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Monthly Archives: February 2015

Not All Arenas are Comfortable

RodeoThis post is a continuation of my ride to get published. I call it the Rodeo, and not all rodeo arenas are comfortable.

We tend to stick close to familiar territory. When I was a little buckaroo riding at the Bolado Rodeo and Saddle Show, I knew every inch of the arena at Bolado Park. I knew the back ways, where the stables were located and how to find my cousins to share a can of Coke. When I rode there, I felt at ease.

As a teenager, I entered a horse event with my friend who lived in Carson City, NV. I couldn’t trailer my horse so I rode one unfamiliar to me. The event was new and so was the arena. Trying to find where we were to queue up for a parade entry, we trotted our horses past a camel that spit at us. I felt unsettled.

My ride to get published has pushed beyond my familiar arenas. Anytime I read posts about marketing I feel connected. Marketing is familiar. But when I read posts abut the book publishing industry, my eyes boggle in my head. The temptation is to pass and bookmark such posts or articles for later.

But later is now. I need to get familiar with the different arenas of traditional, hybrid and independent publishing. Traditional is my first choice. So is riding my own horse. But sometimes our first choice is not what we get. The more familiar we can become with different arenas, the better.

In my own newness, I don’t have much to say about Amazon. I know it is the number one retailer of books. I’ve read posts on rankings and reviews. I buy lots of books from Amazon and I’m researching how to become an affiliate to boost the sales of books from the writers I know in my Bunkhouse Bookstore. Yet, not everyone likes or sells on Amazon. But that’s about the extent of my knowledge.

So I want to share an important post that I read today; one that gave me greater insight. You see, when we know more about the arena where we might ride, we feel more at ease. I hope you will find this post informative. It’s called, The Top 10 Things All Authors Should Know About Amazon by Brooke Warner.

Also, I’m researching Bibliocrunch, which is a platform that helps authors publish books by connecting them with pre-screened publishing professionals. One of my writing mentors sent out a letter from the CEO of Bibliocrunch announcing free downloads and books for authors through the first week of March. You do need to create a Bibliocrunch account to get these free books:

What insights do you have to share on the arena we call Amazon?

February 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

February 25Missoula, Montana sits in the web of a hand with mountainous fingers that open to the broad palm of the Bitterroot Valley. With less than 70,000 residents, the city is the second largest in all of the state. Missoula has one of those broad vistas that creates the illusion of “big sky.” The city is not large, but the landscape it sits in is huge.

A snow squall spits snow from behind a fast-moving curtain of clouds. Fresh snow glistens like a red-carpet dress of white silk and sequins. Nothing accumulates beyond a few powdery inches that the wind can easily remove like a baker blowing flour dust off a kneading board. Sun, sky and clouds take turns at center stage. None have a lengthy performance.

Into this vacillating weather we drive. All the way from Sandpoint, Idaho we have caressed the curves of the Clark Fork River, driving the narrow Cabinet Gorge and mountain passes on roads that dare to follow the river. I liken the staggering drive to the flight of a sparrow, rolling and dipping as if we were in pursuit of elusive insects for dinner.

We do have a destination, though: Rock Creek. No, not that Rock Creek of my writing WIP. Out west, every other draw has a designated Rock Creek, among the most common names for moving water. This particular Rock Creek is in the heart of Montana’s premier trout fishing country and it is an artery that merges with the Clark Fork River where a lodge hosts a Testy Festy and serves beer and barbequed bull testicles.

Our lodge destination is beyond the river confluence with Rock Creek and we follow an even narrower road that shoulders straight down into slushy, rippling waters that hide trout in deep pools beneath dead logs and hollowed banks of meadow turf. You can’t look at this creek without thinking of Norman MacLean’s famous book, A River Runs Through It. Pause a moment and look.

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Henry Thoreau may have modeled nature writing, nonfiction or fiction prose or poetry about the natural environment, but Norman MacLean mastered it. My heart rate quickens at the sight of the rippling waters, standing aspens, pine laden canyon walls, snow-sunny sky and I can’t separate what I see from what I believe about God.

MacLean wrote about this very region, about the family of a fly-fishing preacher, about brotherly relationships, about home. I’m driving down a road paved over his holyland of rocks, water and words. As a writer, this is akin to sighting the Virgin Mary. Nature writers — MacLean, Annie Dillard, Ivan Doig, Edward Abbey — are my saints.

A reading from the book of MacLean, A River Runs Through It:

“Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.”

Driving to the Blue Damsel, a luxury fly-fishing lodge that might as well be the church of St. Peter, it is built so close to the rockbed, I am haunted by the way a master observes this expansive environment and writes it into prose that even Brad Pitt would want to speak on camera. I’m haunted by how to tell a story using a river. It is my holy grail, what I seek, a story so intertwined with nature that one has to love both the lead character and the river equally.

Needless to say, I had an amazing weekend beyond the epiphany of my desire to take my writing deeper to merge observation and meaning, to create that art by grace that MacLean speaks of in his book. As an emerging author married to a spouse whose industry work is as intermittent as a snow squall, we are too broke to afford luxury trips. But this is the broke time of year for northern Idaho and western Montana. We are in good company with empty wallets. In fact the best of company according to MacLean:

“The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.”

We are not far from Missoula. Our daughter wants to see us and gifts us with a night at the lodge where she often stays. It’s closed for the season and the caretakers are settled in for winter. She is dating one who is also the lodge’s chef and project manager (as in building log projects from tree to table). We’ll call him Chef Amazing because he earned that title, serving us a magnificent meal that began with mussels simmered in white wine, garlic and habanero. Even our dogs got to stay!

February 25, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a river and a person (or people). Think about MacLean’s famous line that “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” Give it your own meaning. It can be a rivulet of water cutting across a city sidewalk, a farm ditch or a famous world river. Who is experiencing the water? What observations are profound? How can a river and a character merge with meaning?

Respond by March 3, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Baptism by Fire and Water by Charli Mills

Lucinda belly-crawled to the edge of the creek. Behind her she heard the metal of her DC-10 bulldozer ping in the heat. Soon the roaring wildfire would engulf the equipment meant to build a barrier. Trees exploded and flaming pitch arced above black smoke like holiday fireworks. The heat was blistering even as Lucinda waded into the creek, dipping her entire head and body in the water. Two moose stared at her, a wall of flame behind them. She whispered a silent prayer. Forgive us our trespasses against this land. Thank you for the water. May it be enough.


Feeling Good

Feeling GoodWriters all having fun, you know what I mean. A reprieve in traffic — you know how I feel. Holding hands, letting go, friendships, games, gentle love — you know how I feel. It’s all about feeling good.

After the inaugural #1000Speak for Compassion it feels appropriate to feel good. It’s a new line, a new page.

This week, writers responded to the February 18, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling good. A variety of posts and stories rolled in to lift up our spirits and dance to the likes of Michael Bublè and Ella Fitzgerald.


Feeling Good by Sherri Matthews

He reached across the dining table, taking her hands tenderly in his.

“I know you have a lot of healing to do, but if you want to meet again, I’ll be waiting.”

Her heart raced even as the warmth of his gentle touch gave calm.

Then she panicked.

“I…I think I better go now…the kids will be waiting…”

He waved her off from the car park as she tore away into the night, leaving him in dust.

I’ll never see her again…

Two years later, he held her hands once more as she beamed and he said, “I do”.


A Reprieve by Jeanne Lombardo

Rotten shits. She hated this city. Hated all the assholes rushing about on their shallow, pathetic pursuits. All the monumentally self-absorbed fakes she had to serve at work. That coifed woman today, stinking of Chanel, so worried about that one wilted leaf of lettuce, then the temperature of her lobster bisque. She should get out. Now, before she died in some pile-up on this god-forsaken freeway. “Let me in you bastards!” she screamed from the on ramp. “Arrgghhh, you sonsabitches!” Oh, what’s that? A break. A woman in a Mercedes waving her in. Smiling at her. God in heaven.


Today by Luccia Gray

“Mum, I’m doing a survey for a school project on happiness.”

“Sounds like fun!”

“Which was the happiest day in your life?”

“It’s hard to pinpoint one. What’s the next question?”

“That’s the only question.”

“I could say my graduation, my wedding day, my first day at work, the day you were born, your last birthday, when all the family got together, the long summer holidays at your grandmother’s…. so many days.”

“So, which one, mum?”

“Today. Definitely today.”

“Why today?”

“Because I’ve just recalled and relived all those wonderful days, and there are so many more to come.”


I Feel Good! by Norah Colvin

She stood at the door for one final glance. Not much had changed, but it felt, oh, so different. They were gone. Gone!

Almost twenty years had passed since she’d stood in this spot; since she’d fled their cruel ways. Twenty years of dodging shadows, double-locking doors, and fearing the phone’s ring.

But no more. They were gone. Gone! And for more than five years! Five years to track her down! All that remained was the house. She’d sell of course.

With the door closed behind her she almost skipped down the stairs, her heart singing, “I feel good!”


Just a Game! by Ruchira Khanna

Sounds of loud groan, grunt, grumble and sighs were heard followed by a loud cry from the next cubicle. Curious Darci walked across with the intention to help but had mixed feelings when the person in that booth removed his headphones and had his head on the desk.

“Are you alright?” inquired Darci with apprehension.

“My favorite team lost the match, and I am just not used to losing.” he said with his head propped up.

That statement made her laugh like crazy as she uttered, “It is just a game, and you were not even playing. Lighten up!”


Glorious Gloria by Geoff Le Pard

‘How did it go?’

Mary sat still, a grin slipping unbidden across her face. ‘Gloria made me feel lighter, you know?’

Paul nodded. ‘Did you learn much?’

‘No. But I don’t mind. I think, even if those bones are my twin… well let’s see.’

Paul let her speak in her own time.

‘No one knows if she’s alive. I believe Rupert. Dad’s diaries don’t mention her, only me. It looks like Mum knew who my birth mother was, though not Dad’s… affair.’

‘Can we bottle Gloria?’

Mary hugged her husband. ‘From here on, I just need you and Penny.’


Thanksgiving 1995 by Phil Guida

2600 miles of lost causes left behind him. Not looking for happiness through others any longer, a totally new environment, a chance to re-start his life anew was just a hopeful dream. It was a roll of the dice if this move would even workout; an escape from the turmoil more than anything else.

An invitation to a festive holiday changed all of those feelings. Surrounded by a family of strangers, dinner was served. A no meat Thanksgiving was a meal he never experienced before, nor was the act of falling in Love with the hostess of the invite.


Invincible by Rebecca Patajac

Mind cycling through the daily routine, I slowly slide off the bed. I waddle around with my swollen belly, pain erupting from inconveniently placed baby kicks.

I feed the animals, step back inside, breathe. Head spins from standing too long washing dishes. Turn on washing machine, more pain; crouch down, turn, bend, breathe.
I waddle up the stairs. Panting at the top, I head toward the girls’ room.

“Good-morning Mum-mum!” my three year old squeaks, “cuddle please!”

I embrace her.

She nuzzles into my chest “I love you thousands and millions!”
My heart swells and I feel invincible again.


One a Day by Larry LaForge

Miller looks at his watch. The unusually hectic day has had him swamped at his desk. He hasn’t had his opportunity yet, but knows to be patient. It will happen.

Some days it comes easily. Yesterday it was on the morning train commute. The day before it was in the restaurant at lunch. Sunday it was in the supermarket parking lot.

It has to be spontaneous and genuine. It can’t be forced.

Miller has committed to it every single day. He never misses, and it always finds him.

When it does, he’ll seize the opportunity to brighten someone’s day.

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


Life’s Good by Irene Waters

“The operation was successful. We expect a full recovery.” The doctor said. She left happy.

“Knowing your Mum will be okay I can’t wait. I love you so much. Will you marry me?” She nodded, her heart filled to overflowing with love and joy.

Blissfully reflecting on her day, she slowly became aware of her surroundings; tall trees with moss on their trunks, a view to the sea, soft grass. She was in heaven.

“Henry Miller” she said out loud, “according to you, now might be the time to die but life’s good and I choose to live.”


Hundred Year Cookbook by Sarah Unsicker

The cookbook cover was frayed and worn, but the binding had stayed intact over the years. The effort it took to read Grandmother’s script was well worth it as she felt the scratchy wool of Grandmother’s sweater and smelled the combination of baked chicken and nutmeg, the way this kitchen had smelled when she was a child. Add cinnamon! Grandmother had written in this sweet roll recipe. Cecilia remembered feasting on these rolls every Saturday of her childhood.

With the cookbook invoking so many fond memories, it was no wonder she loved to bake.


Feeling Good by Anne Goodwin

They laughed when I told of my desire; it was no surprise when you laughed too.

You claimed you were different, you claimed that you cared.

You prodded and cajoled me to dig deeper still. You absorbed all my words and left me only tears.

You cut me open; put my ugly wanting on display. Like an old-time fairground freak show, the butt of scorn.

You stared at it lovingly, never once averting your gaze. You named it beautiful, exciting, brave.

You helped me to touch it. I laughed, you laughed, we laughed in perfect harmony, brimming with joy.


Merlin Learns a New Way: Part II by Tally Pendragon

“On balance, I think I’ll stay,” I reply to this woman named Anna, who clearly knows who’s boss! I give her my real smile too, the one that says I’m glad she can cut through convention to what really matters. I don’t get the chance to use this one often.

“Good!” she replies, hands on hips and a damp ringlet brushing her cheek where her efforts have worked it loose from its braid. The man she’s just patched up looks up at her, shocked thanks written in his worn features. “Because now we have a wedding to get to!”


Jessica? by Pete Fanning

He edged closer—through the whispers of those gathering—towards the shyest girl at Redding High. She sang out. Her hands danced along the keys, flooding the roadside piano with a melody that was both beautiful and tragic.

It really was her, ordinary Jessica singing like an angel, her confidence building as her voice soared above the hum of traffic and everyday life.

When she finished they all cheered. Evan snuck off, into the sun, looking back one last time.

Good for her.


Delivering the Goods by Paula Moyer

Jean was fed up. Stopping a medication she had been on for 20 years “may cause” caffeine-withdrawal migraine. Three days running.

And this new guy. Enthusiastic as a puppy. Why did she leave him that voicemail? Her headaches?

She dropped off her kids at the ex’s, snaked back home and plopped on the couch beside a pile of laundry.

Brrrnng. “Jean, it’s Steve. Got your message. Ouch. So sorry. Need some company?”

Wow, Jean, thought. How to show up!

“My hair’s dirty. The place is a wreck,” Jean mumbled. “Come on over.”

No pause: “Sure. What can I bring?”


What I’d Buy You by Charli Mills

If I had a trillion dollars, I’d buy you Bob’s Red Mill. The gluten-free division. I’d rebuild it in your back yard and every morning you’d rise to the smell of blueberry muffin happiness. I’d buy the land between Idaho and Kansas, moving it somewhere else so we could be closer and laugh out loud between our open doors. I’d buy you a costume-making business and you could make us those riding dresses we saw online, and I’d buy us horses to ride to your wedding. But money can’t buy what we already share: a friendship that feels good.


Mr. & Mrs. Brant: we all hope these stories leave you feeling as good as your recent wedding merger in the land of sunshine! Congratulations!

Literary Compassion

1000Voices_zps11edff99February 20, 2015 marks a special occasion: bloggers around the world have committed to speaking out on compassion. #1000Speak. Voices unite. Words move mountains. Compassion is expressed.

Many will be writing today about topics, people and places they have compassion for. Some will write to share awareness. Some will tackle the daunting questions — what is compassion and how can we arouse it in others? Compassion is a deep well from which we can draw.

My take is literary compassion: how writing literature can be an exercise in finding compassion; how reading literature can be an entry point to developing compassion for people, places or causes; and how literary communities can be compassionate places to grow among other word artists.

Writing Literature: How to Find Compassion for a Soldier

My journey to write Miracle of Ducks was one to find compassion for my husband, a former US Army Ranger.  Often we have compassion for war-torn places. We protest war. And we feel puzzled as to why anyone would volunteer to go to war.

Soldiers serve. I never really understood that about my husband because he signed up for the military and got out all before I knew him. I recall his mom saying how scared she was when she learned he was on a C130 headed to Grenada. In military history, “Operation Urgent Fury” was the shortest conflict that America ever fought. Many don’t even remember the event and other soldiers often scoff that it “wasn’t a war.” Even my husband minimized his experience until he went t a 20 year reunion for the event.

Thanks to a friend, I began to volunteer with soldiers in need of stress-relief. It opened my heart to my husband and understanding his experience. Soldiers are human. I began to feel compassion for those who have served so I began to think about a character who is trying to understand why her husband would suddenly want to go to Iraq 20 years after getting out of the service. My character, Danni Gordon, is left behind with her husband’s three hunting dogs. She even contemplates leaving him. But he doesn’t come home; he goes missing.

In this scene, Danni is coping with her grief by collecting the stories of war widows. She’s making an effort to understand why her husband Ike would have put himself in a war zone voluntarily.

From Miracle of Ducks by Charli Mills

“Okay, Genny. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, today. I want to let you know I am using audio equipment to fully record your stories.” Danni explained and listened to the ear piece to make sure her voice, as interviewer, was picking up.

“And I thought you were just draping me in newfangled techno-jewelry.” Genny joked, sitting upright on the studio stool.

Danni smiled. “Just required to state the obvious: you’re being recorded. As I mentioned to you on the phone, I am a historical archaeologist, meaning I collect both written and oral data that can be used to assist with the scientific recovery of data from the ground.”

“So, one day when they dig up the war zones of this century, there will be oral data to support it?”

“Something like that,” said Danni.

“Well, honestly, I don’t know how much light I can shed on war or military.”

“Actually, I’m here to collect your story as a war widow,” said Danni sitting down opposite Genny.

They were in a tiny studio at Northland College in Ashland. Danni was using her skills to collect these stories from war wives and widows. If Ike could serve, she’d find a way to serve, too. It was like the time when Danni had been a fellow on Baffin Island and she used audio equipment in the field to collect the disappearing oral traditions of the Inuit. Back then, nothing had surprised her more than to hear throat singing first hand. She wondered what would surprise her today.

“Why are you doing this,” asked Genny.

“I’ve interviewed a woman whose husband was a pilot in WWII and several women in our community whose husbands have or are serving in Iraq. I’ve even met other women who were married to Vietnam vets and one who is the war widow of the Korean conflict. They said no one ever asked for their stories before.”

“Why me,” asked Genny.

“My husband served with yours. After my husband went to Brad’s funeral, he enlisted with a private security company and tried to explain to me his need to serve. I’m trying to understand. I thought your story would be important to this collection.”

“You do know that Brad and I were divorced almost 10 years before he was killed,” Genny said.

“Married or divorced doesn’t matter. Your story can communicate what it is like to be a war widow. Ike said you were at Brad’s funeral.”

Genny was silent, poised on the stool in the studio. Then she asked, “I’ve heard through the grapevine that Ike went over to train for Watersand Security. He seemed to get the ‘brother fever’ at Brad’s funeral, but I never did hear what came of him. Are you a war widow?”

“I don’t know. Ike’s been missing for 15 months. Officially, Watersand Security called off the search.”

“I’m sorry,” said Genny.

“I’m doing this because I want to hear something different than ‘I’m sorry.’ I’m trying to understand. When Ike came back from Brad’s funeral, raving about how he was needed over there, I thought he was deranged. I thought it was a mid-life crisis. Why do they put themselves in danger?”


After I wrote the novel I felt more compassion for my husband, his army brothers and those who serve. Writing literature can be a powerful experience and can bring about the understanding necessary to feel compassion for something outside our own experiences.

Reading Literature: Getting Readers to Care About Something

My second novel is still a work in progress and its working title is Warm Like Melting Ice. I found Will Steger’s Global Warming 101 Expedition across Baffin Island (2007) so profound that I have wanted to write about the people of Baffin Island ever since. In 2008 I had the privilege of hosting a farm tour and dinner for the first ever cultural exchange of high school students from Baffin Island to Minnesota. I wanted others to know about this cultural group. I wanted others to develop compassion for their plight with melting ice.

Here’s a video that shares a story that moves me. Note the compassion that the Inuit guide expresses in his statement:

Literature can draw us into to stories we didn’t know about. We meet characters in situations we didn’t think existed. We finish the book and know about a new place. We get curious about those who live there and we learn that climate change is a big threat. Suddenly, a reader who once dismissed climate change, has a change of heart. She’s found compassion through literature.

The following stories are from 21 writers who all took on writing 99-words of literature using compassion as a prompt. What we find in reading these stories is a variety of situations, points of view and understanding we may not have had prior to reading. Think about it. A reader can feel compassion in 99 words. It’s a seed, a beginning, a turning point. Literature matters: Stories of Compassion.

Literary Communities: Places of Compassion

It’s not easy, walking the road to becoming a published author. Some writers are content to blog, others call their writing a hobby and some work at it t build a career. No matter, each writer communicates with an unknown world. Negative comments about quality of writing or content, bad reviews or the difficulty of finding an audience can break down a writer’s resolve. A community can form out of like-minded writers, fellow pilgrims on the path, to take the sting out of sore feet.

“When we offer more to others than what we ask of them in return, good things happen. When we work to benefit the greater good of our literary circles, everyone benefits.” Lori A, May, author of “Why Literary Citizenship Matters.”

What does compassion look like in literary communities? It’s writers who focus on building up other writers, who point out strengths, who create safe places for writers to express voice or practice craft without judgement. Compassion is found in acts of encouragement, sharing experiences, reading, commenting, sharing writing. Meet the Rough Writers who form a compassionate literary group at Carrot Ranch.

Please take time to read about compassion for the bloggers supporting #1000Speak. Use literature to express, encourage and explore compassion.

We are writing around the world in one big literary connection:


How to Find the Rodeo

RodeoIf the ride to getting published is a rodeo, then you need to find places to ride. In other words, you need a game plan for your manuscript. Just as a cowboy might map out the range of rodeos in his area, so will a writer map out her places to present her manuscript. If a cowboy rides broncs, he won’t be interested in the bull riding festivals. If a writer writes mysteries, she won’t send her manuscript to a publisher of romance. Thus it is important to research the rodeos.

First, let’s clarify different paths to publication.  We want to be clear on which rodeo we are seeking.

A writer has more options than ever to get published:

  1. Independent (indie) publishing (self-publishing)
  2. Commercial publishing (traditional publishing)

My rodeo arena of choice is the traditional publishing path. I received my Bachelor of Arts in creative writing in 1998. Back then, I was encouraged to seek an MFA to get published. I even met with a literary agent who voiced the same advice. Reality was that I needed to find a job before I could continue.

Fast-forward to 2012 and I was ready to make the leap to finish at least one of my manuscripts. In that span of time, an MFA lost some relevancy. First, too much time elapsed after my first degree and I no longer had professors to recommend me and second, I really didn’t care to go in debt any further on student loans. The return for income as a writer does not equal the debt for earning degrees.

So I skipped the MFA. But all along, I’ve worked at keeping my creative skills sharp by attending annual workshops on craft. And I built a writing portfolio from my freelancing. It’s important to keep creativity in tact, to learn and to grow. I also read books on craft and good novels that I truly enjoyed to read.

Next I had to do what I set out to do — write that novel! I took a different kind of workshop that focused on preparing a manuscript for book publication. It helped me arrange my scenes and eventually chapters. I sent it to beta readers and revised it. Then I sent it to an editor for an analysis and revised it twice more. After that, I sent it to an editor for copy-editing. And I revised, line by line in accordance to her changes and suggestions.

I mention all this because of the rodeo arena I have selected — commercial publishing. There is a higher standard and a concern for marketability. My choice means that I might be asked to use a different saddle or even horse if I get a chance to ride. That means, I might have to make changes to make it acceptable for publication because commercial publishing houses want what they think they can sell.

And the word “sell” is key here. It will make you answer questions like:

  1. What genre is your book?
  2. Who would want to read it and why?
  3. What other books are similar to yours?
  4. How is your book different?
  5. Will it sell?

If you are uncomfortable with these questions, take stock of that now. Because this rodeo arena is a hard ride! If you have a book that you want to publish the way you wrote it, traditional publishing may not be the right venue. In fact, you’ll most likely earn less profit. So why do it? Personally, it ties back to my own training in the craft and to get “picked up” would be to fulfill a long-held goal. It feels more “credible” to get published by a commercial house.

Those are merely my own thoughts. You need to think long and hard on your reasoning. However, if this is your chosen path know that we have greater opportunities than ever before.

For example, many large commercial houses have created imprints for specific genres. There are more smaller commercial houses and many are specific to the region where you live or to the stories you want to write.

Therefore, we’ve come to the most important strategy to make this publishing ride work: Research!

Once you have defined your genre and target audience, you need to decide if you are going to go directly to publishers or to a literary agent who can represent you to publishers. It depends upon the size of publishing house you are seeking (some only accept manuscript submissions from agents) and how much time you are willing to wait. It can be a long process to find an agent and longer yet for them to sell your manuscript.

If you are interested in smaller publishing houses, regional presses, or even the growing hybrids (like Booktrope), you most likely won’t need an agent. Whatever you decide, have your manuscript scrubbed clean (and don’t blunder like I did and send a dirty copy). While you are finishing the polishing touches (best achieved through a trusted and professional editor; I use the Write Divas) research the best matches for your manuscript.

How do you find the publishers (or agents)? Here’s several ideas:

  1. Subscribe to the magazine, “Writer’s Digest” or at least follow their editor blogs.
  2. Purchase a current copy of “Writer’s Market” that comes with an online publisher database (if this is not affordable, go to your local library and use the reference guide there).
  3. Subscribe to the free weekly newsletter “Funds for Writers.” C. Hope Clark often includes publishing houses and agents seeking clients.
  4. If you live in a large metropolitan area, use your telephone yellow pages.

What do you want to research once you find the resources?

  1. Look up your resources online because bookmarking your selections is the quickest way to organize and filter your search. I set up folders designating publishing houses by “commercial,” “regional” and “hybrid.” I keep a separate folder for agents.
  2. Find out if your manuscript fits. Even agents seek specific genres. Carefully read  what they do not accept. Sometimes, in our excitement, we miss the words, “do not.”
  3. Find out if they are accepting submissions.
  4. Find out how they want submissions. This can vary widely so read their guidelines thoroughly.
  5. Note how long they will take to get back to you, or if they will. Many agents or publishers will only contact you “if interested.”

Set up a strategy:

  1. Start with your best matches.
  2. Reread the guidelines and if time has passed since you last researched, make sure they are still accepting submissions.
  3. Be thoughtful and thorough with your submission (don’t blunder out the gate like I did, and if you do, get back in there and ride again).
  4. Just do it! Hit send! Post the package! Many a cowboy has sat on the bull’s back in the bucking shoot and decided not to ride; but he sticks to it. So will you! Set aside fear and doubt.
  5. Expect rejection. I know a writer who posts all her rejections with joy because it means she had the courage to ride and she’s one less rejection closer to her goal.
  6. If you are lucky enough to receive feedback, consider it.
  7. Explore options for attending conferences that focus on getting published more than on craft. Make sure the conference has a good line-up of literary agents and publishers. Don’t go to a huge conference; find something in between to give you the chance to meet publishers and agents.

I’m a new rider, so if you have further experience or knowledge, please share! How have you gone about finding a publishing house for your book?

Stories of Compassion

Stories of CompassionCompassion is complex. It involves both empathy and action, but how much of each and for whom? How is compassion aroused? Can it be taught? One person can lack compassion for animals and another weep for their plight. Relationships and the self are both in need of compassion. Does it have to be received before it can be given?

As a reader, you might be surprised by the variety and you might not agree on every interpretation. The point is that writers have explored the idea of compassion and literature seeks to make sense of that undertaking. Join the discussion in the comments!

This week, writers answered a special call to write stories that explore compassion in support of February 20, 2015 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. The following stories are based on the February 11, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that demonstrates compassion.

Embracing the Individual by Geoff Le Pard

The girl laid flowers on the mossy grave. ‘What was grandpa like, Dad?’

Her father said, ‘He was a mixture of things, love. Kind, caring…’

‘At school they say he was gay.’

‘Yes. He was. After he divorced grandma he realised…’

‘And they say he had a weird religion.’

Her father forced a small smile. ‘A Buddhist. Not many in Liverpool.’

‘And he lived with a black man.’

Her father knelt down. ‘Those things are just dull wrapping paper. You have to rip that off to find the gift inside. Everyone is different but everyone is still a gift.’


True Grit by Sherri Matthews

The old man went down at the first push. “Not so tough now, are yer?” spat Vin as he aimed a heavy kick into the man’s ribs.

The others laughed and jeered, their voices echoing in the dimly lit alley. Vin threw his arm around Joe’s neck as they walked back to the pub.

“I warned that old git before not to ask for money. He had it coming.”

“Yeah, good on yer mate,” Joe lied, pulling away. “Look, I need a slash, you go on…”

Joe slipped behind a charity shop, then ran back to the old man.


Coffee Break by Larry LaForge

Robert scooted from his early morning sociology class to the coffee shop downtown.

Turning onto Main, he spotted someone sitting on the corner holding a crude cardboard sign: A FRIEND IN NEED. He watched as many passersby nodded with sympathy but generally avoided eye contact. Some folks tossed coins into the box without missing a step as they continued on.

Robert checked his pocket for cash, entered the cafe, and ordered two large coffees to go.

“Cream and sugar?” Robert asked as he plopped down next to the vagrant.

They talked for two hours about sports, weather and politics.

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


Compassion by Luccia Gray

I closed the storybook.

“The writer depicts a poor, hungry, and frightened little match girl with bare head and naked feet in the snow, lighting matches to keep warm, before finally dying while sitting against a wall on the pavement.”

“That happened a long time ago, Mrs. Smith. It doesn’t happen anymore.”

I turned on the projector.

“The journalist was killed after watching a little baby’s horrific death. She saw shells, rockets and tank fire during the massacre.”

“Wars are different.”

“It’s never different. It’s the same over and over; greed, hate, violence, suffering, and worst of all…. indifference.”


Mutiny by Paula Moyer

Sunnie couldn’t take it anymore. True, Jean disregarded her homework. She sassed. But Jean was little. Watching Mrs. O’Brien drag Jean out of class hurt.

“I can’t stand it!” Sunnie cried inside.

The next day at recess, Sunnie began conspiring. “We need to stop this,” she said over and over. Finally two classmates agreed.

During spelling class with Mrs. Pearl, Sue said, “Mrs. Pearl, Mrs. O’Brien isn’t fair.”

Sunnie spoke up. “She’s always mean, but she picks on Jean more.”

Annie then said, “That’s right. She picks on Jean.”

Mrs. Pearl listened, then said quietly: “I need to know.”


Understanding by Norah Colvin

In the ‘smart’ outfit carefully selected by the charity shop attendant, Marnie was surprised how well the confident exterior masked the whirlpool of fear, anxiety and insecurity.

Without looking up, the receptionist handed Marnie a number and waved her to the waiting area.

“9”. Her heart sank. “That many?”

Avoiding contact and ‘contamination’, she squeezed into the only available space: between a boy slouching awkwardly and a girl picking her fingernails.

The girl started crying. Marnie stiffened, but glanced sideways. The girl cried into her sleeve.

Marnie breathed, proffered her unopened purse packet of ‘just-in-case’ tissues, and smiled, “Here.”


Sole Mates by Pete Fanning

“Yo Marcus, what is on your feet?”

Marcus shrugged. His white socks glowed under the filthy pair of shoes. He got a few laughs as he did a dance and found his seat.

“Yo, check it out,” someone said. Clinton plodded sheepishly to his desk, his steps pronounced by a shiny pair of Lebron James sneakers.

Marcus smiled, yesterday he’d watched the snickering and pointing over Clint’s split and frayed Nike’s. Then last night he tried to put himself in Clint’s shoes. And only minutes ago, when he’d found Clint whimpering in a bathroom stall, that’s what he did.

(Author’s Note: This was based on a story I read a few weeks back.)


Rainy Night by Kalpana Solsi

Finishing her frugal dinner of dry loaf of bread and yoghurt, she tucked the spare loaf into the wicker basket for next morning.

The rain lashed on the window pane engulfing her little cottage with its ferocity.

Who could it be at the door at this time of the night? There was no soul when she saw through the peep-hole. She cautiously opened the door and he sneaked inside between her legs.

Ramming the door she looked into his innocent eyes sending waves of compassion.

Woof, woof he said. Smilingly, she took out the loaf.

Tomorrow is another day.


Compassion by C. Jai Ferry

The reality show slipped into a commercial break, and his fiancée wiggled her hand in front of him again.

“My sister’s gonna flip with jealousy.” She smirked, splaying her fingers wide. “I can’t wait!”

He turned back to the screen. Puppy eyes stared at him as melancholy notes seeped from the television’s speakers.

She groaned. “They should just put them down.”

“Excuse me?”

“It would save money.” She shrugged, then readjusted her ring. “No one wants them anyway.”

He clasped her hands in his, kissed her cheek, and slid the ring from her finger. He’d make a better investment.


Compassion by Irene Waters

So beautiful. No external mark hinted at the catastrophic injuries she had sustained in the crash. She was my patient and I would give her the last dignities of life despite the tubes which gave her breath and drained her fluids.

“I’ll get security. The boyfriend’s getting angry. I’ve told him it’s relatives only. Some people.” My colleague went off, her huff travelling with her.

Some people indeed, I thought. I couldn’t leave my charge. I called over another colleague, who did my bidding.

The boyfriend stood behind the closed curtain with me. Tears streamed from four eyes. We hugged.


Compassion for the Relationship by Anne Goodwin

We never reserved I love you for Valentine’s and anniversaries, so why should it matter that, this year, you forgot? Yet I contemplate arsenic-on-toast for your breakfast; you couldn’t even bring me a cup of tea in bed.

Once you’re cleaned, fed and dressed, we wait for the sitter. The hairdresser’s booked and the theatre, a restaurant reservation for one.

This evening, when I’m calm again, we’ll look through the photographs. “Who’s that handsome man with the carnation buttonhole?” I’ll say. I won’t mind if you can’t tell me; my memories of our marriage are strong enough for two.


Compassion Disjunction by Pat Cummings

“Attacks Against Schoolgirls on the Rise” he reads, and sips his coffee. Next page of the paper, he sees “University Shooting Victim Left Paralyzed”. He brushes bagel crumbs from his shirt; they land on the page over “Racial Slurs Written on Stabbed Woman’s Body”. He shakes the paper, flips to the international section. “Jordanian Pilot Burned Alive in Shocking Video” provokes a “tsk” as he takes another sip of coffee. He scans onward.

With his last sip of morning coffee, his throat closes, and tears spring to his eyes, as he reads “35 Cats Dead in Weekend House Fire.”


Her Worth by Charli Mills

The old mare hung her head low, lips quivered above grass-forsaken dirt, ribs protruded beneath a swayed back. She was broken.

“How much you want for her,” asked the Fed Ex driver.

A lean cowboy scrawled his signature for his box. “That nag?”

“That our wine?” A beautiful woman stepped out onto the deck.

The cowboy winked at the Fed Ex man. “There’s a beauty worth buying.”

“Can’t afford that one. How much for the horse?”

He knew his boss would ask how a starving mare got into the back of his van, but already her ears had perked.


No One Should Have It Coming by Amber Prince

“He’s a troublemaker.”

“He has been in trouble before, but I wouldn’t call him a troublemaker.”

“Does it matter? It wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“It does matter, it’s a big deal, he came to you for help and you ignored him.”

“I heard what he had to say, but how was I to know that the other kid was going to actually do something? That one is a good student.”

“And now?”

“What do you want me to say? That I’m sorry? Fine, but the boy had it coming.”

“You’re wrong. No one should have it coming.”


Lucky by Nicky Torode

He etched the final day onto his wall. As he walked out the gates, he drunk in the sunlight like he had done 15 years ago. The first thing he’d promised himself was to go to 289 Phoenix Road – the destination he had been planning for 14.5 years. As he approached the building, he saw the man’s familiar silhouette opening his door. This was his lucky day. Picking the lock, he entered. He pulled out the paraffin, struck the match. This is for me and the other innocent ones you got locked up, he yelled, free at last.


Merlin Learns a New Way by Tally Pendragon

Anna thought and worked quickly, stanching the flow of blood with a cord around the man’s leg, patching up the gash the falling masonry had made, and being sure that he was safe, in mind and body, before moving on through the mass of poorer dwellings all huddled together like shy schoolgirls.

“Next time you can do the healing, Merlin!”


“Did you think yours was to be a watching ministry while you’re with us?”

“But surely healing’s for women.”

“Healing’s what the ministry’s all about, whether you’re man or woman, Merlin. Get used to it, or go home!”


Invisible by Sarah Brentyn

“We’re late!” Jeremy snatched his coat from the closet. “Mum!”

“I know! Stop…stop yelling. We’ll be right there.”

“Mum, seriously! Coach will bench me!”

The clicking of cleats on tile echoed down the hallway. Jeremy’s face tightened with each step. He swung into the kitchen, “If I have to sit this game out I’ll…”

His mother sat on the floor stroking his little brother’s hair as he reached out again and again, touching the edge of the countertop. She didn’t look up. “We’ll be right there.”

“No, it’s good.” Jeremy crouched down. “We’ll go when you’re ready, okay buddy?”


A Plate of Food by Ruchira Khanna

Sarita opened the door to her maid, who had brought her kid to work.

“He is my son; Jay.” introduced the maid in pride.

“Friend’s?” Sarita’s son, Hari extended his hands towards him.

“Sure” nodded Jay and they walked towards the toys.

While playing, Sarita brought a plate of food for her son.

Jay pretended to play while Hari was being fed. Just then, a morsel came towards him.

He looked up to see Hari’s hand holding a snack.

With moist eyes, he took the grub and soon both the boys were munching and giggling away.


Compassionate Neighbours by Susan Zutautas

Easter was approaching and there was barely enough food to feed the family of six let alone get the children any chocolate eggs or bunnies.

Stop worrying Agnes, surely some work will turn up soon, said Roy.

Normally he was right but Agnes felt deep in her heart that this year there’d be no ham on their table for dinner.

It was Good Friday and Agnes heard a knock at the door. No one was there but there was a fairly large box sitting on the porch. It was filled with food, chocolate, and a ham.

Agnes’ heart melted.


An Arm Outstretched by Geoff Le Pard

‘Your mum never knew.’ Mary’s Aunt Gloria sipped tea. ‘About the twin.’


‘I don’t know her name. Sharon was your imaginary friend.’

‘Do you know what happened to her?’ Mary shivered; she hadn’t told Gloria about the bones in the garden. ‘She is dead, isn’t she?’

Gloria sighed. ‘Have you asked Rupert?’

Her hated half-brother.

Gloria wiped her mouth. ‘This is killing you, isn’t it? Come on, let’s go and see him and get to the bottom of all this.’ She enveloped Mary in her grandmotherly bosom. ‘Poor thing. Your dad was many things, but not a monster.’

Graphic crafted by The Quiet Muse.

Graphic crafted by The Quiet Muse.

Link up! Today is THE DAY! #1000Speak. Add your voice: 1000 Speak. Link up.

February 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

February 18Feeling good, though it’s been a rough day for technology. My “o” key is skipping, my power fluctuating and my satellite Internet slow as spring syrup dripping from a tapped maple tree. It got me outside in the sunshine and gave me the opportunity to talk to four different tech reps with my Internet provider. Feeling good after my melt-down with the final rep led to her fixing what I kept trying to point out was the problem.

Ever feel that way? It feels like problem upon problem and at the breaking point they clear like storm clouds and you see the beauty behind the storm? Yes, it’s that kind of after-the-storm-has-passed feeling good. My blog connectivity is fixed and I can share the Return of Robins to the Hood.

Compassion is still on my mind. Maybe because that last rep cared enough to listen to me when I hit the breaking point instead of repeating what her customer service manual suggested she do. It’s on my mind because we are approaching #1000 Voice Speak for Compassion on February 20, and because the last round of Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction: Stories of Compassion are amazing.

So I’m going to push feeling good. Here’s a little Michael Bublé to set the tone:

And I have a celebration to share. One of the heart, not the page. We have many readers of our stories at Carrot Ranch who remain anonymous, but regularly I see them “liking” and “sharing” our compilations of 99 words. It feels good to have readers, especially dedicated ones.

One of these regular readers is the Hub’s Kansas sister. She’s the one who took me to Rock Creek in October. I’ll call her Glutard because it will make her laugh and I love to hear her laugh. And I wish her much laughter and many years of feeling good; she is getting married this Sunday.

So, I’d like to offer our special reader a wedding gift of stories that feel good. Stories about how compassion makes the receiver or the giver feel. Stories of happy-ever-after endings. Stories about outrageous wedding gifts or the most incredible weddings ever. Go with where the prompt takes you, but return with a story that feels good.

February 18, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling good. Is it a relationship? A new dawn, a new day? A reprieve or a relief from earlier tension? Does it come from giving or receiving a gift? Is it the result of compassion? If you hear wedding bells, add them to the story.

Respond by February 24, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


What I’d Buy You by Charli Mills

If I had a trillion dollars, I’d buy you Bob’s Red Mill. The gluten-free division. I’d rebuild it in your back yard and every morning you’d rise to the smell of blueberry muffin happiness. I’d buy the land between Idaho and Kansas, moving it somewhere else so we could be closer and laugh out loud between our open doors. I’d buy you a costume-making business and you could make us those riding dresses we saw online, and I’d buy us horses to ride to your wedding. But money can’t buy what we already share: a friendship that feels good.


Rough Writers, check out the updated collaboration page.

Blunder Out the Gate

RodeoLast week I refined an idea to call my ride to publication, “The Rodeo.” The reality of today’s publishing market is as unforgiving as that bull once he busts out the gate.

Hitting the ground is part of the ride. It’s not personal when a bull stomps your belly; neither is it personal when an publisher or agent never gets back to you.

Today, I discovered an embarrassing blunder and at least I can say with great confidence, I know why this particular publisher will never get back to me. I sent the wrong manuscript. Right title; right revision; wrong edit version.

I don’t know about you, but I get lost in all my revisions. I don’t mean revising, I mean all the versions of my novel that hold space in my folders. They are organized numerically and by date. My revisions exist in Scrivener and as Word Docs. The latter, I share with beta readers or my editor.

When the last revision returned to me it was the final revision with the final edits. But wait — I had to accept the corrections and make recommended changes. I had to accept the commas and change awkward sentences. In my haste — yes, I recall Laura Ingalls quoting Pa, “haste makes waste” — I wasted my opportunity. I thought I had saved the changes, but I sent a file with the complete mark-up of edits on every single page.

Picture this: you are in a writing class. You spend the semester writing, revising and critiquing short stories. Your professor encourages you to send off your latest revision to a literary magazine. But instead of mailing your clean re-write, you mail the professor’s last round of remarks which leaves each page looking like a bloodbath.

Do you think the editor of the literary magazine is going to try to read your submission buried beneath red ink? Most likely, not.

Worse, I recall a similar scenario at work — reading resumes. I was part of the hiring team and often had to read numerous resumes while I was busy with my own department and work. Sometimes I would find such absurd mistakes that I would share the laugh with my team or the HR manager. I cringe to think my submission made someone laugh — look at that mistake!

Rodeo stock-riders make mistakes, too. Especially right out the gate (meaning, your first ride). So I’m going to share a laugh with you, courtesy of comedian, Bill Engavall. When he says, “I am a cowboy,” substitute, “I am a writer!” This is what my first ride felt like, but I’m all psyched up to try again!

Lessons learned from Ride 1:

  1. Now I know what the ride feels like.
  2. A friend cached me on how to save my changes.
  3. Next time I won’t submit in haste. This isn’t a race. It’s a rodeo.

A big buckaroo shout-out to the talented photographer, Jamie Miles. That amazing bull ride photo is her work. I’ve long been a fan of her photography (she covers country music concerts) and when she posted photos from a national bull riding event I asked her if I could purchase one. Consider ways that artists can support artists.

Any feedback for a newbie taking the ride to get published? What was your first ride like? Did you ever blunder? How did you bounce back?


February 11: Flash Fiction Challenge

February 11An engine lurches and mutters to a halt. It’s so dark outside, the night is like obsidian, but I see dim headlights and a bobbing flashlight as a man tries to open the hood to the engine of his logging truck. The Hub puts on shoes and a jacket to go outside and help a stranger broke down in the night.

My friend is a retired Navy photographer. She tells people she had it easy. “Not like you,” she says to the Army soldier seated in front of her. He’s completed two tours of duty in Iraq and is reluctant to admit he has trouble sleeping. My friend pokes acupuncture needles in both his ears to reduce “stress.” No one mentions the P-word that can mar a soldier’s career. Yet the auricular acupuncture offered regularly, helps. My friend volunteers every other Wednesday at Fort Snelling and has not missed a day in seven years.

I hired a dynamic young woman to take over the education and outreach at my organization. At her first community outreach meeting, which she would take over eventually, she listens to a donation request made by the friend of a woman who is pregnant and battling breast cancer. “Please, can the co-op help her buy some healthy food.” I look over at my new hire and know I made the right choice. Tears stream down her face as she nods, yes.

Online, I follow a local social media group for news on jobs or postings for trades. A woman posts the comment, “I have a question please. Am I the only one on these Facebook sites that finds it offensive when people sadly have a tragedy in their lives.” I want  to answer, I hope you are the only one! How can another person’s tragedy be offensive? Why is it, not all people can feel compassion.

What is compassion?

Although my handy-dandy (American) dictionary defines compassion as “sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another or others” it also defines pity with the same phrase. However, the important differentiation is that compassion is  “accompanied by an urge to help” whereas pity “sometimes connotes slight contempt because the object is regarded as weak or inferior.”

To me, the woman with the question felt pity for “people [who] sadly have tragedy” because she felt contempt for how they asked for help or handled their donations. A person in need is not an inferior human. Even a person who makes mistakes or misjudgements or lacks compassion (like this woman with a question) is not inferior.

Compassion is kind. It is merciful. It is loving. It is not withheld for the privileged few. It can even extend to horses and peat moss and all of life.

Rough Writers, Norah Colvin and Anne Goodwin, introduce us to two words that extend from compassion. Weltschmerz: “world pain” or the grief we feel at how the world keeps falling short of our expectations.   Meliorism: having a belief that the world can be improved by the actions of humans. Anne sums up the interaction of the two words:

“Both are useful: weltschmerz enabling us to care enough about what’s wrong and meliorism driving us to try to do something about it.”

That is what compassion looks like in action. Yet, another compassionate action is taking hold — #1000Speak. It is a call for 1000 voices blogging for compassion on February 20. When I think of compassionate bloggers, I think of another Rough Writer, Ruchira Khanna who writes an inspirational blog with daily mantras at Abracabadra. Imagine a concerted effort by bloggers in one day to write with words that make a difference in the lives of others!

This is what it looks like in a video created by Tamara Woods who encourages us to “break the internet with compassion”:

So this week we will tackle stories that reveal compassion. In addition to our compilation, I will link to it in my own #1000Speak post on February 20. When spreading your own stories or posts, use the hashtag for greater visibility.

February 11, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that demonstrates compassion. You can explore weltschmerz (enabling us to care enough about what’s wrong) and meliorism (driving us to try to do something about it) if you want to explore those specific terms. Consider posting on February 20, too.

Respond by February 17, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Her Worth by Charli Mills

The old mare hung her head low, lips quivered above grass-forsaken dirt, ribs protruded beneath a swayed back. She was broken.

“How much you want for her,” asked the Fed Ex driver.

A lean cowboy scrawled his signature for his box. “That nag?”

“That our wine?” A beautiful woman stepped out onto the deck.

The cowboy winked at the Fed Ex man. “There’s a beauty worth buying.”

“Can’t afford that one. How much for the horse?”

He knew his boss would ask how a starving mare got into the back of his van, but already her ears had perked.


Ranch-keeping for Rough Writers: I’m working on how to communicate my ideas for the collaboration. Bear with me as I seek my words. And, I can use an Amazon widget for the bookstore, but it’s an affiliate thing so I’m trying to verify that I would be helping you in book sales, not robbing you! That would be embarrassing to this buckaroo. But I like the idea of populating the page with the ability to purchase the books rather than link to Amazon. Is there anyone with a preference or who is not selling on Amazon?

Look for my first Rodeo post tomorrow! I purchased a real bull-riding photo (as if that’s going to help my cause for publication). Of course, I still believe in me lucky charms if you care to step over Elmira Pond Spotter and take a peek at my peat.

Aunts Like Mixed Nuts

Aunts Like Mixed NutsOften the grand dames of the family tree are nutty aunts. Gather them into one bowl, and you’ve got aunts like mixed nuts. This week, writers shared stories and sketches of aunts who smell like garlic, pinch cheeks and bust broncos. Some are based on true family accounts (BOTS) and others are fictionalized. However, if you are an aunt and you recognize yourself in a story, it’s purely coincidence!

No family trees were harmed in the making of this compilation based on the February 4, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a nutty aunt.


Aunt Bronco Billy by Charli Mills

“No one cared where I’d go,” Aunt Billy said to the children sitting cross-legged at her booted feet. Her rocker creaked with undulating bulk.

“Not your Ma?” asked the youngest. The others shushed him.

“Nope. Too many chits and not enough beans.” She puffed a hand-rolled cigarette and snuffed it on a beer bottle.

“Won this silver belt buckle at the Clay County Rodeo.” She grinned and lifted up her belly from the belt that girdled her faded gauchos. The kids grinned back, some nearly as toothless as the celebrity aunt who once busted broncos for buckles and bucks.


Auntie Boodie by Irene Waters

We stood mourning at the graveside. I wondered if anyone really knew Auntie Boudie. Perhaps the man they talked of in hushed tones. Another Aunt who lived in sin.

At twelve, Auntie still sent me rag books for Christmas. She knew I existed, unlike the other aunts. Auntie, dressed in hat and gloves, met us at the door when we visited. She sent us to the park whilst giving the adults a five-minute audience. She had the first colour TV I saw– blue cellophane at the top, green at the bottom.

“Thanks Auntie for remembering me.” I dropped my sod.


Aunt Lucy by Luccia Gray

“Your sister should have married.”

“She’s perfectly happy on her own.”

“I suppose you can’t blame anyone for not wanting to live with her, can you?”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s as mad as a hatter.”

“What a horrible thing to say! She’s not mad. She’s just different.”

“Look at her clothes and her sixty-year-old hippy friends. They still smoke pot for crying out loud! Thank God we had the sense to adopt her child so she could have a normal life.”

The door opened.

“I wondered when you were going to tell me Aunt Lucy was my mother.”


Nutty Aunt by Rebecca Patajac

The yelling grew louder and echoed up the stairwell. I cuddled one of my younger sisters.

“Why are you so stupid?” He roared at her.

“Don’t touch me!” She screamed back.

We tip-toed downstairs, tear streaked faces glancing down the hall. My hands shook.

Reaching the front door, we ducked outside.

Fresh air.

We raced, hearts pounding, to our neighbour’s, knowing she had heard it all.

Her front door swung open, a soft smile on her face.

We turned up some music as craft boxes cracked open, flour coated the kitchen and toys spilled across the floor.

Always laughing.


Tia Marañón by Pat Cummings

When I was a kid, this old lady lived next door. She was tiny, wrinkled, and very fragile—and crazy loco! Her name was really Manzana, but we all called her “Tia Marañón”, because she was a nutty apple.

When the sun was warm, she would sit all day on the little front porch and eat cashew nuts. If it was cold, she was inside with the balcony window open, tossing peanut shells into the front yard.

When we passed on our way to school, she would throw them, nuts or shells, and try to hit us. Crazy old apple…


Nutty Aunt by Sarah Unsicker

The rain came down in sheets. The kitchen glowed with light and energy, a serene island in the storm.

“Did you wash your hands?” Cecilia asked.

Chelsea obediently washed her hands. She dumped the butter into the mixer bowl, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Long ago,” Cecilia reminisced, “your grandmother and I sat in here to watch Mama bake cookies. By the time we were ten, we were doing it ourselves.”

By now, the cookies were just about ready to bake.

“Let’s add in some nuts,” Cecilia said as she poured a cup of walnuts into the bowl.


Three Mad Aunts by Tally Pendragon

Long summer evenings in Avalon around the magical solstice, sitting under the stars, constellations rising and setting again. There would be talk of the ancestors and the legendary creatures who came long before: Epona riding her side-saddled horse as her serpent winds by; Eluned, her ring fastened around her neck, not rendering her perpetually invisible to all; and Elaine, the Lady of Shallot, so in love with Lancelot that she dies of a broken heart when her love still remains unrequited. A pretty chain of follies do they make snaking up the twilit hillside, the three mad aunts.


Aunt Farm by Larry LaForge

“Just don’t ask, please.”

“But why, Mom?” Laurie’s third grade class was studying fruits and vegetables. She had questions.

“Don’t get Aunt Bertie started,” Mom said.

They drove down the narrow dirt road several miles before reaching the sign proclaiming AUNT BERTIE’S PEANUT FARM. Laurie loved it that she had a nutty aunt—literally.

They were touring the fields when Laurie made her innocent remark. “Peanuts are my favorite fruit . . . I mean vegetable.” Mom tried to shush her but it was too late.

Aunt Bertie stopped dead in her tracks, immediately launching into her usual rambling lecture about legumes.

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


For the Love of Garlic by Susan Zutautas

Mommy, do we really have to go and visit Aunt Annie again tonight?

Why dear, do you not like your Aunt?

I like her, it’s just that she smells kind of funny.

Her job is handling tobacco all day long making cigarettes dear, so that’s probably why you think she smells funny.

No it’s not that kind of a smell. Daddy smells like cigarettes but she has a different smell to her.

Mommy thought hard about it. Of course, now I know what you’re referring to. Your aunt comes home every Friday night and makes herself a garlic sandwich.


Rough as a Corncob by Pete Fanning

“Marlboro Reds and Budweiser, not that light crap,” Aunt Lynette barked at Mom, who hurried into The Smart Mart. “And get me some Super Glue!”

A twangy country tune played as she fixed her frizzy hair in the rearview. It was Saturday morning. Early. We’d just picked up my aunt from the jailhouse steps. We’d have her until Uncle Pike got over that lump on his head.

“So what’s with the super glue?”

Lynette turned around, a slat missing in a crooked row of beige teeth. “Just a little dental work, Sweetie.”

I squirmed. Uncle Pike had better hurry.


An Aunt’s Antics by Paula Moyer

Aunt Ann’s past revealed itself bit by bit.

Jean was a beginning graduate student doing research at the Oklahoma State Historical Society.

She drove down on Friday night and stayed overnight with her grandmother.

Over dinner, Aunt Ann gave her directions to the Historical Society building. The slight grin suggested a story.

“How’d you make out?” Ann asked her that night.

“All right.”

Jean waited.

“Cousin Madge and I used to roller-skate through the halls,” Ann reminisced. “We timed it so we could roll through the aisle into the elevator, then close the door. The librarian never caught us.”


A Visit to Aunt Freda’s by Roger Shipp

Musty. Hot. The air… more burdensome than moist.

There were no pets. Wait… Once there was a wounded squirrel on the kitchen table in a small cage.

Before dawn, winter or summer, the split, red-oil-clothed kitchen chairs were sweating. The matching cloth settees in the living room were no better.

One small aisle for movement: tables of all sizes…shelves upon shelves… corners enveloping corners: the house was green.

Ferns. Violets. Ivies. Geraniums. Wild and free.

A blinding amalgamation of multi-shaped blossoms entangled philodendrons with an asthmatic assault which accosted you upon entry.

It wasn’t Grandma’s, but I loved it.


One Last Smoke by Sherri Matthews

“Come!” beckoned the deep, gravelly voice as Millie knocked on the door.

She walked in and was greeted by a haze of grey smoke, into which Auntie Carrie appeared like a ghost.

“Mummy said to tell you dinner’s ready,” said Millie as she stared into the black, dead eyes of the fox stole draped across her aunt’s tweed jacket.

At dinner, Millie gawped at Auntie Carrie’s huge bosom heaving as her chest crackled with every breath.

“The doctor told me to give up smoking,” she winked at Millie. “Maybe next year for my 90th birthday.”


Aunt You Worried? by Geoff Le Pard

‘Aunt Gloria, can you really read tea leaves?’

‘Yes, Penny. Easy.’

The girl watched while she made a pot and poured four cups. Mary stared outside, lost in her own world. Paul, Penny’s dad smiled as he drank.

‘You will have a new boyfriend by May.’ Gloria smiled; Penny scowled. Gloria looked at Paul’s dregs. ‘You’ll lose something important. Probably the second time.’

Penny smiled, ‘Your wallet! Again.’

Gloria eased Mary’s cup from her. She frowned. ‘Mary, you must ignore her.’

‘Who?’ Penny looked anxious.

‘Sharon. Mary’s imaginary friend.’

Mary looked amazed while Paul sighed. ‘Please no. Not again.’


Nutty Aunt by Norah Colvin

“Aw, Muuuum!”

“Don’t ‘Aw Mum’ me. She’s your dad’s only sister . . .”

“But Mum …” I could already smell her stale cigarette breath and feel the stickiness of her too-red lipstick that wouldn’t rub off.

“It won’t hurt you. She’s not staying long.”

“Why can’t Jason?”

“Because Jason’s going to work,” she said.

“Yeah, Squirt,” grinned Jason, throwing his backpack over his shoulder.

“Smoochie Coochie,” he mocked, squeezing my cheeks into a pucker while making loud lip-smacking sounds. His laughter followed him down the street.

Suddenly she was there with her sharp green pistachio grin.

“Smoochie Coochie!”


Sketch of a Nutty Aunt by Anne Goodwin

Your green shoes damned convention. You read everything from cereal packets to Tolstoy with the print barely inches from your eyes. Faddy new diets swallowed your widow’s pension, yet you baked for days before our visits, your table groaning with scones, seed cake and gingerbread, as if you liked our noise descending on your home.

Your friend was a clown in a circus; he sent you postcards from his tours. Your favourite dress still hangs in my wardrobe, though, even at sixteen, I couldn’t do up the zip.

I wish I could ask if you wore it for him.


New prompt on Wednesday. All writers welcome!