Write It–5 Reasons to Write Short Fiction

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A favorite author of mine, Isabel Allende

When I turned my gaze away from journalism and poetry to writing short fiction, I came across an anthology of short stories edited by Isabel Allende. In the introduction to the anthology, Allende said that if a short story did not grab her within the first few paragraphs, it would not work as short fiction.

While I don’t agree whole-heartedly with Allende’s observation, I’ll say that short fiction is condensed and requires powerful writing. When we write short stories, we don’t have the space to introduce lineages of characters or complex plots. It’s not the format for including loads of description or delving deeply into a character’s emotional palette.

The short stories that work for me have odd twist in them, especially with flash fiction, which is a story told in 500 words or less. Allende is correct in that the lead paragraph and the final paragraph must leave impressions on the reader. You don’t want to start out slow and start meandering. The character’s call to action takes place in the first or second paragraph. You want to lead the reader into the story quickly and then keep him or her nibbling until they take the Final literary bite.

This brings me to the point of my essay which is five reasons to write short stories. But first let me tell you what short fiction is not. Short fiction is not a short novel. Short fiction is not a jumping off point for novel writing per se. Short fiction is not a lazy writer’s craft. And short fiction doesn’t necessarily pay the bills unless you are lucky enough to land your stories in a bigger name literary journal that pays authors for their stories. Most agents will tell you that they don’t represent short story collections.

5 Reasons to Write Short Stories

  1. Taking up the challenge helps authors to hone into what matters for the character and the story. Authors learn how to get to the point, use less words, and create on their toes.
  2. If a writer can land publication in literary journals and anthologies on a regular basis, this helps land a contract with an agent and subsequently impresses book publishers and editors.
  3. Short stories can be transformed into podcasts and uploaded on Vimeo and YouTube then showcased on author websites and blogs.
  4. Writing shorter fiction allows a writer to exercise their chops without having to write another novel. I like to take a break from writing novels and tackle the short form because I see my results more quickly.
  5. Sometimes short story characters and situations spark the next novel or screenplay.

If you would like a coaching session for unblocking your creative genuius, sign up at Whole Astrology. I use astrology, cards, and other tools in my coaching sessions. It’s best to sign up for a package and if you do so, we can work out a discount for one of the sessions, such as $25 off, if you buy 4 sessions at $100 each.

My background is in journalism, fiction-writing, teaching workshops, astrology, and other metaphysical topics. I was an arts journalist for over 25 years.

Write it–Turning Distractions into Copy

DSCN6075Often times we think we’re going to sit down and write the Great American novel. Or we want to write the next big fantasy series. But we find that family members or elements of our life distract us from pursuing our novel-writing dream.

Sometimes life events interrupt our artistic pursuits. However, we can transform those distractions into art. Let me give you an example. While I worked on my romantic comedy novel, Love Quadrangle, I ended up living in between homes. While I had no intention of writing a memoir, my circumstances begged to be turned into a manuscript.

Then when I thought I had settled into a new home and I worked on completing my fantasy novel, Enter 5-D, I found myself living in between homes again. The scenarios I experienced with narcissistic types in my life, the peril of not knowing there I would rest my head on some given nights, and the trauma I healed in therapy sessions begged for another memoir.

And here’s the rub–I never wanted to write a memoir. I’m not the sort of person who wants to show up as a character in a book. Yet, the distractions in my life begged me to create narratives. And that’s how it works. Often times, and pardon my metaphysical exploration here, the Universe has other plans for us. We’re not supposed to be the next Harry Potter author. Instead, we are asked to tackle the big issues of our time by writing a personal story.

In fact, this is what happened to author Liz Gilbert. She published novels that didn’t really go anywhere. And then when she published her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, her writing career broke wide open. So maybe, the career move is writing the memoir about an experience with a universal appeal. That might be hard to swallow for authors who consider themselves purely fiction writers. And yet, we must travel to the place where we can mine gold and not stay stuck in a place that isn’t for us.

