Meet these superwomen–Pandora, Persephone, Demeter and Eurydice. They have come to save the world via music.
This is chapter 5 from my urban fantasy-comedy “Enter 5-D”.
Meet these superwomen–Pandora, Persephone, Demeter and Eurydice. They have come to save the world via music.
This is chapter 5 from my urban fantasy-comedy “Enter 5-D”.
Perhaps, I sound high and mighty when I mention that I include bigger themes of humanity and the journey of the planet in my comic novels. Hah! Yet, I wanted my writing career to dovetail with my metaphysical practice. Also, my current trip is to produce podcasts of my short fiction and chapters from my unpublished novels.
I’m doing this because it is a fun way to waste precious time. And because I feel frustrated that agents ignore my work in favor of dark thrillers and all those romances. Well, that stuff sells, I understand. But I am going to quote that song, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love” and comedy–lots of it.
And I would like to think that the Holy Saints possess a sense of humor. I envision them laughing at their foibles in my heartfelt urban fantasy. A girl’s gotta do, what a girl has gotta do.
In 2004, I met saints. Well, I met the saints in my thoughts. I began to obsess about the saints. I coaxed memories from my brain revolving around saint cards my mother kept in a steamer trunk when I was a child. My mother grew up Catholic and attended a Catholic school for girls in Panama. I wasn’t raised Catholic so the saint cards fascinated me. Around the same time, I watched superhero cartoons, “Super Friends.” And years later the saints on the cards and the superheroes would merge into super beings.
So in 2004, while I was diligently writing my morning pages each day I felt inspired to write my first novel three pages at a time–longhand. And I turned to this idea of marrying Saint Francis of Assisi to Joan of Arc. Actually, I obsessed about this concept. I had no idea how to write a novel even if I had attempted to write shorter fiction. And I knew my novel would need to include magic realism and comic relief. After all, I was poor and depressed at the time so I needed to cheer myself up.
When I began my novel I structured it similar to The Little Flowers of Assisi, which is based on true stories about Saint Francis and the Friars Minor. And around ten drafts later, I finally came up with a novel despite its vignette structure is hilarious and mystical. Below you will find one of the chapters featuring two of my favorite saints, Anthony of Padua and Francis of Assisi contemplating modern life in Central Park, New York City. When I read this chapter at an art gallery in Seattle in 2007, the audience members were in hysterics. This surprised me because they were aloof when I first arrived at the gallery. During subsequent readings, audience members also enjoyed the humor, often comparing it to Monty Python (though that was not my point).
In 2007-08, I blogged the novel and it attracted quite a following, mostly from Asian countries. Then later, I removed the blog because I realized the novel needed extensive revisions. It was a semi-finalist for the first Amazon Debut Novelist Contest in 2008. And then, it appeared on the Authonomy Site from 2008-2010. This excerpt is from the latest version of the novel.
The autumn wind blows leaves in a spiral then sweeps them across the frosty grass. Despite the chill in the air, Saint Anthony shuffles his way through Central Park–his feet swathed in torn leather shoes with holes in the soles. His tattered trousers keep sliding down his hips and he wish he had a belt or suspenders to hold them in place. At least the old wool overcoat covers his thin and bare hips, even if its threadbare state leaves him shivering from the wind.
Of course, all of this is just a disguise. Anthony prides himself on his Merlin-like qualities. He marvels at how he can transform himself from administrator sporting short hair, a decent suit and a clean shave, to a ragamuffin. He practices poverty when ever possible so that he can understand the “invisible people.”
How can you help the poor if you do not truly understand their plight? He thinks of his dear friend, Francesco. How he once lived at a homeless shelter while he studied veterinarian medicine. Then Jeanne came along and changed all of that. He still thinks Jeanne was the best thing that could take place in his friend’s life. For Francesco to marry a woman that will cook for him, share her stories with him and give him companionship, and not just any woman.
Anthony wonders why he hasn’t connected with a former saint in that way. Goddess knows there are several fine single women saints residing in Manhattan. Of course, The Virgin is off limits, but he heard that Saint Catherine of Alexandria is available. She seeks a partner and won’t settle for anyone less than a saint.
The saint plops down on a bench. He gazes into the distance and notices a familiar figure. Could that be Francesco out walking Bernardo? Yes, it is. He wonders what the two of them discuss these days now that Bernardo returned as a hound. Well, at least the Franciscans meet Bernardo’s needs. Anthony heard a rumor that Clare adopted the greyhound. What a fortunate dog!
If only beautiful Clare would give her hand in holy matrimony, but obviously that would never happen. She’d have chosen Francesco in any case. What woman wouldn’t?
