The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘speculative fiction’ Category

I couldn’t wait to read this book as I am hooked on following the adventures of the brave, smart and complex women that populate Samantha Bryant’s novels. Be prepared for a fast read in this third installment in ‘The Change’ series. Everything pops in this well-plotted novel that continues the adventures of four menopausal women changed forever by the scientist, Cindy Liu. The characters from the first two novels who choose to use their superpowers for the collective good include Linda/Leonel (a woman who was changed into a super strong man), Jessica (a woman who can fly), and Patricia (a woman whose skin can make spikes and armor). In Face the Change, these superheroes feel the consequences of their choices as their work with ‘The Department’ (an organization that deals with supernatural occurrences), deepens in complexity and scope. This has particularly acute ramifications for Leonel and his husband, David. In order to help community relations, the Department’s charismatic director encourages Leonel and Jessica to take on public personas through their new work in the ‘Unusual Cases Unit’. They even get costumes and stage names. This turn of events allows the reader to explore with Leonel and Jessica what it really feels like to be a superhero. Patricia also begins working for the Department. Can a woman used to calling the shots become a team player? Patricia plays with this question throughout Face the Change. Bryant continues the excellent characterization that defines the series and in this book, we spend extended time following Leonel and Patricia.

 

Helen is one of the four women who used Dr. Cindy Liu’s products, but who didn’t turn into a superhero. She’s still the villain and she’s nastier and more dangerous than ever! We primarily see her actions and the havoc that she creates through her daughter Mary, introduced in the second book. The stakes are raised dramatically for the smart and compassionate Mary, who has to deal with an increasingly unstable mother set on seeking revenge against Cindy Liu and the other women. Mary has to make some difficult choices during the course of the novel. Her fear and challenges are believable, as is the slow reveal about her own unusual talents.

As the book opens, Cindy Liu is on the run after narrowly saving herself and her father from being arrested. Cindy’s special formula has regressed her to the age of thirteen (her actual age is sixty-seven). Being thirteen isn’t fun for anyone, but especially not for a super talented scientist. Cindy doesn’t take it well.  The frustration she faces as she makes decisions about her ailing (and unethical father) while dealing with moods, zits and raging hormones (often directed at a hot bodyguard hired by her father’s friend) makes for a very fun read. None of the characters in this novel are one-dimensional and Bryant continues to make us sympathize with, if not always like, Cindy.

A second compelling subplot emerges in this novel, too.  A group of patients that underwent an experimental neurological treatment, at a local hospital, awoke with exceptionally strong powers including mind control and telekinesis. Six of these patients band together and begin to create criminal mayhem.  Sally Ann, Leonel, Jessica and other members of the UCU must work together to stop these criminals.

Bryant delivers strong action scenes throughout the book. There are also unexpected romantic developments in this story that are quite satisfying. There are great twists, turns and reversals throughout. This series keeps me on the edge of my seat. Although much is resolved at the end of Face The Change, the clues that are peppered throughout book about the world-wide strange happenings makes me hopeful that Bryant has plans to keep the UCU busy for many more books to come.

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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!

 

The first thing you notice in Eden Royce’s short story collection, Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror, is the exquisite attention to language and setting. Royce’s storytelling is layered and dense. Spook Lights is billed as dark fiction. The sense of horror, dis-ease and dread are developed in an entertaining and unexpected way in each story.  This collection is a great introduction to Southern gothic horror and is well worth your time.

Themes that recur in the stories include: betrayal, the meaning of death, the price of living, what makes a joyful life, and memory. The challenges of love, especially for women and the price that they are willing to pay for it (whether for a son or lover) is often costly. The characters in these stories yearn, love, desire and act in ways that make for compelling fiction.

This collection is populated by a variety of diverse characters and cultural reference points that include European American, African American, and indigenous histories. And, their experiences are filtered through the landscape of the South, most often Charleston. Indeed, one of the gems of Eden’s storytelling is the way she uses language, dialect, and setting to re-imagine folk traditions, hoodoo, and everyday people seeking spiritual assistance. She upends the traditional Hollywood stereotypes of root workers and conjure women. She is interested in how the magical and mundane intersect, especially for women of color and the paths that they travel to find freedom– both physical and psychological. Indeed, the title of the collection embodies a playfulness about ideas of darkness and light, and personal and official histories.

