The Practice of Creativity

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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.

 

Tonya Liburd is a speculative fiction writer and poet. Tonya is having a fabulous writing year. She’s had several short stories published and one of her poems was nominated for the Rhysling Award given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA). Her new story, “A Question of Faith” with Book Smugglers Publishing was recently released. [Another win for the Book Smugglers family! ]We’re in some of the same online writing circles and I noticed that I kept seeing her name pop up and her work mentioned. I read her essay, “Adventures in Gaming” in Mosaics: The Independent Women Anthology, and was blown away. The essay explores her experiences as a gamer spanning two decades and highlights the chronic misogyny, racism and homophobia that are endemic to gaming culture. I also am inspired by the fact that Tonya moves between writing speculative poetry and fiction. I wanted to know more about her work and writing practices.

I’m excited to welcome her to The Practice of Creativity.

-You write both speculative fiction and poetry. Can you tell us a little about your work?

Well, my first love is music; and I’ve been told that my writing leans on the literary side, and can be lyrical. I don’t have a favourite piece that I’ve done, because I have a good feeling about several pieces, but I do think the best thing I’ve written, craft-wise, is “Through Dreams She Moves”.  It made the longlist for the Carter V. Cooper (Vanderbilt) short fiction competition in 2015. Author Nisi Shawl uses my first ever published piece, “The Ace Of Knives” – which was reprinted as part of People Of Colour Take Over Fantastic Stories Of The Imagination Magazine – in her workshops to demonstrate “code switching”.  Last year a literary poem of mine, “You Don’t Want to Know Me”, won 4th prize in Ve’ahavta’s 2016 Creative Writing Competition, and this year my poem “The Architect of Bonfires” was nominated for a Rhysling Award. So here’s hoping I keep getting noticed for these things as I work harder on my writing!

-How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?

Ever since I could remember, English has been my best subject. My mother encouraged me to write down things in a journal, so it would improve my writing skills. I remember knowing three things I could be when I grew up: a singer/musician, a writer, or an actor. Well, one of the three panned out!

-You are the Associate Editor of Abyss & Apex Magazine. What do you enjoy about this position? What lessons have you learned about being an editor that you apply to your own writing?

I enjoy finding new voices and pioneering new things – Like I did with Celeste Rita Baker and her story “Name Calling” – and I have learned SO MUCH, thanks to Wendy Delmater (editor and publisher), being so hands on. My learning curve is still happening. I have learned that a lot of my writing was, in first draft and edited by myself, fell into the ‘so close (but no cigar!)’ territory, and I got to see what that looked like, via submissions. I have learned that grabbing an editor’s attention and making everything tight from the get-go is crucial when dealing with the sheer amount of subs they have to deal with; and that’s an important step, learning how to tighten one’s writing. Ask me this time three years ago if I would say I could write flash fiction and I’d laugh right in your face. I wrote LONG. The first thing I seriously sat down to write outside of high school was a horror novel.

-What do you say to yourself on days when the writing feels especially difficult?

I go to friends and seek emotional and moral support, and in this case they will remind me -and I will try and remind myself – that some days are easier than others. But it’s hard sometimes to tell yourself that, and just having that validation outside yourself makes the negative thoughts easier to dismiss and the positive ones harder to.

-What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your e-reader)? What are you reading right now?

Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson, and Hunger by Roxane Gay are on my bookshelf. I’m reading The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco on my kindle right now; so good!

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Keep writing; make it a habit and it’ll come even though you don’t feel “inspired”. Edit, edit and edit some more!

 

Tonya Liburd shares a birthday with Simeon Daniel and Ray Bradbury, which may tell you a little something about her; and while she has an enviable collection of vintage dust bunnies to her credit, her passions are music (someday!) and of course, words. Her poetry has been nominated for the Rhysling award, and her fiction has been longlisted in the 2015 Carter V. Cooper (Vanderbilt)/Exile Short Fiction Competition. Her story “The Ace of Knives” is in the anthology Postscripts to Darkness 6, and is used in Nisi Shawl’s workshops as an example of ‘code switching’. She is the Associate Editor of Abyss & Apex Magazine. Check out her Inspirations and Influences essay about the story, “A Question of Faith” here. You can find her blogging at spiderlilly.com or on Twitter at @somesillywowzer.

 

Hi folks,

Today, I am thrilled to be featured on Graveyard Shift Sisters, a site highlighting Black women’s and women of color’s contribution to the horror and “dark fiction” field. I embrace the term speculative fiction writer and am increasingly embracing the fact that I often write stories that could be labeled ‘”dark fiction” and are in the territory of horror. I was interviewed by the amazing writer, Eden Royce and we went deep talking about creating characters that explore the bonds of friendship and sisterhood during adversity, what scares me (and how those fears fuel my writing), how to stay motivated as a writer and much more. I really enjoyed this interview. It was the first time that I was sent questions ahead of time, answered them and then had a follow-up conversation with the interviewer (Eden), to discuss my answers. Neat process.

http://www.graveyardshiftsisters.com/2017/08/black-women-horror-writers-interview.html

ALSO:

If you’re in North Carolina and close to the Triangle, I’m inviting you to come help me celebrate my first book reading and signing for Reenu-You on Saturday, August 26, 2pm at McIntyre’s Books, Fearrington Village in Pittsboro. I am so excited! I’ll read, share insights about staying inspired on the creative path, take your questions and sign books. There will be yummy refreshments and DOOR PRIZES. I look forward to celebrating this milestone on my writing journey with you.

https://www.fearrington.com/event/michele-berger-reenu-you/

 

Octavia Butler was a visionary science fiction writer who influenced a generation of writers, artists and scholars from the 1970s until her death in 2006. She broke new ground as one of the first African American women writers to achieve critical success in the speculative fiction arena, a field historically dominated by white men. In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction Twelfth Planet Press is publishing 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.

 Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler is available for pre-order and is due out by mid-August. I’m thrilled to be in this collection! I’ve written elsewhere how I almost talked myself out of submitting and why you should never self-reject your work! The lineup of writers in LT, both new and established, is amazing and includes Tara Betts, Nisi Shawl, L Timmel Duchamp, Steven Barnes, K Tempest Bradford, Jewelle Gomez, Bogi Takács,  Sheree Renée Thomas, Aurelius Raines II and many others.

I wanted to know more about the editors of Luminescent Threads, Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, and what they learned from tackling a project of this magnitude. They kindly agreed to a joint interview and I’m delighted to welcome them to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

Senior Editor Alexandra Pierce is editor of the award-winning Letters to Tiptree and co-host of Hugo award-winning feminist SFF podcast Galactic Suburbia alongside Alisa Krasnostein and Tansy Rayner Roberts. She is also a part-time teacher, blogger, book reviewer and columnist for Tor.com.

Editor Mimi Mondal was born in Calcutta, India. She is a 2015 recipient of the Octavia E Butler Memorial Scholarship at the Clarion West Writing Workshop and the Poetry with Pakriti Prize in 2010. Her stories, poetry and social commentary have appeared in The Book Smugglers, Daily Science Fiction, Podcastle, Scroll.in, Muse India, Kindle Magazine, among other venues.

 

– Tell us about your new book. What inspired this project?

Alex: For me it was a desire to hear from people who have been inspired in different ways by Octavia Butler, as well as having the opportunity to get her name and reputation out to a wide audience. Butler was an amazing author and a remarkable person, in terms of how she has influenced writers and readers in lots of different circumstances. I wanted to help to celebrate that.

Mimi: I came in later into the project as the replacement for another editor, so the concept wasn’t mine. I had been the Octavia Butler Scholar to the Clarion West in 2015, so when someone asked me whether I’d be interested in co-editing an anthology of readers’ letters to Octavia Butler, I was immediately excited, even though socially and emotionally it wasn’t the best time for me to take up a new project. I wasn’t acquainted with the team but I admired their work on Letters to Tiptree, which assured me that this was a book I would enjoy being part of.

– How have you been influenced by Octavia Butler’s work?

Alex: I’ve been challenged by the way she thinks about power and consent and family. Power and consent are huge parts of many of her books, and she’s usually not presenting a straightforward argument about them. Family, too, is often complicated in her novels, and I’ve been intrigued to think about what it means to have a family, to be a family.

Mimi: I grew up in India, where I had practically never heard of Octavia Butler.

The most powerful thing I probably learned from her work is that weird, complex, imaginative, speculative things don’t only happen in white-people stories. For a long time my reading included only realist fiction by writers of color, and all the speculative, dystopian, space, superhero, monster, apocalypse stories seemed to be written by white people, featuring white people, for other white people. It made me feel awkward to even write those stories, because the terrain just didn’t feel mine. Butler’s work, to a large extent, helped me break out of that painful narrowness of perspective.

– What did you learn about yourselves as editors while working on Luminescent Threads?

Alex: I learned that I love helping people to express themselves! And I really like bringing different thoughts and perspectives together to present something greater than the indivisible pieces.

Mimi: I learned that people’s words can both make me cry and make me stronger. As an immigrant student in the United States, these past few months haven’t been kind to me. Editing is what I do for a living, but never have been so strongly moved by a book I edited.

– What’s one thing you wish more writers understood about submitting work for an anthology?

Alex: That guidelines are there for a reason! But also in terms of this project that neither Mimi nor I were doing this as an actual job; we both do other things in real life, as it were, and the editing is additional.

Mimi: I agree! When you’re writing for a specific call for submissions, make sure your work fits their guidelines, and you submit and communicate with the publication in the way they require. The speculative fiction community is far more informal than many other artistic communities. Everyone’s in it because they love the stuff. But that lack of a strictly imposed hierarchy shouldn’t mean that anything goes. You may have met or hung out with the editor(s) at a convention, but that doesn’t make you exempt of the word limit, deadline or theme they have put down for the anthology.

– What are some exciting trends in speculative fiction that you see in terms of diversity and representation?

Alex: the very existence of an understanding of the need of diversity is exciting at the moment. That people are becoming more vocal in speaking out about occasions when the importance of diversity clearly hasn’t been considered.

Mimi: The fact that I am here at all is something I find exciting. Growing up in India, I always wanted to be a writer but never knew if it was possible, because I don’t come from the kind of background writers traditionally came from back then, and the stories of the only kind of people I knew didn’t end up in books. I grew up reading pretty much only white male writers, and right now I probably read one white male writer a year, if that. There are so many other stories that are way more fun to read! I love it that this has come to be so, and I love it that I’m living in these times.

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Alex: Pay attention to the guidelines and communicate clearly with your editor!

Mimi: “Write a little bit every day, even if you’re not in the mood.” is a wonderfully effective tip that, unfortunately, I don’t follow. It has improved my writing exponentially in a very short time every time I’ve managed to do it for short periods, though, so maybe it’s worth passing on!

 

Alexandra Pierce is an editor, blogger and book reviewer. Connect with her at http://www. randomalex.net   Twitter: @randomisalex

Mimi Mondal is a writer from India, and the Poetry and Reprints Editor of Uncanny Magazine. Connect with her at: www.mimimondal.com   Twitter: @Miminality

 

 

 

 

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Besides being published by Book Smugglers Publishing, I have found that another wonderful perk has been discovering other fantastic authors in the BSP family. One of them is Dianna Gunn. In May, I discovered Diana’s novella, Keeper of the Dawn. Dianna’s was the first novella released in the Book Smugglers Novella Initiative. I loved it and also wrote a review of it. Dianna and I have many overlapping interests and I have enjoyed getting to know her work.

Dianna Gunn is a freelance writer by day and a fantasy author by night. She blogs about writing, creativity and books at http://www.thedabbler.ca.

I’m delighted to welcome Dianna Gunn to The Practice of Creativity.

– Tell us about your recent novella, Keeper of the Dawn. What are you hoping readers will connect to in this story? 

Let me start by sharing the blurb:

Sometimes failure is just the beginning

All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.

From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.

Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.

Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.

Keeper of the Dawn is a tale of new beginnings, second chances, and the endurance of hope.

# # #

If there’s any one thing I want readers to connect with, it’s the idea that the path to success is rarely straight forward. I also hope Keeper of the Dawn will serve as a reminder that we all deserve love, even—especially—if we have to seek it outside the bounds of “normal” relationships.

-How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?

I always loved telling stories—I used to read to my stuffed animals—but I didn’t realize “writer” was a valid career path until JK Rowling made a lot of money. I was quickly disillusioned about making my own fortune, but I’ve never let anyone dissuade me from the idea that I can’t make it a career.

You manage to pack a lot into your day! You’re a blogger and freelance writer, and you’re working on a non-fiction book. How do these activities support your creative work?

Being a freelance writer by day comes with its own set of challenges, but it also has special advantages. The flexibility of my schedule means that if I’m on a roll, I can work on my fiction WIP for several days, and do my freelance work at the absolute last minute.

On the other hand, if I’m struggling with my fiction, I always have something else to do.

Also, I’m writing that non-fiction book VERY SLOWLY and blogging large parts of it. Some of it is also reworked from blog posts I wrote 2-3 years ago, allowing me to write the book efficiently. Albeit still slowly, because fiction is my true love.

-In your ‘Inspirations and Influences’ essay for Book Smugglers, you mentioned that you were writing a parody novel that you eventually abandoned, but kept Lai as a character. What allowed you to abandon that project and dive deeply into Lai and build a story around her?

Hahaha, I never had a problem abandoning projects. Which might sound strange if you know that I’ve also been working on my full length novel, Moonshadow’s Guardian, for 9 years, but I have happily thrown away dozens of other manuscripts. And I always keep the notes so I can reuse ideas in new stories.

-What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your e-reader)? What are you reading right now?

I finished reading Cog and the Steel Tower by W.E. Larson last night, so now I have to pick a new book. Which is going to be tough, because I picked up the LGBT Story Bundle a couple weeks ago and I’ve also got several print books friends loaned me…

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Don’t take criticism of your stories personally, and ignore anyone that uses flaws in your fiction to attack you as a person. I know it doesn’t FEEL like our books are separate from us, but they are. We should treat them that way.

 

When she isn’t helping her clients bring their dreams to life, Dianna can be found busily working on her own dream of being a successful fantasy author. Her first YA fantasy novella, Keeper of the Dawn, came out on April 18th, 2017.  She has several other novellas and novels in the works, and hopes to announce a second release date soon.

You can also follow her on Twitter @DiannaLGunn or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dlgunnauthor/.

 

I admit it. Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of Wonder Woman. I didn’t read DC comics and wasn’t in love with the television show. Some of this was due to the fact that my younger sister, Melissa, adored WW. And, of course, the unwritten rules are that older siblings can’t ever like what the younger ones do. It’s just not cool.

Plus, I saved all my girl crush energy for The Bionic Woman, who although is not a classic superhero, captured my imagination with her brute strength, grace, style and humor. And I enjoyed the show’s sci-fi theme. Plus, she wore real clothes while she kicked butt. I also always believed that in a fight, the Bionic Women could totally take Wonder Woman. I still have my first Bionic Woman doll, although she is missing a foot!

So, all this is to say that I was not expecting to completely fall head over heels for the new WW movie. Tim and I went to see it this week and we both really enjoyed it. As many critics have already pointed out, the film subverts some of the taken for granted superhero themes. It is a mother and daughter story, a collective empowerment story, an ensemble story and a female coming of age story, all rolled into one.

The action in the first twenty minutes of the movie is absolutely thrilling. It is thrilling to see women, strong women, stand up for what they believe in and defend themselves. Usually female viewers watching action adventure and/or superhero films have to contort themselves into identifying with the strength and perspective of the male lead characters. It was nice to not have to do that with WW. I could go again just to see the first fight scene, it is that well-choreographed! It’s not that we haven’t seen kick-ass heroines before, but WW feels different. The kick-ass heroines are usually singular, surrounded by a male team and often not the leaders of the team. And, they sometimes apologize or are ambivalent about being strong. Not the case for WW.

 

Diana isn’t an anti-hero, she is compassionate and becomes wise by the end of the film. Yes, she’s gorgeous (and at times I found myself wondering why all the Amazons were lacking any body hair), but the camera shots and visual cues about the actress’s body weren’t gratuitous.

Maybe WW is striking such a powerful chord in the US because as many of us believe, collectively women have recently suffered some pretty significant cultural, political and legal setbacks. Those of us fighting and advocating for gender equity need continued courage. And, of course, the fact that the film was directed by a woman is another milestone.

The Amazon theme also holds a special place in my heart as I have an anthology, titled Amazons edited by Jessica Salmonson in 1979, that a male friend gave to me in college. The writers in the collection reimagine an “amazon heritage” using some of the historical record to tell new stories. I was so inspired by this book that a few months later, I coaxed some to friends to help me make an Amazon costume for a Halloween party. That book turned me on to ‘feminist science fiction’ in college which led me to Ursula Le Guin, Marge Piercy, Octavia Butler, many others and then my own writing path.

I’m hopeful that with the release of WW, young girls and boys can find awe in and enthusiasm for a new superhero.

I hope someone I know will throw a Halloween party this year, so I can start working on an Amazon costume!

*this post was inspired by writer, P.K. Tyler’s Facebook post on WW.

Those are my thoughts. Have you seen the film? What’s your take on it?

 

Over the next few months, I’ll share reviews about the incredible authors I’m reading in the Book Smugglers Publishing family. I am truly honored to have found a press that is publishing fantastic authors and that values diverse and underrepresented voices in speculative fiction. I’m glad to be in their family! I am enjoying reading so many writers that are new to me. I just finished the novella, Keeper of the Dawn, by Dianna Gunn. Dianna’s was the first novella released in the Book Smugglers Novella Initiative. Dianna will also join us here for an Author Q&A during the summer.

 

 

REVIEW

Have you ever wanted something so badly, trained for it, dreamed about it, devoted yourself to it and then it got snatched away? How does one recover when this happens? These questions swirl around Lai, the main character in Keeper of the Dawn. The story begins when she is a young girl training to become a priestess. The training is grueling and can prove fatal. In her society there can be only one priestess and because of her heritage (her grandmother and mother were priestesses), people assume it will be her.

The story is an outer journey as Lai struggles to find a way to serve her goddesses when all looks lost and she faces many obstacles. It is also a great inner journey as Lai’s growth involves exploring her values, believing in herself and being vulnerable.

Keeper of the Dawn is set in a thoughtfully designed and complex second world fantasy. I love this culture and her portrayal of strong and complex heroines. The writing is detailed, vivid and compelling. Her writing reminds me of the work of Elizabeth Moon.  Another thing that I think is really cool and interesting is the way that Gunn explores asexuality and the complexity of relationships. This, I think, is a relatively new area of character exploration in young adult fantasy.

Ms. Gunn is a talented writer. I think most fantasy readers will find this story engaging. I definitely want to read more of her work!

Read her her essay on inspirations and influences for Keeper of the Dawn.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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