The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘inspiration

This week, I met a very special writer and activist—Gloria Steinem! On Wednesday, I was on a panel honoring 45 years of Ms. Magazine! I serve on the Ms. Scholars Board, a group that helps feminist scholars translate their ideas for a popular audience. I discovered Ms. in college through my mentor, and loved it. Ms. still represents the best in feminist journalism and has often been the first to break stories about sexual violence, the wage gap, and the feminization of poverty that changed the national discourse. I had the privilege to write a featured article for their 40th anniversary.

Gloria Steinem is a journalist, activist and co-founder of Ms. I’ve always wanted to meet her. I admire her wit, persistence, humor, insight, style and sheer brilliance. I was on the panel with her and watched her work then and after and can say she walks her talk. She’s 83, kind, forthright and unstoppable. And, she wears amazing leather pants! Later at a reception, I told her how much I admired her book Revolution from Within: A Book of Self Esteem.

It was a vulnerable book that dared to talk about the importance of feminist self-care and the importance of inner work while on the path of political activism. Despite its bestselling status, it was universally panned by critics at the time in the 90s-they just didn’t get the importance of wrestling with the inner dimensions of internalized ‘isms’ nor ruminating on the mind/body split. Ideas that are now front and center in social justice circles as well as in health circles given what we know about how trauma effects the body in complex ways.

She has never stopped being a journalist and never stopped writing her truth which I find inspiring.

She is a living treasure and I am so glad that President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for a lifetime of human rights work.

It’s so powerful to meet a writer that you have long admired.

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I’ve made it through a major writerly milestone. Last week, I had my debut book reading and signing for Reenu-You at McIntyre’s Books. It was a blast and went very well.

However, there was still a lot to learn!

I thought I was ready. I thought I knew all there was to know. I thought I was prepared. How long had I been attending book signings? How long had I been visualizing myself conducting a reading and signing books? Longer than I can remember.

But, there was still a lot to learn!

I’m passing on some tips and lessons learned.

-Ask for help. Mobilize your writing peeps!

Doing an author signing and book reading requires some coordination, especially if this is your first time. I decided to serve drinks, food and organize a giveaway. I also had to order books because Book Smugglers distributes their books through IngramSpark and most bookstores will only order a few copies (because of the no return policy). Therefore, authors have to order books and bring them to the store. So, I needed help with lifting books, setting up the food, etc. Mobilize your community and ask writer friends for help on your big day. They’ll be happy to help with moral support, too. I’m glad I flexed my usually underutilized “asking for help” muscles. I had fantastic help and support that day.

-Promote and advertise your event at least a month beforehand. And, don’t just rely on one or two promotional strategies.

I used Twitter, my Author Facebook page, my personal Facebook page and blog to promote the event. I posted a month before, three weeks before, two weeks before and a few days before the event. McIntryre’s Books created a Facebook event page. The only thing that I didn’t do that I will do next time is to also invite people through email. I had a fantastic turnout, but several close friends weren’t there. These are folks that don’t regularly check Facebook. I over-relied on the Facebook event and my personal page for promotion. I also didn’t want to “bother” people by posting too much. Given that it takes several “touches” for people to get something on their calendar, and you never know what people actually see and when they see it, it’s better to post often. Next time, I know that it’s better to cover all the bases one can, including good old email. I also forgot to email my newsletter list!

a lovely audience

a full house!

Practice what you will read and time yourself. Do it over and over until you feel confident.

I received good advice from some writers on Twitter when I asked about tips for doing a reading. Many stressed to pick the highlights and sections of the book that pop. Most of Reenu-You moves between two narrators, Kat and Constancia. I decided to read brief snippets of when we first meet them. They both have distinctive worldviews and use of language that made those snippets very fun to read. I reminded myself that I just needed to provide an appetizer to the audience to entice them to want to read more.

Get rest the night before.

I was restless and didn’t sleep that well the night before the reading. That morning I got up and did some gentle yoga and meditation which was extremely helpful for getting grounded (as they always are).

