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COVER REVEAL: I have been DYING to share this news with you. My new sci-fi novella, “Reenu-You” is being released this week. Last fall, I had the incredible good fortune of my novella being selected as one of the four to be published this year by the AWESOME Book Smugglers Publishing. They are a small (but mighty in spirit) press interested in all things speculative fiction and with a real commitment to diversity and feminism. Since December, I have been knee-deep in edits, proofs and marketing. Whew! I will post more about that process soon.

I am THRILLED that Black Girl Nerds is doing an exclusive cover reveal today!

Reenu-You is a sci-fi thriller that explores what happens when a mysterious virus is transmitted through a “natural” hair product. Set in the 1990s, the novella explores race, gender, the politics of beauty and corporate conspiracy. Female friendships, unlikely heroines and hair—what more could you want?

Would you consider visiting the Black Girl Nerds website and possibly leaving a comment? The more traffic they get, the more they are encouraged to promote this cover reveal. TY!

Watch this space for more Reenu-You news soon!

This is the way I feel today!

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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)?uncommonbodies

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.

 

Affirmations-366Days#30: I actively name, claim and exclaim my writing aspirations.
For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

I am over the moon at finding Kiara Collins’s wonderful post on Octavia Butler’s recently discovered personal journal. This post was sent to me last night by my gifted writer teacher and friend, Melissa Delbridge. Octavia Butler was the first successful African American female speculative fiction writer. She wrote many highly acclaimed novels and was the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur Genius award. Her pioneering books explore the legacies of race, class and gender, and the challenges of independence and interdependence in human relationships. She is one of my favorite authors. I’ve written about the use of her term ‘positive obsessions’.

 

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And, as it turns out she used AFFIRMATIONS to help her imagine and embody her success as a writer. As someone who thought I knew a lot about her work, I was stunned by this revelation. I knew of her struggles, as an African American woman, to become a speculative fiction writer during a time when that was almost unthinkable. I also teach her wonderful essay, ‘Positive Obsession’ (from Bloodchild and Other Stories), where she chronicles her almost crippling self-doubt and ruminates over the sexism and racism that she faced in the 1960s and 1970s. But, I had no idea that she as Ms. Collins notes “literally wrote herself into existence” using affirmations. This is such an important confirmation about the power of affirmations. If you’ve been reading this blog since January, then you know that I’ve made a commitment to post one affirmation related to writing and/or creative practice every day for the entire year. I believe it will support my writing practice and experience of myself as a writer. I want it to be a fun and uplifting project and also helpful to others. Affirmations can provide mental and emotional support as we move toward our goals.

Here is her list of affirmations written on the back of her notebook:

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Looking at her list, a few things strike me about how she used affirmations:

They are written in the present tense. It’s helpful to reinforce that what we want is happening now.

They are handwritten. There is power in slowing down and writing by hand when playing with affirmations. Science tells us that different parts of our brain are activated when we write by hand.

She uses repetition. When writing affirmations, it’s helpful to use repetition. Most of the time, we’re trying to release deep seated negative mental patterns and so writing a powerful statement over and over is helpful.

She wanted her success to contribute to others. Several of Butler’s affirmations involved supporting African American young people. Our success should ripple out and positively impact others.

I hope you’ll add affirmations to your writing and/or creative toolkit in 2016.

See Kiara Collins’ post here.

Powerful. Dynamic. Tender. Truth-teller. In my first few interactions with Dr. Laurie Cannady, all these words went through my mind. We were suitemates this August at The Room of Her Own Foundation writing residency. We have several overlapping interests including academe, the health and well-being of African American girls and women and creative writing. Throughout the residency, we would stay up late into the night talking about books and life. I felt lucky that I got to spend so much time with her. I was thrilled to discover that Laurie’s new memoir Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul was being published this year. I shared with her my observation that there are too few memoirs written by women of color. I believe it is vital that women of color write about the context of our lives. When she read, during her allotted three minutes provided for each participant, the audience was entranced by the rhythm and power of her words. It was an unforgettable reading, marked by a standing ovation.

Dr. Cannady has published an array of articles and essays on poverty in America, community and domestic violence, and women’s issues. She has also spoken against sexual assault in the military at West Point. Her new memoir, Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul debuts in November with Etruscan Press. Dr. Cannady has as MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I’m delighted to welcome Laurie Cannady to The Practice of Creativity.

