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Keep a Journal (It could transform into a memoir)

There are those times during our lives when we seem to be observing characters in a bigger story. That story is the life events you experience. And then in retrospect you realize that slice of pie event is the perfect fodder for a memoir.

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But when you sit down to write the memoir you can’t remember the highlights of your experience or the chronological order of your timeline. Yet, you know when you were going through a rough patch or even a good one, a story arc presented itself. Not only that, the people you met became wild and unique characters in your personal story. It’s that saying, some things you just can’t make up.

Often times, the events that shape memoirs are in retrospect. However, there were times in my life where the story arc was intense and I knew I had material for a memoir. The problem was, I didn’t keep a daily journal of the events and people I met. So, then the memoirs I write blur around edges like a dream fading upon awakening in the morning.

The type of journal we must keep for the major events of our lives must have sensual details. What I mean by that is that we record an inventory of smells, tastes, physical sensations, intense emotions, sounds, and other sensory that will later draw the reader into our stories. It’s not that the readers will experience our life stories in the same way that we did but that they will engage with our storytelling.

Keeping the journal will also help us stay in the moment instead of getting stuck in the past or lost in the future. “Be here now” is the motto for a good memoirist. When the reader picks up our memoir they will journey with us every step of the way. It helps that we leave touchstones and even pauses in the drama.

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Also write down those pauses in the journal. Write down the poems that came into your thoughts, the trees you spent an afternoon resting underneath, the child who cheered you up on a bad day by simply smiling at you. And what about that evening when a good friend invited you for dinner and you forgot about your challenges and gave your soul a rest? Even the most tragic times in our lives offer us respite by even just noticing the beauty of the planet. Seeing butterflies or a ladybug landing on my hand helped me get through some challenges. Simple things save us from falling into the pit of hopelessness.

The first time when I endured being homeless in Bellingham, Washington, I knew I had a memoir in the works, but I didn’t keep a journal. I ranted in a journal and I did card readings for myself but I didn’t keep track of the events I experienced. I regretted that later when I wrote my memoir, Woman Sleeping on a Couch.

Tip: paste photographs in your journal since they will trigger your memory in the future.

I made the same mistake when I fostered Sobaka, a German shorthaired pointer, but thankfully, I started writing my memoir on the foster dog before he went to his forever home. I also collected stories about the dog from family members since he was my brother’s dog at that time. That ended up in my memoir, Tofu Girl and the Foster Dog That Rescued Her.

I believe that I will write a third memoir about my relocation to Vermont and the plot twist. I had a dream to become an animal communicator in Vermont but ended up homeless instead. The memoir will have the same title as another blog of mine, Washingtonian Living in Vermont. But too bad I haven’t taken notes from the past nine months. I have kept journals but it’s been too crazy to keep up.

Publication is another story…

I don’t know what will happen with my memoirs. I don’t trust the current state of the book publishing industry. Perhaps, I just wrote the memoirs for myself or for family members to have in the future. Or maybe we will revamp the book publishing industry and clear out the corruption so that books with a lot of heart and soul will be published again. One can hope.

I have to say that there have been few memoirs that have caught my attention in recent years. I tend to read the ones focusing on animal rescue or conservation efforts to save species. The last compelling memoir I read was Bicycling with Butterflies. And now when I see Monarch butterflies flitting in the flowers, I remember this wonderful story of the young woman who cycled along with migrating butterflies from Mexico to Canada to advocate for protecting the habitat and migration paths of the Monarch.

The final reason writing daily events in a journal is that often a writer decides years later to write a memoir of a time in their life. And if they didn’t keep a journal they won’t recall the most important events that create the peak in the memoir. Or their memory will be faulty. They’ll have to put words into people’s mouths and elaborate to tell their story. It’s better to keep a journal whether or not life events turn into a memoir or not.

You never know. You might be living a story that becomes the next Eat, Pray, Love.

If you found this article helpful. And you want to help me keep a roof over my head and food on my dinner plate, please make a donation (and support my work).

Thank you for supporting another blogger.

Please leave a comment or a like if you would like to read another article on writing memoirs or a list of tips for writing one.

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Women Sleeping on the Couch (Excerpt from Memoir reflecting on Homelessness)

This is chapter two of my 2015-16 unpublished memoir about a bout of homelessness in Bellingham, Washington that spanned three months.

This photo was taken when I still had a home in Bellingham.

I’m currently without a home in southern Vermont and you can help me relocate to a new city by contributing to my Gofundme campaign at the end of this post. Thank you.

A Call to Action

Every heroine experiences that moment where she closes one door and waits for another to open to an adventure. When I gave up my Sehome apartment for the unknown, I knew that significant life challenges awaited me, but at the same time the Universe responded with signposts while giving me courage to face uncertainty. I ventured boldly where I had never gone before, kind of like a Star Trek character, but on an emotional level.

