The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘inspiration

What makes you write? If you ask that question of ten different writers, you’ll most likely receive ten different answers. Sometimes hearing a true story from someone who survived a horrible situation can compel us to write. Such is the case for Margaret Dardess.

Margaret Dardess has enjoyed a rich and full life. She has lived and traveled across several continents. Her day jobs have included being an international trade lawyer, a corporate executive and most recently, a university administrator.

I know Margaret as the President of the Board of Trustees for the North Carolina Writers’ Network (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. Last year with finesse and deft, Margaret recruited me to serve on the board. NCWN’s meetings are ones that I always look forward to!

In the last few years, Margaret has followed her heart’s desire and made time to write her first novel, Brutal Silence. In this thriller, Dardess tackles the topic of human trafficking. She wrote Brutal Silence after meeting a woman who successfully escaped from human traffickers. She was so angry after hearing the woman’s story that she couldn’t walk away. She had to make others aware of human trafficking. Brutal Silence is the story of resilient and gutsy Alex Harrington, a young woman who is thrown into the terrifying world of sex trafficking.

When I heard a little of Margaret’s inspiration for this novel at a gathering, I was immediately intrigued. I wanted to know more about she came to the topic of human trafficking and how she made space for a creative life. I’m delighted to welcome her to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

Tell us about your recent book, Brutal Silence. Why did you want to write this book?
Brutal Silence begins with every woman’s worst nightmare. Alex Harrington, a twenty-five year old woman who runs a free clinic in Dalton, North Carolina is kidnapped by human traffickers while on vacation in Mexico City. She is dragged from a public bus, and no one, driver or passengers, will help her. She wakes on a grit-covered cement floor, head throbbing, looking up into the terrified faces of a dozen women. Fortunately, Alex is resourceful and a champion runner. She manages to escape, and return to Dalton, but when a battered woman seeks refuge at her clinic, only to die moments later, Alex learns that human traffickers don’t only exist in Mexico. They are operating even in her home town, targeting her, and she has no idea why. Alex learns who she is and who she is not while confronting the brutal world of human trafficking. She wants answers, but when the trail leads back to those she loves the most, she finds that sometimes it’s the most innocent and ordinary places that hide the most terrible secrets.

My inspiration for Brutal Silence came when at the urging of a friend I attended a conference on human trafficking sponsored by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill over ten years ago. At lunch I sat next to a courageous young woman who had escaped after being trafficked and who was speaking out about human trafficking in hopes of saving others. I was so moved by her story that I wanted to learn more about human trafficking, and I found to my surprise that most people did not want to see or talk about it–hence my title, Brutal Silence. I set out to write something that would build awareness and inspire support for the efforts of those who work heroically against human trafficking. Anything I make on Brutal Silence will go to combat human trafficking.

 

 

 

Brutal Silence is a thriller. Have you always enjoyed reading thrillers?

I have always relaxed by reading thrillers, finding them a welcome change from the challenging and often cumbersome writing that filled my days as an academic, an attorney, a corporate executive and a university administrator. I am at heart a romantic, drawn to stories about protagonists who risk everything to overcome evil and make the world a better place. The thriller  genre seemed particularly well suited to a story whose underlying crime was human trafficking because human trafficking with its total disregard to human life in the interests of greed is about as evil as you can get. In good thriller style, in Brutal Silence, Alex Harrington takes on the evil of human trafficking at considerable cost to herself.

-While writing the book were there particular authors that you turned to for inspiration?

I look to good writing of all kinds. In writing Brutal Silence I studied mystery and thriller writers like Dashiell Hammett, Anne Perry and Andrew Gross for craft, and I looked for insight into the struggles of the human psyche in books like Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, Ron Rash’s Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories, Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One, and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken among many others.

-What was the most challenging aspect of writing Brutal Silence?

The creation of the character, Emilio Vargas, the Mexican crime boss in Brutal Silence, was especially tough, because I had to think like a sociopathic killer. I don’t spend a lot of time with sociopaths, at least not if I can help it, and I certainly don’t know any from the world of Mexican organized crime. I had to rely on research and my imagination. I immersed myself in The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, El Sicario, the Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin and interviews with really bad guys like El Chopo, and tried see the world through the eyes of someone who cannot feel anything for other people. It was not easy, especially when the sociopaths started showing up at night when I was trying to sleep.

