Secret Stairs (Part III)

[Continuation of Secret Stairs (Part I) and Secret Stairs (Part II)]

The third and final leg of the journey to search for secret stairs in Hollywood took us to the Temple Hill neighborhood. There weren’t a lot of steps to climb (only 108 compared to the more that 300 in Whitley Heights), but there were many steep hills that could have used a few stairs to make the hike easier.

This is an area was once the home of various spiritual centers, including Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophists and the Vedanta Temple:

On Vine Way, we found this graceful and winding set of 47 easy steps:

snd these private steps:

We continued to Holly Mont Drive where we saw Hollymont Castle, once Barbara Stanwyck’s estate and now owned by pianist Derek Grey. We met a man who claimed to be Derek Grey’s twin brother, and he could have been, for all I know. He confirmed that the castle was haunted.

Across from the castle was a set of 61 steps that divided into two narrow stairways.

I was disappointed when the search for secret stairs ended for the day. I’ve never known that stairs could be so romantic. I’ve seen very few staircases in the past twenty years — there was no real need for them in the high flat areas I’ve lived, and whatever steps I encountered were banal, simply a way to get from one place to another. Now I will keep an eye out for stairways, and wonder about all who have set foot on those steps.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Secret Stairs (Part II)

[A continuation of Secret Stairs (Part I)]

Secret. There is something about the very word that rouses our curiosity, making us wonder what dire (or delightful) truths are being kept from us. Secret societies. Secret meetings. Secret codes. Secret stairs.

Secret stairs? I’d never even heard of such a thing until a friend invited me on a trip to search out some of the secret stairs in Los Angeles. Apparently, there are many secret stairways in steep hilly neighborhoods. In the days before cars took over the city, these stairs allowed people to get down the hill to schools, markets, and trolley cars. In fact, many of the houses in these neighborhoods had no other access to the outside world than these public staircases.

We saw once public stairways, such as these steps that now go up to someone’s back yard in Whitley Heights:

Stairs

We saw remnants of stairs:

We climbed stairs that meandered through a park,

old wooden stairs,

faux wood stairs,

painted stairs.

And we took these concrete stairs up to my favorite part of the hike,

this lovely secluded walkway.

There are so many wonders in the world, secret and otherwise, that it’s amazing we go about our ordinary lives without stopping more frequently to gasp at the awe of it all.

To be continued . . . Secret Stairs (Part III)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Secret Stairs (Part I)

A friend invited me to go on a trip with her for a “secret stairs” hike in Hollywood. Even though I didn’t know what the hike was about, of course I said “yes.” I have developed the habit of saying yes to anything anyone invites me to do, even if my first inclination were to hesitate or even say no, a practice that has led me to many wonderful places and activities that I would never even thought of experiencing. Even if I weren’t already primed to accept, I’d have gone — I’ve never been able to resist anything “secret.” There are a vast number of secrets in the world, including life itself, and being gifted with an insatiable curiosity, I try to ferret out those secrets, but considering that so many secrets are . . . well, secret . . . by definition, I wouldn’t know that they even exist. And there, in a few simple words, I was being offered a chance to discover a hitherto unknown secret.

Secret stairs. Even the phrase evokes feelings of adventure, wonder, mystique.

Apparently, there are many secret stairways in Los Angeles in the steep hilly neighborhoods that were built back before cars took over the city. These stairs allowed people to get down the hill to schools, markets, and trolley cars. In fact, many of the houses in these neighborhoods had no other access to the outside world than these public staircases. The stairs were largely forgotten until Charles Fleming published his book Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles.

A friend has been doing all of the walks — 42 of them — and has finished all but the last few. The walk she invited me on was a combination of #36 and #35 in Fleming’s book. (It was such a lovely day, she decided to do two of them.)

We started out with an unplanned stop by a bit of sidewalk graffiti that seemed oddly appropriate:

Sidewalk Sayings

Our first scheduled stop was the historic Highland Towers apartments, where William Faulkner is supposed to have lived when he worked on such films as The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not:

We passed the Hollywood Heritage Museum, and walked up Milner to the first secret staircase — the Whitley Terrace steps, an L-shaped staircase with 160 steps.

Whitley Terrace steps

At about the ninetieth step, there was a landing with fabulous views of the High Tower residential area — not that I know what the area is, but it was an interesting sight:

High Tower Residential Area

I paused at the top to take a photo of the steps we had just climbed before searching out the next set of secret stairs in Hollywood. (Hint — the key to walking up huge flights of outside stairs is to stop periodically to marvel at flowers or take photos of . . . anything. That way you can catch your breath without having to admit that you have reached your limit.)