Towards the end of August 2014, after I gave notice to move out of a secure apartment, I volunteered to work at the children’s art station with the Community Food Coop’s annual party in the park. Oddly, one of the activities involved children building homes out of cardboard boxes. While the children and their adult helpers built fabulous architecture out of cardboard, mainly tiny houses and forts, I heard a nagging voice in my head say, “Hmmm, isn’t that symbolic? Watch and learn because you might just end up living in a cardboard box.”

In fact, my repressed fear at that time caused me to dream about walking the streets of Bellingham or even an unknown city as a homeless person. I feared for my safety, but I also feared humiliation of running into people I knew as I dragged around blankets in garbage bags or pushed a grocery cart with my meager belongings through the alleyways.

I recalled a time in Seattle, when I was virtually tossed out on the street, hopping from couch to couch and sleeping on floors. One time, when a boyfriend kicked me out of his apartment so that he could be with his new girlfriend, a purple-haired “goddess,” I slept underneath a kitchen table at an apartment belonging to an acquaintance.

While this was happening a friend who had once lived in a car shook her head at me.

“See, you shouldn’t have sold your car because if you still had your car then you would have somewhere to sleep.”

Needless to say that this friend bought my car so I could finance a trip to England the previous summer. True enough, she had lived in a large 1970s model car after she gave up an adorable apartment in West Seattle near Alki Beach in the late 1980’s. Among my Bohemian and artists friends others had slept in cars too. In fact, it seemed to be a thing Pisces did well. My friend didn’t want to bother her friends by asking for a spare anything and living in the car was only temporary until she moved into an apartment tower near the Paramount Theater.

However, I wasn’t thinking of this friend when I slept on couches and queen size hotel beds in Bellingham the fall of 2014. My thoughts revolved around Law of Attraction and manifesting a new home through effortlessness, even though the other half of me busted her butt looking at houses that I had no intention of ever living inside. At the time, I had a sense that I would attract the right situation at the right time and not through sheer effort, but I had also been taught that nothing comes to us without effort–therein lied the conflict.

I knew from following the Law of Attraction that I had to focus on my bliss and follow my passion. However, the guilt that accompanied me when I set out to look for a bee painting in various businesses around town as part of the Sustainable Connections treasure hunt, or walk through parks with my camera in-tow, or even attended an outdoor salsa concert at the Village Green, caused me to spiral into the abyss. Yet, the housing search seemed fruitless as I phoned one disappointing lead after another.

I actually began my effortless search for a new apartment at the beginning of August thinking that if I practiced Creative Visualization and sent out e-mails to my local contacts, not to mention honk my horn on social media, I would manifest the perfect home for me in the right neighborhood. When a friend mentioned that a housing search would take all my time, energy and focus, I chuckled. What arrogance!

Then later in the month, especially around the time I watched children building homes out of cardboard, I panicked. I dreamed about renting a room in a philanthropist’s home in the South Hill neighborhood and thought I had my solution. Only, I didn’t know any wealthy philanthropists with a room for rent in a South Hill mansion so I contacted my friends and colleagues who also didn’t know anyone that fit that description. So this led to me contacting the philanthropy non-profits only to get directed to the Opportunity Council–not exactly what I had in mind. The signs I hung around town also didn’t attract any philanthropists.

Finally, I hit Craig’s List, even though I said I would avoid this site. I had gone that route before which caused me to dodge one flaky situation after another. The other problem the landlords posting on Craig’s List is that they wanted first, last and a deposit while covering less of the utilities, if at all. I phoned some of the house shares but I’m allergic to cats and not 420-friendly (slang for pot-smokers). Other situations such as the attic room in a house with the only bathroom under renovation just seemed dubious to me.

“We have permission to use the neighbor’s toilet and shower.”

“How long will the renovation on the bathroom take?”

“We don’t know, but we also live in the house and would also experience the inconvenience.”

“How much are you asking for rent?”

Not that I would have considered such a rental, but desperation sunk in.

I experienced one glimmer of hope when I responded to an ad for a room in the “Lotus House” which was a household of yoga instructors and a massage therapist in the Roosevelt Neighborhood (but a better section of the “bad” neighborhood). The home owners asked interested renters to e-mail a short essay about why we thought we would fit into this type of household. I e-mailed three essays and never received an invite to see the house.

Finally, I reached the end of the month with no permanent home in sight. Had I not gleaned the Law of Attraction? Was I entertaining too many negative thoughts? How could I stop my monkey mind from spinning toxic thoughts? Two days before I vacated the apartment and closed the door of 2-D for the final time, I came across a greeting card at the post office with the message, “You’re stronger than you think.” Then I knew that life was about to challenge me on a mammoth level. And it did.