Eat something beforehand or have an energy bar with you.

You’ll probably already feel jittery, hunger will exacerbate that feeling.

Take cough drops with you.

I know writers who carry cough drops in case their throat gets dry before a reading. I didn’t carry cough drops, but I did use Nasya oil which is a medicated oil that lubricates the nasal passages and promotes concentration. Nasya is a cleansing technique used in Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic science that originates in India. I swear by this technique during fall and winter when the weather is more drying and one becomes susceptible to colds and flus. Doing Nasya is also very grounding.

Food is always appreciated at an author event.

I had a nice spread of snacks, cheeses, fruit, lemonade and sparkling wine. Also a friend made great cupcakes which garnered kudos and became the second star of the day. She tried to match the frosting colors to the colors on Reenu-You’s cover. I think she did a great job.

I loved seeing people connecting and talking about writing while eating delicious food.

I splurged on food and wine as I wanted this to be a celebratory moment. When I do future readings, I will probably keep it simple-just cupcakes and champagne!

Consider offering a door prize or two. People find them fun and it contributes to the festive environment.

I absolutely love receiving door prizes at events! I decided that I wanted to give away some door prizes for my reading. I gave away my book and The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn. I’m a huge fan of Joanna Penn’s work as a podcaster, author champion and writer and I wanted to encourage the writers in the audience with her words of wisdom. I also gave away Nisa Shawl’s novel, Everfair. I met Nisi when I was a graduate student and lived in Ann Arbor. She worked in a used bookstore and somehow I discovered that she also loved speculative fiction and also wanted to be a writer. It was always a joy to visit her as we would talk endlessly about speculative fiction. She was the first person of color I knew that also wanted to write science fiction! When I was telling this story to the audience, I reminded then that although now everyone seems to be talking about Afrofuturism, Octavia Butler, writers of color in speculative fiction and Black Speculative Arts, twenty-five years ago this was not the case! In the early 1990s, I knew of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney, but I didn’t have a community of people who looked like me that I could talk about speculative fiction or being a writer in the genre. Nisi was a wonderful informal mentor and friend. I am thrilled for her success with Everfair which is a alternate history novel that re-imagines what might have happened in the Congo, during colonization, if its inhabitants had access to steampunk technology.

My friend Sam won Nisi’s book! A perfect fit as he is a literary and film scholar and is interested in speculative fiction.

Bring a great pen to sign books.

Your first event will probably bring a lot of people that you know. I found myself wanting to write much longer notes in the book which slowed the line. Also, they’ll want to chat a bit which is fun. Remember that energy bar? You might need to take a few bites in case your energy flags some.

Pete, one of the booksellers gave me a Sharpie to sign books with. I had meant to bring a special pen, but that detail totally got lost while preparing for everything else. I was terrified of messing up with that Sharpie, but I didn’t’.

I’ve seen other authors have a slip of paper with them and they ask people to write their names down. This ensures that you don’t spell someone’s name wrong which would be a big bummer.

Savor this feeling—allow yourself to be celebrated.

I am so grateful to folks who were able to make it to McIntyre’s Books. I looked out into the audience and saw former students, academic colleagues, community folk, writer friends and new faces. It was a real delight to experience the fullness of that moment. The writing journey is that much sweeter when you can share some of the peaks with friends.

So much fun seeing friends and holding up my book!

The time really flew by. At moments I found myself saying, “It’s all happening so fast.” I remember hearing from a coach that in order to get our brain to really “take in”, or anchor a positive experience, we have to focus on it for about ten seconds. Otherwise, it just slides by and gets drowned out in the noise of life.

I kept trying to remind myself to let the amazing feelings sink in. And, I whispered to the universe, “Thanks universe, more experiences like this, please! I’m ready!”