So here are 5 tips for turning your life events into compelling narratives:

  • Take copious notes while you are enduring a life-altering experience. If you don’t already keep a journal, start one.
  • Keep quotes handy from the people who appear on your path. And keep records of dates and locations.
  • Read how-to books on writing memoirs.
  • Join a writing group that specializes in non-fiction (if you enjoy the group support).
  • Take workshops on writing non-fiction

Another suggestion is to start a blog instead of a journal. This helps you build a platform and attract followers who you can transform into readers of your memoir in the future. And do get into social media groups of people going through similar experiences. However, do not rant in these groups as this just turns future readers off.

In the meantime, I am considering rewriting my first memoir (again) and getting started on my second one. I find that I require a distance from my experiences so that I can write from a clear head space.

If you would like astrology or metaphysical coaching advice for your writing projects, sign up for a session at Whole Astrology.

Write it–The Walking Cure

DSCN9078I’ve already mentioned several writing block cures on Belle Author. Today, we’re focusing on the walking cure. Usually, when we hit that dead end, we have caused stagnation in the flow of inspiration–in other words, we’re thinking too hard.

The analytical thought has its place when designing plots or working out strategies to get a character in the right place at the right time. However, inspiration and flow come from the opposite side of the brain than analytical thought. And when we engage with too much analytical thought, we paralyze ourselves with criticism. And often this occurs when we haven’t even completed the first draft!

Remember that the first draft is about flow and improvisation. We don’t untangle those knots from the plot or fill in the details for the characters until later drafts. So, if you find yourself struggling with moving your story forward, take a walk.

  • Go to the beach. Imagine yourself walking on the sand and watching the waves clear away your footprints. This reminds you that each moment truly matters and you begin to experience a sense of time standing still or Oneness. This allows you to get your mind off your problems and harness your imagination.
  • Walk in the woods. Listen to the birds singing in the trees, and watch the butterflies and hummingbirds dart past you. You get a sense of exhilaration. You see the creativity of the Universe in effect and know that you are part of that creativity. This is also a good time to take your characters with you and enjoy the setting together.
  • Stroll through an urban neighborhood. Notice the season, the time of day, the temperature, and the sounds around you. Dash through the lawn sprinkler if it’s a hot sunny day or if it’s an autumn day, listen to leaves crunch under your boots. Take in all the sensory and know that you’ll use those later for your novel or memoir.
  • Go to a park on a peaceful day. Sit by a pond and with your journal in hand, start writing through a stream of consciousness. Even, write a poem.
  • Go to the zoo alone. Observe the children as they discover each animal along the way. And observe the animals as they interact with zoo tourists. Observe all the colors, textures, and tones as well as, the rhythms of the animals. This will help you write with rhythm and vibrancy.

dscn3701Another suggestion if you don’t feel like engaging your two feet walking is to take a bus on a long-distance trip and instead of spending time on your laptop or phone, watch the scenery. Pay attention to patterns, colors, and movement. Soak in the moods of each place the bus passes. And notice how your emotions switch from disgust to delight; nostalgia and adventure.

Writing should never feel like a punishment. If sitting in a chair each day and staring at a blank screen compares to torture, then consider finding another creative outlet besides writing. I noticed a flurry of people wanting to write and publish books in the last ten or so years. And many of these folks want to write for the wrong reasons or maybe they remember their fifth-grade teacher telling them that they would make a good writer. Be honest with yourself. Do you want to spend your days constructing plots, creating characters and moving them through time and space?

However, having said that, we all run into blocks at times. And finding ways to get out of the analytical mind and engage with the flow helps us get back on track. Going for walks is one of the best ways to engage any creative flow. I believe this is why Julia Cameron includes daily walks in her coaching books. And it never helps to take a little notebook along with you on the walks because inspiration will come and you want to keep it at hand.

Sign up for a metaphysical coaching session with me and learn other good ideas to bring to your writing practice. I use astrology, card reading and channeling with my coaching. I look forward to meeting with you and igniting your muse. wholemusicexp at gmail.com

Photography by Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved (text and photos).

Write it–What Rejection Does Not Mean

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Photo by Patricia Herlevi

For us sensitive types, rejection feels like someone slamming the door on our fingers. It hurts so badly that we wallow in shame and sometimes the guilt that comes when we feel like we made sacrifices for no good reason. As a writer (and as a human being), I have experienced the worst kinds of rejection–the kind that contains no constructive criticism and is so vague that it leaves too much room for interpretation. This type of criticism is death to the soul (or so it seems).

