Category Archives: On writing

“Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares” – webinar starts 3/25

What do the works of Octavia E. Butler, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Marvel’s “Luke Cage” and the music of Janelle Monáe and George Clinton have in common?  They’re all in the realm of Afrofuturism, an arts movement sweeping the world and firing up imaginations of people from all backgrounds.

Get-Out-Horror-Movie-Trailer

Afrofuturism – also known as the Black Speculative Arts Movement – centers black characters and innovative voices in comics, music, science fiction, fantasy and horror. Whether it’s the prophetic dystopia of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, an android slave auction in Janelle Monáe’s “Many Moons” video, or racism as a kind of demon in Get Out, Afrofuturism explores voices that traditionally have been erased to provide a map through the past and present with an eye toward a better future.

I teach Afrofuturism at UCLA, and for the first time I’ll be co-teaching a 10-week public webinar with pioneering science fiction writer Steven Barnes (“The Outer Limits,” Lion’s Blood) starting Saturday, March 25th : “Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares.” Lectures will be broadcast live online, but if you miss one, you can watch the video feed at your leisure.  This is the last week to REGISTER before classes begin.

This overview course is designed for artists, fans and activists who want to explore Afrofuturistic themes in their own art or simply gain a better understanding the power of Afrofuturism to help drive social change. The course is perfect for writers, filmmakers, musicians and artists of all types who want to explore Afrofuturism and be more inclusive in their works – but you don’t need to be an artist to take the course. (Most of my students aren’t.)

Pumzi

From Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu’s short film Pumzi 

You’ll get a syllabus of works to explore in your own time, live lectures online, and access to the slew of interviews we’re conducting for the course: interviews include “Luke Cage” writer/showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, Oscar-winning producer Reggie Hudlin, Hugo Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor, pioneer Samuel R. Delany, author M.R. Carey (author/screenwriter of The Girl With all the Gifts), activist Bree Newsome (who took down the South Carolina Confederate flag), Jamie Broadnax of Black Girl Nerds, artist John Jennings – and more! These guests will share craft secrets and their views on Afrofuturism’s power. Steve and I will also share an interview we conducted with Octavia E. Butler in 2000.

Why is Afrofuturism so powerful?

Imagine: Fifty years ago, in the 1960s, when young black and white activists were being murdered and attacked for trying to register blacks to vote—how awe-inspiring was Lt. Uhura on “Star Trek”? Lt. Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, was a validation on the deepest level that blacks would not only survive—we would thrive. Her impact was so powerfully felt that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked her not to quit the series when Nichols was ready to leave.

And if you’ve read Octavia E. Butler’s work, you know how strongly she was guided by a principled social vision that decried hierarchy and subjugation – themes that could not be more relevant in our current political times. What qualities provide great leadership? What is the path through hardship? How can we imagine the future we want to avoid – or the one we want to build? Whether it’s the utopian escapism of jazz pioneer Sun Ra or the heroic feats of Black Panther, Afrofuturism helps give us tools to both cope with and subvert harmful social trends.

At an event I attended in West Palm Beach Saturday called Black Women Rise, activist icon Angela Davis discussed the impact of Afrofuturism on real-life world-building.

Angela Davis & T

“It’s not that I’m optimistic because I see the world through rose-colored glasses,” Davis said. “It’s that if the work that you’ve done for so many decades and years would make a difference in the future, we have to be able to imagine a different future. Even though there are no guarantees, but in order to do the work we do, however we do it – whether as artists or activists – we have to believe a different kind of world is possible…

“And thank you so much for your work, Tananarive, in Afrofuturism – we need to be able to imagine the future as accessible, as spiritually accessible, to us. We’re doing this work not just for what will happen in our lifetimes, we’re doing it for the worlds that will be ushered into being a hundred years from now, two-hundred years from now, and we have to learn now how to feel ourselves a part of that in a collective meditation.”

Whether it’s by magic, alternate history, horror or projections in the future itself, Afrofuturism is a powerful tool in real-life worldbuilding.

REGISTER for our Afrofuturism webinar to explore a new world.

TandSteve2

Tananarive Due has won an American Book Award, an NAACP Image Award and a British Fantasy Award. She teaches Afrofuturism at UCLA.  Steven Barnes has won an NAACP Image Award and an Endeavor Award for his alternate history, Lion’s Blood

Leave a comment

Filed under On writing, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Post-election: Why I’m journaling & not just sharing feelings on social media

I hear myself sighing and saying “Oh my God” at random times throughout the day.  I haven’t turned on TV news since about 9 p.m. on election night, although I follow print news closely–so I don’t doubt it’s as bad as I feared. I don’t have the comfort of denial.

