Monday, January 31, 2011

Ferhat Göçer

I was watching American Idol the other night and a Harvard grad/White House intern belted out some lovely lyrics. She's beautiful too. Tall and skinny, long blonde hair...guys better line up for this girl. (But you're too intimidated, I know! Excuses...)  My point...some people are lucky in more ways than one.
Ferhat Göçer is another one of those people. If I need to be sick, I want him to be my doctor, because the sound of his voice would just make it all better!

A little bio about him:

He was born in Sanliurfa (way out in eastern Anatolia, off the radar so-to-speak). He graduated from Istanbul University with a medical degree and went back to Sanliurfa for his residency. When he finished, he headed to Istanbul as a surgeon at Haydarpasa Hospital. Not bad for a kid out of Sanliurfa, I tell you.

But he also has a degree from the State Conservatoire for his voice. His style blends east and west, with folk music playing a big part in his work. In October 2005, he released his first album, showcasing his special blend. I'm happy to say I was able to buy his latest on iTunes.

I've got all of his music. In fact, one of his songs was on my playlist for Burnt Amber. I'll translate the lyrics, because I can't find a good one anywhere:

Cennet - Heaven

What's it to me, if the world ends
If it's going to end, let this road of life come to an end
I have no fear, inside I'm full of satisfaction
I lived love with you for a lifetime
Even the lines on my face are named after you
You are the reason for every breath
If I come back to this world my love
I will look for you and find you again
I wouldn't trade heaven for one strand of your hair
I'll love you as long as my life allows

Ferhat gocer - cennet
Uploaded by sayit. - Explore more music videos.

It's a little tricky translating the specific turns of phrase he used, like living love, but I hope you get the idea. (If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, I have a widget and this song is there too.)

And that part about coming back to this world to find her...yeah...that's Haydon :)

In this, case the lyrics happened to fit my story, but sometimes it's the other way around.  Are there specific lyrics that inspire you to write? Or do you just use the sentiments from a song?

In the housekeeping department...
The new blog schedule is M-W-F, posting at 6 am. :)

See you Wednesday!

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Shahmeran-> Melusine-> Nixie

Se7enImage by NURETTIN MERT AYDIN via Flickr
Today I'm over at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment (Q3E) with Matt Rush, and since some of you may be popping over from there, I thought I'd show off the kind of stuff I love: World Folklore. I say "world" because every society has a version of the tale you thought you knew. I like to find the connections between them all, and my favorites have Eastern Roots.

Shahmeran really belongs on a Wednesday with the other goddesses, but I thought I'd roll her into a post about Tarsus and it's historic sites. That's where she's supposed to live, in a cave not far from the city. There are also blood stains in the Roman bath that belong to her. Fair enough? (That's the cave up there on the right.)

Important notes:
  • Shah = queen & Meran = snake
  • The Shahmeran is a beautiful woman who is a snake from the waist down. Forever young, she is the queen of the snakes, wise and benevolent with healing powers. She passes her powers down to her daughter when she dies.
So the story of the Shahmeran goes like this:

The Meran are a peaceful lot, and wish to live in their watery caves without interference from the outside world. But one day a young man named Cansab falls into a well (or a cave, depending on which story you follow). He can't get back out, so the Meran take mercy on him and allow him to stay with them.
Cansab constantly wants to return home, so Shahmeran finally agrees. She warns him to stay away from the baths, because his skin will turn to scales and reveal that he has been with the Meran. Cansab also promises to keep the way to the Meran cave a secret. Which of course, he can't.

The Shah of the people (or whatever else you want to call the guy in charge) falls ill, and someone mentions that the Shameran is the cure. All the citizens are draggged to the bath, one by one, to find out who knows the Meran secrets. (Apparently, the turning-into-a-snake-when-you-touch-water thing wasn't one of the secrets.) Cansab avoids being captured for a long time, but eventually he's found out and "persuaded" to reveal the location of Shahmeran's cave.

The Shahmeran is killed in a battle at the roman bath (which his why her blood stains the walls there still) and then she's cut into three pieces. The first piece is given to the vizier who hatched the evil plan. He is poisoned by it and dies, but the second piece is given to the Shah and he is healed. As a reward, Cansab is given the third piece and he becomes incredibly wise. The Shah makes Cansab the new vizier.

And no snake alive doesn't know this story, so that's why they bite people.

