The Practice of Creativity

I had an awesome cover reveal yesterday at Black Girl Nerds for “Reenu-You” my new sci-fi novella. Today Reenu-You is launched!

What if a visit to the salon could kill you? What if a hair product harbored a deadly virus? My novella is about viruses, the politics of beauty and unlikely female heroes. It’s got a thriller and apocalyptic feel.

Kat, an out of work ski instructor, just wants to pack up her dead mother’s things, leave New York City and return to Aspen. Constancia, a talented but troubled young woman, just wants to start her first semester of college. They both use a new hair product called “Reenu-You”. Within days, along with other women of color, they find themselves covered in purple scab-like legions— a rash that pulses, oozes, and spreads in spiral patterns. They are at the epicenter of a mysterious virus spreading throughout the city. Is it corporate malfeasance or an orchestrated plot to kill minority women? These unlikely heroines are forced to confront their deepest fears to save themselves and others.

 

Want to check this novella out? Of course you do! My publisher is hosting a giveaway on their site. Just go here and enter to win! While there check out a snippet of the essay that I wrote for their ‘Inspirations and Influences’ section. The full essay is included with the e-book!

COVER REVEAL: I have been DYING to share this news with you. My new sci-fi novella, “Reenu-You” is being released this week. Last fall, I had the incredible good fortune of my novella being selected as one of the four to be published this year by the AWESOME Book Smugglers Publishing. They are a small (but mighty in spirit) press interested in all things speculative fiction and with a real commitment to diversity and feminism. Since December, I have been knee-deep in edits, proofs and marketing. Whew! I will post more about that process soon.

I am THRILLED that Black Girl Nerds is doing an exclusive cover reveal today!

Reenu-You is a sci-fi thriller that explores what happens when a mysterious virus is transmitted through a “natural” hair product. Set in the 1990s, the novella explores race, gender, the politics of beauty and corporate conspiracy. Female friendships, unlikely heroines and hair—what more could you want?

Would you consider visiting the Black Girl Nerds website and possibly leaving a comment? The more traffic they get, the more they are encouraged to promote this cover reveal. TY!

Watch this space for more Reenu-You news soon!

This is the way I feel today!

This year, I have not done right by National Poetry Month. I have not had an opportunity to feature a single poet. I’m correcting that today. I’m welcoming back Mary L. Barnard, a friend and fabulous poet. She’s been writing poetry for a long time and I’ve learned much from her. I love the commitment that she has had for many years of writing a poem during the weekend and sending it out to her community. The poem below was published in the 2012 collection, Hot Summer Nights: a Collection of Erotic Poetry & Prose.

I’m delighted to welcome back Mary L. Barnard to The Practice of Creativity.

SURE PITCH, TRUE ARC

Then, when he came to her, he was Broken Man,
told her the prophecy of the New Goddess
who foretold twelve women waiting for
a man, if he be good and constant, would sire
with them the New Disciples between moonrise
and moonset on the night of the winter solstice.

If a man be eaten by twin worms of lust and harm,
the Goddess will know and the women will turn
from the face of ill-placed trust.

The man who has spent himself on women who
cuckold him will have his powers taken away.

She, unaware of any goddess, played horseshoes
with men and learned their ways as sportsmen.
Her sure pitch, true arc admired, imitated.
It was rumored that the clink against the stake
of her bronze horseshoes resounded in mountains
beyond the pit.

She met Broken Man when relations were still
new to her.  As he told her about the New Goddess,
she mused on the sound of his voice, which entered
her ear as the sound of a bird foreign yet welcome
in her yard.

She dreamed of sitting alone in the cloud forest
of Ecuador where the club-winged manikin
ticks and tings on the bones of his wings
knocking together as bow on violin
to make a sound alluring to all females.

She mused, touched him with her finger
on a place he had hidden from everyone.  He did not
push her hand away.  The eyes that looked into his
were dark hazel, almost the same color as his own.

Then she spoke, How does one come to be so wounded?

He said Some day I will tell you how I came to be
so wounded. 
The words on his tongue tasted bitter
and sour in turns but when he kissed her the friction
of their tongues sparked an electrical charge
whose current surged deep in both their bodies.

With her he reclaimed his power – he did not know
his true power until then – and their nights
were mutual and long.  She waited, as twelve
women might, for the good and constant in him,
for the answer to her question.

The New Goddess knew how it would end.  Broken Man
caught her notice as he slipped his net of shimmering
he-promises over the horseshoe woman as she slept.

Goddess began to plan a place for him in a desert
where his life would be golden:  gold sun, red-gold sand,
solid gold money, golden reputation, horseshoes made
of gold – a metal too soft for the rigors of the stake.

Mary L. Barnard

 

Mary L. Barnard, a Chathamite forever, plans to write poems from her little acre as long as …
In May 2013 she received a Certificate in Creative Writing from Central Carolina Community College’s (CCCC) Creative Writing Program. She was part of the inaugural class.

 

If you’re a writer, you’ve heard the term ‘writer’s block’. Writer’s block is an umbrella term symbolizing a variety of challenges that many writers face. Some writers will say they have writer’s block when they are stuck on a particular project. They are perhaps writing, but they can’t seem to make progress on their project. They don’t know what line comes next, or how to get a scene working.

Other times people use writer’s block to mean that all writing in their life has ceased. They avoid the page for a time and feel unable to write anything creative.

Many books have been written about writer’s block. They tend to fall into two camps: 1) writer’s block doesn’t exist-it’s a figment of one’s imagination and the remedy is to sit down and write. 2) writer’s block is real and requires deep introspection.

Heloise Jones’s new book, Writer’s Block Myth: A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom offers a different perspective:

A core theme in the book is that writers are all different. It is important to find ways of writing that work for you.

Writer’s block is real, but it’s not what we think it is. And that’s where the myth lies.

Writers block is a symptom, not a pathology. What happens on the page is tied to what’s inside us (how we assign value and give meaning to our work, ourselves, and our process) and links to something in our life in the real world that we can shift so writing flows. Or, in the least, see what flows as something we can value. It’s not about Doing, as much as about perspective.

Heloise Jones is an author, speaker, and mentor. She assists writers and creatives getting to the heart of what they need to move forward & complete their projects. Her background includes years of study in craft, process, & the publishing industry + fields of wisdom and experience from a host of supportive holistic tools.

I’ve known Heloise through our participation in online writing communities. When I heard that Heloise was offering a new take on an age old topic, I couldn’t wait to see if she would be a guest here.

I am delighted to welcome Heloise Jones to The Practice of Creativity.

Tell us about your recent book, The Writer’s Block Myth. What are you hoping this book will provide readers?

The subtitle, “A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom,” just about says it all. A guide minus shaming or hard rules written for people living in the real world. It grew out of hundreds of hours of conversations and my work with writers and creatives, as well as interview-conversations conducted with writers of all levels, interests, and experience.

The book includes the voices of other writers, plus examples and short, easy, effective exercises to help you move forward in your creative life.  It’s a book to refer back to, because no matter how much we know, we get derailed and need support.

My hope is readers find and embrace the ways that work best for them in creating a satisfying life, as well as written works. That they feel freer in the process, and know they have a supportive guide while they do it.

You discuss the concept of permission slips for writers. What is a permission slip and why is it helpful for writers to use them?

Permission slips are like hall passes. They provide passage through territory that may hold restrictions in our minds. We live in a loud world that describes success, and iterates definitive approaches to writing. That lists ways to judge ourselves and accomplishments good/bad/right/wrong. Permission slips are our greenlights and go-aheads to take time to write in the ways that work best for us when resistance and challenges come up. This includes those inside you (doubt, guilt, feeling selfish or like you’re doing ‘it’ wrong, not writing enough, are a failure, etc.), and outside you (validation, acceptance, understanding, etc.).  All the loaded issues for people living with relationships, obligations, and lifetimes of shoulds and oughts. Not to mention, conflicting desires.

Permission slips, or green lights, are empowerment tools our brains can respond to because they come from outside us. Leave us only to decide how to use them, or not.

What did you learn about yourself as a writer while working on The Writer’s Block Myth?

I learned how much the economy of online writing and reading has affected my writing Voice. When writing fiction and poetry, my process is longhand, pen to paper, for rough drafts. When writing essays and nonfiction, it’s fingers to keyboard from get-go. The past two years I’ve focused on my blogs. And though my ‘Getting to Wise. A Writer’s Life’ blog is a journal about navigating life, I compose on the computer. I had to write the entire manuscript of The Writer’s Block Myth twice to shift into the Voice that works as well on paper as online.

While crafting your book, did you look to other writing books as models for inspiration, support or even for what not to do? If yes, what were they? If no, where do you turn for writing inspiration?

This is such an interesting question because I read like a writer, and go to others’ written works to learn craft. For instance, I read Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto to learn how to effectively transition different POVs within scenes. But I don’t go to others’ books for process.

I swiftly read blogs, articles, interviews, and short essays, glean nuggets. I’m intuitive and curious, so if it sticks, I file it whether I agree with what it says or not. It’s a daily practice, and where I get inspiration and learn to think bigger. Two books were recommended to me as I was writing The Writer’s Block Myth. I approached the material in them the same way.

I want to share something useful for me as I gathered material. Once I knew what the book would be, I trusted the process. I hung one of those nice folded bags of thick paper with fancy cord handles you get from a boutique on a door. It was one I enjoyed gazing upon that also contained a message for my Soul: a lovely Hawaiian print in neutrals with the words ‘hana hou.’ Hana hou means encore or one more time in Hawaiian. I could’ve used anything. A basket, box, or whatever. The important points were 1) it was visible, reminding me of my intention, and 2) accessible. I put everything I came across in the bag without editing or culling – quotes, articles, blogs, paragraphs, Facebook posts. When it came time to write, I sorted what I’d collected over the months to the sections in the book. I applied the same sorting process to the interviews I conducted as research.

What’s your next for you? What are you working on?

Developing workshops and retreats that incorporate the principles in the book. Creating communities where writers write together, and connect with others who understand what they do. I believe the experience while in a group or on retreat is as important as words on the page. That creatives need environments which nurture and nourish our process, as well as improve our craft. Plus, I love talking about writing and working with other creatives.

For my own writing practice, I’m back to writing fiction whenever I can, which is joy for me. . .as vol. 2 of The Writer’s Block Myth perks.

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

Trust the process. Let go in the story you’re telling, and let go of the way you intend to tell it. Open to what might be there you hadn’t thought about before you go into edits. Think of your writing as a dance you’re doing, and you’re expanding the dance floor. You’ll be a stronger writer, and it will help you feel freer inside. This includes the process of editing, too. But that’s another conversation.

Thank you for having me.

Heloise Jones assists writers and creatives getting to the heart of what they need to move forward & complete their projects. Her background includes years of study in craft, process, & the publishing industry + fields of wisdom and experience from a host of supportive holistic tools. Most importantly, she knows what getting past stuck and lasting creative freedom mean, and all the ways writers and creatives get waylaid.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Go visit her: http://www.heloisejones.com/

 

Spring is blooming with new publications! At the end of the year, I usually post a tally of how many places I’ve submitted and what’s been accepted. I was so busy in December, I didn’t get a chance to do it, so here it is now:

2016 Tally: I submitted work to 57 places (a few residencies, anthologies, magazines, contests, etc.). In 2015, I submitted to 34 places. So although I didn’t quite double my submission rate, I’m pretty proud of my output. That’s roughly three submissions a month, though I tend to submit in batches.

Last year a poem, a reprint, 2 flash pieces, a short story and a novella (big news to be announced soon!) were accepted for publication. Everything is out except the novella. Also, with more than half of the submissions, I received personal rejection letters encouraging me to submit again. Another reason why it is important to submit work is that you have the opportunity to develop a relationship with editors.

My flash fiction story, “The Lineup” is now up at the wonderful online magazine 100 Word Story.

I never thought I could write anything under 10,000 words (maybe a poem every once and awhile). But, I started studying flash fiction and had some incredible teachers along the way. The Lineup is the shortest story I have written thus far. Warning, writing flash fiction can be addicting!

Also, Grant Faulkner is one of the creators behind National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and also the founder of 100wordstory, a great site for micro fiction. Thought you might enjoy his tiny essay about writing tiny stories.

It’s so easy to talk ourselves out of submitting our work. Rejection is painful. Even though I am a coach and a creative writer, I, too, find ways to ‘self-reject’ my work. It’s never a good idea. Always get your work under review, submitted, in the pile, seen. It’s a simple fact that if we creatives want to have an audience, someone has to read, see, or hear and experience our work. The only way we can do that is to submit our work to others.

In January, I taught a workshop called ‘Charting Your Path to Publication: Tips, Techniques and Lessons for Writers.’ An amazing group of writers came out to learn how to beat the odds of rejection when submitting to journals, magazines, etc. We talked about strategies to submit our work, the courage to send it out and the perseverance to keep going in the face of rejection.

I shared how inspired I was by a great interview with the writer Laurence MacNaughton on Mur Lafferty’s “I Should Be Writing” podcast. He shared that he struggled for many many years getting his fiction published. He had many cardboard boxes filled with rejection letters. When he moved into a new home, he decided to open up those boxes and count his rejection letters.

He counted and stacked up 100, 200, and 300 rejection letters. As I listened to the story, I held my breath. So many questions ran through my mind. How many did he have? Where was he going to stop? How many rejection letters did I have a decade ago? He kept on counting and found himself at 500, 600, and then 800 rejections. He stopped when he reached a 1000 rejection letters. He stopped counting them even though he had more letters! He felt so bad about it that he stopped temporarily writing. He felt like anyone who could amass 1000 rejection letters should not write.

He said that that not writing was really hard and that he soon came to the realization that writing was essential to his mission and purpose on the planet. It’s what gave him joy. He decided to write, no matter whether he was published or not. He kept submitting his work and soon after that sold one of his novels. He’s now a full-time writer.

I was very moved by this story as it reminds us that all we can control is what we send out and although we will inevitably get rejected, we have to submit our work. And, we have to find joy in the writing itself, no matter what the outcome. As Laurence says, “Rejections mean you are doing what you need to do, you just need to keep going.”

Recently, I almost talked myself out of submitting work.  Last fall, I saw this call:

Octavia Estelle Butler was born on 22 June, 1947, and died in 2006. In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday in 2017, and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction, and African-American literature more generally, Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a selection of letters and essays written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans.

I got goose bumps reading this call. Octavia Butler is one of my favorite authors. I teach her work and her nonfiction essay, “Positive Obsession” is one that I credit for inspiration in pursuing my writing life.

I put it on my calendar to submit, but as the deadline approached, I found myself saying:

“Every prominent speculative fiction writer is going to submit something—I can’t compete.”

“I want to write about the impact of her nonfiction on me and her use of affirmations to boost her confidence. The editors probably won’t be interested in that.”

And on…

I was about to talk myself right out of submitting due to fear. I was going to self-reject. Thank goodness a writing friend messaged me with the link and said, “Hey, I know you’re a Butler fan, you’re submitting to this right?’

That little encouragement got me in gear. I decided to write the essay. I told myself, if it gets rejected, I can pitch to the speculative fiction magazine. Someone could want this essay.

I sent it off, pleased with the essay, but not expecting anything.

I’m thrilled to say that my essay WILL appear in the anthology. I am so honored to be in this collection. See details below.

Always give others a chance to evaluate your work. Never self-reject!

We are excited to announce the contributors of original letters and essays for Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler. 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. Essays include original pieces about Butler’s short story “Bloodchild” and whether we should respect Butler’s wishes about not reprinting certain works. All of these original pieces show the place that Octavia Butler had, has, and will continue to have in the lives of modern writers, editors, critics and fans. Our contributors include:

Rasha Abdulhadi
Raffaella Baccolini
Moya Bailey
Steven Barnes
Michele Tracy Berger
Tara Betts
Lisa Bennett Bolekaja
Mary Elizabeth Burroughs
K Tempest Bradford
Cassandra Brennan
Jennifer Marie Brissett
Stephanie Burgis
Christopher Caldwell
Gerry Canavan
Joyce Chng
Indra Das
L Timmel Duchamp
Sophia Echavarria
Tuere TS Ganges
Stephen R Gold
Jewelle Gomez
Kate Gordon
Rebecca J Holden
Tiara Janté
Valjeanne Jeffers
Alex Jennings
Alaya Dawn Johnson
Kathleen Kayembe
Hunter Liguore
Karen Lord
ZM Quỳnh
Asata Radcliffe
Aurelius Raines II
Cat Rambo
Nisi Shawl
Jeremy Sim
Amanda Emily Smith
Cat Sparks
Elizabeth Stephens
Rachel Swirsky
Bogi Takács
Sheree Renée Thomas
Jeffrey Allen Tucker
Brenda Tyrrell
Paul Weimer
Ben H Winters
K Ceres Wright
Hoda Zaki

Luminescent Threads will also include reprints of articles that have appeared in various forums, like SF Studies, exploring different aspects of Butler’s work.

Luminescent Threads will be published by Twelfth Planet Press in June 2017.

 

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L.C. Fiore’s writing inspires many and has earned him a dedicated fan base. He is an award-winner writer known to tackle tough subjects including domestic terrorism, immigration and most recently the unsettling 19th century history of America’s treatment of indigenous communities.

Critics and fans are raving about Fiore’s latest novel The Last Great American Magic, recently named Novel of the Year by Underground Book Reviews. This novel follows the great Shawnee warrior Tecumseh, as he struggles with encroaching settlers. Epic in scope, it is a compelling blend of historical fiction infused with magical realism.

Fiore is not a stranger to recognition and awards. His debut novel, Green Gospel (Livingston Press), was named First Runner-Up in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards (General Fiction); short-listed for the Balcones Fiction Prize; and long-listed for the Crook’s Corner Book Prize. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Michigan Quarterly Review, New South, The Ottawa Object, and storySouth, among many others, and has been anthologized in Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short Short Stories (Persea Books) and Tattoos (Main Street Rag).

I met L.C., last year, when I joined the board of the North Carolina Writers’ Network (NCWN). L.C. is the communications director of the NCWN. The NCWN is a nonprofit literary organization that serves writers at every stage of development through programs that offer opportunities for professional growth in skills and insight. I’m passionate about the work of NCWN. The expertise, camaraderie and mentoring that I have received as a NCWN member has been invaluable in helping me develop my writing craft and negotiate the ever changing field of publishing.

We discovered that we both enjoyed reading and writing speculative fiction. I picked up The Last Great American Magic after hearing several people praising it. I haven’t read much historical fiction and initially thought that my partner Tim would most likely read it. Tim and I often read books aloud to each other at night. I was hooked by the first paragraph! The characters are so vividly rendered and Fiore’s prose is so well-crafted, you want to linger on each page. It is a stellar and deeply satisfying read.

I wanted to know more about how he was able to bring Tecumseh’s story to life.

It’s is my distinct pleasure to welcome L.C. Fiore to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

Tell us about your new novel, The Last Great American Magic. What inspired it and why did you want to write this book?

It’s an amazing story that has captured my imagination since the first time I heard it, as a child. The historical Tecumseh and his brother, who was known as The Prophet, came very close to assembling a confederacy of Native American tribes that might have beaten back the advance of white settlers and made this country an utterly different place than it is today. History, though, as they say, is written by the winners. I felt like this story—which has all the thrilling elements of frontier adventure, as well mythical and magical elements that ebb and swell as The Prophet builds his nativist movement—is one that should be more widely known. People tend to think of Tecumseh as a company that makes tractor parts. Well, he and his brother—in fact every Shawnee—deserves to be remembered for a whole lot more than that.

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

Honestly, I remember filling up ruled notebooks with drawn cartoons, before I could even write. So, I’ve always been compelled to tell stories. It’s sort of scary when I think about how old I am, and realize I was doing the exact same thing when I was four or five years old. That’s a long time to work on one’s craft. I should be better than I am!

What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching the history of Tecumseh, a leader of the Shawnee nation, a character that undergirds this novel?

The character who kept threatening to steal every scene she was in was Rebecca Galloway, the daughter of a Kentucky judge whose love affair with Tecumseh (spoiler alert!) spanned years and years. She was educated, strong-willed, and open-minded in a time when there were very few opportunities for women. It was not an easy lifestyle on the American frontier. You had to be tough, and she was. But that toughness had an intellectual side: she taught Tecumseh to read and write. A character like that—a tomboy with no shortage of parlor-room feminine wiles—was fun to research and to write.

Is there something you want to say about risk-taking in your writing? You have a penchant for writing about very different types of people and communities.

Indeed. I’ve written about Muslim immigrants, working-class African-Americans, women, children, and rich, white men. The Last Great American Magic, of course, is written entirely from the perspective of a member of the Shawnee tribe, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I’ve never thought of writing about people different from me as particularly “risky.” As soon as a writer starts worrying about questions of permission, we’ve introduced doubt into the creative process, and as authors, we can’t afford any more doubt! As writers, our job is to create art honestly; and truthfully; and by avoiding stereotypes, tropes, and clichés; and in the process hopefully exhibit some mastery over our craft. Do I wish the publishing world featured more underrepresented writers? Hell yes.

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

I’m listening to Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire on audiobook, and reading Owen Duffy’s The Artichoke Queen. Somewhat guiltily, I’m also reading Bloodline, a Star Wars novel by Claudia Gray, which follows Princess Leia and fills in the gap between movies VI and VII.  I find I just love spending time in that universe.

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

The one thing no one ever really taught me, which took me years to learn, is that revision is the most important aspect of the writing process. Revision is not just checking to make sure everything is spelled correctly, or that you’ve used proper grammar. Revision also entails wholly re-imagining the way your book or story is constructed. That means exploding chapters, moving chapters around, consolidating characters, and much more. I find that usually, after my “first draft” (although there again, who counts drafts in real life?), whatever I’m working on usually sustains one, if not two, macro revisions, where I tear the manuscript down to the studs and rebuild. Why does no one teach revision? Perhaps because the workshop setting is a very poor environment for learning what it actually takes to be a writer, because there simply isn’t enough time to allow for the deep kind of revision that excellence requires. But extensive, substantive revision separates would-be writers from the pros.

L.C. Fiore is award-winning short-story writer and editor, his work has also appeared on NPR, TriQuarterly Review, The Good Men Project, and in various baseball publications. He is the communications director for the North Carolina Writers’ Network and lives in Chapel Hill, NC, with his wife and daughter.

Find out more about him and his work here.

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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