Those of you who visit my blog often know how much I love travel and other cultures, whether I physically travel to another country, vicariously travel through books or go to local multicultural events. The Sacramento Greek Festival on Labor Day week-end is one such event. I always call it my "free trip to Greece." Above, you can see some of the displays of Greek costumes. This is probably the closest I will get to Greece, but I've always been charmed by it ever since reading and seeing the movie, Zorba. What I am most pulled by is the music. It's so haunting. It lingers in your mind afterwards. Those minor notes . . .
At the Greek Festival, there is also an agora (marketplace) where you can shop for anything from imported clothing, jewelry, art, ceramics, etc. And a little garden shop.
The food is also delicious. (See how contented these diners look?) There are also Greek cooking lessons. Wine and beer are also available, as well. (Where else can you get an intriguing retsina--that resin-flavored wine I really enjoy) than at the festival? And displays are set up to celebrate Greece's history.
A big event each year is when the noted artist, Greg Kondos, shows up. To support the event, Kondos usually donates prints to the Festival to sell; those who buy one can get his autograph. We missed seeing him this year, but we have two autographed prints from other years that have pride of place in our home.
An important feature of the festival is the performance by young people of traditional greek dances--by age group, from elementary school age, middle school, high school, and finally the college group that performs late in the evening, choreographing their own special performance at a facsimile of a Taverna. Unfortunately we didn't stay for this part of the program, as we had to leave early the next morning for a trip we were taking. And pictures we took at earlier festivals print -- digital ones-- got accidentally erase (evil computer problems.) But we have more or less watched a whole generation grow up, advancing from group to group. (We've gone to the festival for about 32 years!)
A live band plays later in the evening, and between sets, Demetre Paraskevas, the DJ and host of the evening ,usually plays taped music while people get out on the dance floor and circle dance, if they know how. If they don't, as the evening wears on, Demetre gives free dance lessons. You can go to the Greek Festival site to see and hear more HERE.
But now I'm coming to the real treat for us this year--a concert by two musicians, one playing the bouzouki, (a Greek stringed instrument that looks somewhat like the Portuguese guitar I've mentioned in earlier posts about Fado) and the other playing an acoustic guitar. Both instruments blend so beautifully.
I've always loved acoustic guitar, but the bouzouki just swept me away, and Rajan as well. We felt so lucky to have come early! The bouzouki player's name is Orestis Koletsos, and he records with his trio, HOLAX. Last Friday he explained to the audience that the bouzouki expresses the soul of the Greek people. I can believe it. There was so much fire, excitement, sadness, happiness, conveyed by turns on this marvelous instrument. I wish I could share the sounds of it right here on the post. The best I can do is send you to his website HERE His trio also includes a violinist. The three instruments together just take you to a different world, and the guitarist, in addition to playing so beautifully, is a fine vocalist as well. You can hear some of their songs on YouTube HERE and HERE. You can also follow Orestis on Facebook HERE.
Check out these sites, including the Greek Festival. I'll close with the one Greek word I know--Opa--which means, I've been told, a great many things. So that, frankly, I'm still not sure what it means. If you can find out, please let me know.
How about you? Are you smitten by travel? Have you always wanted to go to Greece? What is your favorite Greek novel or movie?
Today I am happy to have as my guest Mark Noce, author of the fine historical novel set in post-Arthurian Wales, Between Two Fires. (Last week I review his novel on this blog, and you can re-read the review HERE .)
I was fortunate to be able to read a PDF of the book in advance. I also preordered a copy of the book to have signed and was notified by Amazon that it will arrive tomorrow. (Yay!) For those of you in the Sacramento area, he will be signing books at the Avid Reader at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, September 2nd.
Mark was kind enough to answer some interview questions about his book and his writing process, so I hope you will enjoy learning more about both. After the interview you can read more information from the publisher and also get order information and Mark's contact information. And now . . . here's Mark 1. Between Two Fires is set in sixth-century Wales. How did you get interested in this period? I’m
always interested in any “dark age” period on history. Not just some technologically
backward time or an era where civilization collapses, but an epoch that has
left very little trace for modern historians and archaeologists. As an author,
historical fiction allows me to bridge the gap and extrapolate a little further
than a historian might feel comfortable doing. I love giving life to these time
periods, such as early medieval Wales, where we’ve literally lost the names of
some of the kings and kingdoms, let alone what the common people were doing. My
novel is a small attempt to shed light on the supposed “darkness” of this age.
2. Did you have
to do much research for your story? What kind of sources were available?
certainly did plenty of research, but the clues left behind are few indeed. The
longest piece of text to survive the time period is only a few dozen pages!
Couple that with a few ruins and some oral legends and the trail can go very
cold very quickly indeed. But I find that applying some common sense with what
makes for a good narrative often turns into a complimentary process. Legends
definitely provided plenty of inspiration!
3. Are there any
legends of a strong woman leader in the Celtic Wales of that era?
are hints, for instance, references to a queen who ruled like a man in one
kingdom long after the Romans were gone. Also, many tribal Celtic customs
survived in places like Wales and Cornwall, and they definitely had a
matriarchal bent to them. Goddess worship mixed with concepts of the Holy
Virgin and the Saints, and voila older forms of thought suddenly become
Christianized, but still very much existed. Also the actual Mabinogion legend
of Branwen is set without any firm date in antiquity, simply supposing to have
occurred sometime in the distant past. So as an author, you get a lot of leeway
considering the vagueness of dates and times in the oral legends.
