The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘inspiration

June is my birthday month and what a month it has been. Fifty-two years ago, I was born during a time of civil unrest and great transition in the U.S. Martin Luther King was assassinated two months before I was born and Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated the day after my birthday. The second wave women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the Black Arts movement, the peace movement, and the LGBTQ movement were all well underway by the time I was a few years old. I’ve always known that my life as a scholar and creative person is predicated on the sacrifice of many nameless activists and change makers who helped pave the way for me. During the first week of June 2020, protests against police brutality directed toward Black and Brown bodies erupted in the United States and around the world. Over the past few weeks I have felt a gamut of emotions as many in the United States are wrestling with our deep legacies of racial injustice. I have felt stunned, uplifted, numb, exhausted, saddened, angered and empowered. I’ve tried to allow myself the time and space to experience all of those feelings.

It is rare that I miss a week communicating with you. Lately though, I’ve wrestled with what to say from one creator to another. Despite all the challenges happening in this moment, my creativity has never felt more solid, deeper or richer. During the past several months, I have dug even deeper into my creative urges and projects.  And, many seeds that I’ve been planting in my author garden have started to bloom. I’ve felt guilt though about sharing some of the recent joys and successes. I’ve wondered if readers would wonder why I wasn’t addressing the current moment more. As a creator of color, I am always navigating a complex, inner set of conversations that arise from the complexities of living in a racially stratified world. For example, I wondered should I address the conversations happening in publishing as a result of Black Lives Matter? Should I provide a list of resources about anti-racism for readers? Do I want to provide such lists? How much do I wish to talk about social justice and writing? By not talking about social justice and writing will people think I don’t care about the present moment?

Such questions left me tired.

Historically, writers from dominant communities have had the luxury of not thinking about these issues, or choosing to engage with them as they see fit. The good news is that is changing.

Here’s what I want to say to you, dear reader: I’m thinking about you. If you are struggling as the world is changing around you, you’re not alone. Your creativity and work, however, in the world matters. So does, in my opinion, trying to make the world more just. We as writers and creatives are being called on to undertake more visible and transformative social justice work in the world. This means exploring injustice at the micro and macro levels. In the writing world, this could mean looking at the leadership and structure of the writing organizations we support, the kinds of books we review, and the authors we network with. I believe this is a good thing. I hope you have the energy to do something to make the world more just in your sphere of life. It’s messy. It’s tiring and it sure isn’t pretty. If you don’t have the tools, find kind people that will share their tools with you. Doing this work in community makes the work more joyous.

Also, I have always known that my role on the earth is to uplift and inspire others. I do that in multiple ways as a coach and writer. It does no good for me to play small and hide in the shadows. There are a million ways to resist interrelated systems of oppression and for me, one of them is creating. It does no good for you to play small, either. I will write and share about whatever moves me. That’s basically what I have been doing for the last decade on this blog. I’m saying it here so that I remember it, too.

I’m sharing with you some recent writing joys. I’d love to hear yours, too.

My noir-ish story, “Miss Black Little Hill of 1965” appeared in the recent issue of Blood and Bourbon, a Canadian literary journal. I can now say that I am an internationally published author! A snippet below.

Miss Black Little Hill of 1965

Isabel fingered the teardrop emerald earrings while waiting for her husband to open the passenger door of their car. Two weeks into their marriage, and his gifts kept coming. And, he promised more! She smiled at her good fortune.

He’d caught her eye at church. Strangers at church always do. He said he was visiting his distant cousin. Smooth dark skin, wavy hair, a fine new peanut-brown cashmere coat. Ruby rings on his fingers. From Pensacola, the big city.

A smarter woman would have noticed different things about this man, asked pointed questions. But she didn’t need to be smart, did she? She was, after all, recently crowned Miss Black Little Hill. 1965 was her year, she could feel it.

 

I shared last November that I attended the Hay House Writers Workshop in Houston. It is hosted by Hay House Publishing, a leading giant in the publishing field on health, spirituality and personal transformation books. In the workshop, they teach you about the publishing business, especially how to write and pitch nonfiction book proposals. Unlike fiction manuscripts where you complete the entire book and then pitch your work, in nonfiction, you write a proposal *before the book* and pitch the idea.


