The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘African American women’ Category

Hi creatives,

I just got back from teaching at the incredible North Carolina Writers’ Network fall conference. It was a blast. I also enjoyed supporting the conference’s first ever NaNoWriMo launch. I’ll have updates about all this and more very shortly. In the mean time, I wanted to share some upcoming local events that I’m proud to be a part of.

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Are you a fan of the science fiction writer Octavia Butler? Want to talk about Octavia Butler’s acclaimed science fiction novel Parable of the Sower? Do you want to learn more about Afrofuturism?

Come join me on Wednesday (tonight!), Nov 8 @7pm at Flyleaf Books! I will have the distinct honor of hosting a conversation about Octavia Butler and Parable of the Sower with my special guest and colleague, Dr. Lilly Nguyen! We will explore the themes in Parable of the Sower and how they engage us on critical questions of humanity’s future, race, gender and transformation. We’ll discuss how Butler’s work has propelled our own, and how it can relate to, inform, and inspire other lives.

It’s OK if you are new to Octavia Butler, read Parable a long time ago, are reading it now, or just want to come and listen!
This is part of a free event series celebrating the US premiere of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower at Carolina Performing Arts, an opera created, written, and composed by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon.

Check out more here!

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I’m super excited to be reading from Reenu-You this Saturday at the wonderful Ngozi Design Collective at 11am at 321 West Main Street, Durham. I will be joined by speculative fiction author Nicole Kurtz. We will read from our recent publications and discuss how African American female creators are reshaping the landscape of all things sci-fi, fantasy and horror in books, TV and film. Door prizes and refreshments! I’d love to see you there!

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Hi folks, Reenu-You soon gets to have its turn in the TV spotlight.

I was so honored to be invited on UNC TV’s show Bookwatch to talk about my novella “Reenu-You”. D.G. Martin is the host and we did the taping during the summer. It was great fun and I learned a ton.

My episode is scheduled to air on Tuesday, October 10th at 8:00pm on the North Carolina Channel & on Sunday, October 15th at Noon on UNC-TV, with an encore broadcast on UNC-TV the following Thursday at 5pm. I hope you can check it out.

In this promo clip, I talk about the creative process and how to stay connected to one’s writing.

http://video.unctv.org/video/3003427932/

At some point, I will write a post about all the things I learned during my first TV appearance!

 

I’m thrilled that my essay about Octavia Butler is now in print in the new collection: Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler.

In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction Twelfth Planet Press has published a selection of letters and essays written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans. There are letters from people who knew Butler and those who didn’t; some who studied under her at the Clarion and Clarion West workshops and others who attended those same workshops because of her; letters that are deeply personal, deeply political, and deeply poetic; and letters that question the place of literature in life and society today.

 

 

I write about Octavia Butler’s use of affirmations to support her writing and how I have viewed her life as a model for creative practice. Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time know how important a tool I think affirmations are for creative people. In 2016, I committed to a daily practice of  writing an original affirmation about creativity and posting it on this blog. This practice provided tremendous nourishment for my creative life.

There are many writers in this collection that are well-known in the science fiction community including Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okrafor, L. Timmel Duchamp, and Steven Barnes, but also you’ll discover newer writers (like myself) in this hefty 405 page book.

A few months ago, Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, the editors of LT gave a great interview here.

If you’re a Butler fan, you’ll want this work in your library. If you have friends that are OB fans, please pass on info about this book!

 

The first thing you notice in Eden Royce’s short story collection, Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror, is the exquisite attention to language and setting. Royce’s storytelling is layered and dense. Spook Lights is billed as dark fiction. The sense of horror, dis-ease and dread are developed in an entertaining and unexpected way in each story.  This collection is a great introduction to Southern gothic horror and is well worth your time.

Themes that recur in the stories include: betrayal, the meaning of death, the price of living, what makes a joyful life, and memory. The challenges of love, especially for women and the price that they are willing to pay for it (whether for a son or lover) is often costly. The characters in these stories yearn, love, desire and act in ways that make for compelling fiction.