Whitley Terrace Stairs

To be continued . . . (But of course, you already knew I’d be continuing this saga since the title says “Part I” and you can’t have a “Part I” without a “Part II”.)

Secret Stairs (Part II)

Secret Stairs (Part III)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Dearth of Matches

Early in the twentieth century, Ivar Kreuger, a match manufacturer and financier, managed to corner the match market. Through various deals, he ended up with the exclusive rights to sell matches in many countries, including most of Europe, but this monopoly was not enough for him. Back then, it was a common practice for two or three people to light their cigarettes from the same match. Ivar realized that if he could somehow keep that third person from using the match, he could greatly increase his sales, so he had his advertising department start the rumor that it was unlucky to light thflameree cigarettes from the same match. Tales were told of dreadful things happening to the third person who used a match, like the bride who had been left at the altar and the soldier who was killed after each had lit a cigarette from a match that two others had already used. Even today, the superstition that it’s unlucky to light three cigarettes from the same match persists.

Oddly, though the superstition still exists, matches don’t. I needed some matches yesterday, a couple of books or even a box of old fashioned kitchen matches, and I didn’t find a single one. One major retailer sold fireplace matches, the long kind, but they were out of stock. A convenience store/mini market didn’t have any. The clerk said they usually had some, but were out. I even went to a smoke shop. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right? Wrong. No matches.

I used to collect matchbooks, but when I had to leave my home of twenty years and put my stuff in storage, I got rid of the matches. I thought it was too dangerous to pack them away, but now I wish I had them, for curiosity’s sake if nothing else.

Matches were an incredible invention. I remember reading stories about frontier days, and how if the fire went out, they had to get live embers from a neighbor’s fire, protecting it through all the miles of travel. There were flints, of course, and before that, rubbing two sticks together, but eventually people realized that it’s a lot easier to start a fire with two sticks if one was a match. Other means of lighting fires are more prevalent now, which perhaps explains the scarcity of matches, but still, it seems odd that a simple little tool that was once so valuable it sparked a financial empire is so hard to find today.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Keeping Track of Characters

LBI don’t often do character profiles before writing a novel except to decide on basic information — gender, a couple of physical traits and maybe general idea of personality type. I prefer to let the needs of the story dictate who the character is. I mean, if I have created a caring, nurturing character, and the story demands a wisecracking sharpshooter, then the story starts out with problems from the beginning. (Unless, of course, the wisecracking hides a caring, nurturing side of the character, which could make for an interesting character, though I’m sure it’s been done thousands of times before.)

Each book, of course, has its own demands, and Light Bringer had more demands than most. It was the only book I did a storyboard for. Halfway through, I got lost in all the points of view, the various stories that needed to be intertwined, the special needs of the novel, so I wrote a brief description of each scene on a card and played with them, dealing them out in various arrangements until I found the best way to fit all the pieces together.

Light Bringer was also the only book I did a character chart for. The story was based on both modern and ancient conspiracy theories (though ancient conspiracy theories fall under the category of “myth”). Instead of having one erudite character lecture a clueless character on the theories, I created a discussion group where each character believed and vociferously defended his or her pet theory. One unexpected benefit of the group was that I had ready-made pool of characters to draw from for bit parts.

Group dialogue causes problems for readers in that it’s hard sometimes to keep track of who is talking and what their purpose is in the story. It’s also hard for writers to keep track, so I made a chart of all the characters, their beliefs, style, food needs, and various other aspects to make sure that each was different.

For example, Scott Newman, a retired banker, believed that the international bankers were controlling the world to gain total wealth and power. He was lean, sharp-featured, contemptuous, didn’t eat “corporate foods” (things like chips and frozen dinners that were created by corporations) because as a loan officer, he’d already done enough to further the aims of the international bankers.

Faye Pozinski was almost his direct opposite. She believed that the British oligarchy (London bankers, the London School of Economics, the Fabian Society, the Rhodes Round Table) were controlling the world to create a neoBritish empire ruled by a theocratic world king. An ample woman in her fifties still working as a grocery clerk, Faye was hearty with a braying voice, a vegetarian, and delighted in wearing wildly colored clothes.