-What’s been the biggest surprise thus far in being published?

I have been surprised and pleased at the support and generosity of many people. Publishing Brutal Silence has brought back into my life friends from my past, some from school days and others from my time practicing law in Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Glaxo friends have come to launch parties and author events even bringing with them adult children who I remembered from when they were little. Still more from my days at UNC and the North Carolina Writers’ Network have been especially helpful, and new friends have guided me through the bewildering publication process.

– You’re recently retired. How has your writing practice changed over the past year?

When I was working full time, I squeezed writing into my day whenever I could and wrote on weekends. Now I go to a little office near my house and write every morning. Afternoons, while I take care of the business of living, I think about what I’ll write the following day, often playing ideas over in my head while on the treadmill or driving around town. I have come home from grocery stopping with a rutabaga when I really needed an onion because my mind was somewhere other than in the vegetable section of Whole Foods.

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

When you tell someone that you want to write, ignore the ones who respond, “How are you going to do that?”  A date in college said that to me once when I told him my dream was to write a novel. That was the end of him. There never seems to be a shortage of nay-sayers and wet blankets. Avoid them at all costs. If you want to write, write. As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”
 

Many thanks, Michele, for inviting me to post on your blog and to your readers for listening.

 

Margaret Dardess was born and raised just outside of New York City, and has lived and traveled across several continents, landing at last in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where she should have been all along.  She is the daughter of an artist and a poet, who were determined to steer their only daughter away from a life in the arts. For many years they succeeded.

After graduating from Connecticut College, Margaret returned to New York to study Japanese history at Columbia University, and after a brief teaching career, went on to tackle the law.  When she finally stopped going to school, she set off on a journey, masquerading as an international trade lawyer, a corporate executive and a university administrator until at last she cast her parents’ warnings to the wind and began to write.

Brutal Silence is Margaret’s first novel. Margaret is hard at work on a sequel that will take Alex to Margaret’s native New York City where vengeance and murder threaten to destroy the new life that Alex is determined to build.

Find out more about Margaret here.

Dianna L. Gunn – one of the other authors in The Novella Initiative by The Book Smugglers – is hosting me on her blog today! We chat about the inspiration behind Reenu-You, the rise of novellas, and how publishing must change to support diverse voices. https://goo.gl/zZmFmT

Dear Creatives,

Have you heard about my Imagined Futures: A Transformative Writing Workshop in Panama?
This workshop is your opportunity to leave everyday life behind and get away for a week to be fueled, renewed, focused and coached by me to WRITE* without ANY distractions!

It’s amazing to think of how much writing you could do, isn’t it?

Just imagine what this workshop in a retreat setting, and the extra resources, will do to help you make PROGRESS on the writing that is most important to you.

I am leading the Imagined Futures workshop from July 2-6. And, then I am staying another week to do my own writing!

You can come for my workshop specifically or just come to write (or create in another medium) through the Summer Artist Residency.

Imagined Futures will draw on speculative fiction ideas for its inspiration (in keeping with the broader them of the program). However, writing in any genre will be welcome.

Think about it…Meals are prepared for us, we’re right on the beach, there’s structured and unstructured time…and great exercises. We are going to Time Travel with our past, present and future Writing Selves!

This workshop is hosted by Creative Currents Artist Collaborative. Creative Currents Artist Collaborative is an Atlanta-based, internationally focused arts organization whose mission is to widen and deepen public engagement with the arts and cultures of Africa and the Black Diaspora.  They do this by connecting artists, scholars and arts enthusiasts with exciting and varied arts-based cultural experiences. They offer a year round roster of cultural trips and workshops, of which the 2017 Creative Currents Summer Artist Residency is one.

Join me in Panama, and make 2017 the year your creative work gets DONE!

Let’s do this together.

Check out the details here. Feel free to email me with questions: mtb@creativetickle.com

*the Summer Artist Residency encourages artists of all kinds to apply.

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.

 

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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