This collection is populated by a variety of diverse characters and cultural reference points that include European American, African American, and indigenous histories. And, their experiences are filtered through the landscape of the South, most often Charleston. Indeed, one of the gems of Eden’s storytelling is the way she uses language, dialect, and setting to re-imagine folk traditions, hoodoo, and everyday people seeking spiritual assistance. She upends the traditional Hollywood stereotypes of root workers and conjure women. She is interested in how the magical and mundane intersect, especially for women of color and the paths that they travel to find freedom– both physical and psychological. Indeed, the title of the collection embodies a playfulness about ideas of darkness and light, and personal and official histories.

I truly enjoyed every story in this collection. Some of my favorites include, “Dr. Buzzard’s Coffin”, a fresh take on zombies, including ones that can restore balance. This tale involves an uncle undergoing a metamorphosis in order to cleanse the community of a dangerous threat. In many of the stories, the main character seeks assistance from the spirits and after receiving the assistance, realizes (often too late) that it came with a high spiritual price tag. “Hag Ride” is one of these stories. What is one to do when one loves a philandering husband? We feel for Frieda, the main character when she is warned by ‘Big Mama’, her godmother (who works roots), that sometimes we should let someone go rather than trying to force them to love us.  The troubled young woman doesn’t want to hear this sage advice and proceeds to call on ‘The Hag’ for help. Her philandering husband gets more than he bargains for when he meets a beautiful woman who gives him the “ride” of his life. He is definitely transformed in ways that Freida can’t anticipate. It is a delicious revenge story with a twist at the end.

With the “Turn of a Key” and “Rhythm”, roles are reversed and it is the man that’s been betrayed and seeks help from otherworldly forces.

The stories vary in length and viewpoint, alternating between first and third person. Some like “Hand of Glory” and “Homegoing” are flash fiction driven, leaving us with more tantalizing questions than answers.

My very favorite story, “The Choking Kind”, ends the collection. I love this story because it is a mother and daughter story, a mystery and a story about magical beings all rolled into one. Imaginative and unexpected it deals with ideas of loss, memory, identity, freedom and family.

In this collection, there is a story for every kind of horror and dark fiction aficionado. Compelling short story collections are marvels of pacing, selectivity and wordsmithing. Eden Royce brings all of that and more to this work. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

 

 

 

I’ve made it through a major writerly milestone. Last week, I had my debut book reading and signing for Reenu-You at McIntyre’s Books. It was a blast and went very well.

However, there was still a lot to learn!

I thought I was ready. I thought I knew all there was to know. I thought I was prepared. How long had I been attending book signings? How long had I been visualizing myself conducting a reading and signing books? Longer than I can remember.

But, there was still a lot to learn!

I’m passing on some tips and lessons learned.

-Ask for help. Mobilize your writing peeps!

Doing an author signing and book reading requires some coordination, especially if this is your first time. I decided to serve drinks, food and organize a giveaway. I also had to order books because Book Smugglers distributes their books through IngramSpark and most bookstores will only order a few copies (because of the no return policy). Therefore, authors have to order books and bring them to the store. So, I needed help with lifting books, setting up the food, etc. Mobilize your community and ask writer friends for help on your big day. They’ll be happy to help with moral support, too. I’m glad I flexed my usually underutilized “asking for help” muscles. I had fantastic help and support that day.

-Promote and advertise your event at least a month beforehand. And, don’t just rely on one or two promotional strategies.

I used Twitter, my Author Facebook page, my personal Facebook page and blog to promote the event. I posted a month before, three weeks before, two weeks before and a few days before the event. McIntryre’s Books created a Facebook event page. The only thing that I didn’t do that I will do next time is to also invite people through email. I had a fantastic turnout, but several close friends weren’t there. These are folks that don’t regularly check Facebook. I over-relied on the Facebook event and my personal page for promotion. I also didn’t want to “bother” people by posting too much. Given that it takes several “touches” for people to get something on their calendar, and you never know what people actually see and when they see it, it’s better to post often. Next time, I know that it’s better to cover all the bases one can, including good old email. I also forgot to email my newsletter list!

a lovely audience

a full house!