I had wanted to attend this conference for years as I have been working on a book about creativity for some time. So, I made the commitment to go. It was a gift to myself. One of the wonderful things about the workshop is that attendees can submit their book proposals six months later to HH in consideration for publication and you only “compete” with the other attendees. How cool is that? There were about 250 people in attendance and about 75 people submitted proposals. They provide three publishing prizes. Although I didn’t win one of them, I did receive HONORABLE MENTION for my book proposal: The Creative Tickle: 52 Ways to Tap into Your DNA and Divinity!!! And with honorable mention (which I didn’t even know they did) I got SPECIALIZED FEEDBACK on my proposal from the Acquisitions editors. How cool is that? I’m that much closer to getting my ideas into the world. I’m so glad that I didn’t talk myself out of going to the conference (which would have been easy to do for a million reasons) and also of submitting my work (ditto!).

I gathered some of the many wonderful authors together to do a virtual reading from Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility, a collection that was released last year, edited by Andrea Fekete and Lara Lillibridge.

I shared some insights from the introduction and then several amazing contributors read an excerpt of their piece. I read a snippet from my essay, “The Poisons Our Mothers and Grandmothers Drank”. The anthology was published last year and there were a few live readings. Timing is a funny thing though, many of us had hoped for the collection to be more visible and despite their being more than 70+ authors, it was hard to get the marketing efforts off the ground. Then the readings that were scheduled for this spring were cancelled due to the pandemic. I decided to reach out to the editors and suggest hosting some virtual readings. They loved the idea and I ran with it. I’ll probably host two more. It was fun and I always learn something new using Zoom. Writers and readers are all desperately seeking community and to feel connected and virtual readings help. I also think that this collection gets timelier every single day.

In late April, I started a YouTube channel. I have been populating it with short excerpts of me reading from recently published fiction. It’s been fun!

 

Reminder: Last Write-IN happening tomorrow: Thursday, May 28 (3-5 pm and 8-9 pm EST).

How it works:

You log on through a Zoom link, see me on Zoom (everyone one is muted, and video off) and I lead you through a 5 minute writing prompt, mindfulness exercise or gentle stretch.

After that, I turn on an online timer for 45 minutes. You write. At the end of 45 minutes, I come on and encourage you to take a break before the next session (i.e. stretch, drink some water, etc.). We do the same thing during the second hour.

To get the Zoom links for tomorrow’s Write-IN, go here.

 

Hi Writers,

Right now many writers I know are struggling with focus, accountability and staying inspired. Like other aspects of our lives, our precious writing routines have been (and continue to be) disrupted.

What many of us crave is connection, both to other writers and our inner writing rhythms.

A few weeks ago, I hosted several FREE Write-INS to gather together virtually and write.

I called it ‘Write, Connect and Share’: Virtual Write-INs’

Here’s how it works:

You log on through a Zoom link, see me on Zoom (everyone one is muted, and video off) and I lead you through a 5 minute writing prompt, mindfulness exercise or gentle stretch.

After that, I turn on an online timer for 45 minutes. You write. At the end of 45 minutes, I come on and encourage you to take a break before the next session (i.e. stretch, drink some water, etc.). We do the same thing during the second hour.

Why this structure? It’s been proven one of the most effective ones for helping writers minimize external and internal distractions. And doing shorter sessions prevents binge writing. This is the structure that I have used consistently and successfully for both my scholarly and creative work for the past five years. This format encourages a mindful approach and helps me write smack-dab in the middle of my busy life.

So, many folks showed up at the Write-INs. Some people came to all of the sessions, others to just one session. Some stayed for the full two hour block and others came for one hour. Many people said it was the first time they had written in weeks. Others noted how calm they felt before and after their writing session.

Here’s the best part—I’m doing it again for FREE on Monday, May 25 (7:30-9:30 am EST) and Thursday, May 28 (3-5 pm and 8-9 pm EST).

I’m only offering this support to folks who are readers of this blog and/or subscribers to my newsletter .

I’d love for you to join me.

Writing together, in community, in a focused way can boost the writing routine you have or get you back on track if you haven’t been writing much during the past few weeks.

To get the Zoom links for the upcoming Write-INs, go here.

 

Self-talk is important. What have you been saying to yourself about your writing these past few weeks, or months or even years? Most of us use negative internal language in relation to our creative lives. In last month’s Chatham County Line column I shared how in 2016 a daily affirmation practice changed my life. If you were a reader of the blog in 2016, you may remember this endeavor. Coaches, psychologists and other mental health providers now routinely advocate the use of helpful and positive self-talk. My piece is called “Fruits of a Daily Affirmation Practice”. Here’s a snippet below. I hope you check it out.

