helplessly on the ground.
Sometimes people in power throw around their tempers with the sudden explosions that ruin careers, and destroy relationships. I think of Zeus that way. He is proud of his power, but tempestuous with it. He is not an even-handed administrator; he is an emotionally unstable tyrant.
It means that people have to move cautiously around him, nervously keeping their voices low, conscientiously trying to avoid offense. The problem with such people is that offense is taken, or not, without reason, so there is no hope for it.
I’ve lived with Zeus and worked for him as well off and on over the years. It’s a challenge. What joy to be in the sky beneath his radar, enjoying the sky without the storms.

 

Kharon drops in January 24, 2012

Further to my determination to squeeze out some writing or die trying, I thought I’d share the day’s efforts on Grace Awakening Myth (Book 3 of 4 in the Grace Awakening series).  It’s a first draft, remember.  To be honest, there are already some changes, but you’ll get the idea.  This is 1230 words.  My goal is about 1200 a day, (5 pages) or 6000 words (25 pages) a week.  That was the pace for the first 2 books in the series. 

As I sat down to write, the image in my head was of blackness.  I wrote about that while wondering exactly why it was so black, and then Kharon walked in… 

Truly, I just take dictation.  The story is just floating out there, waiting for me to listen to it.  Ben is narrating.

It’s a black night, Stygian black, as they say. That’s very black. The River Styx drifts, black as crude oil, roiling and burbling with the murmuring sibilance of thousands upon thousands of lost voices. Its thick waters seem to suck the light from the sky, and leave all around it in an inky grey wash. Kharon the boatman floats along on his ferry, pole in hand, pushing it away from the banks, gathering the departing souls and taking them safely to Hades, for the price of a coin, of course. He shows up at the stops to collect what Hermes has dropped off: the confused half-shadows, some still not quite aware that they are ghosts, reclaimed from new graves. The shades dazedly cough up their coin, and they load into the ferry as Hermes waves to them heartily and wishes them luck on the next part of their journey like some jolly tour guide. Hermes can be quite an ass. The vacuous faces hardly stir in response, though. Those without a coin are on their own to get across the Styx. If you’re on your own, you’re not going to make it across. Simple.

I shivered at the memory of that blackness and the descent into the sucking void of the underworld. This was earth though, and not the underworld. This was Grace, not Eurydice. It was a Stygian black night, though, and the oppressive gloom was creeping into my gut.

“Hey, there. Ben is it?” The low voice held a faint glimmer of amusement.

“Hello Kharon.” I nodded courteously, recognising him at once. Had my thoughts summoned him? Or was this dismal atmosphere a result of his presence? “What brings you here? You’re a little far from the river.”
“Not so far. A guy needs a bit of a break from water now and then, after all. The river flows where it needs to. It’s near enough that I can step ashore for a moment.” He looked around with interest. “I thought I’d come have a chat with you.”

“With me?” My heart stopped for a moment. “I’m honoured, of course,” I said with a polite incline of my head, “but…uh…why?”

He smiled. His long nose and slightly blue tinged skin made it a rather eerie expression. Though it was probably meant to be reassuring, it made him look a trifle morose. It didn’t lighten the mood, at any rate.

I waited while he stood ponderously thinking. His thoughts seemed to move like he was punting through them with the stick he used on the ferry. They moved slowly and methodically in one direction. Patiently was the only way to communicate with Kharon. He would not be rushed.

Finally he said, “It’s about the girl.”

I took a deep breath. “Which girl? Grace?”

He shook his head. “No. The other one.”

“Other one?”

“From before. You know. The snake bit her, and you went to Hades to try to get her out? You snuck by the dog with some singing and got everyone down there all in a mush of sentimentality with your music, and they let you take her. But something happened and she had to stay, after all.”

“I looked back.” I whispered, suddenly cold.

“Ah.” Kharon nodded sagely. “Oh right. Looking back can cause a lot of problems for a person, can’t it?”

“Apparently.” I tried to bite back the sarcastic tone in response to his unintentional understatement.

“Yeah. Well. She was at the river bank the other day when I went by, and she asked me to give you a message.”

I swallowed. Then swallowed again. My mouth was the Sahara all of a sudden. I croaked, “She asked you…to give me a message.” She had never tried to communicate with me before. Why did she need to send a message now? What did she know?