Sure, I could blame my uncomfortable situation on a midlife crisis or my upcoming menopause since I had recently turned fifty. I had heard of strange occurrences surrounding women who surpassed fifty that involved leaps of faith, leaving stable careers or home situations, or taking up skydiving. After three years of paying high rent for the misery, I gave notice to vacate Hades. Only in Bellingham, do slumlords resemble sunny family men and that led to confusion, especially when demanding my rights. How do you ask for more respectful treatment when the landlord is smiling at you?

“Victorian charm” often means “It’s a ghetto with built in cabinets, drawers and rusty turn-of-the-nineteenth-century sinks.”

Some friends applauded my courageous move causing me to think that I had turned into a domestic version of Erin Brockovich. Other friends and my parents thought I had lost my mind. My opinions of myself landed somewhere in the middle, seesawing between extremes. At first, I thought if I e-mailed everyone I knew in Bellingham (and beyond) and hit social media with a request for an eco-friendly apartment or house-share, then by the end of August I would move into my dream home. The average time for finding a decent rental in Bellingham is two to three months, more when housing is at a premium (when the university is in session). Also 55% of the housing market revolved around rentals and owning a house started at $300,000 (in 2014).

In August, each day as I woke up realizing I was nowhere closer to achieving that dream, I panicked which caused me to spiral downward and entertain nightmarish thoughts. Since we attract more of what we focus upon, I kept encountering homeless people on the bus, on the streets, and in my dreams–the stench of poverty lodging in my nose. Then on the final day of my stay in my apartment (after a sleepless night), I phoned a storage rental place, contacted friends to help me move and I booked a room in a hotel. Sleeping in the doorway of the Federal Building didn’t appeal to me.

https://gofund.me/44ea2d8f

Copyright Patricia Herlevi for “Woman Sleeping on the Couch” 2015-16. All Rights Reserved

Woman Sleeping on the Couch (Homelessness in the US)

This is also posted as a Gofundme to help me relocate to Montpelier, Vermont. The donation information is at the end of the excerpt. I wrote the memoire in 2015 when I still resided in Bellingham, Washington.

My journey began with a cough, not a clear the throat kind of cough, but one that pushed me out on a limb. While I took the sign of asthma returning seriously, my landlords refused to budge, that is, the words, “reasonable accommodations” traveled from one ear to the other without making an impact. After all, living in a laissez-faire city such as Bellingham, Washington, one is required to go with the flow. Only I couldn’t because of a cough that started innocently then kept me up at night-worrying and wondering where it was all heading.

Me in 2013 living in the “ghetto apartment” in Bellingham WA

So when the Aquarius Full Moon appeared on the horizon mid August 2014, I gave notice to vacate the apartment and culprit of my cough, without any prospects of a new home. By the way, the Aquarius Full Moon represents unexpected events.

A friend who helped me move into that apartment responded to my e-mail with applause, “I admire you.” Hadn’t I been complaining about the apartment for three years? In that regard my decision was hardly heroic and more of a desperate act.

On the other hand, my father shouted on the other end of the phone, “Why are you moving out just because of lead in the plumbing and mold? We have lead in our home and you don’t see us moving!” 

My mother who spoke in hush tones, agreed, “I believe you made a big mistake. Now, where are you going to go?” 

True, moments passed when I agreed with her, but only in theory, not in practice. The outer world would label me a fool, but people on a spiritual path similar to my own, such as my friend who expressed admiration realized that important journeys begin with a leap into the unknown. Thanks to the wacky Aquarius Full Moon I had entered the free-falling mode.

During my last night at my Sehome ghetto apartment, I paced while anxious thoughts pinged around my mind like a pinball on a winning streak. Had I made a mistake? I had a peek-a-boo view of Bellingham Bay and a full view of downtown. I lived in a third floor apartment with wood floors and some Victorian charm (even if I’m partial to the Arts & Crafts style). Then my lungs erupted into another spasm.

But at two a.m., I wondered where I would sleep the following night. Even though Craig’s List bore some fruit as far as housing, none of it matched my wish list, which at that point resembled a novella. 

This reminded me of the Abraham-Hicks Vortex and the rockets of desire I sent into that Vortex every time my Sehome apartment annoyed me. Hay House author Esther Hicks channeled a spirit collective that told us that when we experience what we don’t want, we send rockets of what we do want into an energetic field called a Vortex. Then when we match the frequency of the Vortex, we manifest our desires. Not so easy given all the drama we experience during the course of our everyday lives.

The home I envisioned in my vortex had no mold, rust, noisy neighbors, smell of pot, boiling cabbage, or fried fish. The vortex home had an elevator and a washer and dryer in the unit, not down four flights of stairs. And the kitchen had counter space, a fan, and tiled or wood floors. But, still sleep eluded me as my vortex filled up images of my perfect home, not materializing within twenty-four hours. 

Sheer terror and my dream home didn’t exist on the same frequency on the vibration dial. I didn’t require Esther Hicks explaining that scenario to me. I already knew. Of course, I knew because as a metaphysical coach, I blogged about frequencies and tuning the vibration dial.

So the next day, I packed belongings, scrubbed the tub then arranged with friends to move my belongings into a storage unit that I rented at the last minute. I asked my parents to book a hotel room for me so I avoided sleeping on a street that night. And as it turned out, I never slept on the street and I refrained from ever calling myself “homeless” preferring the term “in between homes.” However, my permanent address was a post office box, hardly a home address.

Along the way, I met other middle-age women who also experienced their midlife crisis in between homes. I found some comfort in swapping stories especially with one woman who couch-surfed for a month then ended up in a cushy apartment with a garden in the sought after South Bellingham neighborhood. Even she lived on borrowed time since her personality hardly matched up with the empathic hermit in which she cohabited.

While I could have focused on the negative and ranted about challenging situations I faced on my housing quest during a housing shortage, I chose to tell my account from a humorous angle. I figured millions of people found themselves in similar situations every day. If I provided comical relief for those folks, they raised their frequency through laughter. And as they raised their frequency, they arrived closer to manifesting their dream home, even if that was just any moss-covered roof without leaks hanging over their heads.

Besides, who wouldn’t find storage unit diving (more like swimming), humorous as I searched for a pair of job interview shoes that I found located in the far back corner in the bottom of a tall bag? I crawled on my stomach over boxes, suitcases and garbage bags full of books, compact discs and clothing to the far corner of the unit, hoping not to sprain my ankles in the process. Then I tossed all the shoes in the top of the bag over my shoulders, grabbing the prize at the bottom of the bag. Voila!

By the time I completed this ordeal, which also involved dragging the boxes and bags in the front of the unit to the hallway, sweat dripped down my face and my shirt, heavy with perspire glued to my chest (and I’m not someone who sweats easily).

One last caveat, while I lived in between homes I had no phone service and no car. I proved to myself that we survive without cell phones and taxis are a God-send, especially when I sped off in one escaping from ring-side couch in full view of a marital war that spanned a night with both people shouting, “Projection!” at each other. I’ll always associate that word now with melodrama of the worst kind. Obviously, those two were versed in psychoanalysis and the shadows we project on others.

However, the biggest weight I carried on my sore shoulders revolved around a controversial health condition I acquired at the age of twenty-eight that left me vulnerable to common chemicals most people use every day. This condition makes finding healthy and affordable housing near impossible, especially in a “green” city that doesn’t recognize the personal health effects of chlorine, car exhaust, and household cleaners. The irony doesn’t escape me, but even “green” cities such as Bellingham battled with the two-headed monster called denial and fear.

While Bellingham has received a sustainable makeover in the past two decades, it still hadn’t fully released its industrial roots which continue to pollute the air, water and earth.  Some people are forced to live in self-imposed confinement as they recover from MCS. I recovered from this condition for the most part but, living long-term among certain chemicals still threatened me. So in this regard, finding “a dream home” became a lifelong quest.

During my quest, I experienced meltdowns, shake ups, and hysterical fits of laughter. I gained the ability to step outside of myself and watch my life as if it were a movie playing on a giant screen. Only, I won’t receive any Oscars for Best Bad Performance by a Non-Actress.

All Rights Reserved Copyright 2015-16 Patricia Herlevi

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Empty Phrases That Annoy Me

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Lately, I’ve noticed annoying phrases that writers and speakers use. One of the phrases is, “At the end of the day…” Other phrases include, “When all is said and done,” and “Alternatively…” And everyone is using the word, “literally” in the wrong context without even caring.

These phrases sound empty and they become irritating after several YouTube hosts or podcasters use them (which is virtually in every video now). The problem with using empty phrases that we pick up through osmosis is that they add nothing to the sentence. They contribute zero emotional appeal to the theme presented. And the person using the phrases comes off as trendy instead of insightful.

Authentic writing comes from the soul. It comes from carefully crafted thoughts and paragraphs. And when we use simple language that gets us from point A to point B we are more likely to engage the reader or listener. We can also use language rhythmically which many great speakers such as Martin Luther King, Jr. have done. One exercise that helps with creating rhythmic writing is to listen to music from around the world or at least jazz syncopation. The later is what made Jack Kerouac a compelling author.

When we read classic literature even books from the twentieth century we hear authentic voices. No two authors were alike and part of that was that book publishing sought diverse narratives that told the stories of that age. Even genre fiction lacked trite formulas that appear in modern books. Have publishers lost sight of the art and craft of writing compelling fiction. Or have authors (and speakers) become lazy?

I’m an author who spends time crafting a perfect sentence. And I champion authors who take a painstaking approach to get every word right. It’s not about stretching the word count to meet the current genre requirements. Nor is about waxing poetry in every paragraph. Yet, some authors move their stories forward with ease while also using words beautifully and powerfully. I purchase their books as opposed to just checking them out from the library (then forgetting about the books).

I encourage emerging and established authors to read the classics as well as, read books from various genres written decades if not centuries ago. Explore the language of that time. Explore the speech of the characters and how that speech helps readers visualize the characters. Also, explore succinct ways landscape is described and how the landscape transforms into symbolic language.

I’m glad I took English literature classes in high school and at a university. This exploration formed the basis of my novel writing decades later. Any of us can study English literature by reading classics and even joining a discussion group. Also, search for inexpensive online courses. I found two excellent editing and revising classes on Udemy. I saw creative writing courses offered too.

When we delve deeper into the language which we speak and write we are less likely to use borrowed phrases from the prominent people of our time. Now, some people enjoy hearing people use trendy phrases. And when they start parroting those phrases of their favorite political leader, celebrity, or YouTube host, they fit in with their peers. I just find it irritating on my nerves that the world lacks original speakers and thinkers like it did in the past. I sorely miss Joseph Campbell.

Perhaps, you disagree with me. But before you leave a comment to debate my observations, consider my words. As authors we invent new phrases. We recreate language. And we make characterization compelling while constructing plots that seem familiar but with an odd twists (we’ve not read yet).

And my message to agents and editors, open your minds and think outside of the box. I realize you’re in the business to sell books, even if they are banal creative non-fiction ghost-written for celebrities. Or maybe you enjoy the dark literature which only contributes despair and more fear to a world already dripping with anxiety.

You are decision-makers who determine what gets read and what stays in a slush pile. And in doing that you might have thrown a future classic into the recycling bin. And if it wasn’t you, then it was an intern who had been trained as a parrot instead of an authentic thinker.

Personally, I prefer that a young intern out of grad school not determine my trajectory as an author. That’s disrespectful to us authors who have been crafting stories for decades. We might not possess the glamour of an actress-turned-social-activist or any number of who’s who for the twenty-first century (written by ghost writers).

These are my thoughts for the moment. They might sound bitter. Or they might sound jaded. But I’ve been in the literary trenches for several decades crafting real stories that if given a pair of wings would soar.

Literary Stories Versus Flash Fiction (Different Processes)

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When I first discovered flash fiction, I encountered writers with too many rules. They were so passionate about the efficiency of their craft that they scoffed at writers of longer fiction. Too many adverbs and adjectives, they claimed. But what I did learn from writing flash fiction was to use words more efficiently.

As an author, I don’t enjoy trends but I try to learn from them regardless. I have written both longer fiction, including novels, and pithy stories under 500 words. I enjoy both processes and I see the beauty in both condensing a story into bite-sizes and also offering literary fiction that is sipped like a robust wine. I understand that too much description anchors a story in boredom but the absence of description leaves a story floating in space with nowhere to land. Obviously, writing any fiction poses challenges to the writer. Personally, I love the challenges because those challenges help in crafting work that will stick in readers’ minds.

For a flash fiction author, the description of autumn would like a Haiku poem. Whereas, for an author of longer fiction, autumn includes the crunch of maple leaves underfoot, a stiff breeze snapping branches, and the need for a woolen hat and scarf worn by the characters. The author immerses the reader into the details of the character’s home, her friendships, her aspirations, and deepest fears, not something that can be achieved in less than one-thousand words.

The challenge of describing autumn in one-thousand words or less includes the viewpoint of one character with the trajectory of a single storyline and no room for tangents. The character’s mind has no room to wander and keeping the character in this moment rather than sending the reader backwards in time or forward into the future serves the story best. The author also faces the challenge of choosing bold and vibrant words to describe the setting for the character as well as, action verbs to propel the story forward quickly.

With flash fiction there is no room for parallel stories, flashbacks, a character’s mind drifting and the inciting incident must occur in the first sentence propelling the story forward. Flash fiction is the hundred-yard dash sprint as opposed to the marathon of a novel or the running of a mile for short literary fiction. And this is not suggesting that flash fiction can’t be included in literary fiction, but it’s less literary to me because I think of literary fiction as an indulgence like taking a soak in a hot bath. Flash fiction is something to read on a coffee break. Sure, it’s clever but it’s less likely to become a literary classic. I write flash fiction for fun but when I have more to say and when I feel like waxing poetics, I commit to the longer form.

Ideally, authors immerse themselves in both practices because there is much to learn from both formats. I know when I am writing non-fiction articles, I prefer a longer word count but I have learned how to be more efficient and craft stronger sentences when the editor gives me a shorter word count. With flash fiction, the writer has to get everything right when hooking the reader. The story still requires characterization, a plot, a plot twist and a satisfying ending. Like a three-minute pop song, contours, structure, and tone play crucial roles. All stories long or short require an arc that includes a beginning, middle, and end in which the character undergoes transformation or at least a shift in perspective. Otherwise, I’m going to yawn through the story if I don’t put it down after the first two paragraphs.

So, which form do you prefer as a fiction writer? Do you prefer the challenge of telling a story in fewer words or do you like to dive in to the long form and take your readers on a journey? Or perhaps, you prefer both formats like I do. As writers our job is to craft stories that hook and keep the readers on board. Our adventure is with words and images conveyed by the words. And ultimately if we can get readers to connect their minds to their hearts, we’ve done our job no matter the word count.

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Finding Treasure in an Old Notebook

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During the past months I have tossed out and shredded journals. I have gone through a major transformation and I hardly recognize my older even literary self. Today as I shredded another notebook, I found these two word sketches. I kept the poems and shredded everything else. I wrote the poems during the summer and fall of 1997.

Harvest Moon

Big and beautiful, she’s glowing pregnant with possibilities

As she smiles upon us.

Shedding light so that we won’t stumble upon the dark path.

She’s expecting; she’s waiting for us to flow out of our birth

and to embrace time, ephemeral, speechless.

Queen Anne (Seattle)

Smell the flower, listen to the birds; sing in a neighborhood

that doesn’t admire authenticity.

Men drive around the block in 4X4s donning the latest fashion,

women popping babies, glorifying the American dream, barking dogs,

picket fences and yards upon yards, I smell another rose.

Baby land, baby land, flaunt thy wealth

Baby land, baby land, here’s to your health.

Fremont (Seattle)

Rocket ships hanging in balance, funky postcards,

colorful, artsy coop, fun to shop at…

From a notebook in 1997.

Fiction–Mermaid Waiting

Often I walk my German shepherd Harold on the beach. And like any day of the week, we set out towards the cliffs and down the steep trail to the surf with Harold tugging at his lead. We stumbled across a body of a bikini-clad woman lying repose on the sand. The woman no younger than twenty-one years of age and no older than thirty-five breathed slowly in one nostril and exhaled out the other, reminding me that I had skipped my yoga class that day. If she had noticed Harold sniffing at her bare arms, she gave no sign of it.

Tugging on Harold’s lead, I tried to steer the dog away from the woman basking in the sand. After all, it was none of our business why she was lying there on a rainy day on an isolated beach. However, just as we pulled away from the woman’s body, her eyes blinked and then opened as if she was taken in the marvels of the planet for the first time, like a newborn. She stared at Harold dumbfounded and then her eyes roamed over my face.

“I fell asleep after waiting for him for so long. Where is he?”

Harold looked at me with a baffled dog grin. I could understand his puzzlement and I wondered if we were going to experience some kind of psychotic episode with the woman.  Instead, she appeared calm enough as she blinked sand from her eyes. She gazed into the distance at an outcrop halfway out to sea.

I straightened out my raincoat and brushed sand off my running shoes. “You mentioned that you were waiting for someone and I’m wondering if it’s someone I might know. Perhaps I can help you. I know just about everyone around here.”

I referred to a beach community on the Oregon Coast tucked away from the tourist traps and near Haystack Rock. The community of stone cottages where mostly people fifty-five and older resided was not the sort of thing to interest a vibrant twenty-something woman.

The woman shook her golden curls, highlighted by the dim sunlight piercing through a bank of clouds. Her aquamarine eyes penetrated mine, something unnatural about her gaze. “I don’t think you know him. He’s not from here and neither am I.”

I sat down on a log and Harold rested in the sand near my feet. I watched the woman open an aquamarine lunch box shaped like a fish. She pulled out a seaweed sandwich, which I found rather odd.

“What are you eating there? Is that some kind of sushi?”

She blushed. “Yes, it’s a sandwich entirely made of seaweed.”

“I’m not fond of seaweed. Is it any good?”

She took a huge bite of it and pleasure lit up her face. “Oh, yes, there’s nothing like a seaweed sandwich.”

At the time, I just wrote the woman off as some raw food type that I read about in alternative nutrition magazines. Sure, I read those magazines, but never tried any of the recipes, not because I lacked a sense of adventure, but after you have eaten the same foods for over thirty years, why try anything new?

The woman pulled out a tin container and unscrewed the lid then she popped some kind of miniature sea creature into her mouth.

“May I ask what those are?”

“These are sun-baked periwinkles.”

“Did I hear you right?”

“They’re a Portuguese delicacy and quite delicious. Here try one.”

She poured a few of the snails into my palm. I felt like feeding them to Harold instead of consuming them myself, but I tried not to appear rude. I reluctantly popped one into my mouth and felt surprised by the explosion of tastes. I crunched on it and swallowed before my body protested the strange food. The woman laughed as she watched me struggle with the shells.

“You get used to them then they become an addiction.”

“I can’t imagine. Now, back to this man you mentioned earlier, are you sure that he hasn’t lost his way trying to find this beach? It’s not on the map.”

Her eyes searched the ocean and the horizon. “He’s not coming here by road, but by the sea.”

“You mean in a boat?”

“Not exactly, but he’s coming from the direction of the sea.”

“I don’t understand. Is he going to swim here? Is he coming by seaplane?”

“Yes, he’s swimming here.”