And then there was Chester, a wizened, jeans-wearing diabetic fruit grower who overdramatized everything. He’d once seen a UFO over his orchard, and he believes we are ripe for an alien takeover because he’s convinced these otherworldly creatures want to keep us from blowing up the earth.

These are only three of my discussion group characters but you can see why I needed a chart. So much to keep track of!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Three

Three is a powerful number that satisfies our deepest needs for symmetry. Three gods ruled the earth—Zeus, the god of heaven; Poseidon, the god of the sea; and Pluto, the god of the underworld. People worshipped the moon goddess as a triad, representing three phases of the moon. There were three Fates, three Furies, three Graces, three Harpies, three primary colors. Three times three was also a mystical number, hence the nine muses.

3

A few obvious threes from popular culture:

Three wishes. Three bears. Three little pigs. The Three Stooges. Three outs. Best two out of three. Three Faces of Eve. Three Days of the Condor. The Three Musketeers. Third time lucky. Love triangle. (The triangle itself is a divine symbol signifying the power of three.) Three is also a visually pleasing arrangement. And the number three signifies harmony.

balloons

So, to make your stories more powerful, harness the power of three.

1. When describing a character or scene, mention three attributes. Also, if a particular attribute needs to be fixed in the reader’s mind, mention it three times (and only three times) during the course of the book, and it will stick.

books

2. When devising a plot, follow the storyline of The Three Bears. The first time the hero tries to reach her goal, she fails but learns the risks. The second time she tries, she confirms that she’s doing things wrong, but she learns from her mistakes. The third time she tries, she gets it right. three bears

3. Look for patterns in your story. If your character has given his love flowers and perhaps made love to her in a flower garden, mention flowers once more to solidify the pattern.

4-11-11

I could give you more ways to make your stories more powerful, but since I’ve given you three suggestions, that should be enough. And if it isn’t, you can find more uses for this powerful tool here: The Most Powerful Tool at a Writer’s Command

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

The Mythic Stages of Grief

Joseph Campbell was the first person to write about the motifs and archetypes underlying myths, stories, and spiritual traditions. Christopher Vogler, in The Writer’s Journey, further developed this idea of the “hero’s journey,” making it applicable to writers, both in their stories and in their lives.

The hero’s journey is an endlessly fascinating structure because it is endlessly malleable, able to fit any character, any story, any life. We are all on our own mythic journey through life, but our lives are so much more complicated that the life of a character in a novel because we are dealing with quests within quests within quests rather than a single straightforward journey.

Growing up, falling in love, marrying, parenting, writing, making art, growing old are all quests of their own, though each quest is a but a step on our journey though life.

My most recent mythic journey has been the journey through grief. Grief has been, perhaps, the most mythic of all my quests, each of the stages clearly delineated. (In fact, these mythic stages of the hero’s journey are much more applicable to grief than Kübler-Ross’s stages.)

All of us who embark so reluctantly on this journey through grief are true heroes. It takes a hero’s courage and commitment to deal with everything grief bombards us with and come out on the other side stronger, wiser, and accepting of whatever comes our way.

The mythic stages of our heroic journey through grief:

1. Ordinary World. A hero’s journey begins with the normal world, and in the grief quest story, the normal world is the life we shared with our life mate/soul mate.

2. Call to Adventure. His (or her) dying calls us to grief’s adventure, though death is too traumatic an event to be dismissed as a simple call to adventure. There’s no warble of a bugle call; it’s more like the shriek of a smoke alarm that cannot be silenced.

3. Refusal of the Call. We are frozen with grief, reluctant to continue life alone, refusing to see that perhaps continuing alone could be an adventure.

4. Meeting with the Mentors. We go to grief groups for support, and we talk to others who have also lost their mates. Some of us go to bereavement counselors or read about grief to learn how to deal with this horrifying new world.

5. Crossing the threshold. We commit to grief, to whatever changes will come because of it. We allow ourselves to feel without blocking out the pain because we know that is the only way to find our way through the angst to a more peaceful time.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies. Grief encompasses all these aspects. Grief tests us, our strength, our commitment to life, our beliefs. Grief is an ally, changing us so we can become the person we need to be in order to survive in this new world. And grief is an enemy, bringing more pain than we could have ever imagined.

7. Approach to the Innermost Cave. Grief takes us further away from our ordinary world of a shared life. This is a stage where we regroup. We find a respite from grief for a few days or weeks, leading us to believe that perhaps we can do this after all.

