Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Home » 2014 » August

Monthly Archives: August 2014

August 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionSummer’s heat has dissipated. Windows are wide open and a soft breeze flutters at the screens as gently as a silent butterfly. Logging trucks and late summer campers whir past the house like a rushing stream over rocks. Northbound trains clank to a halt to let the southbound ones trundle by on steel wheels. The windows are usually closed during the heat of the day,  so these usually distant noises seem amplified.

Then nothing. Silence. A chickadee calls bright and clear. It sounds like he’s whistling, “Here, kitty…here, kitty.” In between highway traffic and trains natural sounds carry. In the distance I can hear horses stomping as they mow grass and a crow caws from a tall pine. Occasionally geese honk overhead.

This morning, I saw the first flock of geese headed south. Change is coming.

We get into these rhythms and somehow we think the dance of life is always the same two-step. Change is hard for people. I remember what a huge deal it was to introduce changes in the workplace. Some employees would panic; some customers would grumble; everyone groaned in one way or another just because we changed a process that would make improvements. People liked the improvements. They didn’t like having to go through the change.

Life has taught me that change is required to get to the next step of the journey. I think of pioneers and how they had to overcome that fear of change in order to take the journey that led to new places, adventures, opportunities and even hardships. Some learned that the vibrancy of life existed on the cusp of change and sought to journey more than most.

Those would be your Wild Bill Hickoks of the world. The one I’m studying left home early to drive mules; drove freight wagons across the frontier; scouted for the Union Army; led wagon trains and cavalry. Rarely did Hickok stay long in one place. And maybe that’s what draws us to such people–we are fascinated that they can go through such changes that would send most of us to hide under the bed just so we could stay home.

In my own life I’ve felt like a trailblazer, willing to journey. In some ways it paid off like finding a gold nugget and in other ways it led to disaster like losing a crop to locust. But that’s life and like it or not, the changes come and find us even if we don’t seek them out.

You can hear change coming. A harbinger–a messenger announcing the change like a honking Canada goose winging south in the evening sky. Even the open windows right now have me tingling for changes to come–I need to gather wood and prepare for the shortening of days. It’s time to pick huckleberries and put up the last of the summer peaches. Deep within I’m both excited and unsettled for the change.

Sound is often overlooked in writing. We can create images from any and all senses, but of course, we  find visual images most natural when writing. This week we are going to explore sound in our flash fiction. Specifically, the sound of a harbinger; something that announces what is to come. It could be expected–the pounding of horse hooves upon hard sod announces the arrival of the next Pony Express rider. Or it could be unexpected–a strange hooting that is heard before a band of Pawnee arrive at the cabin door.

My examples are western, but you can write any ol’ genre you wish. I took a dive into this “idea” of Wild Bill Hickok, Cob McCandless and Sarah Shull. While exploring for stories through flash fiction, they hog-tied me, threw over the back of a horse and now I have to write my way out of this adventure. I’ve decided to accept the challenge. Writing weekly flash has become an interesting way for me to digest the research I’m doing. In October I’m visiting the Hub’s sister (she’s more like my sister) and she only lives a few hours away from Rock Creek.

It’s as if that chickadee is calling to me. A new adventure is just beyond the horizon if I dare step out to meet it. Hickok, Cob and Sarah–I will meet you at Rock Creek this autumn!

August 27, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) use sound to announce some sort of change. It could be at the beginning of the story–a lonely bar keep on a quiet road hears the rumble of motorcycles and anticipates customers. That could be good news or bad…Or you could tell a story that unfolds as expected until a character hears something–like a bride getting ready upstairs at the church who hears a shattering below followed by the shouts of her groom, “I’m outta here!” Sound can trumpet, clang or whisper. It can foreshadow or be the twist.

Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, September 2 to be included in the compilation.

Flight From North Carolina by Charli Mills

Coins clinked in Cob’s burly hand as he jingled the liberty dollars Dryer paid for the two horses. Sarah couldn’t see how many. What mattered was boarding the Johnson City train before any Wataugans tracked their midnight ride. Waiting in line at the busy depot, Cob leaned against the wall watching folks like he was at a Sunday picnic.

“You keep fussing your bonnet, Rosebud, everyone on this platform’s going to think you’re fugitive.”

Sarah put her hands down and glared at the black locomotive. The whistle screeched and Sarah grabbed Cob’s arm. “We’ve gotta get on that train.”

###

Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.

Back to School

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionThis week writers unpacked their book bags and delved into school. From slates to bullies, kindergarten to college, boys and girls feature in this week’s flash fiction. Grab an apple and read the stories that made the grade.

Stories are based on the August 20, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about school.

Chocolate Balls by Norah Colvin

The final school bell tolled and the students erupted from the building like a burst box of chocolate balls, scattering in every direction and at varying speeds. Some stuck together along pathways safe and sure. Others crashed and bumped over roads less traveled seeking excitement, new discoveries and secrets to explore. Others stopped abruptly, their journeys foiled by stubborn obstacles. Still others, rolling upwards, failed to maintain the momentum to carry them over and beyond with those more adventurous others.

Who would know?

Inside the box, they were identical, centers hidden. Outside, their uniqueness was on show.

###

Kindergarten Days by Sarah Unsicker

It was the first week of Kindergarten, and Chelsea was already tired of sitting in her chair. She had spent most of the long summer outside. The transition from summer to the school day had been torture.

Mrs. Smith handed out worksheets. Was expected to copy some strange doodle.

Chelsea didn’t understand why she had to learn to write numbers. She wondered how anyone could differentiate the squiggles. Chelsea stared at the paper for a minute before the bell rang. It was time for recess! She would gladly take this work home if she could go outside to play.

###

Academic Advice by Larry LaForge

Coach Bruno Culberston counseled his football team the day before school started.

“Sit in the front row,” he told his troops. “Make frequent eye contact with the professor.”

He asked an assistant coach to demonstrate proper sitting posture.

Coach Culbertson continued. “Always look interested. Write stuff down in your notebook. Nod your head in agreement when the prof makes a point.”

The players took it all in.

“Remember, always call your teachers Doctor, even if they’re not.”

After several more imperatives, a kid in the back raised his hand. “Coach, what about studying?”

“Oh.” replied the coach. “That too.”

*********
The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.

###

School Flash by Irene Waters

“Come on. We’ll be late.” Billy urged.

“I don’t wanna go.” said Harry.

“But it’s fun. Readin’, Ritin ‘n Rithmetic. Hurry up.”

“I should be helping at home with the milking.”

“You wanna do that for ever.”

“Too right I wanna. What else would I do? Soon as I’m fourteen I’m out of here.”

“Not me. My kids are gonna wear shoes.”

 

“Help me Harry. All these blasted forms. Never thought I’d need the three R’s. Blast this government. Blast this GST.”

“Lucrative business accountancy these days Bill. I’m sure glad I put my head down and studied hard.”

