The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘novels

Hi Writers,

Over the past several months, I’ve heard from so many writers that their old ways of doing things just aren’t working.

Many of us aren’t writing and if we are writing, we’re not having a lot of joy doing it. Many of us are finding it hard to get ourselves to the page and to stay focused when we arrive. We’re often afraid, discouraged, and tired. Very tired. Our inner critics have been very loud during the past few months.

We haven’t danced with, wrangled with or been charmed by our muse(s) in quite a while.

I HEAR you and I’ve designed something for you that you will LOVE.

It’s time to RESET. I’ve found that if I don’t reset every 5-6 weeks regarding my mindset, exercise routine, and writing habits, I hit a wall.

A reset is in order. And FALL is a perfect time for one.

I’ve designed a NEW online monthly writing retreat series: Reset, Refresh and Reclaim

I call these themed retreats reset, refresh and reclaim for a reason—we need these qualities now more than ever to deal with the changing pace of life!

These well-paced structured retreats are designed to inspire you and connect you to other writers. You’ll get some serious writing done and have FUN while doing it!

Give me the next four months and I will take you from creatively blocked to creatively sparked!

My reset approach has kept me productive, writing and getting published throughout the last six months.

Space for these online retreats is limited. I’m offering this to YOU at these rates, before I advertise broadly, because you are part of my community as an engaged reader of this blog.

Want to see how excited I am to tell you about these retreats and what we will do in them? Here’s a brief video:

If you don’t want to watch the video, it’s fine. All the details are below.

Here’s what people have said recently about my expertise as a coach and writing facilitator:

“Michele’s calm voice and emphasis on mindfulness practices has been a boon to my writing.” Amy T.

“I’ve written more with Michele in two hours during her Write-INs than I have during the last four months.” Francesca P.

“Michele encourages one to do their deepest work in a supportive environment.” Mark J.

ONLINE WRITING RETREATS

Reset, Refresh and Reclaim

If you’ve found yourself isolated, alone, and struggling with your writing, imagine how much different writing might feel if you had some dedicated and structured time, plus awesome community and coaching support.

Here’s a way to write THROUGH the fear, sludge and anxiety!

You can sign up for ONE retreat or ALL of them. 

They all will include writing time (come with work or start something new), a brief writing craft discussion, fun writing exercises and games, mindfulness exercises for focus, and group coaching. We’ll have the option for a short lunch break and/or additional writing time.

Each retreat is curated to the needs and interests of the group. Once you register, I’ll send a brief survey to find out more about you. A few days prior to the workshop, you will receive additional information and any suggested readings or exercises.

Fall Retreat Dates:

*Saturday, Sept 26-The Harvest of 2020 

Saturday, Oct 24-Characters

Saturday, Nov 21-Beginnings, Middles and Endings

Saturday, Dec 12–Author Mindset/Goals for 2021

(11am-2pm EST via ZOOM)

(Dec’s retreat will go 11-3, BONUS hour!) 

(*tentative topics; each workshop is tailored to registered participants)

That’s 16+ hours of writing, community and support for you over the next 4 months!

Want to feel GREAT at the end of the year knowing that you MADE time for and NOURISHED your writing life? I know you do!

Ready to sign up? Ready to Reset?

Each online writing retreat is $69.00

Sign up for all four for $255 (discounted!)

Prices go up on 9/25

I can accept payment in a few ways:

-via PayPal:
(The link above takes you to my Creative Tickle business link. In the comment box for PayPal, let me know which month(s) you are registering for.)

-I’m also on Zelle as Michele Berger (State Employees’ Credit Union)

Questions? Email me at mtb@creativetickle.com

Look forward to seeing you soon!

Do you aspire to be a career author? Unsure of how to take your writing and marketing to the next level? Would you like to gain insider tips and techniques from some of the biggest names in publishing about how to build and sustain the author life? Want to make meaningful connections with authors nationally? Want a great event to look forward to?

Mark your calendars as I have something just for you!

I would love for you to join me at the Career Author Summit 2021. I’m thrilled to be a presenter at this major author event hosted by J. Thorn and Zack Bohannon, authors (Three Story Method and 9 Things Career Authors Don’t Do) and podcasters (The Career Author Podcast). It’s an *immersive 2 day event, Sept 18-19 2021 in Nashville, TN. The conference is capped at 120 people.

https://thecareerauthor.com/summit2021/

[*Don’t want to attend live? You have the option for a virtual ticket– the virtual ticket gets you real-time viewing (and replay) from home. The in-person ticket also gets the replay. One-time payment or installment plan option. Scholarships available, too! See website for additional details.]

It’s going to be phenomenal! This amazing line-up of speakers includes: Jeff Goins (author of Real Artists Don’t Starve and The Art of Work), Rachael Herron (thriller writer, podcaster and memoirist, author of  Fast Draft Your Memoir), Becca Syme (creator of the Write Better-Faster course and author of Dear Writer, You’re Doing It Wrong), Mark Lefebvre (author and Director of Business Development at Draft2Digital) and Stephanie Bond (author of over 96 novels traditionally and indie published, over 7 million copies in worldwide distribution).

https://thecareerauthor.com/summit2021/

My Experience with the 2020 Career Author Summit

In May I attended the Career Author Summit hosted by J. Thorn and Zack Bohannon and Jim Kukral. It was supposed to be in Nashville (and I sure was looking forward to checking out the BBQ and music scene), but they like so many other event organizers wisely decided to make it a virtual event.

I made the decision to attend the CAS in 2019 to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I typically know and hang out with traditionally published writers. And, I typically attend craft focused writing workshops. The CAS’s focus is more on indie and hybrid publishing and the business side of being a career author.

The conference was outstanding in content with presentations on topics that included ‘Making (More) Money as a Writer’,  ‘Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting and Voice Technologies’, ‘Finding a Mentor/Being a Good Mentee’, ‘The Myths and Legends of Amazon Ads’ to ‘The Future of Publishing’ with key representatives from Google Play, Draft2Digital, Kobo, Reedsy and Vellum.

The roster of speakers was fantastic and included Joanna Penn, (author and creator of The Creative Penn podcast), Lindsay Buroker (fantasy author and co-host of Six Figure Authors podcast) and Tim Grahl (book coach and author, Your First 1,000 Copies).

Every panel challenged my assumptions about what I thought I knew about the business of writing and gave me much to consider about how publishing may change during this decade for writers, publishers and readers.

Several presentations also focused on the importance of creating and managing a growth mindset.

And, the organizers did a great job helping writers connect with each other during the week with smaller genre specific networking opportunities (love those Zoom breakout rooms). They also set up a Slack channel prior to the conference which enabled the attendees to connect before, during and after the conference which was a great resource.

This summit was rocket fuel for my career. In the past 100 days I’ve been able to implement several  of the strategies offered by the speakers. I feel much more confident about meeting my short and long term goals as a career author. The connections I’ve made with other attendees (and speakers) at the CAS have already yielded incredible opportunities and collaborations that would simply not have happened on my own.

Our Pivot as Writers

One of the many comments that struck with me was from Jim Kukral’s introductory remarks when he said, “Adversity doesn’t stick to a schedule.” And, “This is the time to pivot as writers.” And, “It’s going to be OK.”

The adversity we are facing is going to change readers’ habits, publishing schedules and lots more. We are facing challenges and opportunities. Some of what we were doing or pursuing may no longer work.

Pivoting, as writers, in 2020 and 2021 is going to look differently for each of us.

I don’t know what this will look like for you.

It might mean:

-recommitting to your work

-upgrading aspects of your writing profile (i.e. website, social media profiles)

-keeping track and finishing more of your work (I finally have downloaded an incredible tool by the writer Jamie Raintree, that is a spreadsheet where you can track ten projects, set writing and revision goals and it records and updates everything. Tracking my progress visually is highly motivating for me.)

https://jamieraintree.com/writing-revision-tracker/

-investigating ways to increase productivity using new tools (i.e. Scrivener, dictation software)

-seek out what’s working right now for authors

-investigate producing audio content from your creative works (if you are traditionally published and still have audio rights or if you are indie published). The rise of audio is going to be a continuing and important trend for authors. Think about mature audio-eco-system that we are experiencing: smart technology in cars, smart devices, homes, etc. As Joanna Penn said during her talk, “If someone searches for your work and their preference is to listen to audiobooks, can they find you?”

-exploring how to get your content (if you are indie or hybrid published) sold on multiple platforms, instead of relying on Amazon

-exploring translation and foreign rights for your short stories and novels

What might pivoting in your writing life look like?

Something was nudging me to make some changes when I signed up for the conference. Before pivoting was optional. Now I know pivoting is not a choice, but a necessity. I’m fully committed to upping my writing game.

I hope you decide to invest in your writing career in 2021 and join us at the Career Author Summit!

The Career Author Summit – 2021

For the past several years, I’ve been curious about self-publishing and have wanted to pursue a more hybrid approach to my author career. I’ve listened to podcasts, read books and have worked to become better educated about the opportunities and challenges of self-publishing. There’s still a lot to learn and I’m working up the courage to have something self-published by the end of the year. Maybe you are thinking along the same lines and wondering how to develop a plan that doesn’t result in overwhelm. I’ve got you covered. I’m delighted to welcome Desiree Villena who is providing today’s guest post. Desiree is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. Over 2,500 books have been produced via Reedsy since 2015.

5 Tips to Transition from Traditional

Publishing to Self-Publishing

These days, the world of publishing has more choices than ever before. For perhaps the first time ever, authors are truly free to pick the publishing path that is both best suited to their personality and most effective at bringing their particular story to the right audience.

But if you’re used to having your books traditionally published, venturing into the world of self-publishing can seem rather daunting. So today we’re going to cover 5 things you can do to help make the transition seamless — and even fun.

Create your own publishing schedule

As a traditionally published author, you’re used to having deadlines assigned to you. Depending on how well the project is going, this can feel like either a blessing and a curse. When you do strike out on your own, it can be tempting to think this means your days of racing to meet strict deadlines are over. But whatever you do: resist that impulse.

There’s a reason publishing houses operate on carefully mapped out timetables, and it’s not just the volume of books they’re producing. By creating a production schedule, you’ll be able to budget your time, money, and resources, as well as lay the groundwork for a successful launch plan.

Now, when you’re new to self-publishing, it may take you a while to figure out a realistic release timetable for you and your books. That’s okay. Be willing to learn from your experiences and adjust accordingly. It’s much easier to fix a plan that’s already there, than to wander aimlessly and hope for the best.

Build yourself a team

Publishing houses understand that each aspect of building a book requires different skills and talents. Book cover designers do not necessarily know how to create beautiful interiors, and they certainly can’t copy edit to find all yourweasel words and grammatical mistakes!

Although it’s called “self” publishing, do yourself a favor: don’t try to DIY this. Not only will it add way more stress and take time away from what you should really be focusing on (writing), but it’s not good for your books either.

Instead, you’ll want to make yourself the head of your own tiny publishing empire. Being able to choose your own editors, cover designers, and marketing specialists means that you’ll always be working with people you believe in and trust to bring your book to life the right way.

Set a clear vision for yourself

That said, this is still your book and your career as an author. Successful self-publishers know what they want from their career, and every business decision they make reflects the goals, priorities, and guidelines they set out for themselves.

To start, ask yourself what you’re really looking for by turning to self-publishing. “Success” is not an answer — what does that look like for you? What kind of author do you want to be, what kind of books do you want to write? Do you want to publish because you’re trying to bring specific stories into the world? How often do you need to publish to meet your goals?

Make sure to be honest as you’re talking to yourself about this. There really is no “wrong” answer, unless of course you’re looking to publish purely as a get-rich-quick method. Spoiler: that doesn’t work. Self-publishing can be financially successful in the long run, but it takes time, patience, and smart business tactics. It’s important to find value and fulfillment in the process before you turn a profit  — otherwise, you won’t stick with it long enough to find success.

Do your research

Remember how much time you spent learning how to get a literary agent? Guess what: you’re going to need to invest a similar amount into learning how to self-publish.