“Who is he, an Olympic athlete? Besides, I haven’t seen any swimmers out there this time of year. It’s rather cold and drizzly.” Just staring at the woman in her bikini caused me to shiver.

The woman stretched out her legs and gazed at them for a long time, waiting for something, I did not know what, to happen. “He said he’d come here on this day to take me to his home.”

“My dear, do you know this man well? You should be more careful a young woman such as you hanging out on an isolated beach waiting for a strange swimmer-man.”

“He’s not quite human.”

Alarmed by the woman’s declaration I wondered again if I would experience a psychotic episode. I had not heard of anyone escaping any mental institutions. The woman seemed clear-eyed on the surface, even gregarious. Perhaps, she had tripped on some bad mushrooms found in the nearby woods. It could happen, especially with all the youth that wandered through in their vans and whatnot. The tent and van crowd, we called them.

“I once said that about my former husband. He didn’t seem quite human at times.”

The woman shook her head in frustration.  “You don’t understand.  He’s a merman and he’s coming to transform me into a mermaid. It’s what I’ve wanted my entire life, ever since I swam with the dolphins in Florida as a toddler.”

“And did you meet this merman at SeaWorld? I’m sorry, but your story sounds ridiculous.”

I wondered if she had been reading too many supernatural young adult novels. Her generation grabbed onto some far-out ideas, not that my generation never experienced the unusual.

“That’s what everyone says, that my story is ridiculous and that mermen only exists in fairy tales and fantasies. But I tell you, I met this man at a kite festival near here a few months ago. He looked like a human, spoke like a human, but then when he swam out with the tide, he disappeared beneath the waves.”

“Did you call the lifeguards? Perhaps, he drowned.”

“No, no trace of the man was found. He told me to meet him here today and so here I wait.”

The woman gulped down a quart of water. Her eyes roamed the distant horizon.

Who was she kidding? I scribbled down my phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to the woman. “Look, if he doesn’t show up and you need somewhere to stay, I rent rooms nearby. Phone me.”

I rose from the log brushing sand off my jeans and raincoat. Harold leaped up rearing to take his walk. As we strode off down the beach, I looked over my shoulder one last time and noticed that the woman had disappeared from where she was sitting. I glanced at the shoreline and witnessed to dark figures swimming towards the outcrop, and then they dove under the waves and disappeared.

Moments later, I pulled out binoculars from my pack and aimed them at the outcrop.  And what I saw nearly caused me to faint. Human figures with fishtails reclined on the outcrop. 

Harold had taken the opportunity to explore the area where the woman was reclining earlier. He sniffed, barked, and whirled around a few times puppy-like. So I returned to the scene to see if the woman left any traces behind. All I found was her lunchbox and the tin she abandoned on the beach. I watched Harold crunch on the remaining mollusks. Who would have thought the dog would go for Portuguese delicacies. I would have to remember that when his birthday rolled around.  So easy to please, that dog.

After I returned to my cottage, I checked the internet for stories about mermaids and mermen. Just as I had thought, they only existed in fantasies. So then what had I witnessed earlier that day? I vowed to myself never to tell anyone my story. Then later, I came across a National Geographic article about the emergence of strange human-fishlike creatures so I thought I had my answer.

I returned to the beach at noon every day and waited. I did this for several months hoping the woman would return, but I never set eyes on her or her partner again. Still, I wait, sitting in the sand, eating Portuguese delicacies with Harold patiently by my side. She will come up for air eventually, and she’ll find me here to comfort her.

By Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved

Online Writing Conferences (The New Normal?)

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Even though writer’s conferences force writers to step outside of their homes and mingle with other authors while also joining workshops that feel like a boot camp for the writing craft, in 2020, authors attend the conferences via Zoom or other platforms.

I found this article about online conferences. I’m also including other writing conferences offering online options in 2020 (summer and autumn).  Since the expense of travel and accommodations hinders lower-income authors from attending, perhaps, the online versions offer affordable options, even enrolling in one or two workshops.

Chuckanut Writers Conference (Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA)

Write on the Sound, (Edmonds, WA)

Willamette Writers Conference (Oregon)

Romance Writers of America

Do a Google search for your favorite conference and you might be surprised to find an online version. The benefit is that you can join the conference from your home. You don’t have to haul your computer with you, travel, or stay in a hotel. You might save money too. Also, geography doesn’t matter when there is an online version.

2020 might be the year to improve your writing skills by attending an online conference.  It’s true that you won’t meet people face-to-face but you also won’t experience any distractions. Also, see if the online conference offer pitching sessions to agents and editors or master classes.

So far 2020 has been the strangest and most monumental year of my lifetime. As we have been forced to stay indoors, we’ve had more time to write or to improve our craft. I hope that you are able to attend an online conference or at least an online workshop. I’m glad we still have the option.

 

 

 

An Author in Lockdown

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This is a selfie from 2016-17.

