Archive for the ‘author interview’ Category
If you’re a writer, you’ve heard the term ‘writer’s block’. Writer’s block is an umbrella term symbolizing a variety of challenges that many writers face. Some writers will say they have writer’s block when they are stuck on a particular project. They are perhaps writing, but they can’t seem to make progress on their project. They don’t know what line comes next, or how to get a scene working.
Other times people use writer’s block to mean that all writing in their life has ceased. They avoid the page for a time and feel unable to write anything creative.
Many books have been written about writer’s block. They tend to fall into two camps: 1) writer’s block doesn’t exist-it’s a figment of one’s imagination and the remedy is to sit down and write. 2) writer’s block is real and requires deep introspection.
Heloise Jones’s new book, Writer’s Block Myth: A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom offers a different perspective:
A core theme in the book is that writers are all different. It is important to find ways of writing that work for you.
Writer’s block is real, but it’s not what we think it is. And that’s where the myth lies.
Writers block is a symptom, not a pathology. What happens on the page is tied to what’s inside us (how we assign value and give meaning to our work, ourselves, and our process) and links to something in our life in the real world that we can shift so writing flows. Or, in the least, see what flows as something we can value. It’s not about Doing, as much as about perspective.
Heloise Jones is an author, speaker, and mentor. She assists writers and creatives getting to the heart of what they need to move forward & complete their projects. Her background includes years of study in craft, process, & the publishing industry + fields of wisdom and experience from a host of supportive holistic tools.
I’ve known Heloise through our participation in online writing communities. When I heard that Heloise was offering a new take on an age old topic, I couldn’t wait to see if she would be a guest here.
I am delighted to welcome Heloise Jones to The Practice of Creativity.
Tell us about your recent book, The Writer’s Block Myth. What are you hoping this book will provide readers?
The subtitle, “A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom,” just about says it all. A guide minus shaming or hard rules written for people living in the real world. It grew out of hundreds of hours of conversations and my work with writers and creatives, as well as interview-conversations conducted with writers of all levels, interests, and experience.
The book includes the voices of other writers, plus examples and short, easy, effective exercises to help you move forward in your creative life. It’s a book to refer back to, because no matter how much we know, we get derailed and need support.
My hope is readers find and embrace the ways that work best for them in creating a satisfying life, as well as written works. That they feel freer in the process, and know they have a supportive guide while they do it.
You discuss the concept of permission slips for writers. What is a permission slip and why is it helpful for writers to use them?
Permission slips are like hall passes. They provide passage through territory that may hold restrictions in our minds. We live in a loud world that describes success, and iterates definitive approaches to writing. That lists ways to judge ourselves and accomplishments good/bad/right/wrong. Permission slips are our greenlights and go-aheads to take time to write in the ways that work best for us when resistance and challenges come up. This includes those inside you (doubt, guilt, feeling selfish or like you’re doing ‘it’ wrong, not writing enough, are a failure, etc.), and outside you (validation, acceptance, understanding, etc.). All the loaded issues for people living with relationships, obligations, and lifetimes of shoulds and oughts. Not to mention, conflicting desires.
Permission slips, or green lights, are empowerment tools our brains can respond to because they come from outside us. Leave us only to decide how to use them, or not.
What did you learn about yourself as a writer while working on The Writer’s Block Myth?
I learned how much the economy of online writing and reading has affected my writing Voice. When writing fiction and poetry, my process is longhand, pen to paper, for rough drafts. When writing essays and nonfiction, it’s fingers to keyboard from get-go. The past two years I’ve focused on my blogs. And though my ‘Getting to Wise. A Writer’s Life’ blog is a journal about navigating life, I compose on the computer. I had to write the entire manuscript of The Writer’s Block Myth twice to shift into the Voice that works as well on paper as online.
While crafting your book, did you look to other writing books as models for inspiration, support or even for what not to do? If yes, what were they? If no, where do you turn for writing inspiration?
This is such an interesting question because I read like a writer, and go to others’ written works to learn craft. For instance, I read Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto to learn how to effectively transition different POVs within scenes. But I don’t go to others’ books for process.
I swiftly read blogs, articles, interviews, and short essays, glean nuggets. I’m intuitive and curious, so if it sticks, I file it whether I agree with what it says or not. It’s a daily practice, and where I get inspiration and learn to think bigger. Two books were recommended to me as I was writing The Writer’s Block Myth. I approached the material in them the same way.
I want to share something useful for me as I gathered material. Once I knew what the book would be, I trusted the process. I hung one of those nice folded bags of thick paper with fancy cord handles you get from a boutique on a door. It was one I enjoyed gazing upon that also contained a message for my Soul: a lovely Hawaiian print in neutrals with the words ‘hana hou.’ Hana hou means encore or one more time in Hawaiian. I could’ve used anything. A basket, box, or whatever. The important points were 1) it was visible, reminding me of my intention, and 2) accessible. I put everything I came across in the bag without editing or culling – quotes, articles, blogs, paragraphs, Facebook posts. When it came time to write, I sorted what I’d collected over the months to the sections in the book. I applied the same sorting process to the interviews I conducted as research.