I look on with admiration at those who can gather their thoughts enough to appear on interviews or panels, or write sweeping think pieces. I saw Roxane Gay’s address livestreamed from #FacingRace in Atlanta, and she took my breath away. But she, like me, said she was still unpacking, still processing.

So I have journaled. Not as much as I should–but some. Because processing my emotions is the only thing that will drive the numb feeling away, and I can’t afford to be numb. I have to be clear-headed to be most effective in Trump’s opposition.

At first, in shock and mourning, social media was my outlet. But that wasn’t, and isn’t, enough. Social media, although it’s powerful, has slowly eaten away at the energy I might have used for journaling–and sometimes my energy for writing, period. And it’s not necessarily bringing me closer to my feelings: social media is performance.

For me, social media is a place to rally, to comfort, to commiserate, to teach, to grow. Social media is not where I share my deepest feelings.

I had rediscovered my neglected journal a few days before the election, so we weren’t complete strangers when I needed to move beyond social media and try to unpack my feelings.

I still have a long way to go. I don’t cry when I journal, and I know the tears are buried in there. (Tears emerge most when I listen to music or play the piano.) And I haven’t yet written down my list of repercussions, or my strategy going forward. I must. I will.

But I’m acknowleding this event in history, documenting it, as my late mother Patricia Stephens Due would have said. (That, in itself, acknowledges that this is a fixed moment that will be behind us one day.)

I journaled about how I spoke to my 82-year-old father, Florida civil rights attorney John Due, who is always upbeat and was focused on his plans to meet with a local outgoing School Board president (that’s Dad; always moving forward); my 78-year-old aunt, who spent 49 days in jail with my mother for sitting-in at a Woolworth lunch counter in 1960 and was understandably anguished over the results; and a family member who was pondering leaving the country. I wrote about how my 12-year-old son, Jason, was full of anxiety on election night, asking if his friends would be sent away or if Trump would build a wall.

Two years from now, I might not have remembered details from those conversations. Or some of my elders may be gone by then, and I’ll have captured at least that brief snapshot.

I can’t pretend I’m great at journaling. My 2016 journal has about five or six entries. There’s a gap between January and July. So much is missing. So many of my thoughts are still tangled as I grapple with our new national reality.

But one day, this entire year will be fuzzy in my mind. It’s important to try to grab these strings of life, even–and especially–when they sting. I have never been suicidal, but I know people who have expressed thoughts of suicide since election night. (What if you would never hear the thought “I want to die now” buried inside you unless you shared it in your journal?)

Journaling prevents us from pretending events didn’t happen, from pretending we don’t have emotions about them, and from burrowing into distractions that will matter far less to us in the years to come than, say, a conversation with our father, or our child, or a friend who needed us, the year Trump was elected president.

————————-

Tananarive Due has won an American Book Award, a British Fantasy Award and an NAACP Image Award. She and her mother co-authored: Freedom in the Family: a Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. Join the “Revolutionary Art: Social Justice Writing” course she teaches with Steven Barnes at www.createthenarrative.com.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under On writing, Social Justice

On being a “revolutionary artist”

This week, writer/filmmaker Ava DuVernay premieres her documentary The 13th, named for the 13th Amendment, which explores the history of blacks in the U.S. and the profound racial bias in our system of mass incarceration, at the New York Film Festival. (It debuts on Netflix and some theaters Oct. 7.) Selma ava-duvernay

Also premiering this week: the Netflix series Luke Cage, where showrunner/writer Cheo Hodari Coker chose to make Cage’s superhero costume a hoodie as a way to honor Trayvon Martin and to bring racial bias to light. (Not to mention how rare black superheroes on TV have been.) Both approaches are an act of artistic revolution.

luke-cage-hoodie

Marvel’s Luke Cage

What makes art “revolutionary”? In my view, revolutionary art challenges the dominant narratives, gives voice to the voiceless, and moves the world toward greater insight and social justice.

My first experience with revolutionary art was Alex Haley’s Roots. I read it when I was 11, and Kunta Kinte’s defiance gave me air and light. I began recording my own family’s oral histories and hand-writing a story about a young girl’s experience on the Middle Passage. Haley gave me the desire to better understand my world and a mission to try to right the wrongs of history–through my writing.

Today’s social-minded writers and artists are faced with a prime opportunity to help change the narratives of exclusion and disempowerment and create the stories WE think should be told to help build a better world.

When we think of social justice activists, we often think of people like my parents–my father, John Due, still a civil rights attorney at 81, or my late mother, Patricia Stephens Due, who spent 49 days in jail after a sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960 and was arrested multiple arrests in the 1960s. Or, we think of the Black Lives Matter movement and other activists staging protests in Charlotte and across the country. Or San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the National Anthem.

Patricia Stephens arrest

My late mother, Patricia Stephens Due, arrested in Tallahassee in 1963

Whether or not we attend a protest or ever leave our computers, artists can be revolutionaries too. But how can we create world-changing art without Message overwhelming Story? What are effective storytelling techniques to help readers embrace our passions? How can our own work be more inclusive? How do we write The Other?

Starting Oct. 7, my husband and collaborator, Steven Barnes, and I are offering a six-week webinar course: “Revolutionary Art: Writing for Social Justice.” With a combination of lectures, recorded interviews, and appearances by artists such as writer/producer Reggie Hudlin, six 90-minute segments will help artists gain clarity on the ways art can be revolutionary and help advance the national conversation on social justice.  (Since all sessions are recorded, students can listen when they have time and take the course at their own pace.)

Check out the registration page here and listen to a free sample recording from a previous teleseminar on art and social justice. (If you sign up now, you can still register at the introductory price.)

My novel-in-progress has been one of my most emotionally difficult writing projects, but one I think could also be important: it’s about a 12-year-old boy sent to a children’s prison in Florida in 1950. The novel will have ghosts, but the true horror is in the prison system itself, the quiet bureaucracy, and a town’s conspiracy of silence. (This novel was inspired by the real-life Dozier School for Boys, where my great-uncle died in 1937.)  Although it’s a historical novel, I hope readers will see the many parallels between Jim Crow criminal justice and our horrendous juvenile justice system today.

Ghost Summer - Final

My short story collection, Ghost Summer—which just won a British Fantasy Award—introduces this novel’s fictitious town of Gracetown, where history lives in the soil and my characters must battle monsters both from without and within. Not all of the stories in the collection are set in Gracetown or have social justice themes, but all of them raise questions about what it means to be human—and since black characters have historically been so underrepresented in literature, even a declaration of humanity is a still a revolutionary act.

What does your revolutionary art look like?

Even as I grew up hearing stories of my mother’s heroism in the face of teargas and taunts, she made sure I understood that art is an important tool in activism. She knew I wanted to be a writer from the age of four, and she pointed out that the NAACP assigned a lot of resources to the Beverly/Hills Hollywood in the 1960s because the civil rights organization understood the importance of IMAGERY and STORIES to help create change. My respect for my parents and their passion for civil rights was so great that if they had even hinted that writing was a waste of time, I might not be a writer.

My parents believed I could raise my voice in my own way. You can too.

Writing for social justice need not be documentary style or literal—like N.K. Jemisin’s novel The Fifth Season, which recently won a Hugo Award and is packed with imaginative fantasy world-building…but was inspired by Ferguson. And often, the mere insertion of characters from disenfranchised populations in our art can have a profound impact on creating new narratives.

We are superheroes. We are wizards. We are world-changers.

Steve and I both have taught extensively: I’m currently teaching Afrofuturism at UCLA, I’m on the faculty for the summertime VONA writers’ workshop for writers of color, and I’ve lectured at the Geneva Writers Conference. We both just returned from lecturing on a fantastic cruise in the Caribbean with the 2016 Out of Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat, where we found a tribe of writers of all races and background who want to make a difference. Next March, I’ll be honored to appear with Dr. Angela Davis and other panelists at the Black Women Rise social justice event in West Palm Beach, Florida.

I sign petitions, write letters, and contribute to causes when I can, but my primary voice is through my art. And in striving to make my characters as real and human as possible in the face of unimaginable odds, I hope to present a blueprint for change for all of us.

The course starts soon. Listen to the free sample and read what we’re offering. And please pass on our URL to a friend: www.createthenarrative.com. Hope you can join us!

Tananarive Due is an American Book Award winner, NAACP Image Award Winner, and British Fantasy Award winner. She teaches Afrofuturism at UCLA. Her website is www.tananarivedue.com.

