The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘creative writing’ Category

It’s been a weird few days for all of us, huh? About two weeks ago, I left for Copenhagen and by the time I got back (with some difficulty), COVID-19 was in full swing. Later this week, I’ll share some reflections about that trip and how we can keep writing some during this difficult moment.

In the meantime, I’m sharing something that I’d love your help supporting and/or signal boosting. This is my second invitation to a crowdfunded anthology and I’m super excited about it! [BTW, I am working on the edits to my story that I wrote for the successfully funded Witches, Warriors and Wise Women, due out in June]

LET’S SLAY!

Do you like vampires? Vampire slayers? A fresh take on vampires and vampire slayers? Mocha Memories Press is crowdfunding Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire, an anthology which will be groundbreaking as it explores vampires of the African Diaspora. I’m one of the invited authors that will be submitting a story along with Sheree Renee Thomas, Steven Van Patten, and Teri Clarke! Mocha Memoirs Press is run by the incredible Nicole Smith and has been a force in amplifying the work of diverse voices in speculative fiction.


We’re almost halfway funded! Please consider supporting this anthology, there are lots of great perks available (with great names like hunters, slayers, stakes and blood drinkers). $1 perks available! Feel free to share with others! TY!

 

Stay safe and healthy!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore my feelings and relationship to the term ‘Afrofuturism’ in this recent essay for the online quarterly magazine South Write Large: Stories, Arts and Ideas for the Global South. Is this a term that you have heard a lot about? How do you engage with Afrofuturism?

My Unlikely Path to Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism is everywhere these days. From the staggering success of Black Panther to the revival of Octavia Butler’s works, especially the prescient Parable of the Sower written in 1993, to the award-winning novels by N. K. Jemisin, these books have ushered in a new moment. We’re not just talking about literature or film, but music, fashion design, visual arts, and social activism as well. What often gets lost or flattened, however, when a phenomenon enters the mainstream, is the nuance, history, and multiple viewpoints on said phenomenon. Read the rest of the essay here.

February has been a rich and wonderful month. It felt as if I was in deep communion with the writer, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960). For many years, I’ve been fascinated by her life. ZNH was ahead of her time as a writer and scholar (she was the first Black woman to receive a doctorate in anthropology). She was also a cultural icon and transgressive artist.

Zora Neale Hurston

In 2016, I started a story, “Etta, Zora and the First Serpent” that takes place in the 1930s. Etta, a dancer at the Cotton Club, meets the charismatic ZNH and gets entangled in one of Zora’s schemes to conjure secrets from an old spirit. As you might imagine, trouble ensues.

I am generally fascinated by the time period of the 1920s-1940s and have always been interested in the Cotton Club as my maternal grandmother danced there for a brief period. In the story, I get to explore the race, class and gender dynamics of the day as the Cotton Club practiced segregation (only white patrons were seated) and colorism (i.e. African American female dancers that were hired were typically “light-skinned” or with a “cafe au lait” complexion).

Several Cotton Club dancers

The Apollo Dancers at the Cotton Club Revue in 1938. still from BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE, a film by Heather MacDonald

I was inspired to finish this historically themed horror story (with a twinge of fantasy), and then submit it in 2018 for a specific anthology. It got rejected from that anthology and I went to work on it some more. Last year I submitted it to AfroMyth: Volume 2-A Fantasy Collection and it was accepted!

I went through intensive edits on the story. What was refreshing, however, was that I didn’t have to work much on the structure of the story (I often struggle with plotting), but instead needed to beef up description in the last quarter of the story. It was one of the shorter stories I have written, submitted at 5,000 words (which was the maximum word length). In the revisions, however, I wound up adding another 500 words.

AfroMyth: Volume 2 was released today! It features fourteen fantasy stories featuring characters of the African Diaspora.

I love the cover of this collection!

Zora had her spirit fingerprints all over my life this month. I was invited to attend the 31st annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. It took place in early February in Eatonville, FL.  Eatonville, a historically all Black town is where Zora grew up. The Festival spans multiple days. This year the theme was the multiverse and Afrofuturism! There was an academic conference, an outdoor festival and tons of activities and festivities.  I was with an amazing group of speculative friction writers, all paying tribute to ZNH, her genius and legacy.

Standing, left to right P. Djeli Clark, Nwatchukwu Iheoma, Bill Campbell, Tenea Johnson. Seated: Maurice Broaddus and Chesya Burke. We are all looking very writerly!

It’s rare that I have the opportunity to read with and connect to other Black writers, especially in the field of speculative fiction, so my time at the ZNH Festival felt pretty magical.