What’s your next for you? What are you working on?
Developing workshops and retreats that incorporate the principles in the book. Creating communities where writers write together, and connect with others who understand what they do. I believe the experience while in a group or on retreat is as important as words on the page. That creatives need environments which nurture and nourish our process, as well as improve our craft. Plus, I love talking about writing and working with other creatives.
For my own writing practice, I’m back to writing fiction whenever I can, which is joy for me. . .as vol. 2 of The Writer’s Block Myth perks.
What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Trust the process. Let go in the story you’re telling, and let go of the way you intend to tell it. Open to what might be there you hadn’t thought about before you go into edits. Think of your writing as a dance you’re doing, and you’re expanding the dance floor. You’ll be a stronger writer, and it will help you feel freer inside. This includes the process of editing, too. But that’s another conversation.
Thank you for having me.
Heloise Jones assists writers and creatives getting to the heart of what they need to move forward & complete their projects. Her background includes years of study in craft, process, & the publishing industry + fields of wisdom and experience from a host of supportive holistic tools. Most importantly, she knows what getting past stuck and lasting creative freedom mean, and all the ways writers and creatives get waylaid.
She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Go visit her: http://www.heloisejones.com/
L.C. Fiore’s writing inspires many and has earned him a dedicated fan base. He is an award-winner writer known to tackle tough subjects including domestic terrorism, immigration and most recently the unsettling 19th century history of America’s treatment of indigenous communities.
Critics and fans are raving about Fiore’s latest novel The Last Great American Magic, recently named Novel of the Year by Underground Book Reviews. This novel follows the great Shawnee warrior Tecumseh, as he struggles with encroaching settlers. Epic in scope, it is a compelling blend of historical fiction infused with magical realism.
Fiore is not a stranger to recognition and awards. His debut novel, Green Gospel (Livingston Press), was named First Runner-Up in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards (General Fiction); short-listed for the Balcones Fiction Prize; and long-listed for the Crook’s Corner Book Prize. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Michigan Quarterly Review, New South, The Ottawa Object, and storySouth, among many others, and has been anthologized in Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short Short Stories (Persea Books) and Tattoos (Main Street Rag).
I met L.C., last year, when I joined the board of the North Carolina Writers’ Network (NCWN). L.C. is the communications director of the NCWN. The NCWN is a nonprofit literary organization that serves writers at every stage of development through programs that offer opportunities for professional growth in skills and insight. I’m passionate about the work of NCWN. The expertise, camaraderie and mentoring that I have received as a NCWN member has been invaluable in helping me develop my writing craft and negotiate the ever changing field of publishing.
We discovered that we both enjoyed reading and writing speculative fiction. I picked up The Last Great American Magic after hearing several people praising it. I haven’t read much historical fiction and initially thought that my partner Tim would most likely read it. Tim and I often read books aloud to each other at night. I was hooked by the first paragraph! The characters are so vividly rendered and Fiore’s prose is so well-crafted, you want to linger on each page. It is a stellar and deeply satisfying read.
I wanted to know more about how he was able to bring Tecumseh’s story to life.
It’s is my distinct pleasure to welcome L.C. Fiore to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.
Tell us about your new novel, The Last Great American Magic. What inspired it and why did you want to write this book?
It’s an amazing story that has captured my imagination since the first time I heard it, as a child. The historical Tecumseh and his brother, who was known as The Prophet, came very close to assembling a confederacy of Native American tribes that might have beaten back the advance of white settlers and made this country an utterly different place than it is today. History, though, as they say, is written by the winners. I felt like this story—which has all the thrilling elements of frontier adventure, as well mythical and magical elements that ebb and swell as The Prophet builds his nativist movement—is one that should be more widely known. People tend to think of Tecumseh as a company that makes tractor parts. Well, he and his brother—in fact every Shawnee—deserves to be remembered for a whole lot more than that.
How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?
Honestly, I remember filling up ruled notebooks with drawn cartoons, before I could even write. So, I’ve always been compelled to tell stories. It’s sort of scary when I think about how old I am, and realize I was doing the exact same thing when I was four or five years old. That’s a long time to work on one’s craft. I should be better than I am!
What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching the history of Tecumseh, a leader of the Shawnee nation, a character that undergirds this novel?
The character who kept threatening to steal every scene she was in was Rebecca Galloway, the daughter of a Kentucky judge whose love affair with Tecumseh (spoiler alert!) spanned years and years. She was educated, strong-willed, and open-minded in a time when there were very few opportunities for women. It was not an easy lifestyle on the American frontier. You had to be tough, and she was. But that toughness had an intellectual side: she taught Tecumseh to read and write. A character like that—a tomboy with no shortage of parlor-room feminine wiles—was fun to research and to write.
Is there something you want to say about risk-taking in your writing? You have a penchant for writing about very different types of people and communities.
