The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘women writers

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?

 

Dianna L. Gunn – one of the other authors in The Novella Initiative by The Book Smugglers – is hosting me on her blog today! We chat about the inspiration behind Reenu-You, the rise of novellas, and how publishing must change to support diverse voices. https://goo.gl/zZmFmT

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.

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 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.

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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.

 

There is always a lag time between acceptance of one’s work and publication. So, I was thrilled to receive the recent Oracle: Fine Arts Review, a lovely literary and arts journal, and see my poem, ‘The Shells of Pink Bodies’! This poem was submitted last September and accepted at the beginning of the year. Oracle is published annually by the University of South Alabama. It features fiction, nonfiction, poetry, painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, illustration, glass, printmaking, and ceramics. I enjoyed working with their editorial team.

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This poem is my strongest one to date, both in terms of technique, structure and emotional resonance. I have not studied poetry in the obsessive way that I have studied novels and more recently short stories. Therefore, it’s such a joy when I write a poem that I immediately know works and sparks something for the reader. When I took a draft to my writing group and listened to their responses (unlike any other response to my poems), I knew the work was strong. I typically don’t decide to just sit down and write a poem. When I am compelled to write a poem, it is in response to a very strong emotion, usually something rooted in my childhood or adolescence. This poem contains some autobiographical material that has been reworked. It also takes up mother and daughter issues which is definitely emotional territory that I like to explore. Soon Oracle will have a pdf file of the issue on their website that I can link to. They produced a beautiful issue. Until then, here is my poem. Also, check out their call for issue 10. They would love to see your work. Enjoy!

 

The Shells of Pink Bodies

 a girl sits in a fine restaurant
her mother across from her, martini in hand.
the girl knows that being there is a luxury.

what awaits them in the tiny hotel room
the chair, the stained bedspread, no fridge
but a hotplate.

small cartons of milk pilfered from school
placed outside on the window sill,
to keep them cool, and
tiny boxes of Coco Puffs and Fruit Loops
decorate the TV stand.
their lives away from the stepfather
not with him
but not yet
somewhere else.
years later, the daughter will still loathe
small cartons of milk, and the cheery, sugary cereals
that everyone else loved, and describe their time in that room
as hand to almost mouth living.

And so a restaurant,
every now and then, makes the mother forget.
while the daughter practices
what it will be like

when things are different
in a barely imagined future.
the daughter wrings the napkin in her lap, eager
she takes her mother’s suggestion and orders what she wants
the most exotic thing on the menu.
Shrimp!
she has seen their small, pink muscular bodies
lying on ice-filled platters
in late night commercials,
wedged
between the Johnny Carson show
and B movie reruns.
the waiter smiles at her,
she beams.

“Another martini, please.
Yes the same as before, extra dry,
straight up, with two olives.”

the daughter’s platter arrives
and she eats and eats and eats.

the chewing though takes longer than she imagined.

the waiter looks at the daughter with a hint of surprise and just
as he is about to speak, the daughter glimpses a calculation

in her mother’s eyes,
the waiter sees it, too, hesitating.
a message, the daughter wonders
the waiter shrinks back.
the pink bodies finally surrender to the daughter’s jaws working,
chewing and snapping.
her mother is paying, so she must eat another and another
all that awaits back at the hotel is the dry crunch of cereal.
The waiter returns, rising on the balls of his feet, worried now
hovering, until the mother shoos him away.

pink bodies float in the melting ice, disintegrating.

the daughter’s throat is raw and she asks for another Coke.
her mother is quiet, drinking the next martini.

the waiter takes the completely empty platter away.

“You didn’t ask, did you? You just took,” her mother finally says.

the girl sees a meanness coming, shooting out from her mother’s eyes,
she checks the placement of forks, napkins.

“Don’t do anything,
in a restaurant,
without asking me.”
“You weren’t supposed to eat them with the shells on.”

the mother’s martini laugh, sharp and almost playful
rings in the girl’s ears.
her focus narrows
to the missing platter’s
indentation in the tablecloth.

“You always wait
and watch
and ask if you are unsure.”

“Next time, you’ll know.”

the bill is paid and they begin their journey back.
those perfectly pink bodies, those shells,
stay with her,
scratch inside.

years later they remind her
of the ability to endure.
the caring, but quiet waiter.

she waits to know,
for sure,
what is expected of her.

a different future
than imagined.

 

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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