 

 

No, an author in lockdown is nothing like an American in Paris even if I’m riffing off that movie title. And sadly, I used the lockdown as an excuse not to write with the exception of the blog posts for this and my other three active blogs.

You would think that all the ballet dancers, musicians, and craftspeople using the YouTube platform for sharing their work during lockdown would inspire me. Certainly, the internet has blossomed as a renaissance of creative pursuits with an invisible audience that makes its presence known with clicks and likes. Authors who were unable to give book signings or tour also found new platforms online. Even writers’ conferences adapted to video-phone technology such as Zoom and Google Chat.

Although as a gift to myself, I bought the Scrivener software. And during the past two months, I uploaded three manuscripts on the program along with photos and research. However, they are my completed manuscripts with the exception of my memoir, Bitch which is in the rewriting stage.

I’ve thought about writing flash fiction and I experienced those lightbulb moments when story ideas popped into my mind and didn’t follow through. Perhaps, the lockdown experience has blocked my muse from coming through and it certainly has hindered my motivation. But this is not to say that I haven’t felt motivated to take online Reiki classes or to practice yoga, or spend time cooking healthy meals.

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pixabay.com

Yet, with all this “free” time on my hands, it still feels like time is racing and the weeks have sped past me. Within the span of three months, I have evolved and morphed into a new person with Corona hair. However, I have changed little with my outer self because most of the growth happened with the inner self. Like so many other people, especially those who have experienced loss, I stand at the proverbial crossroads or the point of four cardinal directions.

I used this time to set stronger boundaries with others and reflect upon my values which have changed drastically or if not, took me back to the core of my authentic self. Oddly, finding old journals I wrote during the 1990s triggered my old muses and dreams of publishing my work. You would think that would inspire me to sit down at my computer and at least write flash fiction.

As far as submitting my already completed work, I’ve done little with that, mostly out of lethargy. With the numerous rejections I received from literary journals and agents, I hardly see the point of disappointing myself during a time of even greater loss. Having said that, I have revisited novels and submitted to two or three agents–not that they’re getting back with anyone during their lockdowns.

Still, I’m hoping that something I wrote that wasn’t previously trending or of popular demand might become so with the New Normal. Perhaps, I’m thinking, that book lovers won’t want to indulge in a thriller or conspiracy theory novel and instead seek escape literature in the form of a good romance or a spunky YA novel or perhaps, they would care to revisit the Greek story of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice set in modern-day Seattle.

Oddly, I have read little in the way of novels or even non-fiction books during the lockdown when this would have been the perfect time to indulge in the writing of others. I have joined a group of writers in San Francisco via Zoom for discussions with published authors. And I will be joining a writing workshop with the online version of the Chuckanut Writers Conference this month (since I applied for the conference’s scholarship).

For me, this is a time to regroup and reevaluate my mission as an author. I won’t begin my next novel until 2021 (which involves a young horse jockey). And I will create a Patreon campaign for that novel. I’m going to do things differently as I embrace new technology and ways to build a community around my work.

In the meantime, if you are an author in lockdown, please leave your experiences in the comment section. I would love to hear from you.

Write It–Rewrite, Refresh, Edit, and Submit

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Pixabay.com

 

So, you’re sitting in your house wondering how to jumpstart your writing practice. It’s time to dust off those old submissions and revise them and then submit to new editors and journals. Now, you have the time and the editors most likely are in lockdown too begging for stories to read.

Perhaps, this is the last thing you want to do when stuffing your mouth with chips and watching Netflix seems more appealing. However, don’t waste your time on other people’s stories. Write your own, even about your pandemic experiences. Surely, you learned something from this hero’s journey.

Or better yet, get out your stories and reinvent them. Tear them apart. Create new characters with old scenarios or new scenarios for the old character. or play mash-up with your stories especially if you write in several genres. Reread Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myths (what you haven’t already read it?) and reread books on the basic three-act structure. Or read classics to study the structure and character development, not to mention, character dilemmas. When I’m trapped in a writer’s block (doesn’t happen often), I reread Jane Austen’s novels.

If you have the cash, purchase Scrivener, or other writing software. I bought Scrivener recently and while I’m not up to speed with it yet, loading my novels on there will speed up the revising and editing process. The software (if you don’t already have it), has a cork board to hang up photos of your characters and you can even upload songs and videos. I wish I had this software five novels ago!

Another fun thing writers can do, besides joining Facebook groups for writers, is to do a Zoom session with several writers or an online writers’ group. Maybe you can even teach what you know about the craft via Zoom or sign up to teach on Udemy and earn money, especially if you’re waiting to hear back from editors, agents, and publishers about your pitches. Maybe you can even host a poetry night via Zoom. Use your imagination. If you are an author you have an active imagination.

So, hopefully, I have inspired you to write, edit, and submit. Let me know if you read this and if you follow my advice. Let me know if your work is published in the future. Get writing.