Indeed. I’ve written about Muslim immigrants, working-class African-Americans, women, children, and rich, white men. The Last Great American Magic, of course, is written entirely from the perspective of a member of the Shawnee tribe, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I’ve never thought of writing about people different from me as particularly “risky.” As soon as a writer starts worrying about questions of permission, we’ve introduced doubt into the creative process, and as authors, we can’t afford any more doubt! As writers, our job is to create art honestly; and truthfully; and by avoiding stereotypes, tropes, and clichés; and in the process hopefully exhibit some mastery over our craft. Do I wish the publishing world featured more underrepresented writers? Hell yes.
What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your e-reader)? What are you reading right now?
I’m listening to Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire on audiobook, and reading Owen Duffy’s The Artichoke Queen. Somewhat guiltily, I’m also reading Bloodline, a Star Wars novel by Claudia Gray, which follows Princess Leia and fills in the gap between movies VI and VII. I find I just love spending time in that universe.
What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
The one thing no one ever really taught me, which took me years to learn, is that revision is the most important aspect of the writing process. Revision is not just checking to make sure everything is spelled correctly, or that you’ve used proper grammar. Revision also entails wholly re-imagining the way your book or story is constructed. That means exploding chapters, moving chapters around, consolidating characters, and much more. I find that usually, after my “first draft” (although there again, who counts drafts in real life?), whatever I’m working on usually sustains one, if not two, macro revisions, where I tear the manuscript down to the studs and rebuild. Why does no one teach revision? Perhaps because the workshop setting is a very poor environment for learning what it actually takes to be a writer, because there simply isn’t enough time to allow for the deep kind of revision that excellence requires. But extensive, substantive revision separates would-be writers from the pros.
L.C. Fiore is award-winning short-story writer and editor, his work has also appeared on NPR, TriQuarterly Review, The Good Men Project, and in various baseball publications. He is the communications director for the North Carolina Writers’ Network and lives in Chapel Hill, NC, with his wife and daughter.
Find out more about him and his work here.
I’ve missed you. It’s been more than a month since my last post—extremely unlike me. I will have lots of wonderful writing updates to share shortly—which will explain my absence. And, I expect to resume my weekly posts. In the meantime, I am excited to share the interview below.
In 2016, I became a fan of Jake Bible, a writer and the host of the ‘Writing In Suburbia’ podcast. Writing In Suburbia is geared toward pro-writers, but is chock-full of great information for writers at all levels. The podcast is irreverent and speaks to the less glamorous side of the writing life (e.g. embracing housework chores of the day). Jake’s a prolific writer across many genres. He typically writes a novel a month. You read that right, a novel a month!
One of the features that Jake hosts on his website is ‘Friday Night Drabble Party’. Drabble was a new term to me. A drabble is a 100 word story. He writes a new one just about every Friday. I enjoy reading his drabbles and that got me interested in microfiction.
I’m grateful that Jake is always encouraging writers to look at our self-limiting beliefs and challenges us to prepare for success. Check out his ‘Prepare for Success’ episode on WIS.
I didn’t believe that I could write a drabble, or rather a good drabble. But, I decided that such a belief was really limiting. What was it based on anyway? I had never even tried to write a compressed story. So this spring, I challenged myself to write several drabbles a week for fun. I read a lot of micro and flash fiction and got very inspired. I got into a rhythm with writing drabbles and thought some of them were good enough to submit. One has already been published in the Thing Magazine and another has been accepted for publication (news forthcoming). This happy turn of events would not have happened with being inspired by Jake’s fiction and podcast.
When I heard that his new novel was in a genre he hadn’t written in before and with a new publisher, I figured that he would have valuable insights to share.
Jake Bible is a Bram Stoker Award nominated-novelist, short story writer, independent screenwriter, podcaster, and inventor of the Drabble Novel. Jake is the author of the bestselling Z-Burbia series set in Asheville, NC, the bestselling Salvage Merc One, the Apex Trilogy (DEAD MECH, The Americans, Metal and Ash) and the Mega series for Severed Press, as well as the YA zombie novel, Little Dead Man, the Teen horror novel, Intentional Haunting, the middle grade scifi/horror ScareScapes series, and the Reign of Four series, which he calls “medieval space fiction” for Permuted Press. As of 2017, he also publishes with Bell Bridge Books and will be releasing three books, starting with Stone Cold Bastards.
I’m delighted to welcome Jake Bible to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.
-Tell us about your new novel, Stone Cold Bastards. What inspired it?
The title. I came up with the title one night and wracked my brain trying to figure out what story would go with such a cool title. It came to me eventually, since it’s kind of in the first two words: stone and cold. What are stone and cold? Gargoyles!
-Can you tell us about some of the characters that we meet in this work?
