The Practice of Creativity

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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.

 

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Affirmations-366Days#357: I am grateful when I work with a skilled editor and can see my work improving.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Affirmations-366Days#180: I take pleasure in learning how to edit my writing like a professional.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

People often act intimidated with regard to publishing. People relentlessly believe that publishers don’t need or want them. Publishers exist because of the creative input and outpouring that comes their way…and they appreciate books and writers. Repeating the old story=reinforcing the story=doing nothing new towards being published.
SARK, Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper: Gifting the World with Your Words and Stories and Creating the Time and Energy to Actually Do It

Affirmations-366Days#7-Editors love my content and pay me to publish my work.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations during the next 366 days.

This affirmation feels bold. But, why not affirm a truth? Publishers and editors would not exist unless there were writers! I also want to affirm that that editors and publishers love discovering new writers, that’s partly why they are in this business. The possibility of discovering people, whose words they love, is what gets editors to their desks each day.

What does an editor want? How can I make my work stand out when submitting to anthologies? What counts as too much backstory to include in a short work of fiction? Writers constantly wrestle with these questions. I’ve asked Karen Pullen, friend and mentor, to share some insights as editor of a new and successful anthology.

 

giraffe walrus cclllWhat do a giraffe, a walrus, and the short-story anthology Carolina Crimes: 19 Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing have in common?*

 

Last August, a batch of short stories arrived in my inbox. I had promised to edit an anthology written by members of Sisters in Crime who lived in the Carolinas. The anthology was a project of the Triangle chapter of SinC, and its theme was sex. Yes. Crime stories motivated by lust, love, and longing.

I am a fiction writer too, and I empathized with the writers of these stories. Each writer had hunched for hours, even days, over her keyboard. She wriggled, sighed, scribbled notes, talked to herself. Typed, deleted, typed, deleted. Moved sentences, changed a word, changed it back again. Eventually she had a draft. She showed it to her critique group, wrote a revision. Wrote another. She submitted it for consideration in our SinC anthology, and it was accepted, conditionally: subject to a satisfactory revision.

Now her story was in my hands. My goal was to work with her to make the story more – more polished, more engrossing, more true to the writer’s vision, more satisfying for the reader. Without changing the writer’s style and voice.

I spent the better part of two months working with the nineteen authors. Here is what I discovered about myself as an editor: I’m a wriggling mass of inconsistencies. The top five:

 
1) I loathe backstory, except when I don’t. Ordinarily I recommended the excision of every speck of backstory; it’s a digression, a drag on forward motion, and usually unnecessary. Unless . . . it isn’t. For example, backstory that explains a character’s behavior or mood can be sprinkled in judiciously.

2) It’s a short story. So shorten it. Delete the second scene with the cops, delete one of the multiple points of view, delete characters that only appear once. Unless . . . you’ve taken shortcuts. Instead of telling us the soon-to-be-murdered boss is a jerk, show us how he treats his employees. Instead of telling us the busboy is in love with the stripper, write a scene where she invites him to her apartment. A full page of pure undiluted dialogue? Ask your characters to interact with the setting. Add emotional reactions, a bit of interior monologue.

3) Plot. I like organic plots. Give me characters who want something, put obstacles in their way, and conflict will ensue. The story will almost tell itself. Unless . . . the characters are passive victims of external forces. So light a fire under your character, make sure there’s something at stake for him, and set him loose.

4) Surprise me. I love a good reversal, a twist, a surprise, a shift in a character’s perception or the reader’s understanding. Unless . . . it comes out of nowhere, results from an impossible coincidence.

5) Language. Clarity and precision, people! Eliminate empty words, phrasal verbs, words ending in –ness and –ing, lazy adjectives like lovely, wonderful, beautiful, adorable, horrible, nasty, terrible, pretty, silly, tautologies. Make the thesaurus your friend. Unless . . . a florid writing style overwhelms the story with its cleverness. Then it must be dampened, a little. Also, I don’t hate adverbs as much as I’m supposed to.

The authors were troupers. They re-wrote then re-wrote some more. They may have gnashed their teeth, pulled out their hair, and stuck pins in my likeness, but they did the work.

I couldn’t be more proud of the result. Carolina Crimes: 19 Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing was published by Wildside Press in paper and e-book formats. It’s available through online retailers and these bookstores in the Raleigh-Durham area: McIntyre’s, Quail Ridge, and Flyleaf. Many of the authors will be reading at Flyleaf in Chapel Hill on August 9 at 2 PM.
*Fifteen months gestation.

***********

Karen Pullen’s stories have appeared in Sixfold, bosque (the magazine), Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Spinetingler, Every Day Fiction, and anthologies. Her first novel, Cold Feet, was published by Five Star Cengage in 2013. She lives in Pittsboro, NC where she occasionally teaches in Central Carolina Community College’s creative writing program.

Check out an interview that I conducted with Karen about her first novel, Cold Feet.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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