Episode 07 – Michele T Berger – Reenu You

Michele is not only an author, she is a college professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a creativity coach. She works with students in women’s and gender studies and authors to improve their ability to tap into their creativity.

Her story, Reenu-You, is a post apocalyptic story where civilization is destroyed through a hair care product. As far as she knows, it’s the only post-apocalyptic story using hair relaxer as the downfall of civilization. She has gone through Falstaff books, so knows traditional, indy, and hybrid publishing.

Transcript:

Stephen 0:50
Welcome to Episode Seven of discovered wordsmiths. I appreciate you taking the time to listen and I hope you’ve been finding something interesting. And finding some new authors to go read about find out more about discovering some new wordsmiths that are out there. I wanted to make a note on this particular episode. I am talking with Michelle t Berger, about her novella Renu you, and the internet was acting up a little bit. We had some issues with it. So you may hear some dropouts, you may hear some bad wording, it may sound funny, and I apologize for that we did the best we could edit in it. But I do hope you enjoy it. There’s a lot to learn from Michelle. She is a professor that writes and helps other authors by coaching. So sit back, listen to what Michelle has to say about her journey to the published word. And I hope you enjoyed the show and will subscribe and give us a review. It would really help a lot. Thanks. Here’s Michelle. So, Michelle, tell us a little bit about yourself. Outside of being a writer, you mentioned your professor, tell us about that and the rest of your life a little bit. Yeah,

Michele 2:06
so I will say that I am a speculative fiction writer, I write kind of across this specula fiction universe, so sci fi, modern fantasy, magical realism. But everything I write tends to have a hard edge or element to it. And I also am a creativity coach. And so I work with people to help them realize their dreams and remove obstacles to pursuing more of what they love to do in life. And I’ve been writing, I would say, I’ve been writing seriously, for the last at least 10 years. And then the 10 years before that I was writing. And in a what I like to say seeming like more like metaphorically in the basement. And like I was writing without community. And I would just rewrite parts of the novel that probably will never see the light of day, even though I’ve mined it, but I would just kind of rewrite that. And I would read craft books, and I would think to myself late I’m really clever, and why can’t I just figure this out? Well, um, you know, I think if I hadn’t met my writing teacher and mentor friend, Marjorie Hudson, about 10 years ago and kind of gotten into the literary community and done some other things, I probably would have given up to be quite honest. Because I think once you’re in your late 30s, early 40s, and if you’ve had this desire to write, and you haven’t seen that fulfilled, it gets harder to do that, because you obviously have other kinds of life phase issues. So for people who are artistically inclined, and they keep going, you know, usually by your 40s, you’re starting to see the kind of payoff of that.

Stephen 3:44
So you said, you’re a professor, what are you a professor of what do you teach?

Michele 3:50
So I’m at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, I’m in the department of Women’s and Gender Studies, and I do research primarily on gender and racial health disparities. And I also do work on issues around women and social movements, right? It’s in the last couple of years, it’s always a great time to be a Women’s and Gender Studies professor, because we study power and inequality. But right now is a particularly interesting time.

Stephen 4:17
I would say when classes resume in the fall, you probably have a lot of stuff to go over and cover. Yes, yes, indeed. Yes, indeed. And and your coaching, you said your creativity coach, that’s interesting. So do you coach people more than just writing like musicians or for their business to do speakers or things like that?

Michele 4:38
Absolutely. So my coaching practice is called the creative tickle. And usually when I say that people smile and is awake. And so I work with people who are creative professionals, but also people who want to be more creative. So I’ve worked with, like city managers in terms of, you know, coming in and giving talks about a career workplace as well as people who are transitioning from one creative discipline into another, I deal a lot with issues around perfectionism, and procrastination issues. So depending on you know, what the person is coming to do a very targeted kind of assessment of where they are and, and work with them. Because, you know, creativity in and of itself is something we all desire, but it has ebbs and flows. And we have to kind of move through our life, the different things that are going to keep us inspired. And as you know, because you’re a writer, and I typically work with a lot of writers, but not exclusively, the kinds of, you know, mental hoops and games that we are ourselves through can really aggravate what I call a lot of inner critics. And so, you know, sometimes we’re dealing with that, as well as dealing with just how do I how do I keep going, how do I sustain my momentum? How do I stay sustained my motivations and keep so

Stephen 5:54
do you think being a coach with others helps you yourself as a writer?