The novel centers on a rag tag team of misfit gargoyles that have been tasked with protecting the last of humanity from the demon-possessed hordes that have taken over the world. This is a novel that has a lot of characters. You have the gargoyles, you have the humans being protected, you have demons, you have other survivors out in the ravaged landscape. My favorite of them all has to be Mordecai. While not the leader of the gargoyles, he is the one the others turn to when things are about to go down. He’s kind of the rock of the group, no pun intended. He’s a gruff bastard and constantly has a cigar clamped between his stone teeth. Yet despite that hard exterior, he does have a soft spot inside for the humans he’s been given the impossible task of keeping alive. He works his stone butt off and takes his job very seriously. I really dig Morty.
-You’re known as a writer who crosses many genres. This novel is urban fantasy, a genre that you hadn’t written in before. What did you learn about yourself as a writer while completing this novel?
I learned that while genres matter, and make a difference in the tone and setting of a novel, in the end all novels come down to the story and the characters. Once I got into the swing of the story, just like I do with all the novels I write, the setting fell away and I was able to concentrate on the characters. I was able to focus on action and dialogue. The fact that it was a new genre was more daunting in the beginning, but after a couple of chapters I said to myself, “You’ve got this. It’s just another novel. Do your thing.” So I did my thing and was able to relax into it.
-What aspect of the writing craft felt the most difficult for you to understand and execute when you were a beginning writer? How did you overcome this?
The mechanics of writing was tough for me. I do not have a college degree. I didn’t go through a creative writing program. I am 100% self-educated, so I had to apply everything I’d learned as a reader to my writing. Simple mistakes in grammar that sound good coming out of my mouth, were not so good on the page. I had to unlearn a lot of my verbal affectations so that my writing could come across as something other than illiterate garbage. The way I overcame this was to write my very first novel in a drabble format. A drabble is a piece of micro-fiction where the entire story is exactly 100 words, no more, no less. I wrote Dead Mech in 100 word sections. That forced me to go back over what I wrote and edit on the spot. I quickly saw my mistakes, fixed them, tightened up the prose, and moved on to the next drabble. By the end of the novel, I was a tight writer. The grammatical mistakes I was making when I started were corrected by the end. I’ll never write another novel that way again, but it gave me a crash course in the craft that I’d missed by not going to college.
-If you could invite three living writers to a dinner party that you’re hosting, who would you invite and why?
Living writers? Yikes. Uh, Cormac McCarthy because Blood Meridian is one of the greatest horror novels ever written even though people call it a western. It’s not. It’s horror. Robert McCammon because he has been a huge influence on me as a writer. Also, I want to pick his brain about going from a career writing horror novels and into writing historical mystery novels in his Matthew Corbett books. Jeez, picking a third writer is hard. All my heroes are dead. Maybe Christopher Moore. I love his writing and the guy is hilarious. He’d help keep the dinner talk from getting too morose and serious.
-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Never quit. Sit your ass down and do the work. Writing is work. The vast majority of people who are not writers think it’s fun and being a writer must be a dream come true. It is fun and it is a dream come true, but the fun and the dream happen because you sit in your chair and work until you can’t work anymore. Then you do the same thing the next day. And the next. You never quit. You do the work and keep doing the work until you get to where you want to be.
Born Jacob David Bible pre-Microsoft in Bellevue, WA, Jake was whisked away to the Beaver State when he was three and raised fundamentalist pagan. Fed a steady diet of Doritos, Fritos Bean Dip and Chinese herbal tonics, Jake had so many vivid hallucinations that he was writing and binding his own books by fifth grade. True story.
He grew up fascinated with the speculative and the macabre. He spent many summers on his grandparents’ lake reading a leather bound, Franklin Library Edition of The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. No, it wasn’t a haunted book. And, no, it wasn’t a haunted lake. Yes, his grandparents were actually re-animated corpses that had been accidentally murdered and then raised from the dead when a cocktail party got just a little out of hand. And they drank gin and tonics. True story.
Jake currently lives in the Asheville, NC area with his wife, two kids, and two dogs. And although he writes about zombies and cannibals, Jake does not eat of the flesh himself (that means he’s a vegetarian, son. I say, I say, stop bein’ so dense, ya hear?). But, he will eat the non-homicidal animal foodstuffs because pizza is its own food group and soy cheese just ain’t gonna cut it.
Visit him at https://jakebible.com/
I heard about Shannon Page and her new edited book, The Usual Path to Publication: 27 Stories about 27 Ways in from a podcast. I immediately thought, what a brilliant idea for a book—one that pulls back the curtain on “breaking in”. I picked up The Usual Path soon after and finished it in one sitting. The book is poignant, funny, heartbreaking, inspiring and much more. The authors, many who write speculative fiction, share intimate experiences about the writing life and the often nonlinear ways that one becomes published. The stories clearly demonstrate that there is really no one secret path to getting published, especially in this current moment of change in the publishing industry. This book provides useful insights for both established and emerging writers about building community, dealing with rejection and interacting with editors and agents. I’ve been pressing it in to the hands of many writer friends.
This book evolved from a panel at the Cascade Writers Workshop. Intrigued by that fact, I decided to reach out to Shannon and learn more about her experience as an editor.