If you are a speculative fiction reader, I hope you check out the collection. You can find it at all online sellers. Amazon link is here. Here’s the book trailer to check out, too.

I’ve returned to monthly column writing and I’m thrilled about it. My first adventure with column writing was with the Chapel Hill News from 2012-2014. I was discovered by an editor at the CHN through a very personal and vulnerable post that I shared on social media. He encouraged me to become a ‘My View’ columnist. See more about that story here.

For that column, I wrote about a variety of topics including the perils of petite fashion, my early life, my mother, creativity and feminism. I absolutely loved it and learned tons including the ability to write to deadline, what kinds of columns move readers and how to cultivate a nonfiction writing ‘voice’.

Now, I’ve decided to write for the Chatham County Line, a refreshed monthly community paper distributed in the county where I live. I took up monthly writing again for several reasons:

-The publisher is a longtime friend and is interested in making sure a diversity of voices are represented in the paper.

-I like that he has updated the paper and I want to be part of the positive and forward thinking changes it fosters in the community.

-Writing a column increases my profile locally.

-I told the publisher I want to focus on topics of creativity and inspiration, areas that I’m passionate about and ones where I want to deepen my publishing record.

-I also want to take risks in what I write about creativity. That feels pretty vulnerable. Writing a blog can be an intimate experience, but readers are spread across the globe. And, subscribers to blogs generally have an affinity for what a blogger is sharing. Writing for one’s community, knowing that you might run into someone, that read your column, in the grocery store is a different feeling.

I’m excited though about this adventure and I hope you’ll check it out, too. This month’s theme was ‘Get Out of the Basement:  Cultivating a Writing Community.’

I’m a creative writer. It’s taken me a long time to publicly claim and affirm that designation.
There is no one path to being a writer or embodying a writing life. 

You can find the rest here.

Remember, small local papers always need interesting writers with something to say. Consider pitching yourself as a columnist!

The beginning of the year has been a whirlwind, in a good way. I was invited to lead a craft workshop for the students attending Carlow University’s low-residency Creative Writing MFA program, taking place in early Jan, in Pittsburgh, PA.

I was very excited, honored and nervous. I am an educator by training and routinely teach undergraduate and graduate students in my areas of my research expertise (e.g. women’s and gender studies, sociology, and political science). Although I have given craft talks, I have never designed and solely led a workshop for MFA students. Even though I have taught writing workshops alone and with others, I have never taught in an actual MFA program.

I received the invitation in September. Once I accepted, an annoying inner critic voice popped up and said, “Who does she think she is to teach MFA students, especially when she doesn’t have an MFA?”

I had to repeatedly say to myself, “This is not about your ego or degrees. You are here to serve the students and offer up what you think will be useful to them.” One of the reasons why I was invited was because they have had students express an interest in writing speculative fiction. The administrators gave me complete freedom to design the workshop in any way that I wished.

Once I reminded myself that I had something unique to offer and that it was OK not to be perfect on the first round, I totally got into designing the workshop.

The MFA students sign up for the classes they want to take about a month before, so I sent some preliminary questions about their goals, challenges, interests, etc. I used their answers to guide me as I developed the workshop.

I taught about speculative fiction and my path as a winding path as a writer (i.e. why I went to get a PhD in political science instead of an MFA). I integrated mindfulness and contemplative practices as resources for sustaining their writing. I also had them generate lots of material through prompts and free writing. We looked at some ways that writers can play with premise, setting and character as part of speculative work. I drew on a wide variety of authors and my own work as demonstrations of particular approaches.

Boy, does two and half hours fly by!

The students were amazing and generous to me and each other.

I so enjoyed watching students dive deep in the exercises and claim some of their buried interests, including horror and dark fiction.

The fantastic MFA students I worked with at Carlow.

I absolutely loved teaching the workshop.

I’m glad I didn’t let my fear get the best of me. I’m also glad that without acting like a know-it-all, I could share with them some lessons I’ve learned as well as hear what their writing lives are like. As in all adult learning communities, you know some things and they know some things. Learning happens in the middle.

The only thing I would do differently would be to send some of the short readings ahead of time, so we would have more time for in class writing and reading our work.

I was honored to read alongside Patrice Gobo (center) and Lynn Emmanuel. We read poetry, memoir and fiction and our selections all complimented each other.

The faculty and staff were welcoming and it was a joy to be with them. I loved reading with the other faculty, too.

Creatives, don’t we just light up when we are with other creatives?

Below are two of the exercises that I used as warm-up material. I absolutely adore Dena Metzer’s Writing for Your Life: Discovering the Story of Your Life’s Journey (a more spiritual approach to creativity, but some of the deepest writing advice I’ve ever seen and great prompts throughout the book)

The Dream Police

We are what matters to us. Our identity materializes through images, memories, events and through things.

Suddenly there is a knock on your door. A trusted friend enters to warm you that the Dream Police will arrive in twenty minutes. Everything, everything in your life that you have not written down will evaporate upon their arrival. You have a short time—twenty minutes-to preserve what is most previous in your life, what has formed you, what sustains you. Whatever you forget, whatever you have no time to record, will disappear. Everything you want must be acknowledged in its particularity. Everything to be saved, must be named. Not trees, but oak. Not people, but Alicia. As in reality, what has no name, no specificity, vanishes.

*set the timer for 20 minutes and GO. This is great prompt to help us dig deep and go from the abstract to the concrete. Every time I do this exercise, my list looks different.

The Dream Police #2 (also from Writing for Your Life)

Imagine you are an anthropologist who has unearthed this list of “possessions” that once belonged to some unknown person. Write a brief portrait of fleshing that person out, speculating on his or her character and life.

-The anthropologist writes about this subject in the 3rd person, (i.e. he, she, they)

My addition: circle 3-5 items, images, memories from this list that interest you. How might you approach what you have created as the basis for a new character? What kind of trouble or setting might be interesting to explore with this character sketch?

Photo credit

 

January has started off well for my writing.

File this under the category: Believe in your work. As creators, I believe we have to pursue a variety of storytelling modes that are available to us. I’ve started to enter my published work into contests that help pitch the work and get it adapted for film and TV. Nussia, my novelette published in 2017 by Book Smugglers just made it to the quarter finals in the ScreenCraft Contest (Cinematic Short Story Competition)!

I love the cover that Book Smugglers had commissioned for Nussia.

They chose about 200 people from over 1,200 submissions. Here’s my logline: “In this sci-fi psychological dark/horror story, Lindsay, an African American girl “wins” an extraterrestrial in a national contest only to find her family’s life upended. It’s E.T. meets Fatal Attraction.” It’s set in NYC in the 1970s. Wouldn’t you want to see that story told? Please send me good vibes so that I advance to the next round. And, bookmark this contest for your future entries (they have contests for published and unpublished work, plays, etc.).

Screencraft Contests.

If interested, you can read Nussia for free here

I’ve had to sit on VERY GOOD NEWS for a few months, so I am happy to share my contract news and publishing story with you.

Many of you know that my sci-fi novella Reenu-You was published in 2017 by Book Smugglers Publishing, a very small press. What many of you don’t know is that in Nov 2018, BSP decided to get out of the publishing business. The two women who ran the press were wonderful and committed publishers, but they realized that after running it for almost six years, they would need to quit their full-time jobs to take the business to the next level.

This left me and all of their other authors without a publisher. Reenu-You became unavailable in any format by Dec 2018. You can imagine how I felt. I was definitely not expecting this turn of events. It had taken me so long to get that story into the world!

Here was my little novella doing well, garnering great reviews, finding its audience, making its way in the in the world and then BAM—it was GONE.

I have since discovered such is the life of tiny presses and the state of publishing. BSP told me that I should approach other local publishers that might be interested in acquiring it. They believed that it would find a good home. I was daunted by their advice, but I believed in the work.

Luckily, I reached out to the wonderful John Hartness, author and publisher of Falstaff Books to see if he was interested in acquiring the rights to Reenu-You. I had met him the year before at a local sci-fi con and when the local bookseller didn’t show, he did me a favor by selling copies of Reenu-You through his booth. In that intervening year, I also met many of his authors and knew that as a local publisher with a wide distribution network, he was actively recruiting speculative fiction authors who were with presses that had folded.

Last year we had a great meeting. He read the novella, liked it and asked me what I was working on. I had looked at his catalog before our meeting and saw that he didn’t have very much horror and so pitched him my idea—a horror novel that takes place in the Great Dismal Swamp. He loved it and said he would buy that and reissue Reenu-You!

I now have signed contracts and can make the official announcement. Reenu-You will re-emerge later this month and I will be delivering a horror manuscript to him in the summer.

Sometimes, life works out better than one can imagine. There’s so much we can’t control about publishing, but we can control or greatly influence things like building professional relationships, being persistent and believing in one’s work

I am incredibly thankful and honored to officially join the author family of Falstaff Books. Before joining, I knew some of the authors by their fantastic works including Samantha Bryant, Nicole Smith, Michael Williams, Alledria Hurt and Jason Gilbert. Now, I know how kind, supportive and generous they are as a community of writers who uplift and support each other.

If you like speculative fiction, please check out Falstaff’s catalog.

I, of course, will keep you updated as this new publishing journey unfolds.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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