Archive for the ‘author interview’ Category
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.
Pavarti Tyler is an adored writer and publisher. Under the moniker P.K. Tyler, she writes speculative fiction and other genre bending fiction. She’s published works as Pavarti K. Tyler and had projects appear on the USA TODAY Bestseller’s List. She also created Fighting Monkey Press.
IndieReader has said this about Pavarti: “Tyler is essentially the indie scene’s Margaret Atwood; she incorporates sci-fi elements into her novels, which deal with topics such as spirituality, gender, sexuality and power dynamics.”
I know Pavarti because I’m one of the 22 authors in her recent Uncommon Origins: A Collection of Gods, Monsters, Nature and Science anthology published through Fighting Monkey Press. This is the second UnCommon anthology that she has published, beginning with UnCommon Bodies. She is currently reviewing manuscripts for UnCommon Minds.
Not only was I delighted to have my work accepted for UnCommon Origins, I was thrilled to become part of Pavarti’s community of writers. Leading up to the launch for UnCommon Origins, Pavarti mentored and supported us in learning about marketing, branding, and finding audiences that would love our work. I learned so much! I also got to interact with authors involved in UnCommon Origins and authors from UnCommon Bodies and other projects that Pavarti has brought to fruition. She’s nurtured a group of writers who are incredibly generous and supportive of each other. As I noted in an earlier post, the launch for UnCommon Origins was incredibly successful and continues to trend on Amazon. Pavarti knows both art and the marketplace.
I recently discovered one of her other series: Mosaics: A Collection of Independent Women. This collection is ambitious in scope and features a diverse group of self-identified women writing about intersectionality (e.g. how social categories of race, class, sexuality, nationality, etc. come together simultaneously to shape both privilege and power). Pavarti has recently released the second Mosiacs collection with its multi-faceted look at the history and culture surrounding femininity: “If gender is a construct, this anthology is the house it built. Look through its many rooms, some bright and airy, some terrifying– with monsters lurking in the shadows.” This work offers readers poetry, essays and fiction, showcasing voices that don’t often get represented.
Profits from both collections are donated to the Pixel Project to end Violence Against Women.
I’ve written about intersectional theory, practice and methods as a scholar, so I was especially interested in this project. Mosaics is timely given the ongoing VIDA: Women in Literary Arts conversations about gender equity and the We Need Diverse Books movement.
I wanted to know more about Mosaics and Pavarti’s writing career. I’m delighted to welcome Pavarti Tyler to The Practice of Creativity.
-Tell us about the Mosaics collections. What inspired them?
Mosaics was a project conceived by Kim Wells. We decided to work together because our politics and philosophies are so in line. Both books were filled with stories the two of us hand selected for inclusion and that we believed brought something special not only to the literary world, but also contributed to the conversation about sex and gender. There has been so much controversy and misunderstanding about feminism and equality lately, we felt it was important to give voice to a wide variety of women and experiences on how gender intersects with issues of race, sex, and ability. In the end, we had so many amazing submissions we weren’t able to put together just one collection and had to expand the scope to two books. It was a tremendous amount of work, but work I’m exceptionally proud of as both an author and publisher.
– You’ve edited several anthologies over the past few years. What do you enjoy about being an editor? How was editing Mosaics different than your other anthologies (i.e. UnCommon Bodies)?
I’m actually not an editor. I’m lucky I’m able to spell my own name right most days. In all these projects I’ve worked as curator, coordinator, and publisher (and often marketer). I love the chance to bring together new voices and curate selections that stand up as individual works, but which also add something to the greater whole when seen in context of the collection.
-You manage to pack a lot into your day! You are a blogger, writer, editor and publisher. How do these activities feed each other and you?
I’m not sure if this question makes me want to laugh or cry. I do pack a lot into my days and I’m exhausted most of the time, but everything I do is done out of love and passion. A passion for language, for story, for the fundamental belief that it’s essential to the human condition to share experiences. Of everything, blogging is the one thing I don’t do consistently, only when something strikes my fancy or inspiration, but I do try to put up something every few weeks. While it’s not my primary passion, it’s a great way for me to connect with readers in a direct and personal way.
-Is there a story behind the name of your publishing imprint—Fighting Monkey Press?
Yes. My husband and our friends were ridiculous creatures when we met. I called the group of them my monkeys because of their penchant for climbing walls and jumping over things on rollerblades. They were also all on the fencing team. So when it came time to name my company, Fighting Monkey just made sense.
-Do you consider yourself a discovery writer (also known as a pantser) or outliner? Or do those categories not apply?
I plot, but I’m not a micro plotter. I use a 5 act structure and outline the basics of where I’m going and then beat plot a few chapters ahead of where I am before writing. The essential part of this for me though is the willingness to just delete it all if the characters take me in another direction. They usually know the story better than I do so I follow their lead. So I’m a plotter who sometimes gets swept away by my pants.
-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Shut up. I know that sounds harsh, but there are only 2 rules for writing: 1 – Shut Up 2 – Write. If you can get past the first one, I believe everyone has a story to tell. So silence your inner critic, stop talking about the things you want to do, stop posting on Facebook about writing, just shut up and write.
Pavarti Tyler attended Smith College and graduated with a degree in Theatre. She lived in New York, where she worked as a Dramaturge, Assistant Director and Production Manager on productions both on and off-Broadway. Later, Pavarti went to work in the finance industry for several international law firms. Now located in Baltimore Maryland, she lives with her husband, two daughters and two terrible dogs. When not penning science fiction books and other speculative fiction novels, she twists her mind by writing horror and erotica. Find out more about her here.
I first heard about Zig Zag Claybourne from an interview on The Dead Robots’ Society podcast. On the show, he talked about his latest novel, The Brothers Jetsream: Leviathan. It is a science fiction adventure that centers around two African-American brothers out to save the world. There are psychic whales, explosions, warrior angels, Atlanteans, and corporate conspiracies. I immediately thought, Whoa—way cool and original! Zig Zag was witty and offered great insights about building a writing life over a number of years. After his appearance on DRS, I knew I wanted to help spread the word about his work.
Prominent writer Dave Eggers has said about Zig Zag, “This is a truly original writer. He sounds like no one else, plays by no rules, and creates wildly entertaining books that create an indelible stamp on the mind.”
I’m looking forward to meeting Zig Zag, in person, at the upcoming State of Black Science Fiction Convention. In the meantime, I’m delighted that he agreed to appear here at The Practice of Creativity.
Tell us about your recent novel, The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan. What inspired it?
The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan came from me wanting to highlight a book where black folks do what they’ve always done: save the world one way or another but get zero credit for it. I describe the book as Buckaroo Banzai by way of Ralph Ellison. It’s an adventure with heart, humor, and the coolest crew since Sulu and Uhura. The characters have been with me a long time. So has their battle against the False Prophet Buford. If you have two black brothers named Milo and Ramses Jetstream, there is absolutely no way they are not going to wage war against the status quo.
How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?
I took up writing before puberty. I loved reading, not just science fiction, everything. I was the kid who got excited when the teacher assigned Hamlet. One day my mama said I read so much I could probably write a story. That was the Pearly Gates opening moment for me! I wrote my first terrible short story (about aliens using humans as hunting dogs against other humans) and have been going ever since.
How do stories usually come to you? Do you start with a character? Setting? An image?
I usually start off with a feeling or a mood then dig deep to find characters and a situation to bring that mood to life. Jetstream, for example, was the feeling of the world being utterly ridiculous when you actually stopped to think about 99% of what we accept as daily life.
What’s the less glamorous side of a published writer’s life that aspiring writers often don’t see?
That makes me laugh! I haven’t found a glamorous bit yet! I don’t think aspiring writers realize that just because a writer gets to “the End” means the book is done. There are rewrites on top of rewrites, then there’s the marketing/publicity push which, for most authors (seeing as we’re generally solitary, quiet people – HA!) is as glamorous as a root canal. There’s still this feeling out there that folks get to write a book, dust their hands of it, and watch as the angels waft it heavenward. To quote Lana Kane from Archer: “Nooooooope.”
What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your e-reader)? What are you reading right now?
There’s nothing better for me than finding a new author to love, so my bookshelf is a workhorse; I’m always adding way more than the max carrying load to it. Right now I’m reading a sword & soul epic called Woman of the Woods by Milton Davis, a YA fantasy called Basajaun by Rosemary Van Deuren, and am about to jump into the macabre with Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom.