This doesn’t need to be disheartening, however. Your experience as a traditionally published author will give you a leg up: you’ll already know how to work well with an editor and on a deadline, as well as being familiar with the nerves that come with book launches and marketing tours.

But yeah, it’s a different process, and you’re going to need to learn the details of how it works. Luckily, there’s a whole wealth of publishing courses and blogs out there where you can find the answer to just about any self-publishing question that crosses your mind. And as a bonus tip, make friends within the self-publishing community. Believe me, no struggle you encounter will be unique, and there are more than enough sympathetic ears out there willing to give you advice and encouragement.

Let go of your fear of failure

Rejection is a constant in the traditional publishing world. By the time your first book is out you’ve been rejected by agents and publishers so often that you’re probably pretty numb to it. And it’s not like you’ll ever get a feedback form from agents that explain to you why they turned down your book. Even successful, professional authors can’t get away from it: just because your first book sold, doesn’t mean the next one will, and one failed launch can be the difference between getting signed again or not.

But in the self-publishing world, there is no such thing as a complete failure. Even if you do everything wrong and your first book only sells one copy to your mom, you can pick yourself back up, brush yourself off, and try again. You can switch genres, try different pen names, or just re-release a title with a new cover and a stronger marketing push. Remember, a book that doesn’t sell well at first can find success even years after its release. Your career is truly in your own hands, and the only way to “fail” is to stop trying.

With that in mind, it’s time for you to get out there and start making your dreams a reality. Good luck!

***

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

What are you doing today between 3-5pm (EST)? I’ll be a guest on Adam Messer’s live radio show. Come and ask us a question about the writing life! It’s going to be fun!

Here’s the promo: Join us live Sunday July 19, 2020 with guest Michele Tracy Berger on The Adam Messer Show from 3pm-5p EST on 107.5 FM Savannah ( wruu.org) Can’t listen live? Catch the podcast later on savannahmuses.com #radio #wruu1075

I’ve missed bringing you awesome author interviews this year, so I’m glad to share this new one with you!

Last June, I met Paige L. Christie on a panel at my first ConCarolinas. We were on a panel that I had pitched about ‘Mothers and Daughters’ and how their relationships are portrayed in speculative media. I had heard of Paige’s Legends of Arnan series and my curiosity was piqued as it was described as an epic fantasy with Western elements and feminist sensibilities. Or, as one reviewer on Amazon described it as, “a feminist Western with dragons”. The panel was fabulous and Paige and I quickly realized we had many overlapping interests. My plan was to invite her for an Author Q&A in 2019. The best laid plans…

Fast forward a year. Paige and I got reconnected through the lovely fact that we both have stories in the recently released Witches, Warriors and Wise Women anthology (by Prospective Press, same publisher as her epic fantasy series) and were on a virtual panel together promoting the book.

Paige L. Christie is author of The Legacies of Arnan fantasy series: Draigon Weather (2017), Wing Wind (2018), Long Light (2019), and the forthcoming Storm Forge (2020). As a believer in the power of words, Paige tells stories that are both entertaining and thoughtful. Especially of interest are tales that speak to women and open a space where adventure and fantasy are not all about happy endings. When she isn’t writing, she teaches belly dancing, is director of a non-profit, and runs a wine shop. She is a proud, founding member of the Blazing Lioness Writers, a small group of badass women, writing badass books.

It’s wonderful that Paige could join us to talk about her most recent novel, Long Light.  I’m so delighted to welcome Paige L. Christie to The Practice of Creativity.

 

 

Tell us about your new book, Long Light? This is the third book in your series that began with Draigon Weather. What’s in store for readers?

When I finished Draigon Weather, I realized that one of the minor characters, Kilras Dorn, was much more vital to the overall story than I initially anticipated. Much to my publisher’s dismay, I announced that the series would not be 3 books but rather 4 books. Long Light is Kilras’s story, from his childhood right up to the moment that ends the second book. Basically, I wrote Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, and am now writing Book 4. Oh the tribulations of being a ‘pantser’.