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-Tell us about your new book Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul. What inspired this book?

Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul is a coming-of-age memoir that chronicles a young girl’s journey through abuse and impoverishment. The effusive narration descends into the depths of personal and sexual degradation, perpetual hunger for food, safety and survival. While moving through gritty exposés of poverty, abuse, and starvation, Crave renders a continuing search for sustenance that simply will not die.

-What is your biggest hope for Crave as it meets readers?

My hope is that it will resonate with those who, like myself, have had to journey through one difficult situation after another, those who don’t always feel like they have a tight enough grasp on hope, but they work toward a healing anyway because they know there is a way out of the mess.

-While you were writing Crave, were there authors that you mined for inspiration?cannady03-210

I read so many books while crafting Crave. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls served as a constant source of inspiration. I especially focused on the way in which her narrative moved across space and time. Rigoberto Gonzalez’s Butterfly Boy made me brave as I told my story and the stories of those who shared life with me. His honesty kept me honest and he demonstrated the skill it takes to weave a narrative that includes the voices of family members and friends. I revisited several times Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, studying his voice and the way in which he depicted the tragedies he and his family faced. His lyric voice made some of the most painful scenes palatable.

– How do you handle the moments when you have to write a painful scene?

Oftentimes, I’ll put on music, songs that remind me of the scene I’m writing. The process of writing painful scenes is especially meditative for me. I try to place myself back in that situation so that I can write from the POV of who I was then, not as the woman I am now. (That comes during the revision process.) I usually have to be alone and I need silence. During really tough scenes, I ask my husband to check in on me in about an hour or so, just to make sure I’m not going too far and too deep. There have been times that I just needed him to hold me after the writing. His embrace reminds me that I’m not in that situation anymore and I am in a safe place. There were some scenes where that writing seeped into my waking world or into my dreams. For that reason, I have people in my life with whom I can share my fears and sadness. Much like a child, “it takes a village” to raise a memoir!

-What’s next to your bed (or in your Kindle)? What are you reading now?

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. While writing memoir, I think it’s important to practice self-care. Full Catastrophe Living not only reminds me of that, but it also gives me the tools to do so.

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

Write a page every day, no matter what, and don’t be afraid to allow your narrative to reveal things to you. When I first began writing memoir, I thought I had to write everything, as accurately as I could remember, to some self-imposed end. It took years to realize that my narrative had its own end and its own way in which it wanted to be relayed. So, writing a page a day was a relief. I allowed the scenes to unfold as they pleased and once that writing was done, I was able to shape all that I had written into Crave.

 

Laurie Jean Cannady is a professor of English at Lock Haven University, where she spends much of her time encouraging students to realize their true potential. She is a consummate champion of women’s issues, veterans’ issues, and issues affecting underprivileged youth. Cannady resides in central Pennsylvania with Chico Cannady and their three children.

Find out more about Laurie Cannady here.

Checkout Crave’s amazing book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFKPiUSQqBY#action=share

 

 

One of the most amazing things about attending The Room of Her Own Foundation writing residency, in August, is that I got to meet extraordinary women writers. Before attending the retreat, the organizers set up a private Facebook group so that participants would have a chance to connect. And, connect we did. I noticed Jennifer Steil right away. She seemed charming, funny, helpful (often answering questions about hiking in the desert, acclimatizing to the altitude of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, etc.), and passionate about writing. I saw the cover of her new book, The Ambassador’s Wife and was immediately intrigued. I love thrillers. At the retreat, I discovered that Jennifer possessed all of the above qualities and was so much fun to be around. And, she was also a great encourager, generous with her time and an enthusiastic hiker.

Jennifer Steil has lived an interesting life. She’s been kidnapped once, has traveled extensively and has authored The Ambassador’s Wife, a novel that is currently being adapted for a limited TV series. Anne Hathaway has signed on to play the starring role.

She is an award-winning American writer, journalist, and actor currently living in La Paz, Bolivia. Her first book, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (Broadway Books, 2010) is a memoir about her adventures as editor of the Yemen Observer newspaper in Sana’a. The book received accolades in The New York Times, Newsweek, and the Sydney Morning Herald among other publications. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune called it one of the best travel books of the year in 2010, and Elle magazine awarded it their Readers’ Prize.