He nodded in confirmation at my dazed expression, then after making sure that I was paying attention he looked up, as if trying to recall her exact words. He cleared his throat and intoned, “She said, ‘If you have a chance to see my love, when you’re above. Tell him that the song has many verses, some rich with hate and curses, but that he deserves whatever joy, that girl can give a boy.’”

“She rhymed it?”

He shrugged. “I think she thought it’d help me remember.”

“Oh.”

“I think she misses you,” he added. “She looked sad.”

“She’s been in the underworld for a couple of thousand years. Of course she’s sad.”

Kharon shrugged again. “Not everyone is. They get used to it. Everyone has to be there eventually after all.”

“I suppose.” It hurt to think about Eurydice. It hurt to remember that my failure doomed her to that two thousand years in the underworld. She wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t been inept. My failure. Mine. It wasn’t Kharon’s fault. “Thanks for passing along the message.”

He nodded. “I think she was afraid Hermes wouldn’t deliver it and Iris doesn’t have reception there.”

“Oh yes. Of course not. I appreciate you taking the effort.”

He stood waiting for something, with a studied nonchalance.

“Oh, wait.” I rummaged in my pockets and studied the coins. “I don’t have anything ancient. Will a twonie do?”

He eyed the polar bear on the two dollar coin dubiously. “A little on the cheap side, but whatever. Next time we meet in the Other Realm, you can top it up.” His mouth twitched in something that might have been a good-humoured smirk, but might not.

I chose to interpret it positively. “Thank you, Kharon.”

He started to stroll off with that particular, unsteady gait of sailors walking on land, and then looked back over his shoulder, “You take good care of that new girl, you hear? Don’t let looking back blind you to the possibilities ahead of you. What you’ve done before doesn’t have to bind your future.”

His words hit me like an arrow and I reverberated for a moment from the impact. When I went to answer him, he’d disappeared. With him went to ominous atmosphere of blackness, and I was able to take a deep breath again. The fresh air oxygenated my lungs and cleared my head, but his message sat heavily on my heart.

I thought of Eurydice from time to time, of course. If I was being honest with myself, it was her that made me most anxious about Grace. Eurydice was my first and greatest failure. My first love, my first wife, symbolized such an essential lack in my character that any thought of her ensured my elemental humility, despite the loud accolades about my brilliant talent. Such bone deep awareness of inadequacy is not overcome. Ever.

It is also why I am afraid that I won’t be able to protect Grace this time.

I’ll tell you a secret. I’m pretty sure that it is also why they appointed me her guardian. They don’t expect me to succeed. They think that it will appear they’re giving her a guard, when I’m actually so useless that she is doomed.
I know it.

I know it, and despite being overwhelmed with the awareness of my own inadequacies I am so damned full of pride that I’ll risk it anyway, rather than let Mars or Alexandros have the job. What kind of fool’s paradox is that?

Mine.

 

truth and memory December 27, 2011

Filed under: Grace Awakening,Mythology,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:40 am
Tags: , , , , ,

One of the values of learning another language, is the enlightenment it provides to your own language.  I have links to an article about this in a previous blog post.

While I’ve been working with Mnemosyne and Lethe this week, I’ve discovered an interesting thing.

In English, the opposite of memory is forgetfulness.  In Greek lethe (forgetfulness) is opposed with aletheia (prefix ‘a-‘ making some thing the opposite, remember). Aletheia doesn’t mean memory, it means truth.

I find that very profound.  It’s not the concept of a lie that is the opposite of truth in Greek, it’s forgetfulness.

It begs pondering.

I think I can do something with the concept

.  I’m not sure what, at this point, but it fits with Ben’s reality, doesn’t it?  Lethe has robbed Grace of memory, and it keeps her from knowing the truth.

I suppose this means I’m about to be introduced to the goddess Aletheia.  I wonder what she’ll be like?   Writing is fascinating business.

