The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

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.

 

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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.

Holy moley, this weekend I am appearing on a number of panels at the local science fiction convention known as IllogiCon!

This year marks my 4th year attending. IllogiCon has connected me with local writers, and writers’ groups and allowed me to meet editors and publishers that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Attending IllogiCon also keeps me current on emerging trends in speculative fiction and media. I always look forward to meeting up with writers and creative folk that I only see here.

I’ve moderated panels, appeared as a guest on panels and this year I will give a reading from my novella, Reenu-You. I pushed myself to sign up for more panels and on a diverse array of topics than I have in the past. I’ll also participate in the con’s “office hours”—a new feature where writers hang out, meet and greet and maybe even sell a few books. For visitors, I’ll have chocolate on hand!

Here’s my schedule of panels, etc.:

#Hustle: Author Newsletters and More –6pm Friday

Anthologies: How they Pick ‘Em and How to Get In – 10 am Saturday

Reading!-11 am Saturday

“Office hours”-4:30-5:30

Afrofuturist Fiction and Trends –11am Sunday

Mothers and Daughters-12pm Sunday

What Should We Be Reading?-2pm Sunday

If you’re local and love science fiction media check out the schedule for this wonderful con.

And, wish me luck with my reading and office hours!

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!

 

Hi folks,

Happy holiday weekend to all my U.S. readers and for those not in the U.S., I hope you are well wherever you are in the world. In a few days, we move into ‘Cyber Monday’. Many publishers, along with other businesses, are offering great deals on Monday. This is an excellent time to find holiday gifts and stock up on personal reading for the season. I wanted to give you a heads up about one publisher in particular—Fighting Monkey Press.

Fighting Monkey Press, publisher of the amazing ‘UnCommon’ anthologies is having a GREAT sale on Monday. On Monday (and for a very limited time), you can get ALL 4 anthologies for just $4.00, or one book for 99c! I’m published in the UnCommon Origins anthology and have truly been impressed with the phenomenal writing in each collection. My urban fantasy story, ‘The Curl of Emma Jean’ is about two sisters, race, fairies and the God Faunus.Check out the UnCommon Origins trailer.
Each anthology is themed and features short stories that fall into the categories of horror, magical realism, fantasy, slipstream, science fiction, steampunk and more. Your imagination will truly be sparked by the UnCommon anthologies!

Get 4 books for 4 dollars, or 1 book for 99c! 

UnCommon Bodies

Step right up to the modern freakshow — We have mermaids, monsters, and more. You won’t be disappointed, but you may not get out alive.

UnCommon Bodies presents a collection of 21 beautifully irreverent stories that blend the surreal and the mundane. Together, the authors explore the lives of the odd, the unbelievable, and the impossible. Imagine a world where magic exists, where the physical form has the power to heal or repulse, where a deal with the devil means losing so much more than your soul.

UnCommon Origins

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. 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?

UnCommon Minds

Enter into the hidden world of the mind, where the laws of nature don’t apply and nothing is as it seems.

Straight from the minds of 20 UnCommon Authors come tales of tragedy, triumph, and bittersweet gratitude. You’ll find augmented realities and mental persuasion that force you to question everything. Stories of military suspense, psychological horror, dream walkers, and psychic mediums await their turn to crawl into your head.

UnCommon Lands

Enter into the hidden world of the mind, where the laws of nature don’t apply and nothing is as it seems.

Straight from the minds of 20 UnCommon Authors come tales of tragedy, triumph, and bittersweet gratitude. You’ll find augmented realities and mental persuasion that force you to question everything. Stories of military suspense, psychological horror, dream walkers, and psychic mediums await their turn to crawl into your head.

 

 

 

 

I’m thrilled that my essay about Octavia Butler is now in print in the new collection: Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler.

In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction Twelfth Planet Press has published 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.

 

 

I write about Octavia Butler’s use of affirmations to support her writing and how I have viewed her life as a model for creative practice. Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time know how important a tool I think affirmations are for creative people. In 2016, I committed to a daily practice of  writing an original affirmation about creativity and posting it on this blog. This practice provided tremendous nourishment for my creative life.

There are many writers in this collection that are well-known in the science fiction community including Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okrafor, L. Timmel Duchamp, and Steven Barnes, but also you’ll discover newer writers (like myself) in this hefty 405 page book.

A few months ago, Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, the editors of LT gave a great interview here.

If you’re a Butler fan, you’ll want this work in your library. If you have friends that are OB fans, please pass on info about this book!

 

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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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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