MichaeLuna and Nina's Story

Heaven Leigh

 

Interview by Jacinta Feyling

1.  Give us some quick info: name, birthday, hair and eye color, favorite food, favorite TV-series, favorite movie and favorite book J

My birth name is Heaven Lee Griffin. I write under my first and middle name, “Heaven Leigh.” I began spelling my middle name “L-e-i-g-h” when I was 28, days after giving birth to my first child. This isn’t very quick is it? Okay. Hair: Auburn, Eyes: Blue/Green, Favorite Food: Ice Cream, Favorite TV-series: The Twilight Zone, Favorite Movie: La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon)

2. How old were you when you started to write?

I was 7 when I started to make up little stories for school. I wasn’t yet thinking of being a fantasy author, but  loved fantasy and fiction with an interesting lesson. In 3rd grade, at 8 years of age, my creative writing was greatly encouraged by my teacher Mrs. Hackleman. She seemed so stern with everyone else, but always had a smile for me. I think that had a great impact on me. I thought I could make people happy by writing stories.

3. Did you always want to be a professional writer, or just keep writing as a hobby?

In elementary school I wanted to be a fantasy author. I imagined myself writing great fictional stories that everyone would love. At 11 years of age, I became more interested in singing than in writing stories. My parents coaxed me into being in a church variety show and just before I was to sing I got really nervous and wanted to back out of it. They pushed a bit more, and I went through with the performance after all. It felt great to be on stage. I actually liked it and felt very confident once I got into the first song. It seemed to make my parents very happy and other people seemed surprised that I could sing so well. I thought I’d found something that pleased people even more than my stories, so I turned most of my focus to singing and songwriting.

I always wanted to be a professional entertainer, whether through writing stories, songs or performing.

4. Do you recall the name of your first written text? (Poem, short story, etc)

This is a really fun question! My favorite poem that I wrote in 7th grade, was called “The Man and His Musical Creatures,” I think. I planned very carefully to write my own poem for the recital we were to have in speech class. I told NO ONE that I had written the poem. I recited it, and the class was (more than I had hoped) extremely impressed. They loved the poem! I thought it was a wonderful time for my “big reveal,” so I proceeded to tell them that I had written it. They didn’t believe me, and thought me to be a liar and a bragging fool. It hurt my feelings terribly, as you might imagine. Lesson learned. I think they were embarrassed at having said how great it was, and then having me say I wrote it just made them mad. At the same time, it was a great confidence builder. Whether they believed I’d written it or not, I knew that I had, and I knew that they had loved it and thought it to be very good. The sad thing about this is that I LOST the poem shortly after.

5. When did you have the moment when you said to yourself: “I am going to write a book?”

Actually, I was very depressed and at a very low point in my life. We had just moved from sunny California to Colorado. I wasn’t prepared for the first really big snow storm that began on March 17th of 2003 and lasted for 3 days. It was a fierce blizzard that left us trapped in our house for a day or more. I fell into such a depression for many reasons, but the bad weather exacerbated the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. I was practically bedridden for weeks after. I did my daily routine like someone in a fog, but just wanted to sleep my life away. I didn’t actually say to myself “I am going to write a book,” but rather an insistent voice that seemed to be a strong male voice, but kind too, said to me, “I want you to write a book.” I initially answered, “I love writing songs, but I can’t write a book. The task seemed too daunting. I thought about it for years before I actually began writing Nina’s Story. I realized that my first love had indeed been writing stories, and that I should think of the prospect of writing a book as the opportunity to say a lot more than I could say in a song.

6. Your first novel was entitled “Nina’s Story: The Crimson Flowers”. You have now changed the title to “Endymion Oracles: Nina’s Story.” Why did you change the title?

When I first wrote Nina’s Story, I thought using an element of “danger” from the story would be a point of excitement, but without reading the book, no one would see the flowers as exciting or dangerous, so the title didn’t seem to be conveying anything important about the story. Endymion Oracles brings in both the spiritual enlightenment element of the book and the name of Nina’s spirit love interest. This is more interesting than mere flowers, I hope. I had originally chosen the title “The Crimson Flowers” in 2007. I began writing the story on May 10, 2007. The addition of “Endymion Oracles” to the Nina’s Story title creates the acronym E.O.N.S. which I love.Buy at Amazon: Ninas Story Endymions Oracles

7. Please tell us what that novel is about, who are the characters and how was it inspired.

E.O.N.S. is about my visualization of the perfect society, the perfect harmony between the sexes, and what happens when a new religion is forced upon the people in this idyllic community. At the heart of the unfolding outer story, is an inner story of love, trust, and total faith in the absence of a logical or visual proof of love’s promises. Nina is the protagonist. Oscuridad, the enforcer of “God’s way” is the antagonist in the story. Endymion is Nina’s spirit guide, whom she is drawn to in more than just spiritual ways. Inana is the loving Goddess who allows her children of Earth to learn powerful lessons as the story progresses.