Practice what you will read and time yourself. Do it over and over until you feel confident.

I received good advice from some writers on Twitter when I asked about tips for doing a reading. Many stressed to pick the highlights and sections of the book that pop. Most of Reenu-You moves between two narrators, Kat and Constancia. I decided to read brief snippets of when we first meet them. They both have distinctive worldviews and use of language that made those snippets very fun to read. I reminded myself that I just needed to provide an appetizer to the audience to entice them to want to read more.

Get rest the night before.

I was restless and didn’t sleep that well the night before the reading. That morning I got up and did some gentle yoga and meditation which was extremely helpful for getting grounded (as they always are).

Eat something beforehand or have an energy bar with you.

You’ll probably already feel jittery, hunger will exacerbate that feeling.

Take cough drops with you.

I know writers who carry cough drops in case their throat gets dry before a reading. I didn’t carry cough drops, but I did use Nasya oil which is a medicated oil that lubricates the nasal passages and promotes concentration. Nasya is a cleansing technique used in Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic science that originates in India. I swear by this technique during fall and winter when the weather is more drying and one becomes susceptible to colds and flus. Doing Nasya is also very grounding.

Food is always appreciated at an author event.

I had a nice spread of snacks, cheeses, fruit, lemonade and sparkling wine. Also a friend made great cupcakes which garnered kudos and became the second star of the day. She tried to match the frosting colors to the colors on Reenu-You’s cover. I think she did a great job.

I loved seeing people connecting and talking about writing while eating delicious food.

I splurged on food and wine as I wanted this to be a celebratory moment. When I do future readings, I will probably keep it simple-just cupcakes and champagne!

Consider offering a door prize or two. People find them fun and it contributes to the festive environment.

I absolutely love receiving door prizes at events! I decided that I wanted to give away some door prizes for my reading. I gave away my book and The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn. I’m a huge fan of Joanna Penn’s work as a podcaster, author champion and writer and I wanted to encourage the writers in the audience with her words of wisdom. I also gave away Nisa Shawl’s novel, Everfair. I met Nisi when I was a graduate student and lived in Ann Arbor. She worked in a used bookstore and somehow I discovered that she also loved speculative fiction and also wanted to be a writer. It was always a joy to visit her as we would talk endlessly about speculative fiction. She was the first person of color I knew that also wanted to write science fiction! When I was telling this story to the audience, I reminded then that although now everyone seems to be talking about Afrofuturism, Octavia Butler, writers of color in speculative fiction and Black Speculative Arts, twenty-five years ago this was not the case! In the early 1990s, I knew of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney, but I didn’t have a community of people who looked like me that I could talk about speculative fiction or being a writer in the genre. Nisi was a wonderful informal mentor and friend. I am thrilled for her success with Everfair which is a alternate history novel that re-imagines what might have happened in the Congo, during colonization, if its inhabitants had access to steampunk technology.

My friend Sam won Nisi’s book! A perfect fit as he is a literary and film scholar and is interested in speculative fiction.

Bring a great pen to sign books.

Your first event will probably bring a lot of people that you know. I found myself wanting to write much longer notes in the book which slowed the line. Also, they’ll want to chat a bit which is fun. Remember that energy bar? You might need to take a few bites in case your energy flags some.

Pete, one of the booksellers gave me a Sharpie to sign books with. I had meant to bring a special pen, but that detail totally got lost while preparing for everything else. I was terrified of messing up with that Sharpie, but I didn’t’.

I’ve seen other authors have a slip of paper with them and they ask people to write their names down. This ensures that you don’t spell someone’s name wrong which would be a big bummer.

Savor this feeling—allow yourself to be celebrated.