During the past week, despite kind comments people have left on my YouTube videos and Facebook posts, I received two rejections laced with shame. I felt like authority figures were sending poison arrows at me and those arrows were penetrating my skin leading to the slow death of my creative spirit. These situations reminded me too much of scathing criticism I experienced as an innocent child. It’s that message of “How dare you to think that you are better than anyone else. Or how dare you express yourself creatively when we don’t condone your type of creative talent.”

So the first rejection I experience was the good folks at YouTube slapping an age restriction on one of my astrology videos. The shaming part came with a description of why a viewer flagged my video. Where there is absolutely no violence or pornography or sex in my astrology video. I produced the video to educate my subscribers (whatever their age), to interpret a particular moon transit. True, I included images of the painting of Venus di Milo in my video–which shows a nude Venus rising from the ocean with men dancing around her. This image comes from a Classic Greek myth and anyone taking an ancient art history class will view this photo as art.

Still, YouTube thought it was in their best interest to shame me even though that particular video received over 35,000 visits–people of which saw ads on YouTube and probably purchased a product or service based on the ads they saw. And the message YouTube gave me was to make sure that my videos never become too visible or people will attack me for showing up authentically in the world. I’m expected to live my life by someone’s moral standards based on religions I don’t practice and never will practice.

This rejection as far as I’m concerned does not mean that I’m a wicked person because I know I’m not. I am not a violent person nor am I peddling harmful material to anyone. If people feel offended by the paintings featured in my videos (which are tame compared to modern art paintings), then no one is forcing them to watch my videos. And if this is the beginning of a witch hunt, look no further than the US government and major corporations where you’ll find Reptilian people performing the darkest kind of magic and brainwashing on the populace. So YouTube can go sniffing for evil elsewhere.

The second rejection I experienced was from the Artist Trust out of Seattle. Last year I applied for a storytelling grant. When I received the rejection letter and announcement of the winner in January, there was a passage in the rejection letter that said I could request notes for my submission. So, I requested the notes and waited several months to find out that my application wasn’t worthy of notes or suggestions because two of the three judges decided that my writing wasn’t valuable or viable to ever producing an income for me.

Now, I could make that mean that I’m an unworthy person and that I suck as a writer. But I’m not going to do that. I have worked as a freelance journalist since the age of 22 and I have earned money as a writer in many respects. The writing sample I sent to the Artist’s Trust was a passage from a memoir I wrote about living in between homes for several months due to a housing crisis that no one wants to address. Or perhaps, I had sent a writing sample from a novel that started out with a short story that was almost published by the Missouri Review several years ago. I don’t remember what I had sent.

But I know this. I’m not an unsuccessful writer even if I have not graduated with an MFA from any prestigious school or because I haven’t studied with a decorated person. I don’t require permission from the Artist’s Trust judges to write or to succeed as a writer. And when we feel like getting revenge, the best revenge to rejection is to keep on plugging away until we experience glorious success.

Rejection from publishers, editors, agents or other writers does not mean we suck as people. It does not mean we should throw in the towel to make them feel better. It does not mean that we have to shove ourselves into a square hole when we are a round peg. It does not mean we have to accept snobby behavior from others who believe that they are the authorities of our career or life path. It just means we have yet to find our tribe.

Most of the time other people’s rejection is their problem. Sometimes rejection happens because our work is premature and needs work. Sometimes rejection happens because those rejecting us feel overwhelmed with entries, applications, and proposals. And sometimes rejection happens because we’re from outside their circle of colleagues and friends. And sometimes rejection happens by people who enjoy shaming others because they are narcissistic. We’ll never know. And if the judges can’t give us criteria for us to improve our work, then their rejection is worthless and just plain cruel. Let us reject their rejection of us.

And if you have suffered grief from rejection recently, watch this scene from “Flash Dance” and you will feel uplifted. Success is the best revenge. (Sorry, it’s not in English).

Before I wrote Novels, There Were Other People’s Novels

dscn3330I’m sitting here remembering my twenties and thirties which resembled a reading festival. I satisfied my hunger for novels by focusing on one author at a time, usually women authors. I began with Margaret Atwood and graduated to the magic realism of Isabel Allende. Then later, when I discovered Latin literature, I devoured those novels.