As I said, it was a kind and determined voice that literally woke me up out of a weeks’ long deep depression to tell me to “write this book.” It became clear that it was to be a story about my real life, but in fantasy form. This took me back to my dreams of being a fantasy author, that had begun when I was a child. I was to write of the religious abuse I had encountered as a child. I was to write of how I WISHED spirituality to be, how it may have originally developed from peace and mutual love and respect between a beloved supreme being and divine human children. I would create a society with no tyranny or demands of worship, no angry man-god. I was to make-up a world that would be the ideal for me, and why not? The voice told me that religions, the way they are now, are created by a lot of people “making up” what they want them to be.

“How is that working out?” the now inner-voice coached me on the idea of the book I was to write, “You might as well make up your own idea for a religion. Nothing is entirely original, as we all form ideas from the information we have been taught. Be as original as you can possibly be.” I decided that I would build my story-world based on many opposites of what I had been taught as a child. It was to be a cathartic experience for me and my readers. The book was to help me pull out of my depression, because I now had a purpose. I saw misery in religion and religious people around me.

With my story I wanted to help people be happy and free. I wanted to free myself from the old abusive concepts, to really break free of the self-destructive and self-defeating habits I’d gotten into. I wanted to help others understand that they were meant to be FREE, and people with political and religious power-trip agendas had tied them up in invisible chains. We can release ourselves from these chains at any time. The determination to help others gave me the hope of climbing out of my own depression.

My childhood church had taught white supremacy in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I never believed this crap. I didn’t see people as better or worse based on skin tone. In my teenage years I had race-based dating rules forced on me that I did not agree with, and to which I could not adhere. I knew that I should be able to date anyone I liked. I became very angry with my church and very confused, yet I had been taught from infancy that it was God’s one true church and I would be damned if I left or disobeyed their strict rules of conduct.

The God that I felt in my heart started to detach from the church that claimed to be his. When you start to realize that your concepts of God may be false paradigms, it is like your brain being ripped in half, like finding out that the one you most trust in the universe is actually a monster trying to kill you. It is a long road to freedom, complete mental peace with yourself and with your spirituality. Some leave spirituality completely behind. I don’t blame them at all.

The Goddess and main characters in my book are people of color, the Goddess being all colors and no color. The story setting is patterned after an ancient envisioning of the island of Madagascar, complete with lemurs and Baobab (Reniala) trees. The first settlers on the island of Madagascar are thought to have been Indonesian and African.

8. In the novel, Goddess Inana plays a very vital role. The fact that a Goddess rules over the characters does not leave them subdued and beaten down into “but Inana says…” How did you come up with giving the novel a Goddess as a deity and how did you come up with the means of prayer and rituals the characters perform in the novel?

I was drawn to the Goddess theme because I felt buried in the Patriarchal God-can-only-be-a-man traditional concepts of God from my childhood and young adult years. I sat down and wrote out what I wished everything to be, if I could choose.

I imagined rituals and prayers, and how prayer would consist of being in a trance or meditative state where the Goddess had immediate verbal and visual input. Prayer was more of a meeting between Goddess and human tuning into each other to discuss things. The reason things change in the story is because through fear humans move away from the original intentions of the Goddess, rather than her detaching from them. I didn’t want to research any known rituals, but imagine my own. I wanted nothing to do with killing animals or people, as depicted in some ancient religions. This environment had nothing to do with sacrificing life to please a god. The Goddess Inana was in need of no sacrifices or gifts of appeasement. The sacrifice to please God seems to be the concept of ego-driven humans. As a parent loves his/her children, the Goddess’ love is for her children as her equals, not her subjects. The “worship” is meant for gratitude and only termed as “worship” to be relatable; it is not worship in the traditional sense. It is not worship that has any vestige of fear attached whatsoever. The Goddess’ relationship to her children is one of cooperative creation. She is teaching them to believe in their own power, as a loving parent would guide children whom he/she wishes to see succeed with confidence.