Shannon Page’s work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static, Tor.com, the Proceedings of the 2002 International Oral History Association Congress, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Her books include Eel River; the collection Eastlick and Other Stories; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Our Lady received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014, and was a finalist for the Endeavour Award.
I’m delighted to welcome Shannon Page to the Practice of Creativity
-Tell us about your recent edited collection, The Usual Path to Publication: 27 Stories about 27 Ways In. What are you hoping this book will provide readers?
I definitely hope folks will have fun reading it, but I hope even more that writers (newer and otherwise) will find it inspiring and encouraging. Writing can be a lonely, frustrating endeavor, especially after the first time you show your golden words to someone…and get a rejection. I truly believed that the first novel I ever submitted—a giant, overwritten doorstop of a thing, mailed over the transom to Farrar, Straus & Giroux, because I was that delusional—was going to result in a gushing acceptance letter and a fat check. Well, it did not, and my efforts for a few years thereafter to get an agent met with similar results.
But in the process of gathering rejections, I started meeting other writers and sharing stories, and that was what kept me going. I learned that “overnight success” never came overnight at all: that it took years of persistence, of honing one’s craft, of not giving up. I learned that we are all in this together, and that there is no one true path to making it—despite all the how-to-get-published advice I devoured every chance I got. Yes, there is random lucky chance involved in a lot of publication stories, but that random chance will not find you if you are not out there, open to it, working on it.
-This is your first nonfiction project as an editor. What did you enjoy about being an editor? What did you learn about yourself while editing this project?
I love editing; I learned that when I edited the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches for Evil Girlfriend Media a few years ago. I love gathering all the pieces and assembling them into a compelling whole. There’s a lot of the same creative joy that comes with being a writer, except with editing, you get so much more diversity. I can write a dozen stories—dark and light, fantasy and science fiction and horror, long and short—and put them together in a collection, but they will still all be by me; my voice, my themes, my sensibility will come through. With an edited collection, you can range so much more widely.
And I just LOVED it when the stories came in. I would squee with delight each time a new one hit my inbox. It was so cool and generous that so many wonderful authors were willing to share their stories.
-You knew some of the writers prior to this project and maybe even some of their publication stories, but probably not all. Which essays were a surprise to you?
I actually didn’t know most of the stories, or not in any detail. Chaz Brenchley is one of my best friends—he was my Best Person at my wedding, in fact—but I didn’t know his story, or, well, his three interwoven stories. Though I knew there were lots of odd tales out there, I was perhaps a little surprised at how few writers followed a “traditional” path to finding their way in (make your name with short stories, then leverage that into a novel deal). Even those who did so did not follow that path in any straightforward way. So I would say almost all the stories surprised me in their particulars, even though I’d expected a variety of unusual paths.
-What kind of advice about pursuing publication would you offer to a younger writing self?
I’d say keep trying—and not just trying to get published per se. Learn your craft, and hone it. Join critique groups, and listen to the feedback. Write a lot, a lot, a LOT. And read a lot. Persistence in all these things is the answer: make your work as brilliant as you can, and keep sending it out there. You will find your audience.
-What’s next for you? What are you working on?
I’ve got a few things in the works. Next up is a SUPER fun project, a cozy mystery/romance novel I wrote with my good friend Karen G. Berry, set on remote Orcas Island, Washington. We’re publishing it under the not-secret pen name Laura Gayle (our middle names, sort of); it’s called Orcas Intrigue, it’s recently released and you can find it here.
Beyond that, I’d like to do another few “Usual Path” essay collections, because I love people’s personal stories, and the first volume was so much fun. My ideas for future volumes include The Usual Path to Love and Romance (relationship origin stories) and The Usual Path from Here to There (moving stories—why do you live where you live?). But I am not allowed to work on those until I get a few unfinished novels out of the pipeline. Plus volume 2 of the Orcas mystery.
-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Sort out your space and time needs. What I mean by that is, none of us have enough time; and the vast majority of us do not live in palatial mansions with endless rooms. But writing takes focus; it’s very hard to write in the midst of chaos and interruptions. Everyone’s particulars will vary, so you need to figure out your way of carving out your writing time and place. When I had a full-time day job, I wrote right when I got home; my then-husband had a longer commute, so he got home an hour later. That was my hour, every day, and I used it diligently. A friend who lived in a tiny apartment with her spouse converted a closet into an “office”. By which I mean, she just stuck a desk in there and took off the closet doors—voila, writing space, and when she was in there, her spouse knew she was working. Figure out what your obstacles are and do what you can to fix them. Get up an hour early in the morning; meet a friend in a café on a regular basis; turn off the internet; get noise-canceling headphones or a room with a door that locks or whatever it takes. And write as regularly as you can. If you’re working on something every day or nearly every day, it starts to come alive in your head. Pretty soon, you won’t be able to not write.
Shannon Page was born on Halloween night and spent her early years on a back-to-the-land commune in northern California. A childhood without television gave her a great love of the written word. At seven, she wrote her first book, an illustrated adventure starring her cat Cleo. Sadly, that story is out of print, but her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static, Tor.com, the Proceedings of the 2002 International Oral History Association Congress, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk.