Jennifer’s second book and debut novel, The Ambassador’s Wife, was published by Doubleday this summer and is receiving rave reviews. Marie Claire named it one of the ‘9 Buzziest Books to Read This Summer’. The Ambassador’s Wife won the 2013 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Best Novel award.

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Jennifer has lived abroad since she moved to Yemen in 2006 to become the editor-in-chief of the Yemen Observer. After four years in Yemen and four months in Jordan, she and her husband Tim Torlot and daughter Theadora Celeste moved to London. She moved to Bolivia with her family in September 2012.

Her work has appeared in the World Policy Journal, Vogue UK, The Washington Times, Die Welt, The Week, Yahoo Travel, and The Rumpus.

I’m delighted to welcome Jennifer Steil to The Practice of Creativity.

Tell us about what inspired you to write The Ambassador’s Wife?

Well, I suppose the fact that I am an ambassador’s wife is partly to blame for the inspiration! But if I may backtrack for a bit of context? My first book was a very different kind of book, a memoir about the experience of running a newspaper in Sana’a Yemen and the wild journey I took with my Yemeni reporters. That first year in Yemen was the most challenging, hilarious, and rewarding year of my life. Writing my first book, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, felt very much like a continuation of my journalism career. Though it was the longest story I had ever published, I was just as exacting in my research. Al Qaeda experts read my pages on Al Qaeda, Arabists reviewed my transliterations, and I triple-checked all statistics and quotes.

By the time I had written the 79th draft of that book, I was pretty tired of telling the unvarnished truth. I wanted the freedom to fabricate. Also, I had just moved in with the man who is now my husband, who was then the British ambassador to Yemen. I went from living alone in the old city of Sana’a to living with Tim in a vast gated mansion we could not leave without bodyguards. We traveled in armored cars, had hostage negotiators in our guest bedrooms, and regularly dined with the foreign minister. It was surreal. Over our four years there I heard a thousand and one stories I was dying to use in a book. Only because I didn’t want to wreck my husband’s career so early in our relationship, I thought I had better fictionalize everything. I could place an entirely fictional narrative in our odd and fascinating context.

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The result is my new novel, The Ambassador’s Wife. Anyone who knows me will recognize certain autobiographical details. Like me, my character Miranda is an American married to a British ambassador. She is a vegetarian obsessed with exercise. And she has trouble keeping her mouth shut. But the rest is all made up! Miranda is an artist, a talented painter. I cannot draw or paint. She comes from Seattle, I was born in Boston. She is an only child, I have a sister. I have also never nursed a stranger’s child, been kidnapped for a prolonged period, or put my husband and students in danger.

There were a number of inspirations for the book. The opening scene, in which Miranda is kidnapped while hiking in the fictional country of Mazrooq, is based on my experience being taken hostage in Yemen. It happened in nearly the same way, though of course with a (happily for me) different outcome.

I was also thinking a lot about parenthood, as I had just given birth to my daughter when I began writing the book. I wondered what would happen if one parent wanted to adopt and the other didn’t, and then a child was dropped into their lives. What would happen? Which bonds would win out?

The more I wrote, the more issues came up. I have spent a great deal of time pondering the hazards of westerners trying to transplant their culture in radically difference countries. This is a key issues in the novel. While Miranda has the best of intentions in teaching a group of Muslim women to be artists, she ultimately places her students in danger. Her passion for her work and her white savior complex blind her. I also became interested in hostage negotiations, diplomatic crises, and the role of artistic expression in societies.

I also wanted to explore the power of Muslim women. Westerners often view Muslim women as powerless. I wanted to reveal some of the ways these women do have power. They have the power of their connections with family, with each other, power in the anonymity of their dress. It is the Muslim women who propel the plot of The Ambassador’s Wife. The ambassador ends up being the least powerful person in the book.

What’s been the most surprising aspect of being a published novelist?

Hate mail. I found it so shocking when I got my first hate email after publishing my first book that I couldn’t eat. I take everything personally, even notes from people who are clearly insane. I wasn’t prepared for the attacks. And the people who sent me hate mail after my first book came out took issue with me as a human being rather than with the book itself. That can be hard to take. And might be another reason I turned to fiction. At least with fiction perhaps people are more likely to attack the book than the author. Though I haven’t gotten any hate mail since The Ambassador’s Wife came out. Who knows what will come!