When I visited Tarsus, I didn't see the bath, but I did visit a cave. Supposedly, the Seven Sleepers were buried alive in it. But I tell's the cave of Shahmeran. Why do I think that? Several reasons:
  1. There's another Seven Sleepers cave near Ephesus, and it's more likely to be from the correct time period for that story.
  2. There are trees outside the cave in Tarsus covered in prayers. You know, little strips of cotton tied to the branches. (This one in Cappadocia is plastered with wishes.) Lots of girls tie one on for protection.
  3. The cave is supposed to heal whatever ails you, which is what the Shahmeran was known for.
  4. There a story about someone who fell down into the cave and couldn't get out. Might that be Cansab?
  5. It feels kind of damp in the cave, like there's water somewhere down at the bottom. Just right for a Meran hideout. There are lots of underground springs feeding the rivers in the area.
So what does this have to do with Melusine and a Nixie? Full circles.

Well, it's a long story, but it starts with Mersin (near Tarsus, btw). That's where my DH is from and I lived there for a while. The town has a Deniz Kizi (mermaid) story that I researched a bit, without success. But then I started to write the tale of KizKalesi and stumbled on Melusine of Lusignan, France, because my MC's mother was a Lusignan. (I tracked some geneology. Crusaders came from Western Europe, you see.)

Melusine was human most of the time. She was wise and beautiful, and her noble husband adored her. But one day a week, she bathed and reverted to nixie form. (Kind of like Cansab did when he was forced to take a bath, see?) She forbade her husband to see her on that day, but he peeked and she freaked. (In some tales she turns into a dragon.) Then she hopped back into her river and was never seen again. (She must have known what happened to Shahmeran!)

Melusine had a double tail, but her namesake may have been Byzantine. In fact, her namesake may have been from Armenian Cilicia, specifically from the capital city of Tarsus. (Bingo!) Like my favorite post on goddess culture, the stories intertwine. And you know that story spinning stuff that starts rolling in your head....but I'm not going there. I'm working on the djinn. (But I do have one character named Melisende. Couldn't resist!)


Related Articles:

Starbucks with a shot of Byzantine

Some famous Nixies:

you know where this came from!

In churches across Europe
@St-Pierre de Bessuéjouls
Sirene of Warsaw

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Message in a Bottle

Moshe Bursuker via

Did I say I was giving up Thursday posts? That was my evil twin. I can't seem to stay away....

So here we go: Stylish Blogger Award below!

I'm over at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment (Q3E) with Matt Rush today and tomorrow. He's posted my craptastic query for constructive criticism. Please head over there and let me know what you think. I know it's too long, (aka my shortened synopsis) and it feels plot driven. However, underneath all that is a story with an amazing theme of the MC finding her place in the two worlds....I just need to find the query muse so I can let it out! Anybody seen her lately?

What's all this got to do with Message in a Bottle? (Genie not included!)

Querying feels like I'm on a desert island...tossing a query into the sea and hoping for a response...and guess what ...a hundred million castaway queries are looking for a home! I wanted to get the lyrics up here, but then I found this amazing clip for Guitar Hero. The song expresses my anxiety pretty well. Trying to keep up with the darn buttons in this game illustrates it even better! LOL. Ahh! Demented laughter. I'm really going over the edge. :D

And, as a friend pointed out to me the other day, the Kevin Costner movie Message in Bottle is awesome too. Rent it, if you haven't already.

I also have some housekeeping today:

Deniz Bevan gave me the Stylish Blogger award the other day and I need to:
  • Thank and link back to the person who awarded me this award.
  • Share seven things about myself
  • Award a recently discovered great blogger(s)
  • Contact the blogger(s) and tell them about the award
So here goes:

  1. You might have guessed, if you follow me enough, that Sting is my absolute favorite musician. I could listen to him 24/7.
  2. When I lived in CT, I had an amazing English garden. Here in NC, red clay and drought thwart my every effort. I miss my Casablanca lillies! (They're my favorite flower.) Does this count as two things?
  3. My last name is Snow Abiad and that translates to Snow White. And I write anti-princess stories. the irony does not escape me...
  4. My high school French teacher, Ms. Cassidy, used to call me La Neige. I almost used the name for my blog, but I wasn't sure people would get the meaning. Maybe I'll create a fun little signature for the bottom of each post. What do you think?
  5. My favorite color has always been turquoise. Now it reminds me of the Mediterranean. Apparently, that is the only thing I share with Grace Kelly. :D
  6. I don't like fresh ginger. That's the only flavor I can't have in my food, so Thai is out for me! I do like ginger ale though.
  7. I guess you already know...I love ruins. The acanthus an artisan coaxed out of the stone centuries ago, waiting for me to touch it and connect. The hidden history, waiting for me to rediscover it. The potential for a great story to unfold in my head!
And finally, I pass the Stylish Blogger award on to:

Sarah Fine at The Strangest Situation.

If you haven't stopped by her blog yet, her specialty is psychology and YA lit. Must read stuff there, I tell you!