Many times, I was up to my elbows in unfinished books. I walked blocks from the library with books weighing me down. I attended a book festival in Seattle that took place in a pier on the waterfront. And I attended author events at Elliott Bay Books and then later, Ravenna Third Place Books.

I was in awe of authors. Besides, musicians, authors caused me to engage in hero worship. I read their biographies and interviews with them in which they would say that it took them five to ten years to write a novel. So when I wrote my first novel, Super-Nature Heroes in six months, I thought I must have sucked as an author. I had thought of writing a novel for at least a decade, but since I had not majored in English, I demurred. No, I thought, I will just leave novel writing for the experts or the real authors.

It’s hard to believe that since 2005, I have written five novels and none of them took me five years to write. But at least one of them took me several years of rewriting to get it right. And even then. None of my novels are published at this time. I went the self-publishing route for a short period in 2012-13 and stumbled through the process that ended in disappointment. I still believe that the right agents will come along and represent my novels. I am patient. I am older and realistic.

The downside to writing my own novels is I no longer place authors on pedestals–the allure has faded. However, when I pick up a novel that astounds me, I grow weak in the knees. Darn, I think, that author nailed it. I could never write that brilliantly. And no one is ever going to celebrate anything I’ve written.

That’s when I stop myself. Writing is not a competition unless you enter a contest. I’ve entered writing contests and I have never enjoyed it. Even if I won, contests are like comparing oranges and apples. And I despise the idea of people judging my work as if its a dog and pony show. Besides, I don’t want to compete with other authors. I prefer to join their club and read their work.

I prefer to kick back on a rainy winter’s day with a few novels waiting on my desk for me to crack open their covers. I prefer to explore someone else’ work and escape into the unknown. And I want to feel like I have climbed into a canoe with the author as he or she paddles us across a lake. And then when we reach the shore, I shake his or her hand and say a quiet thank you.

Photo and Essay by Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved

 

Write It–Waiting for the Muse

DSCN2318From 2008 to 2012, I was a writing machine as far as short fiction. Characters visited me when I walked through neighborhoods or rode the bus through town. I also had more free time on my hands. The downside was the amount of time I spent hunched over a laptop writing the stories which ranged from bittersweet dramas to laugh-out-loud comedies.

And while I enjoy writing short fiction, I haven’t had the leisure of writing any new stories since 2013. I concentrated on a non-fiction book on music, a memoir on housing struggles, and two novels. And like some of you reading this post, I panic because I feel my muse has escaped to Never Never Land, never to return to me. And then, what will I write?

So what are some activities we can do while we wait for our muses to return? Here is a list that ignites artistic flow and creates a home for a muse to reside. I’m also remembering that Hollywood movie about the filmmaker with the Greek muse.

  • Go for walks, not just in beautiful settings, but also in urban environments
  • Ease drop on conversations on public transportation and in cafes
  • Sit outdoors at a cafe and watch passerby
  • Photograph your favorite places and buildings (then you wonder about people in those buildings or places)
  • Daydream (Yes, I know, our mothers told us not to indulge in daydreams)
  • Take a short trip somewhere or take a vacation
  • Spend time alone (since others can jam up your flow)
  • Read news headlines but not the articles (come up with your own stories)
  • Spend time with children and ask them to tell you stories
  • Spend time in nature
  • Meditate or journal

Once you open up space for stories to enter, they show up. Be warned though that you could receive multiple stories at one time. That’s what happened to me and this meant that I spent an hour or two each day crafting short stories.

I am an astrologer and creative coach. Sign up for a session with me at Whole Astrology. I am also an author of several unpublished novels so I’m on the lookout for the right literary agent for my work.

Photo by Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved

Literary Essay–Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman

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I first picked up Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman at an airport in Toronto (December 1986). Then I laughed my head off while I was on the plane heading to Vancouver. The Chinese man sitting next to me seemed nervous by my hysterics and sputtering. Later in my twenties, as I reread the novel, I noticed the darker themes, especially during my Saturn Return (age 28 -32) when I endured the Candida Diet. I too saw my world shrinking uncontrollably.

