The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘women's creativity’ Category

June is my birthday month and what a month it has been. Fifty-two years ago, I was born during a time of civil unrest and great transition in the U.S. Martin Luther King was assassinated two months before I was born and Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated the day after my birthday. The second wave women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the Black Arts movement, the peace movement, and the LGBTQ movement were all well underway by the time I was a few years old. I’ve always known that my life as a scholar and creative person is predicated on the sacrifice of many nameless activists and change makers who helped pave the way for me. During the first week of June 2020, protests against police brutality directed toward Black and Brown bodies erupted in the United States and around the world. Over the past few weeks I have felt a gamut of emotions as many in the United States are wrestling with our deep legacies of racial injustice. I have felt stunned, uplifted, numb, exhausted, saddened, angered and empowered. I’ve tried to allow myself the time and space to experience all of those feelings.

It is rare that I miss a week communicating with you. Lately though, I’ve wrestled with what to say from one creator to another. Despite all the challenges happening in this moment, my creativity has never felt more solid, deeper or richer. During the past several months, I have dug even deeper into my creative urges and projects.  And, many seeds that I’ve been planting in my author garden have started to bloom. I’ve felt guilt though about sharing some of the recent joys and successes. I’ve wondered if readers would wonder why I wasn’t addressing the current moment more. As a creator of color, I am always navigating a complex, inner set of conversations that arise from the complexities of living in a racially stratified world. For example, I wondered should I address the conversations happening in publishing as a result of Black Lives Matter? Should I provide a list of resources about anti-racism for readers? Do I want to provide such lists? How much do I wish to talk about social justice and writing? By not talking about social justice and writing will people think I don’t care about the present moment?

Such questions left me tired.

Historically, writers from dominant communities have had the luxury of not thinking about these issues, or choosing to engage with them as they see fit. The good news is that is changing.

Here’s what I want to say to you, dear reader: I’m thinking about you. If you are struggling as the world is changing around you, you’re not alone. Your creativity and work, however, in the world matters. So does, in my opinion, trying to make the world more just. We as writers and creatives are being called on to undertake more visible and transformative social justice work in the world. This means exploring injustice at the micro and macro levels. In the writing world, this could mean looking at the leadership and structure of the writing organizations we support, the kinds of books we review, and the authors we network with. I believe this is a good thing. I hope you have the energy to do something to make the world more just in your sphere of life. It’s messy. It’s tiring and it sure isn’t pretty. If you don’t have the tools, find kind people that will share their tools with you. Doing this work in community makes the work more joyous.

Also, I have always known that my role on the earth is to uplift and inspire others. I do that in multiple ways as a coach and writer. It does no good for me to play small and hide in the shadows. There are a million ways to resist interrelated systems of oppression and for me, one of them is creating. It does no good for you to play small, either. I will write and share about whatever moves me. That’s basically what I have been doing for the last decade on this blog. I’m saying it here so that I remember it, too.

I’m sharing with you some recent writing joys. I’d love to hear yours, too.

My noir-ish story, “Miss Black Little Hill of 1965” appeared in the recent issue of Blood and Bourbon, a Canadian literary journal. I can now say that I am an internationally published author! A snippet below.

Miss Black Little Hill of 1965

Isabel fingered the teardrop emerald earrings while waiting for her husband to open the passenger door of their car. Two weeks into their marriage, and his gifts kept coming. And, he promised more! She smiled at her good fortune.

He’d caught her eye at church. Strangers at church always do. He said he was visiting his distant cousin. Smooth dark skin, wavy hair, a fine new peanut-brown cashmere coat. Ruby rings on his fingers. From Pensacola, the big city.

A smarter woman would have noticed different things about this man, asked pointed questions. But she didn’t need to be smart, did she? She was, after all, recently crowned Miss Black Little Hill. 1965 was her year, she could feel it.

 

I shared last November that I attended the Hay House Writers Workshop in Houston. It is hosted by Hay House Publishing, a leading giant in the publishing field on health, spirituality and personal transformation books. In the workshop, they teach you about the publishing business, especially how to write and pitch nonfiction book proposals. Unlike fiction manuscripts where you complete the entire book and then pitch your work, in nonfiction, you write a proposal *before the book* and pitch the idea.


I had wanted to attend this conference for years as I have been working on a book about creativity for some time. So, I made the commitment to go. It was a gift to myself. One of the wonderful things about the workshop is that attendees can submit their book proposals six months later to HH in consideration for publication and you only “compete” with the other attendees. How cool is that? There were about 250 people in attendance and about 75 people submitted proposals. They provide three publishing prizes. Although I didn’t win one of them, I did receive HONORABLE MENTION for my book proposal: The Creative Tickle: 52 Ways to Tap into Your DNA and Divinity!!! And with honorable mention (which I didn’t even know they did) I got SPECIALIZED FEEDBACK on my proposal from the Acquisitions editors. How cool is that? I’m that much closer to getting my ideas into the world. I’m so glad that I didn’t talk myself out of going to the conference (which would have been easy to do for a million reasons) and also of submitting my work (ditto!).

I gathered some of the many wonderful authors together to do a virtual reading from Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility, a collection that was released last year, edited by Andrea Fekete and Lara Lillibridge.

I shared some insights from the introduction and then several amazing contributors read an excerpt of their piece. I read a snippet from my essay, “The Poisons Our Mothers and Grandmothers Drank”. The anthology was published last year and there were a few live readings. Timing is a funny thing though, many of us had hoped for the collection to be more visible and despite their being more than 70+ authors, it was hard to get the marketing efforts off the ground. Then the readings that were scheduled for this spring were cancelled due to the pandemic. I decided to reach out to the editors and suggest hosting some virtual readings. They loved the idea and I ran with it. I’ll probably host two more. It was fun and I always learn something new using Zoom. Writers and readers are all desperately seeking community and to feel connected and virtual readings help. I also think that this collection gets timelier every single day.

In late April, I started a YouTube channel. I have been populating it with short excerpts of me reading from recently published fiction. It’s been fun!

 

Reminder: Last Write-IN happening tomorrow: Thursday, May 28 (3-5 pm and 8-9 pm EST).

How it works:

You log on through a Zoom link, see me on Zoom (everyone one is muted, and video off) and I lead you through a 5 minute writing prompt, mindfulness exercise or gentle stretch.

After that, I turn on an online timer for 45 minutes. You write. At the end of 45 minutes, I come on and encourage you to take a break before the next session (i.e. stretch, drink some water, etc.). We do the same thing during the second hour.

To get the Zoom links for tomorrow’s Write-IN, go here.

 

Creative peeps, what are you doing Friday (tomorrow!), 10am-12pm EST?

I’ll be a virtual guest for the Wonderland Book Club, co-sponsored by the NC Writer’s Network. I’ll do a short reading from my sci-fi novella Reenu-You recently published by Falstaff Books. This book club is known for digging deep into craft which I’m looking forward to. The group will have questions and I’ll take yours, too. It will be interesting to discuss this story set in the 1990s about a virus that exploits racial and gender health disparities given current events. I also hope to say a few words about staying creative during a crisis and share thoughts about the writing life.

I’m so grateful to organizer Alice Osborn for suggesting a virtual meet up since Quail Ridge Books is closed.

I hope you’ll join me (whether you have read the book or not) for some of the time. I think it will be fun and nourishing for all.

The novella is available at all online booksellers.

Zoom link is available here.  Two step registration process.

Art credit

I’ve been a bit quiet here because I’ve been recovering from crazy deadlines and intense creative output. In October, I shared that I attended the Hay House Writer’s Workshop and learned much about book proposal writing. Hay House Publishing is known for publishing leading self-help, health and wellness, and personal transformation books and has a very successful thirty-year track record.

The attendees to each of the Hay House WWs are able to submit their book proposal into a subsequent contest for one of the three publishing prizes that they sponsor between Hay House and Balboa Press, their smaller imprint. The cool thing is that you are only competing with people who attended that particular conference, in that particular city. Usually about 250 people attend each conference and Reid Tracy, CEO of Hay House reminded us that typically 80-100 people actually are able to get the book proposal in on time. I liked those odds which is one of the reasons why I decided to attend.

Super inspiring to hear Rebekah Borucki’s journey. She attended a HH Writer’s workshop a few years ago but didn’t submit a proposal. She then worked on the book proposal for ‘You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life’ and platform. She submitted her proposal to Hay House via the traditional route and it got acquired and it is now out. She talked about writing the book of your heart. I also appreciated that they showcased an up and coming author and one who identifies as bi-racial.