 Yes? No?
 Think I need to work on the size....

(Btw...Roni Loren is also hosting a contest for a query crit from Anita Mumm of the Nelson Agency.)

Related articles
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Cover of "Behemoth (Leviathan)"Cover of Behemoth (Leviathan) Today I'm switching gears from parallel worlds to another of my favorites: alternate history.

Scott Westerfield's Behemoth is the latest installment of his Leviathan series. My son gobbled them both up over the holidays, and last week I did too.

Here's the blurb from Amazon:

The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.

Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan's peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.

Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what's ahead.

The Leviathan series is set in a steampunk version of World War II Europe and Westerfield came up with a clever way to trick kids into some more history with his cast. Darwinists genetically engineer fantastical animals, but Clankers opt for fantastical robotic creations. Resistance to Darwin's ideas and the feminist theme (girl posing as a boy, etc.) are a great introduction to issues of the period that are so relevant, even today.

I really liked Leviathan, but I was kind of upset the map in the book had Constantinople written over Istanbul, even if it was an aside. I gave Westerfield the benefit of the doubt and he surpassed my expectations in every way. Much of Behemoth is set in Istanbul, not Constantinople, and he explains the reasoning behind the name confusion. He also did his homework on the various ethnic groups living in the city at that time... Levantines, Armenians and Jews. A robotic djinn and a Kurdish snake goddess are thrown in for good measure. (LOVE that! Separate post about her later. ;)) Cultural references are so effortlessly made that I can't wait for the next installment, which is probably going to be set in Japan.

I should also mention the amazing drawings. Hugo Cabret is my all time favorite, but this series really grabs my attention. The pages of the book are stark white, providing contrast to the intricate charcoal drawings by Keith Thompson.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

International Romance - Corsica

Sadly, this is the last post in the International Romance series. I've really enjoyed hosting these amazing women and I learned some interesting and fun things about each one. If you missed the previous posts, be sure to read the adventures of Nicole Ducleroir in Africa, Katie Mills in France, and Jessica Bell in Greece!  Today we have the lovely Joanna St. James (bottom right) - live from Corsica...

Turning Weirdness into a Resource

First of all, thank you Carolyn for having me over at your blog today. I am deeply humbled to be in such great company; now everyone bend in and listen close to me story.

By blood I am a Nomad, with artistic license I can now say I have wanderlust just like Jack Kerouac. When the hubs got a job offer in Corsica, I jumped at the opportunity, before he could blink twice or accept the job offer I quit my job and pulled out my trusty old notepad, the writer in me had gone all tingly.

Before moving to Corsica, my stories had been set in Iowa or in a fictional town called Whisper. I needed some more zing in my settings than Iowa cornfields had to offer, so off to Corsica I went and you have to agree its beautiful and inspiring.

I live right by the Mediterrenean sea and it turns at least three different kinds of blue every day, in the morning its more of an emerald blue, in the afternoon its more of a real blue and in the evening it turns into an amazing shade of purple. I have ledges and rocks where fictional characters can fall to their deaths if I were so inclined. I have a billion watch towers, beautiful flowers, villas and when I need glam, royalty or fast cars, the Principality of Monaco is just a flight or ferry ride away.

Even better yet, I have learnt a lot from the people, and yes Mediterrenean guys are HAWT! The girls are not so bad either but am just gonna go back to my mediterrenean hotties; passionate men amazing with babies, olive skin, perfect dressers and I have not found any with a bad tushie either, and if these don't float your boat, we always have the Frenchmen to fall back on - always arrogantly good looking, in a maddening way (ask creepyquerygirl - she's got her a hottie like that at home).

The unexpected bonus for me has been the passion in the people here; for a Brit seeing guys kiss everyone - even strangers - passionately twice on the cheek was very inspiring for me. They have taught me a lot about passion here. It's very common to see couples arguing with raised voices in public and no one even raises an eyebrow because they still sound all lovey dovey in the midst of it all.

So here is how a typical, passionate, lovey dovey heated argument goes - and I just go by their body language because my French or Italian is not good enough to decipher the accent most of the time: The woman is all sulky and attention seeking. She raises her voice but that pout is always present - you can tell she is still trying to look cute. The guy is arguing back but he does it in a dejected tone because he knows he cannot win, he is just arguing with her so she gets her much needed attention. He eventually gives up and throws his hands up in the air; she smiles and they continue moving - he has just given her the one thing she wants.

That is the kind of passion I want to leap off of my pages.

