The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction and fantasy

Over the next few months, I’ll share reviews about the incredible authors I’m reading in the Book Smugglers Publishing family. I am truly honored to have found a press that is publishing fantastic authors and that values diverse and underrepresented voices in speculative fiction. I’m glad to be in their family! I am enjoying reading so many writers that are new to me. I just finished the novella, Keeper of the Dawn, by Dianna Gunn. Dianna’s was the first novella released in the Book Smugglers Novella Initiative. Dianna will also join us here for an Author Q&A during the summer.

 

 

REVIEW

Have you ever wanted something so badly, trained for it, dreamed about it, devoted yourself to it and then it got snatched away? How does one recover when this happens? These questions swirl around Lai, the main character in Keeper of the Dawn. The story begins when she is a young girl training to become a priestess. The training is grueling and can prove fatal. In her society there can be only one priestess and because of her heritage (her grandmother and mother were priestesses), people assume it will be her.

The story is an outer journey as Lai struggles to find a way to serve her goddesses when all looks lost and she faces many obstacles. It is also a great inner journey as Lai’s growth involves exploring her values, believing in herself and being vulnerable.

Keeper of the Dawn is set in a thoughtfully designed and complex second world fantasy. I love this culture and her portrayal of strong and complex heroines. The writing is detailed, vivid and compelling. Her writing reminds me of the work of Elizabeth Moon.  Another thing that I think is really cool and interesting is the way that Gunn explores asexuality and the complexity of relationships. This, I think, is a relatively new area of character exploration in young adult fantasy.

Ms. Gunn is a talented writer. I think most fantasy readers will find this story engaging. I definitely want to read more of her work!

Read her her essay on inspirations and influences for Keeper of the Dawn.

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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I heard about Shannon Page and her new edited book, The Usual Path to Publication: 27 Stories about 27 Ways in from a podcast. I immediately thought, what a brilliant idea for a book—one that pulls back the curtain on “breaking in”. I picked up The Usual Path soon after and finished it in one sitting. The book is poignant, funny, heartbreaking, inspiring and much more. The authors, many who write speculative fiction, share intimate experiences about the writing life and the often nonlinear ways that one becomes published. The stories clearly demonstrate that there is really no one secret path to getting published, especially in this current moment of change in the publishing industry. This book provides useful insights for both established and emerging writers about building community, dealing with rejection and interacting with editors and agents. I’ve been pressing it in to the hands of many writer friends.

This book evolved from a panel at the Cascade Writers Workshop. Intrigued by that fact, I decided to reach out to Shannon and learn more about her experience as an editor.

Shannon Page’s work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static, Tor.com, the Proceedings of the 2002 International Oral History Association Congress, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Her books include Eel River; the collection Eastlick and Other Stories; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Our Lady received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014, and was a finalist for the Endeavour Award.

I’m delighted to welcome Shannon Page to the Practice of Creativity

shannonpage

-Tell us about your recent edited collection, The Usual Path to Publication: 27 Stories about 27 Ways In. What are you hoping this book will provide readers?

I definitely hope folks will have fun reading it, but I hope even more that writers (newer and otherwise) will find it inspiring and encouraging. Writing can be a lonely, frustrating endeavor, especially after the first time you show your golden words to someone…and get a rejection. I truly believed that the first novel I ever submitted—a giant, overwritten doorstop of a thing, mailed over the transom to Farrar, Straus & Giroux, because I was that delusional—was going to result in a gushing acceptance letter and a fat check. Well, it did not, and my efforts for a few years thereafter to get an agent met with similar results.

But in the process of gathering rejections, I started meeting other writers and sharing stories, and that was what kept me going. I learned that “overnight success” never came overnight at all: that it took years of persistence, of honing one’s craft, of not giving up. I learned that we are all in this together, and that there is no one true path to making it—despite all the how-to-get-published advice I devoured every chance I got. Yes, there is random lucky chance involved in a lot of publication stories, but that random chance will not find you if you are not out there, open to it, working on it.

-This is your first nonfiction project as an editor. What did you enjoy about being an editor? What did you learn about yourself while editing this project?

I love editing; I learned that when I edited the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches for Evil Girlfriend Media a few years ago. I love gathering all the pieces and assembling them into a compelling whole. There’s a lot of the same creative joy that comes with being a writer, except with editing, you get so much more diversity. I can write a dozen stories—dark and light, fantasy and science fiction and horror, long and short—and put them together in a collection, but they will still all be by me; my voice, my themes, my sensibility will come through. With an edited collection, you can range so much more widely.

And I just LOVED it when the stories came in. I would squee with delight each time a new one hit my inbox. It was so cool and generous that so many wonderful authors were willing to share their stories.

usualpath

-You knew some of the writers prior to this project and maybe even some of their publication stories, but probably not all. Which essays were a surprise to you?

I actually didn’t know most of the stories, or not in any detail. Chaz Brenchley is one of my best friends—he was my Best Person at my wedding, in fact—but I didn’t know his story, or, well, his three interwoven stories. Though I knew there were lots of odd tales out there, I was perhaps a little surprised at how few writers followed a “traditional” path to finding their way in (make your name with short stories, then leverage that into a novel deal). Even those who did so did not follow that path in any straightforward way. So I would say almost all the stories surprised me in their particulars, even though I’d expected a variety of unusual paths.

 
 -What kind of advice about pursuing publication would you offer to a younger writing self?

I’d say keep trying—and not just trying to get published per se. Learn your craft, and hone it. Join critique groups, and listen to the feedback. Write a lot, a lot, a LOT. And read a lot. Persistence in all these things is the answer: make your work as brilliant as you can, and keep sending it out there. You will find your audience.

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

I’ve got a few things in the works. Next up is a SUPER fun project, a cozy mystery/romance novel I wrote with my good friend Karen G. Berry, set on remote Orcas Island, Washington. We’re publishing it under the not-secret pen name Laura Gayle (our middle names, sort of); it’s called Orcas Intrigue, it’s recently released and you can find it here.

Beyond that, I’d like to do another few “Usual Path” essay collections, because I love people’s personal stories, and the first volume was so much fun. My ideas for future volumes include The Usual Path to Love and Romance (relationship origin stories) and The Usual Path from Here to There (moving stories—why do you live where you live?). But I am not allowed to work on those until I get a few unfinished novels out of the pipeline. Plus volume 2 of the Orcas mystery.

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

Sort out your space and time needs. What I mean by that is, none of us have enough time; and the vast majority of us do not live in palatial mansions with endless rooms. But writing takes focus; it’s very hard to write in the midst of chaos and interruptions. Everyone’s particulars will vary, so you need to figure out your way of carving out your writing time and place. When I had a full-time day job, I wrote right when I got home; my then-husband had a longer commute, so he got home an hour later. That was my hour, every day, and I used it diligently. A friend who lived in a tiny apartment with her spouse converted a closet into an “office”. By which I mean, she just stuck a desk in there and took off the closet doors—voila, writing space, and when she was in there, her spouse knew she was working. Figure out what your obstacles are and do what you can to fix them. Get up an hour early in the morning; meet a friend in a café on a regular basis; turn off the internet; get noise-canceling headphones or a room with a door that locks or whatever it takes. And write as regularly as you can. If you’re working on something every day or nearly every day, it starts to come alive in your head. Pretty soon, you won’t be able to not write.

 

Shannon Page was born on Halloween night and spent her early years on a back-to-the-land commune in northern California. A childhood without television gave her a great love of the written word. At seven, she wrote her first book, an illustrated adventure starring her cat Cleo. Sadly, that story is out of print, but her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static, Tor.com, the Proceedings of the 2002 International Oral History Association Congress, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk.

Her books include Eel River; the collection Eastlick and Other Stories; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Forthcoming books include The Queen and The Tower, first book in The Nightcraft Series; a sequel to Our Lady; and, writing with Karen G. Berry as Laura Gayle, Orcas Intrigue, the first book in the Chameleon Chronicles. Edited books include the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches, from Evil Girlfriend Media; several well-received novels from Per Aspera Press; and the essay collection The Usual Path to Publication.

Shannon is a longtime yoga practitioner, has no tattoos, and is an avid gardener at home with her husband, Mark Ferrari, in Portland, Oregon. She has a tiny office made from a toolshed in the back yard, where all the magic happens. Visit her at www.shannonpage.net.

 

 

Woo-hoo! A few weeks ago I did a cover reveal about my story that is in UnCommon Origins.

uncommonorigins

It’s now really here. The UnCommon Origins anthology launched this week and I am thrilled! Get it here!

UnCommon Origins: A Collection of Gods, Monsters, Nature, and Science

UnCommon Origins presents 22 depictions of moments on the precipice, beginnings both beautiful and tragic. Fantastical stories of Creation, Feral Children, Gods and Goddesses (both holy and horrific), and possibilities you never dared imagine come to life.

allthephotos

Including stories from some of the most talented Speculative Fiction and Magical Realism authors around, UnCommon Origins will revisit the oldest questions in the universe:

Where did we come from?
and
What comes next?

We even have our own book trailer!

My story, ‘The Curl of Emma Jean’ is about two sisters, race, fairies and the God Faunus. What more could you ask for?

curlofemmajeantext

 

My writing buddy, Fraser Sherman gave a thoughtful (and positive) review of the collection on his excellent blog. We already have over 50 reviews on Amazon! It’s also trending in the horror anthology Amazon category.