I loved making nice images for my affirmations using Canva

The Fruits of a Daily Affirmation Practice

 

Feeling worthy is a learned behavior. —Beverly McIver, visual artist

 

In 2016, I committed to a practice that changed my creative life.  I posted an original affirmation every day on my blog, The Practice of Creativity, from January 1-December 31.

What are affirmations?

 There is a great secret which successful writers and creators from all backgrounds use – affirmations. That’s right, affirmations, phrases that affirm our work and value. And, they help us direct intention into our work. And, they can work for you. Many psychologists, mental health workers and coaches advocate the use of affirmations.

 An affirmation is a short, simple, positive declarative phrase that as Eric Maisel says, in Coaching the Artist Within, “you say to yourself because you want to think a certain way…or because you want to aim yourself in a positive direction.” You can use them as ‘thought substitutes’ to dispute self-injurious thoughts (as a cognitive behavioral approach), or to provide incentive and encouragement when those seem to be in short supply. Affirmations rewire our assumptions about what’s possible.

The imposter syndrome is a universal one among writers. Established writers can have bouts with it as often as emerging writers. We combat it through affirmations, having a writing community and persisting.

In 2016 what I needed as a writer was lots of practice in self-kindness, plain and simple. I had craft, discipline and perseverance in spades. Many creative people struggle with simply being self-accepting. As you know, we can think the meanest things about ourselves. I don’t know of any writer who hasn’t felt like giving up on their writing dreams. I don’t know of any writer who couldn’t benefit from helpful, kind self-talk on a regular basis. Anxiety, unhelpful self-talk, and inner critics often stop us before we can even get to our projects.

https://chathamcountyline.org/pdfs/CCL.april20.web.pdf

 

Your invitation still stands, click here to get your ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’.

Hi writing peeps,

Most writers I know are having a difficult time staying connected to their writing life. In the past six weeks, you’ve probably had your schedule upended in completely dramatic ways. Your writing routine is now very different than it once was. Me, too.

This was the #truth

Some of us aren’t writing and really want to. Many of us still have deadlines and projects.

How can you move forward on the writing that matters most?

You know my mission is to serve creative people. I’ve recently written a short guide ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’. In it are some powerful ways to get and stay inspired. These are techniques I’ve culled from years of working with clients through my coaching practice. You’ll love this information and find it valuable. [And, the guide includes some cool bonuses, too]. It’s my FREE offering to you.

I’m only offering this to people in my community. You won’t find this information elsewhere.

Click here to get your ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’.

*Also, if you are reading this and work in a creative area besides writing, I believe you’d find the guide useful, too.

Photo credit

I’ve been a bit quiet here because I’ve been recovering from crazy deadlines and intense creative output. In October, I shared that I attended the Hay House Writer’s Workshop and learned much about book proposal writing. Hay House Publishing is known for publishing leading self-help, health and wellness, and personal transformation books and has a very successful thirty-year track record.

The attendees to each of the Hay House WWs are able to submit their book proposal into a subsequent contest for one of the three publishing prizes that they sponsor between Hay House and Balboa Press, their smaller imprint. The cool thing is that you are only competing with people who attended that particular conference, in that particular city. Usually about 250 people attend each conference and Reid Tracy, CEO of Hay House reminded us that typically 80-100 people actually are able to get the book proposal in on time. I liked those odds which is one of the reasons why I decided to attend.

Super inspiring to hear Rebekah Borucki’s journey. She attended a HH Writer’s workshop a few years ago but didn’t submit a proposal. She then worked on the book proposal for ‘You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life’ and platform. She submitted her proposal to Hay House via the traditional route and it got acquired and it is now out. She talked about writing the book of your heart. I also appreciated that they showcased an up and coming author and one who identifies as bi-racial.

I’ve been working on a creativity book for some time and so had a draft proposal. I was determined to be in the group of people who submitted their work (see my post about the importance of submitting your work and not self-rejecting) by the due date which was April 5. However, despite my best intentions, I didn’t start the revision process until January. And, although they gave us an invaluable handbook and worksheet of what to include in the proposal, I started the revising later than I had wanted. I had a lot more to add in the marketing and competing books sections. During Jan and Feb, I also attended to other pressing deadlines. Oh, and then COVID-19 happened. And, everything became harder and more chaotic.