9. Did you draw on personal experience when writing the novel, or was it your take on already published novels?

Aside from reading parts of “When God was a Woman,” by Merlin Stone, I didn’t do extensive research on all-things-Goddess. I was very impressed with Dan Brown’s work and fascinated when many in Christianity attacked his writing of fiction that suggested that Christ may have had a wife. I was horrified that people were so outraged at the prospect of a male god-being joining with a female. It smacked of deep shame regarding the concept of women as divine. Nina’s Story book is my answer to the outrage that I feel regarding how and why women in religion are often treated with disdain or a more subtle form of sexism that talks down to them to “keep them in their place.” Many patriarchal systems of religious hierarchy hold women in contempt. WHY is it looked at as blasphemous for God to join with a woman? Why has society come so far from Mother Goddess to contempt for women in subtle and not-so-subtle ways? Nina’s Story asks and answers these questions in the realm of fantasy.

In writing this first Endymion Oracles book, I was also influenced by a rather forgettable movie entitled “The Wicker Man” that made me feel sick in its portrayal of women with magical powers. It brought to my mind the decades and centuries of literature both religious based and secular that portrayed powerful women as evil, vindictive and man-hating. I believe this holds a huge clue as to why women were at one point banished as teachers of spirituality, and seen in major religions as second-class deities at best.

I loved the novel “The Poisonwood Bible” and happened upon it while in a book club several years ago. I loved the lessons in that story of the disastrous results of forcing a foreign religion onto unsuspecting native peoples. The Western world mentality of “everyone must think of God as WE do” both fascinated and appalled me. It helped me to let go of much of the indoctrination from my upbringing. It is such an intrinsic part of the Native American story as well. New settlers in America could not be bothered with the wisdom that The Great Spirit had to bestow, no, the Natives had to be made to adhere to the newcomers’ religion! History proves that this take-over was not done in the spirit of love, but rather the spirit of greed and fear. The story of Native American suffering is a huge influence behind Nina’s Story, as well.

There were many times as the story poured forth, when I felt that things were coming from deep inside me. This also felt like “remembering ancient truths.”  I don’t think this is the standard process for most fantasy authors. The exercise of writing this book made me dig deep and gave me hope for things to actually change in the world. Change begins in individual hearts.

10. The novel’s bad guy Oscuridad has been described by you as “a Johnny Depp-kind of character”. Why did you model a bad guy after Johnny Depp?

I actually modeled Oscuridad after an amalgam of power-hungry abusive leaders of the cultish church in which I was raised. It wasn’t until December 2007 that I started infusing Nina’s Story with hopes that Johnny Depp might one day play Oscuridad in a movie adaptation. I wasn’t much of a J.D. fan until I saw Sweeney Todd. It was then that I saw and marveled at his ability to inspire people to sympathize with a murderous madman. After seeing Sweeney, I went on what I like to call a “Depp-a-thon” of studying John in every movie he’d ever made. I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of “The Brave,” but I think I’ve covered all the others up to Sweeney and beyond. He seemed perfect for the ego-maniacal sorcerer in my story. More recently, Johnny’s “Barnabas Collins” from “Dark Shadows” proved my point yet again. The name “Oscuridad” is actually the Spanish word for darkness.

My thinking, from what I know of John, aligns with his determination to right the wrongs done to Native American people. We cannot go back and change history, but we can learn from it and change MUCH that still exists in our hearts and minds. Our society’s ways of thinking, especially on the subject of religion have not progressed that far from the days of the slaughter of Native American people and their ideals. Although he may be loath to play things on the antagonist side, it may be the most powerful way to burn the message more deeply into people’s hearts and minds. History tends to repeat itself, unless we are jarred from the same well-worn patterns of thinking.

11. Are the characters based on real people you know?

If I was smart I would just say “no.” I think I can still appear to be marginally wise if I say, “maybe, but I will mention no names.” How about this: “Any similarities to actual people, living or dead are purely coincidental.”;)

Endymion urges you to move forward in your quest to learn to love yourself12. Who is Endymion?

Endymion is an ancient spirit who is able to communicate with anyone at any time. He has lived many lifetimes. He was able to communicate from spirit to spirit while living as a human, and is also beautifully able to communicate from the spirit realm, with those spirits who remain in their human bodies on Earth. He is so much more than one name or one personality. He revealed himself to me as having lived in two lifetimes that I am aware of. One was a famous poet, the other a famous musician. I trust that he may have had many non-famous lifetimes as well.

As Endymion appears in Nina’s Story, he is her guide and love interest, though she only knows him as a voice throughout most of the book. Those who understand that passion of the spirit surpasses any other type of intensity (where relationships are concerned) will be more than satisfied with the passion in this book. Not to say that there is no physical passion in the book. There definitely is.

13. “Endymion Oracles: Nina’s Story” is a part of a planned trilogy. What are the planned names for the next two books, and when are you hoping to release them?

The other two books, in keeping with the EONS theme, will be Endymion Oracles: Nina’s Starlight & Endymion Oracles: Nina’s Secret. I really like the EONS statement. I hope to finish volume 2 next year and release sometime in 2014.

14.  What would you say is the moral or lesson of the novel?

I think the moral of the story is going to be different depending on who is deciphering it. The broad moral is that LOVE lives forever. Another concept from the book that I hope readers will ponder is the importance of thinking for oneself.

15. If readers were to walk away with one reaction after reading the book, what kind of reaction would you like for people to have?

It would be most wonderful if Nina’s Story readers felt empowered to think for themselves and to create for themselves the kind of world they truly want.

16. I looked at the Amazon page for the novel, and found 13 reviews for the book, all of whom had also given the book 5 out of 5 stars. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive; what do you think of the positive feedback you have received for the book?

I very much appreciate the positive feedback. There is nothing better for an author, than to feel that his/her writing is connecting with other hearts and minds in a meaningful way. I’m very grateful.

Artist Mimi O'Garren Self Portrait

Artist Mimi O’Garren Self Portrait

17. The cover of the book has undergone a significant change along with the change of the title. Who is responsible for the artwork on the cover?

Mimi O’Garren is an exceptional artist whom I met through the Internet. She worked tirelessly to bring the concepts for the new cover to life. She had drawn the “Endymion Eyes” a few months after Nina’s Story was originally published on June 25, 2011. To incorporate these into the NEW cover illustration was the idea. Our process is very synergistic. Mimi works her magic as I explain the elements and it is a sharing of ideas through emails and sometimes phone conversations that brings about the final result. She always surpasses what I hope for, and I am in total awe of her work.

I grew up with a father who was a great artist, and I am mesmerized by those with this talent. Mimi has done many portraits, drawings and illustrations. Some of her other work centers around Goddess and powerful women themes, as well. I am thrilled that she was able to feature the Goddess Inana’s beautifully adorned hand on the back cover of this new edition. This is the one part of the original cover illustration that will be featured again. Mimi has a gift for being able to put her intuitive sensibilities into her work, and this produces amazingly powerful images. I am very lucky to be able to work with her, and look forward to working together again on future books.

18. In 2013 you released your second book, “MichaeLuna”. How did that book come about? Didn’t it start online?

MichaeLuna came about, oddly enough, because I was quite angry with a certain situation, and I decided to use that frustration in a constructive way. Yes, the story began as the on-line series originally entitled, “I’m Not Like Other Girls.”

19. When did you decide to bring the online story into a book format?

As the story gained popularity I was asked about publishing it in book format. I thought it would be nice for people to be able to have it as a book, rather than having to go to their computer and read it in parts. The illustrations by Mimi O’Garren are so beautiful to own in book form, as well. Two of my father’s portraits are also featured in MichaeLuna.

MichaeLuna - A Michael Jackson inspired Fantasy Story by author Heaven Leigh

Published April 2013. By Heaven Leigh

20. Let’s break the title in two: Michael Luna. Who is Michael, and who is Luna?

Michael is Michael Jackson and Luna is his spirit muse. In the story, she hadn’t only been available to Michael as an inspiration, but to all great musicians down through the ages. Michael however, was the only one filled with such gratitude that he sought her out to thank her. Luna was so touched by his kindness and sensitivity that she abandoned her usual practices of invisibility and non-personal involvement in working with Michael. She let her heart lead her into a very passionate and dangerous attachment. She fell deeply in love with a human. This story has much in common with Nina’s Story actually, where the male/female roles are reversed.

21. I am the proud owner of both your books, and inside “MichaeLuna” I found this: “Michael Jackson quote, Copyright ©1991, printed with permission from the Jackson Estate (page 65)”. So the Estate has approved of you using a quote by Michael Jackson in your book! What is the quote, how did you find it, and why did you contact the Estate about using the quote? People quote MJ all the time, don’t they?

First of all, thanks very much for buying my books! As I look at the exact wording of the statement of permission, I realize that I probably should have worded it “Michael Jackson poem, Copyright 1991…” I don’t know why I called his poem a quote rather than a poem. I may change that.

