Lately, Queen Mamadou (YA Fiction in-progress)

African Queen Pix a Bay

Synopsis:

Fourteen-year-old Maggie Shatterly just wants to fit in–whether at school, in her artistic circle of friends, or at the dance studio. Her life is awkward enough without an ancient African queen showing up to teach everyone a lesson about living one’s life with freedom, abandonment, and joy. Queen Mamadou, hailing from a 15th Century West African kingdom, taught her unwitting students to gyrate their hips and to drum up a new life.

This young adult comedy began as an idea for a short story. However, the narrative keeps developing so I think I’m writing my 6th novel–and my first official young adult (possibly middle grade) novel. My fifth novel, Enter 5-D has crossover appeal. I never thought I would take this path since I was firmly entrench in writing sexy romantic comedies, but the world’s children call to me now.

Introduction to Lately, Queen Mamadou

She despised visiting the dance shop, located in a derelict part of town near the port and the Mission.  Maggie’s mother, an artist-at-heart, enjoyed exploring the seedier side of towns.  She told Maggie that artists thrive on diversity but did this mean that Maggie Shatterly should have to waded through litter, broken beer bottles, and stepped around people with shattered lives? She had hoped not.

On this particular day, rain poured from the midwinter skies, tumbled down the sides of build and then formed streams on the sidewalks and the streets. The only reason Maggie ventured outside at all with her mother was to buy the pieces for her costume. They had waited until the last minute as usual since the recital was that night. Maggie would have felt a case of nerves except that she placed her focused on her giraffe costume.

Her dance instructor Darcy created choreography based on Noah’s Ark. But Maggie wondered if Noah had giraffes on the Ark. She didn’t remember any giraffes mentioned in Noah’s Ark back when she took Bible classes. Of course, she didn’t remember much of anything from those days when she lived in Arcadia, back when her parents were still married.

Now, she shuffled between California and Washington, often flying alone on Alaska Air. Her friends at school envied her since often she spent the winter in sunny California while her friends in Bellingham shivered in the damp and breezy dance studio. One time, her father Ted, took her to Hawaii for Christmas. Maggie felt at odds among palm trees swaying in a breeze and a local Native playing “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer” on a ukulele. And this was before ukuleles began trending outside of Hawaii. She recalled one Native Hawaiian woman, quite large, and decked in a flowered mumu playing “All I want for Christmas is my Red Mumu,” fashioned after the famous song about the two front teeth.

End of excerpt

Copyright Patricia Herlevi, 2017-18

 

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Write It…Once Upon a Time & Other Beginnings

typewriter-584696_1920Unless we’re writing fairytales, we require original launches into our stories. Short story authors especially, wrote essays on succinct and enticing starts to short fiction. And this is doubly important with flash fiction. 

I once read a foreward to a short story collection where author Isabel Allende (one of the editors of the collection) mentioned that if you can’t nail your story within the first paragraph or two, the story won’t succeed. However, this sort of thinking often leads to writer’s block and other forms of procrastination.

For people such as me who free writes short fiction as oppose to plotting out my stories, I often balk at writing the introductions to short fiction. And yet, at other times, the stories come to me fully written complete with a seductive opening line.

Here are examples of introductions to both my short fiction and my novels. And my trick is to get everything on paper or on to a Word file. Then, I go back and rewrite the opening paragraphs. My writing grows stronger as I delve in more deeply with my characters and watch their movies in my thoughts.

 

“Marcos first encountered her face glimpsing through a crowd of shoppers. Next, he saw her slight frame draped in a black skirt that clung to her thighs and swirled around her knees, her white blouse hugged her torso and a pendant swung around her breasts like a pendulum.  Her body appeared and disappeared down the aisles of the natural grocer as she rushed about tossing tomatoes, mushrooms, mangos, and bags of flours into her cart, then ticking items off of a list—a true picture of elegance and efficiency.”—Apple of Seduction (short fiction)

“He never gave her the china cabinet or piano.  He gave her jewelry, clothing, china, and trinkets from countries he traveled to, but he failed to grant his wife the two things she wanted most in her life.”–The China Cabinet (short fiction)

“Miranda saw Pierre’s face reflected on a window of a coffee shop.  She battled against her doubts and stood frozen by the shop’s door, realizing that she could’ve pretended to browse the various exotic bags of coffee beans that strewn the shelves of the old world style shop. She could have drunk in all the smells of pastries baking in the back or reveled in the French swing jazz that wafted through the shop, but instead she dashed to the bus station to catch her connection.”–Love Quadrangle (novel)

“She fascinated me–the way Maggie flipped her hair back with a whisk of her hand while she played her instrument. All in one motion she swiped the hair away from her face and strummed her guitar without missing a beat.  In my foolish girl heart, I imitated Maggie–carefree and indifferent to consequences.”–Maggie Magdalene (short fiction)

I think this suffices as examples. I still go back to my old stories and rewrite or polish the introductions. As we evolve as writers, we owe it to ourselves to revitilize our archival stories by applying new tools and techniques. And often times, this proves more fruitful then starting from scratch.