Her books include Eel River; the collection Eastlick and Other Stories; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Forthcoming books include The Queen and The Tower, first book in The Nightcraft Series; a sequel to Our Lady; and, writing with Karen G. Berry as Laura Gayle, Orcas Intrigue, the first book in the Chameleon Chronicles. Edited books include the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches, from Evil Girlfriend Media; several well-received novels from Per Aspera Press; and the essay collection The Usual Path to Publication.
Shannon is a longtime yoga practitioner, has no tattoos, and is an avid gardener at home with her husband, Mark Ferrari, in Portland, Oregon. She has a tiny office made from a toolshed in the back yard, where all the magic happens. Visit her at www.shannonpage.net.
One of the writing highlights of the year for me was traveling to the State of Black Science Fiction Conference in June. The SOBSFC brought together creators from different mediums (e.g. filmmakers, comic book artists, writers, producers, scholars, etc.,) to converge, discuss and share about the world of sci-fi and the Black experience over the past two centuries. There were panels on everything from Afrofuturism in Arts and Culture to Black Southern Folklore in Horror Literature. It was a mind-blowing experience.
I got a chance to hear and meet new authors. One of these authors was Gerald L. Coleman. I first saw him on the panel, ‘The Pinnacles and Pitfalls of Self/Small Publishing’ talking about being a poet and speculative fiction writer. He also spoke about how important it was for writers of color to value their work and find audiences for their work outside of (or in addition to) what mainstream publishers are willing to publish.
I was intrigued by his ability to write both poetry and speculative fiction, so I spoke with him the next day, at his table. After an engaging conversation, I knew I wanted to invite him to the blog to inspire us and share his writing wisdom.
Gerald Coleman is a philosopher, theologian, poet and author. His most recent poetry appears in, Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture Issue 13 (University of Kentucky Press), the anthology Drawn to Marvel: Poems From The Comic Books (Minor Arcana Press), and Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel Journal Vol. 18. He is also the author of the epic fantasy novel When Night Falls: Book One of The Three Gifts and poetry collections, the road is long and falling to earth. He is a co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets.
I’m delighted to welcome Gerald L. Coleman to The Practice of Creativity.
-Tell us about your recent book, When Night Falls. Why did you want to write this book?
When Night Falls, in fact the entire Three Gifts Series, is my homage to the genre I love the most. Fantasy, and specifically Epic Fantasy, has been my favorite source of reading material since I left comic books and entered the world of literature. Now, I enjoy philosophy and theology immensely, seeing as how those were my main areas of interest in undergrad and graduate school. But there is nothing quite like epic fantasy. I first read Tolkein at the age of twelve and never turned back. Swords, magic, dragons, and heroes on an epic quest have entertained me for hours and hours. While other people were reading Pride and Prejudice, I was reading Elric of Melniboné. While they were reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I was reading Dragonriders or Pern. While my friends were deeply entrenched in A Tale of Two Cities, I was flipping the pages of The Faded Sun Trilogy. Now, don’t get me wrong, as an English and Philosophy double-major at the University of Kentucky, I had to read all that English and American Lit too. But I always made time to read Science Fiction and Fantasy. I knew by high school that I wanted to write. By college I knew I wanted to write in my favorite genre. But what made me want to write this particular epic fantasy series, with these characters, is all about what was missing while I was reading all that SF&F from the time I was a kid. And do you know what was missing in Middle Earth, Melniboné, Kutath, and every other SF&F setting? I was. Now, I don’t mean me specifically. I mean characters who looked like me. African Americans were, generally, non-existent in science fiction and fantasy. We weren’t in the ancient past, the far flung future, or the speculative imaginations of the writers and readers of the genre. It was as if we had never existed. While I thoroughly enjoyed what I was reading I was also, always, painfully aware of the added intellectual leap I had to make as a reader to identify with the heroes and villains in the stories I was consuming. So it was abundantly clear in my mind that when I sat down to write my epic fantasy series that my characters would be a real reflection of the actual world. You know, a world filled with black and brown people, as well as white, Asian, Indian, and others. The world I am writing is filled with beautiful, strong, intelligent, and heroic people of color and women. It had to be. I want readers to have what I never did. So, When Night Falls has all the elements you look for in great epic fantasy. There are swords, fantastical creatures, magic, heroes, villains, but with a real representation cast of characters that should make it fun for any person who picks it up.
-How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?
I knew by high school. Having read so much, and been so impacted – so entertained – by what I had read, it became increasingly clear to me that writing was something I really wanted to do. There are few things in the world like sitting down with a book and being transported to all kinds of wonderful, strange, and magical places. Having experienced that, it began to dawn on me that I wanted to do that for others.
– You’ve written two poetry collections and are a co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets. Poetry is clearly one of your loves. What keeps you coming back to the form of poetry for self-expression?