Joanna St. James

Thanks, Joanna! I am so jealous you get to live next to that amazing water! (And I wish I could pout and shout at the mall without a million people staring at me!) Here's a visual for everyone to drool over:

Calvi, Corsica via Wikipedia 

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Monday, January 24, 2011


via Wikipedia
 There are lots of choices for getting around Istanbul. You can stroll through the old markets, grab a Taksi (no x in Turkish) back to your hotel, catch a tram and head to the next museum on your list, or hop on a Vapur ferry heading across the Bosphorus. Bus lines crisscross the neighborhoods and there are a couple of metro lines too, slowly expanding under the city. (Digging through all those layers of history takes a long time. Workers have to stop to catalog archeological finds every few minutes! I'll do a separate post on Friday.) If you're brave and want to rent a car, make sure it's an automatic. You don't want to roll back down the steep streets.

Another affordable option is the Dolmuş. Tourists might not like to cram into a crowded minibus, but locals find it the easiest way to get anywhere fast - all across Turkey. Most people without cars, and even those who do, use the dolmus every day.

Unlike a taxi, the dolmuş has a determined route, but will stop at any corner you choose. There are maps available of the larger minibus routes, but the smaller ones basically work like this...

Wait at the corner until one stops, or try to flag one down if they don't see you. Ask the boy where he's headed. (There's usually a boy hanging halfway out the side door who handles fares and passengers). Hop on, and tell the boy when to stop.

Today's dolmuş is a boxy minibus, but it wasn't always that way. Up until the 70s, Istanbul was full of old American cars filling the role. You could fit a lot of people in the backseat of a DeSoto! Climbing out must have been fun though.

via Food Vagabond

You should really visit Ayak for an amusing first-hand story about the village dolmuş! Thanks for the link, Ayak! :)

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Tale of the Ranunculus

via Jane.siet @ Flickr
It's been a while since I've written about Flora and Fauna, and the spring flower catalogs are getting me in the mood for blooming colorful stuff! So, I thought I'd tell you my Tale of the Ranunculus.

This story is from the days when my Turkish wasn't so great, so you'll have to forgive the fill-ins. I don't remember why we were headed up to the mountains that afternoon either, but my inlaws loaded us into the back of their car. DH and I settled in for a ride. 

The side of the road was scattered with small, stuccoed homes, all faded to a washed out beige by the strong Mediterranean sun and covered in grey dust from passing traffic. The real scenery was further out, in the foothills around us.

I was focused on the silver glimmer of faraway olive groves when the Romork tractor pulled out in front of us. My father-in-law clicked his cheek, as if he was calming his horse, and downshifted to accomodate the farmer. A few cars were winding down the opposite side of the road, so we waited for them to pass. We were about to cross into the other lane when my mother-in-law demanded we stop instead. (We always did what she said.)

A few minutes later, we were reversing to a village house surrounded by a low, concrete block wall. No one had bothered to stucco the wall and along the top, someone had assembled a collection of old olive oil cans. A sight hardly worth stopping for. 

My mother-in-law got out and purposefully went over to one of the cans. A curious face poked through a curtained window and then quickly reappeared to welcome us at the wall.

Here I'll paraphrase:

MIL: What a lovely flower this is!
The ruffled, blood-red bloom barely lifted it's head over the top of the can, but my sharp-eyed MIL had seen it when we passed at 30 mph.
Peasant: Thank you! It's a (I don't remember what she called it!).
MIL: Where did you get it?
Peasant: (I got the gist that it was a wildflower.) You're welcome to take this one!
She flashed a toothless smile at all of us and we were on our way, rusty, yellow can in hand.

I felt sad taking the only spot of color from that woman's world. It was my first lesson in "don't admire it too much, because they'll give it to you." But the peasant woman's smile and generosity have stayed with me long after the flower died, so maybe she had the right idea.

In the language of flowers, ranunculus symbolizes radiant charm. It belongs to the buttercup family and does grow wild. It's also poisonous to livestock, so I wonder if the woman was weeding her fields as she potted them up for herself. I'm sure she never guessed I'd be writing a blog post about her all these years later!

Anyone else have a buttercup story to tell?
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ghost Words

via kristinjustice @ Flickr

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

I read a terrible, can't-believe-people-read-this-stuff genre novel (which shall remain nameless) last week. It was full of sterotypes and poor descriptions. But as with every book, I found a great passage. The scene tied into the above verse, and it hit me two ways.


Been wishing I could recall some of my words lately, but no luck. Those three queries I sent last week? Wasted. Two Rs and the other says 4-6 weeks before I'll hear some more silence. Got a twisted feeling in my gut. You know, the one that makes you want to hurl. Maybe the MS wasn't right for them, but then again, my query stinks.