-When we were on panel together, you mentioned that you came to writing late in life (although you always had a desire to write). What are the gifts of pursuing a writing career later in life? What are the challenges, if any?

I actually started writing when I was 7 years old, and majored in writing and editing for my undergraduate degree. I’ve spent my whole life writing, but somewhere along the way I convinced myself that I was incapable of writing a novel, and that even if I did manage it, no one would be interested in reading it. So I did not complete my first novel until 2015, when I was 44 years old. The gift of this was that I had almost 4 decades of secret writing practice and had developed a strong, unique voice in that time period. The challenge is carrying a lot of guilt about ‘time wasted’, which, while pointless, weighs on me. I wish I’d had faith in myself and my writing sooner. But on the other hand, Draigon Weather could not have been written any sooner in my life. It’s a mixed bag. I’m just grateful that I got my act together at last!

-You take some delight, I think in mashing up and subverting genres. Your series is an epic fantasy that has a Western feel. What does genre mean to you?

Genre tells me where to find a book in a bookstore. It also lays out some expectations for long-time readers. People who read mysteries expect certain and different things than people who read horror or modern literature or fantasy or romance. Genre is basically a set of expectations mutually agreed upon by publishers, authors, and readers. Those expectations are based in resonance and shared history – and it’s really fun to ride those things to a place the reader does not expect.

 -How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I wrote the first draft of Draigon Weather in 4 months, then spent the next 18 months re-drafting and editing until it was in good enough shape to put out into the world. Wing Wind and Long Light both took about 2 years each to get into shape. The final book in the series is taking longest of all, mostly because the 2020 Pandemic has shorted-out my creative side. Overall, I can usually create a draft in 4-7 months, and then I nitpick for a year to get it where I want it.

-What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? Why?

What comes to mind for me is not a novel, but a series The Wars of Light and Shadow series by Janny Wurts. It is by far the most epic and intense thing I have ever read, and I think it gets over-looked because it is 1) a massive series written by a woman and people make ridiculous assumptions about what that means 2) uses such rich language and depth of detail that it demands a lot of the reader, and we live in a time when people want instant gratification. As a fan of intense character and world building, and a lover of complex, gorgeous use of language, the very things that freak people out are what attract me to these books. That and the fact that every time I think I know exactly what is going to happen next, I’m wrong! I simply adore these books.

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

This is a tough question because there’s no one-size writing advice for every human. I’d say never get to a point where you think you know it all. Always remain a student of craft. Read widely, seek advice, study books you like and figure out why you like those books, then try new techniques and styles until you find what works for you. Start writing and know that as long as you keep writing, you’ll get better!

Some craft books I recommend:

  • The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
  • Techniques of the Selling Writerby Dwight V. Swain
  • Steering the Craft– Ursula K. LeGuin

Paige L. Christie is a short story writer and novelist. She possesses an uncanny knowledge of myths, archetypes and mystical worlds, and is a true student of fantasy, science fiction, history. It is her deep interest in folklore, as well as intersection of Middle Eastern and North African cultures that originally piqued her interest in the exploration of the influence of different societies, which became the foundation of her novels. Find out more about her here.

Her third novel in the Legends of Arnan series, Long Light, is available everywhere online.

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

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.

 

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 had to sit on VERY GOOD NEWS for a few months, so I am happy to share my contract news and publishing story with you.

Many of you know that my sci-fi novella Reenu-You was published in 2017 by Book Smugglers Publishing, a very small press. What many of you don’t know is that in Nov 2018, BSP decided to get out of the publishing business. The two women who ran the press were wonderful and committed publishers, but they realized that after running it for almost six years, they would need to quit their full-time jobs to take the business to the next level.

This left me and all of their other authors without a publisher. Reenu-You became unavailable in any format by Dec 2018. You can imagine how I felt. I was definitely not expecting this turn of events. It had taken me so long to get that story into the world!

Here was my little novella doing well, garnering great reviews, finding its audience, making its way in the in the world and then BAM—it was GONE.

I have since discovered such is the life of tiny presses and the state of publishing. BSP told me that I should approach other local publishers that might be interested in acquiring it. They believed that it would find a good home. I was daunted by their advice, but I believed in the work.