4.Your settings were full of rich details so that the landscape came
alive. Have you been to some of the locations your story mentions?
been fortunate to travel all over the UK and Ireland, but I found that not as
useful in this novel, mainly because the landscape and sometimes even the
culture itself has changed so dramatically in the last millennium-and-a-half.
Deforestation, alterations of laws or customs, and subsequent invaders have
given us a modern Wales that looks pretty different. The visualizations for me
came more from the legends themselves, which paint a picture of a very wild
landscape with people as untamed as the land they inhabit.
5. Between Two Fires is both history novel and a puzzle mystery, both
with lots of plot twists, and a dynamic protagonist. Tell a little bit about
your writing process: Do you start with the plot or with the character?
me they’re a bit of the same thing. That being said, I definitely start with
the character. If I know the protagonist inside and out, I know what they’ll do
and what their story will be. For me it all started with that first line,
“Today I will marry a man I have never met.” From that point on I knew Branwen
and had to tell her story.
6. Can we expect to
see any more of Branwen in future novels?
I already have the sequel with the publisher, although no firm release date as
of yet. The Long Defeat will showcase the Welsh dealing with a new
threat, the Picts, and a very different set of circumstances than when they
dealt with the Saxons.
7. Any hints about
what you are presently working on?
always got something going, although I admit that with all the marketing
efforts for Between Two Fires, I haven’t been writing as much as I
prefer. I write contemporary short stories, and even sometimes Sci Fi or fan
fiction. I’ve also written a draft of a Viking story that follows a female
warrior amongst the Norse. But mostly, I just let inspiration lead me where it
wants. Even I don’t know what I’ll write next!
again for having me here, Elizabeth!
What others are saying, where to buy the book, and how to contact Mark:
Praise from Bestselling Authors for Between Two Fires
“A spirited ride through a turbulent slice of Welsh
history!” – Paula
Brackston, NYT Bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter
“A fast-paced read that has a wonderfully visual style and
some memorable characters. Mark Noce combines Welsh history with a touch of
folkloric magic in this promising debut novel. Lady Branwen is a strong and
engaging narrator and the turbulent setting of early medieval Wales makes a
fine backdrop for an action-packed story.” – Juliet Marillier, Bestselling author of Daughter of the Forest and
Synopsis of Between Two Fires
Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady
Branwen becomes Wales’ last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her
father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King.
But this fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from
within and without as Branwen herself becomes the target of assassinations and
courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to
assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when
she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan her world threatens to tear
itself apart. Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she
cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to
follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself,
before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.
Mark Noce writes historical fiction with a passion, and
eagerly reads everything from fantasy to literature. Born and raised in the San
Francisco Bay Area, he’s an avid traveler and backpacker, particularly in
Europe and North America. He earned his BA and MA from Cal Poly, San Luis
Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a Technical
Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. In
addition to writing novels, he also writes short fiction online. When not
reading or writing, he’s probably listening to U2, sailing his dad’s boat, or
gardening with his family.
His debut novel, Between Two Fires, is being
published by Thomas Dunne Books (an imprint of St. Martin's Press and
Macmillan). It is the first in a series of historical fiction novels set in
I've had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Mark Noce through blogging, and the equally good fortune to get an advance reading of his debut novel, Between Two Fires. Mark is on a blog tour now, and -- lucky me -- I had the good fortune even again to get an interview with Mark. Next week I'll be posting that interview, so please do return to learn more about him, his book, and his writing process.
Meanwhile, here is the review of his book I posted on Goodreads yesterday:
I love a good
mystery, and I love fiction that takes place in historical times. I’m also
hooked on stories set in Celtic Britain. So these are three great reasons to be
delighted with Mark Noce’s debut novel, Between
The book opens
in the year A.D. 597—post-Arthurian times, when Wales is in disarray from the
invading Saxons. The Romans are gone. Arthur’s Camelot is distant history. Christianity
coexists with remnants of the old Druid religion. Fragmented Wales is riddled
by power struggles between kings want to be sole ruler of Wales, if it can ever
be united enough to withstand the Saxons. The ambitious King Vortigen of Dyfed
has decided to marry his illegitimate daughter Branwen to King Morgan of Caerleon
and Caerwent, also known as the Hammer King. Illegitimate or not, it’s to
Morgan’s advantage to breed sons by Branwen for the future, and it’s to
Vortigen’s advantage to have his daughter strategically placed to spy on
Morgan. Yes. It’s that kind of world, full of intrigue and counterplots set in
motion by those who have other plans for Branwen.
sixteen-year-old Branwen, smart but dutiful, is resigned to her destiny. Then several
attempts on her life force her to make her own destiny, one very much at odds
to the future her father had planned. Choosing love over duty, using healing
skills she learned from her mother, trusting her own natural leadership,
Branwen becomes a legend throughout Wales. The story is told throughout through
her eyes in present tense, which gives a sense of immediacy to every scene.
Subplots abound, all of them well-resolved. From the opening line (Today I will
marry a man I have never met), the main story’s builds tension, and each
chapter ends on a page turner.
The story takes
place over a three-year period, during which Branwen evolves into a revered
figure the people call Mab Ceridwen, with the love of her life by her side. I
can’t tell much more of the storyline beyond this without spoilers. But this is
a book to settle into, as you become immersed in history, legend, and a great
You can learn more about Between Two Fires and the author HERE. And you can preorder the book HERE (I did, and I can hardly wait for it to arrive, so that I can take it to his book signing in Sacramento next month -- September 3rd). How about you? Have you had the opportunity to get a book signed by an author you like? Do you like historical fiction? If so, what period of time and what setting?