And, as they do, my excuses glommed together and created a wonderful home for resistance to take hold.

Deep resistance kicked in just days before I was due to submit the proposal. I kept telling myself that on closer inspection my idea was dumb, had all been said before, unworthy, etc. Yup, the inner critics were phenomenally loud. And, to top it all off, I waited until the last minute to create a short video which was a mandatory part of the package! They asked applicants to create a video to provide some background about ourselves and our book idea. Since marketing and promotion often requires authors to create short videos, they want to see our comfort and skill level with video. We had to post it to our YouTube channel. I do have a YouTube channel, but had forgotten the password, how to login, etc. Resolving that took a good twenty minutes.

As we all know, perfect is the enemy of the good, so after I was pretty happy with the proposal, I got busy on the video. I really tried to not overly script the video and to just enjoy myself. I probably did at least twenty takes before I said, OK, I’ve got to go with the strongest one so far. It’s not perfect.

Looking at the video now, there are lots of things I would do differently and will do differently in the future. I decided though to hold off on judgement for a good 24 hours. I learned long ago from Barbara Sher, author of Wishcraft, how important it is to not judge yourself for at least for 24 hours after you do something creative in public.

The most important thing is that the book proposal package was sent a few hours before the deadline. It got done!

I learned so much from attending the workshop, revising the proposal and submitting it. No matter what the outcome, I feel like a winner.

In my notes from the conference, I wrote down something that Reid said that we should all remember (paraphrased): “The challenge for most writers is to remind yourself…the work doesn’t feel new to you, but it is new to other people.” (emphasis mine)

That was the crux of my resistance–I’d been looking at and living with aspects of the book idea forever, so it didn’t feel exciting or new anymore. That’s why those voices were on hyperdrive. I’d forgotten what that type of resistance felt like.

In the video, I talk about my book proposal for The Creative Tickle®: 52 Ways to Tap into Your DNA and Divinity and a little about myself.  

If you’re so inclined, check out my video and feel free to leave a thumbs up or a nice comment (y’all are kind people, I know!).

I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore my feelings and relationship to the term ‘Afrofuturism’ in this recent essay for the online quarterly magazine South Write Large: Stories, Arts and Ideas for the Global South. Is this a term that you have heard a lot about? How do you engage with Afrofuturism?

My Unlikely Path to Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism is everywhere these days. From the staggering success of Black Panther to the revival of Octavia Butler’s works, especially the prescient Parable of the Sower written in 1993, to the award-winning novels by N. K. Jemisin, these books have ushered in a new moment. We’re not just talking about literature or film, but music, fashion design, visual arts, and social activism as well. What often gets lost or flattened, however, when a phenomenon enters the mainstream, is the nuance, history, and multiple viewpoints on said phenomenon. Read the rest of the essay here.

I’ve returned to monthly column writing and I’m thrilled about it. My first adventure with column writing was with the Chapel Hill News from 2012-2014. I was discovered by an editor at the CHN through a very personal and vulnerable post that I shared on social media. He encouraged me to become a ‘My View’ columnist. See more about that story here.

For that column, I wrote about a variety of topics including the perils of petite fashion, my early life, my mother, creativity and feminism. I absolutely loved it and learned tons including the ability to write to deadline, what kinds of columns move readers and how to cultivate a nonfiction writing ‘voice’.

Now, I’ve decided to write for the Chatham County Line, a refreshed monthly community paper distributed in the county where I live. I took up monthly writing again for several reasons:

-The publisher is a longtime friend and is interested in making sure a diversity of voices are represented in the paper.

-I like that he has updated the paper and I want to be part of the positive and forward thinking changes it fosters in the community.

-Writing a column increases my profile locally.

-I told the publisher I want to focus on topics of creativity and inspiration, areas that I’m passionate about and ones where I want to deepen my publishing record.

-I also want to take risks in what I write about creativity. That feels pretty vulnerable. Writing a blog can be an intimate experience, but readers are spread across the globe. And, subscribers to blogs generally have an affinity for what a blogger is sharing. Writing for one’s community, knowing that you might run into someone, that read your column, in the grocery store is a different feeling.

I’m excited though about this adventure and I hope you’ll check it out, too. This month’s theme was ‘Get Out of the Basement:  Cultivating a Writing Community.’

I’m a creative writer. It’s taken me a long time to publicly claim and affirm that designation.
There is no one path to being a writer or embodying a writing life. 