Luckily, I reached out to the wonderful John Hartness, author and publisher of Falstaff Books to see if he was interested in acquiring the rights to Reenu-You. I had met him the year before at a local sci-fi con and when the local bookseller didn’t show, he did me a favor by selling copies of Reenu-You through his booth. In that intervening year, I also met many of his authors and knew that as a local publisher with a wide distribution network, he was actively recruiting speculative fiction authors who were with presses that had folded.

Last year we had a great meeting. He read the novella, liked it and asked me what I was working on. I had looked at his catalog before our meeting and saw that he didn’t have very much horror and so pitched him my idea—a horror novel that takes place in the Great Dismal Swamp. He loved it and said he would buy that and reissue Reenu-You!

I now have signed contracts and can make the official announcement. Reenu-You will re-emerge later this month and I will be delivering a horror manuscript to him in the summer.

Sometimes, life works out better than one can imagine. There’s so much we can’t control about publishing, but we can control or greatly influence things like building professional relationships, being persistent and believing in one’s work

I am incredibly thankful and honored to officially join the author family of Falstaff Books. Before joining, I knew some of the authors by their fantastic works including Samantha Bryant, Nicole Smith, Michael Williams, Alledria Hurt and Jason Gilbert. Now, I know how kind, supportive and generous they are as a community of writers who uplift and support each other.

If you like speculative fiction, please check out Falstaff’s catalog.

I, of course, will keep you updated as this new publishing journey unfolds.

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.

 

October has been designated Black Speculative Fiction month when we especially pay attention to Black creators of fantasy, horror, and sci-fi! Luckily, there is still time to share some of my favorite writers with you and provide links to some great lists being circulated. If you don’t get to check out these writers now, the holiday season will be upon us shortly, so consider putting them on your list for yourself or as a gifts for others.

 

 Nisi Shawl

When I was in graduate school and thought that I was the only Black person that loved and wanted to write science fiction, I luckily met Nisi Shawl who worked in a used bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI. She was the first person of color that I had serious conversations with about Black speculative fiction and ideas that would eventually would become known as ‘Afrofuturism’ many years later. This was probably more than 25 years ago. She was a mentor and friend and I have followed her career with great joy. If you don’t know her, you should. Her recent steampunk book Everfair received critical reviews. It re-imagines the Belgium Congo and asks what would have happened if African peoples had developed steam technology first. She is active in sci-fi circles and is a cultural critic. She also co-facilitates a workshop for writers called ‘Writing the Other’ which has become a standard for writers both in sci-fi and out for helping writers develop deeply diverse, human and grounded characters. Even though she moved away before I had come into my own as a writer, I owe Nisi Shawl a great debt for her vision and encouragement. Check her work out!

http://www.nisishawl.com/Everfair%20reviews.html

Nicole Givens Kurtz

Sisters of the Wild Sage is a wonderful collection of stories of the ‘weird west’ by Nicole Givens Kurtz. As I said in my review: “…it is dazzling, groundbreaking and compelling. We are privy to complex and memorable characters, mostly Black women and women of color and viscerally experience how they have to make a way out of no way and keep their dignity whole doing so. In several stories, Kurtz explores the challenges these women faced in a post-Reconstruction world that was sometimes indifferent, often hostile, and sometimes brimming with new possibilities. You’ll cheer and cry for them at every turn.”

Kurtz has turned me on to a whole new subgenre of speculative fiction! You can see the Author  Q&A I did with her in the summer here.

https://www.amazon.com/Sisters-Wild-Sage-Weste…/…/0999852248

Tananarive Due

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the work of Tananarive Due (tah-nah-nah-REEVE-doo). She’s an author who has won an American Book Award, an NAACP Image award and a British Fantasy Award. She primarily writes horror and you can see her in a new fantastic documentary that she produced: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (available on Shudder and it is excellent). One of her most popular series is the African Immortals which begins with My Soul to Keep.

https://www.tananarivedue.com

Here’s a fantastic list put together by the Oakland Public Library! Enjoy!


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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