Often times, our original stories already have solid bones. As we improve as writers, we don’t need to reinvent the stories but we do need to reinvest in them. Some stories haunt us for years until we flesh them out, polish the beginnings and strengthen the conclusions.

I have written screenplays, novels, and short fiction since my thirties. I concentrated on mainly poetry and song lyrics in my twenties. And I’ve learned that we must show up with courage in our hearts to embrace the creative spirit or muse. Some stories require finessing over the years until we get it right or get into the zone.

We surrender what doesn’t work and then we wait it out until inspiration fires us up. That could be one day, two weeks, or three years before that happens. In the meantime, we go back to the drawing board with a different story or work on another creative project. Then when the time is right and inspiration strikes, we write that seamless story that leaves our readers breathless.

All Rights Reserved, copyright Patricia Herlevi

Except image which is from Pix a Bay.

 

 

 

 

Essay: Revisiting the Winter Olympics

skaters
Pix a Bay image

In 1980, I watched the Winter Olympic Games for the first time. I had watched the Summer Olympic Games throughout my early childhood, but the Lake Placid Winter Games introduced me to bobsled racing, the luge, speed skating, and ski jumping. Mostly, I felt drawn to figure skating–the costumes, the glitter, the artistry, and the power of the skaters.

 

Although I never watch television, I again feel drawn to the Winter Olympic Games. I am wondering why the games are occurring in South Korea given the international tension with North Korea, but so far so good. And this year while I’m catching glimpses of the various competitions revolving around skates, skis, sleds, and snowboards, I experience conflict with my American origin (during a dark time in this country’s history), and I have never believed in the concept of competition since I am an INFJ personality type.

In 1988, my friends of that time and I sat around the television screen watching the Winter Games. Again, the ski jumping, luge; various skiing and skating events captured my attention. But the most memorable moment for me was the Jamaican bobsled team that captured the attention of the world. We wondered how Caribbean people were inspired to partake in a winter sport, let alone at a high level of championship. And even though, this team did not win any medals, they won the hearts of millions of people who rooted for underdogs.

Just like other viewers, I am in awe of the spectacular power and strength of a well-trained body. I am amazed at the artistry, determination, and grace that goes into an athletic performance. I too, watch athletes hang, suspended in flight, or soar off edges, and then land perfectly like a cat with 9 lives. I enjoy watching the glitter and glamour of figure skaters dancing on ice to rumbas, mambo, and other Latin rhythms. I appreciate the dedication and sacrifices the athletes made in manifesting their Olympian dreams.

And yet, I see the irony as I sit in a chair watching these athletes with perfectly taut bodies and I just want to walk around the block a few times. I feel overly inspired to get my flabby muscles into shape. I might envy their youth a bit. And I know that chastising my 53-year-old body is just a form of self-abuse. However, I still made the joke that watching the games makes me want to sign up with a personal trainer  (not that I have the money to do that), to get myself into better shape.

I also try not to chastise myself for not having the bravery of the athletes who hurl themselves in the air, who lift skaters over their heads not fearing that a blade could come down on their head at any unexpected moment or that one mistake or wrong footing could lead to death or ending up as a quadriplegic. I suppose their are different types of bravery.

In our regular day-to-day life, courage shows up in the form of a single parent raising children during a heartbreaking economy. Courage comes in the form of someone living on the edge of homelessness or in a homeless camp. Courage shows up in someone showing up at an AA meeting for the first time after hitting bottom. Courage shows up in a middle-age person changing their diet, stop drinking alcohol, and facing their demons one at a time.

So, perhaps, watching the Winter Olympic Games reminds us of our individual gifts and talents. While we will never become champion skaters or ski jumpers, by showing up in our own lives and loving ourselves where we are, we too are champions.

And as far as healing my wounds with my country of origin (as another empire crumbles), I expand my vision to include the concept of world citizenship. I don’t sit on the sidelines rooting for one team over another or one country over another. I choose to sit back and take it all in–my fellow world citizens expressing the depth and breadth of the human spirit through endurance and artistry. No wonder I’m drawn to the Winter Olympic Games. I just wish I was content with my ringside seat.