When I sold my first book, I had dinner with my friend Tom, who helped me find my (brilliant) agent. “You think your whole life will change when you publish a book,” he told me. “But it won’t. You’ll be amazed by how little it changes.” This is true. Publishing a book isn’t like starring in a film; you aren’t suddenly hounded by paparazzi and you don’t usually become an instant household name. You still have to get up in the morning and make your family breakfast, dress your daughter, and then go back to your keyboard and do the work. Keep doing the work.

I read in your bio that in 2012 you were a finalist for the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Best Novel award. And, the next year, you won this award. Can you say something about what you learned about revising the novel between those two years? And, what gave you the determination to submit again?

Yes, I owe a lot to Rosemary James, who runs that contest! The first year I entered my novel, it had an obscure Italian name and was only half-finished. I entered it in the Novel-in-Progress category. By the time the contest rolled around again, I had completed the book and revised it several times. Largely thanks to editing from my agent and others, it had grown and changed immensely, so I entered it in the Novel contest. This is how the revision process goes for me. 1) I write what I think is a brilliant draft. I then rewrite it four or five times before submitting it to my agent. 2) My agent says that while this will someday be a brilliant draft, it isn’t there yet. She asks me questions, points out problems with the story and characters, and sends me back to work. 3) We do this a few more times. 4) We give the book to my editor, who asks questions, points out problems, and sends me back to work. 5) We do this a few more times. Each rewrite gets me to a new level. And I don’t think I could get there on my own. My editor and agent are essential. They drive me to produce better work. There are many days where I feel like I will vomit if I have to rewrite one more time. But I do it anyway.

I am a big fan of entering contests. If you don’t enter you can’t win. I try not to keep track of which contests I enter, so that when I win something it’s a happy surprise. But at this point in my career, rejections don’t bother me too much. Everyone gets rejected from literary magazines, even brilliant writers. Everyone gets rejected from a writing residency at some point. When I was an actor I read a book that said actors usually receive about 50 Nos for every Yes. “So go out there and collect your 50 Nos,” it said. So you can get to the Yes. I have collected a lot of Nos—and gotten to some Yeses.

Your novel explores global feminist ideas in some fresh and complex ways. Can you tell us about some of the tensions and contractions you played with in The Ambassador’s Wife?

When I first moved to Yemen in 2006, I met a Maltese woman at a dinner party who was raging against western feminists who came to Yemen with naïve ideas about how to “free the women.” You cannot simply take our western ideas about feminism and force them onto Yemeni women. (Or anyone else). You need to consider the context of these women’s lives. What kinds of things will actually help them and make their lives better/easier, and which things might just get them killed? You have to start with a basic respect for the culture, and an interest in learning all you can about it. Only armed with that knowledge can you begin to help anyone who lives in a very different world.

I lived in Yemen for four years, and spent time in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and the UAE. While running the Yemen Observer newspaper I became very close to my reporters, particularly the women. They taught me so much about their world, their limits, their aspirations. I let them tell me what they needed from me. I also discovered a lot about the things I take for granted in my own life.

One day when I was on my way to work, my taxicab driver began masturbating at the wheel. Horrified, I leapt out of the moving car in the middle of an intersection. I was in tears by the time I got to the office. But when I told my female reporters what had happened, they shrugged. “Oh yes, that happens all the time to us,” they said. “That is just what men are like.” There was a lot of information about the culture in that response.

My female reporters were the inspiration for the artists Miranda mentors. From them I learned how important their families were. That they would never move away from Yemen because they couldn’t imagine living far from their mother or sister or cousins. We Americans move around so much we assume that switching homes is an easy thing. But it isn’t for many people. It isn’t easy at all. This is another thing Miranda fails to understand. She sees a brilliant future for her star pupil Tazkia, but this future could only happen outside of Mazrooq, and Tazkia has no desire to leave her home.

Clearly, I could go on.

What three living writers would you want at a dinner party you were hosting? And why?

Oooh, Elena Ferrante! Because then I would find out who she really is! I am dying to know her entire life story and how much of her books is true and what her writing process is like. Oh, I could question her for days! Definitely Elena.

Caitlin Moran, because she just lets it all hang out. I love people who have no filter, who just say and do whatever the hell they want. She seems fearless to me, and fearless is good at a dinner party! Keeps things interesting.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, because she would call all of us on our bullshit.

What guidance can you give aspiring novelists?