You can find the rest here.

Remember, small local papers always need interesting writers with something to say. Consider pitching yourself as a columnist!

I’m doing something I have never done before. I’m sharing a few paragraphs from my WIP for WITCHES, WARRIORS AND WISE WOMEN the Kickstarter funded anthology. The tentative title for my story is ‘Ditch Girl’ and is set in a post-apocalyptic world with a smidgen of urban fantasy. There are definitely witches in this story. This is a draft for your reading pleasure only.

BTW, we are 66% funded with only 3 days to go. I’d LOVE it if you would consider supporting this project and/or sharing the link. And, thanks to all of you who have already supported the project in various ways!

There are still VERY cool rewards and pledge levels available—help us fund this project and get some extra goodies for yourself. But hurry—the clock is ticking!

It will feature new fiction by me and Gail Martin, Paige Christie, Darin Kennedy, Alexandria Christian, Nicole Smith, JD Blackrose and many others.

Details here.

“Ditch Girl”

The cemetery never scared Welcome, even as a child.  Cutting through it to get home provided the quickest route and allowed unrivaled use of her imagination. She would make up stories about people, looking for the oldest headstones. Most days after school, before it got dark, she’d pick an interesting gravestone, settle in and strike up a conversation. She’d share things that didn’t sit right in her mind.

She might say, “Ana Sterling of 1950, if you were here, I’d show you around Thistleview. Not that there’s very much to see. In your day, I bet you use to go into that old city called Tulsa, not too far from here. It’s not there anymore now, Ana.”

Or, “One day the preacher’s wife slapped me for not wearing a slip. After service, she asked me to come in the back to talk to her and before I knew it she had her beefy hand on me.

The preacher’s wife said, “Welcome, can’t you see your breasts are falling out that dress? Do you want to end up like your mother?”

Mama never said I had to wear a slip, Ana. I don’t even have a slip. I stopped going to church after that. The preacher’s wife don’t bother me no more. She don’t even speak to me at all. She just looks right through me as if I’m some piece of old cobweb. Were slips big in your day, Ana? I bet they were. People had money back then from what I’ve read. They went places that needed slips.”

On this day Welcome made her way through the forested part of the cemetery, where the red cedars were thickest and some of the oldest headstones lay. She paused and sniffed, noticing the coolness in this part of the cemetery. She then heard words sung by a female voice:

My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart

Goosebumps pebbled her pale skin and she hunched into her ragged coat. The phrases repeated and Welcome looked toward the nearest stand of trees. She darted behind one and then another thinking that she had been followed by some of her stupid classmates.

After a few minutes of frantic searching and finding no singers (she knew no one in town that sounded as good as that voice), with every vein straining in her face, she listened.

Another female voice rang out, this one heavier:

We’re trying to come throu…

Come to us!

The moment seared her like when she waited for the once a month afternoon train. Pricks of excitement and danger bit into her, making her hop from foot to foot. She couldn’t make herself stand still. Nothing she had heard so far in her life sounded as good as these voices. They made her feel as if her favorite butterscotch candies were melting on her tongue. No, it was as if she floated in warm butterscotch candy. She ran up and down the stretch of the cemetery. Welcome overturned rocks, peeked behind headstones, climbed a small tree and searched for the origin of those voices until she could barely see in front of her.

Exhausted, she remembered her responsibilities. Mama will wonder where dinner is.

“Please, whatever you are come to me,” she said at last, the frustration catching in her throat. On rest of the walk home as the sun sank, a feeling of utter sadness swept over Welcome. Maybe everyone in town is right. I’m going crazy, like Mama.

***

I hoped you enjoyed this snippet. I’m sure that my opening and entire story will go through several drafts before I’m happy with it and send it on. I look forward to working with Jason Graves, publisher of Prospective Press and editor of this anthology.

 

My writing community and life became infinitely richer when in 2015, on the suggestion of a writer friend, I attended illogicon, a local sci-fi convention. Michael G. Williams was one of the featured panelists that year (and many years since). Michael was just being himself on those panels and he probably didn’t know he was inspiring a lot of us in the audience with his candor, humor and deep knowledge of the genre. I was also inspired by the fact that he writes across several genres. He’s kind and encouraging of new writers. He’s also a vocal and visible advocate of diversity in gaming, geekdom, and speculative fiction and media. Fast forward many years later, I feel lucky to have appeared on several panels with him.

