Write It–Memoir: Revenge versus Telling a Higher Truth

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Photo from 1995: Taken by Liz Herlevi

I never thought I would write a memoir. For the most part, I find reading memoirs tedious as writers tend to include too many details and tell their story in a linear way. Many memoirists also seem to have barbs attached to their pens.

The reason why Eat, Pray, Love enjoyed success wasn’t because Liz Gilbert struck out to get revenge on her former husband or the lifestyle she was supposed to embrace. The memoir received worldwide attention because the author stripped herself bare while allowing raw, yet universal emotions to splatter on to the pages of her book. Gilbert also chose a non-linear structure for her memoir, even though her travelogue traveled from Italy, then India, and finally, Bali. Gilbert also tells her story in a self-effacing, humorous, and relatable voice–at least familiar to middle-class American women of a certain age.

But when I was wading through manuscripts on the defunct Authonomy website years ago, most of the memorists made several mistakes in my opinion. They used too many passive verbs, they regurgitated their lifestory instead of focusing on a slice of life, and they chose macabre topics without providing some brighter moments or comic relief. Some authors would have been better off hiring a ghost writer since their writing skills were rudimentary or told in a second language. And yet, an author learns a lot by critiquing other people’s work while also reading the top memoirs on the charts.

The main question for me revolves around baring one’s soul. How many sensitive topics or secrets do I reveal in my work? And am I revealing these secrets to tell a universal story or am I seeking revenge on a subconscious level? It helps to spend time in therapy while writing material with suffering rooted in childhood situations, as is the case with my memoir, Woman Sleeping on a Couch. And the good news is that the writing process proved cathartic and I did bring up these deeper issues during therapy sessions. But I still ask myself if my story is universal or just too painful to share with others?

Determine whether or not you’re shooting from the hip or if sharing your story has the power to heal others.

  • Will telling your story divide a family or cause a rift with relatives?
  • Will your story withstand the scrutiny of critics (both professional and personal)?
  • Can you write your story in an entertaining manner where you laugh at yourself and reveal your vulnerabilities (shadows and projections)?
  • Do you take responsibility for your end of the story or act like a victim?
  • Do you discern the difference between events that serve the story and events that serve the ego?
  • Will telling your story land you in legal hot water or liberate you?
  • Does your story share an arc with fiction? Do you have a strong beginning, middle and resolution or is your story open-ended?

Writing memoirs rubs the conscious raw. Writing memoirs strips the soul bare. And not everyone wants to read about people’s personal history unless it strikes a common thread. And the most popular memoirs revolve around travel, food, love/romance, and animals. If you take a more universal approach by anchoring your story in one of those themes, you have a greater chance of hitting the literary jackpot.

My sister and I used to have a conversation where she believed that everyone has an interesting story to tell. But face it, not everyone is a storyteller. And while it’s enjoyable to sit with friends, colleauges, and family members as they spin nostalgic and revealing yarns, a memoir stretches those yarns to 300 pages, which causes some yarns to snap and break.

However, if a story has a strong beginning, middle, and end with an overarching universal theme, then it is worth telling. Just be willing to rewite the “truth” through several drafts. And then depending on the material in the story, muster the courage to weather any storms that come from secrets and situations contained in the memoir. Once we let the worms out of the can, it’s too late to put a lid on it.

I’m an author and astrologer who provides coaching for creative professionals. Go to Whole Astrology to sign up for a session.

 

Write it—Choosing Your Novel’s Music Soundtrack

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Glenn Gould informs my writing…

My writing process changed with each of my novels. When I wrote my first novel, Super-Natural Heroes, I handwrote the entire novel in two notebooks. Instead of writing my morning pages, I wrote three pages a day for my novel. Many of the chapters ended up as three page chapters. 

With my fifth novel, Enter 5-D, I wrote my plot lines and character traits on huge white sheets of paper which covered the floor of a 350 square foot apartment (really a converted garage). Both my first and fifth novels feature multiple plots and since I tend to go into a trance when I write, I needed concrete guidance which is why I drew my plot on the large sheets of paper. I also created a vision board for my novel.

The other practice I have with all my novels is that I listen to music which I would use for the movie soundtrack for my stories. When I worked on Love Quadrangle, I mainly listened to Glenn Gould performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations which does appear in my novel and in fact, provides a theme for the novel. I listened to Gregorian Chant while I worked on Super-Nature Heroes, and I listened to French cafe music (mostly French swing) when I worked on Agnes and Yves.

Since I’m currently editing my fifth novel, I’ll talk about the soundtrack music for this novel. I started listening to Nick Drake as I worked on this novel. And one song in particular, “River Man” became the theme for my Ferryman character. And the song plays in my thoughts when I am even thinking about my novel. Other Drake tunes that I associate with Enter 5-D are “Pink Moon,” and “Things Behind the Sun.”

Since my protagonist Eurydice is an opera diva who is best known for her role as the Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute), I watched Diana Damrau’s performances of this role performing “The Queen of the Night Aria”. I also include Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue in the background.

I’m a musician and have immersed myself in music my entire life. My mother even played music for me while I was still in the womb. So, music always plays a key role while I’m writing a novel. And it’s not just background music. I write from listening to tone, timbre, and rhythms. My novels have a sense of musicality in them. Silence plays a role too.

When choosing a soundtrack for a novel (and possibly the movie version later), let’s consider the following.

  • What are the characters’ dominant moods and personality traits? What songs would define each of the characters, even a phrase from a song?
  • What songs describe the landscape of the novel?
  • Songs provide melodic tension and rhythm.
  • Which songs honor the pace of the novel?
  • And which songs provide themes for the novel?

You can add other questions to this list. And don’t stick with the usual musical genres either. If you normally use pop music for your soundtracks, shake it up a bit and try classical or jazz chamber music. Why not listen to music from around the globe, especially if your story takes place in a foreign country?

If you would like a coaching session on becoming consciously aware of music or would like help coming up with a soundtrack for your novel, sign up for a coaching session. I am a music expert and I provide you with this blog Whole Music Experience which features reviews and interviews, as well as, some music examples. For world music, check out World Music Central.

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.

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 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. 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 famous 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. Let us reject their rejection of us.

 

 

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