What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
The best tip ever is care about what you’re doing. All else flows from that. If you don’t care, the readers won’t care, and if you’re writing under the assumption that your book is “good enough” you’ve already failed. For me the process of taking a book from idea to completed drafts is a lot smoother if I operate under the hope that a reader will feel what I’ve given them and appreciate the respect for them.
Zig Zag Claybourne (also known as Clarence Young) wishes he’d grown up with the powers of either Gary Mitchell or Charlie X but without the Kirk confrontations. (Anybody not getting that Star Trek reference gets their sci-fi cred docked 3 points.) The author of Neon Lights, Historical Inaccuracies, and By All Our Violent Guides (the last under C.E. Young), he believes a writer can be like an actor, inhabiting a delightful variety of roles and genres. As such, his work takes you where you’ve never been, but makes sure you have fun getting there.
Find out more about him here.
National Poetry Month is here! All throughout the month, I will feature writers sharing poems and insights into the craft of poetry. I’m delighted to kickoff this segment with Alice Osborn. Alice is a poet, editor and popular writing coach.
Several years ago, I attended one of her workshops on promotion for writers. I loved the way she engaged the audience and how she pushed us to be vulnerable and authentic in how we communicate with the public. I still have those notes and often find myself putting into practice her advice. Over the years, I have followed her career, inspired by all that she does and how generous she is in supporting emerging writers.
Alice is a prolific writer. Heroes without Capes is her most recent collection of poetry. Previous collections are After the Steaming Stops and Unfinished Projects. Alice is also the editor of the anthologies Tattoos and Creatures of Habitat, both from Main Street Rag. A North Carolina Writers’ Network board member and a Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared in the News and Observer, The Broad River Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Soundings Review and in numerous journals and anthologies.
I’m delighted to welcome Alice Osborn to The Practice of Creativity.
What was the first poem you’ve ever read?
All of the Mother Goose nursery rhymes were my favorites when I was a preschooler and when I became school age, I loved hearing the pounding hoof beats in Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems,—his Child’s Garden of Verses especially. I’m an auditory learner, I loved his rhythms and rhymes, plus there was usually strong conflict in his work. I also couldn’t get enough of Walt Whitman’s extended metaphor about Lincoln’s assassination in “O, Captain! My Captain!” I, too, wanted to express something grand and meaningful. I first got my chance my sophomore year of high school when I won second place in the annual poetry contest. I wrote a three page poem about the epic fight between King Arthur and Sir Mordred. After trying the next year and not winning any more awards, I stopped writing poetry until my mid-twenties when a friend invited me to an open mic. I felt that what I wrote could have been better, but I didn’t know what I needed to do get better.
How has poetry influenced you as a person? Or as a writer?
Now fast forward to nine years ago when I first started sending my short stories and essays out to various publication markets. I didn’t get any takers for these pieces and I was getting tired of all of the rejections. Then one of my writing teachers suggested reading and writing poetry to become a stronger fiction or memoir writer. I could do this! After all, I had written poetry before. The third poem I wrote after my nineteen year hiatus won honorable mention in NC State’s annual poetry contest. Wow! Maybe I needed to keep doing this poetry thing. It was called “Ghostcards” and it was about the dual hanging deaths of two 14-year-old African American boys in Shubuta, Mississippi in 1942. Langston Hughes had portrayed the boys’ fate in “Bitter River” and I wanted to present my own version using the color gray throughout the poem. One night, the name “Ghostcards” came to me in a dream and wouldn’t let me go until I had written the poem. Many of my poems emerge from dreams, while others come from the newspaper, random encounters, personal experiences or strange family behaviors.
My most recent book of poems is Heroes with Capes, my first full length collection that features many dramatic monologues and narrative poems from famous and infamous speakers from history, myth and pop culture who show varying degrees of heroism and loneliness. From the Star Wars saga, we have the bounty hunter Boba Fett who is a recovering alcoholic working hard at changing the script of his past. “Holding the door for an old man in a Braves hat, /I keep my eye out for movement among the parking lot pines/and mutter a tiny prayer while backing out by the Drive-Thru. /And an even bigger one when I take a bite/to drive east into the sun. /Telling myself this ketchup on my armor is real, /even if the past isn’t.”