His recent book A Fall in Autumn is one of my favorite books that I have read this year. It’s sci-fi noir and unlike anything I have read before. The world-building is amazingly complex and I really loved the voice of Valerius Bakhoum, the main character. You can read a sample chapter here.

Michael G. Williams writes wry horror, urban fantasy, and science fiction: stories of monsters, macabre humor, and subverted expectations. He is the author of three series for Falstaff Books: The Withrow Chronicles, including Perishables (2012 Laine Cunningham Award), Tooth & NailDeal with the DevilAttempted Immortality, and Nobody Gets Out Alive; a new series in The Shadow Council Archives featuring one of San Francisco’s most beloved figures, SERVANT/SOVEREIGN; and the science fiction noir A Fall in Autumn. Michael also writes short stories and contributes to tabletop RPG development. Michael strives to present the humor and humanity at the heart of horror and mystery with stories of outcasts and loners finding their people.

I wanted to hear more about the influences that helped shape his writing. I’m so delighted to welcome Michael G. Williams to The Practice of Creativity.

-Tell us about your new book, A Fall in Autumn? What’s in store for readers?

A Fall in Autumn is a far-future science fiction detective story about Valerius Bakhoum, a washed-up private eye taking what he expects will be his last case. It’s got the voice of a hard-boiled detective story but the setting and characters of the more fanciful end of science fiction: human-animal hybrids, genetically modified people, and golems (which we would call androids).

It’s set far enough in the future – 12,000 years from now – that from Valerius’ perspective you and I are living in Atlantis. They know that people were alive in our time, and they know there are stories of a highly advanced society, and they know there are stories of that phase of human civilization completely wrecking the planet and destroying itself in its hubris, but Valerius and his contemporaries aren’t totally sure any of that is actually true.

At the time of the story, humanity’s technological forte is genetic manipulation and genetic engineering. In theory, the Vrashabh Empire – the dominant political entity, and the nation of which Valerius is a citizen – is a completely egalitarian society, in which all citizens are equal. In practice, the 25% of the population who are what Valerius calls “floor models,” designed from scratch or upgraded or otherwise genetically enhanced, are the ruling elite. The rest of humanity is overwhelmingly human-animal hybrids purpose-built for various roles in the economy, from manual labor to specific “white collar” jobs. There’s a very thin slice, maybe one percent of one percent, socially situated in the middle. These are Artisanal Humans, people who were made the old-fashioned way by people who are likewise unmodified. They’re considered a sort of “backup copy” of the human genome, and are supposed to live in genetic preserves where they have fewer exposures to environmental mutagens. Valerius is one of the Artisanal Humans, and so finds himself simultaneously fetishized as admirably pure and reviled as a grotesque throwback.

-What did you like to read growing up and/or as a young adult and are there any of those influences in your work?

I read boatloads of mysteries, horror, and science fiction, and those are definitely influences on what I write now!

My household had a ton of the yellow-bound Nancy Drew novels, and I really envied her lifestyle. She had her own car, an absentee parent, and a couple of friends to get into trouble with her. Who needs more than that? Dracula was one of my favorite books of childhood for the same reason: this deeply personal tale of a group of friends and lovers overcoming evil by trusting in one another and fighting bravely for one another despite the world’s refusal to believe what they’re experiencing? That seemed like exactly what I needed as a gay kid in the middle of nowhere.

I read classic sci-fi, tie-in novels for Star Trek by the wheelbarrow-load, Stephen King, and anything else I could find. But I also read a lot of classic literature, and Wuthering Heights remains one of my favorite books of all time. Given where and when I grew up, and how I grew up – specifically, being raised by evangelicals in isolation from a lot of pop culture – I wanted every book I could beg, borrow, or steal, and I read constantly.

-Much of your published work employs vivid first person narration. What draws you to use that point of view?

I love to get inside a character’s head and really unpack what makes them tick. For me, as a writer, nothing is more interesting and more motivating than the chance to sit with a character’s take on the world and learn their strengths, their weaknesses, the scars they bear from past wounds, and the secret wells of principle within them. Good characters constantly surprise us, and I want to give the perspective character the maximum opportunity to effect that surprise. With Valerius, the more of him I wrote the more complexity I find in his perspectives and attitudes. The story would not have been the same from a third-person perspective. It would have been significantly weaker.

