The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Octavia Butler

I admit it. Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of Wonder Woman. I didn’t read DC comics and wasn’t in love with the television show. Some of this was due to the fact that my younger sister, Melissa, adored WW. And, of course, the unwritten rules are that older siblings can’t ever like what the younger ones do. It’s just not cool.

Plus, I saved all my girl crush energy for The Bionic Woman, who although is not a classic superhero, captured my imagination with her brute strength, grace, style and humor. And I enjoyed the show’s sci-fi theme. Plus, she wore real clothes while she kicked butt. I also always believed that in a fight, the Bionic Women could totally take Wonder Woman. I still have my first Bionic Woman doll, although she is missing a foot!

So, all this is to say that I was not expecting to completely fall head over heels for the new WW movie. Tim and I went to see it this week and we both really enjoyed it. As many critics have already pointed out, the film subverts some of the taken for granted superhero themes. It is a mother and daughter story, a collective empowerment story, an ensemble story and a female coming of age story, all rolled into one.

The action in the first twenty minutes of the movie is absolutely thrilling. It is thrilling to see women, strong women, stand up for what they believe in and defend themselves. Usually female viewers watching action adventure and/or superhero films have to contort themselves into identifying with the strength and perspective of the male lead characters. It was nice to not have to do that with WW. I could go again just to see the first fight scene, it is that well-choreographed! It’s not that we haven’t seen kick-ass heroines before, but WW feels different. The kick-ass heroines are usually singular, surrounded by a male team and often not the leaders of the team. And, they sometimes apologize or are ambivalent about being strong. Not the case for WW.

 

Diana isn’t an anti-hero, she is compassionate and becomes wise by the end of the film. Yes, she’s gorgeous (and at times I found myself wondering why all the Amazons were lacking any body hair), but the camera shots and visual cues about the actress’s body weren’t gratuitous.

Maybe WW is striking such a powerful chord in the US because as many of us believe, collectively women have recently suffered some pretty significant cultural, political and legal setbacks. Those of us fighting and advocating for gender equity need continued courage. And, of course, the fact that the film was directed by a woman is another milestone.

The Amazon theme also holds a special place in my heart as I have an anthology, titled Amazons edited by Jessica Salmonson in 1979, that a male friend gave to me in college. The writers in the collection reimagine an “amazon heritage” using some of the historical record to tell new stories. I was so inspired by this book that a few months later, I coaxed some to friends to help me make an Amazon costume for a Halloween party. That book turned me on to ‘feminist science fiction’ in college which led me to Ursula Le Guin, Marge Piercy, Octavia Butler, many others and then my own writing path.

I’m hopeful that with the release of WW, young girls and boys can find awe in and enthusiasm for a new superhero.

I hope someone I know will throw a Halloween party this year, so I can start working on an Amazon costume!

*this post was inspired by writer, P.K. Tyler’s Facebook post on WW.

Those are my thoughts. Have you seen the film? What’s your take on it?

 

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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Last month’s ‘Love Your Creative Self’ series was a wonderful success. I had so much fun bringing together writers and artists to discuss how to nurture our creative lives. Later this spring, I’ll return to many of the themes raised in the series.

March is Women’s History Month and my intention is to honor it by discussing women writers whose work and lives have inspired me and others. I’m beginning with one of my favorite authors—Octavia Butler. Butler was one of the most talented and celebrated speculative fiction writers of the 20th century. She overcame the odds against her gender, race and class background to become a successful author.

Annually I reread Butler’s insightful short essay ‘Positive Obsession’ that chronicles how she became a writer. The word obsession can have a negative connotation. It can mean that we have an unhealthy fascination with an object or situation. In this essay, however, she uses the term ‘positive obsession’ to indicate an approach that helped her realize her dreams:

“Obsession can be a useful tool if it’s positive obsession. Using it is like aiming carefully in archery.

I took archery in high school because it wasn’t a team sport. I liked other team sports, but in archery you did well or badly according to your own efforts. No one else to blame. I wanted to see what I could do. I learned to aim high. Aim above the target. Aim just there! Relax. Let it go. If you aimed right, you hit the bull’s-eye. I saw positive obsession as a way of aiming yourself, your life, at your chosen target. Decide what you want. Aim high. Go for it.

I wanted to sell a story. Before I knew how to type, I wanted to sell a story.” (from ‘Positive Obsession’ in Blood child and other stories)

She kept her focus on a publication goal through getting ripped off by an agent (who charged a “reading fee”), through getting up at 2am and writing before she went to work, through numerous rejections and even a creative writing teacher who asked her ‘Can’t you write anything normal?’ She sold her first story at age 23 and then nothing for another five years. Then she sold Kindred, her first novel.

Understanding what compels us to do creative work is useful self-awareness. Try answering the following:

What is your positive obsession? Is it finishing a longer piece? Selling it? Winning a writing award? Studying with a famous teacher? Writing in several different genres?

What creative work do you most want to share with the world?

How do you support your positive obsession (Butler talks about the importance of taking writing classes and joining writing groups)?

Record your answers and keep them close to where you create. Use them as fuel to keep you going when you encounter obstacles in pursuing your goals.

(Photo credit: image obtained from http://weavingloveuntanglingconfusion.blogspot.com/2011/06/madly-in-love-obsession-compulsion-and.html)


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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