I suppose it's because I spent the last year working on my MS, and not enough time working on the query. Guess I'm trigger happy now. But thanks to my writer friends (Matt and Leigh), I realized my mistake before I was too deep in words of no return. We all learn, but I've also got plenty of doubts about the MS lingering upstairs with the rest of my demons. No amount of tears will bring the queries move I on. My new task is simple: SIMPLIFY.


In this day of digital cuts and deletions, words can be cancelled from the record, wiped from the hard drive, etc. (Especially when you want to preserve them, it seems!) But Omar Khayyam speaks the truth too. I see it with my own scenes. I write them, edit them, and somehow when a beta reads them...some of those original words manage to reveal themselves. My "ghost words" come back as little blue edits or red comment bubbles, safely restored to me in the margins. Aaaaand we're back to the Multiverse idea.... Two roads...ahh...that's another poet!


A Ghost Word is a word suggestive of a non-existent opposite. Wikipedia example: Aftermath = Beforemath

Wikipedia also says: A ghost word is a word that has been published in a dictionary, or has been adopted as genuine, as the result of misinterpretation or a typographical error.

The most famous example in English (and many other languages) is "scapegoat" which is a mistranslation of the word Azazel (In Hebrew: עזאזל) originated by William Tyndale in his 1530 Bible, and appropriated in the King James Version of the Bible (Leviticus chapter 16) in 1611. Confounded by the word, Tyndale had interpreted Azazel as ez ozel - literally, "the goat that departs"; hence "(e)scape goat." According to the Talmud, Yoma 67b, Azazel is a contraction of az (harsh) and eil (strong) and refers to the most rugged of mountains. This identification is supported by Rashi, the great Medieval grammarian, who interpreted Azazel to be the name of a specific mountain or cliff over which the goat was driven[1]. According to R.H. Charles, it was called so for its reputation as the holding place of the fallen angel of the same name[2]. Modern scholars generally reject Tyndale's interpretation and favor one related to a fallen angel/evil demon interpretation. Today in modern Hebrew Azazel is used derogatorily, as in lekh la-Azazel ("go to Azazel"), as in "go to hell".

Every book has something worth remembering! What new ideas did you pick up from your last read? :)

Speaking of Ghost words...I'm changing the blog schedule, so there's no post on Thursdays. I'm fixing a query, starting to outline another WIP, and running out of steam! Plus, I figure I'll actually have some time to visit other blogs more often!
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

International Romance - Greek Sojourn

Welcome to the third week of International Romance! Nicole Ducleroir and Katie Bell have already left us some interesting stories and this week we have Jessica Bell (bottom left). Here's a little introduction:

Jessica Bell is an Australian who lives in Athens, Greece, and writes literary women's fiction and poetry. Her debut novel, String Bridge, is scheduled to be published by Lucky Press LLC, in late 2011. She makes a living as a freelance writer/editor of global English Language Teaching materials for Pearson Education, Hellenic American Union, Macmillan Education, Cengage Learning and Education First. A list of other publications can be seen on her website, She posts four days a week on her blog

