The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘inspiration

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.

 

Besides loving to write fiction, I also love writing nonfiction. Over several decades, I have read and benefited from what’s known as ‘self-help, inspirational and personal transformation’ kinds of books. And, truth be told, I’ve always wanted to write a book that falls in the area of inspiration/personal transformation, especially as it relates to creativity. And, I’ve had my eye on Hay House Publishing for a long time.

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. Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and Kris Carr are well-known Hay House authors and many Hay House authors end up on the New York Times bestseller list. Hay House is one of the top twenty major publishers in the U.S. The founder of Hay House was Louise Hay and she wrote You Can Heal Your Life, book that sold millions and was translated into many languages. She helped to create the modern ‘self-help’ genre. I read her book in my twenties, loved it and shared it with everyone I knew. She was at the forefront of making the argument that what we think (and think about) can affect our bodies, now known as the ‘mind-body’ connection.

The U.S. ‘self-improvement market’ is estimated at 9 billion dollars and close to 800 million dollars of that involves books!

Hay House provides an experience for aspiring authors that no other publishing company does. For the past twelve years they have hosted the ‘Hay House Writer’s Workshop’, an intimate in-person event. They share with you the insider information about the publishing process from start to finish (i.e. developing an idea to submitting proposal to building a platform) and you get to hear from some of their most popular authors. The idea is to give aspiring authors a jump-start and leg up. And, here is the truly remarkable thing—if you attend a live event, you are eligible to participate in their exclusive contest (for that event) and submit a book proposal six months later. From every event they pick three winning book proposals with a commitment to publish those books. The Grand Prize is $10,000. You can only enter the contest by attending. And each event is attended by about 250 people. Reid Tracy, the CEO of Hay House said that despite those good odds, they often only end up with 60-80 entries. I like those odds!

And, so for years I have wanted to attend the Hay House Writer’s Workshop. I decided this was the year to commit, so a few weeks ago, I headed to the Houston event. I went with few expectations and can truly say that the experience was phenomenal.

Some highlights:

The People:

For me, there’s few better ways to spend my time than with other writers. I met people from all over the globe who had made their way to Houston. A few nights before I left, I put a note out on the site’s Facebook page to see if people wanted to get together for dinner when we got in as I knew no one in Houston. People responded right away and this became the beginning of a great group of about eight of us. One of the folks I met is a writer in Greensboro, just 45 minutes from where I live—we even know a ton of the same writers. Small world!

I was fascinated by people’s backgrounds and what was motivating them to attend. There were medical doctors, integrative health practitioners, therapists, grandmothers, seasoned writers, entrepreneurs,healers, energy workers, and newbie writers all wanting to know more about Hay House and how to get their book into the world and change people’s lives. Close to 90% percent were interested in writing prescriptive non-fiction and/or a ‘teaching memoir’. I don’t usually get to meet so many people that were interested in personal transformation topics so that was a treat. They were kind, funny and generous. It was also a diverse group of writers which I was very thankful for. I left with a new community of wonderful writers.

The Workshop/Speakers: 

Hay House delivered on providing an excellent, inspiring and informative curriculum. Reid and Kelly Notaras were our informative co-hosts.They spent a lot of time explaining the publishing market and led with the fact that authors need a platform (or the ability to create one) and that out of 80,000 books published a year only about 300 of them sell 50,000 copies (which in publishing is seen as a type of benchmark). They also talked about the range of options for publishing besides the traditional route and in both cases explained how important it is to work with an editor, before you send your proposal or book out the door.

Reid Tracy welcoming us and talking about the power of Hay House books to change people’s lives.

Each presenter provided insight either about the writing process, how to stay inspired, or how they broke in. They were engaging, funny and inspiring.

Mike Dooley shared his story of how he started his ‘notes from the universe’ when he was in a down period and how serving people over time helped him create a major platform. He started with 36 email addresses and now has thousands and thousands of people around the world who are engaged with his message.

Nancy Levin spoke from the heart about how she came to write her own book after being the Hay House events manager for over a decade. I was impressed that she spoke without notes or a fancy Powerpoint. She also talked openly about the value of working with an editor and a ghostwriter. On Sun morning she also led a fantastic meditation workshop that included poetry, very unique.

Robert Holden (toward the right of center), author of Shift Happens started his talk off with us dancing on stage with him to Stevie Wonder! As we had been sitting almost all day, this was such a joy. His talk was about how to write through fear and anxiety. And, he stressed writing as a spiritual practice which resonated with me.

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.

