The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘speculative fiction’ Category

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!

 

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Hi dear readers,

I’m planning a fun event. If you’re local, come hear me and several other speculative fiction authors read on Oct 5! I’d love to see you there. Feel free to share!

I got an idea and it wouldn’t let me go this weekend. If you know anything about some of my writing projects, you know that I’m pretty interested in hair, and its role and meaning in our beauty and adornment practices.

I loved the creativity of Cyndi Lauper’s hair of the 1980s.

 

I’ve always loved the way Grace Jones has cut and styled her hair.

My sci-fi novella, Reenu-You is about what happens to a community when a virus is seemingly transmitted through a “natural” hair care product. In this Inspirations and Influences essay I wrote for Book Smugglers Publishing, I explore why hair and cultural ideas about hair fascinate me.

I have worn braided styles like this one.

 

Diane Ross was known for very thick and gorgeous mane.

During my search for submission opportunities, I stumbled upon this call for poems about hair for an upcoming anthology. Hair poems? How cool! I have many other projects in my queue to finish and write, but this call stuck with me.

Intrigued, I pondered, puttered, and made some notes. I thought about Bea, a beautician, and one of my favorite characters in a novel that is part of the Reenu-You “universe”, though not yet published. I’ve always loved her voice and her inner life.

In the back of my mind, I was also still mulling over the panel “Writing To Play” from last month’s North Carolina Writers Conference. (see more here about this super cool volunteer organization that hosts a great low-key conference and my becoming an invited member. They are different from the North Carolina Writers Network.) The panel was about cross-fertilization—what fiction writers and poets can learn from playwrights and vice versa. It was an impressive panel moderated by Howard Craft; panelists included Barbara Presnell, Nathan Ross Freeman, June Guralnick and Pat Riviere-Seel. Several panelists discussed having their poetry and/or fiction adapted into theatre productions. Both poets and fiction writers remarked how sound, dialogue and character operated differently across various genres.

Yesterday, I pulled out Bea’s first person narrative and began stripping it down and rearranging it. I thought about how a beautician views herself and her trade might work well as a persona poem. I adore persona poems and like to occasionally try my hand at them.

Here’s snippet from the poem, tentatively titled, ‘When the Beautician Thinks of Herself as a Healer’.

  I am a healer,
a modern day shaman
whose tools
are metal flat irons,
big pink rollers,
slippery, translucent gels,
and hair oils
that smell like
exotic fruits
from faraway lands.

I loved that first line in its fictional form and I love it as a first stanza! I’m having great fun playing which is the most important thing when one experiments. Also, the lesson for me is that if I follow my passion and subject matter, I can adapt the form a project takes. The deadline for the anthology is 8/31. That’s soon! My goal is to submit this poem and also to write another poem titled, ‘The Math of Hair’ or ‘Hair Math’. I will be sure to update you on my progress!

Have you ever taken a piece of your writing and changed the form (moving from poetry to short fiction, poetry to a play, etc.)? I’d love to hear about your experience.

Photo Credits: #1, #2, #3, #4

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’m thrilled that Book Smugglers has released a sneak peek of the new cover for “Nussia”, my sci-fi short story that will be published by them at the end of the month. It will be featured in their Awakenings series this summer.

Always believe in your work! Sometimes you’re ahead of the market or trends.

I wrote this story years ago and couldn’t place it. Over many years, I kept honing it and believing in it. I’m so glad it has found a home!

“Nussia” is set in the late 1970s and in many ways, it’s my anti-ET story.

Lindsay, an African American girl “wins” an extraterrestrial in a national contest only to find her family’s life upended. It’s E.T. meets Fatal Attraction.

I have two lovely pieces of news to share:

The Hugo award nominations were recently announced and I’m thrilled to say that Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler has been nominated under the category, ‘Best Related Work’!

Luminescent Threads celebrates Octavia Butler, a pioneer of speculative fiction. This is a collection of original 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.

…And psst, I’m in this collection, too!!!!

I’m thrilled for the editors, Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal and for Twelfth Planet Press. Here’s an interview with them from last year.

The second fantastic surprise is that I have been elected to membership in the North Carolina Writers Conference (NCWC). The North Carolina Writers Conference is the best kept secret in the state. It should not be confused with the well-known North Carolina Writer’s Network Conference that is held every spring and fall. The NCWC is an invite and membership only, volunteer based organization that’s been around for over six decades co-founded by esteemed writer Paul Green. It honors a significant NC writer every year at their July conference. The NCWC meets each year to “talk shop, talk craft, and share the problems and joys of writing,” as well as to celebrate the community of writers in North Carolina.

Many years ago, my writing teacher invited me to attend this conference as she was that year’s chair. I had no expectations and felt no pressure as I understood that the purpose of the gathering is to honor a well-known NC author, listen to some academically oriented panels and to connect with writers. This was not a conference about pitching your work to agents. The conference was absolutely lovely and relaxing.

My writing teacher introduced me to several of her writing buddies. At that time, I was early on in my publishing journey and I remember that everyone was so encouraging and supportive. Many of the writers I met that year, I met again at other literary events. At that time, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be published and be invited into this organization! [A member has to nominate you and you have to have a book published]. I’m excited and honored to be part of this organization and to deepen my North Carolina writing roots.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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