Ok, my post is going to be a little different. I’m not going to talk about my love for my partner (though I do love him to bits); I’m going to talk about my love for Greece.
I travelled back and forth from Melbourne, Australia, to Greece between the ages of two and twenty, until I moved here permanently at 21, almost ten years ago. For some reason my heart has been here all my life. And though the country has given me much bureaucratic grief, I still can’t bring myself to leave. Here’s how it all started …
When I was about six years old, arriving to the Greek island where my grandparents lived was like stepping foot into an enchanted pop-up fairytale book. At dawn, especially, it was a Never land of lush luminescent green mountain, deep purple sea, sherbet orange sky and sharp-toothed cliffs so high you could literally walk on clouds — a much needed change from falling asleep on a vibrating carpeted floor that reeked of old amplifier wheel grease and waking up to cigarette smoke wafting through ducted heating vents. My parents were musicians.
The island’s windy mountainous roads are framed with olive groves and air so crisp you can snap it like celery. The houses are stained with whitewash and embedded with old-style stiff wooden shutters, tailored by the locals to keep the summer swelter out. They are painted blue, red, or green, but occasionally you may come across the odd pink or orange shutters, which are more often than not inhabited by the eccentric barmy type who are color-blind, or the young and loaded foreigner who believes an island revolution should be in order.
Goats meander about the streets, butting each other’s heads senselessly, as they try to escape oncoming cars and motorcycles. The roosters, chickens, and geese fire up the locals at the first sign of sunrise. Birds chirp, cicadas “jijiga” in the olive trees, and dogs bark as the bread truck, a red beat-up Ute, delivers fresh hot bread to each residence and slips the required amount of loaves into hand-made cloth bags hanging from wire fencing.
Summer on this island engraves your skin with a longing to spend sunrise to sunset lying on a small, empty, white-pebbled beach in a secluded cove at the end of a private dirt walking track. At midday, it gets so hot you need to wade through heat waves rising from the unevenly tarred road like kindred spirits before you can wade in the Ionian to cool off — a flat, motionless oil bath which glows with an infinite turquoise glint. Although it may seem you are stepping into velvet, however, you emerge covered in a thin salty crust which you can brush off like sand when it dries.
Most folks have a siesta between two and five in the afternoon, so there isn’t much to do except wander the streets and explore. By about six p.m. the sun still reads midday, and the waterfront cafés fill with shouting teenagers drinking frappé. And there they stay until it’s time to return home, quickly scarf down some homemade mousaka, and get dressed to party until seven the next morning.
By about ten p.m. the sun hides behind a mountain of shrubby arid terrain, and the cool edge to the air is relieving. At the mountain’s topmost peak, a silhouette of an Orthodox church can be seen, accompanied by a soundtrack of owls and crickets. At this time of day mosquitoes congregate for their evening feasts. Shepherds’ voices echo through the valley while their goats’ bells jingle as they steer along their hot dusty trails back home.
In the morning, when glittering sunlight made patterns on my wall through the thin slats of my bedroom shutters, my mother would make me Vegemite toast. I’d eat on the verandah, without a plate, propped up on a whitewashed ledge full of tacky red plastic buckets, where my Nona would hand-wash our laundry. Dad would play guitar in the garden, and mum would sing along as if she were the happiest person alive. Papou would tend to his veggie patch, and as soon as I’d finish my toast, I’d probe the olive trees for camouflaged cicadas.
At night I would ask Papou to play cards with me on the wobbly kitchen table covered in clay brown checkered laminate which matched the wrinkly brown-orange lino floor. We’d sit by the wood-fire oven to use it as a side-table for our flat orangeades.
Papou would show me his clever shuffling tricks with his sun-spotted trembling hands and I would smile and nod at his mumbling despite hardly ever understanding what he said. My father later said he often told stories about the earthquake that initiated the mass migration to Melbourne in 1953.
However, I do recall one instant when I’d understood what he said. It was one afternoon before going for siesta that Papou and I sat together in the lounge room for a while. I was flipping through old photo albums as he picked up the newspaper and sat in his faded maroon armchair facing the window. I glanced up for a second to see him looking from side to side and then patting his shirt pockets.
“They’re on your head,” I said.
His eyes lit up as he removed his reading glasses from his balding and scratched head (from consistently knocking it against the wine cellar entrance), put them on his nose, and said as if he had been touched by an angel, “How you know? How you know what I look for? My God, my God, you have gift!”
At six years old, of course, I believed him, until my mother explained I had just used common sense. At least she’d made me feel intelligent instead of crushing the novelty of possibly being psychic.
I’ll never forget the day my father returned from spear-fishing one morning and had brought home a massive live sea creature as big as his head, thinking it was just an empty shell.
We all gathered on the verandah to take a closer look at the twenty-centimeter thick monster that slowly emerged from its shell like a slimy skinless muscular arm. It was bright red with purple veins and a slippery transparent membrane. But Nona suspected it was a local delicacy and promptly ‘prepared’ it for the grill. She put it in the washing machine. To tenderize. The whole house stank of dead fish for weeks, and thank God the washing machine was never used for its intended purpose. Most of the time it just sat, unplugged, by the toilet as an ‘asset’.
It turns out the creature was deadly. If its poison hadn’t been sucked out during its two-hour cycle in the washing machine, Papou and Nona would have been poisoned to death!

So as you can see, I have plenty to write about. My memories are endless. A lifetime of writing inspiration. And that’s what I love about it the most. This country makes me want to write! Thanks for reading!

Thanks, Jessica!

Don't forget to join us next week for Joanna St. James!
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Monday, January 17, 2011

Turkish Farmer's Markets

Farmers' MarketImage by NatalieMaynor via FlickrSo here's another difference between Turkey and the US.

In Turkey, I visited my neighborhood pazar (farmer's market) once a week. A local street closed down and farmer's hoisted their colorful tarps, tents and cloth umbrellas over their crates of veggies. The smell was intoxicating. Fresh herbs mixed with tomato, cucumber and melons...Oh, those melons were the best I'd ever eaten in my entire life! Vine ripe was not a term used lightly. Everything tasted like you grew it in the backyard.