For three months, our publisher P.K. Tyler has been working on promotion and also teaching myself and the other 21 authors about how to launch a book. I’ve learned so much and I can’t wait to share some of my insights with you in another post.

If you like speculative fiction, you’ll enjoy this collection. It’s got something for everyone. Get it here.

Also, if you’re willing to provide an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads or your blog, within the next two weeks, contact me about getting a complimentary copy.

In other news, last weekend I attended the historic State of Black Science Fiction Convention in Atlanta. It was a mind-blowing experience. SOBSFC brought together creators from different mediums (e.g. filmmakers, comic book artists, writers, producers, scholars, etc.,) to converge, discuss and share about the world of sci-fi and the Black experience over the past two centuries. There were panels on everything from Afrofuturism in Arts and Culture to Black Southern Folklore in Horror Literature.

I even dipped my toe into SteamFunk cosplay for the first time ever. Loved it!

steamfunk

I plan on writing a blog post about attending this transformative con.

June is my birthday month and with this book launch and conference, it’s been a fantastic one so far. I hope your June has been offering you writerly goodness.

 

I first heard about Zig Zag Claybourne from an interview on The Dead Robots’ Society podcast. On the show, he talked about his latest novel, The Brothers Jetsream: Leviathan. It is a science fiction adventure that centers around two African-American brothers out to save the world. There are psychic whales, explosions, warrior angels, Atlanteans, and corporate conspiracies. I immediately thought, Whoa—way cool and original! Zig Zag was witty and offered great insights about building a writing life over a number of years. After his appearance on DRS, I knew I wanted to help spread the word about his work.

Prominent writer Dave Eggers has said about Zig Zag, This is a truly original writer. He sounds like no one else, plays by no rules, and creates wildly entertaining books that create an indelible stamp on the mind.”

I’m looking forward to meeting Zig Zag, in person, at the upcoming State of Black Science Fiction Convention. In the meantime, I’m delighted that he agreed to appear here at The Practice of Creativity.

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Tell us about your recent novel, The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan. What inspired it?

The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan came from me wanting to highlight a book where black folks do what they’ve always done: save the world one way or another but get zero credit for it. I describe the book as Buckaroo Banzai by way of Ralph Ellison. It’s an adventure with heart, humor, and the coolest crew since Sulu and Uhura. The characters have been with me a long time. So has their battle against the False Prophet Buford. If you have two black brothers named Milo and Ramses Jetstream, there is absolutely no way they are not going to wage war against the status quo.

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

I took up writing before puberty. I loved reading, not just science fiction, everything. I was the kid who got excited when the teacher assigned Hamlet. One day my mama said I read so much I could probably write a story. That was the Pearly Gates opening moment for me! I wrote my first terrible short story (about aliens using humans as hunting dogs against other humans) and have been going ever since.

brothersjetsream

How do stories usually come to you? Do you start with a character? Setting? An image?

I usually start off with a feeling or a mood then dig deep to find characters and a situation to bring that mood to life. Jetstream, for example, was the feeling of the world being utterly ridiculous when you actually stopped to think about 99% of what we accept as daily life.

What’s the less glamorous side of a published writer’s life that aspiring writers often don’t see?

That makes me laugh! I haven’t found a glamorous bit yet! I don’t think aspiring writers realize that just because a writer gets to “the End” means the book is done. There are rewrites on top of rewrites, then there’s the marketing/publicity push which, for most authors (seeing as we’re generally solitary, quiet people – HA!) is as glamorous as a root canal. There’s still this feeling out there that folks get to write a book, dust their hands of it, and watch as the angels waft it heavenward. To quote Lana Kane from Archer: “Nooooooope.”

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

There’s nothing better for me than finding a new author to love, so my bookshelf is a workhorse; I’m always adding way more than the max carrying load to it. Right now I’m reading a sword & soul epic called Woman of the Woods by Milton Davis, a YA fantasy called Basajaun by Rosemary Van Deuren, and am about to jump into the macabre with Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom.

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

The best tip ever is care about what you’re doing. All else flows from that. If you don’t care, the readers won’t care, and if you’re writing under the assumption that your book is “good enough” you’ve already failed. For me the process of taking a book from idea to completed drafts is a lot smoother if I operate under the hope that a reader will feel what I’ve given them and appreciate the respect for them.

 

Zig Zag Claybourne (also known as Clarence Young) wishes he’d grown up with the powers of either Gary Mitchell or Charlie X but without the Kirk confrontations. (Anybody not getting that Star Trek reference gets their sci-fi cred docked 3 points.) The author of Neon Lights, Historical Inaccuracies, and By All Our Violent Guides (the last under C.E. Young), he believes a writer can be like an actor, inhabiting a delightful variety of roles and genres. As such, his work takes you where you’ve never been, but makes sure you have fun getting there.

