The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘novels

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

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

I know Margaret as the President of the Board of Trustees for the North Carolina Writers’ Network (NCWN). The NCWN is a nonprofit literary organization that serves writers at every stage of development through programs that offer opportunities for professional growth in skills and insight. I’m passionate about the work of NCWN. The expertise, camaraderie and mentoring that I have received as a NCWN member has been invaluable in helping me develop my writing craft and negotiate the ever changing field of publishing. Last year with finesse and deft, Margaret recruited me to serve on the board. NCWN’s meetings are ones that I always look forward to!

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Find out more about Margaret here.

Octavia Butler was a visionary science fiction writer who influenced a generation of writers, artists and scholars from the 1970s until her death in 2006. She broke new ground as one of the first African American women writers to achieve critical success in the speculative fiction arena, a field historically dominated by white men. In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a selection of letters and essays written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans. There are letters from people who knew Butler and those who didn’t; some who studied under her at the Clarion and Clarion West workshops and others who attended those same workshops because of her; letters that are deeply personal, deeply political, and deeply poetic; and letters that question the place of literature in life and society today.

 Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler is available for pre-order and is due out by mid-August. I’m thrilled to be in this collection! I’ve written elsewhere how I almost talked myself out of submitting and why you should never self-reject your work! The lineup of writers in LT, both new and established, is amazing and includes Tara Betts, Nisi Shawl, L Timmel Duchamp, Steven Barnes, K Tempest Bradford, Jewelle Gomez, Bogi Takács,  Sheree Renée Thomas, Aurelius Raines II and many others.

I wanted to know more about the editors of Luminescent Threads, Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, and what they learned from tackling a project of this magnitude. They kindly agreed to a joint interview and I’m delighted to welcome them to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

Senior Editor Alexandra Pierce is editor of the award-winning Letters to Tiptree and co-host of Hugo award-winning feminist SFF podcast Galactic Suburbia alongside Alisa Krasnostein and Tansy Rayner Roberts. She is also a part-time teacher, blogger, book reviewer and columnist for Tor.com.

Editor Mimi Mondal was born in Calcutta, India. She is a 2015 recipient of the Octavia E Butler Memorial Scholarship at the Clarion West Writing Workshop and the Poetry with Pakriti Prize in 2010. Her stories, poetry and social commentary have appeared in The Book Smugglers, Daily Science Fiction, Podcastle, Scroll.in, Muse India, Kindle Magazine, among other venues.

 

– Tell us about your new book. What inspired this project?

Alex: For me it was a desire to hear from people who have been inspired in different ways by Octavia Butler, as well as having the opportunity to get her name and reputation out to a wide audience. Butler was an amazing author and a remarkable person, in terms of how she has influenced writers and readers in lots of different circumstances. I wanted to help to celebrate that.

Mimi: I came in later into the project as the replacement for another editor, so the concept wasn’t mine. I had been the Octavia Butler Scholar to the Clarion West in 2015, so when someone asked me whether I’d be interested in co-editing an anthology of readers’ letters to Octavia Butler, I was immediately excited, even though socially and emotionally it wasn’t the best time for me to take up a new project. I wasn’t acquainted with the team but I admired their work on Letters to Tiptree, which assured me that this was a book I would enjoy being part of.

– How have you been influenced by Octavia Butler’s work?

Alex: I’ve been challenged by the way she thinks about power and consent and family. Power and consent are huge parts of many of her books, and she’s usually not presenting a straightforward argument about them. Family, too, is often complicated in her novels, and I’ve been intrigued to think about what it means to have a family, to be a family.

Mimi: I grew up in India, where I had practically never heard of Octavia Butler.

The most powerful thing I probably learned from her work is that weird, complex, imaginative, speculative things don’t only happen in white-people stories. For a long time my reading included only realist fiction by writers of color, and all the speculative, dystopian, space, superhero, monster, apocalypse stories seemed to be written by white people, featuring white people, for other white people. It made me feel awkward to even write those stories, because the terrain just didn’t feel mine. Butler’s work, to a large extent, helped me break out of that painful narrowness of perspective.

– What did you learn about yourselves as editors while working on Luminescent Threads?

Alex: I learned that I love helping people to express themselves! And I really like bringing different thoughts and perspectives together to present something greater than the indivisible pieces.