 

Mnemosyne & Ben December 26, 2011

Filed under: Grace Awakening,Mythology,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 2:59 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Here is a snippet of ‘something yet to be.’ I think it will end up in Grace Awakening Myth, but it will tell me for certain in its own time. The author has very little say in these matters.  Characters have their own agendas.   Lethe is the river of forgetfulness from which humans drink before they pass into the underworld. The personification of the river is the goddess Lethe herself.  ‘She’  is Mnemosyne, goddess of memory.  ‘He’ is… uh…well.  Ben.  Sort of.

**************

She remembers all, of course. She must. It is her talent and her obligation. It is her blessing and her curse. Everything is in balance, an essential paradox poised on the point of a pin.

He doesn’t remember everything.  Whatever he sees in those longing backward glances, Mnemosyne knows the two sided blade. She has gifted him with the joy of them, but she has blessed him with Lethe’s touch as well. Of course, he has no memory of that.

He senses the tragedies though, despite the lack of memory.  He feels the ephemeral pain of loss, rejection, disdain and disgust.  He clings to the fear of them, to fuel his pursuit, but they threaten to overwhelm him at times.  It was doing so now.  She could feel the force of her presence stirring memories in him.

A faint hum stirred the air along with a cool, gentle scent.  Mnemosyne reached behind her to a goblet that had materialized there.  She touched his shoulder, “Here, son.  Drink.”

He smiled vaguely, sipping down the draught.  He nodded gratefully, and she felt the tension leave him  as he gazed beyond the room.  “I must go.”

She nodded.  “I will do what I can from here.”

“Thank you.”

As he turned into the ether, she smiled to herself.  “Thank you, Lethe,” she said to the empty room, and heard the distant  melodious chuckle in response.

Paradox indeed.

 

Mnemosyne December 20, 2011

Filed under: Mythology — Shawn L. Bird @ 2:01 pm
Tags: , ,

I’ve been thinking about memory.  That’s Mnemosyne’s area of responsibility.  My father is in hospital and when we visit, he is spending a lot of time with her.  Stories are told and re-told.  Stories of youth.  Of working days.  Of love.  Of betrayal.  It’s our stories that reveal what is important about us.

Mnemosyne saves the certain moments for us.  Why?  Do you sometimes savour a moment, specifically for the purpose of holding it?  Do you look at a gathering of loved ones, and feel yourself snapping a mental picture that you know will remain with you forever?  It becomes a picture that only you have.  It will alter, too.  You’ll colour it, crumple it, re-imagine it, until the image serves a purpose you want it for.

Is it a catalyst? A purpose?  A dream? An anchor?

Mnemosyne wraps us in the security of our past, and at her best she strengthens and guides us.

Memories can torture and claw though, as well.  They can hold us back in fear as much as push us forward.

We can mire in nostalgia and lose our present when Mnemosyne has too much power in our lives.

 

 

getting it October 12, 2011

I was impressed with OneMinuteBooks’ review of Grace Awakening for a couple of specific reasons. Of course, I like that she’s enthusiastic in her praise, but specifically, I love that she GETS it.

She understands that since Grace is the narrator, the reader has only as much information as Grace does. (Well, they get a little more, as they get to peek in on those 3rd person mythic realm dialogues that Grace doesn’t know about). Yes. This is confusing. Yes. This was intentional.  Yes.  This means you are Grace, in all her confusion.

I like that the reviewer gets the mythical allusions, and understands the purpose behind not telling the reader straight out. Yes. You’re supposed to be smart enough to be able to look this up yourself (with the help of the glossary at the back).  Yes. I expect that you are smart enough to figure out that there is another story happening, beyond the one that Grace knows about.   Congratulations on discovering the puzzle pieces that Grace doesn’t understand!   Reading between the lines and interpreting the additional clues take skill!  Grace hasn’t figured it out.  I’m glad when readers can!  😀

Once upon a time I was told “Grace Awakening is Twilight for intelligent girls.” I think this is true. Most people will get the surface story, but there is a lot more at play here than is apparent on the surface. It makes me happy when someone not only gets it, but actually appreciates that it’s there.

Followers of Athena, I salute you! This book was written for you!

Thanks Amanda for understanding what Grace is all about.  After a couple of weird reviews this week when I suspected the reviewers hadn’t actually read the book, this gave me faith in the process again.  Not everyone will get it, or like it, but there are more out there who do!

To read the OneMinuteBooks review visit here.

 

 
%d bloggers like this: