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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

Write it–5 Practices to Develop Memorable Characters

Dolores
Mexican Actress Maria Del Rio

I feel fortunate that most of my fictional characters came to me. In other words, I didn’t develop them from scratch. I either borrowed from mythology, past lore, or the characters popped into my head one day like a friend popping over for tea.

However, having said that, I spent time learning the nuances and secrets of these characters before writing the novels or short fiction in which they appeared. Some characters actually traveled around with me sometimes for months, and other times, for years, before I sat down to pen their stories.

And since I find it a major literary sin to write flat characters, I work with tools and practices to nurture fleshed out characters. They don’t just take up ink and paper. I write characters that will enter the headspace of my readers (or future readers) and stay there for years like a well-worn classic. My goal is to create characters as memorable as Holly Golightly or Elizabeth Bennett.

  1. So, here are 5 practices to help you create unforgettable characters: Work with an astrologer (if you don’t know astrology) and draw up astrology charts for your characters. 

If you are an astrologer or are versed in astrology, you can do this yourself. I had an online friend for many years who was both an astrologer and an author. I was astounded when she told me she produced charts for all her characters. At the time, I was only giving my characters Sun, Moon, and Rising Signs. This is the quickest way to psychologically understand your characters, their shadows, strengths, and methods of sabotage. You can also draw up relationship charts for the characters.

2. Create vision boards (one for each character)

If astrology is too intense or complicated, the next best metaphysical tool to creating characters is to create vision boards. And this is as easy as ripping pictures out of magazines and pasting them on to a large sheet of paper. You can also add buzz words, stickers, and even write affirmations for the characters on the boards. I like this practice because you can give your characters physical attributes based on the people that appear in the magazine pictures.

3. Base the characters on people you knew in the past or met along the way

I based two of my women characters on women I met on a bus. One woman seemed like a younger version of the woman she sat beside. And when these two women disembarked from the bus, they walked in opposite directions. In fact, I didn’t only get characters from this encounter, I also came up with a storyline and a plot. These women characters appear in my screenplay, Love & Intangible States.

4. Keep a dream journal and create characters from dream people

I used to keep dream journals and I include channeling and telepathy in this category. My characters, Pierre and Miranda came from the telepathic communication I had with an architect for several years. I combined this with an encounter with an attractive man I saw working in a cafe who sat near a window working on his laptop.

5. Reinvent mythological or legendary people 

Actually, this is trending right now, especially with commercial and fantasy novels. When I researched the market for my urban fantasy/commercial fiction Enter 5-D, I discovered a plethora of modernized or reinterpreted gods and legendary people. You could also reinvent folktale and folklore characters.

Even though there are many versions of Orpheus and Eurydice, I didn’t feel that these characters were fleshed out, so I reinvented the characters. I gave them occupations and invented new realms for them to occupy. I had a blast doing this.

I am both an author and metaphysical coach. If you are looking for inspiration and coaching, sign up for a session at Whole Astrology

 

Lit Essay: Re-Use, Recycle, & Simplify

DSCN3139I’m even reposting this recycled essay…

Discarded but Not Forgotten

Essay on Volunteer Simplicity

When I was still firmly ensconced in my middle-class formative years, I thought I would grow up, find a good job and purchase the North American dream.  I started off in the right direction by attending and graduating from a university, then after I moved to the big city and decided to pursue a career in music, “reality” hit home.  I found work to support my musical endeavors, but my paychecks could not afford the price of new furniture, let alone, the purchase of a home.

Throughout my twenties, I thought that toiling at my music would land me a recording contract, the musical equivalent of winning the lottery, but Lady Luck was not looking my way.  By the time I reached my thirties, tired of various occupations and watching my dreams fade to black, I learned an important lesson about downsizing.

Some people volunteer to downsize their lives.  They give up lucrative careers and become stay-at-home parents or they seek out the true meaning of existence.  Best-selling authors wrote books about this painless process, Volunteer Simplicity (Duane Elgin) and Your Money or Your Life (Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin).  The difference between the volunteer simplicity crowd and me was that I never chose to downsize and by the time I read those authors’ books, I had already reached ground zero.

I never owned a home, real furniture or any possessions besides musical instruments, equipment, several futons, books and compact discs.  I was already living the “simple life” other envied and I learned that with a little trust intact, the Universe does provide.

I watched Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972, Italian), that chronicled the early adulthood of Saint Francis of Assisi, better known as “the first societal dropout”.  In the film, based on true events, the son of an upper-class cloth merchant, Francesco (his Italian name), stripped himself bare and in his vulnerable state he walked naked into the unknown.  Francesco trusted that God would provide for him like he provided for all of nature and he also believed that we could not worship the Divine and materialism at the same time.

Add to that the ecological impact all our stuff has on the earth and downsizing along with recycling our possessions sounds like reasonable plans.  Incidentally, Saint Francis of Assisi is known today as the Patron Saint of Ecology.

Another film, a documentary by the French filmmaker Agnès Varda, The Gleaners and I, focused on the people of France that live off of discarded goods.   Agnès chronicled the rural people who glean (collect) tons of vegetables, fruit, and grains that was abandoned after harvest.  She also aimed her camera eye at urban dwellers that salvaged discarded furniture left on the sidewalks of Paris.

I have also found abandoned furniture left on sidewalks in good condition, clothing, and books in free boxes as well as, learning how to barter and trade my talents.  Somehow I survived a richer person who found wealth in the simple pleasures of life, listening to free concerts, watching free movies, spending time with friends or strolling through nature.

While acquiring money has its benefits, most people put a lot of time and effort to build their palaces and then more effort to fill their palaces with stuff they can no longer appreciate.  I have observed various people with big homes, vacation cottages, luxury cars and the works, but they are too busy to enjoy what they possess.  Some of them neglect their children, their spouses, and friends, in favor of building another wing onto their palace.

They simply do not see all of the unused rooms in their houses, the dust gathering on their belongings or time racing past them as they rush out into the world to earn more money so they can buy more things.  It is unfortunate that these are the people society envies.

Mansions, luxury cars, and designer brands play a greater importance than majestic mountains, vast oceans, and wild animals.  They take on a greater importance that the joy of companionship, listening to music for the sake of music without boasting expertise or getting in touch with nature without cell phones and other electronic devices to distract them.

People such as myself who choose not to live the “high life” fade into the background, yet many of us (and I am not talking economic poverty), have found spiritual and other sustenance in knowing that the Universe provides for us.  Of course, we still need to make the effort and practicing trust is more challenging than people think.  Now, that more people find themselves abandoned by a gasping economy, they seek out a new meaning for their lives.

I know of at least one dot.com downsize victim (this essay was written in 2003), that turned her life around by pursuing a vocation as a Reiki practitioner and I have known others who found a spiritual practice after losing lucrative careers.

I lost many jobs in my life and I lost my music career after suffering from a long-term illness.  I did not think I would survive and yet the natural world beckoned to me, giving me hope.  Similar to Francesco of Assisi, I relied on God to provide for me and I gained a talent for resourcefulness.

We all have many talents that other people need in this New Era and it is time to return to the concept of barter and trade.  Perhaps then we develop a new confidence in ourselves and we will find security in our connection to the spiritual realm as opposed to the material one.

When people discard belongings, they are in fact, giving those possessions new life.  When we outgrow something we can pass it on to the next person.  And in the end, those things once deemed important in our lives are discarded but not forgotten.  Since I believe that living beings are more important than things, by sharing what we do have with others, we acknowledge the bond that connects us.  The most important lesson I learned in this life thus far has not been how to earn lots of money, but how to contribute my talents to the world without living the North American dream.  And besides, I don’t really care for white picket fences.

Originally written the summer of 2003, copyrights Patricia Herlevi

This is the only authorized version of this essay.

Diary of a Reluctant Vegan (Essay)

255px-Jack_Russell_catching_ball

 

Labels don’t interest me usually because they feeling limiting and often dangerous, like crossing over a threshold into unfamiliar territory. And when we slap on labels we are most likely seeking confirmation or validation from a group. This leads me to think that we wear labels because we have issues with self-approval.

So, I am reluctant to wear the vegan badge even though I am on board with the vegan practice, for the most part. But I also know that becoming vegan is not as easy as removing animal food products from one’s diet. And it goes beyond watching animal abuse documentaries, which are torture for me. Guilt is a horrible motivator that never leads to self-empowerment. And this is not to say that we wallow in ignorance either. However, I feel that if we inspire people to eat a vegan diet out of health reasons, and many people switch to a vegan diet, then the industries that abuse animals will need to change their tune (and draconian practices) or go bankrupt.

I feel that the idea of the perfect vegan (who doesn’t eat any animal products, not even honey and does not wear any animal products) is impossible for most people. Vegan and organic food, especially if it is also gluten-free are expensive. I spend over $300 a month on these types of food and supplements a month. So, this leaves me with only enough money to purchase my shoes and clothing at thrift stores and that means I wear leather, wool, and other used or recycled animal products. Since I wear leather shoes, I repair or replace my soles instead of purchasing new shoes. And I’ve worn shoes up to a decade or more.

However, when an idealistic vegan sees me wearing leather shoes, they have no idea that I’ve replaced the soles twice on those shoes and got those shoes at a thrift store. They have no idea how much I spend on food either. While, it is a good practice to discern and educate ourselves about where our food and other goods come from and how it was raised, treated, or produced, we’re never going to show up perfectly in our quests. We have many things to weigh. For instance, vegans say that it is better for the environment to go vegan, but not if you are wearing clothing and shoes made from petrochemicals which also cause damage to the environment.

Now, as far as health benefits, I have seen many vegans glow with radiant health after changing their diets. I have met people who have reversed diabetes, prevented heart disease and other illnesses. I have also met people who have suffered from digestion issues on the vegan diet (I’m among this group). If I eat goat yogurt once in a while, it reverses some of the digestion issues and then I eat a mostly vegan diet.

So, having said all that, the vegan diet has potential to improve health and well-being, create more sustainable lifestyles that benefit the planet, stop animal abuse and cruelty (although it takes some socio-political action too), provide food in greater abundance, create culinary opportunities for businesses, heal cognitive dissonance, etc…

Get educated. Find out where your food comes from. Stop living in denial. And then find the best path for you based on your core values and beliefs. Walk your talk to the best of your ability. And make improvements in increments.

From Lincoln Logs to Social Media (50th Year Anniversary)

Photo taken in my 20s

(This article was originally posted on my blog PNW Author. The essay is now 3 years old.) When I find myself starting a conversation with, “Back when we used typewriters…” I feel old.  I come from a generation who started out playing with Lincoln logs, Easy-Bake ovens and whose mothers made Shake & Bake chicken for dinner, that is, if we weren’t stuck with Hamburger Helper (yuck) or tuna casserole.

We watched reruns of “Bewitch” and then later graduated to “Charlie’s Angels” as preteens.  But turning 50 goes beyond pop culture icons or midlife crisis myths.  I don’t know many men my age wearing toupees or racing around in red sports cars.  The word out on the street is “50 is the new 30” and with the help of supplements, natural hair tints and a healthy vegan or raw foods diet, it’s possible to look 35 at 50.  The old cliche goes, if I had a dime for every time someone exclaimed, “You don’t look 49 or 50,” I could retire and live comfortably on the money by age 55.

You won’t find me wearing spinster’s black or lamenting that I wasted the first 50 years of my life.  People might ask, “Where’s the husband or how old are your children?” and I can only respond with a shrug. I had other things to do and other worlds to conquer, including dealing with a myriad of inner gremlins and a long bout with depression, in which the only way to emerge was to develop self-love.  My greatest accomplishment isn’t ten years as a professional musician, producing a compilation of Seattle bands that receives acclaim two decades later, or the completion of four novels and 4 screenplays.  No, my greatest accomplishment thus far is to love myself.

When we glance back at the origins of that journey we either cringe or experience goosebumps.  I recall two episodes of self-loathing at this time.  The first incident involved an art professor who took slides of each student and asked us to draw a self-portrait.  Easy enough, right? I experienced trauma doing this and I cried while I stared at my face enlarged.  I focused on faults and chastised myself for not resembling the super models in magazines or the movie stars on the big screen. What a painful experience! I despised the art professor during those moments and also when he showed the slide to the other art students, who thankfully were too busy critiquing their own faces, to critique mine.

Another incident happened in therapy.  A psychoanalyst told me to talk to an empty chair with my jacket draped around it, a conversation with myself.  I cried and resisted this exercise.  I felt so horrified having a dialogue with the part of me that constantly hurt.  After all, if I had landed in therapy then there was definitely something wrong with me and wonder if I couldn’t fix it.  This happened in my late 20s.  And during my late 20s, I spent my nights exorcising my inner gremlins on stage as a musical performer or a poet.  Sylvia Plath was my idol during those  years, if you can imagine.

I didn’t breeze through my 30s, but I grew in wisdom as I read every popular self-help book, enrolled in self-development workshops and wondered why the Dark Night of the Soul wouldn’t just disappear. In my imagination I walked El Camino with Paul Coelho, went on medicine women journeys with Lynn V. Andrews, and learned to talk with animal spirits.  I discovered shamanic journey work, but none of this work led me to developing self-love which goes along with self-empowerment.

I celebrated my 40th birthday in a public venue by hosting a poetry and music event dedicated to compassion and kindness.  Gathering with other artists gave me a boost and set me forth on the next part of my journey.  In my 40s, I relocated twice, returned to college at the age of 45 to learn new computer technology, I landed a contract job with a newspaper and then lost the job 14 months later.  But most important in the past five years, I confronted the frightened woman inside me and learned how to love her back to health.  And I’m not alone in this.  I hear women my age saying the same thing when they phone into spiritual radio shows or join live streams.  Our crisis doesn’t involve dumping the husband in favor of the college co-ed (no Mrs, Robinson here), but our crisis does involve questioning our liberation in a world that wishes to brainwash and enslave us.

Things I learned in the past year include, drinking an unsweetened smoothie is healthier than drinking fruit juice, that yoga, breathing and meditation takes years off, and that we don’t require to go gray like our baby boomer elders and can use natural hair tints that won’t give us brain tumors.  If we choose, we can unplug, and engage on a journey to self-discovery.  We can dress anyway we choose, even buying clothes in the young adult section or wearing natural fibers.  We can opt out of fake patriotism and stop playing games to fit in with a mad society.  With new supplements on the market to build collagen, we can avoid Botox or face lifts.  Finally, we have worldwide access to women our age so we can compare notes and share wisdom.

Why do we focus so heavily on physical appearance? Is this part of self-love or self-loathing? I know that kindness to ourselves means that we stop finding fault with our bodies as they age.  I know that it’s frightening to watch people age around me.  I know that I feel tempted to turn back the clock one or two decades, and if only I could bring the ones I lost back into the fold.

age 50
age 50

I’m fortunate to sit here typing this post on my 50th birthday.  I know at least two friends who never experienced this milestone.  The first friend died before her 18th birthday when she was injured in a car accident, two weeks prior to high school graduation.  The second friend died at 34 from heart failure, 2 weeks before her 35th birthday.  So on this rainy Sunday, I won’t lament the passing of years.  I’m darn lucky to have survived and I give myself permission to thrive this second half of my life.  And for all of you turning 50 this year, many happy returns.

Did you know that life actually begins at 50?

 

 

Story–for the Day of the Dead

Since we are approaching Halloween, All Souls Day and The Day of the Dead, I’m posting work that I wrote when I was with the Latino literary troupe, Los Nortenos (2000-05). I wrote this piece for a performance that we gave at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.

skull-2028286_1280

Wearing the Bones of My Ancestors

Recently when I suffered a reoccurring problem with my spine, I recalled a doctor who offered to remove two extra ribs.  Of course, I declined his offer and chose to live with the pain of pinched nerves rather than remove bones from my body.  As time went on, I realized that I wear the bones of my ancestors.  These are the bones that never quite disintegrated into ashes and these are the bones that refused to burn for carrying shamanic influences.  And these bones derive from my mixed ancestry, which includes Philippine, Puerto Rican, Spanish, Finnish and Sami blood.

Long, long time ago, there lived a primitive people called the Finns, first discovered by the Romans around 10 AD in the region we now call Finland.  The Finns, now called Sami were pushed closer to the Arctic Circle as other tribes moved into the area, but for the most part, the Sami practiced their earth-based spirituality, including sorcery.  However when the Christians arrived, the church banned the earth-based spirituality, burning the shamans and their drums.  The magic never left us and the ancestors have returned.

In the past few years, I discovered my shamanic gifts.  I began hearing the call of the trees, animals and stones.  I had no idea why the nature spirits were calling to me, but I kept an open mind and heart.  Soon, an ancestor reconnected me with my Sami lineage, despite the fact that I grew up in middle-class America and was unaware of my Sami ancestors.

After awhile I began working with stones and I was told that the Sami people also work with stones.  I began connecting with animal and other spirits through chants.  Then I learned that the Sami people had been doing that from the onset and they call their chants yoiks.  Often they say that the spirit of the yoik finds the yoiker.  And eventually, the spirit that resides in my bones taught me this magical form of vocalization.

The Sami believe that their real home exists beyond the stars.  I don’t see this as heaven, but as a parallel dimension where our ancestors reside.  All my life I have been staring up at the stars wondering what exists behind their twinkling lights.  And all my life I have collected stones that for some mysterious reason called out to me.  I have felt like an outsider looking in among my relatives, friends and strangers as that part of me chose to live in an enchanted world.  I never could understand the stranger that exists in my bones until now and she is Sami, but she also answers to Spain, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Finland.  She is the call of the crow, the howl of the wolf, the silence of the jaguar and the whisper of stones.

Some day my bones will turn back into soil, but my spirit will never die for it knows that death is but an illusion and life is just a dream.

written for the Day of the Dead 2003. Copyright Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved