The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction and fantasy

Whew, last week was busy, productive and full of surprises.

-The Locus Science Fiction Foundation recently handed out their year’s best awards and guess what??? Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler won for best nonfiction!!! This wonderful book was edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal. Mimi was actually at the ceremony and didn’t expect to win and thus didn’t have an acceptance speech prepared, lol. I know, however, that she was thrilled. I’m so proud that my essay is in this collection. All nominees and winners can be found here.

-I started a story two years ago in a wonderful speculative fiction workshop run by Samantha Bryant. The story takes place in the 1930s and involves the writer, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston and a young woman named Etta who dances at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem.

Zora Neale Hurston

They get up to all kinds of trouble when Zora asks Etta to to help conjure up a spirit and dance for it. I am generally fascinated by the time period of the 1920s-1940s and have always been interested in the Cotton Club as my maternal grandmother danced there for a brief period.  In the story, I get to explore the race, class and gender dynamics of the day as the Cotton Club practiced segregation (only white patrons were seated) and colorism (i.e. African American female dancers that were hired were typically “light-skinned” or with a “cafe au lait” complexion).

Several Cotton Club dancers

The Apollo Dancers at the Cotton Club Revue in 1938. still from BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE, a film by Heather MacDonald

I worked on this story off and on for the past two years but got determined to finish it when I saw a call for an anthology that I thought would make a perfect fit for it. As I tend to write long works, I’m proud of myself that I completed a 5,000 story on Saturday and got it submitted (minutes before the deadline!). And, even if it gets rejected from the anthology, I can submit it elsewhere.

-My novelette Nussia was released last week! What goes into writing a sci-fi horror story like Nussia? In this brief “Inspirations and Influences” essay, I talk about the influences of everything from incisive comedy by African American comedians to the horror movies of the 1980s.

You can read Nussia for free on the Book Smugglers website.

It’s also available as an e-book from all major online retailers and includes a very cool interview with me.  If you pick it up from Amazon, please consider using my link below. I am an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

 

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Book Smugglers just released the cover for Nussia!

Woo-hoo! I feel very lucky that Book Smugglers has a practice of inviting their authors to give feedback on the covers. They don’t have to do that and many presses don’t. Like with the Reenu-You cover, I gave them some suggestions which they relayed to the artist.

We all went back and forth, trading ideas. This is the one of many pleasures in working with a small press. They work with superb visual artists and build in time for these kinds of conversations. I also trust Book Smugglers to know what kinds of covers sells books and engages readers.

I absolutely love the Nussia cover and enjoyed the collaborative process it took to produce it.

BTW: pre-orders are also up, too!

Smashwords

Amazon

Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

I have two lovely pieces of news to share:

The Hugo award nominations were recently announced and I’m thrilled to say that Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler has been nominated under the category, ‘Best Related Work’!

Luminescent Threads celebrates Octavia Butler, a pioneer of speculative fiction. This is a collection of original 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.

…And psst, I’m in this collection, too!!!!

I’m thrilled for the editors, Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal and for Twelfth Planet Press. Here’s an interview with them from last year.

The second fantastic surprise is that I have been elected to membership in the North Carolina Writers Conference (NCWC). The North Carolina Writers Conference is the best kept secret in the state. It should not be confused with the well-known North Carolina Writer’s Network Conference that is held every spring and fall. The NCWC is an invite and membership only, volunteer based organization that’s been around for over six decades co-founded by esteemed writer Paul Green. It honors a significant NC writer every year at their July conference. The NCWC meets each year to “talk shop, talk craft, and share the problems and joys of writing,” as well as to celebrate the community of writers in North Carolina.

Many years ago, my writing teacher invited me to attend this conference as she was that year’s chair. I had no expectations and felt no pressure as I understood that the purpose of the gathering is to honor a well-known NC author, listen to some academically oriented panels and to connect with writers. This was not a conference about pitching your work to agents. The conference was absolutely lovely and relaxing.

My writing teacher introduced me to several of her writing buddies. At that time, I was early on in my publishing journey and I remember that everyone was so encouraging and supportive. Many of the writers I met that year, I met again at other literary events. At that time, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be published and be invited into this organization! [A member has to nominate you and you have to have a book published]. I’m excited and honored to be part of this organization and to deepen my North Carolina writing roots.

I am very excited to announce that Reenu-You is eligible for nomination for a Hugo Award this year! It is my first time having a book out that is eligible. I am thrilled at the prospect that it might be considered for a Hugo.

For those not in science fiction writing community, you may be scratching your head and asking: What’s a Hugo? The Hugo is considered “science fiction’s most prestigious award. The Hugo Awards are voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Convention (“Worldcon”), which is also responsible for administering them.” http://www.thehugoawards.org/about/

I would love to see Reenu-You make it on to the next stage in the awards process. If you are eligible to nominate Reenu-You, I encourage you to do so. Nominations are currently being accepted through March 16th. More information about the Hugo Award Nomination process can be found here.

The novella Reenu-You is the culmination of a lot of hard work, creative energy, and determination. Reenu-You explores what happens when a mysterious virus is transmitted through a “natural” hair product. Set in the 1990s, the novella explores hair, the politics of beauty, female friendships, corporate conspiracy and unlikely heroines.

It has been such a pleasure to share this story with others since the book was first published last March. I have shared its story at book talks, on a television segment, and even at an author “speed dating” event. It is such a joy to know that Reenu-You is reaching new readers.

If you are not eligible to nominate for The Hugo Awards, there are still ways that you can help! Spread the word about Reenu-You‘s eligibility by word of mouth or to your social media pages. Below is a short post you could share.

“Reenu-You,” by Michele Tracy Berger is eligible for nomination for this year’s Hugo Awards. If you are eligible to nominate this thrilling sci-fi novella, I encourage you to do so!

Or, of course feel free to make your message your own.

Thanks so much for your continued support of me and my work. I am so grateful for my creative community!

 

It was a busy weekend! My first stop was at High Point University. I was invited by the English Club to give a craft talk and also discuss the political and structural interests that led me to speculative fiction and Afrofuturism, in particular.

The thing is, I had never given a ‘craft talk’ before! I’ve given lots of academic talks, of course, and have also done several readings of Reenu-You, but never a craft talk. What goes into a craft talk? I found out that a craft talk is just what it sounds like—a writer talking about techniques and processes of writing.

I knew that the English Club would be marketing my visit for a broad audience, so I needed to keep in mind that not everyone would want to hear specific details about writing craft. I spent the last few weeks working on my craft talk.

In the end, I decided to focus the first half of the talk on the speculative media influences on my childhood and young adult years (e.g. the television show, Lost in Space, the Bionic Woman and the film Star Wars). I then talked about my desire to connect to characters in speculative fiction and media with backgrounds that were similar to mine or connected to African American history and for a LONG time how hard that was. By college I was trying to “write myself” into the text and I spent time talking about how during college I discovered both the African American literary canon and feminist speculative fiction! Toward the end of the talk, I then discussed more ‘crafty’ things like how much I love first person narration and why I chose to use two first person narrators in Reenu-You. The audience was composed of students, faculty and parents (it was family weekend!) and they were warm and asked great questions.

I’m so grateful to the students and faculty that brought me to campus.

Dr. Jenn Brandt and Dr. Jacob Paul, organizers of the events

students

Lauren (on the left) who introduced me at the reading and Molly who is the president of the English Club. They are amazing!

hpu2

On Saturday at Park Road Books, in Charlotte, I was on a fantastic panel put together by writer and publisher Nicole Kurtz. The panel featured Black women speculative fiction authors including Nicole, Alledria Hurt, Marcia Colette and myself.

On such a cold wintry day, we had a spectacular turnout. The audience was engaged and we talked about diversity in publishing, the possible impact of the films, Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time for young people and pitched our books. We sold out of our books and several panelists and audience members made our way over to a local restaurant for talk and conversation. It was a truly wonderful and uplifting experience! We may try to replicate this panel at future sci-fi conventions.

 

I did illogiCon full tilt last weekend. Instead of driving back and forth from the conference like I usually do, I stayed on site. I was an active guest, went to room parties, networked at the bar, caught up with writer friends I hadn’t seen recently and met new writers. I got introduced to terrific readers and fans. I also made meaningful connections with a few publishers and editors.

Over the next few posts, I’ll share some highlights from some of the panels I attended or was a panelist on.

One of my favorites was the last panel on Friday at 11pm:  Sex in Other Worlds.

Description: How do aliens…do it?

It was well worth the wait! The panelists included J.L. Hilton, Julie Steinbacher, Natania Barron, James Maxey and Jim McDonald.

I don’t write a lot of stories that delve into sexuality, either off world or in secondary fantasy. But, I was curious how others approached the subject. One of the fun things about attending a con is that it allows time to restock the creative well.

Conversation threads ranged from how to write a good sex scene to how to create new forms of sexuality and reproduction in everything from hard sci-fi to urban fantasy.

The panel began with each author discussing their journey exploring sexuality in their work. Some authors began their careers writing about sexuality (and even writing erotica), but tapered off as the years went on. Others noted that they have just started to experiment incorporating sexuality more explicitly in their work.

The panelists highlighted the importance of reading about procreative habits of other species for inspiration.

Male Hooded seal nasal display, St Lawrence Gulf, Canada. Photo © Doug Allan

 

One panelist reminded us that humans are unique with our complex mating rituals, diverse sexual expressions and long, often monogamous pair bonding.  When world building, you can ask yourself questions like: How might these ways of being fray or get stressed in near future stories? What are ways that humans may adapt these behaviors in a different environment?

Many of the panelists said that they only write sex scenes through a grounded character perspective. One author stressed that when writing sex scenes with non-humans, “try find one detail that is sensual and familiar” that can be amplified and pull the reader in.

The audience laughed when a panelist declared that writing good sex scenes is similar to writing good battle scenes—“they need to be well-choreographed and awash in bodily fluids.”

Another fun comment someone said was “some readers want to just hear [sex] through the door; others want to be next to the bed.” Several writers mentioned that they definitely heard from readers –either when readers thought they went too far in a story or when they loved it. It made me think about the value of knowing your readers, once you have an audience. You have to think about how your readers may respond to your take on sex and sexuality.

During the last few minutes of the panel an interesting conversation bubbled up about movie, The Shape of Water.

What seems to be pretty common in speculative media is the trope of a human woman falling for a non-human man (i.e. alien, fantasy creature, “the beast”, etc.). [A quick Google image search tends to confirm this point.]It’s much less common for the roles to be reversed—a human male protagonist falling for a female “monster”. Usually when female bodies are presented as deviant or monstrous, there is no opportunity for love, desire or admiration, only disgust or contempt. I thought this was an excellent observation and of course, part of me wanted to get to work on just such a story.

I love a good challenge!

Overall, this was a fascinating panel. I left with great notes and a commitment to incorporate some of these ideas into future stories.

One of the things I deeply enjoy about my blog is conducting author interviews. I love finding out how writers create magic on the page and what sustains them when working on long projects. My blog allows me to reach out to new and established writers after I hear them give a reading, or learn about them online, and ask for an interview. Every time an author agrees to an interview, I feel excited and inspired. My goal is to ask thought-provoking questions that get at the heart of their ideas about craft. I look forward to checking my email and seeing how they play with and sculpt answers to my questions. Interviewing and helping to promote writers is a passion and gratitude generating activity for me.

At the end of each interview, I typically ask an author: What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Below, I have collected some of the answers from writers I interviewed in 2017 that stayed with me.

Keep this list close at hand. The advice is refreshing and offers a great way to jump-start your new year of fresh writing in 2018!

*To see the full interview, click on the author’s name.

 

Jake Bible, Stone Cold Bastards

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

Never quit. Sit your ass down and do the work. Writing is work. The vast majority of people who are not writers think it is fun and being a writer must be a dream come true. It is fun and it is a dream come true, but the fun and the dream happen because you sit in your chair and work until you can’t work anymore. Then you do the same thing the next day. And the next. You never quit. You do the work and keep doing the work until you get to where you want to be.

Margaret Dardess, Brutal Silence

–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.”

L.C. Fiore, The Last Great American Magic

-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.

Dianna Gunn, Keeper of the Dawn

–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.

Heloise Jones, The Writer’s Block Myth: A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom

-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.

Tonya Liburd, A Question of Faith

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

Keep writing; make it a habit and it’ll come even though you don’t feel “inspired”. Edit, edit and edit some more!

Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, editors, Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler

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

Alexandra: 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!

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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