The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘women and creativity

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/.

 

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?

 

Dear Creatives,

Have you heard about my Imagined Futures: A Transformative Writing Workshop in Panama?
This workshop is your opportunity to leave everyday life behind and get away for a week to be fueled, renewed, focused and coached by me to WRITE* without ANY distractions!

It’s amazing to think of how much writing you could do, isn’t it?

Just imagine what this workshop in a retreat setting, and the extra resources, will do to help you make PROGRESS on the writing that is most important to you.

I am leading the Imagined Futures workshop from July 2-6. And, then I am staying another week to do my own writing!

You can come for my workshop specifically or just come to write (or create in another medium) through the Summer Artist Residency.

Imagined Futures will draw on speculative fiction ideas for its inspiration (in keeping with the broader them of the program). However, writing in any genre will be welcome.

Think about it…Meals are prepared for us, we’re right on the beach, there’s structured and unstructured time…and great exercises. We are going to Time Travel with our past, present and future Writing Selves!

This workshop is hosted by Creative Currents Artist Collaborative. Creative Currents Artist Collaborative is an Atlanta-based, internationally focused arts organization whose mission is to widen and deepen public engagement with the arts and cultures of Africa and the Black Diaspora.  They do this by connecting artists, scholars and arts enthusiasts with exciting and varied arts-based cultural experiences. They offer a year round roster of cultural trips and workshops, of which the 2017 Creative Currents Summer Artist Residency is one.

Join me in Panama, and make 2017 the year your creative work gets DONE!

Let’s do this together.

Check out the details here. Feel free to email me with questions: mtb@creativetickle.com

*the Summer Artist Residency encourages artists of all kinds to apply.

I had an awesome cover reveal yesterday at Black Girl Nerds for “Reenu-You” my new sci-fi novella. Today Reenu-You is launched!

What if a visit to the salon could kill you? What if a hair product harbored a deadly virus? My novella is about viruses, the politics of beauty and unlikely female heroes. It’s got a thriller and apocalyptic feel.

Kat, an out of work ski instructor, just wants to pack up her dead mother’s things, leave New York City and return to Aspen. Constancia, a talented but troubled young woman, just wants to start her first semester of college. They both use a new hair product called “Reenu-You”. Within days, along with other women of color, they find themselves covered in purple scab-like legions— a rash that pulses, oozes, and spreads in spiral patterns. They are at the epicenter of a mysterious virus spreading throughout the city. Is it corporate malfeasance or an orchestrated plot to kill minority women? These unlikely heroines are forced to confront their deepest fears to save themselves and others.

 

Want to check this novella out? Of course you do! My publisher is hosting a giveaway on their site. Just go here and enter to win! While there check out a snippet of the essay that I wrote for their ‘Inspirations and Influences’ section. The full essay is included with the e-book!

I am so happy to participate in the blog tour of new author, Audrey Mei. I’m grateful to Quanie Miller, a wonderful writer and blogger who helped bring us together. Given Audrey’s amazingly diverse creative practices that run the gamut of music, writing, health and science, I knew she would be a great person to interview. In our correspondence, we’ve discovered that we have many overlapping interests.

Audrey Mei grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area before studying cello and biological psychology/pre-med in Boston (New England Conservatory of Music/Tufts University). Following graduation, she received a Fulbright Grant for graduate studies in cello performance at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland.

Since 2006, Audrey has been dedicated to writing prose and poetry and has been published in Gangway Literary Magazine and Glimmer Train among others, as well as participating for several years in the Berlin English language literary scene. She is a world traveler at heart.

I’m delighted to welcome Audrey Mei to The Practice of Creativity.

audreymei

 

-Tell us about your recent book, Trixi Pudong and the Greater World. Why did you want to write this book?

Trixi Pudong and the Greater World is a family saga that follows a Shanghai family through four generations, beginning in 1937. Alongside the family’s history of war, revolution, addiction, and migration, there is a twist of magical: a fairy, a fortune-telling goatman, and two brothers who never step off a rusty container ship.

bookcover-audrey

The inspiration for this book came as I was researching my dad’s family history for fun. At the time, I was also living as a dirt-poor writer in Berlin. The ironic juxtaposition of everything my Chinese family had survived and the “privileged”-yet-poor artist life I was living in modern, cushy Germany gave me the impetus to write a book about how unpredictable the waves of history can be.

Also, my father is a natural storytelling genius. I felt that integrating his tales from Shanghai into a work of historical magical fiction would be a way for me to remember his stories as well as a way for them to potentially reach a wider audience.

-You have explored many wonderful professions in addition to writing including, being a classical cellist, a holistic healer, and a scientist. How have these other creative and intellectual pursuits contributed to your writing?

The single most important thing I’ve gained is the discipline of being a classical musician. Someone recently pointed out to me that classical music is the one artistic field which requires the highest investment in time, energy, and money for the least return in today’s economy. Where else do little kids practice hours a day, take expensive music lessons, take the “audition of their lives” to study at pricey conservatories, and spend five figures on an antique instrument… just for the slim chance at earning all that back in the vanishing classical music profession? It turns out that many music school graduates have taken their skills to innovative non-music jobs. A surprising number of tech workers in Silicon Valley, for example, are actually classical musicians.

Discipline is the greatest gift. I can’t say enough about it. Yet it is the one area where the most people fall short. Discipline is required to write, solve problems, continually improve, and mentally deal with the pain of critical feedback. Discipline is required to keep the mind free from destructive thoughts and to keep yourself focused on the highest level of quality you can manage.

The second skill I’ve gained through my experience is emotional awareness from working in holistic therapy for sixteen years. I listen to people’s stories, traumas, insecurities, and griefs. I follow their healing and their growth. I can’t be judgmental and I can’t be afraid of deep emotions otherwise my clients would stop seeing me. Therapeutic experience has also given me the “roadmap” of human motivations. Writing-wise, this helps me to create a stories that interweave motives and relationships that are rooted in true human psychology.

-Your book is being marketed as multicultural fiction. Can you share what this term means to you and why that’s an important distinction for this book?

It didn’t dawn on me that the term “multicultural” would be important in any way until I researched agents and realized, Wait, these agents would never, ever in a million years represent me. They all claimed to be interested in all genres of literary fiction, but early on, I got a strong gut feeling when I browsed agents’ client list and saw only your garden-variety white male (or female). And the only non-white authors being represented were invariably prison-camp survivors, Nobel laureates, or writers on “What it means to be [fill in ethnicity/disadvantaged class] in America.” The next stage of this realization came as I read agent interviews where they unabashedly declared their risk aversion to selling to an audience that they couldn’t relate to. In other words, there was a near-zero chance for a person like myself who is just telling a story.

But, as my writing teacher always emphasizes: The readers are out there. Unfortunately, as the traditional publishing industry has changed, world literature has fallen victim to the budgeting ax. It remains a question of reaching the right audience, but at the indie book level. Hence I saw how critical it is to designate a book properly to attract my target readers.

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

I’m astounded at how supportive other indie authors are. I’m also floored by how impossible it is for anyone with kids to write, publish, and market a book with no child care. I started writing Trixi Pudong in 2009, pre-parenthood. My daughter was born in 2014, and my writing screeched to a complete standstill. Without my mother-in-law donating 20 hours a week of babysitting, I simply wouldn’t have a book out. Period.

– What do you say to yourself on days when the writing feels especially difficult?

Just wait. What goes down must come up again. 

I’m very strict about this, to not put pressure on myself. I don’t work well under pressure. I would just produce garbage. But when inspiration comes on its own, it really flows and the process is nearly effortless. It’s therefore more important for me to find ways to let the inspiration flow. A meditation practice — being able to empty my mind to allow for ideas to emerge, aka “listen to your heart” lol — has been my best resource.

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

This is going somewhere, I promise: My dad is a retired professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. For a while decades ago, UCB topped even Harvard as the country’s best university, and this was because of his department. So he’s a pretty esteemed individual in his field (just don’t ask me anything about it!). At conferences and events, fellow professors and former students flock around him. I’ll never forget what some of his former grad students related to us at his 80th birthday celebration. According to these students, my dad always told them that, in the face of doubt:

Never compare yourself to anyone else.

Remember that no one else can do what you are doing.

 

Thank you to Michele for giving me the honor of guest-posting on your blog! You can find the rest of my blog tour schedule here.

 

Affirmations-366Days#205: My writing connects me to history and to people who were never given an opportunity to express themselves.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

I have written in other places about the influence of my maternal grandmother on my desire to write. My grandmother used to read five to six newspapers a day and loved the written word. She had entertained high aspirations of becoming a journalist (already in full bloom in adolescence as evidenced by her securing an interview with Harlem Renaissance notable Countee Cullen for the high school newspaper). She did do some writing for The Amsterdam News, a black focused newspaper in NYC. However, she found it overall impossible to give her creative gifts to the world because of her skin color and sex.

This was true for many women of color of her generation. Barriers for many women rooted in the intersection of sexuality, race, nationality, class and disability still profoundly shapes the possibilities and trajectories of a creative life. I am aware of how privileged I am in the ability to contemplate let alone pursue a creative life. I write for myself, but also with an attention to telling collective stories that my mother, grandmother and others would have loved to hear. And, I do believe that as more women of color live fulfilling creative lives, at some deep inexplicable metaphysical level, we heal the unfulfilled karmic desires of female ancestors who came before us.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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