There is no better training for becoming a writer—of fiction or nonfiction—than journalism. Reporters must write every single day, they must write to deadline and to word count, and they learn more about the world with every story. You will develop empathy for people very different from you. You will visit neighborhoods you would not ordinarily explore. You will do things that scare you. What could be better? I say skip the MFA (you don’t want to be in debt the rest of your life) and get a job at a small paper. You will learn which details are essential to your story and which are not. Your writing will improve with daily use. And you will, if you are any good, provide a useful service to the world.

Would you share with us your best writing tip?

Go away. Go far, far away. The best thing any writer could do for herself is to go out into the world and have adventures that will give her something to write about. Take risks. Go to difficult places and do impossible things. If you want a guaranteed fantastic story, give up a comfortable life and move to the most difficult country in the world. Stories will find you. In abundance. Of course, if you already have an uncomfortable and crazy life where you are, you’re all set!

Jennifer Steil completed an MFA in creative writing/fiction at Sarah Lawrence College and an MS in Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Since 1997, she has worked as a reporter, writer, and editor for newspapers and magazines in the US and abroad, while continuing to perform when in a country where it is legal to do so. In 2001, she helped to launch The Week magazine in the US, and worked there for five and a half years, writing the science, health, theater, art, and travel pages.

To find out more about Jennifer and how to purchase The Ambassador’s Wife, visit her website.

Tomorrow, I leave for A Room of Her Own Foundation’s week long writing residency which is being held in Abiquiú, New Mexico at the amazing venue known as Ghost Ranch.

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A Room of Her Own’s nonprofit mission is: To inspire, fund, and champion works of art and literature by women. They host one of only about five or so writing residencies, in the country, exclusively for women.

It is a competitive residency and I am thrilled that I was accepted. There will be over 100 women writers attending (emerging writers to well established authors like Janet Fitch and Tayari Jones!), and I will get to take master classes and workshops with a range of amazing writers including Elizabeth L. Silver, Mary Johnson and Cynthia Leitich Smith. We will also spend our evenings discussing the retreat theme ‘Writing Against the Current’ which is a focus on Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando and Maxine Hong Kingston’s novel, Woman Warrior–and Kingston will be there in residence!

Another honor is that I will also be a ‘studio leader’ presenting a one hour version of my popular workshop: ‘Tone Your Creative Core: 5 Secrets for Artists’. This workshop offers strategies in areas where most creative people struggle: time, abundance and prosperity, feeling worthy to create and goal-setting. I’m delighted to explore these issues with women writers.

Writing residencies are structured in various ways. Some provide room, board and solitude, offering uninterrupted time to write with no other requirements. Others, like AROHO are much more interactive, including: providing intensive workshops (sharing and critiquing other participants’ work), hosting nightly receptions and readings, offering craft lectures, and encouraging networking and collaboration. I’ve known writers who have attended each type of residency. We often think the hardest part is getting accepted to one, but this isn’t the whole picture.

I’ve spent the last few months preparing for this incredible opportunity and have noticed that although there are a number of wonderful posts about why one should apply to a writing residency (see Jennifer Chen’s musings), and where to apply for one (here’s a great list from ‘The Write Life’), there is almost no discussion about preparing for the residency and making the most of it while there. Besides of course, to write.

Making the most of one’s residency means giving some thought to hidden challenges.

I’ve seen writers come back from a residency deflated because they had set unrealistic writing goals. Most folks are exhausted by the time they get to attend a writing residency. They’ve been juggling work, family responsibilities, community commitments, etc., often at a frenzied place. It can take a few days, during the residency, to decompress and reconnect to deep creative work. I’ve also known writers whose inner critics got the best of them and consequently didn’t get as much writing done. Or they got so intimidated by the other writers and instructors that they weren’t able to make enduring connections or contacts.

Here’s my five tips for making the most of a residency:

Make Your Goals Inspiring, Not Exhausting

Setting unclear or overly ambitious goals during a residency can lead to a big letdown. Writing residencies are also about allowing inspiration and spontaneity, so being flexible with goals can allow for more enjoyment as the writing process unfolds.

For most of the week, I’ll be taking a master class on ‘Emerging Heroes: Diversity in Young Adult Fiction’ with Cynthia Leitich Smith. I know little about writing young adult fiction and am super excited about stretching myself as a writer. Consequently, given the intensity of learning a new field, getting and giving feedback on others’ writing and the possibility having to work on prompts that Cynthia may assign outside of the workshop, I’m keeping my writing goals modest. From the schedule, it looks like I’ll have a daily 2-3 hours of individual writing time. I’m shooting for 10-20 pages a day of writing. That feels doable. I’ll also allow myself  to create fresh material as well as work on current projects.

Give Yourself Permission to Embody Being the Writer of Your Dreams

Writing residencies present an opportunity to practice being a writer in public. Often aspiring writers write behind closed doors and without many opportunities to get publicly affirmed about their writing efforts. This is the time to revel in one’s writing identity. I’m going to take every opportunity to walk, dress and act like I am the writer of my dreams. I’m wrapping myself in an inner shawl of ‘deservingness’. I am holding the intention to attend every nightly reception and meet a few new people. I also hope to meet newly published authors that I’ll want to invite for an author interview for the blog.

Do an Inner Critic Check

Visual artist, Beverly McIver once said at a professional development workshop for artists, “Feeling worthy is a learned behavior.” Inner critics can make themselves known during a residency and derail us. In various posts, I’ve discussed some of the more common inner critics including the comparer, the pusher, the judger, the imposter, the procrastinator and the perfectionist. Inner critics inspire fear, judgement, dread and envy toward our writing selves and writing lives. Spending some time addressing inner critics (and assigning them new jobs where possible), before and during the residency can help quiet draining mental chatter and quell anxiety.

Polish Your Social Media Profile

Social media is often where people will find you first. I’m hoping to make strong connections while I’m at AROHO. I’ve already started to look up some of the people in my master class and have enjoyed learning about them through their social media sites. In the past month, I’ve spent some time updating my bio across my social media sites and beefing up my author Facebook page. You never know when someone is going to look up after making a connection, so it’s important that they can find you. A that what they find out about you inspires and draws them in.

Practice Communicating about Your Work

What is your work like? What are you working on? These are the essential questions to consider when talking about one’s work. Do you have an elevator pitch? Many writers (and artists in general) tend to avoid communicating about their work or freeze up when they do talk about their work. Given the time and emotional investment we have made for our creative pursuits, communicating about it is necessary and part of the creative process. I’ve been practicing my brief elevator pitch and look forward to using it.

Here’s great advice on elevator pitches from the Artist’s Tools Handbook from Creative Capital:

In theater, a rule of thumb is that, for every minute of stage time in a play, you need an hour of rehearsal time–and that’s when the script is already written. So think about spending at least an hour on this. Don’t just repeat your pitch 60 times; it’s more a measure of how long you should concentrate to get something good.

 

If you have tips to share about your experience at a residency and how you made the most of it, I’d love to hear them.

Photo credit: “Ghost Ranch redrock cliffs, clouds” by Larry Lamsa

Becky Thompson has been an inspiration to many. She is an award-winning writer, professor, yoga instructor, and activist. She has spent the last twenty years traveling across the world researching, teaching, and writing on issues of social and racial inequality. An academic by training, she has written on a wide variety of topics that include eating disorders, HIV/AIDS, parenting a multi-ethnic family, and global activism. Her books are infused with creativity, scholarly rigor and meaningful engagement. They are magic carpet rides for the mind, body and spirit. She has also been a pedagogical pioneer in investigating and incorporating a wide range of contemplative practices in the classroom (including yoga, mindfulness, walking meditation, etc.). She uses the power of these practices to create a collective, intelligent and vulnerable space for students and teachers to engage deeply with difficult topics.

I count myself fortunate that I attended one of her contemplative pedagogy workshops, many years ago, while she was a visiting professor at Duke University. That made a deep impact on me though it would be years before I would muster up the courage to incorporate what I learned from Becky into my own teaching practice.

More recently, we’ve realized that we have overlapping interests in many areas, including yoga and social justice.

So, when I discovered that Becky has a new book that brings together narratives of social justice, yoga, trauma and healing, I couldn’t wait to find out more. Her latest book is Survivors on the Yoga Mat: Stories for those Healing from Trauma (North Atlantic Books), and it promises to be groundbreaking.

Thompson’s other books include Zero is the Whole I Fall into at Night (Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2011); When the Center is on Fire (co-authored with Diane Harriford, University of Texas Press, 2008); Fingernails Across the Chalkboard: Poetry and Prose on HIV/AIDS From the Black Disapora (co-edited with Randall Horton and Michael Hunter, Third World Press, 2007); A Promise and A Way of Life (University of Minnesota Press, 2001); and Mothering without a Compass (University of Minnesota Press, 2000).