I expected to get a deal there, versus the higher prices found in the supermarket chains like Migros. If I missed my pazar, I could always stop at the one across town the next day. I brought my market tote, which never went out of style in Turkey, btw.  I'd fill it up with fabulous fresh produce, maybe some köy yumurta (village eggs) with yolks the color of ripe apricots, and walked away happy as a lark with more than enough food for the week. The idea was, the farmer had cut out the middle man, so I got more for my money.

It's a different story here. On Saturday mornings I have to get up at the crack of dawn and fight the crowd for a two dollar organic tomato. My local farmer's market here is quaint, with small white wooden stalls and local musicians to match. But if you're later than 9 o'clock, it's slim pickins, and the eggs are way expensive. If I miss the early shift there, I can always go to the regional farmer's market, which is open more days than just the one, but stocks less "beautiful" stuff in the steel building near the airport. I can also get some pretty decent eggs at Harris Teeter for less. Where's the fun in that? Sometimes I just say "bah humbug" to it all and head to Trader Joe's.

I can't really blame the farmers here though. Land is expensive, so they don't have the same efficiencies of scale that a farmer in Turkey still has. And even though I know the farmer's market here is expensive, I get excited when a new one opens. And I still get up on Saturday mornings to fight the crowd and support their lifestyle. After all, if I keep going, they'll keep farming.
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Blue Plate Special

A new, base model Honda Accord costs about $50,000 USD in Turkey today. That's pretty steep compared to what I can get it for here in NC. The car isn't any different, but each country has a different tax schedule and the result is less car for your money in a lot of locales, not just Turkey. I've a client who says he paid $90,000 for a Honda Odyssey in Singapore recently. No wonder the rest of the world drives small cars, right?

So what does that have to do with Blue Plates?

In Turkey, an expat can get around the tax. Sort of. If you bring a car in and intend to take it back out with you, then you can get blue plates. Mavi Plaka they call it. I call it: Stop that driver and see if she has any Marlboros...but that's another post. I'm a foreigner, so techically I can import a car, go through (a million) hoops and mayhaps get away with paying less than the dealer MSRP in Istanbul. Well...let's just say hindsight is 20/20.

I put my 3 month old Acura on a boat and picked it up at the seaport in Turkey. Then it got interesting. I was an expat, but I was married to a Turk and apparently that was a problem, even though the car was in my name. I couldn't get blue plates. I couldn't get yellow temporary plates. I had to import the car and then get white ones. Just get divorced, says the attorney. Ha! I drove around with (blue) CT plates and no one asked me why.

Six + months of headache and miles of red tape later, I got the priviledge of paying my tax to the Turkish government and went to get my plates. According to the logic, they should be white because I paid the tax, right? Well, no. I got blue ones.

And wouldn't you know...we moved to Abu Dhabi shortly after.
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Thursday, January 13, 2011

What's in Your Basement?

First of all, I wish I HAD a basement. Here in the south, we're on a crawlspace because the frostline isn't very deep. (I really miss the storage space.)

My old house had one. It was an 1875 Victorian gothic farmhouse and while we were restoring it, I was always on the lookout for neat old stuff left behind by previous owners. All I found was a small silver letter opener and a couple of rusty nails.

In Turkey, a basement can hide more interesting wellheads attached to a network of secret underground cisterns, teaming with carp. Not unusual for Istanbul, but even cisterns don't take the top spot of amazing basement artifacts.

I was reading my Hurriyet Daily News the other day and I came across this:

"The Roman-era city of Germenicia was unearthed by chance during an illegal excavation in the basement of a house."


OK. So what they really mean is someone noticed mosaics in their basement and they wanted to see what the rest of the pretty pictures looked like. A few eminent domain rulings later, and Turkey has another historic site to visit.

Related Articles

Mosaics found in SE Turkey lead to unearthing of ancient Roman city (
Germanicia Found? (
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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Assassin's Creed

Santa drops off all kinds of fun things about this time of year, and with teen boys in the house, PS3 games are king. My boys can't wait to tear into a new game and defeat it in no time flat.

But I confess. I'm addicted to Ezio too. So much that I even put up with all the glytches in Assassin's Creed 3 - Brotherhood. But shortcuts like pasting code from a similar spot, over and over and over again...I can't really overlook those. (Reminder: Avoid repetition like the plague in my own storylines.)

Before I go off on a rant...I should tell you Assassin's Creed 2- Bloodlines was the best game I've played in a while. And when I say "played" - I mean watched and directed my beloved to "turn left, turn left, TURN LEFT!!!!" while I hopped up and down on the couch. (He doesn't appreciate the excitement. Says it makes him stressed out and he can't concentrate. *snicker* OK, enough amusing myself here at his expense.) I have no gaming skills whatsoever, but I help figure out what to do next when it isn't immediately obvious. The boys on the other hand...they've been there, done that, and it's Spoilerville whenever they're in the room.