I am so grateful to folks who were able to make it to McIntyre’s Books. I looked out into the audience and saw former students, academic colleagues, community folk, writer friends and new faces. It was a real delight to experience the fullness of that moment. The writing journey is that much sweeter when you can share some of the peaks with friends.

So much fun seeing friends and holding up my book!

The time really flew by. At moments I found myself saying, “It’s all happening so fast.” I remember hearing from a coach that in order to get our brain to really “take in”, or anchor a positive experience, we have to focus on it for about ten seconds. Otherwise, it just slides by and gets drowned out in the noise of life.

I kept trying to remind myself to let the amazing feelings sink in. And, I whispered to the universe, “Thanks universe, more experiences like this, please! I’m ready!”

 

 

Hi folks,

Today, I am thrilled to be featured on Graveyard Shift Sisters, a site highlighting Black women’s and women of color’s contribution to the horror and “dark fiction” field. I embrace the term speculative fiction writer and am increasingly embracing the fact that I often write stories that could be labeled ‘”dark fiction” and are in the territory of horror. I was interviewed by the amazing writer, Eden Royce and we went deep talking about creating characters that explore the bonds of friendship and sisterhood during adversity, what scares me (and how those fears fuel my writing), how to stay motivated as a writer and much more. I really enjoyed this interview. It was the first time that I was sent questions ahead of time, answered them and then had a follow-up conversation with the interviewer (Eden), to discuss my answers. Neat process.

http://www.graveyardshiftsisters.com/2017/08/black-women-horror-writers-interview.html

ALSO:

If you’re in North Carolina and close to the Triangle, I’m inviting you to come help me celebrate my first book reading and signing for Reenu-You on Saturday, August 26, 2pm at McIntyre’s Books, Fearrington Village in Pittsboro. I am so excited! I’ll read, share insights about staying inspired on the creative path, take your questions and sign books. There will be yummy refreshments and DOOR PRIZES. I look forward to celebrating this milestone on my writing journey with you.

https://www.fearrington.com/event/michele-berger-reenu-you/

 

Octavia Butler was a visionary science fiction writer who influenced a generation of writers, artists and scholars from the 1970s until her death in 2006. She broke new ground as one of the first African American women writers to achieve critical success in the speculative fiction arena, a field historically dominated by white men. In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a selection of letters and essays written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans. There are letters from people who knew Butler and those who didn’t; some who studied under her at the Clarion and Clarion West workshops and others who attended those same workshops because of her; letters that are deeply personal, deeply political, and deeply poetic; and letters that question the place of literature in life and society today.

 Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler is available for pre-order and is due out by mid-August. I’m thrilled to be in this collection! I’ve written elsewhere how I almost talked myself out of submitting and why you should never self-reject your work! The lineup of writers in LT, both new and established, is amazing and includes Tara Betts, Nisi Shawl, L Timmel Duchamp, Steven Barnes, K Tempest Bradford, Jewelle Gomez, Bogi Takács,  Sheree Renée Thomas, Aurelius Raines II and many others.

I wanted to know more about the editors of Luminescent Threads, Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, and what they learned from tackling a project of this magnitude. They kindly agreed to a joint interview and I’m delighted to welcome them to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

Senior Editor Alexandra Pierce is editor of the award-winning Letters to Tiptree and co-host of Hugo award-winning feminist SFF podcast Galactic Suburbia alongside Alisa Krasnostein and Tansy Rayner Roberts. She is also a part-time teacher, blogger, book reviewer and columnist for Tor.com.

Editor Mimi Mondal was born in Calcutta, India. She is a 2015 recipient of the Octavia E Butler Memorial Scholarship at the Clarion West Writing Workshop and the Poetry with Pakriti Prize in 2010. Her stories, poetry and social commentary have appeared in The Book Smugglers, Daily Science Fiction, Podcastle, Scroll.in, Muse India, Kindle Magazine, among other venues.

 

– Tell us about your new book. What inspired this project?

