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.

Hidden Reality (Metaphysical Fiction)

 

 

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Photo from Pix a Bay (Public Domain)

Angel parks her SUV parallel to a pale blue minivan at the market’s lot.  She rummages in her overcrowded purse for her shopping list.  Thinking out loud, she considers unloading all of the debris that has piled up in her purse and consequently her life.  She tosses out an ancient roll of Tums–a good start.  She finally locates her grocery list: A dozen eggs, a dozen oranges, two gallons of milk, organic bread (even though it costs more), and Sugar Loops for the kids.

She begins to feel dizzy as she climbs out of the car.  The world spins and the parking lot becomes a kaleidoscope.  Then a tornado sucks her up and tosses her into a dark forest.  She lands on the ground; jolted into a hidden reality where the world appears upside down and backwards, like one’s reflection in a mirror.  She reasons that she hit her head on the car’s doorframe knocking her unconscious.

She feels like Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz and she makes a joke about Kansas.  The forest, though, seems familiar to her, but she can’t say why.  She’s never stepped out of the suburbs where she was born and still resides.  She’s never seen a forest or a river and she’s never climbed a mountain, yet this forest feels like her real home.

She rises slowly from the ground while brushing off her floral skirt.  Patting down her tangled hair, she then checks her makeup in a compact mirror.  In the distance, she notices a muddy trail leading to a cabin, so she decides to walk to the cabin and seek directions back to the suburbs.  As she staggers, shoes slipping on the slick trail, she smells a mixture of pine needles mixed with roses.  The roses cause her nose to itch, but she ignores this and keeps walking towards the cabin.

Angel quietly raps on the front door.  She hears someone shuffling his way to the door as she waits apprehensively for him to appear.  Although she would like to run away, she musters up the courage to confront her fears coupled with her longing for answers.  An old man answers the door and shouts at her.

“It’s about time you showed up!”

He introduces himself as Uriel, the guardian of the forest then he invites her into his modest home.  Growing increasingly uncomfortable, Angel stutters when asking Uriel for directions back to the parking lot.  She tells him that she must buy food for her family or they’ll go hungry.

Uriel explains that the only one starving is Angel.  “Your soul needs to be fed with a nourishing substance.  You don’t even remember that you have a soul and this causes me grief.”

Uriel leads Angel to a modest table where a king-size banquet awaits them.  A variety of thick, dark breads sit next to a bowl of lime-green apples, dark cherries and blushing peaches.  Angela’s eyes scan over the fruit and bread that wait to be consumed by her.  She notices three large pink and blue crystals the size of a small cat.

“Why have you placed crystals among the food?”

“These crystals all contain magic that can help you see into hidden reality.  Each crystal represents a different part of you. The light blue one represents your past and the pink and blue one represents your future.  The largest one represents your truest potential of living in this moment.  The crystals help you map out your journey into other realities and they guide you on your journey into the future.”

He waxes on, “You’ve lost sight of your life’s purpose and you’ve grown bored with the role of everyone’s caretaker.  Work with the crystals on a daily basis and you’ll discover that you indeed have a soul and a purpose for your existence.”

They finish their feast and their conversation.  Uriel gives Angel directions to a mammoth oak tree with a human-size hole in it.  He tells her to dive through the hole and find herself in the market’s parking lot.  Angel embraces Uriel.  She thanks him for the meal and directions back to her day-to-day life.  Reluctantly, she strides to the tree, glances over her shoulder, then dives into the gaping hole, which sucks her in and spits her out in the parking lot.

When she gains consciousness, she finds herself lying on the pavement next to her SUV.  She reasons that she must have fainted from a dizzy spell.  She hopes no one saw her lying on the ground.  As she rises, she notices three crystals gleaming in the sun.  She wonders where they came from then she recalls a strange dream in which she was sharing a feast with the guardian of the forest.  He gave her three crystals, but how did those crystals make their way into this reality?

It’s possible that the forest represents reality and that Angel dreamed up the life in the suburbs.  Then she has control over her boring life living among minivans, shopping malls, and parking lots.  She can always wake herself from that nightmare.  And maybe this time someone will comfort her.

By Patricia Herlevi (previously published). All Rights Reserved

 

Short Fiction–Disintigration of a Marriage

FSCN3164I wrote this story when I lived in Mount Vernon, Washington, circa 2010-11. Actually, I adapted a short story called, “The Bats” which I wrote and performed with Los Nortenos in Seattle. I don’t recall which year that was or for which event I read the story with the Latino literary troupe. The story gives me chills, in a good way.

Los Murciélagos

(The Bats-Disintegration of a Marriage)

By Patricia Herlevi

Hispanic Voice Series

Margaret saw it coming as the rift in her marriage to her taciturn husband Peter Olsen widened.  Their son, Peter, Jr. died in a war which itself seemed hard to believe.  Then the government added further insult, by refusing to send the soldier’s remains for a proper burial, stating something about the progressive media distorting facts.

Staring at her husband across the expanse of a large polished maple dinner table, she noticed Peter’s dry eyes after receiving the rejection for their son’s burial.

Unlike him, tears flowed from Margaret’s eyes and softened her skin dried by the harsh Minnesota weather and the stress she endured losing her only son.  She glared at her husband of twenty-five years.

“He died an honorable death so why won’t the government we pay taxes to allow us to find closure?”

Peter looked away from his wife.  “I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You’re the one who supported our son’s cause to fight in Iraq.  I was against it, but you gave him that patriotic speech and now…”

Peter shrugged, “That’s the chance we take when we go to war with another country.  Parents lose their children…”

“How can you act so detached when that someone was your son?”

Peter rose from the table and he ambled from the dining room.  As he walked through the hallway he gazed at the family photographs—vacations in Wyoming, a trip to Hawaii when Peter Jr. was in his toddler stage, and a photograph of the birth of his premature son.  The pain crushed his soul and ripped at his heart, but the tears refused to surface.  He knew also that his marriage lain in shambles.  Later that night when Margaret slept, Peter packed his suitcase, climbed in his BMW sedan and drove off into the night.  He thought of leaving a note, but considered that he already said everything he could on the topic.

The next morning when Margaret awoke she sensed that Peter had left her for good.  All the years of spending quality time with each other, building a family and a life together crumbled like Humpty-Dumpty’s wall.  She went through the motions of frying an egg for breakfast, but everything she ate tasted like cardboard and after crying for days, her eyes were left in a bone dry state.  She lived in denial.

Perhaps the news would sink in after the ink dried on the divorce papers or upon her son’s birthday that loomed in the future.  A velvety darkness descended pushing Margaret further into an endless tunnel.

The same family photographs housed in their gilded frames that destroyed her husband only reminded Margaret of bittersweet memories frozen in time.  They reminded her of everything that she lost.  Once the neighborhood wives envied her, but now Margaret became a target for their pity.  She learned to avoid their constant stares and found comfort in her nightly dreams.

One reoccurring dream featured thousands of bats.  In the dream, she didn’t run away in horror and her fascination for the bats grew.  They’d never harm her and instead of sucking her lifeblood they lead her through a transformation.  She believed that they promised her a new life.  When she felt that she lost her sanity, the bats’ whispers seemed logical and comforting.  They guided her as she descended further into the tunnel.  Margaret groped and stumbled searching for the proverbial light that would eventually appear.  Even if the light failed to materialize she grew accustom to the darkness, void of any dreams, hopes or desires, but also of suffering.

Although Peter died, she felt as if she was the one being lowered into the damp and wormy soil.  She felt the crushing weight and her bones disintegrating into ashes.  Decades from now, she thought, archeologist would dig up her bones while searching for stones and artifacts in the blurred future.  They’d say that she was a solid-built woman with upright posture with a dark complexion, or so she thought.  They’d search for a husband and next of kin, but come up empty handed then the experts would extrapolate on an Isis-Osiris theory of the 21st century on NPR.

However, a real death didn’t await Margaret, but a symbolic one followed by her rebirth.  At some point she’d sell the house and leave her memories behind.  She’d journey across the desert and across the sea, forgetting her son who never showed her courtesy and a husband who buried himself in his work.  And only then, she finally cried tears and shed the weight of her regrets.  Those tears only came to free her from the burden of someone else’s dream.

In time, Margaret emerged as a powerful woman who knew great sadness.  When she looked in the mirror she finally saw someone staring back at her.  And the fleeting glimpses of the future recalling a fox hiding in the foliage, gave Margaret the courage to keep moving towards a better life, a different life.  She reasoned, just because she couldn’t see it didn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  Her salvation came in an intangible form when she relocated to Southern France and started a new life as a gardener.

Meanwhile, Peter quit his job, bought a sailing boat and settled his grief out at sea. He drowned out his memories of family life listening to Bach’s preludes on his portable CD player which sounded tiny and insubstantial in comparison to the waves that hit the side of the boat and the wind that whistled in the sails.  The smell of salt often misted his eyes and his sleep brought memories that would forever haunt him.  He felt dismembered by the loss of his marriage and the death of his son. But he had faith that the grief would subside in the way that tempest subside in the morning light leaving the sun sparkling on the renewed ocean, earth, and sky.

But one memory, the evening when his marriage to Margaret disintegrated played out like one of the Mexican soaps his wife so dearly loved and he despised.  Why all that drama?

That evening, Margaret set out Peter’s favorite meal of roast beef with baby potatoes drenched in rosemary butter, and an expensive bottle of wine.  She finally cleaned house after weeks of neglect and pulled herself together to shop for groceries and prepare that meal.

When she sat the platter with roast on the table, Peter could barely drum up appetite. He avoided eye contact with his distraught wife, but not because he didn’t feel love for her.  Sensing that she had more strength than he’d ever acquire in a lifetime, he stared at the newly polished silverware and his glass of wine. He envied her.

Margaret sighed.

Peter finally gazed at his wife’s haggard face.  “I’m sorry.”

Tears slipped from Margaret’s eyes.  “Why won’t they allow us to see our son one last time?”

Peter placed his hand on Margaret’s hand which she yanked away defiantly.

“You heard the news that none of the parents will get the chance to see their children. Why should it be any different for us?”

Margaret raised her voice in a passionate plea. “There was a time when we would have organized and pulled out our picket signs.”

“What good would that do now? We’re not even permitted to discuss our son’s death with the reporters.”

“Not that I want to and I’m sick and tired of those reporters sniffing around here and their attachment to other people’s grief.  But that might bring closure if we could talk to someone.”

“No, we’re on our own this time.”

Margaret stared defiantly at her husband and headed back to the kitchen.

Peter covered his face with his hands attempting to erase the tragedy that visited him.  He once thought he had all the answers, but those days had passed.

As the sun rose over a distant island, Peter drank a cup of black coffee and stared out at the sea, the smell of salt and roasted beans mingled in his nostrils.  He thought about Margaret and wondered where she was at that time.  He regretted walking away from his marriage. Now that the dust finally settled he obsessed about second chances.

All Rights Reserved Copyright owned by Patricia Herlevi

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).

The Practice–5 Ways to Get Unstuck

 

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Photo by Patricia Herlevi, All Rights Reserved

You’re staring at a blank page while your frustration mounts higher by the minute. A litany of shoulds ring through your thoughts–“I should write three pages a day.” “I should have completed this novel by now.” “I should have something ready for my writing group.” And yet, your gaze roams to the window and you would rather spend time in a kayak on a lake than torture yourself with writing expectations. So, head to the lake…

 

That’s right. When writing feels more like a chore than a passion, it’s time to take a vacation from it. And that’s not the same as procrastination. In fact, taking time off from writing allows you to get back into the flow. Our expectations cause us to jam up the flow and when there’s no flow the muse takes a hike (and in a place, you would rather be).

So, if you’re like me whipping your back with guilt because you didn’t follow a writing schedule this week, forgive yourself. Use the following tips to get you back into your groove. And realize, that if you reside in the Pacific Northwest or any place that rains most of the year, you have my permission to get outside on a sunny day and let it all hang out. Or spend a day with your characters in a rustic setting.

  1. Literally, jump in a lake or at least visit a large body of water. Muses enjoy beautiful settings and they enjoy movement such as hiking, jogging, or just roaming in nature with a camera. Get outdoors. Get fresh air and with that, you will solve your problems and figure out your characters’ motives.  And your health improves tremendously too when you get outdoors. You’ll have more energy to bring back to your writing schedule.
  2. Give up your writing schedule (if you are a workaholic). Instead, of sitting down at a particular time of day and writing a certain amount of pages or words, dis that. The problem with writing schedules is that they don’t allow for other areas of our lives to blossom. And we begin to dread having to do something at a certain time each day. (The opposite is true for people who procrastinate). They do require a schedule.
  3. Engage in one of your hobbies such as photography, painting, sculpting, or photography. When you work on something else that is creative it draws you back to your writing.
  4. Take Julia Cameron’s advice (The Artist’s Way) and write your three morning pages first thing when you wake up. This helps you clear your head from obsessions, worries, and doubts which keep you spinning your wheels. This author-teacher also advises us to go for a daily walk and to take ourselves out on an artist’s date once a week. See the book, The Artist’s Way for a full description.
  5. Go out with a friend. Go see a movie, go for a walk, or simply share a meal together and get caught up on each other’s lives. And who knows, if you discuss your book with your friend, he or she might have some good ideas to propel you forward, especially if your friend is a writer.

Do any of these five things and release yourself from writer’s bondage. I’ve been writing professionally since 1986. I’ve had my flowing days and I’ve been stuck behind the dam on other days. I know that all the above activities I mentioned bring release (so does eating dark chocolate) and help you get back in the flow. If these tips don’t work, then ask yourself if writing is really your passion or just something someone told you would be good at. Truth-telling leads you to your real calling and to a less stressful life.

I’m an astrologer-coach who specializes in sessions for creative people. Sign up for a session in-person or by Skype if you are located in the Pacific NW. I give astrology readings internationally through reports or by Skype. Also, follow me on Facebook.