Mimi: I learned that people’s words can both make me cry and make me stronger. As an immigrant student in the United States, these past few months haven’t been kind to me. Editing is what I do for a living, but never have been so strongly moved by a book I edited.

– What’s one thing you wish more writers understood about submitting work for an anthology?

Alex: That guidelines are there for a reason! But also in terms of this project that neither Mimi nor I were doing this as an actual job; we both do other things in real life, as it were, and the editing is additional.

Mimi: I agree! When you’re writing for a specific call for submissions, make sure your work fits their guidelines, and you submit and communicate with the publication in the way they require. The speculative fiction community is far more informal than many other artistic communities. Everyone’s in it because they love the stuff. But that lack of a strictly imposed hierarchy shouldn’t mean that anything goes. You may have met or hung out with the editor(s) at a convention, but that doesn’t make you exempt of the word limit, deadline or theme they have put down for the anthology.

– What are some exciting trends in speculative fiction that you see in terms of diversity and representation?

Alex: the very existence of an understanding of the need of diversity is exciting at the moment. That people are becoming more vocal in speaking out about occasions when the importance of diversity clearly hasn’t been considered.

Mimi: The fact that I am here at all is something I find exciting. Growing up in India, I always wanted to be a writer but never knew if it was possible, because I don’t come from the kind of background writers traditionally came from back then, and the stories of the only kind of people I knew didn’t end up in books. I grew up reading pretty much only white male writers, and right now I probably read one white male writer a year, if that. There are so many other stories that are way more fun to read! I love it that this has come to be so, and I love it that I’m living in these times.

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

Alex: Pay attention to the guidelines and communicate clearly with your editor!

Mimi: “Write a little bit every day, even if you’re not in the mood.” is a wonderfully effective tip that, unfortunately, I don’t follow. It has improved my writing exponentially in a very short time every time I’ve managed to do it for short periods, though, so maybe it’s worth passing on!

 

Alexandra Pierce is an editor, blogger and book reviewer. Connect with her at http://www. randomalex.net   Twitter: @randomisalex

Mimi Mondal is a writer from India, and the Poetry and Reprints Editor of Uncanny Magazine. Connect with her at: www.mimimondal.com   Twitter: @Miminality

 

 

 

 

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Besides being published by Book Smugglers Publishing, I have found that another wonderful perk has been discovering other fantastic authors in the BSP family. One of them is Dianna Gunn. In May, I discovered Diana’s novella, Keeper of the Dawn. Dianna’s was the first novella released in the Book Smugglers Novella Initiative. I loved it and also wrote a review of it. Dianna and I have many overlapping interests and I have enjoyed getting to know her work.

Dianna Gunn is a freelance writer by day and a fantasy author by night. She blogs about writing, creativity and books at http://www.thedabbler.ca.

I’m delighted to welcome Dianna Gunn to The Practice of Creativity.

– Tell us about your recent novella, Keeper of the Dawn. What are you hoping readers will connect to in this story? 

Let me start by sharing the blurb:

Sometimes failure is just the beginning

All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.

From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.

Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.

Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.

Keeper of the Dawn is a tale of new beginnings, second chances, and the endurance of hope.

# # #

If there’s any one thing I want readers to connect with, it’s the idea that the path to success is rarely straight forward. I also hope Keeper of the Dawn will serve as a reminder that we all deserve love, even—especially—if we have to seek it outside the bounds of “normal” relationships.

-How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?

I always loved telling stories—I used to read to my stuffed animals—but I didn’t realize “writer” was a valid career path until JK Rowling made a lot of money. I was quickly disillusioned about making my own fortune, but I’ve never let anyone dissuade me from the idea that I can’t make it a career.

You manage to pack a lot into your day! You’re a blogger and freelance writer, and you’re working on a non-fiction book. How do these activities support your creative work?

Being a freelance writer by day comes with its own set of challenges, but it also has special advantages. The flexibility of my schedule means that if I’m on a roll, I can work on my fiction WIP for several days, and do my freelance work at the absolute last minute.

On the other hand, if I’m struggling with my fiction, I always have something else to do.