Anthony waves to his friends. The Italian saint and his hound approach their fellow Franciscan. “Oh, my dear Anthony, how wonderful it feels to see you here in this beautiful park on this wonderful late autumn day. I see that you have taken up with Sister Poverty again.”
Anthony smiles wearily, “I’ll be back with Sister Charity next week. I was just taking a break from the office routine…you know trying to understand instead of being understood. But I wonder my dear friend can one man really make a difference by being poor himself?”
Francesco plops down on the bench. Bernardo rests at his feet. He rubs his chin, pondering Anthony’s complicated question.
“I often wonder the same thing myself. After all, the poor need money more than they need sermons. They need food, warm clothing, and shelter and how can you provide those necessities for them if you have nothing like that to give? I think about how we went wrong in telling people to throw away their possessions and live like the birds.”
Anthony considers this food-for-thought. “And yet when we lived in grottos, people took pity and provided for us. I can’t think of a time when I felt so much joy to trust completely in providence and see that trust rewarded.”
“Those were the days. I can’t imagine we could get away with that in Manhattan,” Francesco sighs. “And even if this city has its own beauty, it could never compare to Assisi. Anthony, here you are hiding out as a self-imposed hermit. They could cart you off to Bellevue.”
Anthony laughs, “Yes, I’ve had a few close calls. Say, I wanted to ask you about Brother Bernardo and since you have him here with you…”
Francesco pats the greyhound’s head. Bernardo wags his tail as he hears his name mentioned. “Well, as you can see, he’s healthy and filled with Goddess’ presence. I almost wish I came back as such a faithful companion.”
Anthony nods and laughs. “Yes, I know what you mean.”
Francesco glances at all the people passing by women with strollers, athletic men, and women on roller skates or jogging with their sporty dogs.
“I wonder my dear friend, what goes on in the minds of all our brothers and sisters as they pass by us? Do they contemplate Goddess? Do they wonder about Sister Poverty? What do they think when they see us sitting here dressed in rags? Do you think they even notice us?”
“Oh, I think not. Today, our poverty only inspires guilt and fear, not compassion. I know because when I solicit donations for the church, few people give. They say that they are broke when they are swathed in furs…”
Francesco grimaces at the thought of ignorant humans draping themselves in the coats of their brothers and sisters. It is stealing after all.
“I don’t understand how people can proudly wear fur unless they are Indian and prayed to the creature in which sacrificed its life to them.”
“In this city at least, there’s an indifference to natural products and Goddess-made goods. Today people eat fake food when Goddess still provides a bounty of fresh vegetables and fruit.”
“Do you think that this is fall of man and womankind? Is it possible that we have returned during the earth’s last breath?”
Anthony chuckles, “Oh, my dear friend, there’s no use in getting apocalyptic. I think it was much worse when humans experienced plagues and wars that lasted a hundred years. Now things are a bit more contained. Life is easier for lots of people although not for all.”
“It’s more difficult for others.”
Anthony smiles, “My dear friend, look at you. You have clothes and you’re married to Jeanne d’Arc! Even if this place isn’t Assisi, it’s not bad. In fact, I quite like it.”
Bernardo wags his tail as a young man strides by walking two greyhounds that he recognizes. The two dogs wag their tails in response. The saints watch with total amusement.
A smile forms on Francesco’s weary face. “There goes Brother Juniper and Brother James.”
Anthony gawks, “Are you serious?”
“Oh, yes, Bernardo recognizes them.”
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This is a short excerpt from my urban fantasy novel Enter 5-D.
Pandora is about the enter the labyrinth and encounters the Minotaur. She successfully escaped Pluto’s punishment.
As Pandora contemplated her choices, she heard the sound of high heels echoing in the hallway behind her and then Persephone with Demeter dressed in black dresses and stilettos entered the office. The women’s glittering eyes landed on Pandora and assessed her predicament.
Persephone lowered her eyes and in a haughty voice acknowledged her former husband. “I didn’t know you had company. You always liked them young and pretty.”
Pluto raged. “What are you doing here?”
“My mother and I thought we would stop by for a visit, if you know what I mean.”
Pluto’s Confidant entered the office and gaped at the women in the room. He hid his excitement by presenting a glacial expression.
“Did I come at a bad time?”
Pandora took that moment to back out of the office and when she entered the hallway, she sprinted to the end. However, when she reached for the door and grabbed the knob, she realized that Pluto had locked all the doors. Wishing she had her toolkit with her, Pandora pulled out a bobby pin from her hair and a credit card from her purse and set to work on the lock.
(As you can see, this is a multiple narrative novel so I skip back and forth between characters and their scenarios).
I’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
The novels on this list beg for numerous readings. I fell in love with the characters, found myself quoting from the novels, or I never get tired of talking about the themes in the novels. Different novels came to me at different times during my adult years (or the past 3o years, beginning in 1986).
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