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April 29: Flash Fiction Challenge

April 28Dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee. Over and over again. Dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee.

This chunky plover — a killldeer — screams when she eats or  runs on lanky stilts. She’s noisy because she’s nesting and nothing will quiet her.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the screaming of a killdeer: “Their voice, a far-carrying, excited kill-deer, is a common sound even after dark.” Yes, even after dark. Excited. Common (insert endless). Go to sleep, little killdeer, go to sleep.

Despite my noisy plover with her Groucho Marx uni-brow and a stripe that ties her black beak to her white and walnut face, it is a quiet night. The Hub and dogs are already asleep upstairs. I’m luxuriating in in a new second-hand reading chair.

A thump, as if one of the dogs jumped off my bed upstairs, makes me look up and wonder. I see my ceiling fans start to sway about the same time my rocker feels tossed in an unusual pattern. My tea cups clatter loud enough to drown out the killdeer. Trains cause daily vibrations as they trundle through the valley, but this is no train.

Earthquake in Elmira. I’m sure of it. Abandoning my book, I go upstairs to get on the USGS website and discover that there was indeed an earthquake centered in Sandpoint earlier that evening. I log onto a local news source and everybody between Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry (with Elmira exactly in the middle) is excitedly chattering like social media killdeer about the quakes.

Two of them. It seems that most of us felt the second one more so than the first. Updates would confirm that the 10:45 p.m. was stronger, yet both were weak quakes measuring 4.1 and 4.2. Though not in the exact location, both quakes were centered in the sheer mountains that rise up out of Lake Pend Oreille.

Several days later, the Hub and I drive to Talache Beach, a remote access to the lake that is directly across from where the quakes were centered, and I take pictures of the mountains. I’m looking at the rock rising from water to tell me a story.

Unlike the killdeer, the mountains are mute.

At breakfast in Sandpoint and later at the grocery store, everyone is talking about the quakes. A local resident posts a photo of his lawn chair toppled and writes a caption: “Sandpoint earthquakes 2015; we will rebuild.” We laugh off the danger because nothing bad happened, and it’s exciting to be reminded that the earth beneath our feet is alive and kicking.

Then Nepal.

And the local chatter dies down, sobering. An earthquake the magnitude of 7.8 kills thousands. And we can do little to prepare, although the USGS generously distributes information on preparedness. I wonder if the world is rocking toward Apocalypse faster than climate change, and I subscribe to earthquake and volcano updates in the Pacific Northwest. An ap won’t save humanity, but somehow we think if we can know we can overcome.

And then they riot in Baltimore.

I don’t even want to look at photos of burning police cars or frenzied looters. I don’t even want to know anyone’s opinions because everyone is fighting on Facebook. One cousin states, “I thought this was an adult debate, not kindergarten” after getting called names for expressing her views about the media.

But when quakes hit, both the geological and social kind, people react, some snarl, some hide. Some stand up to be heroes. Some reach out with helping hands. Others standby and watch the news-feeds.

Another cousin laments, “Tired of feeling helpless & hopeless about racism in the United States.” I think of a Paula Cole song, Little Earthquakes, and its raw expression over the disintegration of a relationship. It’s applicable for all relationships divided by the epicenter of these social quakes: racism.

Oh these little earthquakes
Here we go again
These little earthquakes
Doesn’t take much to rip us into pieces

I can’t reach you
I can’t reach you

Give me life
Give me pain
Give me myself again

Like geological earthquakes, social ones rock the ground we stand upon. We feel ripped to pieces. We feel buried alive in the rubble of our riot-fueled angst. We feel the whole damn world is against us, no one understands.

What we need is common ground. To reach across the racial chasms we need to toss aside discomfort over “otherness.” Our first step is to recognize one race: human. We are a colorful kaleidoscope of culture. You might eat different foods, but we all hunger. You might sleep in a different house, but we all seek shelter and safety; we all feel warmed by hearth and home. Your children might have different coloring from mine, but we all seek to nurture the young, the next generations.

Racism is a social earthquake that divides our common ground. We can rebuild. We can be like those mountains rising up from deep waters to stand tall and absorb the quakes. If we ignore the racism, the pressure will build beneath us and we will be ripped apart by a greater magnitude with power to level our cities and relationships.

The prompt this week comes from my cousin. She wants to know what we can do, to directly impact this issue of racism. And it’s not a US problem; it’s global. Nor is it something we pass off to the next generation to figure out. This week, we put literature to use to examine a mountainous issue, a literary version of climbing Mount Everest or quieting a nesting killdeer.

April 29, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that tackles racism. Think about common ground, about the things that rip us apart as humans. How we can recover our identities in a way that honors the identities of all individuals? What breaks the barrier of other-ness? Imagine a better tomorrow that doesn’t need expression in riots or taking sides on social media. As writers, think about genres, characters, tension and twists. We can rebuild.

Respond by May 5, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Declaring War by Charli Mills

Lucy parked behind Ken’s truck along the reservation river. Her Forest Service uniform was sweaty, coated with sawdust.

“Hey Little Sister!”

Lucy accepted a cold Pepsie, nodding to Ken and his companions.

“We’re doing it. Declaring war on those white bastards.” Young brown faces smirked.

“Gotta go,” she said, hearing her radio. Wildfires were closing in.

“Bah! White man’s work.”

Later, bagging bodies of nameless campers consumed by fire, she reflected how ashes concealed skin color. My war is holding back flames. We all live and die. She would live to fight for all skins. Rescue honored her ancestors.

###

Pot-Smoking & Other Tales of Vice

Pot-Smoking & Other Tales of ViceFollowing a run on compassion and nurturing, the writing prompt has slipped into the mud. Perhaps a backwards reflection on what it is to nurture oneself with a bad habit or be in need of compassion while under the influence of vice. And, just what is a vice? It can be debatable. Or, in the words of one Rough Writer, it can be a word too strong or too weak to describe the reality.

Yet, writers are ever-creative and broad in perspective. Not all vices are vicious — what is the harm of books or gadgets? Writers also remind us about balance and showing who is in control and who is not. Ultimately, these stories will move you, disturb you or even make you chuckle. Literature will make you think.

The following stories are based on the April 22, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a vice.

Reefer Man by Phil Guida

It was no secret that Fat Jack was packing. Anyone who knows Jack knew that.

Jack’s mission was simple, that of making everyone a little happier and himself a little richer.

That was back in the day when you could buy a dime bag and all the weed had exotic names that none of us innocents had ever heard of.

His visit to the party was welcomed by most of the crowd especially when several joints were being passed around lighting up the room with laughter and song.

We all became Hippies forever at that moment; Jacks mission accomplished.

###

Four of a Kind by A. R. Amore

Glossy cards vibrated across his fingertips; Jack sat stone still, knowing.
“Ok,” he said, “Call.” He pushed six stacks forward going all in. He had run that table nearly all night and was up 1500, but he wanted more. Playing the full boat on the board – a pair of kings and three nines – he held the fourth nine. All locked up, he thought. His opponent turned two kings.

Hours later he still hadn’t called Cheryl. Barely breathing under heavily desperate cigarette smoke, his hands shook dialing. Ringing. Finally, her voice sleepy, “Tell me you won.” But no words came.

###

A Hidden Vice by Paula Moyer

2 a.m. Jean’s husband, asleep, knew nothing about their accounts, the money they didn’t have that they needed till the end of the month. He didn’t know about Jean’s eBay purchases, either.

But Jean did. It kept her up tonight as it did most nights.

She googled for a credit card offer, one with a low-interest promotion. There, 0% interest for the first year.

Type, type, type. Social security, income. Type, type, type. Submit.

Approved. Enough money to transfer the high-interest balance from the old card and have cash for the next two weeks.

Whew. Home free.

For now.

###

Distraction from Distraction by Georgia Bell

She didn’t know how it started. And after awhile she stopped caring. All she knew was that she needed it far more than she ever thought she would. Near the end of the day, her thoughts wandered eagerly towards the distraction and gently, she prodded them back to the present. Until the dishes were dried and put away. And the floor was swept. Then she poured herself that first drink and did what she’d been waiting to do all day. Closed her eyes. Thought about his hands. His words. The broad muscles in his back. His smile. His smell.

###

The Damage Done by Jeanne Lombardo

The truth flashed.
“Were you scoring back there?”
“Yeah,” he admitted.
They sat in her car. He opened his palm. A sticky black ball the size of a pea lay there.
“What is that?” she said, though she knew.
“What do you think?”
She should be indignant. Furious. But she hadn’t seen him in two months.
They entered the restaurant.
“I’m sorry,” he said. I need to go do this.
“Are you feeling sick?
“Yeah.”
He walked away.
The waitress brought their food.
Diners chatted and laughed.
She waited.
Imagined him in the stall.
Her beautiful son.
Shooting up.

###

Anxiety by Sarah Unsicker

Kate mentally scrolled through tomorrow’s agenda while she unpacked her suitcase. Meeting with the COO at ten would give her just enough time to review her presentation. Her blouse was wrinkled; Kate made a mental note to iron it. Her two o’clock flight would land her at home just after five, then she would battle traffic to Mom’s for dinner. Kate wasn’t ready for mom’s lavish supper served with a generous side of criticism.

Kate sat down on the bed and vowed not to worry about tomorrow’s dinner. She turned on the television and looked up a local pizza delivery.

###

Where Things Happen by Ula Humienik

“The world was a different place then. People rode around in automobiles and that meant something.”

“Did great grandfather have one?”

“Yes, he sure did.”

“Is that how he met great grandmama?”

“I believe so. At those times young people used automobiles for socialization AND transportation.”

“Wow. It must have been something, the feeling of freedom.”

“I bet it was. It was where they got engaged you know?”

“Really?”

“Yes, in the backseat, mamma told me.”

“That sounds wildly romantic.”

“It was practical. Great grandmama was pregnant with grand auntie Lucy.”

“Oh, how did that happen?”

“In the backseat.”

###

Spring Camping by Charli Mills

Ramona drove through muddy ruts to reach the campground. Too early for tourists, but free of snow. A car with Washington plates was already parked. Two full-bearded young men helped her with the tent and camp kitchen.

“You boys like veggies?”

They eagerly nodded and brought over a mixed-greens salad to share.

Boys who eat veggies. She should introduce them to the twins.

“Are you Amish?”

“Vegan,” one replied. He pulled out hand-rolled cigarettes. Ramona was never one for smoking but not wanting to be rude she accepted one after dinner, and slept the best she had in years.

###

Alcohol – Cure for Everything by Ruth Irwin

Young and beautiful, an island girl. She had watched the four strangers enter the bar – a fellow islander, two from the orient and one of pale tones.

Her big brown eyes displayed the heartbreak she disclosed to the pale one – a tale of betrayal, regret, love lost and longing for it to return, pleading for advice on how to win him back.

Alcohol fuelled her courage to gain the attention of a handsome young man behind the bar. His shift finished. She smothered him forgetting the stranger’s advice and “rumours” about herself that had lead to her earlier heartbreak.

###

A Nerd by Ruchira Khanna

“Move it, fellas!” Torri was shouting and pushing past people in the mall without apologies, and that made people either turn towards her with eyebrows crossed or accuse her of the wrongdoing.

Torri was unperturbed!

Her goal was to be there before the store opened. Be amongst the first few customers to avail of the discount and still be able to grab the latest technology in her hand.

Her weakness towards most recent gadgets sure was putting a hole in her pocket, but the lust and passion were overriding her mind and intelligence, thus avoiding her to think straight.

###

Vice-like Grip by Geoff Le Pard

‘Paul? What are you watching?’

Mary’s husband closed his laptop. ‘I just clicked a link. It…’

‘Paul?’ Mary could hide her horror. Tears speckled her lashes. She watched his mouth open and close before she hurried away. She didn’t grab her coat or close the front door but kept walking. All she could think was ‘how could he?’

He found her in the shelter overlooking the beach. She wouldn’t look at him. ‘Was that porn?’ It was said to hurt and it did.

‘What do you think? Don’t you know me?’

Did she know anyone? Her father? Her husband?

###

A Bad Night by Irene Waters

She lit another cigarette, trying to calm her nerves. It’d been bad tonight. She shouldn’t have tried to do the housework. She should have just sat. Perhaps she should’ve had that coffee she’d been invited to after work. She always said no. She had to get home before he started to drink as well as smoke dope. She had. But she shouldn’t have tried to do the housework. She should’ve done what she normally did. Join him. It made him happy when she did and dulled her senses so she didn’t care. But tonight the gun had come out.

###

Father Knows Best by Sherri Matthews

“How much longer do we have to wait?” moaned Julie as she kicked out at the dashboard.

“Here she comes now…” blurted Tim from the back seat.

“You kids okay?” asked Sue as she handed them bags of crisps and bottles of Vimto.

“Sort of…” mumbled Julie.

Sue turned away, hesitated, then gave her freshly lit cigarette to Julie. “Don’t tell your father…”

Julie pretended to inhale, chin jutting. Film star cool.

“Hope Dad won’t find out,” said Tim, copying his sister.

“Don’t worry little bruv, he’ll be too drunk to notice by the time he drives us home.”

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Really I’m doing them a favour, encouraging the birds into their patch. If there’s one thing about my neighbours, they like their birds. Fuck knows why: damned squawking things, carpet-bombing the patio with their white splodges. Takes a thorough blitz with the steam cleaner to get them off.

I used to squidge them when I caught them chewing my hostas, but it never felt right. Grey slime coagulating my fingers, even through gloves. Since I’ve been tossing them over the fence into their lettuces, I’ve felt positively Zen-like. It’s bad karma to kill another living creature, even a slug.

###

Close Call by Susan Zutautas

God I need a smoke and it’s too late to go out. I’ll just sneak one in the bathroom; Mom and Dad won’t notice.

Sitting on the toilet I light my smoke, and after a few drags there’s a knock at the door. Oh SHIT now what am I going to do!

Thinking quickly I stick the smoke behind my lower back so that I can drop it if need be. In walks mom to check her hair and wash her hands.

Shit, I’m gonna get busted for sure.

Why didn’t I lock the door? Mom leaves.

Phew safe.

###

The Talk by Pete Fanning

I sat across from her at the wobbly formica dinner table, working at the peeling laminate as the fan rattled in the window. Reo Speed wagon whined over the airwaves as she sang along with smoky breaths.

It was with a heavy tongue and without a trace of regret that she began. Of how my father fled when she got pregnant. I lifted my eyes from the scab of dried ketchup on the linoleum floor. My lips parted, lost somewhere between a gasp and a question. She picked up the clear bottle, sloshing its glittering contents.

End of discussion.

###

Old Wives’ Tale by Larry LaForge

“Enough, Ed! That disgusting habit is damaging your joints.”

Ed’s knuckle cracking has driven Edna crazy for years. “And for your information, that didn’t even remotely sound like the William Tell Overture,” Edna added in exasperation.

“Edna, it’s not my fault you don’t have an ear for knuckle music. And you’re wrong about the damage.”

“Well, don’t blame me when the arthritis sets in.”

“That’s just an old . . . ”

“An old what, Ed?”

“Uh. Er. An old misconception about negative effects of knuckle cracking unsupported by current medical research.”

Edna left the room, laughing and humming the William Tell Overture.

###

Vice-captain by Norah Colvin

She almost danced along the verandah. What would it be: medal, certificate, special recommendation?

The door was open but she knocked anyway.

“Come in.” The command was cold. A finger jabbed towards a spot centre-floor.

Confused, her eyes sought the kindness of the steel blue pair, but found a vice-like stare.

She obeyed.

“In one week you have led the team on a rampage:

Smashing windows

Uprooting vegetables

Leaving taps running

Graffiting the lunch area . . .

We thought you were responsible. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“But sir,” she stammered, “You made me vice-captain!”

###

Not Quite an Affair by Luccia Gray

‘Where’s lunch?’

‘In the fridge.’

‘Again, dad?’

‘Afraid so.’

‘Don’t you care?’

‘Of course I care, but what can I do?’

‘Talk to mum.’

‘I’ve tried.’

‘We’re not a family any more, just three people who live in the same house.’

‘It’s hard to reach her.’

‘Doesn’t she love us anymore?’

‘Not like she used to.’

‘Why doesn’t she want to talk to us?’

‘She’s busy.’

‘It’s worse than an affair.’

‘God, no! That would be much worse.’

‘Not for me! I swear I’m going to throw her kindle out the window.’

‘She’ll kill you if you do that.’

###

It Starts by Deborah Lee

“You’re late again.” I stop in the doorway. “I smell weed in here.”

She shakes her head no.

“I know what I smell.”

“I had my window open all night,” she protests.

“Awful warm in here.”

“I cranked the heat.”

“Weed is a lot less bad for you than booze. But if you’re going to toke, go outside.”

Raised eyebrows, sideways smile: Did my mother really just say I can smoke dope?

“Get to school. No more truancy hearings.”

I thought I was resigned to everything. Magenta hair. Piercings. IUD. But this is the first lie I know of.

###

Trunks Full of Them by Pat Cummings

The movers wheeled the piles of book boxes out to the truck as I looked around at the empty shelves. I had built them to fit this space. How would they suit the new house?

Removing earthquake strapping that kept 8-foot-tall shelving from toppling onto our bed, I worked the bed-head shelf away from the wall. Behind the headboard, I found Hilbert Schenk’s Steam Bird. Panic brought chill sweat: what if it had been left behind?

Halfway to the new house, too late to return, I remembered the boxes of Destroyer novels left behind in the attic crawl space.

###

High Life by Sarah Brentyn

Crystal sat cross-legged on the sand across from Marcus.

He shook his head. “Look at those idiots,” he pointed to a group of boys jumping off the cliff into the rocky water below.

Crystal scrunched up her face, squinting. “Stupid,” she agreed coughing and giggling. “Stupid little boys.”

“Exactly. Like little boys trying to prove something to…whatever,” Marcus snickered. “Grow up!” he shouted. They both laughed. “Stupid adrenaline junkies.”

“Yeah. Morons. That’s wicked high. Jumping from Horizon Point should be, like, illegal.”

“Totally,” he sighed and laid his head in Crystal’s lap. “Hey, pass me the joint. You’re hogging.”

###

Reformed by Kalpana Solsi

His calm demeanour betrayed the raging tempests of past that swirled and howled in his mind, as he stepped out of the wrought-iron gates.

The prick marks on his arms had healed but the conscience prick continued to torture him as he remembered her last dying words. The Police sirens reverberated his ear-drums. The prison sentence and subsequent rehab was a blur in time.

The vituperative hurled on Sally which had sullied the temple of their marriage un-spooled.

Her attempts to wean him away from drugs cost her, her life.

He had reformed to pay his debts to Sally.

###

Desperate Hell by Ann Edall-Robson

The dark side. That’s where he presided now. A place that took away the pain and guilt. A home for justification intertwined with everything he had been trained for.

His duty filled with dangerous adrenalin consorting with life on the edge. That’s where he had been the day he had been shot.

The incessant pain in his leg. The pills he couldn’t get enough of directed him to this life.

This fraudulent, intimidating existence was taking over. Time was not on his side. He was sinking deeper into the iniquity. Desperate to find help or end up in hell.

###

Flash Fiction by Marigold Deidre Dicer

They expected it to be exciting since it was so forbidden. To be fair, the drinking was fun, but only to a point. Dehydration was a bitch, which made you her bitch.

Cigarette smells lingered in their clothes and in their hair. It smelt nice at first, but the novelty quickly lost its lustre. Ash was ash, and vomit was vomit: the facts could not be sugar coated.

Halfway through, one washed their clothes as the other booked a room and their train tickets. Trading one coast for another, they left schoolies behind to go swimming and bushwalking instead.

###

Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part III

“Value of Voice to Branding”

“That’s Charli Mills, the country western singer,” my friend announced to the young man behind the desk at the Iroquois Hotel. We were in NYC to present at a marketing communications conference. I don’t sing.

Yet the young man looked at my name, began to nod as if he recognized it and said, “I have your CD.” As we walked away my friend smiled broadly and said, “You have the best name for a country western singer ever, Charli Mills.”

And she would know. Not because she’s in the music industry but because my friend is one of the top brand marketers in the nation — a published author on the subject and a successful launcher of store and product brands. She understands the importance of details, consistency and, of course, perception.

Our joke is based on the perception of my name. When we first met 15 years ago, she later confessed to me that she went home to her husband and insisted that with a name like Charli Mills, I had to be a country western singer!

While I don’t sing, I do know the power of voice.

In Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part II, we discussed branding and how my own brand evolved around my name into a persona of a buckaroo writer. My story is simple — I went from riding horses to writing stories. It’s a catchy way to introduce my bio that might otherwise read like every other writer’s bio (education, career, publication). It also gives me a playful tagline: “Wrangling words for people, roping stories for novels,” and creates a fun way to build a literary community on a “ranch.”

However, my brand also has a voice. It’s playful, welcoming, encouraging and positive. The heart of my writer’s voice is a reflection of my personal journey to write into my truth. I seek to observe, understand, explore and imagine. How I arrange my words, punctuation and vocabulary selection is the expression of my voice. My voice infuses the stories I choose to tell.

What Informs Your Voice

What Informs Your Voice by Charli Mills 2015

 

A writer’s voice is unique. Think of it as the ingredients and mix of your cupcake — it’s what develops your unique flavor. Voice is also part of your craft. If you make sloppy cupcakes (careless misspellings, lack of punctuation style, heedless of story structure) your branding will reflect how readers perceive you. Yet if you are too rigid and always follow the exact recipe for common cupcakes (essays, posts, stories) you will not create anything distinct.

As a writer, voice is more important than having a cool logo or a fun image.

Therefore, you need to know your craft, yet cultivate your own voice. If you understand that you abandon specific rules of commas you have choices: learn the rules, hire an editor or accept that it’s part of your style. Only you can decide which is best, but know that it impacts your readers.

Let’s pause a moment for an example of how craft choices shape voice. I just wrote, “know that it impacts your readers.” I did not write, “know that it effects your readers.” Because of word confusion, I learned to substitute. I rarely ever think of effect anymore; impact has become entrenched in my lexicon. And countless editors have accepted my word substitution. It’s part of my voice, and is based on my understanding of my own use of language.

To know your voice is to know yourself. You are your brand. See how this connects?

When it comes to your brand, branding and voice, you will read this consistent principle over and over:

Authenticity is KeyAuthenticity is key to opening the door to a rock solid writer’s platform. It’s cliche in the sense that it is a common truth. This is one cliche you need to adhere to as a writer no matter what your goals are. It’s a guiding principle to all relationships. At any given component in the writer’s platform, a lack of authenticity can make readers distrust who you are (branding), shut down (community), cast doubt upon what you write (credibility) and diminish your readership (audience).

Be who you are or build the credible persona of you as a writer.

The latter does not mean create a false identity (that’s not authentic). Just as a person creates a professional identity as a lawyer, teacher, dentist or dog groomer, so can you create a writer’s identity. This is for the writer who wants to maintain a measure of privacy. You would decide which attributes about yourself to share. You could generalize personal information — share that you live in the Pacific Northwest rather than Elmira, Idaho.

In order to connect with others (branding, community, credibility and audience), you need to reveal enough of your authentic self to be a real person. Think about your favorite author. The more you liked your favorite’s books, most likely, the more you wanted to know about this author as a person. Every book has an author’s bio for this reason.

Your level of intimacy with your readers becomes a part of your voice. Remember that because if you are distant with your personal details and all of the sudden you begin posting about your messy divorce, readers will react to the change as if you began yelling. However, some writers do yell! It’s part of  some writers’ voices. Know yours and use it consistently to portray who you are.

If you want to be in control of your brand, be in control of your voice. Branding becomes a shared experience with other people you interact with and they will come to expect an authentic experience.

Consistency of Application

Consistency of Application by Charli Mills 2015

What does “used across all media mean”? It means that you set up all your public places with the same shingle. Back to cupcakes. If you want to distinguish your cupcake from others, have a brand that others will recognize as your cupcake. Think of your public social media, your website, your author’s page (in your book or on Amazon, Goodreads or indie distribution points), your press releases, your guest-post bios, your book-signing posters, etc. as your retail space. If you are selling your cupcake, make sure you are recognized across all forms of media. This includes your voice.

A well-known writer will have a recognizable voice.

Even masters can’t replicate another writer’s voice. Robert Jordan set out to write a 12-book series called the Wheel of Time. His untimely death occurred after he published Book 11.  He was a masterful story-teller and a NY Times Best-seller many times over. He left behind notes and unfinished scenes for Book 12. His wife and editor hired another master and NY Times Best-seller, Brandon Sanderson, to complete the series. He actually turned Book 12 into a trilogy and he wrote to Robert Jordan’s readers:

“I cannot replace Robert Jordan. Nobody could write this book as well as he could have. That is a simple fact…I have not tried to imitate Mr. Jordan’s style. Instead, I’ve adapted my style to be appropriate to the Wheel of Time.”

Only a writer who knows his own voice could have accomplished what Brandon Sanderson did. He knew he could never copy Robert Jordan, but he could adapt. As a reader, Book 12 is noticeably different. However, the plot and characters continue and it’s a better alternative than to never knowing the end of a story that size!

Voice is an important consideration as you build your brand or apply your branding. Here are some useful questions to ask yourself as you examine your branding or build it:

  1. Do you have a writer’s bio?
  2. Do you consistently use your writer’s bio across all media?
  3. Where do you practice your voice?
  4. What is unique about your writing and can you describe it?
  5. How do others describe your writing voice?

While we are not yet to the application part of this series (which is marketing, or expanding your writer’s platform) it can be helpful to consider your current state of branding. It is, after all, the bedrock of your platform. Without an identity, how can you engage community, build credibility and attract audience?

Some writers are uncertain about naming a website or blog.  Should it be your name? It can be. If all you want to do is build name recognition, use your name as you want it identified. My name is Annette Marie Mills. No kidding. My nicknames include Netsie, Nan and Charli. And I have a maiden name. Holy buckets, how did I ever pick a name from that jumble? I went with what I’m most comfortable with and I’ve consistently used one name, no initials, for over 15 years.

But you are reading this at CarrotRanch.com, not CharliMills.com. Carrot Ranch was originally my business name and it evolved into a literary community. My name is a landing page on this website, and I own this digital real estate so I can apply different tactics to use that page according to my own goals.

My second active blog is Elmira Pond Spotter. It is named not for an author or a business, but as a publication. That blog has no pages; it is strictly my place to practice my voice through creative non-fiction. It is my brand of story-telling. However, my personal photo is the same one used here, as my gravatar, on my FB page, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and for my writer’ headshot. Same with my bio. Carrot Ranch doesn’t reach across all my media, but is linked to all my media, including my email signature. That’s branding in action

If you have a website through WordPress, Weebly, Wix, Blogger or others, then you have valuable real estate that you own. Social media is like renting. You rent a spot for your brand on G+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and more. You can’t control your branding there beyond consistently applying your brand.

However, you can control your own website or blog. You own that space. Use it to build your brand.

  1. Is it a place for you to communicate or share your writing? Then treat it like a publication and give it a title.
  2. Is it a place to attract clients for your freelancing on the side? Then name it like a business.
  3. Is it your author’s platform to attract an agent or readers to your book? Then give it your name.

Your website pages are where you build your branding based on your brand. You can set up a landing page for different purposes. You can establish categories for your blog posts. Or, you can set up pages to house different categories of writing. It is flexible and you own it. Shape your website around who you are as a writer and what your goals are.

Let your voice be heard. Let your voice be your branding spokesperson.

April 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

April 22This post begins with a disclaimer: I’m not a pothead.

Yet, this morning, over buttermilk pancakes, conversation drifted to marijuana and I found myself defending pot. The Hub loves to argue; it’s his form of conversation. He listens to mainstream radio when he drives for FedEx, and what he hears fuels his arguments. He practices rebuttals, as if he were preparing for a Lincoln-Douglas debate.

I’m minding my sausages and am clearly not as excited as he is about Willie Nelson’s newly branded weed cigarettes. I recognize a strategic marketing move by the country singer and long-time supporter of cannabis. Very clever. While Washington and Colorado states — the only two in the US to legalize pot — have been hashing out how to regulate hashish, Willie Nelson has developed a line of product and paraphernalia.

The Hub fails to see this as strategy.

He’s offended, he tells me, in between bites of pancakes. Offended? I smile and ask why and he tells me of going to parties with the free-love sorts who’d smoke pot and get unsuspecting girls high. Free-love doesn’t sound so menacing, and I’m sure the girls had a clue when passed the pipe. It’s not like being slipped a date-rape drug unnoticed.

When I ask where in the world is he attending such parties — we’ve been married 28 years and I’ve been unaware — he gives me that look like I should know better. Before we were married, he says. Yes, my husband has been offended by pot-smokers for over 30 years.

He works in the transportation industry and can be random drug-tested any given day. He’s as pure as his puritan roots when it comes to illicit drugs. Maybe it’s in his genes. I can trace his father’s line back to 100% puritan English roots. The Mills are so puritan their heartbeats sound like bible-thumping. If the puritans left England of their own accord, I’m sure their neighbors cheered their going with raised pints in the pubs.

In the colonies, the Mills men served as church deacons and married women named Prudence, Patience and Mehitable. When the churches weren’t stern enough, they founded new sterner ones. The Hub’s 3rd-great grandfather wrote produce columns in an 1850s newspaper. Little was said beyond fluctuating prices and availability, but much was said against the vice of drink. And they continued to build churches and colleges until they came to Nevada.

In Nevada, they built a church and school that the Hub attended as a boy. Yet he smokes a pipe and drinks enough alcohol to have all his ancestors writhing in heaven. Talk about the kettle calling pot black.

I’m all for hemp. Hemp seeds are high in omega-3s and taste fine on a salad. Industrial hemp is environmentally-friendly and has many uses. I don’t care if an individual chooses to smoke pot or eat hemp-brownies. In fact, I have friends and family who use marijuana for medicinal purposes. It helps relieve neuropathic pain and curbs pain and nausea associated with harsher cancer treatments. Some studies even suggest that cannabis can reverse some cancers.

So why all the pot media this week? With Washington state as our stones-throw-away neighbor, 4/20 is a counterculture day that celebrates marijuana and with legalization leading to new innovations, it was deemed mainstream newsworthy. Of course, the puritan Hub had no idea that two days prior to Earth Day is Mary Jane’s birthday. I sniggered because I already knew this (please note earlier disclaimer).

What do Earth Day and Mary Jane have in common? Each rose out of counter culture movements, and both can lead to controversies. Marijuana stands on the precipice of becoming as common as a wine. And Earth Day has taken on urgency to counter the impact modern society has on the environment. Yet there are deniers of both.

In the midst of life we attempt to control, we all long to let go. Exotic trips to escape the city; a shared bottle of wine to unwind; passing around the bong after a long hike up the mountain trail; a runner’s high to counter anxiety at work; a creamy cake to quell life’s troubles; a marathon of sit-coms to hide from the unpleasantness of the world; a drag of smoke to cope; beer with friends to connect with others when home feels lonely; books to keep our imaginations focused elsewhere.

We all have vices. I drink mineral water and smoke marshmallows, to name a few.

Taking a puritan stand helps no one. I’m a Christian and I stand on my faith like a rock; I don’t turn my faith into a rock and thump others over the head with it. Where is the love in that? I know grace because I was saved by it, not because I eliminated vices. I still have them. Nor do I buy the puritan myth; no one is pure no matter how stern they look.

As writers, we can make our characters real by giving them vices that they struggle with or deny. Vices can create tension or become the basis of a twisting plot. If vices lead to excited arguments over pancakes, imagine how they can hook a reader.

April 22, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a vice. It can be part of a character or a part of the story. The vice can be the focus or it can be subtle. Think of ways to use a vice (or multiples, if you are so daring) to create a compelling flash fiction.

Respond by April 28, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Spring Camping by Charli Mills

Ramona drove through muddy ruts to reach the campground. Too early for tourists, but free of snow. A car with Washington plates was already parked. Two full-bearded young men helped her with the tent and camp kitchen.

“You boys like veggies?”

They eagerly nodded and brought over a mixed-greens salad to share.

Boys who eat veggies. She should introduce them to the twins.

“Are you Amish?”

“Vegan,” one replied. He pulled out hand-rolled cigarettes. Ramona was never one for smoking but not wanting to be rude she accepted one after dinner, and slept the best she had in years.

###

Nurturing Neighbors

Old NeighborsA person who lives near another is a neighbor. The word evokes closeness beyond proximity and can have a friendly feel to it. This week, writers explored what it is to nurture neighbors as part of the nurturing theme for #1000 Speak for Compassion, which is itself a growing neighborhood of bloggers around the globe. Social media can make us feel as though we live next door.

Earth Day is also on the minds of writers this week and we pause to wonder what kind of neighbors we humans are to other inhabitants on this shared earth. To nurture creation, to be stewards of the land, we can consider neighborly acts that make a difference.

Writers follow where the prompt leads. The following stories are based on the April 15, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about nurturing a neighborly relationship.

***

Sanctuary by Sherri Matthews

A loud thump shattered Carrie’s sleep.

Cold fear seized her racing heart as she swiped in panic at the bedside lamp, sending it crashing as her baby wailed into the darkness.

Carrie raced to his room as Bumble bolted across her feet, black tail spiked like a Christmas tree.

Damn cat…

Relief, like a hot bath, melted Carrie’s terror when, as she flipped the light switch, she saw a picture frame knocked to the floor.

Cuddling her baby in the soothing silence, Carrie breathed again.

It wasn’t gunshot; nobody was on their roof.

Safe at last, in their sanctuary.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Another bloody parcel? Working from home, I’m their unpaid concierge? Answering the doorbell kills my concentration. Stomach rumbling, I peer into the cavern of the fridge.

No time to trek to the shops for something healthy. Scarfing crisps and biscuits, I stare out the kitchen window. Must ask the neighbours to cut that tree back: it’s encroaching on my patch.

Funny, I never wondered what kind of tree. Now’s my chance to take a closer look. Reckon I’ll take a bowl with me, a big one. There’s plums and pears beyond and strawberries. Perfect for a nutritious fruit salad.

###

Unproductive Progression by Rebecca Patajac

The future had come. Endless chambers of cold lights and pre-fabricated possessions created a norm no one felt part of.

One small council of a great metallic city met.

“Daily accidents again,” reported a hard eyed man, “sicknesses, absences.”

“Lines can’t continue this way,” said a stiff lady, “we’ll hear from higher up soon.”

“No one’ll be excepted,” said a shaken, elderly male.

A young girl took a breath, “what if we asked people? Found out what they need? What’ll help them be happy?”

The council members fell back in their chairs; it can’t be that easy. . .can it?

###

Vanda’s Vision by Taly Pendragon

“Wow, this vision of yours is pretty special, isn’t it?” Brian soothed as they walked back across the precincts of Glastonbury’s ruined abbey. “Would you tell me about it?”

Vanda continued: “It’ll be a visitor attraction. One where visitors will experience how a medieval monastery worked on a day-to-day basis, and feel how it was to live the experience. But so much more … a centre of learning, for all ages … archaeology, history, and spirituality. We’ll give people the understanding of it all, while all the time entertaining them beyond their wildest dreams, and rekindling a real community.

###

New Neighbors by Sarah Unsicker

“Welcome to the neighborhood,” Cecilia said as she handed a plate of fresh chocolate-chip cookies to the woman supervising the furniture movers.

“Howdy,” the woman said. “I’m Mary. You can see my renegade children, Gracie and David.”

Cecilia was taken aback when she noticed David. He had black hair, like Carlos, and was the same age as Carlos had been when he—

Choking back tears, Cecilia answered, “You’re not— not from around here, are you?”

Mary looked at Cecilia, and her eyes softened. “The house is a mess, but would you like to come in for some coffee?”

###

A Finite time for Nurturing by Irene Waters

She gave birth to me,

suckled and fed me

Taught me my manners

Raising me

the ten commandments

to heed.

She mothered

She nurtured me.

I felt safe and warm

my tummy was full

I was encouraged

My learning fostered

and my interest fuelled

in that about me

She mothered

She nurtured me.

That was then.

Now I am older

She needs to let go

Allow mistakes to be made

Stop rescuing

Not stop caring

But release me

to be the adult

I was raised to be.

Nurture belongs to the young

Don’t smother me

Let me be free

The final

selfless Act

of Nurture

Is to let my child go.

###

Cracking Up by Sarah Brentyn

“Hi, there. Can I borrow some eggs?”

“Um. Sure, I guess. I…” Molly opened the door wider. The woman on her front porch stood a solid foot taller than Molly, who took a step back. “Um…how many do you need?”

“Whatever you’ve got,” she smiled and held her hand out. “I’m Louisa. Just moved in next door. I haven’t even unpacked the truck yet and that one,” she jerked her head toward the house across the street, “already complained about my lawn, insulted my garden, and yelled at my dog. I’m egging her house.”

Molly grinned. “Please, come in.”

###

The Caravan by Norah Colvin

Children waited anxiously at windows and front garden fences.

Mothers and fathers hurried to complete the last of their chores.

Others, already at the park, were unable to wait.

Ears strained, listening for music signalling, “It’s time!

Suddenly “Girls and boys come out to play!” announced the arrival of the brightly painted caravan.

“Come on!” urged children, tugging at skirts, trousers and hairy legs.

“Come on!” chimed parents, downing cloths and brooms. Clasping small hands they whisked them out.

Everyone watched as the doors of the caravan opened; ready for fun: stories, games and much to explore!

###

Better Than Par by Geoff Le Pard

Mary didn’t know where to start restoring her parents’ garden, now the police had finished. There were the terracotta edging pieces for the flowerbeds, the plants and turfs, roughly stacked in a corner. The police hadn’t said anything about helping. And now Paul had gone away on business.

‘Hi. Mary?’

Just what she didn’t need. Her half-brother. She could just make out his eyes, like an old-fashioned Chad, peering over the gate.

She pulled it open. Rupert stood back, grinning. “I told them at the golf club about the mess. They all admired dad so they said they’d help.”

###

Chipping in by Luccia Gray

‘Where are you taking that roast chicken and the cake you baked?’

‘Down to Dolores.’

‘Stop meddling. It’s none of your business.’

‘But he’s done it again.’

‘He’ll be back.’

‘Not this time. It’s been over two months.’

‘She’ll sort it out.’

‘How? She’s got three children under eight, and she’s unemployed.’

‘She can claim social security.’

‘She has. She gets 400 euros a month and she has four mouths to feed.’

‘Do you really think we can feed four more people?’

‘Just once every two weeks. It’s our turn today. The neighbours have all decided to chip in.’

###

The Ceremony by Urszula Humienik

I’d say the ceremony had begun as usual, but there was no usual anymore. We all met in the abandoned concert building we’d been working hard for several weeks to restore best we could. The heat was merciless to the wood, but the paint made it look almost new. When Daniel and the rest of our neighbors arrived, the ceremony began.

Alan, our next door neighbor, got up on stage and spoke. “Welcome to our new community center. This is where anyone can come for advice and support, where we will divvy rations, and we will meet every week.”

###

Ivor Oaks by Ann Edall-Robson

The old schoolhouse located at the edge of the hamlet of Ivor Oaks was surrounded by oak trees and grain fields.

The windows in the building had been boarded up to protect the flawless six-square glass frames. The walls were solid and the roof had the look of a well loved patchwork quilt. The light from the open door revealed the smooth, well worn, original wooden floor.

Restoration funds had been procured. At the project’s completion, the Ivor Oaks Art and Cultural Retreat would be nurtured into a sanctuary for artisans to gather together to create and inspire.

###

Nurture Thyself by Ruchira Khanna

Ann jumped into the train. She could squeeze herself partially through the door, and that alarmed her co-passenger. Was about to pull the chain, but instead she shouted, “I have a 9am crucial meeting. Let the train go on!”

She would always be coaxing herself to go on, strive for the best!

Until one day, her body collapsed on the road.

She was in the hospital, and while the doctors and the medicines helped recuperate her organic structure, she chose to meditate and chant while nourishing her soul that was bruised by her continuous vexations, and negative stimulus.

###

Roses by A.R. Amore

Stooped in the garden, mulching the fourth rose bush, an elderly woman appears outside my wrought iron fence. “Excuse me,” she says. “May I have a rose?” Looking up, I tell her absolutely and cut several red blooms, shearing off the thorns then handing them to her. “My father planted those,” she attests, “after he built this place in 1918.” She clutches the roses close to her nose, inhaling and then shuffles out of sight. Her daughter arrives, breathless having just run around the corner. “Mom, wait,” she yells. “You found the house.” Still kneeling, I offer another rose.

###

The Friendship Time Couldn’t Break by Sacha Black

I hated conferences. Too many people, too much small talk. I leant against the wall headphones in, hoping for peace.

Our song was playing in my ears, a reminder of tarnished memories, a friendship lost. We were both wrong. Both proud.

“Sacha,” she waved, icy recognition flooded my body.

I froze. I’d been the one to hold out an olive branch. She’d snapped it.

But it was a friendship time couldn’t damage. If I put my arm out, I had to forgive. Forget. Nurture the friendship back.

Sometimes the universe brings you together for a reason.

“Shell…” I smiled.

###

Cage Free Kids by Pete Fanning

They ran along the creek, a twig snapping gust of pants and giggles bound for the nearest refrigerator. Jacob led the way, lurching to a stop when he saw the police car. Mrs. Morton, his new neighbor, jabbed a finger at the boys. The officer waved them over.

“Where are your parents?”

They stood heaving, their mud-speckled legs tattooed with briar whelps and mosquito bites. Jacob finally piped up.

“At home.”

“What are you kids doing out all alone?” Mrs. Morton asked. Jacob glanced at Tyler, then to Keon, whose water-logged shoes left dark imprints on the asphalt.

“Playing.”

###

Save the Park by Susan Zutautas

Martha, I hear they want to remove the children’s park down the street and build some fancy hi-fluting high rise in its place.

But they just put in that new pool for the kids last summer and upgraded the play equipment. What a waste of good money!

I’m sure that I read somewhere that that park always had to stay a park. I’m going to investigate this.

Ha! Looky here, it states that William Right donated this as park land with the stipulation that it would always remain a park. I’m going to put a stop to their plans!

###

Jimmy by Larry LaForge

Edna smiles every time Jimmy calls her husband “Mr. Ed.” It reminds her of a talking horse on television.

As a youngster growing up next door, Jimmy was constantly in Ed’s garage. Ed helped keep Jimmy’s bicycle in top shape. Chain, brake pads, tires, handle bars—all monitored and adjusted.

As the years passed, the caring continued—with the roles reversed.

Jimmy inherited his family home and is still constantly in Ed’s garage.

Jimmy wipes his greasy hands after tuning up Ed’s aging Chevrolet. “That should do it, Mr. Ed.”

Edna chuckles as she rocks on the back porch.

###

Neighborly Garden by Marigold Deidre Dicer

It was the first summer she’d noticed the little garden hadn’t been tended. The flowers were still managing, but the ground was cracked and the leaves had begun to dry. It was always a highlight on her walk, and she’d always wondered who tended to the strangely well-kept garden that sat outside the old apartment block.

So the next day, she came back with a watering can. The day after, someone had tipped fresh soil around the flowers, but it hadn’t seemed properly tilled. She smiled and came back with trowel and fork to finish what her neighbour started.

###

Pacing Polly by Paula Moyer

Jean saw her in the store every Friday. “Pacing Polly.” Skinny, gorgeous white hair, she paced the aisles, yelling to someone no one else saw.

But Polly had good days. So Jean held out hope and greeted Polly every Friday. Most of the time, “hello” got a glare back, more pacing.

Then one day.

“I need some objectivity.” The voice from behind startled Jean. Polly’s eyes were blue and lucid. “I got this as a gift.” A wrap-throw combo. “What’s it for?”

Jean explained. Polly flashed a radiant smile.

Next Friday, Polly paced. Jean hoped for another good day.

###

Welcome to the West by Charli Mills

Viola graduated from normal school in Wisconsin, class of 1909. She assisted a teacher her father knew back home. Most of her students were children of neighbors she grew up with. Viola craved something more wild. Her father winked, though her mother fussed when she announced her appointment out west.

A strong wind battered the train as it pulled up to a remote rough-hewn platform. Whistles blew and Viola stepped off to face strangers. A man approached her, doffed his hat and introduced her to the small crowd gathered.

“Howdy, Neighbors! Welcome our new schoolteacher!”

They smiled and cheered.

###

A Visitor on the Verandah by Jeanne Lombardo

The first arrived, a slip of night on the verandah. A sunset flash of carp trembled between sharp teeth, then disappeared. “Meeer,” he said.

At first he lived outside, lapping his milk among the morning glories and cyclamen. When the wine-colored maple leaves spiraled down, she let him in.

Through the winter, she loved him.

In spring, three others appeared.

In summer, the end came.

“You’ll have to get rid of the cats,” the university president’s secretary said. “It’s Sensei’s koi pond . . . ”

And she’d thought herself lucky to get that apartment overlooking President Nonaka’s garden.

###

Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Part II

“Branding”

Basics are important. When I was advanced to a pre-algerbra class in 7th-grade, I missed crucial math basics that were taught that year in regular class. It wasn’t until I was 30-years-old that I would learn those missed basics. Suddenly math wasn’t so difficult. That’s why I’m breaking down the components of the platform so you can understand the basics and decide how to use each as a building block.

Blocks as Steps

Blocks as Steps by Charli Mills 2015

The purpose of this series is to teach other writers the marketing basics that form what a writer’s platform is and how to use it.

For twelve years, I was marketing communications manager for a natural foods cooperative in Minnesota. I built a national reputation as a brand manager: I built the co-op’s brand through communicating stories, wrote a brand case study for a marketing workbook, presented workshops on the topic and was the subject of numerous magazine articles. When I left, I freelanced over 30 articles on branding.

My personal brand evolved from my specialty; I was the Brand Buckaroo. It stuck in the minds of those I worked with, taught and networked among. I had fun with the buckaroo image, even though I was strict with our store’s branding. I created a western-themed “Branding 101” continuing education course for our workplace. Thus, staff nicknamed me, “The Sheriff.”

When I turned over the store brand to my predecessor, I kept my buckaroo image. After all, I truly was born into a buckaroo culture which shaped my natural inclination for story-telling, and I was headed west to write. I had to shape a new idea for my platform because I was identified with business and freelancing when I wanted to be identified with literary writing. Buckaroo writer and Carrot Ranch became my branding foundation.

My strongest writer’s platform component is branding. This is also an example of how your platform does not have to be like mine. I love branding, I understand it at a deep level and I use it strategically. It’s fine for you to have a simple brand that others experience. But you need to think about what it is.

As a writer, you are the brand; how others experience you and your writing is branding.

A brand creates physical, emotional and intellectual triggers in the mind of the reader. A writer’s brand is unique, identifiable and visual.

Elements of a Brand

Elements of a Brand by Charli Mills 2015

Your name, photos and even the symbols, fonts and colors that you use in your social media, marketing collateral and public relations all add up to your brand. Writers are like cupcakes: the outcome between cake, frosting and decoration is endless. Build your brand like a cupcake and be consistent thereafter.

Consistency matters.

You don’t change who you are once a month, so don’t change your brand after you’ve established it. Keep your brand as close to who you authentically are, what you write and what you publish. Be your own cupcake and maintain your personal recipe.

This doesn’t mean you can’t re-brand. Sometimes it takes a year or two to get a feel for who we are as a writer. Sometimes we begin with free templates or generic colors and fonts to set up our initial presence. As you evolve, so will your brand. Therefore, let your brand grow into something more definitive.

Take a vanilla-chai cupcake, for example. In the beginning, you put out a flavor that rocks the cupcake world. But your cupcake looks, well, overly vanilla. You spice up the look, give the decoration a flair and you’ve re-branded. But it is still the cupcake others have come to recognize and want. You are still the same writer.

What if you no longer want to be a vanilla-chai cupcake? Maybe you started out writing romances because that was the easiest way for you to earn money as a writer. Now you want to write epic political thrillers, definitely a jalapeno-dark-chocolate kind of cupcake. You are a different writer. Develop a new brand (that’s why some writers have multiple pen names, thus multiple brands). Keep in mind that managing multiple brands consistently is complicated.

Branding goes beyond the visual cues and becomes an experience.

Branding occurs the moment a reader takes a bite of your cupcake. You are not in complete control of your branding. No matter what you do, you can’t make every person like your cupcake. Maybe someone likes the idea of vanilla-chai and someone else thinks it looks too bland. Both may or may not like the taste. It’s perception. And you can’t waste your time trying to change the perception of another. Focus on those who connect to your brand.

Your branding is based on how others experience your:

  1. Image of who you are as a writer
  2. Quality and style of your writing
  3. Level of professional manners
  4. Emotional, intellectual or physical connection with your readers

Branding is how others experience the visual cues of who you are as a writer. The quality and style of your writing adds to that image. How you treat others on your blog, their blog, Amazon reviews, at book signings, in the media or in correspondence to publishers is a measure of your professionalism. Think of this as manners or customer service. All this leads to connectivity with others, or not.

If your branding isn’t connecting with others, go back to the most basic element of who you are as a writer.

Be authentically who you are: that writer who likes ballet, lyrical sentences and collects Victorian dolls. Or that writer who wiggles at the sound of a race car revving an engine, collects all things Coke-a-Cola and writes terse dystopian YA. Don’t be pictures of your iguana or sprinkle your website with cartoon butterflies if you write modern spy novels, unless you can tie it to who you are as a writer in a way that others would understand.

Think about your own attributes, interests and strengths. Think about personal relationships.

  1. What do you connect with about yourself?
  2. Why do you write?
  3. Who do you connect with as a kindred spirit?
  4. How do others perceive you?
  5. Ask a friend or family member to be a mirror of you at your best.
Who You Are

Informing Your Brand by Charli Mills 2015

Think about longevity. Will your branding work in the future? My buckaroo brand has been with me throughout my career. It evolved from marketer to writer, and is something I can imagine in the future. I can visualize myself at 92, wearing my buckaroo hat and turquoise boots to a book signing. That I arrived by walker or horse doesn’t matter. That my book is a western, eco-thriller or chick-lit doesn’t matter, either. The buckaroo is me, not my books. My branding is built around my ability to tell stories and make emotional connections: Wrangling words for people, roping stories for novels.

Let’s examine some existing brands so you can get a feel for branding and how it works for a writer’s platform.

Norah Roberts. Her official website is clean, professional and has a romantic flair without being over-the-top. Her picture is fun and you can almost imagine her as one of her jet-setting characters. Even her husband fits the brand of a handsome spouse to the world’s top romance writer. The colors are modern and not gender specific (no obvious pinks or frills). Go to her blog and you might be surprised to find it plain and simple. She’s approachable, enjoys fun times among girlfriends, uses party-left-overs to make a vat of chicken soup and has the same complaints as others on the east coast about the long winter. Her branding is engaging and despite her opulent life, she connects with her readers by being her authentic self. Note: go to her J.D. Robb page and see how different the branding is there.

Clive Cussler. Actually, his website is under a re-brand, which is good because the design looks dated. It is heavily focused on his many books, but note that a photo of him dominates over the bookselling. Clive Cussler is the brand. He makes a surprising statement: “I have never considered myself as much a writer as an entertainer.” His branding is that he is the grandmaster of adventure. He’s lived a life worthy of fictionalized tales in adventurous novels. He is not as approachable as Norah Roberts, but he welcomes readers to his website and feels present. He does not blog. All his books are housed on this one platform.

Wine Wankers. This is blog is one of the best blogging success stories from branding to community to credibility to audience. Conrad (one of the wankers team) was among the first to follow my blog. I thought he was a nutcase. His picture made me think that this was some creepy dude that I would not want to follow anywhere, but I do look at other bloggers’ sites when they follow me. I laughed when I got to the site and read, “Smile 🙂 You’re at the best wine blog ever!” Why does this creepy picture work? First of all, it actually represents the three-man team with a knack for branding humor. The other part of their branding is an authentic enjoyment of wine beyond the pretense of the industry. It’s a wine blog for the common person who happens to love wine. They are Australian, thus they focus on their region. From their branding and community they built up credibility and the site is among the most influential on the internet. And you bet that equates to a large audience.

Here’s a chart of branding specifics that you can use to define who you are as a writer to others:

Branding Chart

Branding Chart by Charli Mills 2015

Tell me about your branding in the comments. Do you feel it is an important component of your platform? Why or why not?

April 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

April 15She points to the ceiling of the porch. “Look at that lath!”

I do, and see tiny strips of wood forming the ceiling. That must have taken a craftsman long hours to arrange and nail each individual piece. More impressive than sheet-rock that’s slapped up in a hurry to get a house up fast. My gaze lingers now that I know what to admire.

We open the door that’s propped shut by a heavy stick of carpentry wood. Old carpet is peeled back to expose polished hardwood. No one has to tell me to admire that detail. Our steps echo in the large room that once was Elmira School. Chalk boards line both the front and back wall, and for the first time, I realize that the wood had once been painted school-bus gold and trimmed in dark red.

“Those globes are original.” Now she’s pointing to three huge lights that suspend from the ceiling. Original? That would make them over 100 years old. No, it had to be later. Sandpoint didn’t build its first Powerhouse until 1910 and it would not have electrified Elmira, 17 miles north by the time this school was built. But she knows her architecture and continues to point out to me why this schoolhouse is worth preserving.

I think the schoolhouse is worth preserving to honor its service to education and the community that once learned how to spell and add on those chalkboards. The history needs preserving, too and the swell of an idea is pressing at my mind. Yet she is the one to voice it.

“You’re a writer. Have you collected stories from living students?”

That’s how I preserve history. I nod and agree that it’s a good idea, and I even imagine placing an add in local papers. She suggests a reunion and I tell her that I think the school-grounds are a perfect setting for Elmira community residents to gather for BBQs and horse-shoes. She agrees, enthusiastically, and now I’m certain I want her to be my neighbor.

Outside she points to a cement pad now covered in peat. “I bet that was to play four-square.” We laugh about how children today play with the red rubber ball but have no idea of the original game. “They just kick it around,” she says.

“And hopscotch,” I add, remembering the fun of that game when our second-grade teacher taught us to draw the squares and numbers. I can imagine this place returning to life. I’m so compelled by this stranger’s visit (she’s returned a second time so now we are friends) that I spend an entire morning at the Elmira Schoolhouse noticing details I had missed. My photos and story are at Elmira Pond Spotter.

I hope she buys the place. She will nurture this old building, and along with another neighbor, we can nurture this scattered community.

Nurturing is the April topic for the #1000Speak project, and writers at Carrot Ranch have been exploring the topic in various ways. We considered the consequences of harming our environment in “The Day the World Turned Brown,” and explored how we can recover from devastating moments by inserting a semi-colon to continue the story in “The Story Doesn’t End.” Officially, April 20th is the day for any participating #1000Speak writers to post in unity with one another.

This week we are going to consider what it means to nurture neighbors or neighborhood. Is it important to gather with neighbors for coffee or BBQ? What does it mean to save a neighborhood relic like the Elmira Schoolhouse?

April 15, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about nurturing a neighborly relationship. It can be a next-door neighbor, a neighborhood critter or a neighborly place like a schoolhouse or community garden. Show what nurturing looks like for characters or places involved.

Respond by April 21, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Welcome to the West by Charli Mills

Viola graduated from normal school in Wisconsin, class of 1909. She assisted a teacher her father knew back home. Most of her students were children of neighbors she grew up with. Viola craved something more wild. Her father winked, though her mother fussed when she announced her appointment out west.

A strong wind battered the train as it pulled up to a remote rough-hewn platform. Whistles blew and Viola stepped off to face strangers. A man approached her, doffed his hat and introduced her to the small crowd gathered.

“Howdy, Neighbors! Welcome our new schoolteacher!”

They smiled and cheered.

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