Alex: For me it was a desire to hear from people who have been inspired in different ways by Octavia Butler, as well as having the opportunity to get her name and reputation out to a wide audience. Butler was an amazing author and a remarkable person, in terms of how she has influenced writers and readers in lots of different circumstances. I wanted to help to celebrate that.

Mimi: I came in later into the project as the replacement for another editor, so the concept wasn’t mine. I had been the Octavia Butler Scholar to the Clarion West in 2015, so when someone asked me whether I’d be interested in co-editing an anthology of readers’ letters to Octavia Butler, I was immediately excited, even though socially and emotionally it wasn’t the best time for me to take up a new project. I wasn’t acquainted with the team but I admired their work on Letters to Tiptree, which assured me that this was a book I would enjoy being part of.

– How have you been influenced by Octavia Butler’s work?

Alex: I’ve been challenged by the way she thinks about power and consent and family. Power and consent are huge parts of many of her books, and she’s usually not presenting a straightforward argument about them. Family, too, is often complicated in her novels, and I’ve been intrigued to think about what it means to have a family, to be a family.

Mimi: I grew up in India, where I had practically never heard of Octavia Butler.

The most powerful thing I probably learned from her work is that weird, complex, imaginative, speculative things don’t only happen in white-people stories. For a long time my reading included only realist fiction by writers of color, and all the speculative, dystopian, space, superhero, monster, apocalypse stories seemed to be written by white people, featuring white people, for other white people. It made me feel awkward to even write those stories, because the terrain just didn’t feel mine. Butler’s work, to a large extent, helped me break out of that painful narrowness of perspective.

– What did you learn about yourselves as editors while working on Luminescent Threads?

Alex: I learned that I love helping people to express themselves! And I really like bringing different thoughts and perspectives together to present something greater than the indivisible pieces.

Mimi: I learned that people’s words can both make me cry and make me stronger. As an immigrant student in the United States, these past few months haven’t been kind to me. Editing is what I do for a living, but never have been so strongly moved by a book I edited.

– What’s one thing you wish more writers understood about submitting work for an anthology?

Alex: That guidelines are there for a reason! But also in terms of this project that neither Mimi nor I were doing this as an actual job; we both do other things in real life, as it were, and the editing is additional.

Mimi: I agree! When you’re writing for a specific call for submissions, make sure your work fits their guidelines, and you submit and communicate with the publication in the way they require. The speculative fiction community is far more informal than many other artistic communities. Everyone’s in it because they love the stuff. But that lack of a strictly imposed hierarchy shouldn’t mean that anything goes. You may have met or hung out with the editor(s) at a convention, but that doesn’t make you exempt of the word limit, deadline or theme they have put down for the anthology.

– What are some exciting trends in speculative fiction that you see in terms of diversity and representation?

Alex: the very existence of an understanding of the need of diversity is exciting at the moment. That people are becoming more vocal in speaking out about occasions when the importance of diversity clearly hasn’t been considered.

Mimi: The fact that I am here at all is something I find exciting. Growing up in India, I always wanted to be a writer but never knew if it was possible, because I don’t come from the kind of background writers traditionally came from back then, and the stories of the only kind of people I knew didn’t end up in books. I grew up reading pretty much only white male writers, and right now I probably read one white male writer a year, if that. There are so many other stories that are way more fun to read! I love it that this has come to be so, and I love it that I’m living in these times.

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Alex: Pay attention to the guidelines and communicate clearly with your editor!

Mimi: “Write a little bit every day, even if you’re not in the mood.” is a wonderfully effective tip that, unfortunately, I don’t follow. It has improved my writing exponentially in a very short time every time I’ve managed to do it for short periods, though, so maybe it’s worth passing on!

 

Alexandra Pierce is an editor, blogger and book reviewer. Connect with her at http://www. randomalex.net   Twitter: @randomisalex

Mimi Mondal is a writer from India, and the Poetry and Reprints Editor of Uncanny Magazine. Connect with her at: www.mimimondal.com   Twitter: @Miminality

 

 

 

 

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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