8. Ordeal. Although all of grief is an ordeal, at this particular stage of grief’s journey, the greatest ordeal is accepting that we are alone, that although he is dead, we have to continue living. We thought getting through the initial raw pain of grief was our greatest agony, but now grief throws us even more anguish with the realization that he is never coming back. This new life without him is forever.

9. Rewards. There are many rewards for going through grief. We seize the sword of courage, we find the elixir of patience, we discover the crucible of greater insights. There are consequences, of course, and generally we pay for any rewards with a huge upsurge of grief.

10. The Road Back. The road back is not easy, especially when it comes to grief. Although we can never return to the ordinary world from which we came since that world was shattered forever by his death, we do return to an ordinary world, a world where grief is a companion that merely shadows us, rather than being the trickster that taunts us, the enemy that torments us, the shapeshifter that bewilders us.

11. Resurrection. The hero faces death and is resurrected, and in the case of grief, we face the death of who we once were. We realize we are separate from our life mate/soul mate, that he has his journey and we have ours, and hence we are reborn into a new life. A life that is ours alone.

12. Return with the Elixir. We all bring back from grief certain gifts, whether wisdom or patience or simply the knowledge that we survived the worst ordeal of our lives, and often we share this gift with others. Many of us end up taking care of aged parents, exhibiting a patience we never knew we had. Some of us write or paint to show the world our truth. Some of us go into grief therapy to help others. My magic elixir — my gift, my blessing — has been the unexpected ability to decode grief and write lyrically about the process, such as recognizing the mythic stages of grief and writing this post describing grief as a heroic journey and quest. A strange gift, indeed.

And so life’s journey continues . . .

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Embracing My Inner Crone

My sister claims I must have a lot of karmic debt to pay off since the past five years of my life have been mostly spent taking care of the sick, dying, and aged — first helping with my mother, then my life mate/soul mate, now my father — but I have a hunch it’s more that I’m going through my crone stage a bit earlier than normal. Although “crone” has become a pejorative term, crone is one of the mythological stages of a woman’s life (maiden, mother, crone). Crones cared for the dying and were spiritual midwives at the end of life, the link in the cycle of death and rebirth. They were healers, teachers, way-showers, bearers of sacred power, knowers of mysteries, mediators between the world of spirit and the world of form.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Something to look forward to becoming — a wise woman — and yet crone is a word few women embrace, and no wonder since over the centuries, crone has come to mean “ugly old woman.”

It seems strange that there are so many derogatory words for ugly old women — witch, hag, crone, harridan, battle-ax, beldam, shrew, termagant — yet not a single derogatory to word to describe ugly old men. (At least, I can’t think of any.) And why are such wise women considered ugly, anyway? Apparently, after men have had their way with young maidens, then used up their youth in bearing and rearing children, they somehow expect women to still be attractive. Nowadays, of course, with creams and lotions and make-up and hair-dyeing and all the other beauty treatments available, most women do retain at least a semblance of their youthful looks. And yet those ancient terms for “wise old woman” still retain their pejorative connotations.

But no matter what she looks like or what she is called, a woman who calmly listens to the crotchets of the old folks, who patiently sits by the bedside of the dying, who deals with life’s unpleasant chores with a minimum of complaint, has an aura of beauty. I would be willing to be that no one who is ministered to by one of these “crones” thinks she is ugly. I bet her beauty shines through to them, if no one else.

I also bet she isn’t aware of her beauty. Like me, she is probably simply doing what needs to be done as calmly as possible.

It seems odd that so many of us who have lost our mates end up taking care of aged parents, but perhaps we are the ones who have the patience for dealing with the slow and inexorable ways of age and death.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Dead Darling From DAUGHTER AM I

Faulkner advised us to kill our darlings, those bits of our novels we love that don’t advance the story. I had way too many darlings in Daughter Am I, but I did steel myself to remove some of them. Today, for your edification, I am posting one dead darling that made it through all the edits except the very last one. You won’t find it in the book (well, except for the last paragraph or two. I wanted to make sure what you read here made sense so I added a bit that was included in the novel).

“The Cleveland Syndicate was dominated by four Jews,” Teach said, “Moe Dalitz, Samuel Tucker, Morris Kleinman, and Louis Rothkopf. An Italian, Chuck Polizzi, and an Irishman, Tommy McGinty, achieved near equality.”

“Chuck Polizzi wasn’t Italian,” Spaghetti said. “His parents were Jews from Russia. When they died, he was adopted by the Polizzi family.”

