The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘women's creativity’ Category

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

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I’m so excited to share this cover reveal of Feminine Rising! It’s a new collection coming out next spring that will feature essays on what being gendered female in this culture has meant to some writers. The editors are Andrea Fekete and Lara Lillibridge. My essay, “The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank” is being republished in it which first appeared in the literary journal Trivia: Voices of Feminism. I’m thrilled to be a part of this collection and you’ll be hearing more about it over the next few months!

A bit of backstory: During Fall 2010, local writers were invited to visit the Joyful Jewel, a gallery in Pittsboro, North Carolina and see which piece of art inspired them to write.  My piece was inspired by Sharon Blessum’s photograph “Medicine Women.” In the photograph, there are four small iridescent torsos of mannequins with names like Copper Shaman, Shaman of the Heart Chakra, Shaman of the 7th Chakra, and Water Shaman. Some of the torsos have feathers sprouting from the backs of their necks and others showcase big chunky necklaces.

In December, the Joyful Jewel hosted “Visions and Voices” where writers were asked to read what they wrote after their visit and the corresponding artists were asked to display their objects and say a few words about the art-making process.

I first read my piece at the “Visions and Voices” event and then three years later it was published in Trivia. I really love this piece so I continued looking for reprint opportunities. I submitted it to Andrea and Lara in 2016 and it was accepted right away. The editors found a publisher and now this essay will have a new home in spring 2019!

 

I have come across two mesmerizing and powerful interviews with authors Cheryl Strayed and Dani Shapiro. They both are interviewed by Marie Forleo on her TV show on YouTube. We usually need a boost for our writing in midsummer when a slower pace and the thrills of gelato call to us, luring us away from the demands of our creative work. I hope these interviews inspire you as much as they did me!

This conversation with Cheryl Strayed is beautiful, honest, vulnerable and completely real:

She covers a variety of subjects:
-why it’s OK not to write every day (she’s a binge writer)
-how to be gentle with yourself and your writing
-how to find the core questions in your work
-why she turned away from her ambitious nature at different times in her writing life
-how to keep putting the words on the page

https://www.marieforleo.com/2017/02/cheryl-strayed/

This conversation with Dani Shapiro offers deep insight on:

-why waiting to feel inspired may not be such a great idea
-why inner critics change the ways they berate us as we grow as writers (and what we can do about it)
-why she put aside 200 pages of writing
-the productive uses of despair
-how to get the courage to share your work
-her two word writing prompt that she uses in classes

https://www.marieforleo.com/2018/01/dani-shapiro-writing-process/

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.

 

Like most writers, I love research. And, like most writers, research can send me down endless rabbit holes. For my novella, Reenu-You, I spent years researching viruses. Of course, only a sliver of our research ever ends up in the actual story. This means we have to make wise decisions about how much to research before writing (or while writing). Still, it is so much fun to deeply explore a subject and find details that will create emotional truths in our characters, or enliven our setting.

One of my early creative loves was fashion design. I can still recall spending hours sketching out designs and showing them to my mother when I was about eight years old. Living in NYC, it was easy to fall in love with fashion, as it is one of the driving industries and a style capital. My mother was incredibly savvy about clothes and my early interest in designing was often a desire to understand her aesthetic tastes. As I got older, I remember talking myself out of pursuing fashion design. I didn’t know anyone who was a designer, so it didn’t seem like a real career, just a glamorous dream. My inner critic told me that I didn’t sew very well and that I was horrible at measuring things. Yup, I already had an active inner critic as a pre-teen!

Anyway, our true loves have a way of sneaking into our stories. For example, Constancia, one of the two main characters in Reenu-You is passionate about fashion and is about to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, for accessories design.

In 2014, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time and completed a draft of a novel where ‘eco-fashion’ plays an important role. I absolutely love this story and have been researching sustainable fashion or eco-fashion for some time.

Before doing research, I had heard of the downsides of “fast” or highly disposable fashion, but I now know SO much more. I love fashion and also want to be a responsible consumer.

Did you know that most of our clothes eventually end up in a landfill?

Approximately, 85% of the clothing we discard in the US is sent to landfills and incinerators.

And, no giving to thrift stores doesn’t solve the problem—most of what is donated is never used and also goes into the landfill: https://daily.jstor.org/fast-fashion-fills-our-landfills/

The fashion industry has historically employed some horrendously unequal labor practices; ones that often significantly impact women workers globally. It also contributes to environmental degradation.

The fashion industry is complex and there are lots of challenges associated with reform.

But, there are also lots of opportunities for change. That is good news and involves consumer advocacy, changes in corporate practices and also the rise of designers interested in sustainable practices.

Although, I’ve read a number of books and articles, on this subject, I hadn’t talked to anyone in the design world.

So, I was thrilled that during the weekend, I was able to attend a wonderful event hosted by the Abundance Foundation called Think Again: Fashion, Farming, Fiber! This event was designed to ask local and global questions about the fashion industry and sustainability. I got to hear from experts about how technology is changing how cotton is grown (to eliminate the need to dye it), and the rise of industrial hemp being grown in North Carolina. I also got to talk to a few designers about the way they use upcycled, recycled and local materials.

The evening fashion show on Saturday was spectacular and showcased a half dozen designers, in N.C., that specialize in eco-fashion!

The model in the video is wearing an outfit made entirely from post-consumer “waste”.

It was a great community event with lots of local kids participating. The models were a range of body types, ages and gender expressions, too.

I think the key to not letting research hijack your writing is to give it a time limit and also to keep writing. This event gave me a boost to keep pushing forward in the novel. Once I get through this draft, I can go back and layer what I’ve learned into subsequent drafts. No more research until this draft is completed.

How do you manage the research process for your writing projects?

 

 

LOCAL PEEPS: This event combines everything I love–talking with other authors, activism, and women’s issues. I hope you consider joining us for what I believe will be an inspiring and lively conversation:


In her only appearance in North Carolina, national leader and former president of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards will be in conversation with Michele Tracy Berger in The Fearrington Barn on April 15th at 2pm in support of her new memoir MAKE TROUBLE: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.
Tickets can be purchased through McIntyre’s Books: 542-3030 or online through their website.

I am absolutely loving her book and can’t wait to meet her in person!

As I frequently note on this blog, I am lucky to live in a community (a state even!) known for its writers. Anne Anthony is a writer friend that I know from classes, community shindigs and readings. We often like the same authors and comment on each other’s Facebook posts about writing advice.

I was touched when I read the inspiration for her recent co-edited book: The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory. It’s an anthology of flash fiction stories for adults who struggle with memory loss.  The inspiration for the book came after her mother passed away last February. As Anne has said, “[her mother] loved to read, but as her memory declined she switched from reading novels to reading short stories. She could have extended her reading life had she known about flash fiction (stories between 500 & 750 words).”

The Collection is not about memory loss (or aging), but it is a fine volume of 60 evocative flash stories that anyone can enjoy.

Anne Anthony is a full-time writer living in North Carolina. She holds a Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland and a Masters in Professional Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. She’s been published in the North Carolina Literary Review, Dead Mule School for Southern Literature, Poetry South, Tell Us a Story, The Mused Literary Review, and elsewhere.

I figured after editing this major project, Anne would have some insights to share about the wonders and challenges of being a newbie editor. And, indeed she does!

I’m delighted to welcome Anne Anthony to The Practice of Creativity.

On Being a First-Time Editor
By Anne Anthony

I remember watching Mickey Rooney in the film, Babes in Arm, and his excitement when he decided to ‘put on a show’ to prove to his parents and those of his friends that these ‘kids’ could make it to Broadway.

I had a similar exhilaration at the start of the anthology project not because I was trying to prove something, but because I wanted to create a book that my mother would have enjoyed reading. Toward the end of her life, my mother lost the ability to hold on to longer plots of short stories and though she could read, she couldn’t follow a narrative from beginning to end.

Taking a good idea and turning it into an actual book was a journey of discovery for a writer who had never edited an anthology before. From writing the call for submissions, to their screening and review, sending out acceptances and rejections, to editing the stories, I learned five lessons for new editors.

  1. Hold to the Submission Guidelines

I’ve read hundreds of submission guidelines since I first began submitting my work. I try my best to follow those guidelines, but sometimes, I slip up. Once I submitted a flash fiction story to a journal which only publishes creative non-fiction. The editor informed me, kindly and politely, of my misstep and suggested a journal I might try.

So it surprised me when several submissions didn’t follow those guidelines. Many submissions were over or under the 500 – 750-word count limitation, or was a poem, or was clearly a memoir piece. I started yelling at my laptop, “Doesn’t anyone follow directions anymore?” which sometimes scared my old dog sitting at my feet. I gained a better appreciation for editors and their frustrations with submissions.

One writer submitted a strong story about a man encountering a beautiful, but quirky woman on the beach. Their conversation was witty and engaging and the only stumbling block to acceptance was the story’s 1000-word count. I loved the story so much that I took a shot at editing the piece down to 750-words. His response was respectful, Good try but I think the story loses too much at 750; 1000 words is more realistic,” but disappointing. I wished him well and sent him a list of the the top 20 flash fiction journals where he could submit his story. I truly wanted others to read what he’d written.

My advice to writers: pay attention to every detail in the guidelines or your submission will likely not be considered.

  1. Define Acceptance Criteria

The stories accepted met the acceptance criteria established prior to the screening phase of the book project. 1) a well-defined plot 2) strong writing 3) engages the reader from beginning to end.

The 81 stories that didn’t make the cut were rejected for several reasons, the least of which was weak writing. I recall wanting to read more of several stories — like the next 15 chapters. The writing was stellar and sharp, but writing 500 well-written words doesn’t mean you’ve written flash fiction. Some pieces were likely the start of a short story, a scene in a longer novel or novella, but it didn’t have the beginning, middle and end to make it flash fiction.

So, what is flash fiction?

Becky Tuch, the editor of Review Review, explained in one of her posts how ‘deceptively complex’ flash fiction can be.

“Part poetry, part narrative, flash fiction–also known as sudden fiction, micro fiction, short short stories, and quick fiction—is a genre that is deceptively complex. At the same time, writing these short shorts can be incredibly rewarding. Distilling experience into a few pages or, in some cases a few paragraphs, forces writers to pay close attention to every loaded conversation, every cruel action, every tender gesture, and every last syllable in every single word.”

As the editor, I gauged every word, every action written into these short pieces checking for relevance, tightness, connectedness from beginning to end. I asked myself: Is the metaphor used here necessary? Does it tie to the overall theme of the story? Is the writer inserting a metaphor that the character wouldn’t know to include? For example, would a five-year-old child describe a hot sunny day as ‘like lying inside a sun tanning booth?’

If you’d like to read more from Becky’s article, click here: http://www.thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/flash-fiction-whats-it-all-about

  1. Check the Value of Every Word

The third lesson learned ties closely to lesson two.

Every word matters in flash fiction because of its short length.

While editing the anthology, I searched for places where writers used adverbs instead of strong verbs. Or questioned dialogue tags other than ‘said,’ (think: implored, sniffled shouted, screamed, yelled, well, you get my drift.) I’m a strong believer in the ‘invisibility’ of the dialogue tag — don’t call attention to it and consider eliminating it altogether if it’s clear which character is speaking. A reader should focus on the exchange between two characters and gather the tension or suspense (or whatever emotion is) by showing action.

For example, look at the difference in the two variations of the same dialogue.

Dialogue #1

“You never told me you were a man,” Helen shouted loudly.

“I’d thought you knew,” Billy whispered softly.

Dialogue #2

Helen stared at Billy standing naked in the shower. “You never told me you were a man.”

Billy reached for his bathrobe, “I thought you knew.”

In the first version, the writer uses unnecessary adverbs with dialogue tags which weaken the story. The second version gives the reader context with dialogue and no tags, creating a richer scene.

Colorado author, Eleanore D. Trupkiewicz, offers sound advice in her guest post, Keep it Simple: Keys to Realistic Dialogue (Part II) on Writers Digest.

“Beats of action reveal character emotions and set the stage far more effectively than an overdose of adverbs ever will.”

If you’d like to read more from more of Ms. Trupkiewicz’ guest post, click here:

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/keep-it-simple-keys-to-realistic-dialogue-part-ii

  1. Trust Writers to (Mostly) Know Their Stories

Several strong submissions required editing to tighten the writing in certain places. One writer had a terrific story that lead the reader down an unexpected path but in the last paragraph, the story lost its momentum. Our communication about possible changes turned into a delightful exchange when Caren consulted with her fictional protagonist regarding her story which had ended with him saying, “Hmm.”

Here’s what she wrote:

“…I stepped back from the scene for a while and came back and asked, “So Umberto, was that it?”  And he said, to me, “Yes. That was it…Until I heard Genevieve commenting on what had just happened.” I’m not kidding, you, Anne! That’s what Umberto “said” to me! I hadn’t “seen” anyone else in the parking lot until I “asked” Umberto about the ending of his story and Lo and Behold! Another character had shown up! I was surprised but I’m really glad that you inspired me to check back in with Umberto… and Umberto’s glad that I let the story continue a bit further.”

The change Caren made to the ending was brilliant and I truly believe came straight from her fictional character’s mouth.

And though writers know their stories, sometimes they don’t include everything they had in mind. One writer submitted a story about an older jazz musician who returned to the stage for one night. He described the jazz club, the musician, and the indifference of the crowd in such perfect detail that the scene could easily be imagined. But he missed a detail. He never mentioned anyone on stage with the protagonist and then suddenly in the middle of his story, a band appears. His response was telling and underscores the value of a critical eye.

“The entire time I was writing the story, I pictured a full band behind him [the protagonist]. I had several people read the story, including a fellow writer that usually finds my mistakes, and nobody noticed that.”

As an editor, it’s essential to not only look at what’s there, but also to check for what’s missing from the story.

  1. Rejection Really Can Be Subjective

As a writer, I’ve received rejection emails from journals using phrases like, “Unfortunately, this piece isn’t the right fit for us. Please consider us for future submissions.”

I’d learned six months into submitting stories for publication about a rejection wiki that offers examples of rejection letters from hundreds of journals. I discovered that rejection emails are organized in tiers: Standard and Higher Tier.

If interested in reading more, check out the link: http://www.rejectionwiki.com/index.php?title=Literary_Journals_and_Rejections

Until I edited this anthology, I didn’t believe the ‘boilerplate’ language used in rejection emails. What I learned, however, is that well-written flash fiction can be rejected because of the fit. An editor may look across the accepted stories as a whole, once she’s accepted several pieces, and notice the emerging heart of the book. A particular piece really might not fit.

The second sentence in the example rejection above also took on new meaning. Several strong writers whose stories I’d passed on might make it into the next anthology, if I decide to do one.

And perhaps that’s the final lesson I take away from this whole experience — editors really do want to publish good stories. It’s what delights our hearts

Anne at the book launch held on Reading Across America Day, March 2.

Linda Johnson, a member of the writing group I’m in, reading from The Collection.

A full house for book launch of The Collection.

Anne Anthony is a full-time writer living in North Carolina. She holds a Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland and a Masters in Professional Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. She’s been published in the North Carolina Literary Review, Dead Mule School for Southern Literature, Poetry South, Tell Us a Story, The Mused Literary Review, and elsewhere.

In 2017, she was a cast member in the farewell performance of the Raleigh-Durham show Listen to Your Mother, in which she read her essay “In My Bones.” Her flash fiction, “Bathroom Break,” placed third in a Brilliant Flash Fiction themed contest. She is the co-editor of an anthology of flash fiction intended for readers with memory impairments, The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory (March, 2018). She is the owner of Anchala Studios, a micro press based in Chapel Hill, NC which selects projects appealing to broad audiences and which enrich the community.

Check out her book on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Collection-Flash-Fiction-Memory/dp/0692991034/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519046448&sr=8-1&keywords=the+collection+flash+fiction+for+flash+memory

 

 

 

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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