Also, I’m writing that non-fiction book VERY SLOWLY and blogging large parts of it. Some of it is also reworked from blog posts I wrote 2-3 years ago, allowing me to write the book efficiently. Albeit still slowly, because fiction is my true love.

-In your ‘Inspirations and Influences’ essay for Book Smugglers, you mentioned that you were writing a parody novel that you eventually abandoned, but kept Lai as a character. What allowed you to abandon that project and dive deeply into Lai and build a story around her?

Hahaha, I never had a problem abandoning projects. Which might sound strange if you know that I’ve also been working on my full length novel, Moonshadow’s Guardian, for 9 years, but I have happily thrown away dozens of other manuscripts. And I always keep the notes so I can reuse ideas in new stories.

-What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your e-reader)? What are you reading right now?

I finished reading Cog and the Steel Tower by W.E. Larson last night, so now I have to pick a new book. Which is going to be tough, because I picked up the LGBT Story Bundle a couple weeks ago and I’ve also got several print books friends loaned me…

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

Don’t take criticism of your stories personally, and ignore anyone that uses flaws in your fiction to attack you as a person. I know it doesn’t FEEL like our books are separate from us, but they are. We should treat them that way.

 

When she isn’t helping her clients bring their dreams to life, Dianna can be found busily working on her own dream of being a successful fantasy author. Her first YA fantasy novella, Keeper of the Dawn, came out on April 18th, 2017.  She has several other novellas and novels in the works, and hopes to announce a second release date soon.

You can also follow her on Twitter @DiannaLGunn or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dlgunnauthor/.

 

How do you renew and refresh yourself? What are the kinds of activities that supercharge you?

Most of the writers I know write a lot. Most write daily.

The creative professionals I know are doing it all, all the time—writing, creating, supporting other creatives, marketing, honing their craft, etc., in addition to living a full life. Demands continue to expand. Many creative professionals I know are skirting the edges of burnout.

A few years ago, I decided to stop waiting for week-long vacations to take a break. Those kind of vacations are great, but for me they usually only came once a year. And, by the time I went on them, I was so mentally and physically fatigued that I usually spent a chunk of it in bed or sick. A bummer! Also, I found myself putting so much emotional energy into ‘having a great time’ that it put unrealistic expectations on the trip.

New research suggests that shorter breaks throughout the year may leave people feeling happier and more productive.

When friends recently invited me to hang out with them, for a few days, at the beach, I jumped at the chance.

I also did something rare for me. I didn’t bring my computer. This was huge! My computer and I are usually inseparable. I’ll often bring it along on a vacation to do creative work.  My amazing partner, Tim, was the one who suggested that I take a break from writing on the computer

Take a break from writing on the computer? The suggestion almost caused heart palpitations. He is a wise man, however, and I decided to follow his suggestion. I old schooled it—bringing a journal and some books.

I love being outdoors in just about any kind of setting, but the beach is the place I unwind the best.

Three nights and four days was a great gift. Hanging with friends, playing games, taking long walks and doing nothing was a balm for my body, mind and spirit.

Filling up the creative well is an important component of living a creative life.

 

This daybreak beckoned to me. I spent some time drinking in the morning light and then grabbed my journal and started writing.

 

An amazing flan to end a great day at the beach.

 

Key Lime Krush, Purple Rain, the Slim Shady and Butterfinger Bash were some of the offerings at the suggestively titled ‘Wake N Bake’ Coffee and Donut Shop. If you’re ever driving through Carolina Beach, check them out.

 

More offerings from Wake N Bake.

As it turned out, by taking a few days off, I was able to break through on some writing projects that were stuck. I even plotted out what I hope will be a coquel (yes, I made that word up) to my current sci-fi novella, Reenu-You. Our imagination gets all fired up when we experience new things and get out of our typical schedule!

I have never hunted for ‘ghost crabs’ before but a friend suggested we do it one evening. It was so much fun! We flashed our lights on this guy.

Do you have a short break coming up this summer? Where are you going to stock your creative well?

If you’re a writer, you’ve heard the term ‘writer’s block’. Writer’s block is an umbrella term symbolizing a variety of challenges that many writers face. Some writers will say they have writer’s block when they are stuck on a particular project. They are perhaps writing, but they can’t seem to make progress on their project. They don’t know what line comes next, or how to get a scene working.

Other times people use writer’s block to mean that all writing in their life has ceased. They avoid the page for a time and feel unable to write anything creative.

Many books have been written about writer’s block. They tend to fall into two camps: 1) writer’s block doesn’t exist-it’s a figment of one’s imagination and the remedy is to sit down and write. 2) writer’s block is real and requires deep introspection.

Heloise Jones’s new book, Writer’s Block Myth: A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom offers a different perspective:

A core theme in the book is that writers are all different. It is important to find ways of writing that work for you.

Writer’s block is real, but it’s not what we think it is. And that’s where the myth lies.

Writers block is a symptom, not a pathology. What happens on the page is tied to what’s inside us (how we assign value and give meaning to our work, ourselves, and our process) and links to something in our life in the real world that we can shift so writing flows. Or, in the least, see what flows as something we can value. It’s not about Doing, as much as about perspective.

Heloise Jones is an author, speaker, and mentor. She assists writers and creatives getting to the heart of what they need to move forward & complete their projects. Her background includes years of study in craft, process, & the publishing industry + fields of wisdom and experience from a host of supportive holistic tools.

I’ve known Heloise through our participation in online writing communities. When I heard that Heloise was offering a new take on an age old topic, I couldn’t wait to see if she would be a guest here.

I am delighted to welcome Heloise Jones to The Practice of Creativity.

Tell us about your recent book, The Writer’s Block Myth. What are you hoping this book will provide readers?

The subtitle, “A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom,” just about says it all. A guide minus shaming or hard rules written for people living in the real world. It grew out of hundreds of hours of conversations and my work with writers and creatives, as well as interview-conversations conducted with writers of all levels, interests, and experience.

The book includes the voices of other writers, plus examples and short, easy, effective exercises to help you move forward in your creative life.  It’s a book to refer back to, because no matter how much we know, we get derailed and need support.

My hope is readers find and embrace the ways that work best for them in creating a satisfying life, as well as written works. That they feel freer in the process, and know they have a supportive guide while they do it.

You discuss the concept of permission slips for writers. What is a permission slip and why is it helpful for writers to use them?

Permission slips are like hall passes. They provide passage through territory that may hold restrictions in our minds. We live in a loud world that describes success, and iterates definitive approaches to writing. That lists ways to judge ourselves and accomplishments good/bad/right/wrong. Permission slips are our greenlights and go-aheads to take time to write in the ways that work best for us when resistance and challenges come up. This includes those inside you (doubt, guilt, feeling selfish or like you’re doing ‘it’ wrong, not writing enough, are a failure, etc.), and outside you (validation, acceptance, understanding, etc.).  All the loaded issues for people living with relationships, obligations, and lifetimes of shoulds and oughts. Not to mention, conflicting desires.

Permission slips, or green lights, are empowerment tools our brains can respond to because they come from outside us. Leave us only to decide how to use them, or not.

What did you learn about yourself as a writer while working on The Writer’s Block Myth?

I learned how much the economy of online writing and reading has affected my writing Voice. When writing fiction and poetry, my process is longhand, pen to paper, for rough drafts. When writing essays and nonfiction, it’s fingers to keyboard from get-go. The past two years I’ve focused on my blogs. And though my ‘Getting to Wise. A Writer’s Life’ blog is a journal about navigating life, I compose on the computer. I had to write the entire manuscript of The Writer’s Block Myth twice to shift into the Voice that works as well on paper as online.

While crafting your book, did you look to other writing books as models for inspiration, support or even for what not to do? If yes, what were they? If no, where do you turn for writing inspiration?

This is such an interesting question because I read like a writer, and go to others’ written works to learn craft. For instance, I read Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto to learn how to effectively transition different POVs within scenes. But I don’t go to others’ books for process.

I swiftly read blogs, articles, interviews, and short essays, glean nuggets. I’m intuitive and curious, so if it sticks, I file it whether I agree with what it says or not. It’s a daily practice, and where I get inspiration and learn to think bigger. Two books were recommended to me as I was writing The Writer’s Block Myth. I approached the material in them the same way.

I want to share something useful for me as I gathered material. Once I knew what the book would be, I trusted the process. I hung one of those nice folded bags of thick paper with fancy cord handles you get from a boutique on a door. It was one I enjoyed gazing upon that also contained a message for my Soul: a lovely Hawaiian print in neutrals with the words ‘hana hou.’ Hana hou means encore or one more time in Hawaiian. I could’ve used anything. A basket, box, or whatever. The important points were 1) it was visible, reminding me of my intention, and 2) accessible. I put everything I came across in the bag without editing or culling – quotes, articles, blogs, paragraphs, Facebook posts. When it came time to write, I sorted what I’d collected over the months to the sections in the book. I applied the same sorting process to the interviews I conducted as research.

What’s your next for you? What are you working on?

Developing workshops and retreats that incorporate the principles in the book. Creating communities where writers write together, and connect with others who understand what they do. I believe the experience while in a group or on retreat is as important as words on the page. That creatives need environments which nurture and nourish our process, as well as improve our craft. Plus, I love talking about writing and working with other creatives.

For my own writing practice, I’m back to writing fiction whenever I can, which is joy for me. . .as vol. 2 of The Writer’s Block Myth perks.

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

Trust the process. Let go in the story you’re telling, and let go of the way you intend to tell it. Open to what might be there you hadn’t thought about before you go into edits. Think of your writing as a dance you’re doing, and you’re expanding the dance floor. You’ll be a stronger writer, and it will help you feel freer inside. This includes the process of editing, too. But that’s another conversation.

Thank you for having me.

Heloise Jones assists writers and creatives getting to the heart of what they need to move forward & complete their projects. Her background includes years of study in craft, process, & the publishing industry + fields of wisdom and experience from a host of supportive holistic tools. Most importantly, she knows what getting past stuck and lasting creative freedom mean, and all the ways writers and creatives get waylaid.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Go visit her: http://www.heloisejones.com/

 

It’s so easy to talk ourselves out of submitting our work. Rejection is painful. Even though I am a coach and a creative writer, I, too, find ways to ‘self-reject’ my work. It’s never a good idea. Always get your work under review, submitted, in the pile, seen. It’s a simple fact that if we creatives want to have an audience, someone has to read, see, or hear and experience our work. The only way we can do that is to submit our work to others.

In January, I taught a workshop called ‘Charting Your Path to Publication: Tips, Techniques and Lessons for Writers.’ An amazing group of writers came out to learn how to beat the odds of rejection when submitting to journals, magazines, etc. We talked about strategies to submit our work, the courage to send it out and the perseverance to keep going in the face of rejection.

I shared how inspired I was by a great interview with the writer Laurence MacNaughton on Mur Lafferty’s “I Should Be Writing” podcast. He shared that he struggled for many many years getting his fiction published. He had many cardboard boxes filled with rejection letters. When he moved into a new home, he decided to open up those boxes and count his rejection letters.

He counted and stacked up 100, 200, and 300 rejection letters. As I listened to the story, I held my breath. So many questions ran through my mind. How many did he have? Where was he going to stop? How many rejection letters did I have a decade ago? He kept on counting and found himself at 500, 600, and then 800 rejections. He stopped when he reached a 1000 rejection letters. He stopped counting them even though he had more letters! He felt so bad about it that he stopped temporarily writing. He felt like anyone who could amass 1000 rejection letters should not write.

He said that that not writing was really hard and that he soon came to the realization that writing was essential to his mission and purpose on the planet. It’s what gave him joy. He decided to write, no matter whether he was published or not. He kept submitting his work and soon after that sold one of his novels. He’s now a full-time writer.

I was very moved by this story as it reminds us that all we can control is what we send out and although we will inevitably get rejected, we have to submit our work. And, we have to find joy in the writing itself, no matter what the outcome. As Laurence says, “Rejections mean you are doing what you need to do, you just need to keep going.”

Recently, I almost talked myself out of submitting work.  Last fall, I saw this call:

Octavia Estelle Butler was born on 22 June, 1947, and died in 2006. In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday in 2017, and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction, and African-American literature more generally, Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a selection of letters and essays written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans.

I got goose bumps reading this call. Octavia Butler is one of my favorite authors. I teach her work and her nonfiction essay, “Positive Obsession” is one that I credit for inspiration in pursuing my writing life.