Find out more about him here.

 

I am so excited to share with you a COVER REVEAL for a new anthology that will be out in June that I have a story in! I am thrilled to be included in this collection with such wonderful writers.

UnCommon Origins: A Collection of Gods, Monsters, Nature, and Science

UnCommon Origins presents 22 depictions of moments on the precipice, beginnings both beautiful and tragic. Fantastical stories of Creation, Feral Children, Gods and Goddesses (both holy and horrific), and possibilities you never dared imagine come to life.

uncommonorigins

Including stories from some of the most talented Speculative Fiction and Magical Realism authors around, UnCommon Origins will revisit the oldest questions in the universe:

Where did we come from?
and
What comes next?

Featuring:
The Hanging Gardens of Brooklyn by Rhoads Brazos
Aplanetary by Holly Heisey, Author
Glass Heart by Sacha Hope
Cultural Gleanings by Deanne Charlton
Fringling by J.D. Harpley – Astral Scribe
Poseidon’s Tears by E.L. Johnson
The Curl of Emma Jean by Michele Tracy Berger
The Price by Samuel Peralta
Growing Simon by Jo West
The Terrible Discovery of Professor Charles Cooper by Jonathan Cromack
The Last Star by DL Orton
My Darlings by P.K. Tyler
The Tombstone Man and the Coming of the Tigress by Nillu Nasser Stelter
In The Periphery by Erica Ruhe
Exhale by Laxmi Hariharan
Ifrit by Brent Meske
Swim With The Beavers by Robert Allen Lupton
The Least Child by Daniel Arthur Smith
Consciousness by Zig Zag Claybourne
Her by Rebecca Poole
The Apple by Shebat Legion
Becoming Mage by Melanie Lamaga

This anthology is being edited by the amazing writer, editor and publisher P.K. Tyler of Fighting Monkey Press. I had a really good feeling about the call for submissions that I saw for this collection a few months ago. I thought my story, ‘The Curl of Emma Jean’ would be a perfect fit for this anthology and it was! I’ll have more to say about the story, it’s origins, and lessons learned along the way to this publication experience. And, of course, I’ll share a pre-order link soon! For now, I’m just excited to share a first look at the cover.

What do you think?

Affirmations-366Days#30: I actively name, claim and exclaim my writing aspirations.
For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

I am over the moon at finding Kiara Collins’s wonderful post on Octavia Butler’s recently discovered personal journal. This post was sent to me last night by my gifted writer teacher and friend, Melissa Delbridge. Octavia Butler was the first successful African American female speculative fiction writer. She wrote many highly acclaimed novels and was the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur Genius award. Her pioneering books explore the legacies of race, class and gender, and the challenges of independence and interdependence in human relationships. She is one of my favorite authors. I’ve written about the use of her term ‘positive obsessions’.

 

octavia_butler.jpeg.CROP.rtstoryvar-large

 

And, as it turns out she used AFFIRMATIONS to help her imagine and embody her success as a writer. As someone who thought I knew a lot about her work, I was stunned by this revelation. I knew of her struggles, as an African American woman, to become a speculative fiction writer during a time when that was almost unthinkable. I also teach her wonderful essay, ‘Positive Obsession’ (from Bloodchild and Other Stories), where she chronicles her almost crippling self-doubt and ruminates over the sexism and racism that she faced in the 1960s and 1970s. But, I had no idea that she as Ms. Collins notes “literally wrote herself into existence” using affirmations. This is such an important confirmation about the power of affirmations. If you’ve been reading this blog since January, then you know that I’ve made a commitment to post one affirmation related to writing and/or creative practice every day for the entire year. I believe it will support my writing practice and experience of myself as a writer. I want it to be a fun and uplifting project and also helpful to others. Affirmations can provide mental and emotional support as we move toward our goals.

Here is her list of affirmations written on the back of her notebook:

octavia_butler_note

 

Looking at her list, a few things strike me about how she used affirmations:

They are written in the present tense. It’s helpful to reinforce that what we want is happening now.

They are handwritten. There is power in slowing down and writing by hand when playing with affirmations. Science tells us that different parts of our brain are activated when we write by hand.

She uses repetition. When writing affirmations, it’s helpful to use repetition. Most of the time, we’re trying to release deep seated negative mental patterns and so writing a powerful statement over and over is helpful.

She wanted her success to contribute to others. Several of Butler’s affirmations involved supporting African American young people. Our success should ripple out and positively impact others.

I hope you’ll add affirmations to your writing and/or creative toolkit in 2016.

See Kiara Collins’ post here.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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