For those of you who have never read this Canadian classic first published in 1969, it centers around the character Marian McAlpin and her impending marriage to Peter, the quintessential man’s man. The closer Marian comes to her wedding date, the fewer foods her body will allow her to consume. Meanwhile, the proto-feminist message is that the society around her is consuming her!

Even though Atwood wrote this book at the tail-end of the tumultuous 1960s, we can interpret the messages of the books to fit contemporary times. For instance, every time someone rattles off a list of all the foods they can’t consume (due to allergies or other health reasons), I’m reminded of Miss McAlpin’s dilemma. In fact, specific scenes in Atwood’s novel including, the dinner scene with Duncan, Trevor, and Fischer where Marian sits through an uncomfortable meal where she has to discretely eliminate food from her plate and the dinner scene with Peter, Clara, and Joe where she hides meat under lettuce leaves, come to mind when dealing with people with food allergies.

Of course, Atwood wasn’t messaging us about food, but about a consumer culture that robs us of our liberties. At the beginning of the story, we already see the noose tightening around Marian’s neck when she has to sign up for a pension plan. She tells the accountant that she prefers not to sign the pension plan, but the accountant tells her it’s obligatory. Then we meet Peter with his guns, cameras, and conservative politics, not to mention sexual politics, that gives the reader a sense of suffocation. I’m sure this was Atwood’s intention too.

While the book harbors disturbing themes, it’s delightfully and wickedly funny. Not that someone with a limited food diet would find it funny. On page 166 of the novel, Marian faces what would be seen by food-sensitive folks as a common theme.

“For the protein variety she had been eating omelets and peanuts and quantities of cheese. The quiet fear, that came nearer to the surface now as she scanned the pages–she was in the ‘Salads’ section–was that this thing, this refusal of her mouth to eat, was malignant; that it would spread that slowly the circle now dividing the non-devourable from the devourable would become smaller and smaller…”

Then we see the treatment of “modern” women on page 222 when Peter uses Marian’s back as furniture. He places his ashtray in the hollow of Marian’s back; after they made love. Meanwhile, Marian’s mind worries about her diminishing food choices. Just that morning she was unable to eat rice pudding (the one mentioned at the beginning of the novel that was part of a marketing survey).

As the story progresses, the circle of allowable foods diminishes until Marian sits in a diner with Duncan and her body refuses every food choice on the menu. This is when the character takes matters into her own hands and stops acting like a passenger and sits in the driver’s seat, metaphorically-speaking. She makes a trip to the grocery store, buys ingredients for a cake. Then she makes a cake in the shape of a lady which she consumes in a weird sort of ritual.

She invites Peter over to consume the cake and when he refuses to get involved with the ritual, Marian breaks off their engagement. Meanwhile, Duncan (the strange man) consumes the cake lady leaving Marian feeling satisfied. On pages 309 and 310 , Marian watches Duncan consume the remainder of the cake (she had consumed most of the lady earlier). Atwood ends her classic debut novel with, “He scraped the last chocolate curl up with his fork and pushed away the plate. ‘Thank you,’ he said, licking his lips. ‘It was delicious.’

It has been years since I picked up this novel. And each decade that I read it, I find new themes. Part of my interpretation now revolves around both the consumer culture that I abhor and my own limited food list as my own body refuses certain foods, but for reasons different than the ones given in the novel.

I wonder what Atwood would say about gluten, GMO foods as well as, organic versus chemically-sprayed foods. What would she tell me about food phobias, and food Nazis and all the marketing in the form of articles that cause us to fear even more foods we once took for granted? We lived in a strange world in 1969 when the novel debuted, and we live in a much stranger world in 2016. And I have always found Atwood to possess a gift of prophecy.

The question remains as who is the consumer? Are we the consumer of food or is food consuming us? Are we the consumer of goods (to keep economies rolling along) or are the goods consuming us? I’m reminded of a line from the movie, French Kiss, where the younger sister of Kate’s fiancee says, “You’ll never buy a house. The house will end up consuming you. One night someone forgets to put out a cigarette and the house burns to the ground.” (Approximate quote).

Book quotes from Margaret Atwoods, The Edible Woman, Anchor Books, 1998, NY