I’ve been working on a creativity book for some time and so had a draft proposal. I was determined to be in the group of people who submitted their work (see my post about the importance of submitting your work and not self-rejecting) by the due date which was April 5. However, despite my best intentions, I didn’t start the revision process until January. And, although they gave us an invaluable handbook and worksheet of what to include in the proposal, I started the revising later than I had wanted. I had a lot more to add in the marketing and competing books sections. During Jan and Feb, I also attended to other pressing deadlines. Oh, and then COVID-19 happened. And, everything became harder and more chaotic.

And, as they do, my excuses glommed together and created a wonderful home for resistance to take hold.

Deep resistance kicked in just days before I was due to submit the proposal. I kept telling myself that on closer inspection my idea was dumb, had all been said before, unworthy, etc. Yup, the inner critics were phenomenally loud. And, to top it all off, I waited until the last minute to create a short video which was a mandatory part of the package! They asked applicants to create a video to provide some background about ourselves and our book idea. Since marketing and promotion often requires authors to create short videos, they want to see our comfort and skill level with video. We had to post it to our YouTube channel. I do have a YouTube channel, but had forgotten the password, how to login, etc. Resolving that took a good twenty minutes.

As we all know, perfect is the enemy of the good, so after I was pretty happy with the proposal, I got busy on the video. I really tried to not overly script the video and to just enjoy myself. I probably did at least twenty takes before I said, OK, I’ve got to go with the strongest one so far. It’s not perfect.

Looking at the video now, there are lots of things I would do differently and will do differently in the future. I decided though to hold off on judgement for a good 24 hours. I learned long ago from Barbara Sher, author of Wishcraft, how important it is to not judge yourself for at least for 24 hours after you do something creative in public.

The most important thing is that the book proposal package was sent a few hours before the deadline. It got done!

I learned so much from attending the workshop, revising the proposal and submitting it. No matter what the outcome, I feel like a winner.

In my notes from the conference, I wrote down something that Reid said that we should all remember (paraphrased): “The challenge for most writers is to remind yourself…the work doesn’t feel new to you, but it is new to other people.” (emphasis mine)

That was the crux of my resistance–I’d been looking at and living with aspects of the book idea forever, so it didn’t feel exciting or new anymore. That’s why those voices were on hyperdrive. I’d forgotten what that type of resistance felt like.

In the video, I talk about my book proposal for The Creative Tickle®: 52 Ways to Tap into Your DNA and Divinity and a little about myself.  

If you’re so inclined, check out my video and feel free to leave a thumbs up or a nice comment (y’all are kind people, I know!).

It’s been a weird few days for all of us, huh? About two weeks ago, I left for Copenhagen and by the time I got back (with some difficulty), COVID-19 was in full swing. Later this week, I’ll share some reflections about that trip and how we can keep writing some during this difficult moment.

In the meantime, I’m sharing something that I’d love your help supporting and/or signal boosting. This is my second invitation to a crowdfunded anthology and I’m super excited about it! [BTW, I am working on the edits to my story that I wrote for the successfully funded Witches, Warriors and Wise Women, due out in June]

LET’S SLAY!

Do you like vampires? Vampire slayers? A fresh take on vampires and vampire slayers? Mocha Memories Press is crowdfunding Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire, an anthology which will be groundbreaking as it explores vampires of the African Diaspora. I’m one of the invited authors that will be submitting a story along with Sheree Renee Thomas, Steven Van Patten, and Teri Clarke! Mocha Memoirs Press is run by the incredible Nicole Smith and has been a force in amplifying the work of diverse voices in speculative fiction.


We’re almost halfway funded! Please consider supporting this anthology, there are lots of great perks available (with great names like hunters, slayers, stakes and blood drinkers). $1 perks available! Feel free to share with others! TY!

 

Stay safe and healthy!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore my feelings and relationship to the term ‘Afrofuturism’ in this recent essay for the online quarterly magazine South Write Large: Stories, Arts and Ideas for the Global South. Is this a term that you have heard a lot about? How do you engage with Afrofuturism?

My Unlikely Path to Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism is everywhere these days. From the staggering success of Black Panther to the revival of Octavia Butler’s works, especially the prescient Parable of the Sower written in 1993, to the award-winning novels by N. K. Jemisin, these books have ushered in a new moment. We’re not just talking about literature or film, but music, fashion design, visual arts, and social activism as well. What often gets lost or flattened, however, when a phenomenon enters the mainstream, is the nuance, history, and multiple viewpoints on said phenomenon. Read the rest of the essay here.

February has been a rich and wonderful month. It felt as if I was in deep communion with the writer, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960). For many years, I’ve been fascinated by her life. ZNH was ahead of her time as a writer and scholar (she was the first Black woman to receive a doctorate in anthropology). She was also a cultural icon and transgressive artist.

Zora Neale Hurston

In 2016, I started a story, “Etta, Zora and the First Serpent” that takes place in the 1930s. Etta, a dancer at the Cotton Club, meets the charismatic ZNH and gets entangled in one of Zora’s schemes to conjure secrets from an old spirit. As you might imagine, trouble ensues.

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 was inspired to finish this historically themed horror story (with a twinge of fantasy), and then submit it in 2018 for a specific anthology. It got rejected from that anthology and I went to work on it some more. Last year I submitted it to AfroMyth: Volume 2-A Fantasy Collection and it was accepted!

I went through intensive edits on the story. What was refreshing, however, was that I didn’t have to work much on the structure of the story (I often struggle with plotting), but instead needed to beef up description in the last quarter of the story. It was one of the shorter stories I have written, submitted at 5,000 words (which was the maximum word length). In the revisions, however, I wound up adding another 500 words.

AfroMyth: Volume 2 was released today! It features fourteen fantasy stories featuring characters of the African Diaspora.

I love the cover of this collection!

Zora had her spirit fingerprints all over my life this month. I was invited to attend the 31st annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. It took place in early February in Eatonville, FL.  Eatonville, a historically all Black town is where Zora grew up. The Festival spans multiple days. This year the theme was the multiverse and Afrofuturism! There was an academic conference, an outdoor festival and tons of activities and festivities.  I was with an amazing group of speculative friction writers, all paying tribute to ZNH, her genius and legacy.

Standing, left to right P. Djeli Clark, Nwatchukwu Iheoma, Bill Campbell, Tenea Johnson. Seated: Maurice Broaddus and Chesya Burke. We are all looking very writerly!

It’s rare that I have the opportunity to read with and connect to other Black writers, especially in the field of speculative fiction, so my time at the ZNH Festival felt pretty magical.

If you are a speculative fiction reader, I hope you check out the collection. You can find it at all online sellers. Amazon link is here. Here’s the book trailer to check out, too.

I’m doing something I have never done before. I’m sharing a few paragraphs from my WIP for WITCHES, WARRIORS AND WISE WOMEN the Kickstarter funded anthology. The tentative title for my story is ‘Ditch Girl’ and is set in a post-apocalyptic world with a smidgen of urban fantasy. There are definitely witches in this story. This is a draft for your reading pleasure only.

BTW, we are 66% funded with only 3 days to go. I’d LOVE it if you would consider supporting this project and/or sharing the link. And, thanks to all of you who have already supported the project in various ways!

There are still VERY cool rewards and pledge levels available—help us fund this project and get some extra goodies for yourself. But hurry—the clock is ticking!

It will feature new fiction by me and Gail Martin, Paige Christie, Darin Kennedy, Alexandria Christian, Nicole Smith, JD Blackrose and many others.

Details here.

“Ditch Girl”

The cemetery never scared Welcome, even as a child.  Cutting through it to get home provided the quickest route and allowed unrivaled use of her imagination. She would make up stories about people, looking for the oldest headstones. Most days after school, before it got dark, she’d pick an interesting gravestone, settle in and strike up a conversation. She’d share things that didn’t sit right in her mind.

She might say, “Ana Sterling of 1950, if you were here, I’d show you around Thistleview. Not that there’s very much to see. In your day, I bet you use to go into that old city called Tulsa, not too far from here. It’s not there anymore now, Ana.”

Or, “One day the preacher’s wife slapped me for not wearing a slip. After service, she asked me to come in the back to talk to her and before I knew it she had her beefy hand on me.

The preacher’s wife said, “Welcome, can’t you see your breasts are falling out that dress? Do you want to end up like your mother?”

Mama never said I had to wear a slip, Ana. I don’t even have a slip. I stopped going to church after that. The preacher’s wife don’t bother me no more. She don’t even speak to me at all. She just looks right through me as if I’m some piece of old cobweb. Were slips big in your day, Ana? I bet they were. People had money back then from what I’ve read. They went places that needed slips.”