You won't catch me playing Call of Duty, or other shoot-em-up games, (Well, I did play Metal Gear Solid 4), so why am I playing AC (and all sorts of Uncharted, Red Dead Redemption, etc.)? It's the REALLY COOL storyline!

MC accesses his ancestor's memories through his own DNA and, with an Animus (I'll write a whole post about the Animus aka time traveling/parallel universe later), relives them to find clues to a present-day dillema. World domination conflict in two flavors. And the international settings are the kicker. (My Pomegranate tie-ins for today.)

AC1 is set in Jerusalem during the Third Crusade, AC2 and 3 are in Renaissance Italy. The main objective is to find the Piece of Eden and your opponents are operatives of the Knights Templar. All in all, it's some very nice historical fiction. I've picked up interesting ideas from each of these games, and sometimes my boys will refer to them if I'm stuck writer's block.

At the dinner table...

ME: I wonder if there's such a thing as blue amber?
SON: There is. The Cintemani Stone (Uncharted).
ME: Oh, yeah!

I got a couple of gems from that conversation, actually. (Totally LOVE Cintemani! It's going places, I tell you.)

The powerful Borgia family is the enemy in AC3. Here's the short trailer:

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

International Wives

It's nowhere near Valentines Day yet, but International Romance is in the air! Sorry for the cliché, but I have to say - I LOVE these stories! I wish there were more than four weeks in January, because there are a lot more faces that could grace these pages... If you missed Nicole Ducleroir last week, you should really read hers, and of course next week we'll have Jessica Bell.

This week, as promised, we have Katie Mills, aka Creepy Query Girl (top right) sharing her story in signature fun style. She's an American writer, teacher, and mother living in France. Here's her blogger profile, in case you haven't had the good fortune to find her before:

I used to be a normal married mother of three. Then I finished my first book in january 2009 and slowly transformed into the creepy query girl. Now in my spare time I'm tracking literary agents' every move. On the internet. Not like, outside their windows with binoculars......yet.

And here's her story!

When you imagine a young woman spending her first year in Paris, you’d think she’d fall in with some skinny, pointy shoed, slick-haired smoker named ‘Luc’ or ‘Pierre’.

And truth be told, I did go out with a few of those types in the first months I spent abroad. But since I have an aversion to men with girly hands, it was doomed from the start.

One day, while walking home from one of my (many many) French classes, an American classmate mentioned his rock group was looking for a female vocalist. I offered to audition since I grew up surrounded by musicians and missed performing.

Jean-Christophe or ‘JC’ (pronounced Jee Say) was the drummer for the group. He didn’t look like any of the other French guys I’d dated. Actually he could have passed for an NFL linebacker.

I can’t say it was all stars and fireworks upon our first meeting. He didn’t think the group needed a female vocalist, especially a little blond American chick who looked about as hard-rock as a well groomed poodle.

He handed me the mic without a word. Okay maybe one word.

He said “Sing.”

So I did. Once they realized I could carry a tune alright (I mean, how hard is it really to sing Zombie? I just did my best imitation of a barking dog.), JC had to accept that I might be around to stay. Eventually he loosened up and we became friends.

I discovered after awhile that, despite his name, Jean-Christophe was probably the most American French boy I’d ever met. His favorite movies included ‘Rocky’ somewhere in the title. His favorite restaurant had two golden arches heading the menu. He preferred beer over wine, hated smoke filled rooms and wouldn’t wear pointy shoes if his life depended on it. Being with him was like being home, as strange as that sounds. And now, after eight years of marriage, three kids, and seven years of life in France, I couldn’t imagine a home without him.

The same thing can be said for this ramped love affair I’ve been having with the English language in the last few years.

I always liked to write. I always liked words. But since moving to France, and learning to speak, think and even dream in another language? – Let’s just say it’s given me a whole new outlook on my mother tongue. Like my husband, writing just feels like home. I love that no matter how funky my accent gets, or how much I stutter over English words and phrases I used to be able to spew without a second thought- when I hold my fingers over a keyboard, it all comes rushing back to me.

It’s reassuring to know the words are still there. They don’t hide from me when I’m writing like they do when I’m trying to have a conversation in English after being out of the country for almost three years at a time.

Don’t ask me why this is. It probably has something to do with how the brain functions.

But in any case, if it weren’t for the French language and this beautiful country, I honestly don’t know if writing would be as important or as magical to me as it’s become.

Just like if I hadn’t been surrounded by skinny French guys with girly hands, I might have never been drawn to the six foot, broad shouldered, Franco-shoulda-been-American that went on to become my husband!

Katie and family


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