The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘people of color’ Category

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.

 

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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/

It was a busy weekend! My first stop was at High Point University. I was invited by the English Club to give a craft talk and also discuss the political and structural interests that led me to speculative fiction and Afrofuturism, in particular.

The thing is, I had never given a ‘craft talk’ before! I’ve given lots of academic talks, of course, and have also done several readings of Reenu-You, but never a craft talk. What goes into a craft talk? I found out that a craft talk is just what it sounds like—a writer talking about techniques and processes of writing.

I knew that the English Club would be marketing my visit for a broad audience, so I needed to keep in mind that not everyone would want to hear specific details about writing craft. I spent the last few weeks working on my craft talk.

In the end, I decided to focus the first half of the talk on the speculative media influences on my childhood and young adult years (e.g. the television show, Lost in Space, the Bionic Woman and the film Star Wars). I then talked about my desire to connect to characters in speculative fiction and media with backgrounds that were similar to mine or connected to African American history and for a LONG time how hard that was. By college I was trying to “write myself” into the text and I spent time talking about how during college I discovered both the African American literary canon and feminist speculative fiction! Toward the end of the talk, I then discussed more ‘crafty’ things like how much I love first person narration and why I chose to use two first person narrators in Reenu-You. The audience was composed of students, faculty and parents (it was family weekend!) and they were warm and asked great questions.

I’m so grateful to the students and faculty that brought me to campus.

Dr. Jenn Brandt and Dr. Jacob Paul, organizers of the events

students

Lauren (on the left) who introduced me at the reading and Molly who is the president of the English Club. They are amazing!

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On Saturday at Park Road Books, in Charlotte, I was on a fantastic panel put together by writer and publisher Nicole Kurtz. The panel featured Black women speculative fiction authors including Nicole, Alledria Hurt, Marcia Colette and myself.

On such a cold wintry day, we had a spectacular turnout. The audience was engaged and we talked about diversity in publishing, the possible impact of the films, Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time for young people and pitched our books. We sold out of our books and several panelists and audience members made our way over to a local restaurant for talk and conversation. It was a truly wonderful and uplifting experience! We may try to replicate this panel at future sci-fi conventions.

 

I’m so excited to kick off Black History Month with these upcoming events:

Tomorrow, at Highpoint University, I’ll be giving a craft talk and then later will give a reading from Reenu-You and talk about Afrofuturism. The reading and signing is hosted through their Phoenix Reading Series and will be from 5-6:30.

And on Saturday, Park Road Books, in Charlotte, is hosting a panel of Black women speculative fiction authors. We’ll be talking about our experiences, our work, why representation in publishing matters and also the implications of the film Black Panther.

If you’re local, I’d love to see you there!

Hi folks, Reenu-You soon gets to have its turn in the TV spotlight.

I was so honored to be invited on UNC TV’s show Bookwatch to talk about my novella “Reenu-You”. D.G. Martin is the host and we did the taping during the summer. It was great fun and I learned a ton.

My episode is scheduled to air on Tuesday, October 10th at 8:00pm on the North Carolina Channel & on Sunday, October 15th at Noon on UNC-TV, with an encore broadcast on UNC-TV the following Thursday at 5pm. I hope you can check it out.

In this promo clip, I talk about the creative process and how to stay connected to one’s writing.

http://video.unctv.org/video/3003427932/

At some point, I will write a post about all the things I learned during my first TV appearance!

 

I’m thrilled that my essay about Octavia Butler is now in print in the new collection: Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler.

In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction Twelfth Planet Press has published a selection of letters and essays written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans. There are letters from people who knew Butler and those who didn’t; some who studied under her at the Clarion and Clarion West workshops and others who attended those same workshops because of her; letters that are deeply personal, deeply political, and deeply poetic; and letters that question the place of literature in life and society today.

 

 

I write about Octavia Butler’s use of affirmations to support her writing and how I have viewed her life as a model for creative practice. Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time know how important a tool I think affirmations are for creative people. In 2016, I committed to a daily practice of  writing an original affirmation about creativity and posting it on this blog. This practice provided tremendous nourishment for my creative life.

There are many writers in this collection that are well-known in the science fiction community including Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okrafor, L. Timmel Duchamp, and Steven Barnes, but also you’ll discover newer writers (like myself) in this hefty 405 page book.

A few months ago, Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, the editors of LT gave a great interview here.

If you’re a Butler fan, you’ll want this work in your library. If you have friends that are OB fans, please pass on info about this book!

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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