###

A Father’s Pain by Charli Mills

Deputy Coffey left the McCandles house after informing Cob’s father of his son’s disappearance. And of the charges.

James stood in the parlor, staring at the framed tintype of his son in military uniform. He was never meant to be a soldier, but a scholar. His son–David Colbert. Cob to family and friends. He grabbed the frame, ready to smash it on the plank-wood floor. Instead, he hugged it to his chest and sagged to the floor, careful not to make a sound. He didn’t want to distress his wife.

“Oh, my son. That woman wasted your schooling.”

###

School Flash by Anne Goodwin

Twin stone staircases led to a wooden door, the numbers 1873 embossed above, grand as the entrance to a castle. At school I’d learn to read, and never have to go without a story. I’d mount those steps like a fairytale princess, entering one day by the left side, the next the right.

I didn’t realise the letters above the stairs spelt BOYS on one side and GIRLS on the other. That my mother would laugh, plead, then slap me on the legs and hoist me up like a sack of coal when I raced towards the wrong one.

###

Nervously Waiting For the Strap to Come Out by Susan Zutautas

Nervously I waited for the door to the principal’s office to open. What was I thinking kissing Josh at the assembly this morning?

“Miss Varden please come in,” summoned Principal Green. “Have a seat. Since we both know why you are here today, I would like to know if you have read the student handbook that you received upon registering here at Bishop Allen Catholic Academy.”

“Yes sir I have.”

“Did you read the rules relating to student conduct?”

“Yes.”

“What does it say about public displays of affection Miss Varden?”

“That it is not allowed here at school.”

###

Stalked by Paula Moyer

When looking back on sixth grade, Jean knew something was amiss, but
what? If she simply said “I had trouble connecting with Mrs. O’Brien,”
what was she leaving out?

It was the eyes, watching her as they watched no other student. What
was it about her eyes?

Years later, as a grown woman, Jean was walking her dog. As she left
the house, she saw the neighborhood feral cat scrutinizing a bird.
When she came back: no cat, no bird. Just a pile of feathers.

Then she knew. The cat had Mrs. O’Brien’s look. Jean was her teacher’s prey.

###

Back to School by Ruchira Khanna

Pedro ran through the checklist once again the night before the big day; making sure he does not forget anything.

Slept on time with the excitement to meet his friends the next day, and describe all his summer adventures. The idea of studies and homework was just a thought, yet!

Dawn arrives, and he was quick to get ready without any reminders.

Reached school, and was devastated to learn that he and his friends were in different classes.
He was sitting in a class with new faces.

However, his temperament and desire made him new friends in no time.

###

Back to School by Sarah Brentyn

Susan sat in class as obscene rumors about her were whispered near her ear. Nasty notes always seemed to show up on her desk. She was shoved in the hallways and tripped in gym.

School looked different to Susan than it did to other students.

Bathrooms weren’t places to pee or fix makeup, they were hiding spots to catch her breath and cover up bruises. Lockers weren’t spaces to keep her books, they were instruments of torture and confinement.

But Susan didn’t run from misery, she gathered strength from it. And she looked forward to her high school reunion

###

Mighty by Pete

Clutching my bag I take a deep breath, comforted by the fact that I’ve already read the entire English book and Mom’s tutored me with the math all summer. She’s a good teacher, but still, I missed over 100 days last year.

I hear the nerves in her voice. She tells me to pace myself, to remember what Dr. P said. I hate the fact that I have to choose. I’m tired just thinking about it. School is the last chance I have at being a normal kid, and I’m not ready to surrender that to some stupid disease.

###

Accidental Kidnap by Geoff Le Pard

‘Mrs North? This is Penny’s form teacher, Miss Marks.’

‘Yes?’ Mary turned away so not as to be overheard.

‘Penny says her uncle is collecting her from school today. As we have never met him we like to check…’

‘What? Now, listen to me…’

Mary wished the solicitor wasn’t listening. When she finished, he asked, ‘Sorted?’

‘Far from it.’

‘Were you talking about Rupert?’

‘Yes, my bloody half-brother. I have to go.’ She stood and said, ‘He said Penny had asked to see his mother. Can you believe that?’

To Mary’s surprise he said, ‘Yes, I think I can.’

###

Remembering School in Elmira by Charli Mills

Mama washed my hair the night before, braiding it tight the next morning. I had a slate board and chalk—expensive luxuries. Papa had already left to pound spikes so he missed seeing my gleaming black braids with yellow ribbons. Mama watched me cross the tracks to the new schoolhouse before she returned to doing the rail-men’s laundry.

“Addio, mia cara,” she called as I walked away. To school. I cannot tell you how much it meant to Mama and Papa that their only child would get to go to school. “L’America è buono,” they’d say despite cracked hands.

###

New prompt on Wednesday. All writers welcome!

Back to School (1)

Back to School Bargains

Tips for WritersMonday Tips for Writers was on a roll with a series about how to use a storyboard. Here’s a recap of the series:

The last two topics are on hold. My goal was to share my experience with process and open doors for discussion. However, I’m in the thick of completing my revisions and my map is in use, thus it seems premature to say how well the map did or didn’t work. I’d like to reflect on the process afterwards.

The annual progression of projects which was so clear to me six months ago has become murky waters. I’m still progressing as planned (turning out one project a year to work on) but now I have project confusion. What started out as a flash fiction has turned into project and I didn’t mean for that to happen. The problem is that it’s not in my declared genre of commercial fiction. Am I shooting myself in the foot (with a pearl-handled Colt pistol like Wild Bill Hickok carried)? Or does it not matter? Commercial lit? Cli-fi? Westerns? Oh, my!

So in my uncertainty, I’m taking you all shopping today.

Seriously, this is a great time of year to shop as a writer. As a marketer, I understand how retailers economize their sale seasons. It’s a formula based on volume. The greater the potential volume, the greater the offered sales. It’s the banana formula. Ask any produce manager what their top-selling product is and most likely it will be bananas. Thus produce departments will keep the price low on this product because it is a consistent seller.

Then there are seasons. Retailers are at the height of the back-to-school season. That means they are going to attract shoppers by offering sale prices on items typically purchased by students. Often these are items writers use. Here are a few examples of items handy for the writing life:

  • Notebooks. If you journal, research, outline or draft by hand, you can never own too many notebooks. Right now, you can get four to five simple notebooks for a buck.
  • Highlighters. Oh, how I love thee, with ink so glowing yellow! I read with a highlighter when I’m researching or studying a master’s work. Four-pen packets of Sharpies are two bucks right now. Be still my beating heart.
  • Pens & Pencils. Somehow I seem to think every room in my house must have a cache of pens and at least a few pencils. Red pens are for editing, blue pens are for original copies and why I have black I cannot say. So cheap right now a kid can buy a year’s supply.

