The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘people of color’ Category

Got a speculative fiction lover on your holiday list? Consider this new anthology by Book Smugglers with my story in it!

Look at this awesome cover!!!

I was so exited to receive my complimentary copy of the NEW Awakenings Anthology from Book Smugglers. The six stories span the gamut of fantasy and science fiction and many have a young adult theme.

Last year, Book Smugglers solicited short stories about ‘awakenings’ of all types in the speculative fiction genre. I submitted my manuscript “Nussia…I Said Her Name Like Mine” to them on Dec 31, 2017 and found out in January that my story was chosen for publication.

Nussia debuted in July.

Here’s a description of the collected stories: An unlikely volunteer in a magical war. A young African American girl who “wins” a competition to host an extraterrestrial. A girl with ice in her heart, and another with an ancestor on her back. A cybernetic detective, and an Empress facing the first Choice of her life. Awakenings collects six short stories of different revelations, including:

  • “When the Letter Comes” by Sara Fox
  • “Nussia” by Michele Tracy Berger
  • “The Girl With The Frozen Heart” by Y.M. Pang
  • “Running” by Itoro Udofia
  • “Phantom Limb” by Reiko Scott
  • “Timshala” by Leah Cypess

I’m so honored to be with this group of writers and I’m loving everything I’m reading. Additional perks of the anthology include a brief ‘Inspirations and Influences’ essay and an author Q&A that follow each story.

(*click on small cover image above to purchase paperback)

*E-book: Awakenings

*links are to Amazon. I am an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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A few weeks ago, I was a guest on the wonderful podcast Black and Read, hosted by Terry Brown. Each week Terry and his guest discuss a work of literature from the unique perspective of a person of color. I talked about my journey to publication, finding your writing mojo, finding a creative process (and sticking with it), and the state of speculative fiction. Plus, I did some old school reminiscing about how Star Wars, and the T.V. shows The Bionic Woman and Lost in Space (the original) shaped my early love of sci-fi. Terry was a great interviewer and the conversation flowed easily. I loved being on the show.

The episode was released this week and you can hear it here.

I’ve appeared on radio and television before, but I am relatively new to appearing as a guest on a podcast. Being featured on a podcast is a fantastic way that authors and creators can share insight into their work. I’m also a huge fan of podcasts, especially those devoted to writing. If a guest is compelling, I’ll look up their work and consider purchasing it.

In thinking about what makes a guest compelling and reviewing own recent performance, I have complied these tips:

-Come Prepared

This sounds obvious, I know. But I can’t tell you the countless times that I’ve listened to a podcast and it’s clear that the guest has never listened to the show and doesn’t know the format. Being prepared means a few things: listening to several episodes prior to appearing on the show and understanding the format of the show (i.e. does the host ask different questions each time or is there a familiar script? Are there special segments to the show?). Also, your preparation should include having your elevator pitch about your creative work ready to go along with some compelling vignettes that reveal your process as a writer, approach to storytelling, etc.

-Give Us the Energy!

You don’t always have control over when you will be interviewed. It may be scheduled during a time of day that’s not your ideal in terms of peak energy. So, if you know you are not a morning person and you are to appear at 8am, then by all means make sure you are well-rested, caffeinated and ready to sound your best. We need you to sound engaged, excited to be there and eager to connect with the host and listeners.

-Know Your Verbal Tics and Work On Them

In listening back to the podcast I used several verbal tics including, “I would say” and “I think”. Everyone has verbal tics, but we should try to minimize them during an interview. Role play with yourself and imagine the kinds of questions you might be asked. Record yourself and notice how you ad lib and may use verbal fillers, like “um”.

-Create an Ideal Environment

You want a quiet environment during the time that you are being recorded. This might mean putting the dogs or cats in another room with treats so that they don’t bother you, working out a schedule with roommates, a significant other, children, etc.

-Tell Us Where To Find You

If listeners get curious about your work, they are going to take a peek at your website and social media. Speak clearly and slowly when telling us where to find you online. I did just that but, I didn’t tell people how to spell my name, so they may find Michelle Burger instead of me. Luckily, in the show notes, the title and cover of my book (which has a funky spelling, so can be hard to find) is listed.