I put it on my calendar to submit, but as the deadline approached, I found myself saying:

“Every prominent speculative fiction writer is going to submit something—I can’t compete.”

“I want to write about the impact of her nonfiction on me and her use of affirmations to boost her confidence. The editors probably won’t be interested in that.”

And on…

I was about to talk myself right out of submitting due to fear. I was going to self-reject. Thank goodness a writing friend messaged me with the link and said, “Hey, I know you’re a Butler fan, you’re submitting to this right?’

That little encouragement got me in gear. I decided to write the essay. I told myself, if it gets rejected, I can pitch to the speculative fiction magazine. Someone could want this essay.

I sent it off, pleased with the essay, but not expecting anything.

I’m thrilled to say that my essay WILL appear in the anthology. I am so honored to be in this collection. See details below.

Always give others a chance to evaluate your work. Never self-reject!

We are excited to announce the contributors of original letters and essays for Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler. There are letters from people who knew Butler and those who didn’t; some who studied under her at the Clarion and Clarion West workshops and others who attended those same workshops because of her; letters that are deeply personal, deeply political, and deeply poetic; and letters that question the place of literature in life and society today. Essays include original pieces about Butler’s short story “Bloodchild” and whether we should respect Butler’s wishes about not reprinting certain works. All of these original pieces show the place that Octavia Butler had, has, and will continue to have in the lives of modern writers, editors, critics and fans. Our contributors include:

Rasha Abdulhadi
Raffaella Baccolini
Moya Bailey
Steven Barnes
Michele Tracy Berger
Tara Betts
Lisa Bennett Bolekaja
Mary Elizabeth Burroughs
K Tempest Bradford
Cassandra Brennan
Jennifer Marie Brissett
Stephanie Burgis
Christopher Caldwell
Gerry Canavan
Joyce Chng
Indra Das
L Timmel Duchamp
Sophia Echavarria
Tuere TS Ganges
Stephen R Gold
Jewelle Gomez
Kate Gordon
Rebecca J Holden
Tiara Janté
Valjeanne Jeffers
Alex Jennings
Alaya Dawn Johnson
Kathleen Kayembe
Hunter Liguore
Karen Lord
ZM Quỳnh
Asata Radcliffe
Aurelius Raines II
Cat Rambo
Nisi Shawl
Jeremy Sim
Amanda Emily Smith
Cat Sparks
Elizabeth Stephens
Rachel Swirsky
Bogi Takács
Sheree Renée Thomas
Jeffrey Allen Tucker
Brenda Tyrrell
Paul Weimer
Ben H Winters
K Ceres Wright
Hoda Zaki

Luminescent Threads will also include reprints of articles that have appeared in various forums, like SF Studies, exploring different aspects of Butler’s work.

Luminescent Threads will be published by Twelfth Planet Press in June 2017.

 

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L.C. Fiore’s writing inspires many and has earned him a dedicated fan base. He is an award-winner writer known to tackle tough subjects including domestic terrorism, immigration and most recently the unsettling 19th century history of America’s treatment of indigenous communities.

Critics and fans are raving about Fiore’s latest novel The Last Great American Magic, recently named Novel of the Year by Underground Book Reviews. This novel follows the great Shawnee warrior Tecumseh, as he struggles with encroaching settlers. Epic in scope, it is a compelling blend of historical fiction infused with magical realism.

Fiore is not a stranger to recognition and awards. His debut novel, Green Gospel (Livingston Press), was named First Runner-Up in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards (General Fiction); short-listed for the Balcones Fiction Prize; and long-listed for the Crook’s Corner Book Prize. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Michigan Quarterly Review, New South, The Ottawa Object, and storySouth, among many others, and has been anthologized in Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short Short Stories (Persea Books) and Tattoos (Main Street Rag).

I met L.C., last year, when I joined the board of the North Carolina Writers’ Network (NCWN). L.C. is the communications director of the NCWN. The NCWN is a nonprofit literary organization that serves writers at every stage of development through programs that offer opportunities for professional growth in skills and insight. I’m passionate about the work of NCWN. The expertise, camaraderie and mentoring that I have received as a NCWN member has been invaluable in helping me develop my writing craft and negotiate the ever changing field of publishing.