Thompson’s work has also been featured in multiple journals such as Harvard Review, Feminist Studies, Gender & SocietyWarpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas, Amandla, Illuminations, and Margie.

Currently, Becky is Chair and Professor of Sociology at Simmons College in Boston, MA.

Becky sees her yoga practice as the foundation upon which her writing, teaching, poetry, and activism can flourish.

It’s is my distinct pleasure to welcome Becky Thompson to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

 

beckythompson2

 

Tell us about your new book Survivors on the Yoga Mat: Stories for Those Healing from Trauma. What sparked your interest in writing this book? 

My initial motivation came from an early teacher training I was participating in where I realized that many of the participants were whispering—in the halls, after sessions—about the depressions, loss, sexual abuse, and accidents they had experienced. But they did not feel okay about “coming out” about these traumas. It was as if yoga was in one corner and trauma was in another with no meeting place in between. During that training, I also dissociated on my yoga mat one Sunday morning which surprised me and led me to co-lead a workshop on trauma for the other yogis. That initial push was coupled by the inspiration I was getting from people who started to talk with me about their own stories of using yoga to help heal from racism, sexual abuse, incarceration, accidents, addictions, illnesses, great loss, war, etc.

While I can point to a moment when I officially started writing Survivors, in many ways I have been working my way up to this book for years. In some ways, Survivors is an answer to my first book, A Hunger So Wide and So Deep since Survivors offers stories of people living in the land of healthy solutions, who are finding embodiment that trauma had formerly stolen. The book follows A Promise and a Way of Life since it seeks to offer examples of antiracist activism currently taking place in yoga communities. Although I didn’t know this consciously when I started Survivors, I now know that I needed the last twenty years of writing, living, healing, and activism to get prepared for Survivors. For example, this book is a lot about the process of manufacturing joy. I didn’t know I even needed more joy ten or twenty years ago. And I never would have been able to put so much of my own story of trauma into a book before. That took some real coaxing and guidance this time around.

Survivors is an intellectual book in that I incorporate trauma theory, neuroscience and yoga philosophy. And it is an experiential book in that it starts and ends with the body—its pleasures and pain. Two decades ago, I wouldn’t have had the confidence or the community ties I needed to reach out to and find Joanne Wyckoff, who became my agent. And I wouldn’t have had the guts to include a bunch of photos of “unconventional” collective poses (that we have created together in my years of teaching yoga in an eclectic range of communities) in the book’s glossary. I can’t wait to hear what readers think and feel about all of this.

survivors

-In the book, you explore the unique strengths and needs of trauma survivors. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve discovered while working with trauma survivors?

One key lesson for me was learning that trauma survivors are special—subversive angels on the road to healing. There is a tendency when we hear the word “trauma” to back away. To pass the tissues. The word sounds heavy, intense. In fact, many trauma survivors have special characteristics. We tend to be highly intuitive and ingenious—we have had to be to survive. Trauma survivors tend to throw their weight behind the underdog, are willing to question authority, and take risks. Trauma survivors often come early to yoga classes and stay late. They know that their lives depends upon healing. We are the ones with the wiggles, who cry during savasana, who get up and try again.

-You have been thinking a lot about the connection between yoga and social justice activism. How can they inform each other?

Embedded in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the “Native American Code of Ethics” (which are both guides for understanding yoga philosophy) are commitments for healing ourselves and our communities. It turns out that trauma survivors are often at the forefront of liberation struggles. Coming to terms with your life being turned upside down often provides motivation to try to turn the world right side up again. I am thinking for example of Lisa Houston, a Scottish woman whose story is in Survivors, who took her yoga mat with her in her work with refugees at the border of Thailand and Burma. I am thinking about Jarvis Jay Masters, a Buddhist man on death row in California who used his body to interrupt a stabbing in San Quentin. His years sitting on his meditation cushion guided him to do this. Survivors is full of stories by people who see activism as key to being human.

The well-known Buddhist Silva Boorstein has said that the longer she has practiced yoga and meditation, the more zealous she has become about social activism. This is a very good sign for yoga communities since practicing yoga certainly does not exempt us from enabling racism, sexism and elitism in our midst. We can’t just “om” ourselves into multiracial, global communities. Long-term yoga can help us listen more deeply and undo inequalities.

-You’ve written many different kinds of books (i.e. scholarly, creative, etc.), and across many types of genres (e.g. poetry, essay, narrative).  Who inspires you? Who are some of the writers that you continually mine for technique, style, or phrasing?

Joy Harjo remains one of the writers/activists/musicians whose work keeps me up at night. Her book, A Map to the Next World, has been the one book I have taken with me on my plane flights. Pure magic and talent in that book. Rolf Gates’ book Meditations from the Mat was the model for Survivors and the one I read to my grandmother in the last years of her life. I was thrilled when he consented to write the foreword for Survivors. Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga and Matthew Sanford’s Waking are both yoga books I teach in my doctoral education and social theory classes. I like that cross-pollenization. I still think that Edwidge Dandicat’s Breath Eyes Memory is among the finest novels on sexual abuse, colonization and healing.   Dandicat also writes outstanding essays.

This Bridge Called my Back, edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga gave me (and so many others) the intersectional analysis (attention to race, class, gender, sexuality, language, nation) that forms the theoretical foundation for Survivors (and my other justice books). That book combines many genres—poetry, creative nonfiction, essays. June Jordan, Dorothy Allison, Sonia Sanchez, and Jacqueline Woodson are marvelous models for me. Poetry and literature remain my company when I am lonely, worried, or trying to understand how to respond (or get quiet) in the face of much insanity around us.

Music also gives me much guidance: India.Arie, Angelique Kidjo, Sweet Honey, Bobby McFerrin, Snatum Kaur, Patti LaBelle and many others. Music makes so many invisible links that we need to write across genres—the improvisation in fiction, the steadiness of prose, the surprise in poetry. When I was finishing Survivors, the editor advised that I not include a music list in the appendix since people’s taste in music is so variable. But I couldn’t bear leaving out music and so I ended up labeling that section “idiosyncratic music list” and tucked it in after the “suggested further reading” in an appendix.

-If you could invite three living yoga teachers to a dinner party that you’re hosting, who would you invite and why?

I would love to have Angela Farmer (who teaches in Greece, is 76, and has been guiding us to go inside to find safety for 40 years), Angela Davis (who isn’t officially a yoga teacher but is a yogi), and Nikki Myers (founder of the innovative yoga and recovery model Y12sr) together. I would cook for days—wasabi tofu, grilled asparagus, sweet potatoes, Lundberg rice, homemade hummus, and divine salad. Mango and sticky rice for dessert. I would fantasize about the playlist for the dinner for weeks. Michele and Keval Kaur and Diane Harriford would need to come too. Life is short. I gotta figure out how to make this possible.

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

Honor the muse no matter what she needs. If she needs to write while you are driving, pull over. If she wakes you up in the night, thank her. If she is shy or angry, she has good reason. For prose writing, expressing the ideas first as poems helps to keep the language lyrical. Writing after doing an intense yoga practice can bring us into a deeper register. Talking about the writing process is erotic, in the Audre Lorde, expansive sense of the word. Yoga is big like that too.

I am attaching a poem I recently wrote for Sonia Sanchez—long time meditator, poet, and dancer for justice—since the poem resonates with some of the questions you have asked. Thank you Michele, for your generosity and creativity.

She be

for Sonia Sanchez

 She be
Tupac in the summertime

She be
we tumble in the fall

She be
writing on the fast train

She be
writing honey slow

She be
listen, she say listen

She be
rhyming with Coltrane

She be
singing us some praise songs

She be
a chandelier of sound

She be
traveling with ashe ashe

She be
prancing with her sons

She be
channeling tenacity

She be
heart sing heart sing heart sing song

She be
circling her audience

She be
can’t wait, can’t wait for love

She be she be she bow she shy she shake   she cry   she glow   she slide
She fly   she be   she be   she be   she be

 

Becky Thompson has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including grants from the NEH, the Rockefeller Foundation, the American Association for University Women, the Ford Foundation, Political Research Associates and the Gustavus Myers Award for Outstanding Books on Human Rights in North America.

Becky is a senior level yoga teacher (YRT-500) and teaches yoga at conferences, workshops, in college classes, and community centers internationally and nationally.

Find out more about her and how to purchase Survivors on the Yoga Mat here


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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