I contacted The Jackson Estate attorneys prior to completing MichaeLuna in paperback form, to ask permission to use Michael’s poem. Rose Moonfeather, a good friend, is the one that found a picture of the poem that had been written on the back of a painting which belonged to Michael when he lived at Neverland. She showed the picture to me. The poem was dated 2-14-91, and signed MJ. Rose had been reading the on-line story of MichaeLuna and said that the poem reminded her of my story. I thought that the poem was so close to the idea of MichaeLuna that it needed to be part of the book.

I think if it was okay for people to use quotes or work from Michael in their books without permission of any kind, The Estate attorneys would have told me that I in fact did not need their permission, instead of saying that they were giving me permission. It is not a completely clear-cut subject to me. I only know of my own experience, and I would need to study further to find a definitive answer. I do know that the rule of crediting the author regarding use of their quote, song, or poem is of great importance. I have read other books where the authors cite having acquired permission to quote people in their books. As I said, I would need to do more research in order to give a more complete answer.

22.  The reviews of “MichaeLuna” on the back cover of your book and on Amazon are all positive. How does it feel to receive basically nothing but positive feedback on your work?

I am extremely grateful for the favorable reviews. That doesn’t mean that I have always received nothing but positive feedback on my work. Years and years of trial and error and no-holes-barred critiquing of my work helped me to hone my craft. Most may not realize that I wrote Nina’s Story, finishing in 2009. Then I took a 9-month writing course that taught me so much about writing, that I re-wrote the entire book during 2009 and 2010. I got plenty of “no, that doesn’t work”– and a lot of critiques regarding my tendency to make everything too easy for my characters. I also learned that I had too many characters in the first version, so I merged some into one character, keeping the most fascinating aspects of both original characters. This was especially crucial in the case of Endymion, who was in the first version a flesh and blood boy, and in the final version became a voice – a spirit that guided Nina. I got tons of criticism from classmates along the way, and I’m sure more will come as the book moves out to a wider audience. You can never please everyone.

I truly do appreciate it so much whenever a reader takes the time to write a review. I love knowing how the reader feels about the story, and never ask for favorable reviews. If someone has something in the way of constructive criticism, I am open to it. I feel that by listening to intelligent criticism I can make my next books better.

23.  Will any of your books be available as books readable for those who are blind, and/or audiobooks?

One day I hope to be able to make my books available in many versions and translations. I would love to have them published in Braille and/or audiobooks. I would also love to publish them in many languages! My son asks me if E.O.N.S. will ever be a Lego video game. I say “I hope so!” LOL

24. Both of your books are self-published. Was this a conscious choice, or were publishing companies reluctant to publish your work?

Actually both scenarios are true. My writing instructor advised me to self-publish as soon as possible to get my work “out there.” Once my first book was self-published I retained a wonderful entertainment law attorney to represent my work. I received enthusiastic feedback from two very prestigious New York Literary Agents, but no publishing contract yet.

This business of books is undergoing radical changes, especially with the increasing popularity of self-publishing. Virtually anyone who can string words together can now publish their own books. This is both wonderful and terrible for book-lovers. They need to be more cautious than ever about self-published work, and an author needs to prove him or herself as worthy of their attention. It’s a world of authors where everyone is claiming to have the best, most exciting book ever. People can pay for great reviews or coerce friends and family to write great reviews. I think this is unfair to the book-buying public, yet many books with hundreds of reviews do reflect when readers feel that they were tricked into buying a hugely-hyped bad book.

I am learning how to set myself apart from every other author that claims to be the best yet. I’ll keep doing what I do and perhaps like the turtle and the hare, slow and steady will win the race.

25.   Let’s imagine that the First Lady Michelle Obama, a member of a Royal Family somewhere, or a celebrity is seen reading one of your books. Which book are you hoping they’d be caught reading?

That’s a very fun question! I think I would be most happy to see them reading Endymion Oracles: Nina’s Story, because if a celebrity is reading it, there is more chance of it getting to Mr. Depp, and that could lead to his being interested in the story and then possibly HE will be caught reading it. And if he is caught reading it, this may lead to him wanting to produce and star in the movie adaptation of the book. And if he produced and starred in the movie adaptation of the book, OTHER celebrities may one day be caught reading the book! By the way, that is pretty much the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” scenario.

26.  Anything you wish to tell your readers?

Thank you for reading my stories. I appreciate and LOVE you so much! If you have any questions or would like more information about my books, feel free to visit my website: IntuitiveSpiritGuide.com

Please excuse me now, as I need to go start on my next book, to be entitled, “If you give a celebrity Nina’s Story…” 

Jacinta Feyling Author of "Different but Perfect - an Aspie's story of life so far

Interviewer: Jacinta Feyling
Author of “Different but Perfect – an Aspie’s story of life so far”