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August 26: Flash Fiction Challenge

Photo Credit: Kyle Green (

Photo Credit: Kyle Green (

When I was a child, I thought like a child: that one day there would be no forest fires. I believed more in Smokey Bear than I did Santa Clause, and I knew we could prevent forest fires. Yet, year after year, the fire season came as sure as winter snowfall in the mountains of the American West.

A month before my wedding, which was to take place in a meadow where I once rounded up cattle, a place above the saddle where my hometown sat in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the worst occurred: a forest fire struck. Dave Zellmer was not only my scheduled wedding singer, he was the local Fire Chief. You can read about his frustrations with how the fire was handled in this archived LA Times article.

I was old enough to marry but not yet savvy to the politics of firefighting. I still believed we could prevent them. I began to study forest management historically to look to the future.

In 2006 Montana burned.

I know, because my best friend Kate bought me the book, “Montana On Fire.” Many called it the worst fire event since the 1910 fires. Then came the 2012 season. Now the 2015. As I write, over one million acres burn. It’s smokey enough that my eyes sting and I cough during the night. Every day I update my Facebook with the latest posts, spreading evacuation notices and news.

No longer am I a child. Fire has a season and it is only going to to get worse with drought and climate change (see The Atlantic article).

Many remain in childish thinking: climate change is not real. I remember the first time I heard Will Steger talk about global warming. He explained that we would see more extreme events. Drought and wildland fires are an example. There was no preventing the flames — lightening strikes caused the initial spark, and drought is a weather pattern. Fires burned wilderness and ranches; logging sites and choked forests; and even jumped large rivers and changed direction with its own created winds.

While I’m no expert, I can see with my own eyes that fires have become extreme in the West.

One of the saddest stories I read was about a local fire chief, one like I knew in my hometown. By the time a fire struck his community, there was no one left to answer his call for help. We are beyond our local and state budgets. My county has declared a disaster emergency. Yet, help is pouring in…from Alaska and Arizona, Mississippi and New Jersey, Canada and California, Australia and New Zealand.

And this is my hopeful adult thinking: winds of change are certainly upon us and we will need to give and accept help for our growing extreme weather events.

August 26, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the need for help in an extreme weather event. Is the help local or global? Does it arrive or the plea go ignored? It doesn’t have to be fire. Think about extreme weather occurrences and consequences.

Respond by September 1, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Border Crossers by Charli Mills

Lucy’s helmet blew off when the smoky whirlwind hit. Flames began to illuminate the dense fog of gray. Radiant heat blazed like a torch. Bad signs.

Her crew boss transmitted the call. “Need help, HQ. Fire blew up on the west flank. Lines won’t hold.” Static. No answer.

Flames screamed. The air receded. They all hunkered low together. I’m going to die, she thought. And damn it, I lost my helmet.

Lucy never heard the Bombardiers before both dropped water like benevolent sky spirits, but she felt the instant relief. The Canadians heard their call and crossed the border.


Dedicated to all firefighters near and far who answered the West’s call for help in August of 2015.


When Life Gives You Onions

OnionsLife is not always what we expect. It’s complicated. Like discovering that your onion defense shield is actually a tasty invitation to gophers and in the end you lose your crop.

Writers have found an analogy in the humble bulb that can lead to many kinds of tears. Onions are layered and like life, you have peel back one at a time. Some are prepared and others just go with the crying.

Onions prompted a bumper crop of stories this week. The following are based on the August 19, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes onions.


Change Knives, Change Your World by Paula Moyer

How could it be that simple?

All her life, Jean shed tears while chopping onions worse than anyone in the world. That’s how she felt. The burning, the stinging.

“Hon, could you double the onions next time?” her husband asked as she started to make after-work chicken, her trademark.

Oh, Mike, really?

At the onion-chopping stage, Jean reached in the knife drawer and grabbed, by chance, the new slotted knife Mike had bought. Ran it under water, along with the onion.

Chop, chop, and more. Done.

Only afterward, she realized: no tears.

The slotted knife was magical. Who knew?


Powder Residue by Sarah Brentyn

She would never get away with it.

Everyone knew how allergic Tom was to onions.

She had stopped trying after placing the poisoned salad at Tom’s place for Christmas dinner last year. Though she had diced the onions to minuscule bits and tucked them beneath the romaine, he could smell their strong odor.

“Stupid bitch. Watch what you’re doing!”

She recalled the looks. Pity. Blame.

She shook off the memory.

“Al’s Pizza is right next door,” the cashier said eyeing her basket.

“It’s a special occasion,” she placed the yeast, flour, tomatoes, cheese, and onion powder on the counter.


Friends Are Onions by Dave Madden

Friendship: one of few arenas I refrain from grappling in the gray; friends, from my vantage, resemble MMA: a relationship as real as it gets.

In a world where the word friend is tossed around at glancing images on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, and on and on, an individual’s depth is curtailed by a process of dolling out likes, starts, hearts, and plus ones.

A friend offers: safety to peel away masking layers, revealing your truest sense of self; perfect for laughing or crying. A friend appears to grow from the earth as your perfect match.

Friends are onions.


Round Onion by Sherri Matthews

Ethel climbed the stairs.

Stupid sod! To think I made his favourite liver and onions, but he’s out barking at the moon instead.

Dustbins clattered in the street.

Now what?

A giggle drifted from behind the hedge as Ethel opened the front door. “Oooh, Wolfie, you naughty boy…!”

Mave in a mini skirt and Fred, starkers, gauped at Ethel.

“I’m sorry love, it’s the full moon…” pleaded Fred back home. “I’m starvin’. Is that my fave I smell?”

“No onions for you, ya bastard, it’s yer nuts I’m after,” yelled Ethel as Fred let out a howl and bolted.


The First Date by Kate Spencer

Amy could hardly sit still, staring out the window, waiting for George to arrive. Daddy was taking them to the fair that afternoon and he’d promised he’d let them go on the big kids rides this time.

“He’s here!” yelled Amy as she rushed to open the huge front door with her Daddy by her side.

“Hi George!” said Amy giggling.

“Uhm, hi. I br-brought you some flowers. So here,” he said proudly, pushing a tiny bouquet of untied purple and pink blossoms into her hand.

Amy’s Dad smiled. He recognized the onion blooms from Mrs. Rumble’s backyard instantly.


A Limited Ap’peel’? by Jules Paige

Shrek. Gotta love an ogre who can eat an onion like and apple.
And preach philosophy to a talking donkey.

Shrek: Ogres are like onions.
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes… No.
Donkey: They make you cry?
Shrek: No.
Donkey: If you leave them out in the sun, they turn brown
and start sprouting little white hairs?
Shrek: No! Onions have layers. Ogres have layers.

Don’t we all… have layers. Doesn’t matter that onions are
part of the trinity of carrots and celery for cooking. What
matter is the layers. The depth of the every rainbow soul.


Know Your Onions by Geoff Le Pard

‘Two onions please, Penny.’ Paul waited. ‘That’s disappointing.’

‘They’re all shrivelled. Why, dad?’

Paul shrugged. ‘Don’t know. I did the same last year and they were huge. Nature’s always throwing up surprises, not all good.’


Mary thanked Rupert, her half-brother and closed her phone. He was trying so hard to find her lost sister. She’d underestimated him. When they met, after she realised her father had had an affair, she’d hated him. He seemed condescending and untrustworthy. But he wasn’t, just unsure. They were both victims of their father’s selfishness. Sometimes life throws up surprises, not all bad.


Onion Thieves by Charli Mills

Mary McCanles heard gunfire from her garden. She stepped outside to see Cob loping from the barn. Their son, Monroe, stood among her potato hills.

“Roe, mindful of your mama’s taters.” Cob reached the boy first.

“Out of the garden. Now.” Mary frowned at the swirling smoke from Monroe’s rifle.

“But Mama, I shot a critter in your garden.”

“No critter is going to cross my onions.” Mary was certain she had planted more. Why were there gaps between green shoots?

Cob pulled half a red onion bulb from the critter’s fat cheek. “Roe, you have a new chore.”


Tears of Joy by Larry La Forge

“I’ll take it from here.”

Ed had thoroughly researched how to slice onions without crying. Edna backed away.

Ed plopped a stick of gum in his mouth, softening it with a few chomps. He then curled his tongue while putting a slice of bread in his mouth, making sure it hung out at a 90 degree angle. Next he put on and adjusted his goggles while reaching for the sharpest knife in the drawer. Finally, he held the onion under the faucet and sliced it.

Ed remained tearless, but not Edna.

She stood across the room laughing like crazy.


A Diet of Bugs or Onions by Pat Cummings

Squinting through bleary eyes at the screen, I struggle to spot any mistyped character in endless lines of code. I could find the bug in this block of text, if only my eyes would stop tearing long enough.

Too optimistic 48 hours ago, I had assured my employer, “No problem, I can get this delivered by Friday.”

I search character by character, dropping one at a time and re-validating. AHA! There it is!

And it’s obvious. Now, anyway.

I’ll meet the deadline, and deliver the project with a self-reminder: I’d rather eat only onions than EVER do that again!


Onions by Norah Colvin

Before she left she was drawn back for one last look at her hiding place. There, between the garden and the wall, her tears would fall as she dreamt of better things and planned her escape.

The veggie garden was hardly recognisable, camouflaged with weeds. But wait! A flower? She stooped to look. An onion flower?

“Ha!” she thought, recalling the times she had pulled up and bitten into an onion to explain her tears should anybody ask, though they never did. Even untended a flower could bloom, as she too had blossomed despite the harshness of those days.


The Art of Cutting Onions by Ruchira Khanna

“Ouch,” he shrieked in pain as he placed his finger under the running water while compressing the cut.

“What happened” came a curious query.

“I cut my finger” Josh replied in pain.

While laughing loudly, the querier commented, “Sure, it had to happen. Who wears sunglasses to cut onions.”

Josh was taken aback at first. Swallowed his pride and made a statement of opinion, “This helps fight the teary eyes.”

“Oh!” said the inquirer but could not digest the fact, “But either way you landed up with tears!”

That made Josh question himself, and eventually he nodded in compliance.


Gran’s Onions by Ann Edall-Robson

A frown creased Emi’s brow.

Your Grandmother’s Favourite Onion Recipe glared out at her from the pages of the Fall Fair entry book. Sample must accompany the recipe.

Emi remembered, as a little girl, it was her job to go to the root cellar behind her Grandmother’s house to get the onions.

Thinking about it, she imagined the aroma when Gran took the dish out of the wood stove oven.

There was a chance of winning this class. Onions, flour, milk, breadcrumbs and…She couldn’t remember the other ingredients.

Where had she put the box with all Gran’s cookbooks?


Onion Tamed by Sasha Aiden Smythe

“I’m ‘the man’ – sharp and biting is my bark; I leave a lingering aftertaste in the dark. Appealing charms you admire; I know you secretly revel in my ‘big kahunas’.”

In the right hands, as the blade slices, shaving layers fall away, softness stirs in a song unsung.

It begins with a slow sizzle, ramps up in swinging heat, following with a rocking underlying beat. Bathed in oil, dashed with salt, the manly onion tamed, even inflamed, by black pepper.

“Now man, when in my hands, magick transforms – all your charms flush pleasing. Question: Now, who exactly is teasing?”


Onion by Irene Waters

A friend introduced us. “Jacqui, this is Onion.”

I raised my eyebrows “So you’re goin’ to make me cry.”


Onion was the life of that party. He made me laugh as we danced and drank and joked our way through the evening. It was natural to meet again and again.

I found we held social justice views the same and we attended human rights marches and worked as advocates for refugees.

As I peeled back Onion’s layers, I found each one different and deeper and yes he made me cry as finally, he told of his own abuse.


Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

There wasn’t going to be a better time. The last week of camp and I found myself on the dock with Jenny Mays.

As lifeguards we’d spent the summer eyeing each other from across the lake. Now, under the stars, my breaths quickened as I took her hand. The moon touched her smile. I leaned in. The katydids chattered. Closer…

The burp rumbled up my chest to my throat. I croaked like a bullfrog. The night lurched to a halt. Jenny’s jerked away.


It was then that I seriously regretted eating the Billy Philly Cheesesteak with extra onions.


 Being Eighteen by Sarrah J. Woods

In the corner of an industrial-sized kitchen, an eighteen-year-old girl chops vegetables through tears that are not from the onions.

She’s me, eleven years ago. The summer after high school, I went to work as the salad bar waitress at a church camp because I wanted to appear noble and because that’s where the boy I liked would be.

I didn’t tell anyone I had mono.

The boy ditched me on the first day. All summer I battled my fatigue and wondered why dark clouds were separating me from God.

It’s a strange and difficult thing to be eighteen.



August 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

August 19Coyotes gather on the ridge across the road and sing to the distant train whistles. There exists a rule, probably written in urine, that coyotes stay east and wolves west. Naturally, we live on the west-side.

A noisy night in the neighborhood is when the wolves howl one direction, the coyotes another and an elk bugles. Not a smart elk move. Soon we hear only coyotes and figure the wolves are hunting the bugling neighbor. In the midst of this a Canadian cattle truck rumbles past or a BNSF train squeals steel rims on steel rails.

Silence is not common.

But I’m not expecting the excited yips of the lone coyote as I stumble from bed to fix the Hub breakfast. First cup of coffee drawn and I can still hear that coyote. Yip-yip-hooowl. Yip-yip-hooowl. I step out on the porch in the pre-dawn light and realize that the coyote is west. He’s in the trees behind the Elmira Schoolhouse.

That’s where the wild turkeys roost.

Timer goes off and I pull ham and cheese bagels from the oven. A quick breakfast. I start thinking about the food chain and how excited that coyote sounds, as if he just discovered what Thanksgiving is and there’s at least 40 drumsticks hanging in the pines above his head. The thought of future pumpkin pie makes me want to howl, too.

The turkeys are my first line of defense against gophers, and I’m not happy to share any with an upstart coyote on the wrong side of the road. If that yappy trickster wants to slink over to my yard and gobble up gophers, I won’t complain about the hairy coyote scat. I wish more predators would feast on gophers.

We had an easy alliance — gophers can rip through the back lawn and have at all the pastures. The gardens were off limits, no roses, no fruit trees, no veggies. If any pushed the boundaries, the Hub would flood new holes with the hose and I embedded sonar stakes. When I planted my potato patch along the north pasture where the soil is sandy, I surrounded my hills with 70 red onions, 30 white onions, 20 shallots and 20 garlic.

Clever. Until I realized, gophers love onions!

At first I had no idea what was happening. The sandy soil masked their burrowing. Each day it seemed like the onion patch decreased. No wilt. Just disappeared. Gone onions.

The turkeys alerted me to the disaster. This flock of hens and brood took up dirt bathing in my gopher mounds. How they knew the beasts were in my onions and potatoes is beyond me, but they revealed the hidden tunnels. Like Nazis secretly drilling underground for evil purposes, gophers invaded.

A turkey bath (not to be confused with a Turkish bath) involves dirt, loss of feathers and poop. Turkey poop. Pure garden nitrogen, as far as I’m concerned. And gophers are squeamish about poop. Evidently, pet or human hair and cat poop are natural deterrents. Now, everyone, cat, dogs, coyotes, turkeys are welcome to shat in my potato patch. It may be the only thing that saves my onions.

The harvest that promised large yields is woefully diminished. That coyote needs to leave the turkeys alone. Where is wolf when you need one?

August 19, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes onions. It can be the main event or a spicy side to your flash. Think of the impact of onions — teary eyes, dragon-breath, indigestion. How can an onion add a twist, reveal a character or sabotage a perfect day? Have fun!

Respond by August 25, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

In the following story, I’m using real-life to get me into the family dynamics of characters in my current WIP, Rock Creek. Sometimes when I’m uncertain about a scene or characters interacting, I imagine them dealing with a situation that’s familiar to me. Something simple to give me entrance. Do you ever do that in your fiction writing?


Onion Thieves by Charli Mills

Mary McCanles heard gunfire from her garden. She stepped outside to see Cob loping from the barn. Their son, Monroe, stood among her potato hills.

“Roe, mindful of your mama’s taters.” Cob reached the boy first.

“Out of the garden. Now.” Mary frowned at the swirling smoke from Monroe’s rifle.

“But Mama, I shot a critter in your garden.”

“No critter is going to cross my onions.” Mary was certain she had planted more. Why were there gaps between green shoots?

Cob pulled half a red onion bulb from the critter’s fat cheek. “Roe, you have a new chore.”


Got Your Back

Got Your BackWhen facing a trial, unyielding institutions or difficult committees it helps to have an advocate. Sometimes that advocate is hired, and often not. A mother might have her child’s back or a grandchild might look out for the elderly.

The idea for “got your back” sprang from support for a veteran facing a difficult situation. The expression comes from being in a dangerous situation where you might need another to cover your back as you move forward. In the military, this is called “got your 6.” And there is an organization that seeks to empower today’s US veterans to be community leaders and for the community to have a more normal perspective of veterans beyond “heroic or broken.”

Check out the organization Got Your 6 and see the video clip at the end of this compilation.

The following stories are based on the August 12, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who is called to have the back of another.


Back Up by Sherri Matthews

The questions had started out basic but became more complex with every turn of the page.

Write in as much detail as possible the applicant’s difficulties with everyday tasks.

She sighed and ran her hands through her unwashed hair as she glanced up at her kitchen clock. Damn. Already noon and still she hadn’t showered.

Her phone vibrated, she jumped.


“Mrs Martin? This is Dee Caldwell, the Council Welfare Officer. I had a message to call you about helping fill out some forms for your daughter. When can I visit?”

Someone had her back. Someone cared just enough.


Back to the Future by Geoff Le Pard

‘Sore?’ Paul massaged Mary’s back.

‘Hmm. I need a better chair.’

‘What you reading?’

‘Rupert’s notes. He’s determined to find my twin.’

‘Really? Better?’


‘What’s he found?’

‘She was definitely Katherine not Sharon. That’s my imaginary friend. Katharine was adopted by a family called Potts.’


‘They moved to Ireland in 1984. He’s going to see what he can find. He wants me to go too.’

‘What about you?’

‘Would you mind? I’d take the baby but you’ll have Penny.’

‘You know I’ll do whatever you need.’

‘Hourly massages?’

‘Course. Covering your back has always been my priority!’


Lost Loyalties by Christina Rose

She found the emails from his ex, the U-Haul rental receipt in her name, obvious signs of a quick exit. He he was gone by the time she got home.

I emailed him, unleashing my rage, my fury over their actions, the betrayal she was too brokenhearted to fight. He took the lowest of blows, personal attacks, things she said behind my back.

She denied saying those things of course, but I always wondered.

Years later, we don’t talk. Memories of me, bring back memories of him. Avoidance from the friend I once loved, no appreciation for the loyalty.


Providing Cover by A. R. Amore

The overnight detective was young, respectful and professional; he started almost every sentence with, “I’m sorry sir, but…” Chief Barret felt he actually meant that.

“Bring him,” he ordered and the detective nodded.

When they brought him all he could say was, “It looks bad but they have it wrong. It was a wild frat party…”

“The girl was 17,” Barret said. “You drugged her.”

“I didn’t,” his son mumbled. “No, I…”

This was his second college and third assault allegation.

“She was drugged; raped.” The Chief stood thinking: I won’t cover this one up. He needs to learn.


Growth: a Mindset by Norah Colvin

Marnie propped her head on one hand while the pencil in the other faintly scratched the paper. She hoped it wasn’t too obvious that she didn’t get it. But she didn’t get it. She didn’t get last year, or the year before. Why should she get it now? What was the point? Her brain just didn’t work that way. She was dumb. They had always said she was dumb. No point in trying.

Then the teacher was there, encouraging, supporting, accepting. “Let me help you,” she said. “You can do this. Let’s break it down into steps. First …”


Eating…by Bill Bennett

I had to have his back. I couldn’t count the times he had saved me from being bitten and turned. The Ruger 10/22 was a great weapon for killing the eaters, and I had never had a problem until now. The stupid gun kept jamming. Was it the amo or was it because the gun was dirty? Never the less I had to do something. I pushed my back against his and jabbed each eater in the eye socket with the gun and thrust harder into the skull, killing each monster and the threat of catching the hideous virus.


I Have Your Back, Grandma by Kate Spencer

“I have your back, Grandma”

“Yes, you have tact. Always have – ever since you were a little boy.”

“Grandma, listen, I’ll take care of you.”

“You? What can you do? Oh, goodness, no Jason. I’m fine and can manage quite nicely. Did I tell you I went strawberry picking last weekend?”

“Yes you did, but I wanted you to know that I’ll be there for you.”

Grandma walked over to the kitchen counter and Jason watched as she re-arranged some tomatoes in a bowl with one hand and quietly wiped her eye with the other.

“Love you Grandma.”


The Irony by Ruchira Khanna

Trisha lay still accompanied by silent sniffs.

“Don’t worry Trish. I am right here” she said in a pacified tone.

“Oh! I am scared Mommy,” she said while sniffing, “Will it hurt?”

“Not at all dear!”

Soon she felt the prick, the pressure on her arm build up, and within seconds, everything was back to normal.

She wailed, whimpered as the nurse dabbed cotton on the spot.
Mom took over with a gentle smile while making her sit up.

Aha! The paradox of life that in spite of a whining, weepy kid, the Mom was wearing a smile.


The Advocate by Sarah Unsicker

Mrs. Smith felt less alone when she walked into the room with her advocate behind her, but she still instinctively cowered when she saw the table with ten people around it. Ten people unwilling to expend resources on her child. Ten people who saw his naughty behavior as willful disobedience rather than inability to comply.

The teachers’ names flew past before she could take them in.

“I’m sorry, can we repeat those introductions, slower, so I can write down everybody’s names?” said the advocate.

Mrs. Smith’s shoulders relaxed. Finally, at this meeting, somebody had her back—and her son’s.


Two at Her Back by Paula Moyer

“You will have 10 minutes to empty your desk.” Jean knew she was good. What was up? She handed her key to the guard. Walked out like a robot.

Still numb, she drove home, walked up the drive, unlocked the door. Ellie was on the other side, whole body wagged by the tail. Jean dropped into the couch. Ellie’s manic wagging stopped. She plopped her head onto Jean’s knee.

Jean pulled out her phone, scrolled to Lynn. “Cousin, I just got fired.”

Lynn gasped. “How could they?”

“Easily, apparently.”

“Well.” Lynn’s trademark.


“I’ll just take my business elsewhere.”


I’ve Got Your Back by Irene Waters

Close to the summit, Kathy’s hand hold faultered. The crevice was tiny and her anxiety was turning to panic.

“You can do it.” Richard gently encouraged her onwards in his calming, believable voice. “I’ve got your back so don’t worry. Your safe. One step at a time.” She trusted him and reached the top.

Now, back home, they danced. She loved being held against him but Richard was dancing clumsily, trying to look behind him to avoid collisions on the crowded dance floor.

“Look forward. Trust me, like I trusted you. I’ve got your back now. You have mine.”


Chips Are Unhealthy for More Reasons Than You Think by Dave Madden

The door jam is my Prime Meridian. In waiting for the right choice, I notice potato chips next to the garbage.

A wave of boys wishing “good mornings” heightened wonderment: How good would it have been had I crossed any time zones through the door’s threshold?


An innocent Kindergartner admitted, “A friend shared them.”

My tone validated, with no hint at hiding urgency, “We don’t share food at school, so go throw them away.”

He nods his head; I turn around.

Crunch, crunch, crunch!

Even when teachers try to have students’ backs, it doesn’t always go as planned.


Family Reunion by Sarah Brentyn

“That’s not how it happened,” Terri barked.

“Who cares,” Kim interrupted, “I want to hear more about Tracy’s new ‘boyfriend’.”

“No,” Mark gestured with his beer, “let’s hear more about this supposed thing I did to Tracy. I hurt her wittle feelings?”

Britney laughed. “It’s bullshit. Like her new job.”

“Tracy?” Her mother glared. “Don’t just stand there like an idiot.”

Tracy’s boyfriend squeezed her hand. “It was nice to meet all of you but we have a weekend meeting at work.” He turned to her. “Do you want to leave now or wait a bit?”

“Now is good.”


Undaunted by Ann Edall-Robson

Hearing the horses milling around in the corral, she slipped into her coat. Picking up her rifle, the undaunted woman headed for the barn.

She shivered. The hair on the back of her neck was standing. The screaming had been sporadic for weeks. Tonight it was close.

The tawny coloured cougar lay waiting. Ears back. Tail twitching. Ready to spring.

A blur rushed past her towards the cat.

One shot and it was over.

Squatting, she rested her hand on the dog that came to stand beside her.

She depended on her partner. He was always there for her.


Legal Maneuvering by Larry LaForge

Judge Stone called Ed to the podium and read the charge. “How do you plead?”

Ed stood nervously.

“Not guilty,” someone proclaimed from behind. All eyes turned toward Edna, whose loud voice surprised even her.

The Judge was startled, then amused. “Does she always have your back?”

Ed answered immediately. “Guilty as charged, Your Honor.”

Judge Stone didn’t know if Ed was admitting he ran the stop sign or proudly affirming he has a supportive spouse.

The Judge smiled, scratched his head and then announced “Charge dropped.”

Ed ignored Edna’s signal to remain silent. “The defense rests,” he said.


Special Recipe by Pete Fanning

They tortured that boy. Day after day, smacking his head and taunting him. He never said much. But that numb look on his face said it all. His clothes were a mess. His hair butchered. And that bruise under his collar? I’d been there.

I don’t know how they found out Butch was on assistance, but by then I’d had enough.

The hell with probation, the next morning I wrapped that hairnet for the last time. When Butch arrived I took that bowl of pudding from off his plate and winked.

“Might want to pass on the that today.”


Sarah’s Deliverer by Charli Mills

He’d hid the kittens Mr. Boots had in the barn. On those nights when coyotes yipped and she felt abandoned on the prairie, Hickok read to her his mother’s letters. Last night, after Cob raged that he’d clean out Rock Creek, Hickok calmed her fear. “I got your back, Sarah,” he said.

Now that Cob had thrown Wellman to the ground, Nancy Jane growled by the door and young Sally whimpered from under the kitchen table. Hickok strode tall and calm from the barn, walked right past Cob.

“Friends, aint’ we Hickok?”

No Cob, it’s my back he has.


The Good Parent by Jules Paige

Children who are different – some schools want to put them on drugs.
To make them docile and compliant and pliable. Ones who are curious,
disrupting the normal routines of a class. But Janice had her son Manning’s
back. As a parent you have be your child’s best advocate. Since they
just don’t always have the right words to express their needs.

If you didn’t know it, at least where Janice lived there was such a
document called “The Parent’s Bill of Rights.’ And she used it. Janice
had Manning’s back. And he knew it.


Veterans, we got your 6!

Death of a Man. . . Death of a Bear

Here’s an important post to share. As many of you know, I live in a grizzly bear recovery zone. Although we had a brief and lucky encounter with a bear this spring, we seldom see the bears in this area, and attacks are uncommon.

Yellowstone is different. It is a park, a wilderness where anyone can enjoy what it has to offer. And sometimes what it has to offer is deadly. Last week, a man and now a bear, have both lost their lives. This is the most intelligent and balanced essay I’ve read on the incident and wish to share it along with these words from conservationist and educator, Aldo Leopold:

“All conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.”
~ A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There

Lodge Trail

by  Keith R. Crowley

The Yellowstone Grizzly known as “Blaze”

Trying to make sense of last week’s fatal Grizzly bear attack on a hiker in Yellowstone National Park and its aftermath is a fool’s errand. But this fool is going to try anyway.

This kind of story wrenches its way deep into the psyche of all who spend time in the wilds. And it certainly wrenched its way deep into my soul since I spend months each year in Yellowstone and the surrounding Grizzly Country.

To make it even more personal, I, like many of my colleagues, came to “know” the bear believed to be involved in the attack.

I put “know” in quotes because it’s a fallacy to think we can really know a wild animal. There is simply no way to get inside their heads. Hell, most of us don’t even understand our own pets’ behavior very well, so we can forget about…

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August 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

August 12His back is to me as he casts his flies. Hoppers or nymphs. He’d know; he discerns to the insect hatch. I observe not to plop a reading seat on an ant hill or encounter anything crawling across stones in the creek.

He’s Sgt. Mills, ex-Army Ranger and I’m the buckaroo writer he teasingly calls the Cowardly Cowgirl. He tosses a live grasshopper at my open Kindle and I squeal. He laughs and asks how I’d ever survive in the wilderness. I’d manage. After all, I’m a survivor.

We each have our own kind of toughness. He has physical, mental and moral strength; not someone to be broken. If you’ve ever watched a special forces movie with the proverbial ring-the-bell-to-quit element, know that Ranger Mills never rung the bell. The Army pushed him until it proved he was a soldier with no quit in him. He never quits.

In my wilderness, I know what it is to quit and be broken. My toughness comes from fighting back. There are some bells I’ve never rung — I escaped a family dynamic few ever do. I know to be hopeful, to persevere and to believe in a greater good. I’ve learned that quality of life is worth fighting for and that  every individual has a right to his or her full potential. I am empowered.

We both have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The gift of surviving; the mechanism itself that allows one to survive.

I’ll advocate for others with PTSD, and even share snippets of my story, but frankly I’m not a fan of labels. While diagnosis can offer insight, I don’t ever want it to be an excuse. When I was first diagnosed 24 years ago, it explained so much. I had a great team of therapists who loaded up my toolbox with ways to cope — emotional reprogramming, art therapy, parenting classes, group therapy. Recently I learned of the Human Givens approach in the UK and although that wasn’t my course of therapy I found several similarities. It starts with awareness.

Yet it I’d be unaware for years about my husband’s PTSD. It wasn’t until a mutual military friend asked for my help with her volunteer service to the Army psych unit at Fort Snelling (in St. Paul, Minnesota). She was using auricular acupuncture in a study to reduce combat stress. I did intake and brought rocks (that’s for another story, one day). Slowly, I began to see patterns in these soldiers that I recognized in my own Ranger Mills. She wasn’t the first person to point to him and PTSD.

I met my best friend Kate the first day of college. We were both writing majors and OTAs– older than average students. Our adviser was a no-show and from day one we looked out for each other. Our bond was instantaneous, but it took the normal paths of trust and disclosure to learn that we both had been diagnosed with PTSD two years earlier. She was married to a combat veteran who was irresponsibly put on medication and pulled off without thought to consequences. In a PTSD fugue state (where he’d wake up in the middle of the night reenacting scenes from Vietnam), he shot himself.

These are hard topics to share; hard for discourse. Many people squirm and change the subject. Yet Kate and I found in each other a friendship that had at its core an understanding of the brain’s survival mechanism. We could discuss symptoms, therapies, studies and stories without censure and feel a peace at knowing what each of us had gone through was familiar.

Kate never came out and said that my husband had PTSD, but she cleverly included him in key conversations over the years that planted a seed in my head. Even after my other friend suggested that my husband reach out to the VA, I never disclosed my thinking to Kate until she was on her deathbed.  She nodded. She knew. And that’s when she gave me the second best piece of deathbed advice: “Charli, you go home and tell him, you have his back.”

Simple words soldiers understand.

When in the heat of combat, when my husband jumped into Grenada with 110 pounds in his rucksack and landed with his parachute looking like Swiss cheese from bullet holes, all he fought for was the brother next to him. Not flag and country, not God and humanity, but for the soldier in the same firefight as he. 110 pounds was nothing. He’d easily carry a 175 pound Ranger because not only do they not quit, they don’t leave anyone behind.

I came home from Helena and told Ranger Mills I had his back. He teared up, nodded and choked out a “Thank you.”

His PTSD is unlike mine in a few significant ways. First, I developed PTSD as a child which impaired personality development. He went into the Army mostly developed (18 is young for the male mind which some scientists suggest isn’t completely hardwired until the early 20s). Second, I’ve had a formal diagnosis and therapy. His diagnosis happens tomorrow at a hearing and he hasn’t once been examined by a qualified (or unqualified for that matter) professional. Typically, the VA assigns a diagnosis upon proof of combat service.

I have his back tomorrow. And I know I’m preparing for a fight because I’m going to push against the grain. I don’t believe that Ranger Mills has PTSD from a single point of conflict — the invasion of Grenada. I believe he already had PTSD before he jumped. I believe the Army Ranger School actually triggers the PTSD response and then qualifies those who can use it to become soldiers who don’t quit. Hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal, both symptoms of PTSD, are also traits of the elite soldiers.

The Army trained its Rangers “live” between Vietnam and Desert Storm in conflicts we never heard about in South America. Panama, Nicaragua, the Rangers were essentially the CIAs backup army, but shh, I never told you that. Neither has my husband. He’s loyal to the creed. I found out through a Catholic group (in college) who protested the School of Americas and had stories from nuns and priests in South America that never hit the news. What it does explain is his sustained exposure to PTSD triggering events. Ones the military will never grant him officially. But he has Grenada to count. Officially.

My next fight is against medication. Not once was I medicated until I voluntarily joined a PTSD drug study in the late 1990s. I had already been through my therapy and in control of my triggers for several years when I saw an ad for the study. Thinking I was going to help others, I went through a series of discomforting sessions until I received my second diagnosis of PTSD. Then they gave me pills. I wish I recall what they were; but I know they triggered symptoms I couldn’t control. I quit the meds immediately and the symptoms abated. I told the researchers what happened and it became a footnote in side-effect warnings.

Because of my experience, I don’t believe in medication as a way to cope with PTSD. Already, I think our culture is too quick to believe in the pill-that-solves-all. I’m not saying that drug therapy doesn’t have its place, but it should be either an emergency intervention to stabilize a person or the last tool in the box after trying other non-invasive therapies. In fact, the Journal of Psychiatric Practice posted a review to NOT recommend anxiety medication for PTSD. Had Kate’s husband not been medicated (he had lived with PTSD for over 20 years prior to being medicated), he might have lived to be the one at her side while she battled cancer.

Consider this statistic:

According to the VA, 22 veterans commit suicide each day. This means approximately 8,030 veterans kill themselves every year, more than 5,540 of whom are 50 or older.

Ranger Mills is 52. Tomorrow he gets his diagnosis. I will fight for him to get the best in the VA’s toolbox that doesn’t include medication first. I wonder how many of those veterans who died were offered nothing more than a prescription? They trained this Ranger never to quit. They can train this Ranger to know how to stand down his hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal. They can train him to manage his anger, to allow that civilians do things differently. They can help him with job-training or help him start a business, stand up for him when employers are unfair (his current employer pulled his route from him because he has this appointment tomorrow). I’ll help him communicate tomorrow; I’ll help him with future therapy; I’ll help him understand that PTSD is not a label or stigma.

I have his back.

August 12, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who is called to have the back of another. What circumstances led up to this moment? What are the character motives? Think about the interaction, the setting, the tone. What does it look like to have another’s back?


Sarah’s Deliverer by Charli Mills

He’d hid the kittens Mr. Boots had in the barn. On those nights when coyotes yipped and she felt abandoned on the prairie, Hickok read to her his mother’s letters. Last night, after Cob raged that he’d clean out Rock Creek, Hickok calmed her fear. “I got your back, Sarah,” he said.

Now that Cob had thrown Wellman to the ground, Nancy Jane growled by the door and young Sally whimpered from under the kitchen table. Hickok strode tall and calm from the barn, walked right past Cob.

“Friends, aint’ we Hickok?”

No Cob, it’s my back he has.


Uncommon Deer Tales

UncommonMost writers were surprised to discover that the “I ran over a deer (or other animal) and have decided to nurse it back to health” is a common theme; a literary cliche showing up en masse to the Tohoma Literary Review.

Thus we applied imagination to what is considered common. How could we challenge the common theme and create something compelling? Each writer took on the challenge, settled into a state of imagining and the results are in — not one story is alike.

Using twists, tension, imagery and dialog, these are uncommon tales based on the August 5, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write the common premise: “I ran over a deer (or other animal) and have decided to nurse it back to health.”


Sweet Rocky…by Christina Rose

I almost stepped on him, frightened squeaks his only salvation. Fell from the tree, wobbling around, not a parent in sight.

Two days of regular feedings, researched recommendations followed, cuddles and compassion unlimited. Even the dog knew. A baby, hurt, he sniffed and sat in anxious curiosity.

Curled in a ball, variegated shades of brown resting against my sternum, warm and safe.

2am feeding. Greedily sucking Pedialite from a tiny syringe. Smacking lips, then nothing. Body still.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Rocky died…” Uncontrollable sobbing into fitful sleep.

Every. Time.

Knowing he passed safe and warm, the only consolation.


I’m Going to Save the Kangaroo I Ran Over by Irene Waters

The kangaroo ran. It turned. The thud followed by a tumbling sound under the car left me fearful that it was dead. It lay very still on the road. Our earlier gaiety gone as we made our way to the stricken animal. It was alive but barely. Blood ran from one nostril. We rolled it onto a blanket and lifted it into the car. The vet lived over the hill. There may be a chance.

The stunned kangaroo panicked and stood on the back seat towering over us. Afraid, we vowed never again if there was a next time.


A Mixed Bag by Ruchira Khanna

Every morning seeds are poured into the bird feeder. There is an assortment of seeds thus, attracting birds of all sizes.

Through their constant chirps, I can get a feel of their happiness, and good spirits as a result pigeons, sparrows, blue jays and crows are pecking upon at the same time. Contentment is never in their charts. Thus, they continue to feast upon and not get frenzied by the human company until I tripped over a sparrow, thus making the flock fly away.
I carefully picked up that feeble bird and decided to nurse it back to health.


Offering a Hand by Geoff Le Pard

Penny pointed to what seemed like a heap of leaves.

Gradually Mary’s eyes saw what her daughter saw. A small bird, sat still but not lifeless.

‘It’s fallen. Can we help it?’

Mary checked; the nest was empty. ‘I think it’s been abandoned. Best..’

‘No! We must do something.’

Summers peeled away and she was ten again; her father picked up the blackbird they hit with their car. She sat with it, nursing it. It was hopeless but her father had understood she had to try.

‘Of course.’ She thought of her missing twin; had someone picked her up?


Almost by Paula Moyer

Jean and Mike wanted to do right by the deer. Buzzing up I-35 just north of Kansas City, they came out of nowhere. Seemed to. The buck and first doe made it past the car. The second smacked the grill, flipped in the air.

Mike gripped the wheel, steered forward, remembering: hang on. Don’t steer away. Don’t brake.

Afterward, he guided the car onto the shoulder. Then they looked for the deer. Nurse its wounds – why not?

The deer was not there. Three miles of ditch. Then they saw the round, brown bump. Not breathing. Poor deer. Almost rescued.


It’s a Girl! by A. R. Amore

By the time I showed up he was kneeling over the body attempting CPR. His car mangled, the deer looking only slightly better. He hollered, “Hold her head.” I did.

I wondered if he knew what he was doing; he read my face. “I’m a vet,” he answered before blowing into the doe’s nostrils. She wheezed. Someone appeared with a large canvas duffle bag. A Environmental cop blocked traffic.

“She can’t be saved,” he said. “But we can save her baby.”

Donning blue surgical gloves, he removed instruments from the bag. Someone spread a blanket. We held our breath.


The Birdie by Larry LaForge

Ed sized up the shot, grabbed his seven iron and struck the ball. Small branches shook as the errant golf ball grazed the tree line on the right side of the fairway.

A tiny robin fluttered to the ground.

Ed’s playing partners teased him about finally making a birdie. Not funny, he thought.

Arriving home, Ed unzipped the large compartment of his golf bag. Edna watched curiously as Ed gently used both hands to scoop out and cradle what appeared to be twigs and leaves.

“Bring the golf course home with you?” Edna kidded.

Ed smiled sheepishly. “Sort of.”


Orphan by Ann Edall-Robson

“Dad is going to have a fit when he finds out what we did and what we are planning.”

“I’m the after the fact accomplice in this.”

“I couldn’t leave the baby to its own devices? I saw fresh bear tracks.”

“Did you look for its mother?”

“Some, until I found blood.”

“I know you would have done the same thing.”


“Go warm some milk. I’ll wash the bottles.”

“Will you help me come up with a persuading story to tell Dad why there’s a deer in the barn?”


Barking by Sheri Matthews

“Mrs Barker?” enquired the policeman as Ethel’s bulk blocked the doorway.


“There’s been an accident. The driver thinks he might have hit a deer, but before he could check– he’s a vet – he thought he saw ‘something’ run into the woods. An abandoned car nearby is registered to your husband. Is he home?”

“Something…what do you mean?”

The policeman coughed, then stuttered. “A man, but like a wolf, saw teeth…he said…”

“Gawd! It’s High Wycombe, not the bleedin’ Wild West.”

Later, Ethel heard howling. “Pipe down Fred,” she hissed from the bedroom window, “you’ll wake the neighbours.”


Like a Deer in the Headlights by Norah Colvin

Like a deer in the headlights she was immobile. She’d dreaded this moment. Although she’d tried to fade into the background, she knew she couldn’t hide forever. The room suddenly fell silent, all eyes on her. Would she fail?

“Marnie?” prompted the teacher.

Her chair scraped as she stood. She grasped the table with trembling hands attempting to still her wobbly legs. They waited.

Marnie squeaked. Some looked down, or away. Some sniggered. Jasmine smiled encouragingly. Marnie cleared her throat, then blurted the answer.

“That’s right!” congratulated the teacher.

The class erupted. Marnie smiled. Their efforts had paid off.


Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

The deer doesn’t stir as Harry strokes her cheek. “We’re fucked!”

I want to reassure the boy, but fear wipes the smile from my face.

How right it felt initially. Save the animals and we save ourselves. Suddenly it was cool to be Green. Or Jain, strips of gauze across our mouths lest we inadvertently swallow a fly.

New laws brought the laggards into line. A life for a life and hang the hunters to save the planet. No leniency for plain bad luck.

Yet the doe’s still breathing. “Come on, son, we’re gonna nurse her back to health.”


Raze the Dead by Sarah Brentyn

“Aren’t you going to say something? Try to stop me?”

Chloe looked through the smudged window, pressing her fingers against the glass. She squinted for a moment. “No, I don’t think so.”

“But we’re not supposed to do this,” Emma slammed down the knife, her sleeve falling over raised, white scars. “I could get in trouble.”

“You could get a lot worse,” Chloe chuckled, “you could get dead.”

“This is funny? It’s your fault!”

“I know.” Chloe picked up the knife, handing it back to Emma. “You know my room assignment. I’ll be there if you want to talk.”


The Bambi Effect by Tally Pendragon

Sea breezes blew the woman’s hair as the open-top Merc glided into the shadows. Twilight made the man appear handsome. Post-coital bliss clouded his vision, dulled his wits.
She was out of the car in seconds, once the screeching of tyres and the thud had stopped. “It’s ok, you haven’t killed him. His leg’s broken. We have to get him to an emergency vet!”
“Are you kidding? Look at my car! Get back in, we’re going!”
“I so do not want to be having an affair with the man who’d leave Bambi by the roadside to die!”


The Newest Member of the Class by Dave Madden

The first morning drive on the first day of a new school year; my mind raced faster than the car, though an unexpected speed bump decelerated my brainstorming.

“Boys and girls,” my opening more rattled than welcoming, and I drew the students’ attention to the Toto-like Cairn I ran over, who rested injured in a box.

Inquisitive hands shot up with wonderings, and every answer led to us nursing the dog back to health.

We rallied around the thirty-sixth member on the roster, and it was the greatest form of team building that I never want to experience again.


Deer Struck by Jeanne Lombardo

The deer leaped from the hillside, forelegs outstretched, real pretty, like wheat in the setting prairie sun. The near eye gleamed big as the moon. Then I slammed into her.

Goddammit, I thought, third one this year. I grabbed my old Winchester and kicked the door open.

She was lying on the highway, a gash in her hind haunch, one leg snapped like a dead branch. Not too heavy, I reckoned. Ought to get her loaded up all right.

I aimed, then lowered the gun. That moon eye was looking at me all steady like.

“Help me,” she said.


Last Flight by Jules Paige

Too young to know any better – maybe. Thud. I heard it. Now where’d the bird go. I pulled over. It’s a myth they say that you shouldn’t handle birds and other wild living things. I had a rag in the car and used it to pick up the stunned chick. Couldn’t leave it in the middle of the road. I could only hope that after the initial shock she’d fly away. So I placed ‘er under a bush.

Checked back the next day. Flies and feathers equals a frown face. Local cat had lunch or dinner.


Good With Animals by Charli Mills

“Sylvia, darling, off to the store.” Mae pumped the gas pedal with her worn slipper until the truck engine rumbled. Lights on, she drove the backroads, carefully.

The store was closed. She had no money, anyhow. Mae drove back, watchful for deer. One smashed the front grill and lay panting on the pavement.

“Hush, now. I’m good with animals.” With a winch, Mae loaded the deer and returned home, dragging it to a barn stall of soft hay. She flicked on the light, illuminating hundreds of eyes.

Returning to the house, Sylvia asked Mae, “Did you get cat food?”


The One That Got Away by Charli Mills

Humidity and wildfire smoke veil the valley. Mountains stand gunmetal-blue; skies drip cotton-candy pink. Striding past my crumple hooded car, I worry about making the deductible. Unexpected deer strike followed by an unexpected lay-off. I want to yell at the overhead carnival of colors, “It’s not fair!” I sound like a distraught toddler tossing a tantrum in the candy aisle. Is life ever as sweet as the wrapper promises? When did jobs, cars and best friends live forever?

Then he steps away from the apple tree. The buck. Whole and healed, eating summer sugared apples like a living miracle.


The Shrinking Violet’s 6-point Guide to Promoting Your Novel

me at jesmondWhen Anne Goodwin rode up to Carrot Ranch with her first flash fiction challenge, I knew she was competent in the saddle — Anne knows her craft. With 61 short stories published, it’s no surprise Inspired Quill picked up her debut novel. However, like many skilled writers, Ann was reluctant to promote her work. In her guest post, Anne addresses how she mastered the launch of her debut novel.

Anne Goodwin, Guest Blog:

I’ve enjoyed Charli’s posts on writer branding, even as I bristled at the idea of considering myself, or my output, a commodity. Yet now I have a genuine product to sell in the form of my debut novel, some of Charli’s expertise must’ve rubbed off on me, because I’m determined to do the best job I can in getting my book to readers. This is very much an idiot’s guide cobbled together from the things I’ve done, or wished I’d done, in the process, and is particularly targeted at the anxious writer who balks at the idea of self-promotion (i.e. most of us, at least in the beginning). I can’t guarantee that following these steps will result in phenomenal sales. I can’t guarantee that it will remove all discomfort from the process. But I do believe that by confronting and managing our anxieties as outlined here we can be confident we’ve given ourselves and our books the best possible chance of success.

1. Cultivate your communities
This isn’t about forging friendships to flog your books. Not only is that slimy and cynical, it’s probably ineffective. But, on the other hand, there’s no point being a shrinking violet. Your relationships, both on and off-line, are an important conflict between you and your readers. This doesn’t mean, as an introvert (as many writers are), you’ve got to transform yourself into a socialite. It’s more a matter of not neglecting those ordinary human qualities of generosity and friendship. I’m not a great networker, but it turns out I have sufficient social capital to generate a mammoth blog tour that’s now in its fourth week and two launch events with forty or more people at each. If I, with a little thought and preparation, can achieve that, just think what Charli Mills, lead buckaroo of the Congress of Rough Writers, could achieve with all the goodwill she’s generated through her support of other writers.

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2. Edit your way to a book you can be proud of
Let’s assume you’ve written the best book you possibly can and have secured a publisher or made the decision to self-publish. Isn’t it strange that, no matter how many edits you’ve gone through already, as soon as publication flips from an impossible dream to impending reality, you notice all kinds of new problems with your novel? Now’s the time to bring all those niggles to light and address them, not only for the obvious reason of enhancing your readers’ enjoyment, but also because anything that makes you feel awkward or apologetic about your words will be a barrier to promotion.

So, whether you’re publishing yourself or traditionally, you need to make full use of your editor. Their role needn’t only be to point out what they think can be improved, but to help you sort out any areas with which you aren’t one hundred percent happy. In my own experience, my editor’s suggestions enabled me to look more critically at my novel and make cuts and amendments to sections where she hadn’t felt it necessary to wield her virtual red pen. My editor was also able to reassure me about sections I thought were perhaps a bit iffy; if you trust your editor (and if you don’t perhaps you should find another) it’s a marvellous boost to the ego to receive her enthusiastic endorsement of your words.

3. Work through the limitations
A thorough edit should lead to a text you can be proud of (at least for the moment; many authors report still finding fault with their novels years after publication). Yet perhaps there are still aspects that make you cringe when you think about it making its way in the world? You might worry that you’ve tackled a controversial issue in a way that might upset some readers. You might fear that certain experts will criticise the shallowness of your research. You might be anxious about the overlap between the events in your novel and your own life: will people misconstrue your fiction as autobiographical or will you struggle to keep the personal personal in discussing your book? You might just be concerned that your mother, your hairdresser or your next-door neighbour will think it’s a load of crap.

It’s important not to dismiss such concerns; if you deny or belittle them, they’re more likely to hold you back. Discuss your feelings with trusted friends, your editor, other writers, a therapist. Go to events and observe how more experienced authors manage these areas in relation to their own work. For example, I found it extremely helpful to watch local author, Eve Makis, respond to a question about Armenian history (featured in her novel, The Spice Box Letters) from a reader with an Armenian background (and to discuss the parallels with my own novel afterwards with a close friend).

Your book, especially if it’s fiction, is not the definitive take on a topic, and nor is it meant to be. (It just feels like that, because you’ve spent so much time absorbed within it.) Readers are free to take from it what they wish – and that’s a good thing. But it’s worth addressing your anxieties about creating the perfect book so that you can allow it to be different things to different people.

4. Identify your potential readership
Make a list of everybody who might be interested in reading your book – and I mean everyone! Don’t limit yourself to people you can be fairly sure will like it, or like you enough to pretend they do. Think big and, at this stage at least, don’t let thoughts about the awkwardness of contacting them get in the way. Potential readers include, but are not limited to, anyone who knows you, in whatever role (not only writing), or has known you in the past; people who read your genre; people local to you or to your novel’s setting; and, for an “issue” based novel like mine, communities with a personal interest. I’ve been surprised by pockets of support in places I didn’t expect it but, two and a half weeks post-publication, I’m still knocking on doors I thought would be easier to open.

5. Identify ways of connecting with your readershipblog tour week 4 correct
If you’ve done Step 1 and cultivated your communities and Steps 2 and 3 to produce a book that people will be happy to champion, you will have a lot of people who genuinely want to get the word out. But going beyond your immediate circles takes a little more courage. To get author and expert endorsements, you need to make contact well in advance of publication and to risk (as with those initial submissions) them telling you they don’t like your book. To get reviews, you need to approach reviewers in a courteous manner and accept that they’ll tell the world what they don’t like about your baby, as well as what they do. If you’re self-published, or with a small press like me, it’s amazingly difficult to get your books into bookshops, but often worth approaching your local favourites to give it a try. If they won’t stock your books, they might host you for a signing session, although with the big chains, even this is proving difficult. Some libraries are more amenable, however, especially if you’re doing author events. Don’t forget the local media, both print and radio. They are always pleased to celebrate an achievement, especially if you can demonstrate some connection with the area. I’m expecting to be in my local newspaper this week, in time for a library event the following Tuesday. I also had a feature in a newspaper that had previously published my short stories as part of a regional competition.

6. Make those connections in as pleasurable away as possible
You won’t be able to do everything, so you need to prioritise. If you’re time poor, you might feel it’s not worth your while to write lots of guest blog posts, as I’ve done. On the other hand, if you enjoy writing articles, or want the opportunity to develop your skills in this area, it might be something to invest in. For the things I found tedious (e.g. contacting a local printer to produce some flyers for my launch events) or scary (having a slot on local radio) I focused on the learning opportunities afforded rather than enjoying it or doing it well.

If you’re particularly daunted by the whole thing, perhaps you should go for quick wins to build your confidence. A launch party is great fun, even for shrinking violets, and I was touched how far my guest had travelled and how pleased they were to have been invited to mine.

Making it pleasurable for your supporters is bound to pay dividends. Write good content for those guest posts (obviously, this one is an aberration). Respond promptly to any queries and thank them for their contribution, however small. Because after all, a writer needs her readers. And you might want to do the whole thing again with your next book.

What strategies have you found most useful in promoting your work? What has been most difficult?

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Anne Goodwin writes fiction, short and long, and blogs about reading and writing, with a peppering of psychology. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published last month by Inspired Quill. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.

Rough Writer to Visit Carrot Ranch

blog tour week 4 correctRough Writer and author, Anne Goodwin, appears as a guest blogger at Carrot Ranch Monday, August 10, 2015. She’ll discuss the shrinking violet’s response to book marketing and how she coaxed her own reluctance to market her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, into a blossoming campaign.

Considering that Anne is entering Week Four of an impressive schedule of guest-blogging and other book-launching activities, it is easy to surmise that she’s stepped out of the shrinking violet role and into one that recognizes the importance of an author’s role to getting one’s book into the hands of readers.

Anne Goodwin writes fiction, short and long, and blogs about reading and writing, with a peppering of psychology. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published last month by Inspired Quill. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.

Be sure to visit her all her guest posts for Week 4! And buy her book!

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August 5: Flash Fiction Challenge

August 5Dusk dims visibility along the three-mile stretch between Samuel’s and home. I’m watching a rising blue moon over the Cabinets to the east, feeling satisfied from a Friday night fish, chips and clams dinner at the gas station. Best food and fuel around.

The Hub slows down. “Do you see the buck?”

He’s got the gaze of a sniper and the eyes of a 20-year old with perfect vision. He could have been a pilot. Instead he jumped from airplanes, an Army Ranger, then learned to turn wrenches on powerplants that drive aviation. 30 years later and he still has quick reflexes. Without over-braking, he slows down and we both watch the white-tailed buck trot into the obscurity of tall dry grass in low light.

We missed the other buck.

Well, not exactly missed him because we hit him with our red Ford Fusion, our James Bond car if you’ve seen Casino Royale. Neither one of us is licensed to kill anything. True, we have fishing licenses, but we fly-fish with barbless hooks, catch and release. Hitting a deer on the road is deadly for all involved.

As with most accidents, it happened like a flash of lightning. You wonder, was there really just a bolt of white electricity that reached from heaven to earth? Did we really just hit a deer? Did it fly into the air and scramble away? Oh, dear. The car, the insurance rates, the poor animal…is he okay?

Suddenly, dinner isn’t settled in my tummy. I’m sick with grief for the buck. I feel as though I reached out with my own fist and punched it senseless. I feel guilty. Responsible. And I wasn’t even driving. Riding shotgun, I’m often the early warning system, navigating my husband through a series of safety questions. Did you see that turn signal? There’s a curve up ahead, what’s your speed? Are you watching for deer? Moose? Elk? Do really think you can drive like Mr. Bond?

It’s human, this rush of emotion. In fact, it’s even common to want to rescue an injured deer along the road, according to an editor at the Tahoma Literary Review:

“One particularly surprising theme I’ve noticed gaining in popularity is ‘I ran over a deer (or other animal) and have decided to nurse it back to health.’ The idea here (and it’s not a bad one) is to create a metaphor for the protagonist’s desire to rescue his/her life by rescuing another’s. Unfortunately the premise of the story is common enough that an editor may turn it down just on that basis.”

What felt like an exceptional experience, smashing our hood and fender on the rump of a buck, turns out to be nothing more than a commonplace theme that fatigues literary journal editors. Oh…the editor sighs…another struck deer story

But wait, Mr. Bored Editor. I have a gun.

Shock value? Does that get attention? It must. Last week writers ripped stories from the headlines and even common stories were led with shocking titles. It’s become so prevalent, these headlines, that even innocuous stories are using them to get attention. Consider the headline for the woman who makes dinner: “She went to the grocery store, bought food and you won’t believe what happened next!” The reason news headlines stand out is because they rely upon shock factor.

Does that mean our stories, books or novels need to shock? Put the fear of somebody’s god into another? Show gallbladders and guts on the first page? Guilt parents into sleepless nights? Spank a character silly? And all because editors are tired of common themes?

Here’s a thought. Apply imagination. Ultimately writers know how to retreat into both head and heart space, taking with them the everyday occurrences of life, and mixing it into a concoction that includes what-if scenarios, what-should-be-but-isn’t, characters with ability, characters with disability, ideas, emotion, places we’ve been to, and places we’ve never seen except within our own minds and dreams.

It’s not that we need to shock readers; we merely need to surprise them and for a purpose. Offer meaning. Get readers to understand the implications of themes that touch our lives. Really, those common themes are why classics have universal capacity. But authors of such classics have applied imagination. Go deep beneath the surface when you write and find your voice. It will be the one thing you have over a sea of writers all writing about the same things.

Voice will serve you better than shock value.

This week’s challenge is two-fold:

  1. August 5, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write the common premise: “I ran over a deer (or other animal) and have decided to nurse it back to health.”
  2. But before you write, daydream. Do something out of your normal routine for 10 minutes. Go outside, sit and stare into space. Rest in a meditative yoga pose. Lock yourself in the bathroom. Mow the lawn, or do the dishes. Let your mind wander to the story and daydream before you write it.

In the comments, state if this exercise had a profound effect or not. I look forward to your imagined commonplace stories. And as to our buck, we did go back and found no blood or deer. We hope he is merely sore and has an uncommon story to tell his herd. Our car, well, it may get totaled. We find out tomorrow.

Respond by August 11, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Be sure to check out the updates to the Bunkhouse Bookstore. We have three Rough Writers in the midst of launching novels: Anne Goodwin (Sugar and Snails), Geoff Le Pard (My Father and Other Liars), and Luccia Gray (Twelth Night at Eyre Hall). All three books are worth a read and a resounding yee-haw!


Good With Animals by Charli Mills

“Sylvia, darling, off to the store.” Mae pumped the gas pedal with her worn slipper until the truck engine rumbled. Lights on, she drove the backroads, carefully.

The store was closed. She had no money, anyhow. Mae drove back, watchful for deer. One smashed the front grill and lay panting on the pavement.

“Hush, now. I’m good with animals.” With a winch, Mae loaded the deer and returned home, dragging it to a barn stall of soft hay. She flicked on the light, illuminating hundreds of eyes.

Returning to the house, Sylvia asked Mae, “Did you get cat food?”