Do you have other tips about being a guest on a podcast? I’d love to hear!

 

The literary community has lost a brilliant playwright, poet and visionary–Ntozoke Shange has died. I am quite sad.

I discovered her work in college and was transfixed by it.

Two of my favorite novels of hers include Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo, a novel about three African American women who are sisters and their path of creative self-discovery and Betsey Brown, a historical novel that chronicles what desegregation was like for an African American girl in the 7th grade in St. Louis, Missouri.

Shange wrote poetry, plays, children’s books, and novels, leaving us a rich corpus of work.

I took a workshop with her in my early 20s that was truly transformative and gave me courage and inspiration that I drew on decades later. Her work influenced a whole generation of women of color creatives. She will be missed.

Read more about her here.

Hi Creative Peeps,

I’m so happy to share this wonderful news and hope that you will help me spread the word. I am a Trustee on the Board of the North Carolina Writers Network and I was thrilled to have played a role in getting our newest literary prize, the Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize, off the ground. We are launching a new annual contest to honor the best in short prose by African-American writers in North Carolina!

Historical marker for Harriet Jacobs, one of the amazing writers this award is named after.

This new literary prize will be administered by the Creative Writing Program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Many people helped make this a reality including writing faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill Daniel Wallace and Randall Kenan. North Carolina Poet Laureate, Jacki Shelton Green also played a pivotal role.

North Carolina native, writer and UNC-Chapel Hill alum, Cedric Brown developed this amazing idea, so all credit begins there.

The winner receives $1,000 and possible publication in The Carolina Quarterly. Submissions open November 1.

This link takes you to the announcement and all the important details, including eligibility criteria, information about the name of the prize and the judge. If you fit the criteria, please consider submitting. If not, please help spread the word in your writing communities.

 

Whew, last week was busy, productive and full of surprises.

-The Locus Science Fiction Foundation recently handed out their year’s best awards and guess what??? Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler won for best nonfiction!!! This wonderful book was edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal. Mimi was actually at the ceremony and didn’t expect to win and thus didn’t have an acceptance speech prepared, lol. I know, however, that she was thrilled. I’m so proud that my essay is in this collection. All nominees and winners can be found here.

-I started a story two years ago in a wonderful speculative fiction workshop run by Samantha Bryant. The story takes place in the 1930s and involves the writer, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston and a young woman named Etta who dances at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem.

Zora Neale Hurston

They get up to all kinds of trouble when Zora asks Etta to to help conjure up a spirit and dance for it. 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 worked on this story off and on for the past two years but got determined to finish it when I saw a call for an anthology that I thought would make a perfect fit for it. As I tend to write long works, I’m proud of myself that I completed a 5,000 story on Saturday and got it submitted (minutes before the deadline!). And, even if it gets rejected from the anthology, I can submit it elsewhere.

-My novelette Nussia was released last week! What goes into writing a sci-fi horror story like Nussia? In this brief “Inspirations and Influences” essay, I talk about the influences of everything from incisive comedy by African American comedians to the horror movies of the 1980s.

You can read Nussia for free on the Book Smugglers website.

It’s also available as an e-book from all major online retailers and includes a very cool interview with me.  If you pick it up from Amazon, please consider using my link below. I am an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

 

Book Smugglers just released the cover for Nussia!

Woo-hoo! I feel very lucky that Book Smugglers has a practice of inviting their authors to give feedback on the covers. They don’t have to do that and many presses don’t. Like with the Reenu-You cover, I gave them some suggestions which they relayed to the artist.

We all went back and forth, trading ideas. This is the one of many pleasures in working with a small press. They work with superb visual artists and build in time for these kinds of conversations. I also trust Book Smugglers to know what kinds of covers sells books and engages readers.

I absolutely love the Nussia cover and enjoyed the collaborative process it took to produce it.

BTW: pre-orders are also up, too!

Smashwords

Amazon

Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

I got to know Ashleigh Gauch last year through our connection being published in the ‘UnCommon’ anthologies by Fighting Monkey Press. In the summer, I invited Ashleigh to write a guest post sharing her insights about being an indigenous speculative fiction writer writing across communities. Ashleigh is passionate about writing and we quickly found ourselves having spirited late night conversations about speculative fiction, trends in publishing, our favorite authors, etc. via Facebook Messenger. That’s how I found out about her intriguing new novel, Covenant of the Hollow. [check out her pre-order special at the end of the post!]

Ashleigh Gauch is a Haida author living just south of her hometown of Seattle, Washington. She went to college for nutrition but found her passions lay not in science, but in the genesis of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Her aquatic friend Odin and feline companion Luna love to watch her work!

Her work has been featured in the online periodical Bewildering Stories, the Fighting Monkey Press collections UnCommon Minds and UnCommon Lands, the Manawaker Press collections Starward Tales and Starward Tales 2, and the online periodical Teaching Tolerance.

Blurb for Covenant of the Hollow:

Would you give up your ability to fear in exchange for your deepest desire?

Across centuries, the lives of two young women with vastly dissimilar ambitions collide.

Annalise Silva is a 21st-century nineteen-year- old mayoral hopeful in her small city. Between dealing with abusive parents and not being taken seriously as a candidate, she has a lot on her plate. When she investigates mysterious prophetic dreams, she discovers an extradimensional alien who offers her the office in a swap for her fears.

Elizabeth Bathory’s noble birth in 1500s Hungary did not guarantee her happiness. Needing help to catch a husband to secure her family’s position, she accepts the alien creature’s whispered promise of her place in history if she will gift him her inhibitions. She didn’t know she’d be branded as the most prolific serial killer in history.

With lives running in reverse and time running out, will their attempts to stop each other’s descent into madness via shared dreams succeed—before the creature destroys the world?

I’m delighted to welcome Ashleigh Gauch back to The Practice of Creativity!

 

– Tell us about your recent novel, Covenant of the Hollow. What are you hoping readers will connect to in this story? 

Covenant of the Hollow was both a challenge and a joy to write. It follows the twin stories of Annalise Silva, a nineteen-year-old Puerto Rican girl living in the fictional town of Qualicum, WA, and Elizabeth Bathory, the most prolific female serial killer in history. They encounter an extra-dimensional creature who promises them their greatest desires (consequence free) in exchange for their ability to feel fear. Given the constant state of anxiety in which many (dare I say most) women live their lives, such an offer would seem like the easiest decision to make in the world.

One of the things I really tried to capture in both story lines was the omnipresent feeling of powerlessness women feel even as they take steps to seize power over their own lives.

Annalise’s story was based in large part on interviews with a good friend of mine about her uncle and aunt and some of the problems their daughter faced after the family moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland U.S.

Although the cousin in question didn’t run for political office, they did face several of the situations in the book, including pressure from their mother to stay in the household as a caretaker rather than starting a life of their own and having to deal with their father being extradited back to Puerto Rico, leaving the family without a steady income.

Elizabeth’s story was inspired by the article in the collection Rejected Princesses on the historical figure. In it, the author suggested that Elizabeth may have committed atrocities, but not on the scale she was convicted for and not entirely without reason. Sadism or not, she was a widow from the highest-ranking family in all of Hungary who had to hold onto her lands, and the man entrusted with care of her family had his eye on her power. Taking on a familiar horror story from that point of view brought questions to my mind about what that would be like, and what it would be like to be told that the only value you had as a person, from birth, was what you could give to the court.

She has to face many hard choices, including dealing with post-partum depression and vulnerability following an abortion, dealing with her husband’s death and a near-immediate proposal from the man he had assigned their care to, and fears that her barony will fall to Ottoman invaders before she even gets a chance to see if she’s taught her son enough to succeed his father.

That claustrophobic there-is-no-way-out-of-this feeling is one MANY women face on a daily basis, and I’m hoping that my readers find a bit of themselves both protagonists.

-Your story moves back and forth in time between two main characters. Were there any challenges in plotting or characterization that you grappled with as you worked on the book?

Well, I can tell you this book converted me from a pantser to a plotter pretty quickly!

One of the big challenges came from having to change the historical events to fit part of the story I wanted to tell. For example, Elizabeth was 10 years old when she married Ferenc and had her first child at 12, possibly with a lover from the peasantry. Understandably uncomfortable with this, I aged her up to 14 during the opening scenes of the book when she woos Ferenc (a fact contested in various references) and has her abortion (also contested, some sources say she gave a daughter up for adoption).

As far as lining up the story went, I tried to allow the dream sequences they connected with and some of the base events happening in each of their story lines carry similar themes, so the transitions between chapters and points of view felt smooth.

One of the biggest challenges was making Elizabeth relatable. Most people have only encountered her story as the “Blood Countess,” hammed up for horror purposes with her bathing in blood and ripping pieces of flesh off her victims. Although some of those things were alleged in her trial, the historical accuracy was dubious for many of the claims listed. And beyond that, making a sadist relatable at all is a challenge, especially a feminine one.

Trying to showcase her struggles, her reasoning and internal debate for each choice she made, solved some of those issues, but the fact remains that many people struggle to have empathy with flawed female characters. I hope that my book can be another plank on that bridge.

-What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching Hungary in the 1500s for your character, Elizabeth Bathory?

The first was that she and her husband most likely tortured girls together at first, and that he tempered her during his visits home from the war. That was a pretty big shock for me!

The second was that (again, changed in the book for story purposes) he was actually illiterate, while Elizabeth spoke over 4 languages, could read and write, and had a knack for governance. She really was a more educated and prepared ruler than he, and handled much of the court work in his absence. Her son ultimately failed as a successor because she was so afraid of having her power stripped she didn’t adequately prepare him to take over, which ended her bloodline as rulers.

-How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?

My first poem was published at 10 years old. It was about 9/11, and my teacher was so concerned about the contents she ended up calling my parents in for a conference. When she determined they hadn’t helped me write it (and didn’t even know about it), she sent it in to a youth writing contest and it ended up in an anthology.

From then on I wrote obsessively growing up, about anything and everything I could get my hands on. I even used the templates in the old version of Word to create a pseudo-newspaper I sent to my grandmother every month. The Storypaper. It had some running stories in parts and some complete ones, and she saved all of them before she died.

I wanted to be an author when I grew up from 10 onward, by my parents were the opposite of supportive. My stepdad thought that I’d be a starving artist if I went to college for creative writing, so I ended up majoring in nutrition when I got to school despite the fact they never ended up helping me pay for it. It wasn’t until some complications happened in school and I ended up bedridden for 2 years following a severe back injury that I picked up the pen again.

I will never put it back down as long as I live.

-What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your e-reader)? What are you reading right now? 

J.G. Follansbee gave me an advance release copy of the third book in his Tales of a Warming Planet series, City of Ice and Dreams. I’m reading it for fiction, and a book called Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman for nonfiction. I tend to read one of each at any given time.

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

Every project hits a stagnation period. A place where you’re stuck in the mud despite your best planning, where the idea of sitting down to write brings more pain than joy in your mind. Where you no longer know if the idea you’re working on is worth it, if any of it is worth it, and something shinier and prettier looks easier and beckons you away from everything you’ve done up until that point.

For Covenant, it was when a couple of people in my writing group told me that the concept couldn’t work and that I needed to completely change the way I approached the book. That horror readers wouldn’t dig it and it wasn’t sci-fi enough for the science fiction crowd, either.

Don’t listen to any of those voices, human or internal. Because the new shiny pretty thing will have the same swamp waiting for you, and another newer, shinier, prettier thing will beckon, and you’ll leave a stream of unfinished projects in your wake. Give yourself the gift of done, and even after the first draft is finished, the gift of time and perspective. It’s worth it, the work is worth it, and as an author, you’re worth it, too.

No matter what any of the voices say.

Ashleigh Gauch is a writer. Her first novel is Covenant of the Hollow.

Pre-order/Buy Link ($0.99 for the e-book until 2/22): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079NNYRJZ/

Buy Link for Prequel (Diary of the Hollow): https://www.amazon.com/Diary-Hollow-Chronicles-Drowsy-Book-ebook/dp/B078RFBYW5/


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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