The Materials:

I’m not a newbie to writing or publishing. For about a ¼ of the participants the idea of writing a book was new and they didn’t know a lot about publishing platforms, finding a writer’s group, how to put together a proposal, etc. I came knowledgeable about the publishing process, but learned lots! There were two things that got everyone up to speed. One was the long Q&A sessions on Sat afternoon and Sunday where anyone could ask a question and they all got answered as best they could by Reid and Kelly. And, the second was this incredible manual that they gave us that contained a successful proposal of a book that was acquired by Hay House, plus information about publishers in the field besides Hay House that publish in the self-help field, resources for platform building and other tips about both traditional and indie publishing. It was a gold mine of resources and alone was worth the cost of the trip.

I’m glad I got myself to Houston (didn’t do as much sight-seeing as I would have liked) and I know have until April to write my book proposal for the contest and send it in. I’ll keep you posted!

My 90 day fast draft novel challenge is done! I finished up last week. I ended up with a little under 55,000 words. Not bad for a first draft. I had a few setbacks though, including losing 6,000 words (!) due to a computer glitch in a recent Microsoft Word update for the Mac. Losing that much material really sucked, but overall, I feel inspired about the progress I’ve made on my nascent horror novel.

Why This Challenge Worked for Me:

-I love a good writing challenge! Doing a fast draft appeals to me for the same reason that doing NaNoWriMo appeals to me. Both challenges provide structure and encourages and rewards daily effort. I love stretching past what I think I can do. With NaNoWriMo, you also get community through numerous online support via their website. Since I was posting my word counts on my author Facebook page, many folks cheered me on there.

-I also love the first drafting process. The first draft, as Jane Smiley has said, “only needs to exist.” In first drafts, I can put all my crazy ideas, flights of fancy, strange characters, and meandering subplots in. Although I was thinking some about the reader experience while writing, I was mostly writing to discover what I thought about the setting, the characters, my themes, etc.

-It gives me something to revise later. In Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass he said that when revising, you should look at a first draft and figure out the themes and ideas you were interested in exploring and then in the next draft to consciously write toward them.

-Writing 800-1,000 words five days a week was demanding, but also doable. I took Mondays and Tuesdays off which gave me some time to mull over what I was writing. NaNoWriMo’s daily word count of 1,667 words is not for the faint-hearted. This lower word count was just enough of a challenge to keep me focused, but it wasn’t so demanding that I had to keep the breakneck pace that NaNoWriMo requires.

-This challenge requires writing all the way to the end of the story. It forces you to construct some type of ending, no matter how provisional.

The only thing that I didn’t like about this challenge was that the research, writing and reading in the field was so all-consuming I couldn’t work on much of anything else during the 90 days. My submission rate plummeted. So, if I do this again, I will be more intentional about using one of my off days to stay on top of my submissions.

What’s next?

This big messy draft exists somewhere between an extended outline and fully fleshed out scenes and chapters. I’ll sit down in the middle of October, read it, make a new outline and write the next draft.

Want to know more about 90 day fast drafting? Check out Racheal Herron’s inspiring video.

I am excited to share my first experience co-hosting a podcast! I love the Writer’s Well: Conversations about writing from craft to wellness podcast with Rachael Herron and J. Thorn. Rachael Herron and J. Thorn are friends and full-time writers and they share observations about the challenges and joys of the writing life. Each person poses a question to the other; it’s an unscripted and fun process. I’ve been listening to them for about two years. I really enjoy how supportive they are of each other and their larger community. The advice they give is invaluable and their warmth and affection for each other is joyous.

I’m in their private, once a month Mastermind group along with author Amy Taksuda. I’ve been in the group three months and like I say on the show, it is the best thing I’ve done for my writing life this year. They coach us on our writing challenges and Amy and I also brainstorm with each other. Our group has got great synergy. We were honored that they asked each of us to co-host an episode, with Rachael, during September while J was traveling. I jumped at the opportunity as I love the show and enjoy speaking on podcasts when I have the opportunity.

Rachael posed the question to me: ‘How does physicality affect your writing?’ True to the show’s format, the question was fresh for me. We talked about yoga, writing routines, swimming, Zumba, staying healthy as a writer, outsmarting your inner critic and more.

Not having the question ahead of time and being spontaneous was a good practice for me. I often over prepare for most engagements and consequently can miss being present with what is actually happening. Don’t we all have control issues, lol? Of course, after the show I thought of all the additional things I wanted to say! But, you can tell from listening to our conversation that is was fresh, lively and surprising to each of us.

She made me feel so welcome. It was so fun and such an honor.

Check it out here when you have a moment!

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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