If you have a home office, now might be the time to stock up on ink toner, folders and file boxes. If you are looking to make a big purchase, now is a good time to find a deep discount. Here’s some big purchase ideas:

  • Office Chair. That’s what I bought today at Staples in Sandpoint. My old chair sunk and no longer rises to the occasion so I’ve had some awkward writing, sitting like a little kid at a big desk. I’ve been shopping prices and today was day-two of a two day sale. I also found a coupon online that was also applied and I bought a $200 chair for $50. I’m sitting in it now and am quite happy with my purchase.
  • Desk Top Hard Drive. I back up everything–early drafts, recent drafts, photos and files to my hard drive. It’s much bigger than a jump drive and I keep it in a fireproof safety-box. For extra measure, I back up my novel projects to Drop Box, too. I like having the hard drive and its storage capacity. These were deeply discounted today.
  • Computer, Laptop, Printer. I’m not looking forward to the day that I need to replace my laptop, but I seriously need a desk top. Between now and the Christmas shopping season these big ticket items will continue to be discounted. Unless you have specific preferences, look for close-out deals or ask for showroom models. My laptop was a showroom model and it cost me half the normal price.

So there you have it–back to school is big savings for writers! Have you made a bargain buy for your writing?

August 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionIn front of the old Elmira Schoolhouse a yellow bus stops for the smattering of school children in Elmira. The bus is not dropping off students, but taking them 15 miles away to a bigger school district. One-room schoolhouses such as the one next to my house are obsolete.

Despite several signs on the road, Elmira is a ghost town. The houses that spread out along this valley are rural homes. The original town-houses that  once contained families of the Italian immigrants who worked on the railroads are long gone. But evidently they believed in education.

All that remains of Elmira are her two original schoolhouses.

Places are like that. Function wanes; populations fluctuate and purposes change. Writer, Geoff Le Pard tells of a strange, abandoned place in England called Orford Ness. Another such abandoned place–yet not as bonkers as Orford Ness–is Rock Creek, Nebraska.

Here was a way station on the Oregon Trail. So many pioneers passed through Rock Creek that wagon-wheel ruts where grass doesn’t grow still exit. This was the station that a North Carolinian man bought while fleeing a money swindle as his former position of sheriff. He was headed to the goldfields of Colorado but met so many returning miners with empty pockets that he invested his money (or the money of others, perhaps) in Rock Creek.

Cob McCandles promptly built a toll bridge and started making money by charging the pioneer wagon trains that passed through. He built up the place, settled his mistress, Sarah Shull, built another station on the west side and sent his brother Leroy to fetch his family. One can only imagine the tensions that must have existed in Rock Creek.

Often, among the first structures built by pioneers was the schoolhouse. These one-room structures dotted the prairie and like the two in Elmira, stand as silent sentinels to the belief in education. All that exists of Rock Creek today are the reconstructed buildings of the east station (that housed the ill-fated Pony Express where Hickok shot McCandles) and a schoolhouse.

Despite Cob’s initial construction for prosperity, he too, had been influenced by schooling. In fact, Cob’s father was a school teacher as well as a cabinet-maker and a fiddler. Some early historians claim that Cob was given great advantages of schooling beyond what was normal for his region during his era. We do know that he went to military school, and my focus this week is to identify which school he went to and to request any records on Cob that might exist.

So, you might say we are joining the back-to-school movement this week. This week’s prompt is based on a theme, that of schooling. What is so important about schooling that it travels with us through migrations and wars, good times and bad? Yesterday’s schooling was so important that communities pooled resources to build a structure and hire a teacher. Think of the impact schooling–or a lack of it–might have on a character.

August 20, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about school. The setting can be a school, involve students and teachers or can be about schooling in general. How has school influenced a place or a character? Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, August 26 to be included in the compilation.

This week, I’ve written two pieces–one to continue the story of Cob McCandless, and one to honor the Elmira Schoolhouse.

Back to School (1)

Remembering School in Elmira by Charli Mills

Mama washed my hair the night before, braiding it tight the next morning. I had a slate board and chalk—expensive luxuries. Papa had already left to pound spikes so he missed seeing my gleaming black braids with yellow ribbons. Mama watched me cross the tracks to the new schoolhouse before she returned to doing the rail-men’s laundry.

“Addio, mia cara,” she called as I walked away. To school. I cannot tell you how much it meant to Mama and Papa that their only child would get to go to school. “L’America è buono,” they’d say despite cracked hands.

###

A Father’s Pain by Charli Mills

Deputy Coffey left the McCandles house after informing Cob’s father of his son’s disappearance. And of the charges.

James stood in the parlor, staring at the framed tintype of his son in military uniform. He was never meant to be a soldier, but a scholar. His son–David Colbert. Cob to family and friends. He grabbed the frame, ready to smash it on the plank-wood floor. Instead, he hugged it to his chest and sagged to the floor, careful not to make a sound. He didn’t want to distress his wife.

“Oh, my son. That woman wasted your schooling.”

###

Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.

 

 

Characters, Get Your Engines Started

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionWhat motivates a character? Internal or external motivation can be a central theme to story development big or small. In the case of flash fiction, we are looking at the motivations of characters in 99 words and finding that it is a vital factor to getting the story started.

Motivation, you might say, is movement. The following stories show what moves characters and even writers and readers. Settle in for some flash reading.

Stories based on the August 13, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) show the underlying motivation of a character.

Motivating Mary by Geoff Le Pard

‘Rupert’s contesting the Will?’

‘Yes Mary. He says he and his mother were dependant on your father so should inherit something.’

Mary, her face neutral, seethed inside. Her bloody father and his affair. She couldn’t blame Rupert. He was just feeble.

The lawyer was waiting.

‘We fight.’

The lawyer looked surprised then smiled. Mary glared at him. He only cared about his fee.

She called her husband, Paul, and explained.

‘Well, if you’re sure. I didn’t realise you had it in you. Your Mum would be proud of you.’

Mary said nothing. She wasn’t doing this for her mother.

###

Daylight Robbery by Sherri Matthews

Placing one hand on the bench’s armrest, the old man heaved himself up on to unsteady legs.

Shivering against the bitter wind, he pulled his shabby coat around his thin frame and walked slowly towards the Post Office.

Relieved that he was alone he approached the clerk, snarling:

“I’ve got a gun! Give me your money now!”

The police found the old man stumbling along the street, necking back his newly purchased whiskey.

Sleet fell as he was bundled into the back of the warm police car and he smiled at the thought of the jail bed awaiting him.

###

The Job by Pete

Julie took a yoga-like breath, reigning in her emotions. Her eyes opened to the debris of post-it notes vying for her attention. Her whole life was about finding money.

She studied the matted carpet, the empty desks. The rancor from a young mother’s tirade was still drowning in her ears. Why again—her father liked to ask—had she become a social worker?

The gleam. The boy’s innocence as he looked over his mother’s shoulder, his bouncing eyes so bright and hopeful. His smile not yet lost. Everyday her faith in humanity was tested. And every morning she returned.

###

More Than Numbers by Norah Colvin

The more he stared at the numbers the less sense they made.

They swirled and blurred. He just didn’t get it.

“Numbers don’t lie,” they’d admonished.

“But they don’t tell either,” he’d thought.

The hollowness left when all he knew had been extracted could not be filled with the smorgasbord of numbers loaded on the page.

The richness of lives reduced to mere squiggles.

“This is what’s important,” they’d said, fingers drumming tables of data.

With heaviness of heart he closed the book and walked away.

“They are not even numbers,” he thought. “If they were numbers, they’d count!”

###

Motivus Merlinus by Tally Pendragon

Why did I manipulate time and place, influencing the outcome of events only I could see? They sent me to Rome! Me, half druid, half prince, yet all wizard. Come back and save us all, they adjured.

I met a wise friar who unveiled mine eyes to a synthesis so sweet, of old and new, of love and fellowship beyond all religions’ pain, free from exploitative gain. Not discarding old for new, but the dawning of a simple way, of acceptance, love, and compassion for all as if for thine own self. I knew how to make it so.

###

First Date by Sarah Unsicker

Kate examined the lines forming around her eyes. The harsh light in her tiny bathroom amplified every little wrinkle.

Last night was another serial first date. Charlie had been gentle and handsome, with a good sense of humor. He had chosen her favorite restaurant, and they had danced after dinner. She sighed as she remembered moving in unison with the music. But there would be no second date.

“You’re not getting any younger,” her friends told her. “It’s time to settle down!” They couldn’t believe she wasn’t interested. But Kate refused to invite the pain that came from family.

###

Shelter by Paula Moyer

Jean couldn’t explain why she loved selling towels. When pressed, she would say, “I love playing with colors.” It sounded lame.

Yet every Tuesday – “towel folding day” on the department clean-up
calendar – her mind drifted as she lined up the edges. Drifted to
sixth grade, the year she was her teacher’s scapegoat.

The year she got the 64-color box of crayons. She picked pale pastel crayons, drew cave after cave. Their walls floated and rippled. Jean let them pull her in. She floated in the caves. Safe.

Selling towels – a job. Finding perfect colors for every customer – her calling.

###

More Than Words by Norah Colvin

“More!” they implored.

She surveyed their eager faces then glanced at the clock.

“Just one more?”

“Okay. Just one more.”

Before she could choose, a book landed in her lap.

“This one,” he said.

“Yes,” they chorused. “It’s a good one!”

She smiled agreement, then started to read.

They joined in, remembering, anticipating.

She turned the page.

“Wait!” he said. “Go back.”

“Did you see that?” He pointed to the page.

“But look what he’s doing,” someone else chimed in.

They all laughed.

The shared joy of a beloved book. Each time the same. Each time a little more.

###

Character Development by Irene Waters

Janet wanted children but time was ticking. George good father material. Her joy soared as George dropped to his knee holding the ring case. He knew which order she wanted.

He opened the case exposing the huge diamond encrusted ring and proposed.

Janet turned away. She’d have to say ‘no’ despite having waited years for this moment. She couldn’t wear that. She mustn’t love him if she couldn’t wear it but then he mustn’t love her to buy her such a gaudy ring. What would she do now?

“No I can’t.” Tears fell as she ran from the room.

###

All That She Buried by Charli Mills

Sarah stood straight, wearing her crisp black skirts with matching mutton-sleeve blouse. Cob and Leroy paid for the hole in the ground and their father crafted the pine box that looked more like a diminutive traveling trunk than a baby’s coffin. Yet none showed for the burial. No prayers. No solace. No tears.

A shovelful of dirt buried Sarah’s pride. Another shovelful buried any love she’d ever felt for her parents. By the time the hired gravedigger finished his task without even stealing a glance at her pale face, Sarah was ready to make a crook out of Cob.

###

Motivation Flash by Laura Burke

The room was dimly lit. Quiet. The air was punctuated by his breathing. Marvin flexed his fingers like a maestro before a recital. He stretched his neck, stretching. Even his bladder was empty. Like his apartment.

“Sir.” The accent was working class. Jersey? “Some questions.” Across the room, officers tinkered with Danny. He was quiet too. Marvin focused on the unshaven chin, avoiding the bloodstained temple.

“Marvin?” She insisted. “Can you tell me why you killed your roommate?”

Peace and quiet. Why wasn’t it obvious? He focused on his bloody fingers.

She looked smart. Let her figure it out.

###

No Remorse by Susan Zutautas

Amy sat staring out the window, not looking at anything in particular. She felt a numbness she’d never felt before. That’s all she felt. No remorse for what she’d done, no regrets whatsoever.

People have rights and she was bound and determined she’d cash in on hers. Maybe she’d taken it a bit far but that was yet to be determined.

In some eyes what Amy had done was understandable but for some it would be considered in despicable.

The bus came to a stop in front of the courthouse. The guards put the shackle’s back on the prisoners.

###

A Scratchy Competition by Amber Prince

Glancing around, I screwed the lid shut on my neighbors powder compact and placed it back on her vanity. Then I did a final check of my own make-up before she finished up in the bathroom.

I knew that she would make a final mirror check where she would powder her forehead, for fear of unwanted shininess while on stage.

A bathroom break would have been a relief, but time hadn’t permitted. Instead, I disregarded the empty baggy of itching powder at the bottom of the trash before heading back for curtain call.

This year’s crown would be mine.

###

A Mind Over Body Event by Ruchira Khanna

Rosie stares at the path that is well lit and has signs all over.

She takes a deep breath and walks gingerly towards the starting line while mumbling to herself, “I have to do this for myself to make a better tomorrow, and moreover, it is just a mind over body thing.”

In a few minutes, the ribbon is cut, and the flag is waved.

The crowd cheers.

Rosie waits up patiently for her turn to cross the offset point and open a new chapter by abandoning all her fears and apprehensions of being disabled for over a year.

###

Speedy Simpkins by Larry LaForge

He often feels isolated, unprepared. While other students find it easy, he struggles mightily. He wonders how he got into this elite university.

Speedy Simpkins knows his name holds the answer. No one runs faster on the football field.

The pretty coed sitting to his right makes brief eye contact, smiles seductively, and positions her exam paper in his view. His teammates say it’s expected — a little help for those who bring glory to the school. Everyone does it.

But Speedy Simpkins looks straight ahead, focusing squarely on his own work.

His dignity is more important than a grade.

*****
The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.

###

Santa and the Siren by Sarah Brentyn

Everyone at the holiday ball noticed Rhonda. While most women drank champagne in elegant, black gowns or shimmied to Jingle Bell Rock in red velvet, Rhonda wore yellow.

Hair color was not mentioned, but they talked. Her face was not seen, but they stared. No one left the party that night without having glimpsed the girl in yellow. Yellow and nothing else.

One kind-hearted woman said the dress was “sheer”. Rhonda heard snippets of conversation, some crude, some accusatory. She smiled, thinking of her senior prom—ten years ago when she wore a yellow dress. Not a wallflower anymore.

###

Motivation Flash by Anne Goodwin

She wants cheesecake and a chocolate fountain but she can’t risk popping the button on her best black skirt. She wanted rosewood but her sister went for cardboard they could decorate themselves. She wants Abide With Me but her sister can’t abide it. She doesn’t want to argue, not here, with their mother at rest between them. Reluctantly, she takes a red felt tip and draws a heart, spells out MUM inside it in green.

She wants to be born again into a different family, a different species, even. She rather fancies coming back as a unicorn next time.

###

New prompt on Wednesday. All writers welcome!

DSC_0018

Why I Write

The Writer's LifeI write, therefore I am.

It seems easy to answer when writing feels akin to drawing breath. But it’s as complicated as trying to explain how the lungs function. Writer, Robin Flanigan, invited me to ponder this question in a blog hop that considers the reasons why we write.

Today, I’m dogged by details. After last week’s post, When the Wolves Give Chase, I’m tempted to say, I’m wolfed. A project that I’ve been working on with a client since April has been tricky at best. Why? Because it’s greatly detailed, thus requires spot-on accuracy and involves multiple interested parties.

And not the kind of parties that are fun.

I’m talking about a financial manager, board directors, a general manager, a marketing manager and her team of communicators. Then there’s the contractors I work with–the designer, the writers, the printer, the digital team. The first thing I crafted for this project was the timeline: who–>does what–>by when.

The first thing that failed? Yes, the timeline. Interested parties began citing their vacations and I re-invented a new timeline, adapting it to who was going to be gone when. Second timeline has worked.

Today was the accumulation of all the details, ready to pass on to the designer. We had a few major glitches gracefully resolved by key parties (toot horns and toss confetti) and are on track as of 45 minutes ago. Whew…

So why do I mention this under the title of why I write? Because one answer is communication. I write to communicate. While projects are challenging and miscommunications frustrating, ultimately it is the challenge of communicating that is exciting, connecting and fulfilling.

But it’s not the reason I ever bought my first notebook and started to write about Silver Chalmers and why her English father returned to England after managing the Silver City mines in California from 1856 to 1864. That I started to write because I wanted to know why the real “Lord” Chalmers (as he was called in my home-county of Alpine) built such a fancy mansion way up in the granitic mountains of the Sierra Nevadas for a wife he left. The old-timers told me she rode to meet the stage every week, awaiting his return until she was committed to the insane asylum in Carson City, Nevada.

I write because I love history’s mysteries, I love a good story and I love to be a part of the unraveling. Later I discovered what many writers do–that if you write into a story it will push back into you with ideas you didn’t know you had. At a writer’s retreat at a Franciscan Center I learned that this was writing into truth. I write because it feels like a brave thing to do.

Yet, there are some things I don’t write about. Some truths are too dark, too painful and I decided long ago that they would not rule over me. I was brave in leaving, of getting out of a bad situation and I’m not going back there with my writing. My writing belongs to me, not them, and I will use it for my own purposes.

I write to communicate, to understand behavior through history, to tell stories, to push into the truth of who I am at the core. I am not my past. I am not my age, my reflection in a mirror; I am not my car, my clothes my stuff. I am a writer. And every day I write myself anew.

Tag–you are it: I’m passing the baton from Robin Flanigan on to Ruchira Khanna, Ellen Muholland and Lori Schafer. These three woman have boldly pressed into their own writing and have authored books. I hope that this blog hop is a chance for them to tell you why they write and also about why they wrote their books.

Carry on, writers!

***

Ruchira Khanna is just another soul trying to make a difference in this lifetime by juggling between my passion and responsibilities.

A Biochemist turned Writer who draws inspiration from various sources and tries to pen them down to create awareness within her and the society. Recently published a novel, which peeps into every one’s daily life named, “Choices”  She is working on a children’s book, which should be out this year.

A Reiki Master in her spare time where she passes out information about channeling universal energy and conducts sessions.

***

Ellen Plotkin Mulholland grew up in San Bernardino, California. After earning her degree in Journalism and English Literature at the University of Southern California, she moved to London. There she wrote her first novel, bagged beans, stood in the snow for a bus, and watched the trees change colors in fall. Today she teaches academic strategies to struggling adolescents while marveling in the exploits of her own kids. She is the author of “This Girl Climbs Trees,” a first person narrative following one teen’s quest for life’s answers, and “Birds on a Wire,” a coming out of age tale. She is nearly finished with her third YA that focusses on a young girl’s obsessions and her fight to find her place in this world.

“Why I Write” by Ellen Mulholland

***

Loris Schafer is a writer of serious prose and humorous erotica and romance. More than thirty of her short stories, flash fiction, and essays have appeared in a variety of print and online publications, and her first novel, a work of women’s fiction entitled My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged, will be released in 2015. Also forthcoming in 2015 is her second novel Just the Three of Us: An Erotic Romantic Comedy for the Commitment-Challenged. On the more serious side, her memoir, On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, will be published in October 2014.

***

August 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionMy eyes drink up layers of colors as if the valley were an exotic libation. I expect to see a cheap paper umbrella among the pinks, greens, blues, yellows and oranges.

If the humidity is up a tad, the sunset causes a riot of pink to streak the sky. The mountains darken to a dusky blue which sets off the brightness of the tall green grass with its late summer swatches of gold.

As usual, my mind wanders beyond the sip of beauty and the questions begin. How to describe that shade of pink? What is behind the mountain? When will I tire of the view? Who lived here before, drinking this same view? Why did they leave?

Sometimes I think fiction writers are simply impatient to understand. Along with asking, “what if…” we also ask, “why?” We want to understand motivations. Literature lingers over character development and takes the span of a novel to contemplate why people do the things they do.

Narrative-driven stories dig right into motivation as if the answer is the ending of the story. Now we know why! Based-on-true-stories (BOTS, thank you, Irene Waters) seeks to answer the “whys” unresolved by history or facts. And that is where my mind most often wanders as I sit outside at sunset, grilling my dinner and drinking my fill of scenic beauty.

Most obvious is, why did Hickok kill Cob McCanless? I also want to know why Cob left North Carolina with Sarah Shull but then sent for his family. And why did his wife follow the man who left her in the midst of a property swindle? Why did they all stay enmeshed in their relationships out west? Why did Sarah leave North Carolina? And why did she stay with Cob in Nebraska?

I want to have eyes for this history. I want to be like those wine tasters who can discern the individual notes. I once interviewed a Cherokee wine-maker who grew grapes in Minnesota. His wines started at the vine. He’d grasp a fistful of grapes and chomp them big and mouthy able to tell what the wine would be like. He didn’t use beakers and additives–he could taste the wine in the grapes. I want to taste this story like that.

It all comes down to motivation. What motivates people can be external–a desire to please, to be found attractive, to be accepted. History tells us that Sarah was shunned by her family and community, never to be forgiven even when she returned to North Carolina almost 50 years later. That’s a strong motivator.

Motivation can also be internal–a drive to succeed, a passion to experience adventure, a fear of failure. One fact about Sarah is that she was 22 -years-old when  she had an affair with Cob. That was unusual for her time period and all her elder siblings had married before reaching that age. Some say she was driven to better herself.

But why Cob? He was educated, a fine fiddler, dashing, powerful and a captivating orator. Maybe the two shared ambitions to have something bigger and better than the harsh mountain living of North Carolina. If my understanding of the clan-mentality is close then Cob would have had strong external motivations to stay married.

Ultimately, I think Sarah bribed Cob. He liked fine things, he desired to be wealthier than he was and she was an accountant trained in her father’s businesses. I imagine that Sarah was so desperate to leave after the shame of her daughter’s birth soon followed by the grief of the babe’s death a year later that Sarah concocted the scheme.

It required Cob’s position as sheriff and involved many others. The scheme itself is similar to the mortgage fraud pulled off by American banks where the note was re-sold so many times that it became difficult to trace the original fraud and by the time it was clear, the homeowner lost the house.

The court records in North Carolina indict many people who re-sold the debts of others after the sheriff collected them, but no one was ever convicted, not even Cob or his deputy. By that time he and Sarah were long fled to the Colorado gold fields presumably financed by others–unwittingly. And those who lost their payments were never reimbursed and were still in debt.

Maybe by then Sarah didn’t care if Cob sent for his family. If her motivation was to escape the shame of North Carolina, she succeeded. She even wrote out a business agreement with Cob for him to pay her as his business accountant. He set her up on the east ranch of Rock Creek, built a profitable toll-bridge, then built the west ranch for his wife and children.

But he sold the east ranch to the Pony Express. Sarah had to move into a one-room sod house similar to the one where Hickok lived. And he never paid Sarah. His brother Leroy paid the note after Cob’s death. Why?

You see, there’s so much to motivation. It can drive a narrative big or small. So that is our quest this week, to explore the motivation of a character in 99 words.

External motivation is called “extrinsic” and is typically behavior based on achieving a reward or avoiding a punishment. Internal motivation is called “intrinsic” and is more personal. Think of it as the difference between playing a game to please your fiancee or playing a game because you find it exciting.

And here’s a drink of my summer sunsets for extra inspiration (may it help you relax and start asking, why):

DSC_0018

August 13, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) show the underlying motivation of a character. He or she may not even understand the motivation fully, but let the reader grasp it. It can be an external or internal motivation (or both). Maybe it’s a decision, a revelation or the beginning of disaster. Maybe it shows fortitude or reveals fear. Let motivation drive your flash this week! Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, August 19 to be included in the compilation.

All That She Buried by Charli Mills

Sarah stood straight, wearing her crisp black skirts with matching mutton-sleeve blouse. Cob and Leroy paid for the hole in the ground and their father crafted the pine box that looked more like a diminutive traveling trunk than a baby’s coffin. Yet none showed for the burial. No prayers. No solace. No tears.

A shovelful of dirt buried Sarah’s pride. Another shovelful buried any love she’d ever felt for her parents. By the time the hired gravedigger finished his task without even stealing a glance at her pale face, Sarah was ready to make a crook out of Cob.

###

Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.

Beyond the Universe

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionSo you think the universe is infinite? How about multiple universes or parallel worlds? Just think of tiny places teeming with life–hair follicles or 80s heroes returning to help a girl find her father. Multiverses mess with the clock, timelines and realities.

Anything is possible beyond the universe. Worlds you never knew existed are as close as the car next to you. And what if you returned from one world altered, of found yourself somewhere else? Ribbons, naked, cloned, younger, older–anything is possible.

Stories based on the August 6, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) craft a multiverse situation, setting or character(s).

Clothed in Flames Flash by Ellen Mulholland

“Anything’s possible. Come on, curls. He’s right there. Go on. He won’t bite.”

Kathryn’s eyes roll about under heavy lids.

“I can’t, Doc. I can’t.”

“Who says I can’t? ‘Course you can. Just put your mind to it.”

She tosses, grasping the past, pushing away the now.

“My mind?”

“Your mind.”

“Not a good idea, Doc. My mind’s a mess.”

“No mind’s a mess. No mind’s broken.”

“I didn’t say broken. Messed. Tangled. Twisted. Like this head of crazy curls. My mind’s tangled up, on fire. I’m on fire. I’m burning up. It’s all my fault. All my fault!”

###

Worlds Apart by Pete

It was August hot in October, humid and sticky without the faintest hope of a breeze. Dad wiped his brow, taking a nauseating drag of his cigarette as we sat in the truck, waiting for Mom.

A shiny car edged into the space beside us, its thumping music drowning the tinny sounds of Dad’s country station. I peeked out as the mother unbuckled her child, the beads in her hair clicking and clacking with the movement. Dad exhaled purposely as he stubbed out his cigarette beside the pickets of brown butts in the ashtray.

“I just don’t understand them.”

###

The Duchess, The Daughter by Sarah Brentyn

I woke up at home.

My parents called lots of people. They cried and hugged me too much.

They said it had been three weeks since I disappeared.

I told them about the bears who declared war on the humans. The hedgehogs who made me laugh despite what was happening in the world. My wedding to the duke. My baby girl who I missed so much it hurt.

Now I sit in the place where Mommy and Daddy visit me. The place where people give me pills with my morning pancakes. The place where I’m six years old again.

###

Naming Wild Bill by Charli Mills

Hickok awoke to distant drumming. Since his release in matters concerning the shooting of Cob McCanless, he’d joined the Union Army as a civilian scout. Alone in the muggy backwoods of southern Missouri this nightly interruption continued. Soon the child on horseback would gallop past. A girl with auburn hair like his, wearing strange clothes the color of southwest turquoise. Each night she grew older until she drew up her horse above his bedroll, fully grown. She leveled a queer black gun at him, saying “Wild Bill, you shot my kin!”

No one had ever called him that before.

###

Every Mirror Tells a Story by Geoff Le Pard

Mary hated herself for her indifference to Alison, her late father’s mistress. She wanted to hate her but just felt empty.

In her father’s study she stood in front of the mirror, staring the reflection of his picture. ‘Why?’

Water ran down the mirror, like tears distorting his face. His lips moved. ‘I’m so sorry.’

Peter pushed through the miasma that separated his world from Mary’s, willing her to understand. They’d told him it would take all his courage, all his strength to make the bridge. If only he had had found the courage and strength before he died.

###

Multiverse Flash by Irene Waters

John jumped from the bridge without giving a second glance back. The swirling river below engulfed him, taking him into the dark depths. A crack of light appeared along with a voice whispering “Stay away from the light, ” but the current propelled him toward it.

Caught in an eddy he hurtled through the void and suddenly aware of the sun warming his now naked flesh he saw he lay in a verdant field. Rising he headed towards the sun uncertain where he should be headed. Thundering past the unicorns beckoned.

“Blast. Last time I landed in Paris with Hemingway.”

###

Shift Worker by Paula Moyer

Two months after they started dating, Jean met Charlie’s family. His
father worked at the gypsum plant, or “the rock crusher,” with
rotating shifts. Her own parents worked bankers’ hours.

One night after dinner, the phone rang. Charlie bolted from the couch
in his stocking feet, slid into the kitchen. He grabbed the phone
before the second ring.

“Hello?” he whispered.

Pause.

“Oh, good evening. Could you call back tomorrow? Daddy’s asleep.” All whispered.

Part of Charlie’s world came into focus.

Work hours dictated sleep hours. Loud talk, ringing phones – toxic
when his dad’s workday started at 3 a.m.

###

Multiverse Flash by Laura Burke

Lily found it simple to slip between worlds. It was becoming more frequent each day.

Did friends in either world notice? It never seemed so. She smiled as if she were listening. That’s all they required.

She was a girl with two bodies in two dimensions.

Here she was single, the summer had ended with Jack’s infidelity and his declaration that they’d never work. That’s when There… suddenly existed. As if the heartbreak split time into two independent streams.

And Jack never left her… There. He loved her. He called her enchanting. And soon there would be a child.

###

Cosmostology by Larry LaForge

“I’ve always been interested in cosmology,” Maria yapped as she curled her customer’s hair.

“You mean cosmetology, dear,” Mrs. Krieger said with a condescending smile.

The hairdresser didn’t respond.

Maria saw far more than bristly hair. She saw an entire universe on top of the elderly woman’s head — a cosmos of follicles alive and interacting, some in concert and some in protest. She saw growth and decline. No matter the intervention, Maria knew the natural order would ultimately prevail.

“Thanks,” Maria said upon receiving a generous tip.

Mrs. Albertson was next. Maria smiled, anticipating the battle of the bangs.

********
The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.

###

The Crosswalk by Sarah Unsicker

We wait together for the walk signal. She is dressed smartly for court; I push a twin stroller in marker-stained jeans. I ask what kind of hearing she has.

“Pretrial,” she says, “a bail hearing.” I recognize the client from her description. He was homeless and couldn’t afford health care. She looks as nervous as I remember feeling.

“You’ll do fine,” I say, confidently. This case will start her short but successful career.

My gaze rests on the pearls my husband gave me, on the suit that hangs in my closet. I again contemplate the cost of child care.

###

Multiverse Flash by Anne Goodwin

Shrugging off my rucksack, I find a flattish rock to sit and imbibe the view. Deep in the valley, the manor house nestles among fields of sheep. They tell the tourists North Lees inspired Rochester’s home in Jane Eyre.

I swivel round to watch the climbers on the gritstone and, when I turn back, flames lick the battlements of the hall below. I jump up and race towards it, skirt dragging on the heather, bonnet ribbons flapping in the breeze. I hear the ghoulish laughter of the woman in the attic. My heart calls out to Edward, my love.

###

Fast Forward by Susan Zutautas

I awoke to my alarm going off, stretching, and rubbing my glued eyes. In disbelief I looked around at my bedroom, which did not look anything like it did when I went to sleep.

The room had expanded; new furnishings, wall covering, and a master suite were all in my sight.

What the hell was going on?

I could hear voices coming from the kitchen but they didn’t sound familiar. What I saw when entering the room shocked me. Standing by the island were 2 twin girls and an older version of my son.

Mom you’re awake ……

###

Clone Magic by Norah Colvin

All night Leone had huddled in line, sleepless with excitement, waiting for the release.

Now she had them! Clone pills!

‘Take one with water. Cloning occurs in 30 minutes and lasts 24 hours.’

Leone swallowed one tablet, then another, and another; ignoring the small print: ‘Do not take multiple tablets. Effects are unpredictable.’

When three clones appeared she instructed:

“1. Clean the house. 2. Exercise. 3. Weed the garden.”

She flopped on the couch. “Now to read.”

But — their hands grabbed for her book, pulling her hair and clawing her eyes.

“Me read! Me read! Me read!”

###

New prompt on Wednesday! All writers welcome!

When the Wolves Give Chase

Tips for WritersMonday tips for writers is more personal today. I’m not yet ready to write about my revision process, although I’ve made great strides using the storyboard, comparative inner/outer story timelines and a checklist of edits. I remain in the thick of final edits, a boggy area ripe with self-doubt, panic and snarling wolves.

Writing is not easy. And I’m not talking about the mechanics of writing or the craft; I’m talking about the inner strength and the tough skin you need to be a writer. Some days are a glorious dance in the daisies, but most days are spent fleeing from the wolves.

We each have our own wolves, nipping at our heals. My wolves find me vulnerable when I feel that my value is tanking. Value to me has to do with this buckaroo ideal of “hard work.” To be valued, you have to work hard, get your hands dirty, calloused. Have something to show for your hard work.

This weekend the horse-owner showed up. Immediately I felt embarrassed because my garden is in disarray with neglect. Something I made a conscious choice to do, but how do I explain to “hard-working” folk that I’m sitting on my backside, writing instead. It’s also unseasonably hot and dry so my yard is crisp and gasping despite the weeding and watering I’ve been doing. He doesn’t say anything, but I think he’s displeased with how we are keeping the place.

My wolves are those negative thoughts that can chase me to despairing depths. Really, I can’t give you a logical explanation for when the wolves give chase other than I’m feeling vulnerable. And I find that I feel vulnerable more as a writer than at anything else I’ve ever done. I feel like I don’t have anything of value to show for my hard work.

I’m not alone in this vulnerability. Tonight, my heart broke a little as I read a post from one of my favorite online writers. She said she was a crappy blogger. Immediately my wolves joined hers and they wanted to hunt me down for being a crappy blogger, too because I could totally relate to everything she was expressing. After all, I didn’t even log in on my blog for two entire days. I didn’t post or read all the #MondayBlogs.

Instead, I commented with something I learned from dog mushers. That if you’re going to panic, panic forward. It reminded me that we all feel vulnerable, lacking and afraid we aren’t posting, writing or revising up to snuff. We aren’t working hard enough at it.

Today, comedic actor Robin Williams apparently committed suicide. That breaks my heart even more. It also sends me in full blown panic: For the love of camp-coffee, if a successful creative still feels chased down by the wolves of negative thinking, what hope is there for me? Those wolves are vicious.

Thus we come to the importance of writer-care. It’s a little like self-care. Instead of beating myself up for not having obvious outcomes for the hard work, I’m challenging myself to rethink, to take care of my writer-self.

I’m working on my own masters. I’m learning an entire industry–actually two if you recognize that traditional publishing is different from Indie publishing. No one cracks the whip or sets the bar. I’m self-motivated to write, disciplined to learn and caring enough to share in the process with others. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

I’m trying to recognize the wolves before they get too close. It doesn’t matter who you are, negative thinking or wrong-headedness creates a downward spiral. Challenge each other to notice what each is good at and don’t dwell on what we aren’t. Let’s tackle our weaknesses with the enthusiasm of learning.

And please, oh please…if you ever get so low in your despair, reach out of the mire! Talk to someone, have a list of people that you can call at any time and find something to get you out of the wolves’ den. If you go too far, there is help:

  1. Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the USA & Canada (1-800-273-8255)
  2. Lifeline Crisis Support Suicide Prevention AU (13 11 14)
  3. Samaritans Ireland (116 123) or Northern Ireland (08457 90 90 90)
  4. Samaritans Wales (08457 90 90 90)
  5. Samaritans Scotland (08457 90 90 90)
  6. Papyrus Prevention of Young Suicide UK (0800 068 41 41)

You matter. Your writing matters. Your creativity matters.

None of this, of course, is going to make writing any easier. Just commit to keeping check on the wolves from time to time. If you need a break, take one. If you let something go unattended to do something else, acknowledge the choice and don’t feel that you have to explain yourself to some cowboy who will never understand what it is to write anyways.

Remember this line from Song of Myself by Walt Whitman:

“I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood”

And I leave you with this fabulous bit of truth about writing not being easy by Sarah Brentyn.

Quote by Sarah Brentyn

So be kind to those who create; lift up and do not tear down; take a break without guilt; write with abandon and don’t ever let anyone rob you of your value as a writer. You are enough. Make the best of your gift.

And Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. May we follow in your light and learn from your darkness.

August 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionSwirling somewhere in the cosmos is a horse I once rode. A nameless palomino, or maybe he was brutishly large and black. I can’t remember. But I remember how I accessed the other world–

Running clockwise round and round the coffee table my father built of oak slabs, I galloped on bare feet to the 8-track by Johnny Horton.  As he sang, “In 1814 we took a little trip; Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’…” I took a little trip of my own, transported. No longer on feet, I was now blazing through places on the back of my steed. I ran along the Mighty Mississip’ and hopped up the mountains, north to Alaska and even sunk the Bismark to the bottom of the sea. How that 8-track of battle tunes by a cowboy troubadour filled my young imagination in the late 1960s!

As an adult, I have some empathy for the family that raised me. I was always embarrassing them with my imaginative ways. While I don’t remember, the adults told me I once carried around an imaginary frog in my hand that I chattered to non-stop until one patriarch had enough of that nonsense, swiped the invisible frog away, threw it on the ground and stomped it to death. I bawled for three days.

I was a girl and supposed to like dolls (which I did, but my Barbies chased outlaws on horses and were war heroes in their Kleenex box battleship). You might say that Johnny Horton led me to the adventures my imagination sought. I didn’t outgrow the table-transformer for a while, mostly because I don’t think my parents actually knew what what going on, that while my little legs still ran in circles, I was actually somewhere else. Perhaps after the frog incident I learned not to show off the things I brought back from that world.

But I did reveal to others the secret of the table. It was 3rd grade and I informed  the girls next door that if we all ran fast around the coffee table to the Good, the Bad, the Ugly 8-track we could enter a cave that led out to this place where there were covered wagons and horses. My music was becoming more sophisticated, more intense yet still distinctly western. Somehow, the Beatles never worked. Not only did they ride with me, but we rode away from the table and out the door. The world was the other world and we played hard in it.

Before I start feeling to sheepish for bringing up my “wild imagination,” as it was called, I want to honor it with three real gifts it gave me:

  1. I can imagine anything. This is a terrific tool for problem-solving because I can access my brain to try different solutions and outcomes. When developing a story with characters and dialog, I can easily imagine voices that aren’t my own. Maybe I can still channel my inner-frog.
  2. History connects me. I can look at a place and imagine others there long before me. Each piece of broken purple glass, abandoned schoolhouse or obscure record of postmasters from 1880 has meaning. It often helps me understand the world today. Perhaps this is the gift from Johnny Horton who found music in history, too.
  3. I can be transformed. It’s easy for me to feel music, to climb inside a good book and go places I’ve never been to before. In transformation, I develop understanding of different cultures and empathize with human plights outside my own experiences. I feel less contained in one space, free and joyful.

So what got me thinking about my imagination? Well, one of our Rough Writers, Geoff Le Pard, said this last week in his post, That’s cracking, Grommit:

“I love the idea that we are so close to something else, within a  paper of another world, close enough to sense it but not experience it. Multiverses. It’s an area, ripe to explore in fiction.”

The phrase, within a paper of another world, made me think of those wild rides I used to take around the coffee table, how the world became so real for a time and then it slipped away like the closing of a book. Yet hints of it still linger, which is one reason I write fiction. I get to visit another place, time and possibilities.

Whether or not multiverses exist or that it’s an argument for the philosophers and not the scientists is debatable. But I agree that it’s ripe for fictional explorations. Today we are going to explore multiverses in fiction. As writers we can experience it in our imaginations.

Since this is a deep subject and possibly even a new concept to some, let me explain a few possibilities for fiction regarding a multiverse which is essentially an alternate or parallel world. And for those who are keen on the subject, bear with my meager understanding. Here are some ideas:

  1. Time travel, back in time or into the future. It can be ancient, or yesterday.
  2. Another dimension which a character can access beyond his own. A world that exists to his simultaneously.
  3. Space travel that enters wormholes and emerges elsewhere.
  4. A child in a living room accessing the North Pol.
  5. An event that already occurred but is now re-animated on the front lawn.
  6. A character discussing the theory, or using it to explain historical events or predict the future.
  7. A character debunking the theory.
  8. Describing a familiar scene or event told as a parallel universe.
  9. Two separate characters from separate worlds colliding.
  10. An unseen world like an army of pickles living in the frig.

One of my favorite authors is Robert Jordan who penned the fantastical epic series, The Wheel of Time. He was a history buff, served three tours of duty in Vietnam and taught himself to read, starting with classics. He employed multiverses to the utmost: a wheel of time that repeats its ages and people; dimension-bending characters; a protagonist that exist in someone else’s head. To read it is a grand ride around the coffee table.

Do you have a favorite book that employs multiverses? Here’s a list if you are interested in exploring beyond a single universe: List of fiction employing parallel universes.

August 6, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) craft a multiverse situation, setting or character(s). Write about another world, intersecting worlds or the people who populate them. Do you go back in time? Forward? Sideways? Is your story a discussion over the reality of multiverses? Tap the keys and see where your imagination leads you. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, August 12 to be included in the compilation.

Naming Wild Bill

Hickok awoke to distant drumming. Since his release in matters concerning the shooting of Cob McCanless, he’d joined the Union Army as a civilian scout. Alone in the muggy backwoods of southern Missouri this nightly interruption continued. Soon the child on horseback would gallop past. A girl with auburn hair like his, wearing strange clothes the color of southwest turquoise. Each night she grew older until she drew up her horse above his bedroll, fully grown. She leveled a queer black gun at him, saying “Wild Bill, you shot my kin!”

No one had ever called him that before.

###

Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.