 

 

One of the best occurrences in my writing life this past year has been getting to know writers in the ‘UnCommon’ anthologies community. The UnCommon anthologies are published by Fighting Monkey Press, founded by Pavarti Tyler. The series includes UnCommon Bodies, UnCommon Minds and UnCommon Origins and they all have a speculative fiction edge. Last year, my story, “The Curl of Emma Jean” was selected to appear in UnCommon Origins: Collection of Gods, Monsters, Nature and Science.  As part of the process of being published in the anthologies, Pavarti invites authors to a private Facebook group. The Facebook group includes many authors from the anthologies and everyone is committed to helping make each anthology successful. I have learned so much about indie publishing through this group and have been grateful for the encouragement we give each other.

I recently discovered that there is a new UnCommon anthology launching soon. Yay! It’s titled, Uncommon Lands: A Collection of Rising Tides, Outer Space, and Foreign Realms and it will feature a fabulous lineup of writers. I have invited one of those writers to share some insights about being a Native American speculative fiction writer writing across communities. She provides a behind the scenes look at her submission to UnCommon Lands.

I’m delighted to welcome Ashleigh Gauch to The Practice of Creativity!

Shamanism and Navigating as Native in a White World: Walker Between the Worlds

“Walker Between the Worlds” was inspired by the shamanic journeys I took under the watchful eyes of my aunt and grandmother, and by the identity struggle I felt when transitioning between being bullied at school in a predominantly white community and the beautiful native stories and experiences I had on Whidbey Island. The more I learned about my heritage, the more I realized the way shamanism and native spirituality is portrayed in the media is a gross misinterpretation of what it means to be a shaman.

In early drafts I mentioned my protagonist Shephard had a lighter skin tone, and everyone who read the story thought he must be white. I was even lectured about what shamanism is and isn’t by a middle aged white member of my group – who based his theories on Carlos Castaneda’s work and movies he’d seen when he was younger!

There’s a cultural perception about what it means to be native, and “reddish” skin is a must. If you don’t look like a Midwestern native, you must not be indigenous. I had to change the description to tawny—something I was deeply against—in order for people to believe he was Haida, despite details about his growing up on the reservation and receiving shamanic training.

The story centers around Shephard’s having to give up pieces of himself, breaking his most sacred code in order to fit in with the high-stakes world of trading securities. His identity as a native man was always overshadowed by his ambitions in the white world he found himself in, as the identities of those who try to navigate through a world that no longer tries to understand them often are. When his girlfriend’s soul is stolen by Ta’xit, the god of death in battle, he has to go on a true shamanic journey in order to recover her soul – and his sense of self.

It was a challenge to write, in part because of fear that I was the “wrong” person to tell this story. There are so few of us left in the tribe, and my family isn’t even registered because of fears of racist repercussions my great grandfather had when he removed us from tribal rolls. It took a lot of courage to accept that my experiences were relevant and very real, despite the cultural demand that my family be more “red” in order to be native.

Because my stories take a dark slant, people often ask me who my influences are. Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, Margaret Atwood, Garth Nix, Mercedes Lackey, Robert Jordan, Piers Anthony, and Orson Scott Card all top the list. Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood in particular—their lyrical, authoritative voices still fill me with wonder.

I strive to one day find my place among these inspiring voices, to touch the hearts of readers who’ve struggled with their sense of identity in a world that refuses to accept them. I hope one day we will all be equal in the truest sense—able to be ourselves, embrace our identities, without fear of retribution or rejection.

Ashleigh Gauch is a Haida author currently living just south of her hometown of Seattle, Washington. She went to college for nutrition but ultimately found her true passion not in the study of science, but in the genesis of science fiction.

Her work has been featured in the online periodical Bewildering Stories, Starward Tales from Manawaker Press, Uncommon Minds from Fighting Monkey Press, the upcoming anthologies UnCommon Lands and Starward Two, and the magazine Teaching Tolerance.

Story Summary: When Shephard Mercer breaks the greatest law found in Haida shamanism and uses his powers for his own personal gain, his love, Aria, pays the price. Now he must go through live burial and a series of trials in the World Between to earn her soul back and prove himself worthy enough to return to the world of the living.

Pre-order UnCommon Lands here.

 

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!


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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