While all the Predator (from the 1987 hit movie) wants to do is buy beef at Walmart. “Ring butcher bell, and Charlie comes right away./What wonderful service! And fills up cart. /Few ground chucks spill out and hit feet. /Ouch, I have tender feet like bananas.” Also featured are the Devil, Ellen Ripley from Aliens, the Virgin Mary, LBJ, Darth Vader, Benedict Arnold, Captain Bligh, Princess Leia, Dick Cheney, the Road Runner and many others. You’ll also meet Nolan, the split foyer house who is under tremendous stress and Dina the Delta jet who wishes her passengers possessed more taste. My favorite characters are the B-men: Boba Fett, Benedict Arnold and Captain Bligh because they are all heroes, but they are also flawed and these flaws get in their own way—I really identify with these guys!
In your opinion, what makes a poorly written poem?
A lot of crappy poems are written because they don’t care about the reader; they’re so insular and specific to the author, the reader can’t find a way in. Many poems also don’t have any layering, they are filled with clichés (especially love poems talking about soul mates) and poems that don’t have any grounding. What I mean by grounding is that the poem is only concerned about the abstract and they’re nothing to concrete to make a reader relate to it. Some poems also have a lot of “throat-clearing,” meaning the author takes a long time to get to the meat of the poem. Most of all I sincerely dislike poems that don’t trust the reader’s intelligence—they are expository and pander to the audience like a weak network sitcom.
How would you persuade a non-reader to read poetry?
Attend as many poetry readings/literary open mics as you can so you can experience the poem and the poet in the same space. If you can’t make it out to readings, watch poets read their work on YouTube and The Poetry Foundation. And while you’re at a reading, support the poets by buying their work. If you want to get really crazy and accelerate your poetry craft learning, review all of the poetry books you buy on GoodReads.com and Amazon. Even if you’re not a writer, I encourage you to read poetry to discover a fresh insight into an old idea or see how a poet performs acrobatics with his words. You just might learn something cool about yourself or the fellow drinking black coffee two tables over at the Panera.
Is poetry useful?
No question about it. Poetry teaches us how to live. Poetry is like the Windex on a grubby car window—it bares open the vulnerabilities of human beings so we can all relate to each other a little better.
“Chorus: The Hero of Acheron,” published in the Kakalak 2014 Anthology of Carolina Poets
Chorus: The Hero of Acheron
Against our constant warnings,
You have five minutes to evacuate!
she descends in the elevator,
shedding her blue jacket, shedding her mind-killers—
always watchful with her duct-taped
pulse rifle and flame thrower to rescue
the girl, her Persephone from
the Queen of the Eggs.
This Demeter is something of an immortal—
while in cryo-sleep she outlived her Earth daughter
and once returned to her planet, chose
a space station’s safe orbit, refusing
to walk barefoot in the prairie grass
or view stars burning with death.
She brings her own star justice to the Queen’s eggs,
dripping with mucous as one hatches…
saving the girl before the pomegranates eat her.
Angels hum to the sulfured air.
The two rise to the unstable surface,
what was rage in her descent is now fear.
You have two minutes to evacuate!
This wounded goddess could lose everything;
she’s fighting gods with their own agendas—
before it was only her and her vengeance.
You have 30 seconds to evacuate!
The android Hermes flies
to mother and daughter before enfolding them
aboard the Sulaco as the dead world explodes.
The humans and near human flinch
to shock waves rising higher and higher
in the moon’s atmosphere.
But all we know Hades won’t let
Persephone ever truly leave
Alice Osborn’ s past educational (MA in English, NCSU and BS in Finance, VA Tech) and work experience (Belk, waitress, tutor) is unusually varied, and it now feeds her work as a poet, editor-for-hire and popular writing coach. Alice’s business, Write from the Inside Out, is now a decade old and in that time, she has taught scores of writing workshops and has edited manuscripts locally and all around the globe. Heroes without Capes is her most recent collection of poetry. Previous collections are After the Steaming Stops and Unfinished Projects. Alice is also the editor of the anthologies Tattoos and Creatures of Habitat, both from Main Street Rag. A North Carolina Writers’ Network board member and a Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared in the News and Observer, The Broad River Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Soundings Review and in numerous journals and anthologies. When she’s not editing or writing, Alice is an Irish dancer who plays guitar and violin. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband, two children, four loud birds and Mr. Nibbles, a carrot-chomping guinea pig. Visit Alice’s website at www.aliceosborn.com.
Connect with Alice:
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+AliceOsborn
Find out more about her here: http://aliceosborn.com/blog