Poetry was my entrée into writing. In high school, I began by writing love poems to girls I liked. By the time I reached college it evolved. As a freshman, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and that was a real sea change for me. It really began the process of my search for an understanding of what being an African American man meant and was going to mean for me. After that I consumed W. E. B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Carter G. Woodson, Marcus Garvey, and every black intellectual I could get my hands on. I was already reading all the other stuff, by way of my university studies. Everyone from Plato, Aristotle, to Sartre and Derrida. But these other intellectuals, often left out the curriculum, were the real compass for me and my writing. My poetry changed and developed drastically. I still write about love. In fact, my latest poetry collection, falling to earth, is all about love, in all its forms. But the core heuristics of my poetry are about African American identity. And every time a black person is killed by police, or a black church is attacked or burned down, or the Supreme Court rules on issues like affirmative action, I am always brought back to poetry as a primary form of expression. I have also come to find that writing poetry and then speculative fiction, and then turning back to poetry, is a great way for me to stay sharp and keep the creative juices flowing.
-You have a graduate degree in theology. Do you feel that training shapes the kinds of themes you take up in your creative work?
I do find that my expertise in philosophy and theology helps to shape and inform my writing. I think it’s one of the things that makes my writing unique. I avoid it being heavy-handed or showing up explicitly in my writing. I think that would be terrible for the story. But in elegant and efficient ways, it’s there, grounding the story, and making the narrative stronger, and denser. I think it works best if it’s there without you really seeing it.
-What excites you right now about writing in the genre of speculative fiction?
I think the fact that I, and other African American writers like myself, are creating a library of speculative work that cures what has always ailed the genre at large for so long. How can you truly have great science fiction and fantasy when you leave out most of the human race in your story? That we are writing entertaining and powerful stories where readers can actually see themselves as heroes and villains is, for me, the most exciting thing about the enterprise we have embarked upon. The ability to give tweens, teens, young adults, and adults, the kind of stories we used to comb the bookshelves for in book stores is both rewarding and exciting. I hope the SF&F reading community can see how exciting this time is in the genre.
– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Trust yourself. If you have a strong story and well-developed characters, then you can trust yourself to develop a story worth reading. Take chances with your story and write yourself in corners. Once you get there, then trust yourself to be able to write yourself out. I am working on book two in The Three Gifts Series right now (hopefully finishing in the next few months) and while I have the overarching narrative arc in mind I can’t allow myself to get caught up in all the intricacies of what I have yet to write. I have to focus on one chapter at a time and trust that I will be able to solve all the problems I create as I write. I think that makes for the most compelling stories. You can’t be afraid to create a difficult problem for your characters or your plot because you are worried you won’t be able to write a good resolution. Time and time again, I have trusted myself to think my way through those things and it always works out. The mind is an amazing tool and instrument. If you have fed it well it will always produce the results you need.
As an addendum, let me say this as well. Don’t rush. The worst thing you can do is let a deadline push you to write past some great writing. A chapter needs to marinate sometimes. And when you allow the story to develop at its own pace you will sometimes surprise yourself with what you are able create.
Finally, let me say thank you Michele for asking me to do this. It’s been great fun and I hope worthy of your interest and the interest of your readers!
Gerald L. Coleman writes both poetry and speculative fiction. He resides in Atlanta. Born and raised in Lexington, he did his undergraduate work in Philosophy and English at the University of Kentucky before completing a Master’s degree in Theology at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN.
He is a lover of espresso, Radical Orthodoxy, Wittgenstein, early mornings on the golf course, and Lexington in the fall. He is a co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets.
Visit him here.
I want to thank you for subscribing to my blog. Welcome to new subscribers! And, to those who have been followers (and readers) from way back, thanks for sticking with me!
In 2011, I decided to devote myself to writing weekly on my blog and to support creative community. From that intention, so many great things followed: community building, more writing, opportunities I couldn’t have imagined, new friendships, etc.
I’m inspired by all that you do, seek and create. I want to continue to walk this creative path with you. Let’s keep inspiring each other.
On that note, I wanted to share several inspiring conversations I’ve had with some of the most talented writers, coaches and transformational experts from my Creativity Bonfire Series. My Creativity Bonfire Series brought together 12 leading writers, authors, visual artists and thought leaders to talk about creativity—how to sustain and maintain it.
Each conversation is about an hour long. Let yourself soak in their wisdom about staying true to the creative process and eliminating distractions.
Links will stay live until Oct 15.
I am so happy to participate in the blog tour of new author, Audrey Mei. I’m grateful to Quanie Miller, a wonderful writer and blogger who helped bring us together. Given Audrey’s amazingly diverse creative practices that run the gamut of music, writing, health and science, I knew she would be a great person to interview. In our correspondence, we’ve discovered that we have many overlapping interests.
Audrey Mei grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area before studying cello and biological psychology/pre-med in Boston (New England Conservatory of Music/Tufts University). Following graduation, she received a Fulbright Grant for graduate studies in cello performance at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland.