We discovered that we both enjoyed reading and writing speculative fiction. I picked up The Last Great American Magic after hearing several people praising it. I haven’t read much historical fiction and initially thought that my partner Tim would most likely read it. Tim and I often read books aloud to each other at night. I was hooked by the first paragraph! The characters are so vividly rendered and Fiore’s prose is so well-crafted, you want to linger on each page. It is a stellar and deeply satisfying read.

I wanted to know more about how he was able to bring Tecumseh’s story to life.

It’s is my distinct pleasure to welcome L.C. Fiore to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

Tell us about your new novel, The Last Great American Magic. What inspired it and why did you want to write this book?

It’s an amazing story that has captured my imagination since the first time I heard it, as a child. The historical Tecumseh and his brother, who was known as The Prophet, came very close to assembling a confederacy of Native American tribes that might have beaten back the advance of white settlers and made this country an utterly different place than it is today. History, though, as they say, is written by the winners. I felt like this story—which has all the thrilling elements of frontier adventure, as well mythical and magical elements that ebb and swell as The Prophet builds his nativist movement—is one that should be more widely known. People tend to think of Tecumseh as a company that makes tractor parts. Well, he and his brother—in fact every Shawnee—deserves to be remembered for a whole lot more than that.

How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become an author?

Honestly, I remember filling up ruled notebooks with drawn cartoons, before I could even write. So, I’ve always been compelled to tell stories. It’s sort of scary when I think about how old I am, and realize I was doing the exact same thing when I was four or five years old. That’s a long time to work on one’s craft. I should be better than I am!

What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching the history of Tecumseh, a leader of the Shawnee nation, a character that undergirds this novel?

The character who kept threatening to steal every scene she was in was Rebecca Galloway, the daughter of a Kentucky judge whose love affair with Tecumseh (spoiler alert!) spanned years and years. She was educated, strong-willed, and open-minded in a time when there were very few opportunities for women. It was not an easy lifestyle on the American frontier. You had to be tough, and she was. But that toughness had an intellectual side: she taught Tecumseh to read and write. A character like that—a tomboy with no shortage of parlor-room feminine wiles—was fun to research and to write.

Is there something you want to say about risk-taking in your writing? You have a penchant for writing about very different types of people and communities.

Indeed. I’ve written about Muslim immigrants, working-class African-Americans, women, children, and rich, white men. The Last Great American Magic, of course, is written entirely from the perspective of a member of the Shawnee tribe, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I’ve never thought of writing about people different from me as particularly “risky.” As soon as a writer starts worrying about questions of permission, we’ve introduced doubt into the creative process, and as authors, we can’t afford any more doubt! As writers, our job is to create art honestly; and truthfully; and by avoiding stereotypes, tropes, and clichés; and in the process hopefully exhibit some mastery over our craft. Do I wish the publishing world featured more underrepresented writers? Hell yes.

What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed (or in your e-reader)? What are you reading right now?

I’m listening to Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire on audiobook, and reading Owen Duffy’s The Artichoke Queen. Somewhat guiltily, I’m also reading Bloodline, a Star Wars novel by Claudia Gray, which follows Princess Leia and fills in the gap between movies VI and VII.  I find I just love spending time in that universe.

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

The one thing no one ever really taught me, which took me years to learn, is that revision is the most important aspect of the writing process. Revision is not just checking to make sure everything is spelled correctly, or that you’ve used proper grammar. Revision also entails wholly re-imagining the way your book or story is constructed. That means exploding chapters, moving chapters around, consolidating characters, and much more. I find that usually, after my “first draft” (although there again, who counts drafts in real life?), whatever I’m working on usually sustains one, if not two, macro revisions, where I tear the manuscript down to the studs and rebuild. Why does no one teach revision? Perhaps because the workshop setting is a very poor environment for learning what it actually takes to be a writer, because there simply isn’t enough time to allow for the deep kind of revision that excellence requires. But extensive, substantive revision separates would-be writers from the pros.

L.C. Fiore is award-winning short-story writer and editor, his work has also appeared on NPR, TriQuarterly Review, The Good Men Project, and in various baseball publications. He is the communications director for the North Carolina Writers’ Network and lives in Chapel Hill, NC, with his wife and daughter.

Find out more about him and his work here.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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