2 Comments

Filed under On writing, Social Justice

This is What You Do

You try not to feel battered. You try not to be bruised.

You promise yourself you won’t watch the video…and then maybe you do.

You sign petitions. You make donations. You might be brave enough to march. You pray. You vote.

You cry. You cry.

And if change doesn’t happen by the time you dry your eyes, it is already taking too long. The path forward is hazy on the horizon. You can only take the steps in front of you. And you remember your parents marched this same path, and your grandparents, and the road forward seems to stretch as long as the road back. And you are tired. You are so damn tired.

You fear for your children.

You fear. For your children.

You feel like your nation is at war with you. (Why? What did you do?)

And you write. You testify. You witness.

You dig out your novel that is too painful to write because it is about history, and you force yourself to write because it might help to create the future. Because it might help inspire someone to dream.

Because the path is long, the dreams must be long too.

You try not to feel battered. You try not to be bruised.

–In memory of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Pedro Villanueva, India Kager, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Darrien Hunt, Andy Lopez, Natasha McKinney, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, and so many others.

Learn their stories. #SayTheirNames

Leave a comment

Filed under On writing, Social Justice

On blending art and social justice: my short film, “Lost”

A still from my short film

A still from my short film

Recently, I took part in a conference at Princeton called “Ferguson is the Future,” which blended speculative artists with social justice activists for a magical weekend of sharing and dreaming. Whether it was on panels or only in our minds, as artists we all confronted the question of how we might use our art to broaden our impact in true life world-building.

Days later, I took my iPhone to a local hiking trail and started shooting a short film called “Lost”–about a woman, you guessed it, who gets lost on a hiking trail while she’s trying to find her office team-building retreat. (I actually got lost three times shooting the film, but that’s another story.) The woman happens to work for a private prison company, and the rest is…well, you’ll see.

Because I love horror, my idea was to shoot a found footage-style movie–but I also wanted to add a social justice theme highlighting an issue of critical importance to me: mass incarceration. The United States has imprisoned more than 2 million of its people, giving us the highest incarceration rate in the world. This national tragedy has resulted from systemic bias against minorities, particularly with harsh sentences for nonviolent drug offenders in the nation’s “War on Drugs.” (Read more about mass incarceration HERE.)

I am a novelest-turned-screenwriter who has had scripts optioned within the Hollywood system, and in 2013 my husband/collaborator, Steven Barnes, and I co-wrote and co-produced a crowdfunded short zombie film called “Danger Word,” starring Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott. I’d had the benefit of being on director Luchina Fisher’s set to see how all of the pieces fit together to turn a script into a film.

But “Lost” is the first time I’ve directed or acted in a film myself. My reasoning was simple: I was fired up, I wanted to tell a story, and I didn’t want to let the lack of a budget, director, crew, cinematographer or actress stop me from making a film. I’ve written about how much fun I had shooting book trailers in my previous post, and this would just be a like a trailer–except longer. (I will blog more about the logistics of making the film on a future post.)

I’m fortunate enough to have an iPhone 6 with iMovie, and that was all I needed. In the hands of a more seasoned director and editor, the iPhone CAN create cinema quality films. (The Sundance darling “Tangerine” was shot on an iPhone 5S.) In my case, I wanted to tell a simple story that would both entertain and inform, primarily through social media.

All of my work, including my novels, has a certain spoonful-of-sugar-helps-the-medicine-go-down quality. History, for example, is often at the root of issues my protagonists face in the present. As I mentioned at Princeton, I was raised by two activists: civil rights attorney John Due and the late Patricia Stephens Due, who spent 49 days in jail for sitting in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Tallahassee, Florida–along with her sister, Priscilla, and a few other students from Florida A&M University. I was raised at my parents’ knees with stories of individual courage in the face of great odds to try to build a better world.

My mother, Patricia Stephens Due , arrested in Florida in 1963

My mother, Patricia Stephens Due , arrested in Fla in 1963. CREDIT: Florida Memory Project

But my parents never scoffed at my dreams of being a writer, even when I was writing about talking cats or children stowing aboard space ships rather than stories of racism and struggle. As my mother often told me, the civil rights orgnanization the NAACP always invested in the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch because its leaders understood the importance of images in creating a brighter future.

Filmmakers like Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X) and Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowehere and Selma) have been deeply inspirational in the ways they combine art with messaging. And Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, about the killing of Oscar Grant by transit police, helped spark a national conversation about police abuse before Ferguson.

As we all discussed at Princeton, Afrofuturism–or black speculative fiction–lends itself particularly well to questions of dystopia and societal change. Whether it’s the near-future bleakness of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, the alternate slavery history in Steven Barnes’s Lion’s Blood, or the sumptuous world-building in N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season, speculative literature arms readers with a lens through which to view–and, hopefully, to improve–the world we live in.

Often, my work serves as more indirect allegory. But “Lost” is very specific.

Pioneering science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany has said in an interview that he did not set out to “change the world” in the science fiction he began publishing in the 1960s–and yet, his very presence as a black writer and the casual conversations around race, gender and sexuality in his work were revolutionary. As I said in a recent interview in “The Guardian,” even today the presence of characters of color in fiction (and film) feels revolutionary because we have been erased for so long.

Steve and I wanted to make “Danger Word,” a black horror film, because we were tired of the same old horror tropes that often rendered black characters useless, spiritual guides or purely sacrificial.

But “Lost,” for me, is taking a social justice message one step further–I wanted specifically to address how the black middle class has been asleep on the growth of mass incarceration, even as it affected many of our own families. Whether it was because of shame, indoctrination or helplessness, it took too many of us far too long to realize that prisons had become The New Jim Crow. (I used that term in my 2008 novel Blood Colony, where lifegiving blood from immortals was treated as an illegal drug. And Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness is a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand the breadth of mass incarceration.)

We are at a crossroads as a nation. With more growing awareness, President Obama’s recent visit to a federal prison (the first by a sitting president), and bipartisan support for criminal justice reform on the street level and beyond, we can all unite to make a difference. Here’s a petition you can sign today to urge lawmakers to embrace criminal justice reform.

Left to right: DeRay Mckesson, Johnetta Elzie, author Daniel Jose Older, and me.

Left to right: DeRay Mckesson, Johnetta Elzie, author Daniel José Older, and me.

No one film, or book, or song, will change the world. To me, the true heroines and heroes in social justice are those who are willing to take to the streets, as my mother did, and face arrest, or worse, to raise awareness. Having the chance to meet Ferguson activists DeRay McKesson and Johnetta Elzie was among my high points during the Princeton conference. (Here’s a link to the Ferguson panels. I spoke on Panel #1,)

Fired up from Princeton, with “Lost” I was ready to amplify my social justice message in a short film. And, hopefully, create a short that would also be entertaining enough that people would share it whether or not they care as passionately about ending mass incarceration as I do. Horror or “Twilight Zone” fans, for example.

I hope you will enjoy “Lost.” If you do, please spread the word. And as an artist, consider the ways you might introduce large and small revolutions in your own work–even if it’s only in a single brave choice, a character from an ignored community, or a tiny nugget that will encourage your audience to think about our world beyond your story.

Tananarive Due is an American Book Award winner who teaches Afrofuturism at UCLA. Join her email list to hear about free gifts and webinars for writers. Upcoming webinar: “Avoiding the mistakes new writers make” (Friday, Oct. 9)

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under On writing

My Ghost Summer book trailer: shot & edited on my iPhone! (And 5 reasons trailers matter for writers)

Still from my trailer

Still from my Ghost Summer book trailer

I admit it: when my publicist asked if book trailers actually help me sell books, I wasn’t exactly sure. The trailer I just shot for my new short story collection, Ghost Summer: Stories, simply appeared as an inspiration: I get to make a movie! 

This is my third trailer and my most ambitious: my first, for my African Immortals novel My Soul to Take, was all in one take, so it didn’t require editing. My trailer for my YA zombie novel Devil’s Wake was from an iMovie trailer template I learned how to use during an hour-long Apple workshop.

But for THIS one, I shot all of my footage and edited it from scratch using the iMovie app on my iPhone 6.  All of the images and audio were directly input to the phone. Some audio was free in the app’s library.

The result, I think, is pretty darn scary for 71 seconds and true to the spirit of the stories in my collection, which are a mix of horror and science fiction I have published since 2000. (You can read “Patient Zero,” the story that inspired my son’s image in the trailer, in Lightspeed magazine here. It was included in two best-of-the-year sci fi anthologies when it was originally published.)

My son, Jason, as

My son, Jason, as “Patient Zero”

The trailer isn’t perfect, of course. But after several viewings, I finally stopped comparing the final trailer to the one I’d envisioned, since my talent (my son) was a bit distracted and wasn’t down with retakes. Now I accept it for what it is, not what I imagined. (And he did a GREAT job with the voiceovers and posing.)

Why do I love making book trailers? That’s easy. After twenty years of publishing, the only film adaptation I’ve seen from my work so far is a short film we adapted from a zombie short story in this collection, “Danger Word,” I co-authored with my husband, Steven Barnes. (The film, directed by Luchina Fisher, stars veteran actor Frankie Faison and teenage gem Saoirse Scott.) We crowdfunded to raised money, primarily through Facebook and Indiegogo.

I am a screenwriter as well as a novelist (with a lot of curiosity about directing), so trailers are a great creative outlet. But with a couple of caveats, I think book trailers are a great exercise for all writers who want to both publicize their books and tickle their own imaginations. We’re living in a world where video is of greater and greater importance. To me, no experience can replace reading a good book, so video doesn’t feel threatening–for me, a film adaptation would just be a great chance to sell more books.

Ghost Summer - Final

First caveat: Don’t spend a lot of money. (Or any, if you can help it.) Today’s smartphones make it easy to shoot high-quality video, and there are plenty of YouTube tutorials on how to use iMovie and the iMovie app. Even if you just use a template like I did with my second trailer, it’s a visual expression of your vision.

Second caveat: Don’t expect a trailer to make books jump off the shelves.  I don’t have anything close to statistics on how trailers translate to sales, which was my publicist’s point. Create a trailer in the spirit of fun.

But here are five reasons I think trailers are a great idea:

Trailers are a basic introduction to filmmaking. As I tell my writing and screenwriting students all the time, chances are high that if your work is ever adapted for film or television, you’ll have had a lot to do with making that happen. The more proactive writers are about learning how to deal with the world of film and television, the better the chances of adaptation — including learning how to write your own screenplay. A book is not a screenplay or storyboard, so even if an executive is interested in your book, they often need a visual walkthrough. A creative trailer with a “take” on your story not only grows your skills, but can serve as a mini blueprint. (But make sure candid critics think it’s good enough to share. Pay special attention to sound and lighting.)

Trailers can be a love letter to your fans.  Your readers would love to see a film adaptation of your work as much as you would, so a fun book trailer is another way of dreaming together and enjoying even a short adaptation.

Trailers are great practice for your friends who want to make movies.  The filming of “Danger Word” was a great bonding experience for me, Steve. Luchina, and our editor, Terence Taylor. When I required my screenwriting students at Spelman College to produce a short clip from their screenplays, they drew on friends and family to pull it off. I definitely caught “the bug” on our shoot for Danger Word.

There ARE people who watch book trailers. As you’ll see in this article in the New Yorker and in this article in The Rumpus, “Fantastic Book Trailers and the Reasons They’re Good,” book trailers are actually a thing. They’re used in education as well as for publicity. The Creative Penn also has this article, “Book Trailers and Using Video for Marketing.” As with any other subject, a quick Google search will teach you much of what you need to market your trailer.

All publicity is good publicity. Even previous readers don’t rush right out to buy everything you publish. In sales, popular wisdom says it takes seven-plus contact points before customers are ready to buy. The trailer may not be the final push, but it can be shared, so it can serve as a contact point for more than one person. Any edge in creating buzz helps separate you from the pack.

Give it a try!

Tananarive Due has won an American Book Award and NAACP Image Award. She teaches Afrofuturism at UCLA and in the creative writing MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles. Her new collection, Ghost Summer: Stories, is on sale now.

4 Comments

Filed under On writing

Ghost Summer: Stories (Sept. 1) — My love affair with short stories, and why you should write them too

Ghost Summer - Final

Like many writers, I began learning my craft with short stories. By the time I finished my graduate English degree, I’d shifted my focus entirely from my unfinished novels to short stories. I needed to master beginning, middle and end.

Finally–a sale! In about 1990, I sold a short story called “Amusement” to a small magazine called Writers’ BBQ. I was ecstatic…and then I learned that the magazine went out of business. No publication for me. Although I continued to write short stories, they were repeatedly rejected. I did not publish a word of fiction until my first novel, The Between, in 1995. After that, my focus shifted back to novels. But I’d honed my craft on short stories first.

And I couldn’t walk away. When Gordon Van Gelder invited me to write for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, I wrote a short story called “Patient Zero” that ended up in two best-of-the-year science fiction anthologies. And so it went on, a story here and there, only by invitation: Harlan Ellison (“Señora Suerte” in F&SF), Marita Golden and the late E. Lynn Harris (“The Knowing” in Gumbo), Nalo Hopkinson (“Trial Day” in Mojo: Conjure Stories), Brandon Massey (“Ghost Summer” in The Ancestors and “Danger Word” in Dark Dreams) and of course Sheree Renée Thomas (“Like Daughter” and “Aftermoon” in Dark Matter).  More recently, I’ve published three plague stories for John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey for their post-apocalyptic triptych that began with The End is Nigh (“Removal Order,” “Herd Immunity” and “Carriers.”)

I made it a personal goal to continue to write short fiction, not just novels. Why? Because my novels would be swayed by commercial concerns, but my short stories would exist for their own sake. They would most likely reflect my inner 10-year-old and the stories she wanted to write just because.

Sure enough, by the time I was ready to publish a collection, I was told that my longtime publishing house wasn’t interested. Short story collections weren’t considered profitable. And I sat on this collection for some time–years, I confess, because I was busy with my novels. Then I saw a collection called Kabu Kabu that Nnedi Okorafor published at Prime Books, a genre house with an editor I’d known since my very first days as a novelist, Paula Guran. The cover blew me away.

My collection found a home.

As you can see, the cover for Ghost Summer is also beautiful. But I didn’t fully appreciate how apt it is until I re-read my stories and noticed how many of them have child protagonists–from “Patient Zero” to “The Knowing” to “Ghost Summer” to “Danger Word.” They’re not stories for children, mind you (though they’re definitely YA appropriate), but many of these stories are about characters in helpless circumstances who must find their inner strength and light to survive and overcome. Children and adults alike must grapple with plague, apocalypse, possession, monstrosity and loss. Even zombies. (We crowdfunded and adapted “Danger Word” to a short film available for viewing at www.dangerword.com.)

Actors Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott in the short film "Danger Word"

Actors Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott in our short film adaptation of “Danger Word”

Publishers Weekly, in its Starred review, wrote: “In these extraordinary tales, American Book Award–winner Due (My Soul to Take) uses a clear-eyed view of history to explain (but never excuse) the present.” READ THE REST HERE.

Ghost Summer represents the past fifteen years of my short story publishing history, with a few newer ones–and one, “Vanishings,” that has never before been published. (A few erotica stories didn’t make it into the collection because they did not blend well with the other stories. Maybe next time.)

Aside from the creative exercise that has taken me away from series writing and dreams of bestsellerhood, my short stories have introduced me to readers who have never read my novels. My story “Herd Immunity” was a finalist for the 2015 Theodore Sturgeon Award. Short stories published years ago have found new life, and new readers, in reprints.

Admittedly, some of my recent love affair with short stories has been because of time factors: now that I am doing more screenwriting and teaching (I teach Afrofuturism at UCLA and in the creative writing MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles), it takes longer to write a novel. I’m currently working on a period novel set in this collection’s fictitious town of Gracetown, Florida, but I’m sure it won’t be finished until sometime in 2016, much less published.

In the meantime, though, I will continue to publish short stories. I meet an endless variety of new characters in short fiction, and short stories help me remember why I began writing in the first place.

Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott in Danger Word

Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott in Danger Word

As a writing teacher and personal coach, I’m floored by how many excellent-though-unpublished writers I encounter who are trying to learn craft in the endless creative caverns of a novel rather than concentrating on short stories first. It’s akin to screenwriters who leap into features without writing a few shorts. The reasons: writers tend to write what they read, and there’s very little money in either short fiction or short films.

But I would not be the writer I am without my love of short stories. They demand clarity of thought and theme, more careful use of language, and the ability to draw readers into a world in only a page. Or a paragraph. On the practical side, they also take much less time to write, they can be published almost immediately (compared to a long wait with a novel), and they attract readers who otherwise might never find you.

So, I take my own advice: as I continue to work on my novel-in-progress, I will keep publishing short stories. If I keep working at it, I hope to get even better. And it won’t be fifteen years before I publish my next collection.

Tananarive Due is an author and screenwriter based in Los Angeles. She has won an American Book Award and an NAACP Image Award. Learn more about her work at www.tananarivedue.com

26 Comments

Filed under On writing