The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy and science fiction

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.

I’m was so happy this morning that I probably started running around in circles, like this pug:

Why?

Because today I’m featured on John Scalzi’s blog in his ‘Big Idea’ section. He selects science fiction writers, with new books, to write about the ‘big idea’ that is connected to their work.

I get deep talking about why hair matters, racial legacies, questionable beauty practices, what it meant to grow up being told I had “good hair” and how those themes inspired my new novella, Reenu-You.

It was an honor to be chosen for ‘The Big Idea’. I loved having a chance to share my passion discussing the intersection between hair and culture with his audience.

Read the essay here and feel free to leave a comment on his site!

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!

Affirmations-366Days#30: I actively name, claim and exclaim my writing aspirations.
For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

I am over the moon at finding Kiara Collins’s wonderful post on Octavia Butler’s recently discovered personal journal. This post was sent to me last night by my gifted writer teacher and friend, Melissa Delbridge. Octavia Butler was the first successful African American female speculative fiction writer. She wrote many highly acclaimed novels and was the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur Genius award. Her pioneering books explore the legacies of race, class and gender, and the challenges of independence and interdependence in human relationships. She is one of my favorite authors. I’ve written about the use of her term ‘positive obsessions’.

 

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And, as it turns out she used AFFIRMATIONS to help her imagine and embody her success as a writer. As someone who thought I knew a lot about her work, I was stunned by this revelation. I knew of her struggles, as an African American woman, to become a speculative fiction writer during a time when that was almost unthinkable. I also teach her wonderful essay, ‘Positive Obsession’ (from Bloodchild and Other Stories), where she chronicles her almost crippling self-doubt and ruminates over the sexism and racism that she faced in the 1960s and 1970s. But, I had no idea that she as Ms. Collins notes “literally wrote herself into existence” using affirmations. This is such an important confirmation about the power of affirmations. If you’ve been reading this blog since January, then you know that I’ve made a commitment to post one affirmation related to writing and/or creative practice every day for the entire year. I believe it will support my writing practice and experience of myself as a writer. I want it to be a fun and uplifting project and also helpful to others. Affirmations can provide mental and emotional support as we move toward our goals.

Here is her list of affirmations written on the back of her notebook:

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Looking at her list, a few things strike me about how she used affirmations:

They are written in the present tense. It’s helpful to reinforce that what we want is happening now.

They are handwritten. There is power in slowing down and writing by hand when playing with affirmations. Science tells us that different parts of our brain are activated when we write by hand.

She uses repetition. When writing affirmations, it’s helpful to use repetition. Most of the time, we’re trying to release deep seated negative mental patterns and so writing a powerful statement over and over is helpful.

She wanted her success to contribute to others. Several of Butler’s affirmations involved supporting African American young people. Our success should ripple out and positively impact others.

I hope you’ll add affirmations to your writing and/or creative toolkit in 2016.

See Kiara Collins’ post here.

Hi! My Sunday Surprise includes tidbits gathered from here and there. Soon I will return to my longer posts, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this interlude.

-I’m now on Twitter and loving every moment of it. I’m reconnecting with teachers and alums from 1996 Clarion East, a science fiction and fantasy writers’ summer intensive, that I attended! Come find me @MicheleTBerger

-Visual artists trick our brains all the time in how we perceive light and color. This article on CNN.com explores what neuroscience is teaching us about how we perceive art.

-I gave a workshop, ‘Are You a Wooer or Withholder? What’s Your Creative Relationship Style?’ a few weeks ago for the ‘Sisters In Crime’ writers’ group in Raleigh. One of the prompts I gave them was to imagine that an adoptions worker comes to interview them on their capacity to “adopt the creative”(based on Deena Metzger’s work). Judy Hogan, farmer, co-founder of Carolina Wren Press and newly minted mystery author attended the workshop and just posted a dialogue between her and the adoptions worker. You might want to try the exercise and then read Judy’s engaging response.

-Feel like you’ve lost that loving feeling with your Muse? Brenda Moquez’s quirky and  funny dialogue with her Muse might give you some ideas about how to court yours!

-Very compelling post by Kate Elliot on the male gaze, the female gaze, and women’s sexualized portrayals in fantasy and science fiction novels.

-A thought about persistence. Yesterday, after an all-day faculty retreat I got to the gym as planned so that I could exercise as a reward. Well, I quickly realized that in my early morning haste, I had forgotten to pack my sneakers. I also had to be somewhere else within an hour and knew that if I didn’t work out during my allotted time, it wasn’t going to happen later. So, although I felt a bit silly, I changed into my workout clothes and grabbed my patent blue wedge shoes (the only shoes with me), and walked with my head held high, barefoot, into the gym’s workout area. I picked up a few magazines and  sat down at one of the recumbent bike stations, put on my shoes and began my thirty minute workout. Yes, I felt a bit silly as people walked by and looked at me pedaling away in my nice shoes. However, it was more important for me to be true to my fitness goals then let a little thing like shoes stop me. This incident made me think of writing. It is so easy to get off our game if one little thing goes wrong during our scheduled writing time. It could be that we’re out our special tea, or the pen we love has just gone dry. Or, that we have an interruption that we have to attend to. And, we can feel silly and out of sorts that we have to make do with our sometimes ‘less than perfect’ writing life. But, if we remind ourselves that our larger goal of consistent writing practice is so much more important than fleeting frustration when things don’t go as planned, we just might find ourselves able to persevere and receive a greater payoff in the long run.

(Photo Credit: these shoes look a lot like the ones that I wore while pedaling. http://www.shopoloriswank.com/product/patent-blue-gucci-wedge)

 

Although for the past ten years I’ve lived less than an hour away from the well-known Rhine Center, in Durham, last week was the first time that I had a chance to attend one of their programs.  The Rhine Center has a long history in research on parapsychology and human consciousness and is composed of a research center and an education center. The Rhine Education Center “provides professional education in parapsychology and public events at the Rhine explore psychic abilities, experiences, techniques, and the culture of ESP throughout the world” (Rhine Center website).  On Friday, July 13, they were featuring  a science fiction writer that I didn’t know—Arlan Andrews and his talk ‘Science Fiction and the Future of the Paranormal’ caught my eye. The novel I am writing examines the effects of uncontrolled ‘psi’ outbreaks, so I thought Andrews’s talk created a good reason to make the trip.

Dr. Andrews is an engineer, science fiction writer, and author of hundreds of articles, stories and columns on the paranormal, science fiction, futurism, ancient civilizations, future technology and politics.

His began by discussing how he got interested in science fiction, and his experiences investigating paranormal activity with his wife (a noted psychic). His talk was chock-full of intriguing concepts, great stories and photos of him, Ray Bradbury and other science fiction writers at conferences during the 1980s and 1990s. But, what I found the most fascinating was how he founded SIGMA, a think tank of professional science fiction, fantasy and game writers who provide pro bono futurist talks to the U.S. government (and paid consulting for corporations). He developed this think tank after working as a Fellow in the White House Science Office in 1992-1993. Given science fiction’s enormous role in shaping  and imagining technology and the future, he wanted to bring the expertise of the science fiction community to inform challenging public policy issues. He started SIGMA, in 1993, with a modest group of nine PhDs (he stressed that in the beginning, he had to have people with doctorates to get over the ‘giggle factor’ by Washington officials), and has grown it to 40 plus members.

What? A group of distinguished science fiction writers (many of whom are scientists and engineers) giving talks to U.S. government officials and world leaders on how to stretch their thinking to solve global dilemmas and imagine a better future? Sign me up!! How do I join? How do I get invited? Well, I’ve probably got a bit more publishing to do before I get invited (and hmm maybe a doctorate  in a science field wouldn’t hurt either)…but hey, I’ll put getting invited to SIGMA on my bucket list!

SIGMA has spoken to the U.S. government, over the years, on national security issues, evolutionary technologies and futurism. He showed us pictures from some of these meetings on ‘science fictional thinking’ in which they stress the importance of imaginative and associative thinking, and turning problems upside down in order to generate innovative ideas.  My creativity coach’s heart pumped three times harder as I learned about SIGMA (and was surprised that I’d never heard of them before). The talent of the SIGMA group is extraordinary and includes many writers you know: Elizabeth Moon, Nancy Cress, Greg Bear, Dr. Yoji Kondo, Michael Swanwick, S.M. Sterling, and Dr. Larry Niven to name a few.

Earlier this year, as invited guests, SIGMA presented a panel on “Disruptive Technologies” at the Global Competitiveness Forum (GCF) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This panel generated great buzz. The conversation inspired computer engineer Yasser Bahjatt to create a TEDx talk about how Arab science fiction could dream a better future and he’s created an open platform to support artistic expression and a new culture of science fiction writing. Check out the inspiring video and his vision.

Arlan Andrews didn’t look tired after giving a rousing two-hour talk. I’m glad that I went (thanks to my partner, Tim for finding out about this event and buying tickets!) and learned so much. I’m sure that my future will include more visits to the Rhine Center. I talked with Dr. Andrews about a possible interview exploring his ideas about creativity. I’m expecting that will be a blast, too!

 

 

I always watch the Oscars with a critical eye. It signals to me a kind of subterranean commentary about race and gender (always interconnected and complex). It reflects back to us what stories and actors have been valued—a cultural state of the union, one might say. I learned at an early age that films are a powerful medium that communicate social norms and expectations, ideology and privilege. By the time I was ten, I was well-schooled in raising critical questions about the nature of images about race and gender that were presented before me for blind acceptance. As an adult, I’m still critical and usually not thrilled with most of the main fare of Hollywood offerings of female and/or people of color characters.

I haven’t watched the Oscars since 2006. At that time, I was eagerly rooting for Helen Mirren (as Best Actress for The Queen) and Forest Whittaker (as Best Actor for The King of Scotland) to win which they did. I remember that my shouts of enthusiasm, when their names were called, caught the attention of my neighbors that were at the small party gathered. There were a few other women there but I was the only African American person in attendance. They may or may not have shared my excitement for this moment. Helen Mirren is one of the smartest and substantive leading women. I have been smitten with her work since seeing her in The Comfort of Strangers. She seems to be rewriting the rules for older actresses with her sexiness, intensity and daring. I love Whittaker’s range and have been following his career closely since Ghost Dog. And, he’s devoted to Kundalini yoga which is pretty cool. Both of their wins felt significant.

There were some big firsts last night: Kathryn Bigelow won for Best Director and Best Picture (The Hurt Locker). I still have a clipping from Elle Magazine that did a feature on her in the early 1990s. Although I probably will never direct a film, her visibility and work as a director inspired me as a creative person and as a woman to what’s possible. I hope that her win will translate into more and varied doors being opened for women directors.

While, I am also thrilled that Monique won for best supporting actress (the fourth African American to win) and Geoffrey Fletcher breaks new ground for winning an Oscar for Best Writing (Adapted screenplay) for Precious, I have to say that I am a bit underwhelmed at the representation offered up to us on Oscar night.
Having not watched the awards for four years, I don’t think I’ve missed that much from what I saw during the awards. It has gotten a bit better from when I was a teenager when it was a rare occurrence that people of color were nominated for anything at all. Now, it seems there is at least one African American actor nominated in a major role during every Oscar cycle. And, this year there was an African American nominated in several categories (six, I think out of almost 20 awards—an avalanche).

Although I’m completely underwhelmed by Hollywood, this does not mean that I don’t acknowledge that there has been that thing called ‘progress’ moving at a glacial rate. Progress measured by the growing number of African American directors including the Hudlin Brothers, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Tyler Perry. And, of course, we can measure progress in the kinds of films that more African American actors are cast in –a broader array of both supporting and lead roles (still very slim, however, for actresses of color). I guess after watching the Academy Awards (almost 4 hours), I have to ask myself: Is this is as good as it gets for Hollywood and diversity? I’m wondering why moviemaking still hasn’t caught up to the reality of our American communities. Where are all the richly textured films about Caribbean Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, etc? I’ve talked about African American actors but where are the actors of various racial and ethnic backgrounds in Hollywood films? And, what about behind the scenes? For such a talented and creative community, I’ve come to expect very little from Hollywood as a whole and have been rarely surprised.

I know there are many who will say that this was a great year for African Americans in film and who will say just wait—there will be more. OK, but does that mean I should drop into the Oscars in 2 or 10 years? Just how long will it take for things to change demonstrably, I wonder?

Pesky questions that roll around in my head from time to time: I lived through the glut of 1980s black/white buddy movies (in sports and police dramas-e.g. Lethal Weapon, etc) and am sick to death of this liberal equality male bonding formula. Will Hollywood ever move beyond this formula (besides the Rush Hour movies)?

Can we tell African American and white women’s stories outside of the caring black maid (or nurse), caring white woman/child/mistress of the house formula (i.e. Clara’s Heart, The Secret Life of Bees)?

Where are the African American geek films?

Can we see more female directed movies in all genres?

Where is all that ‘untraditional casting’ in films that the civil rights movement fought for so many years ago? Why do we still have almost exclusively white casts in so many major Hollywood films (even in fantasy and science fiction genres)?


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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