The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘African American authors

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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One of the writing highlights of the year for me was traveling to the State of Black Science Fiction Conference in June. The SOBSFC brought together creators from different mediums (e.g. filmmakers, comic book artists, writers, producers, scholars, etc.,) to converge, discuss and share about the world of sci-fi and the Black experience over the past two centuries. There were panels on everything from Afrofuturism in Arts and Culture to Black Southern Folklore in Horror Literature. It was a mind-blowing experience.

I got a chance to hear and meet new authors. One of these authors was Gerald L. Coleman. I first saw him on the panel, ‘The Pinnacles and Pitfalls of Self/Small Publishing’ talking about being a poet and speculative fiction writer. He also spoke about how important it was for writers of color to value their work and find audiences for their work outside of (or in addition to) what mainstream publishers are willing to publish.

I was intrigued by his ability to write both poetry and speculative fiction, so I spoke with him the next day, at his table. After an engaging conversation, I knew I wanted to invite him to the blog to inspire us and share his writing wisdom.

geraldcoleman

Gerald Coleman is a philosopher, theologian, poet and author. His most recent poetry appears in, Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture Issue 13 (University of Kentucky Press), the anthology Drawn to Marvel: Poems From The Comic Books (Minor Arcana Press), and Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel Journal Vol. 18. He is also the author of the epic fantasy novel When Night Falls: Book One of The Three Gifts and poetry collections, the road is long and falling to earth. He is a co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets.

I’m delighted to welcome Gerald L. Coleman to The Practice of Creativity.

-Tell us about your recent book, When Night Falls. Why did you want to write this book?

whennightfalls

 

When Night Falls, in fact the entire Three Gifts Series, is my homage to the genre I love the most. Fantasy, and specifically Epic Fantasy, has been my favorite source of reading material since I left comic books and entered the world of literature. Now, I enjoy philosophy and theology immensely, seeing as how those were my main areas of interest in undergrad and graduate school. But there is nothing quite like epic fantasy. I first read Tolkein at the age of twelve and never turned back. Swords, magic, dragons, and heroes on an epic quest have entertained me for hours and hours. While other people were reading Pride and Prejudice, I was reading Elric of Melniboné. While they were reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I was reading Dragonriders or Pern. While my friends were deeply entrenched in A Tale of Two Cities, I was flipping the pages of The Faded Sun Trilogy. Now, don’t get me wrong, as an English and Philosophy double-major at the University of Kentucky, I had to read all that English and American Lit too. But I always made time to read Science Fiction and Fantasy. I knew by high school that I wanted to write. By college I knew I wanted to write in my favorite genre. But what made me want to write this particular epic fantasy series, with these characters, is all about what was missing while I was reading all that SF&F from the time I was a kid. And do you know what was missing in Middle Earth, Melniboné, Kutath, and every other SF&F setting? I was. Now, I don’t mean me specifically. I mean characters who looked like me. African Americans were, generally, non-existent in science fiction and fantasy. We weren’t in the ancient past, the far flung future, or the speculative imaginations of the writers and readers of the genre. It was as if we had never existed. While I thoroughly enjoyed what I was reading I was also, always, painfully aware of the added intellectual leap I had to make as a reader to identify with the heroes and villains in the stories I was consuming. So it was abundantly clear in my mind that when I sat down to write my epic fantasy series that my characters would be a real reflection of the actual world. You know, a world filled with black and brown people, as well as white, Asian, Indian, and others. The world I am writing is filled with beautiful, strong, intelligent, and heroic people of color and women. It had to be. I want readers to have what I never did. So, When Night Falls has all the elements you look for in great epic fantasy. There are swords, fantastical creatures, magic, heroes, villains, but with a real representation cast of characters that should make it fun for any person who picks it up.

 

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

I knew by high school. Having read so much, and been so impacted – so entertained – by what I had read, it became increasingly clear to me that writing was something I really wanted to do. There are few things in the world like sitting down with a book and being transported to all kinds of wonderful, strange, and magical places. Having experienced that, it began to dawn on me that I wanted to do that for others.

 

– You’ve written two poetry collections and are a co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets. Poetry is clearly one of your loves. What keeps you coming back to the form of poetry for self-expression?

fallingtoearth

Poetry was my entrée into writing. In high school, I began by writing love poems to girls I liked. By the time I reached college it evolved. As a freshman, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and that was a real sea change for me. It really began the process of my search for an understanding of what being an African American man meant and was going to mean for me. After that I consumed W. E. B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Carter G. Woodson, Marcus Garvey, and every black intellectual I could get my hands on. I was already reading all the other stuff, by way of my university studies. Everyone from Plato, Aristotle, to Sartre and Derrida. But these other intellectuals, often left out the curriculum, were the real compass for me and my writing. My poetry changed and developed drastically. I still write about love. In fact, my latest poetry collection, falling to earth, is all about love, in all its forms. But the core heuristics of my poetry are about African American identity. And every time a black person is killed by police, or a black church is attacked or burned down, or the Supreme Court rules on issues like affirmative action, I am always brought back to poetry as a primary form of expression. I have also come to find that writing poetry and then speculative fiction, and then turning back to poetry, is a great way for me to stay sharp and keep the creative juices flowing.

 

-You have a graduate degree in theology.  Do you feel that training shapes the kinds of themes you take up in your creative work?

I do find that my expertise in philosophy and theology helps to shape and inform my writing. I think it’s one of the things that makes my writing unique. I avoid it being heavy-handed or showing up explicitly in my writing. I think that would be terrible for the story. But in elegant and efficient ways, it’s there, grounding the story, and making the narrative stronger, and denser. I think it works best if it’s there without you really seeing it.

 

-What excites you right now about writing in the genre of speculative fiction?

I think the fact that I, and other African American writers like myself, are creating a library of speculative work that cures what has always ailed the genre at large for so long. How can you truly have great science fiction and fantasy when you leave out most of the human race in your story? That we are writing entertaining and powerful stories where readers can actually see themselves as heroes and villains is, for me, the most exciting thing about the enterprise we have embarked upon. The ability to give tweens, teens, young adults, and adults, the kind of stories we used to comb the bookshelves for in book stores is both rewarding and exciting. I hope the SF&F reading community can see how exciting this time is in the genre.

 

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

Trust yourself. If you have a strong story and well-developed characters, then you can trust yourself to develop a story worth reading. Take chances with your story and write yourself in corners. Once you get there, then trust yourself to be able to write yourself out. I am working on book two in The Three Gifts Series right now (hopefully finishing in the next few months) and while I have the overarching narrative arc in mind I can’t allow myself to get caught up in all the intricacies of what I have yet to write. I have to focus on one chapter at a time and trust that I will be able to solve all the problems I create as I write. I think that makes for the most compelling stories. You can’t be afraid to create a difficult problem for your characters or your plot because you are worried you won’t be able to write a good resolution. Time and time again, I have trusted myself to think my way through those things and it always works out. The mind is an amazing tool and instrument. If you have fed it well it will always produce the results you need.

As an addendum, let me say this as well. Don’t rush. The worst thing you can do is let a deadline push you to write past some great writing. A chapter needs to marinate sometimes. And when you allow the story to develop at its own pace you will sometimes surprise yourself with what you are able create.

Finally, let me say thank you Michele for asking me to do this. It’s been great fun and I hope worthy of your interest and the interest of your readers!

 

Gerald L. Coleman writes both poetry and speculative fiction. He resides in Atlanta. Born and raised in Lexington, he did his undergraduate work in Philosophy and English at the University of Kentucky before completing a Master’s degree in Theology at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN.

He is a lover of espresso, Radical Orthodoxy, Wittgenstein, early mornings on the golf course, and Lexington in the fall. He is a co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets.

Visit him here.

 

 

Woo-hoo! A few weeks ago I did a cover reveal about my story that is in UnCommon Origins.

uncommonorigins

It’s now really here. The UnCommon Origins anthology launched this week and I am thrilled! Get it here!

UnCommon Origins: A Collection of Gods, Monsters, Nature, and Science

UnCommon Origins presents 22 depictions of moments on the precipice, beginnings both beautiful and tragic. Fantastical stories of Creation, Feral Children, Gods and Goddesses (both holy and horrific), and possibilities you never dared imagine come to life.

allthephotos

Including stories from some of the most talented Speculative Fiction and Magical Realism authors around, UnCommon Origins will revisit the oldest questions in the universe:

Where did we come from?
and
What comes next?

We even have our own book trailer!

My story, ‘The Curl of Emma Jean’ is about two sisters, race, fairies and the God Faunus. What more could you ask for?

curlofemmajeantext

 

My writing buddy, Fraser Sherman gave a thoughtful (and positive) review of the collection on his excellent blog. We already have over 50 reviews on Amazon! It’s also trending in the horror anthology Amazon category.

For three months, our publisher P.K. Tyler has been working on promotion and also teaching myself and the other 21 authors about how to launch a book. I’ve learned so much and I can’t wait to share some of my insights with you in another post.

If you like speculative fiction, you’ll enjoy this collection. It’s got something for everyone. Get it here.

Also, if you’re willing to provide an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads or your blog, within the next two weeks, contact me about getting a complimentary copy.

In other news, last weekend I attended the historic State of Black Science Fiction Convention in Atlanta. It was a mind-blowing experience. SOBSFC brought together creators from different mediums (e.g. filmmakers, comic book artists, writers, producers, scholars, etc.,) to converge, discuss and share about the world of sci-fi and the Black experience over the past two centuries. There were panels on everything from Afrofuturism in Arts and Culture to Black Southern Folklore in Horror Literature.

I even dipped my toe into SteamFunk cosplay for the first time ever. Loved it!

steamfunk

I plan on writing a blog post about attending this transformative con.

June is my birthday month and with this book launch and conference, it’s been a fantastic one so far. I hope your June has been offering you writerly goodness.

 

I first heard about Zig Zag Claybourne from an interview on The Dead Robots’ Society podcast. On the show, he talked about his latest novel, The Brothers Jetsream: Leviathan. It is a science fiction adventure that centers around two African-American brothers out to save the world. There are psychic whales, explosions, warrior angels, Atlanteans, and corporate conspiracies. I immediately thought, Whoa—way cool and original! Zig Zag was witty and offered great insights about building a writing life over a number of years. After his appearance on DRS, I knew I wanted to help spread the word about his work.

Prominent writer Dave Eggers has said about Zig Zag, This is a truly original writer. He sounds like no one else, plays by no rules, and creates wildly entertaining books that create an indelible stamp on the mind.”

I’m looking forward to meeting Zig Zag, in person, at the upcoming State of Black Science Fiction Convention. In the meantime, I’m delighted that he agreed to appear here at The Practice of Creativity.

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Tell us about your recent novel, The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan. What inspired it?

The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan came from me wanting to highlight a book where black folks do what they’ve always done: save the world one way or another but get zero credit for it. I describe the book as Buckaroo Banzai by way of Ralph Ellison. It’s an adventure with heart, humor, and the coolest crew since Sulu and Uhura. The characters have been with me a long time. So has their battle against the False Prophet Buford. If you have two black brothers named Milo and Ramses Jetstream, there is absolutely no way they are not going to wage war against the status quo.

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

I took up writing before puberty. I loved reading, not just science fiction, everything. I was the kid who got excited when the teacher assigned Hamlet. One day my mama said I read so much I could probably write a story. That was the Pearly Gates opening moment for me! I wrote my first terrible short story (about aliens using humans as hunting dogs against other humans) and have been going ever since.

brothersjetsream

How do stories usually come to you? Do you start with a character? Setting? An image?

I usually start off with a feeling or a mood then dig deep to find characters and a situation to bring that mood to life. Jetstream, for example, was the feeling of the world being utterly ridiculous when you actually stopped to think about 99% of what we accept as daily life.

What’s the less glamorous side of a published writer’s life that aspiring writers often don’t see?

That makes me laugh! I haven’t found a glamorous bit yet! I don’t think aspiring writers realize that just because a writer gets to “the End” means the book is done. There are rewrites on top of rewrites, then there’s the marketing/publicity push which, for most authors (seeing as we’re generally solitary, quiet people – HA!) is as glamorous as a root canal. There’s still this feeling out there that folks get to write a book, dust their hands of it, and watch as the angels waft it heavenward. To quote Lana Kane from Archer: “Nooooooope.”

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

There’s nothing better for me than finding a new author to love, so my bookshelf is a workhorse; I’m always adding way more than the max carrying load to it. Right now I’m reading a sword & soul epic called Woman of the Woods by Milton Davis, a YA fantasy called Basajaun by Rosemary Van Deuren, and am about to jump into the macabre with Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom.

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

The best tip ever is care about what you’re doing. All else flows from that. If you don’t care, the readers won’t care, and if you’re writing under the assumption that your book is “good enough” you’ve already failed. For me the process of taking a book from idea to completed drafts is a lot smoother if I operate under the hope that a reader will feel what I’ve given them and appreciate the respect for them.

 

Zig Zag Claybourne (also known as Clarence Young) wishes he’d grown up with the powers of either Gary Mitchell or Charlie X but without the Kirk confrontations. (Anybody not getting that Star Trek reference gets their sci-fi cred docked 3 points.) The author of Neon Lights, Historical Inaccuracies, and By All Our Violent Guides (the last under C.E. Young), he believes a writer can be like an actor, inhabiting a delightful variety of roles and genres. As such, his work takes you where you’ve never been, but makes sure you have fun getting there.

Find out more about him here.

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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