Teach arched his eyebrows. “I didn’t know that.” Pointedly ignoring Kid Rags’ chuckle, he stroked his chin. “I often wondered how a non-Jew got so high up in that organization. I did know the Polizzis belonged to the Mayfield Road Mob, which became part of the Cleveland Syndicate. While the Mayfield Road Mob, composed of both Jews and Italians, had a reputation for utter ruthlessness, the Syndicate believed the bribe, as a general rule, was more effective than the bullet. Families like the Polizzis, who accepted the new way, lived to become old as well as rich.”

“So how did an Irishman get so high-ranking?” Mary asked.

“Tommy McGinty—Thomas Jefferson McGinty—was the circulation manager for one of the Cleveland newspapers. Contrary to the legend that gangs and gangsters were a product of prohibition, many of the principals of the Syndicate-to-be were assembled and trained in violence years before by the newspapers in their fight for local monopolies. Tommy McGinty and his counterparts on the other newspapers would recruit thugs to beat up their rivals’ employees, particularly the newspaper boys, especially those on lucrative corners.

“In the early prohibition years, McGinty became one of Cleveland’s most powerful bootleggers.

“The Cleveland Syndicate was truly formidable. Moe Dalitz, probably the smartest guy in the business next to Meyer Lansky—”

“You said Johnny Torrio was the smartest,” Mary objected.

“So I did.” Teach smiled at her. “It’s nice to know I haven’t been talking to myself. In point of fact, all three men were smart. Always looking to expand. Always looking for new venues.”

“You sound like you admire those people,” Mary said.

In the silence that greeted her remark, she could hear Spaghetti and Lila Lorraine murmuring softly to each other. Looking around to check on the rest of the group, she noticed that Iron Sam, Crunchy, and Journey all appeared to be sleeping. Kid Rags and Happy were passing the hip flask back and forth. Tim had his head cocked while he drove, as if he were listening for Teach’s response.

“Not at all,” Teach said finally, his voice harsh. “People tend to romanticize prohibition, to romanticize the so-called Mafia, but they don’t get it. It’s about the unholy trinity—criminals, politicians, and businesspersons—all working together to sell out the little people. And make no mistake about it—no matter how rich and successful we might be, the vast majority of us are the little people.”

***

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12/12/12 — A Wonderful and Wonderfully Mystic Day

1212/12/12 is a date that comes around every hundred years. Today should have been a mystical day, a momentous occasion with awesome happenings all over the world, though for the most part, it seemed to be a day like any other.

Twelve is a number steeped in our culture, in our heritage, in our very lives. To the ancients, it was a divine number. There were twelve major heavenly bodies in our solar system (the sun, the moon, the planets, which included Pluto and a far-flung planet as yet unknown to modern man, though currently hypothesized as Planet X). There were twelve gods. There are twelve signs of the zodiac, each representing 30 degrees of the heavenly arc. (Thirty is another divine number. If you are expecting the present era to end this month as the Mayans supposedly claimed, you will be disappointed. The Mayans used a mystical calendar with 360 days — 12 x 30 — rather than our 365.25 days. Hence, the so-called Mayan apocalypse won’t happen until 2087.)

There were twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, twelve disciples of Mithras, twelve stations of life in Buddhism, twelve labors of Hercules, twelve sons of Odin in Norse mythology, twelve knights of the King Arthur’s round table.

Twelve is also a practical number, the lowest number with multiple divisors, making it a preferred method of organization, such as a dozen doughnuts or a dozen eggs; twelve colors on a color wheel; the twelve numbers on a clock face, the twelve inches to a foot, the twelve months in a year.

I’m sure there are dozens more instances showing the specialness of twelve, so why isn’t this day of twelves a momentous day of mystical happenings?

Well, for one, our calendar is arbitrary. The year could have started at a different time, perhaps in tune with the seasonal cycles where the first day of the year was the first day of spring. In certain cultures, the new year does begin on different dates, for example, the Chinese New Year was on January 23 this year, and the Jewish New Year was September 16th. The year itself is an entirely arbitrary number. Though this common era supposedly begins on the birth of Jesus, he was born no later than 4BC. (Though of course, back then, they would not have called it BC since the current calendar had not yet been invented.

And for another, this is a momentous day of mystical happenings. We are alive, aren’t we? That in itself is an awesome, momentous, and mystical experience.

Wishing you a wonderful and wonderfully mystic day.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

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