On this day Welcome made her way through the forested part of the cemetery, where the red cedars were thickest and some of the oldest headstones lay. She paused and sniffed, noticing the coolness in this part of the cemetery. She then heard words sung by a female voice:

My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart

Goosebumps pebbled her pale skin and she hunched into her ragged coat. The phrases repeated and Welcome looked toward the nearest stand of trees. She darted behind one and then another thinking that she had been followed by some of her stupid classmates.

After a few minutes of frantic searching and finding no singers (she knew no one in town that sounded as good as that voice), with every vein straining in her face, she listened.

Another female voice rang out, this one heavier:

We’re trying to come throu…

Come to us!

The moment seared her like when she waited for the once a month afternoon train. Pricks of excitement and danger bit into her, making her hop from foot to foot. She couldn’t make herself stand still. Nothing she had heard so far in her life sounded as good as these voices. They made her feel as if her favorite butterscotch candies were melting on her tongue. No, it was as if she floated in warm butterscotch candy. She ran up and down the stretch of the cemetery. Welcome overturned rocks, peeked behind headstones, climbed a small tree and searched for the origin of those voices until she could barely see in front of her.

Exhausted, she remembered her responsibilities. Mama will wonder where dinner is.

“Please, whatever you are come to me,” she said at last, the frustration catching in her throat. On rest of the walk home as the sun sank, a feeling of utter sadness swept over Welcome. Maybe everyone in town is right. I’m going crazy, like Mama.

***

I hoped you enjoyed this snippet. I’m sure that my opening and entire story will go through several drafts before I’m happy with it and send it on. I look forward to working with Jason Graves, publisher of Prospective Press and editor of this anthology.

 

I’m so honored to have been asked by Jason Graves, founder of Prospective Press, to write a fantasy story for the debut volume of his new anthology series, Concrete Dreams, featuring ‘witches, warriors and wise women’. This is my first invite to participate in a themed anthology! The contributors are well-published speculative fiction authors including Gail Z. Martin, Jody Lynn Nye, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Darin Kennedy, Paige L. Christie and several more. My story is due at the end of the year and the volume is due out in June 2020.

Established in 2015, Prospective Press is a vigorous small press specializing in fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction. It is an inclusive, pro-diversity, feminist-friendly, queer-welcoming, and #ownvoices-embracing publishing house.

This is a Kickstarter funded anthology, so I have a favor to ask:

Will you, dear blog reader, consider making a pledge to see this anthology funded?

There are fantastic rewards for all levels of pledges. Even if you don’t read much fantasy, your pledge will help usher this book into the world for other eager readers to enjoy. Your literary karma increases by ten-fold when you help get new worthwhile projects off the ground. Or, if you are unable to contribute, please consider sharing the Kickstarter page through social media as I bet someone you know would be interested. It takes a village to get an anthology published in the 21st century! Thanks in advance!

 

Here’s more details about the project, levels of pledge and the rewards.

 

 

I am excited to share my first experience co-hosting a podcast! I love the Writer’s Well: Conversations about writing from craft to wellness podcast with Rachael Herron and J. Thorn. Rachael Herron and J. Thorn are friends and full-time writers and they share observations about the challenges and joys of the writing life. Each person poses a question to the other; it’s an unscripted and fun process. I’ve been listening to them for about two years. I really enjoy how supportive they are of each other and their larger community. The advice they give is invaluable and their warmth and affection for each other is joyous.

I’m in their private, once a month Mastermind group along with author Amy Taksuda. I’ve been in the group three months and like I say on the show, it is the best thing I’ve done for my writing life this year. They coach us on our writing challenges and Amy and I also brainstorm with each other. Our group has got great synergy. We were honored that they asked each of us to co-host an episode, with Rachael, during September while J was traveling. I jumped at the opportunity as I love the show and enjoy speaking on podcasts when I have the opportunity.

Rachael posed the question to me: ‘How does physicality affect your writing?’ True to the show’s format, the question was fresh for me. We talked about yoga, writing routines, swimming, Zumba, staying healthy as a writer, outsmarting your inner critic and more.

Not having the question ahead of time and being spontaneous was a good practice for me. I often over prepare for most engagements and consequently can miss being present with what is actually happening. Don’t we all have control issues, lol? Of course, after the show I thought of all the additional things I wanted to say! But, you can tell from listening to our conversation that is was fresh, lively and surprising to each of us.

She made me feel so welcome. It was so fun and such an honor.

Check it out here when you have a moment!

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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