Michele 6:01
Oh, such a great question. Absolutely. Absolutely. And I, I mean, coaching is kind of the formal and practice. And that implies, you know, level of professionalism, which is really important. But I tell people, I’m a deep student of creativity. And I feel like I had to save my own life, through creative means. When I was a graduate student, I was pursuing my PhD in political science. And the Academy, let’s just say really encourages a mind body split. And I prior to that, I always thought of myself as a creative person, I did a lot of creative writing in college. But at that time, my life was just really difficult. And I went on a deep search around the meaning of creativity, you know, creativity is a buzzword, but kind of going deeper beings. And you know, what we bring to our lives, and out of that, really deep kind of search around creativity and seeing different forms of creativity, seeing what sustains people, and their creative work years, and I developed a practice. So I always say, I’m both a student and a practitioner. So everything that I have supported people on is something that I’ve had to learn or relearn myself,

Stephen 7:13
I always heard and experienced this, that to really know something, teach it to somebody, if you don’t know it, you cannot teach it. And I learned that clear back in scout days, we would always it was always boy LED. So as you learn something, you’d turn around, teach it to somebody else. And it’s amazing. If you’ve never experienced it, to say, Well, here, do this, and then you’re like, Oh, now I get it, you really do learn a lot teaching?

Michele 7:42
Absolutely. And yeah, and I would just add to that, that what I primarily what a coach can give you is structure and accountability. And, you know, in my experience, and looking at creative professionals, you know, over their careers, that’s what most people need is structure, whether it’s you’re going to write three times a day, or you’re going to submit stories once a month, and then accountability. So the coach follows up with you and says, Okay, did you do that what you said you’re going to do this week, or this past month. And if you didn’t, what are the mental blocks that we need to work with, to support you to get to that goal, so and that’s something that I had to learn, and, like, deeply learn in terms of structure and accountability. Those are to me the, like Maxim’s of, you know, being a successful, creative professional.

Stephen 8:30
I think that’s great. And I know a lot of people need that type of help. It’s amazing how creative creativity doesn’t always come as inspirational and easy as people think. When it becomes a business. And you’re having to do it all the time. You realize it kind of becomes a chore sometimes, and to keep that spark alive, that that can be difficult for anybody. So I think that’s really cool, how you’re helping people with that aspect of things. So it’s, it’s super fulfilling. But Michelle, so tell us a little bit about I’m not even sure you told me about your one book. So tell me about that. Any other writing? You’ve done? What do you have out?

Michele 9:11
Yeah, so I have recently released a novella called Renu you and briefly books. And that basically asked the question of what if a trip to the beauty salon could kill you? And it basically looks at what if a mysterious virus was transmitted through this everyday haircare products. We follow that one cat. She’s a biracial young woman who comes back to New York City to pack up her deceased mother’s things. She’s a skier who lives in Aspen. And then we also follow Constancio. A 19 year old young woman just about to start college who is very excited but kinda has a chip on her shoulder. she happens to be Puerto Rican it set in New York City in the 1990s. And basically, they they band together with some other women to find out what this is. Mysterious virus that is doing to people. So what I tell people if you like, if you like books that have female friendship conspiracy theory, and science thriller II aspects, then then you might add that the Renu is a it was originally published by book smugglers in 2017. So this is the life of a kind of person myself, we work across micro and smaller prep a wonderful venue, they’re still around, they’re no longer they no no longer do publishing and some of my other work. My short stories are through book smugglers, but they closed and then I pitched on, I’m really grateful that they picked it up. And then I’ve written the other story that’s on the book smugglers website is called New sia and that’s about a young black girl in the 1970s, who alien through a diplomatic mission, and all she wants is the best friend and the alien comes to stay with her and her family. And let’s say that things don’t go quite as the protagonist Lindsay had hoped for. Et meets fatal attraction.

Stephen 11:10
I was gonna say it kind of sounds like so version of Harry and the Hendersons.

Michele 11:15
Well, yeah, that that, yeah, that too. Yeah. So and then I have problems in in some smaller journals scattered here and there. So yeah, and, and some anthologies, and I will one one other final thing that I’m really proud of, I’ve never written a lipstick, and modern kind of fantasy story. And I have a story called cemetery sisters that’s coming out in an anthology called concrete dreams, which is words in wise women, by perspective, that I think by the end of the month,

Stephen 11:49
so you said you use a, you’ve used a couple small presses, do you find that you prefer that letting them handle the things with publishing, as opposed to doing publishing yourself?

Michele 12:05
Well, so I’m, I’m eager to become a hybrid author. And I’m trying to educate myself as much as you want and excitement about doing that. But for me, at least, I think because I have a little bit of again, we teach what we what we struggle with a little bit of a perfectionist. And so there’s a part of me that before I go into trying to do more indie publishing, I feel like I have to learn every single thing, which is obviously not true. So I’m hoping to dip my toe in the water. But I’ve been really pleased with my experience, too. They have, you know, these are obviously people who love books, I’ve had great editorial support and help and, and marketing publicity through them. So I think that the future about if they can to do think of themselves more as hybrid, so if they’re traditional, they can, you know, if they work on series, they can do other kinds of support other kinds of stories for their audience. But if they’re solely indie, you know, there’s something to be said, to work in a different kind of literary community than the indie community, even though there’s a lot of overlap and to kind of experience that that kind of trajectory. So those two trajectories now tend to blend and crossover. So and I think that’s a good thing. But I do meet a lot of people who are just traditionally published, and they know nothing about the world. And I think that that’s, you know, we need to use as authors, we need to use all the resources and ways to reach our readers that we can.

Stephen 13:44
And that’s perfect, because I was just going to ask you, what you’ve been writing for a couple decades, you’ve mentioned, I’ve written a bunch of different things. What have you learned that you would go back and do differently? Or what something that you did that you now wishing you hadn’t done?

Michele 14:04
Oh, that’s such a great question. And a couple of things, I wish I would have developed either the confidence to publish work on my own, because one of the things that I really admire about some indie writers is that they will put work and the work is going to be very strong, but they learn in public. And when you walk in more traditionally published path, you are not encouraged to do that. But I think it would have been helpful to me to get real feedback and people a little bit earlier on like, you know, there’s wattpad and medium and lots of places besides publishing on the bigger platform. So I wish I would have done that. And I and I think also so there’s sort of that, that confidence thing. And I think I also I wish I would have pushed myself to actually submit to learn And how to do short stories and flash fiction earlier. So sort of back up there for a moment. Um, I really do mean that, you know, I worked for many years on a 400,000 word novel that the core of that was the novella. And I think it’s important to believe in your work and I only that was only after mur Lafferty Who’s this wonderful writer. And people if your listeners don’t know, her podcast called, I should be writing she’s been. She’s one of the earliest people podcasting and doing writing podcasts. She’s amazing. she happens to be a local writer, and she’s a UNC alum. And so I had emailed her a couple This is five, six years ago and just asked her out to go, which is a great thing to do to get to meet writers. And she said, Well, you know, where are you the time novellas were harder to submit me now. There’s sort of this big, Renaissance and long, long form work. And, you know, she needs to submit your work more, you need to start going to cons and I I think it’s important to submit our work. And my writing teacher Marjorie Hudson always says, writers should think about apprenticing through their first 100 rejections. And when I when I first heard this, I thought, I’ve been writing for a long time. So I must have an I must have 100 rejections. So even I went actually back and I looked at the, you know, the, this is the paper rejections. And I mean, I looked through stuff, and I thought, surely I have 100. Well, actually not waiting and trying to submit for many years, I didn’t have that I didn’t have I mean, I maybe had like, 50, or something. But in my mind, I thought, oh, I’ve been rejected so much. And I’ve been trying so hard, well, actually, you really need to submit your work a lot sooner, a lot faster. And I’m particularly like short fiction, it’s a great testing ground, you get to develop relations with with editors, even if they don’t accept your work. If they like it, they may say, send me your next thing. So I think it’s important to you know, if I had to do it again, I would have to submit work early and or try to write more in a public community public context to get that feedback.

Stephen 17:00
Okay, so that’s what you would have done in the past. You’ve learned from that. So what are your future plans now? for books? what’s what’s coming out? What What do you plan to do over the next six months? Couple years?

Michele 17:13
So it’s so key for that? Because I was just sitting down, you know, because we’re at the halfway point, I’m not sure when this will air but it’s, it’s right now. It’s early, it’s almost mid June. So this is always a good time to, you know, look ahead for the for the year. So I had been focused on separating Renu, you had been focused on short fiction. And, you know, I’ve done a lot of anthologies now I’m starting, I feel very lucky and fortunate that people have asked me to now submit to anthologies. But I still would like to crack a pro market. I’ve been some markets, which is great in terms of science fiction, specula fiction, and I’ve been published in some literary journals. So I do, I would like to move in that direction. But the main thing is that and this is something we originally had thought about, and I’m contracted to produce a horror novel this year, for Falstaff books. And it will take place in the great dismal swamp, at least the North Carolina and in the great dismal swamp, if you if you don’t know about, it’s just a it’s a parts of Virginia, North Carolina. And it has this amazing history, it was a stop on Underground Railroad. It people hung out there who were rebels, runaway slaves, escaped people, people who didn’t want to be found so that the swamp itself besides having been this commercial enterprise, for the US for the late 1700s, early 1800s. This is this amazing historical place. So I’m, I’m I my horror stories is set there. So I’m working furiously on that trying to try to do 1000 words, roughly 702,000 words a day.

Stephen 18:41
Wow. So when’s that supposed to be out? What does that do?

Michele 18:46
Well, everything has gotten a little pushback, because of everything that’s going on and publishing right now. So my goal is to get it to john, as the main publisher and main editor of false books. I’d like to get to him by the end of August, because the semester for me will be starting in early August and and who knows how that will look. So that’s gonna be kind of an experiment. So I’m working really hard to get a good draft him by the end of August, and then ideally would come out the end of the year.

Stephen 19:22
Great. So just in time for Christmas. Yes, I like I like I’m gonna hold on to that. Yes, there you go. Christmas presents for everybody. Well, I got it one year for Christmas. My mother used to always get me a box set of something every Christmas and one year was a box set a Stephen King, so I was at Christmas time. Amazing. Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. lots, lots of good books. Okay, so, Michelle, any other thoughts, words of advice anything about the whole journey that you’d Like to express to other aspiring authors?

Michele 20:04
Yeah, I would just, I’d like to underscore, I think the point I was trying to make earlier. One is to believe in your work. And, you know, we hear so often like, oh, everything’s been done under the sun. Well, actually, to my knowledge, I’m one of the first people that’s taken hair beauty and adornment issues and put them into a sci fi context. And I think that a my own personal interest in history, and thinking about ways in which everyday our everyday practices are so gender racialized, like hair is very gendered. And like, hair is very racialized. So I would say, you know, believe so I came up with this idea, also, because the idea for the novella is because there was a, there was a product, there’s a real product in the 1990s, that was marketed through infomercials to people and to mostly women of color. And about a year or two later, it was a class, excellent class action lawsuit against the company, and it, you know, people products for this hair product, and they and they weren’t. And so I would just say, you know,

Stephen 21:15
even you’re there we go.

Michele 21:18
storytelling and the things that make you unique. Yeah, and the things that the things that make you unique, and, you know, your obsessions, the things that, that your obsession obsessively interested in, I think you can love your, you know, through your craft through those kinds of interests.

Stephen 21:36
Great. Well, I appreciate that. And I look forward to reading your book. I hadn’t gotten a hold of the Renu story, I want to find it because, you know, I can’t really relate to haircare products right now. But it does sound very interesting.

Michele 21:52
I always thought that. Still guys, some you know, some guys, be careful, because, you know, like, different kind of hair products. We don’t really know what’s in them, because they’re not they’re not really regulated in the way that we think other products are regulated, right. So careful of your dyes and your you know, Rogaine or whatever, like, yeah, just just watch that.

Stephen 22:15
Right. All right. Well, great. Michelle, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I look forward to finding out more about your stories and what you do in the future. Thank you. And can I just say all people who want to kind of find me and connect with me? Yes, I’m sorry. I should have asked Yes. Tell us where you’re at.

Michele 22:31
No worries at all. It’s Michelle, and I’m a one l Michelle. So that’s ni ch e le burdur. b e r g er.wordpress.com. That’s my blog called the practice of creativity. I have a lot of stuff there for writers on social media, at Burger on Twitter and other places. So love to always, always love to hear and support writers and other creative professionals as well as readers. So thank you.

Stephen 22:55
Grape was good talking to you, Michelle, I appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you so much. Great questions. Really appreciate you being here. Great. I’ll see you online too.

Unknown Speaker 23:02
Yes. Bye.

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