Since 2006, Audrey has been dedicated to writing prose and poetry and has been published in Gangway Literary Magazine and Glimmer Train among others, as well as participating for several years in the Berlin English language literary scene. She is a world traveler at heart.
I’m delighted to welcome Audrey Mei to The Practice of Creativity.
-Tell us about your recent book, Trixi Pudong and the Greater World. Why did you want to write this book?
Trixi Pudong and the Greater World is a family saga that follows a Shanghai family through four generations, beginning in 1937. Alongside the family’s history of war, revolution, addiction, and migration, there is a twist of magical: a fairy, a fortune-telling goatman, and two brothers who never step off a rusty container ship.
The inspiration for this book came as I was researching my dad’s family history for fun. At the time, I was also living as a dirt-poor writer in Berlin. The ironic juxtaposition of everything my Chinese family had survived and the “privileged”-yet-poor artist life I was living in modern, cushy Germany gave me the impetus to write a book about how unpredictable the waves of history can be.
Also, my father is a natural storytelling genius. I felt that integrating his tales from Shanghai into a work of historical magical fiction would be a way for me to remember his stories as well as a way for them to potentially reach a wider audience.
-You have explored many wonderful professions in addition to writing including, being a classical cellist, a holistic healer, and a scientist. How have these other creative and intellectual pursuits contributed to your writing?
The single most important thing I’ve gained is the discipline of being a classical musician. Someone recently pointed out to me that classical music is the one artistic field which requires the highest investment in time, energy, and money for the least return in today’s economy. Where else do little kids practice hours a day, take expensive music lessons, take the “audition of their lives” to study at pricey conservatories, and spend five figures on an antique instrument… just for the slim chance at earning all that back in the vanishing classical music profession? It turns out that many music school graduates have taken their skills to innovative non-music jobs. A surprising number of tech workers in Silicon Valley, for example, are actually classical musicians.
Discipline is the greatest gift. I can’t say enough about it. Yet it is the one area where the most people fall short. Discipline is required to write, solve problems, continually improve, and mentally deal with the pain of critical feedback. Discipline is required to keep the mind free from destructive thoughts and to keep yourself focused on the highest level of quality you can manage.
The second skill I’ve gained through my experience is emotional awareness from working in holistic therapy for sixteen years. I listen to people’s stories, traumas, insecurities, and griefs. I follow their healing and their growth. I can’t be judgmental and I can’t be afraid of deep emotions otherwise my clients would stop seeing me. Therapeutic experience has also given me the “roadmap” of human motivations. Writing-wise, this helps me to create a stories that interweave motives and relationships that are rooted in true human psychology.
-Your book is being marketed as multicultural fiction. Can you share what this term means to you and why that’s an important distinction for this book?
It didn’t dawn on me that the term “multicultural” would be important in any way until I researched agents and realized, Wait, these agents would never, ever in a million years represent me. They all claimed to be interested in all genres of literary fiction, but early on, I got a strong gut feeling when I browsed agents’ client list and saw only your garden-variety white male (or female). And the only non-white authors being represented were invariably prison-camp survivors, Nobel laureates, or writers on “What it means to be [fill in ethnicity/disadvantaged class] in America.” The next stage of this realization came as I read agent interviews where they unabashedly declared their risk aversion to selling to an audience that they couldn’t relate to. In other words, there was a near-zero chance for a person like myself who is just telling a story.
But, as my writing teacher always emphasizes: The readers are out there. Unfortunately, as the traditional publishing industry has changed, world literature has fallen victim to the budgeting ax. It remains a question of reaching the right audience, but at the indie book level. Hence I saw how critical it is to designate a book properly to attract my target readers.
-What’s been the biggest surprise thus far in being published?
I’m astounded at how supportive other indie authors are. I’m also floored by how impossible it is for anyone with kids to write, publish, and market a book with no child care. I started writing Trixi Pudong in 2009, pre-parenthood. My daughter was born in 2014, and my writing screeched to a complete standstill. Without my mother-in-law donating 20 hours a week of babysitting, I simply wouldn’t have a book out. Period.
– What do you say to yourself on days when the writing feels especially difficult?
Just wait. What goes down must come up again.
I’m very strict about this, to not put pressure on myself. I don’t work well under pressure. I would just produce garbage. But when inspiration comes on its own, it really flows and the process is nearly effortless. It’s therefore more important for me to find ways to let the inspiration flow. A meditation practice — being able to empty my mind to allow for ideas to emerge, aka “listen to your heart” lol — has been my best resource.
– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
This is going somewhere, I promise: My dad is a retired professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. For a while decades ago, UCB topped even Harvard as the country’s best university, and this was because of his department. So he’s a pretty esteemed individual in his field (just don’t ask me anything about it!). At conferences and events, fellow professors and former students flock around him. I’ll never forget what some of his former grad students related to us at his 80th birthday celebration. According to these students, my dad always told them that, in the face of doubt:
Never compare yourself to anyone else.
Remember that no one else can do what you are doing.
Thank you to Michele for giving me the honor of guest-posting on your blog! You can find the rest of my blog tour schedule here.