I truly enjoyed every story in this collection. Some of my favorites include, “Dr. Buzzard’s Coffin”, a fresh take on zombies, including ones that can restore balance. This tale involves an uncle undergoing a metamorphosis in order to cleanse the community of a dangerous threat. In many of the stories, the main character seeks assistance from the spirits and after receiving the assistance, realizes (often too late) that it came with a high spiritual price tag. “Hag Ride” is one of these stories. What is one to do when one loves a philandering husband? We feel for Frieda, the main character when she is warned by ‘Big Mama’, her godmother (who works roots), that sometimes we should let someone go rather than trying to force them to love us.  The troubled young woman doesn’t want to hear this sage advice and proceeds to call on ‘The Hag’ for help. Her philandering husband gets more than he bargains for when he meets a beautiful woman who gives him the “ride” of his life. He is definitely transformed in ways that Freida can’t anticipate. It is a delicious revenge story with a twist at the end.

With the “Turn of a Key” and “Rhythm”, roles are reversed and it is the man that’s been betrayed and seeks help from otherworldly forces.

The stories vary in length and viewpoint, alternating between first and third person. Some like “Hand of Glory” and “Homegoing” are flash fiction driven, leaving us with more tantalizing questions than answers.

My very favorite story, “The Choking Kind”, ends the collection. I love this story because it is a mother and daughter story, a mystery and a story about magical beings all rolled into one. Imaginative and unexpected it deals with ideas of loss, memory, identity, freedom and family.

In this collection, there is a story for every kind of horror and dark fiction aficionado. Compelling short story collections are marvels of pacing, selectivity and wordsmithing. Eden Royce brings all of that and more to this work. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

 

 

 

I’ve made it through a major writerly milestone. Last week, I had my debut book reading and signing for Reenu-You at McIntyre’s Books. It was a blast and went very well.

However, there was still a lot to learn!

I thought I was ready. I thought I knew all there was to know. I thought I was prepared. How long had I been attending book signings? How long had I been visualizing myself conducting a reading and signing books? Longer than I can remember.

But, there was still a lot to learn!

I’m passing on some tips and lessons learned.

-Ask for help. Mobilize your writing peeps!

Doing an author signing and book reading requires some coordination, especially if this is your first time. I decided to serve drinks, food and organize a giveaway. I also had to order books because Book Smugglers distributes their books through IngramSpark and most bookstores will only order a few copies (because of the no return policy). Therefore, authors have to order books and bring them to the store. So, I needed help with lifting books, setting up the food, etc. Mobilize your community and ask writer friends for help on your big day. They’ll be happy to help with moral support, too. I’m glad I flexed my usually underutilized “asking for help” muscles. I had fantastic help and support that day.

-Promote and advertise your event at least a month beforehand. And, don’t just rely on one or two promotional strategies.

I used Twitter, my Author Facebook page, my personal Facebook page and blog to promote the event. I posted a month before, three weeks before, two weeks before and a few days before the event. McIntryre’s Books created a Facebook event page. The only thing that I didn’t do that I will do next time is to also invite people through email. I had a fantastic turnout, but several close friends weren’t there. These are folks that don’t regularly check Facebook. I over-relied on the Facebook event and my personal page for promotion. I also didn’t want to “bother” people by posting too much. Given that it takes several “touches” for people to get something on their calendar, and you never know what people actually see and when they see it, it’s better to post often. Next time, I know that it’s better to cover all the bases one can, including good old email. I also forgot to email my newsletter list!

a lovely audience

a full house!

Practice what you will read and time yourself. Do it over and over until you feel confident.

I received good advice from some writers on Twitter when I asked about tips for doing a reading. Many stressed to pick the highlights and sections of the book that pop. Most of Reenu-You moves between two narrators, Kat and Constancia. I decided to read brief snippets of when we first meet them. They both have distinctive worldviews and use of language that made those snippets very fun to read. I reminded myself that I just needed to provide an appetizer to the audience to entice them to want to read more.

Get rest the night before.

I was restless and didn’t sleep that well the night before the reading. That morning I got up and did some gentle yoga and meditation which was extremely helpful for getting grounded (as they always are).

Eat something beforehand or have an energy bar with you.

You’ll probably already feel jittery, hunger will exacerbate that feeling.

Take cough drops with you.

I know writers who carry cough drops in case their throat gets dry before a reading. I didn’t carry cough drops, but I did use Nasya oil which is a medicated oil that lubricates the nasal passages and promotes concentration. Nasya is a cleansing technique used in Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic science that originates in India. I swear by this technique during fall and winter when the weather is more drying and one becomes susceptible to colds and flus. Doing Nasya is also very grounding.

Food is always appreciated at an author event.

I had a nice spread of snacks, cheeses, fruit, lemonade and sparkling wine. Also a friend made great cupcakes which garnered kudos and became the second star of the day. She tried to match the frosting colors to the colors on Reenu-You’s cover. I think she did a great job.

I loved seeing people connecting and talking about writing while eating delicious food.

I splurged on food and wine as I wanted this to be a celebratory moment. When I do future readings, I will probably keep it simple-just cupcakes and champagne!

Consider offering a door prize or two. People find them fun and it contributes to the festive environment.

I absolutely love receiving door prizes at events! I decided that I wanted to give away some door prizes for my reading. I gave away my book and The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn. I’m a huge fan of Joanna Penn’s work as a podcaster, author champion and writer and I wanted to encourage the writers in the audience with her words of wisdom. I also gave away Nisa Shawl’s novel, Everfair. I met Nisi when I was a graduate student and lived in Ann Arbor. She worked in a used bookstore and somehow I discovered that she also loved speculative fiction and also wanted to be a writer. It was always a joy to visit her as we would talk endlessly about speculative fiction. She was the first person of color I knew that also wanted to write science fiction! When I was telling this story to the audience, I reminded then that although now everyone seems to be talking about Afrofuturism, Octavia Butler, writers of color in speculative fiction and Black Speculative Arts, twenty-five years ago this was not the case! In the early 1990s, I knew of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney, but I didn’t have a community of people who looked like me that I could talk about speculative fiction or being a writer in the genre. Nisi was a wonderful informal mentor and friend. I am thrilled for her success with Everfair which is a alternate history novel that re-imagines what might have happened in the Congo, during colonization, if its inhabitants had access to steampunk technology.

My friend Sam won Nisi’s book! A perfect fit as he is a literary and film scholar and is interested in speculative fiction.

Bring a great pen to sign books.

Your first event will probably bring a lot of people that you know. I found myself wanting to write much longer notes in the book which slowed the line. Also, they’ll want to chat a bit which is fun. Remember that energy bar? You might need to take a few bites in case your energy flags some.

Pete, one of the booksellers gave me a Sharpie to sign books with. I had meant to bring a special pen, but that detail totally got lost while preparing for everything else. I was terrified of messing up with that Sharpie, but I didn’t’.

I’ve seen other authors have a slip of paper with them and they ask people to write their names down. This ensures that you don’t spell someone’s name wrong which would be a big bummer.

Savor this feeling—allow yourself to be celebrated.

I am so grateful to folks who were able to make it to McIntyre’s Books. I looked out into the audience and saw former students, academic colleagues, community folk, writer friends and new faces. It was a real delight to experience the fullness of that moment. The writing journey is that much sweeter when you can share some of the peaks with friends.

So much fun seeing friends and holding up my book!

The time really flew by. At moments I found myself saying, “It’s all happening so fast.” I remember hearing from a coach that in order to get our brain to really “take in”, or anchor a positive experience, we have to focus on it for about ten seconds. Otherwise, it just slides by and gets drowned out in the noise of life.

I kept trying to remind myself to let the amazing feelings sink in. And, I whispered to the universe, “Thanks universe, more experiences like this, please! I’m ready!”

 

 

Hi folks,

I was thrilled to receive this review from Strange Horizons. Strange Horizons is a top UK weekly science fiction magazine. I was hoping that reviews of Reenu-You would start appearing in some of the respected speculative fiction venues. Yay!

This week is a big week because I have a debut reading at McIntyre’s Books on Saturday at 2pm. Book signing, refreshments and more. You’re invited!

https://www.fearrington.com/events/category/author-event/

One of the best occurrences in my writing life this past year has been getting to know writers in the ‘UnCommon’ anthologies community. The UnCommon anthologies are published by Fighting Monkey Press, founded by Pavarti Tyler. The series includes UnCommon Bodies, UnCommon Minds and UnCommon Origins and they all have a speculative fiction edge. Last year, my story, “The Curl of Emma Jean” was selected to appear in UnCommon Origins: Collection of Gods, Monsters, Nature and Science.  As part of the process of being published in the anthologies, Pavarti invites authors to a private Facebook group. The Facebook group includes many authors from the anthologies and everyone is committed to helping make each anthology successful. I have learned so much about indie publishing through this group and have been grateful for the encouragement we give each other.

I recently discovered that there is a new UnCommon anthology launching soon. Yay! It’s titled, Uncommon Lands: A Collection of Rising Tides, Outer Space, and Foreign Realms and it will feature a fabulous lineup of writers. I have invited one of those writers to share some insights about being a Native American speculative fiction writer writing across communities. She provides a behind the scenes look at her submission to UnCommon Lands.

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

Shamanism and Navigating as Native in a White World: Walker Between the Worlds

“Walker Between the Worlds” was inspired by the shamanic journeys I took under the watchful eyes of my aunt and grandmother, and by the identity struggle I felt when transitioning between being bullied at school in a predominantly white community and the beautiful native stories and experiences I had on Whidbey Island. The more I learned about my heritage, the more I realized the way shamanism and native spirituality is portrayed in the media is a gross misinterpretation of what it means to be a shaman.

In early drafts I mentioned my protagonist Shephard had a lighter skin tone, and everyone who read the story thought he must be white. I was even lectured about what shamanism is and isn’t by a middle aged white member of my group – who based his theories on Carlos Castaneda’s work and movies he’d seen when he was younger!

There’s a cultural perception about what it means to be native, and “reddish” skin is a must. If you don’t look like a Midwestern native, you must not be indigenous. I had to change the description to tawny—something I was deeply against—in order for people to believe he was Haida, despite details about his growing up on the reservation and receiving shamanic training.

The story centers around Shephard’s having to give up pieces of himself, breaking his most sacred code in order to fit in with the high-stakes world of trading securities. His identity as a native man was always overshadowed by his ambitions in the white world he found himself in, as the identities of those who try to navigate through a world that no longer tries to understand them often are. When his girlfriend’s soul is stolen by Ta’xit, the god of death in battle, he has to go on a true shamanic journey in order to recover her soul – and his sense of self.

It was a challenge to write, in part because of fear that I was the “wrong” person to tell this story. There are so few of us left in the tribe, and my family isn’t even registered because of fears of racist repercussions my great grandfather had when he removed us from tribal rolls. It took a lot of courage to accept that my experiences were relevant and very real, despite the cultural demand that my family be more “red” in order to be native.

Because my stories take a dark slant, people often ask me who my influences are. Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, Margaret Atwood, Garth Nix, Mercedes Lackey, Robert Jordan, Piers Anthony, and Orson Scott Card all top the list. Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood in particular—their lyrical, authoritative voices still fill me with wonder.

I strive to one day find my place among these inspiring voices, to touch the hearts of readers who’ve struggled with their sense of identity in a world that refuses to accept them. I hope one day we will all be equal in the truest sense—able to be ourselves, embrace our identities, without fear of retribution or rejection.

Ashleigh Gauch is a Haida author currently living just south of her hometown of Seattle, Washington. She went to college for nutrition but ultimately found her true passion not in the study of science, but in the genesis of science fiction.

Her work has been featured in the online periodical Bewildering Stories, Starward Tales from Manawaker Press, Uncommon Minds from Fighting Monkey Press, the upcoming anthologies UnCommon Lands and Starward Two, and the magazine Teaching Tolerance.

Story Summary: When Shephard Mercer breaks the greatest law found in Haida shamanism and uses his powers for his own personal gain, his love, Aria, pays the price. Now he must go through live burial and a series of trials in the World Between to earn her soul back and prove himself worthy enough to return to the world of the living.

Pre-order UnCommon Lands here.

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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