Compelling stories are driven by characters making choices we can fully understand. That’s what drives both the horrifying inevitability of tragedy and the cathartic triumph of a hero overcoming her foes to claim victory. Learning a character inside and out is a great way to build our skills for empathy, too, and I think increasing empathy may be the only way we have to prevent the social, economic, and political downfall that destroyed our world in the fictitious history of Valerius’ future.

-While reading A Fall in Autumn one can’t help but ruminate on questions of memory, identity and personhood. Have you tackled these or similar concepts in your other work, or is this fresh territory for you?

Every single one of us struggles with the tension between how others see us and how we see ourselves. Ultimately, that’s at the root of every conflict between two people: a parent and their rebellious teen, two co-workers who both think they should be in charge, two spouses who disagree with how one or the other spent their money or their time, and so on. I think the only truly universal experience is of finding out someone else does not see us the way we see ourselves. And that’s certainly been at the heart of the greatest struggles of my personal life. I grew up gay in a remote mountain town, surrounded by people whose sets of acceptable outcomes for my life turned out to have almost no overlap with who I actually was. Who I am today is partly who I actually am and partly a reaction to others’ prejudiced demands and incorrect assumptions about me – and that’s true for everyone. I call A Fall in Autumn “queer sci fi” in part because Valerius is an explicitly queer character and in part because it’s a story about the power of identity to drive who we are, and how others see us, and the way a conscious examination of our own identity may close off certain paths for our life but it opens up other ones, new futures in which we get to be much more honest, much more authentic. That, more than anything, is the modern queer experience: that of people discovering who we are and choosing to lead lives that honor our self-revelation rather than obscure it.

My now-completed vampire series The Withrow Chronicles (which starts with Perishables) absolutely centered around those, as Withrow found himself over and over again confronting the difference between who he thought himself to be, who others thought him to be, and who he needed to become to survive that story. Throughout those books Withrow repeatedly assures us – in the course of trying to assure himself – that he’s a monster now, not a person, and that “person rules” don’t apply. Even in my urban fantasy series SERVANT/SOVEREIGN (which starts with Through the Doors of Oblivion), the heroes’ biggest personal questions are around how they are perceived by others versus how they perceive themselves, and what that says about how much they value the people and places they’re trying to save.

The same is very true of Valerius, who is constantly running into other people’s conflicting ideas of who he should be, how he should behave, and what’s “acceptable” for him. He occupies a place in society that some consider privileged and others consider reprehensible, and I really wanted to play with what it does to a person to get it from both sides like that. I think in many ways that’s very typical of the current queer experience, in which straight people watch RuPaul’s Drag Race in sports bars and right-wing politicians write dehumanizing laws intended to keep us marginalized and afraid.

-What is one area of craft that you knew you were weak in (or just OK), when you started writing that you rock now? How did you get there?

Different characters having different voices, probably. No, wait: real emotional depth in the characters’ perspectives and experiences.

No, scratch that, planning and editing.

No, wait, can I just list myself as being weak in everything? I’m not yet convinced I rock any of them. 🙂

(But seriously, I think I used to really stink at giving different characters their own voices and now I’m at least OK at it.)

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

Don’t worry about genre. Don’t think about where the book would be shelved in a bookstore or what categories it would have on Amazon. Those are important, sure, sort of, but they’re not as important as writing a story that makes you excited to tell it. It doesn’t matter what your book is about as long as you’re enthusiastic when you try to pitch it to others. If you have an idea that you love, and you think it might blend things together too much or be too “all over the place,” guess what: readers love that. Readers want to see an explosion of big ideas. Readers want you to lean in close and give them the elevator pitch of their lives: gay werewolves in space! Gothic romance but no one realizes everyone else is a secret vampire, too! Friday Night Lights but also they’re hedge wizards! I have had people walk away from my books because they were cross-genre, yes, but I’ve had many more drawn to my books because mixing things up and blending things together leads to the exceptionally pleasant experience of novelty.

Michael G. Williams is a prolific and award-winner writer. He writes novels across multiple genres and likes to subvert and mashup genres from time to time.

Michael is also an avid podcaster, activist, reader, runner, and gaymer, and is a brother in St. Anthony Hall and Mu Beta Psi. He lives in Durham, NC, with his husband, two cats, two dogs, and more and better friends than he probably deserves.

Find out more about him here.

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

View Full Profile →

Follow me on Twitter

Follow Us

Follow Us

Follow Us

Follow The Practice of Creativity on WordPress.com
%d bloggers like this: