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Flash Fiction: September 30

September 29The Wolf Ranch is getting a pig delivered tonight.

While it might not seem like a significant event, dinner hinges upon it. Through a series of fortunate circumstances, the Hub and I drove 16 hours from northern Idaho to northern Nevada to pick up a truck and attend our niece’s wedding. This is the first family celebration we have attended since a Mills reunion in 2004, and the first time I’ve been back since 2008 when I had to cut short our vacation for an emergency surgery. I’ve waited for a dinner like this for years. A family dinner.

In 1988 I fled Nevada and my own family of origin. It’s taken years to feel settled enough to visit where my estranged family also resides. Generations of abuse, and I broke the cycle. Now that my children are grown, I no longer feel panicked over their security and welfare. What was most precious to me to protect also required my husband to sacrifice his own roots, healthy roots. It’s a bit of a wonder to return here and not feel anxious. And I’m enjoying the company of Todd’s family.

I feel unburdened and grateful that his family is my family.

Tomorrow the Hub’s mama, M-1, turns 76. I’m writing from her sunny sitting room with its pitched roof, white walls and sheer drapes of sea foam green. Five picture windows open up to the vast desert view of Lahontan Valley, cradled within the towering purple mountains of the Stillwater and Camel Back ranges. The Hub, his father and our oldest daughter were all born in the same hospital. Seven generations of Mills are buried in the sand beneath cottonwood trees in the county cemetery. From where I write, I can see the dairy farm that the Hub’s father built, the irrigation ditches his family helped institute for agriculture, hear the cows lowing and smell the sharp tang of silage and dusty desert air.

It’s different from my own roots, but familiar. Gardens tended to supply meals, cattle raised for meat in the freezer, the joy over getting a pig (bacon!), fruit watered for pies and jams, grains grown to mill and bake into bread. This is why I still grow things in the dirt and insist on knowing where my meat comes from in Idaho. A born buckaroo, after all, has country roots.

Today we picked raspberries at the Wolf Ranch. Wolf Mom, the Hub’s youngest sister, is a feisty Nevada rancher with a soft-spoken buckaroo husband and two vivacious daughters who grew up raising cattle in the most difficult buckaroo regions to ranch. Ranching in northern Nevada is not for the faint at heart. Basin and Range country is high mountain desert where the valleys are at the elevation of our mountains in northern Idaho. The Nevada mountain ranges have more 10,000 and 12,000 foot peaks than any other state in the union. The weather is hot by day, frigid by night and dominated by dryness. Cattle range hundreds of miles.

They’re industrious, these buckaroos, and they love their horses and cattle, calling them “the girls” or “my boy.”

Wolf Mom often gets asked if the Wolf Ranch raises wolves — it’s their last name, but she’s witty enough to point to her daughters and say, “Yup! And there’s my two cubs.” She serves on numerous agriculture boards and fights politics that have little concern for American agriculture, let alone the unique growing conditions of a place most people think of as Las Vegas. Buckaroos are the last of the “real” cowboys, pushing cattle across vast frontiers and living off the land. Wolf Mom’s home sits in a beautiful old grove of cottonwood trees on a bend of the Carson River as it winds its way through sand dunes and sage to dump in the Carson Sink. It’s a landlocked river that is the heart of agriculture in northern Nevada.

Raspberries grow in three thick rows that dwarf my humble canes back home in Idaho. M-1, Wolf Mom and I chatter over the hum of bees, careful not to disturb great orbs of spiders. We wear picking buckets Wolf-Mom makes out of large yogurt containers and baling twine. The Hub and Sis, his oldest sister who I claim as my own, are the only two Mills of their generation to leave Nevada and live elsewhere. Sis made the apron I wear as I gently tug ripe raspberries from the prickly canes. I feel connect to her and the plucky females in the family. You don’t sustain yourself in a region like this without being hearty and having heart.

In the time I’ve reflected on this incredible moment, this presence in a place I didn’t think I’d be both physically and intellectually today, I’ve learned that the pig is not on his way to the Wolf Ranch. Dinner is at the Mills homestead. M-1 rolls her eyes, laughs and returns to bustle in the kitchen, jamming berries, baking bread and preparing spaghetti for the 14 of us that will gather here tonight in this very sitting room, filled with tables for playing pinochle, sharing meals and allowing a corner for the return of the prodigal son and his wife.

Or maybe I’m the prodigal daughter returning to the family that has nurtured me well beyond my own.

In a week filled with unexpected blessings, several more relate to my writing journey. M-1 has a twin sister, M-2 and she has been my dedicated patron, encouraging, reading and getting me off to LA, believing I will publish my manuscripts. She arrives tomorrow from Arizona to celebrate her shared birthday. I get to see her! Today, after picking berries, M-1 took me to where she volunteers as a book binder — the county library. I got the full tour and serendipitously met the director. I asked for her insight on book distribution (a huge concern of mine if I don’t go the traditional route), and turns out she used to be a book buyer and knows the industry. Her advice was in perfect timing and I will use it to make decisions after I go home. She also encouraged me to work with my own local library.

This week, our prompt takes on returning to a place of origin. Sometimes, it’s not our own, just like this is not my own roots, but is my husband’s. Still, it is a return. Think of immigrants or pioneers of old. They may never return, but often their descendants return to search for homeland roots, for connection. Sometimes, we visit a new place and feel at home, grateful for what it has to offer — a better life. No matter the circumstance, think of a return.

September 30, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a return to home. What does it mean to return? Is it to reconnect, discover or let go? It can be a town, house, farm, castle or ruins. It can be a country or family, one of origin or one adopted. What does the return impart?

Respond by October 6, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

I’ve often wondered at how Sarah Shull felt when she returned home to North Carolina in her later age. She escaped shunning only to return to a family that still harbored ill-feelings toward her. Many believed she had Cobb’s gold — a myth that still surrounds both of them. Logically, if she had had wealth, Sarah would have never returned “home.” She died in misery, nearly a century old. She is buried next to her and Cobb’s daughter who died at 16 months. It’s her homecoming that I’m exploring in flash this week.

***

Sarah Visits the Cemetery by Charli Mills

The family cemetery remained on the hill. Father’s grave next to Mother’s. White stone spoke their ages. The place itself spoke of Father’s ambition to prosper. Shulls Mill. At one time the name affixed firmly to Father’s store and grain mill with its wooden paddles dipping into Watauga River. Surrounded by tree stumps, a scattering of clapboard houses and a paper mill belching smoke below the hill spoke of the town’s ambition.

The other grave. White, weedy and alone from the rest, it belonged to her baby. An old woman now and she still felt like an erring daughter.

###

Say it Strong & Clear!

DeclarationThe act of making a declaration can create a shift. It can be the mental steel needed to say what is needed. Although the outcome is uncertain, the intent is clear.

This week, writers used this theme to explore stories in flash fiction. A declaration can be a beginning, turning point or even an ending. It is like an exclamation point and an ellipses, depending upon how the writer wants to use the declaration.

The following is based on September 23, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) declare an intention in a story. It’s a strong turnout this week with many declarations! Be sure to click on title links to read blog posts behind some of these stories.

***

Anytime Soon by Lisa Reiter

Stephen Becker wasn’t a man to be rushed but then Alice wasn’t going to stand for indifference either. She looked back at all the laughs, the lively debates, shared opinions even politics and vegetarianism. There wasn’t anyone quite like him. There seemed to be a real spark and yet teasing from friends had him hesitating before saying something noncommittal.

She had been going to give up when Emma said “Perhaps he’s just shy.”

So here she was striding towards the bar where he stood smiling, waiting to order drinks.

“Hi, what’d you fancy then?”

“You Stephen. Naked. Anytime soon.”

###

The Set Up by Sarah Brentyn

“Just do it,” Anna shoved him toward the door. “He’s alone—no witnesses.”

“I don’t know…”

“I’ll be right behind you.”

He placed his palm on the door, took a breath, and pushed. The room was filled with people seated around a dining table. They fell silent and stared. One man in a charcoal grey suit stood up. “Who the hell are you?”

“I’m,” he spotted Anna in the hall, having a giggle fit. “I’m the man who is in love with the devious, scheming…amazing woman you call ‘daughter’. I would be honored to call her ‘wife’. Sir.”

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin:

Sassoon wasn’t mad, just misguided in publicly declaring his opposition to the war. Rivers agreed court-martial was no solution, but why Craiglockhart? What of his men’s morale?

Yet, after hours attending to shell-shocked soldiers, Rivers looked forward to his conversations with Sassoon. The poet was intelligent, cultured, so damn reasonable; Rivers had no power to change his mind?

His method was intuitive, fatherly: bearing witness to the horrors of the trenches to help his patients adjust. But Sassoon turned his thinking upside down. Rivers didn’t cure, he realised, but silenced protest, denied sanity, sent the soldiers back to hell.

###

Homecoming by Pete Fanning

Gilbert intended on a firm handshake. Eye contact, like he’d practiced. But one look at the giant on the porch—holding a blade no less—all intentions turned to mush.

The crunch of leaves diverted the giant from his carnage. “You must be Gilbert.”

“Yeah, um, yes sir.”

The giant eyed Gilbert’s withering rose, wiped pumpkin guts from one hand, then gestured with the knife.

“Gilbert, let me ask you, what are your intentions with my daughter?”

Gilbert was pale by the time Millie appeared at the door, hair curled and wearing a shiny gown.

“Dad! No! Just, no.”

###

Intention for Minimal Intervention by Paula Moyer

“No pain meds. No way.”

Jean’s second baby due any day. She sat in the pediatrician’s office, setting up the baby’s medical record. She reviewed her plan with Dr. Olson, who would never give birth. He rarely saw it, either.

Dr. Olson put down his pen. “But, but …”

“I know what this is like, Dr. Olson,” Jean tried to reassure.

“But this could be difficult.”

Jean’s eyes met his. “I hurt my back when Sam was a year old. It was worth than childbirth.”

Dr. Olson swallowed.

“This baby will be born with no pain meds. I promise.”

###

Objective Lesson by Jules Paige

Cinnamon wasn’t the same age as our class. She waited
almost a year to start college after High School. Friendly
enough but when she shoved her writing in our faces for
free review, we had had enough. It is one thing to cough
up your background every time you meet someone new.
The story of hardship was getting old. The intention to draw
sympathy wasn’t working. Too bad she didn’t get support
from her family.

We made it a point to stop eating at the college cafeteria.
Maybe next semester we wouldn’t have to deal with her.

###

Time to Act by Irene Waters

It hit me like a bolt of lightning. I loved him and now he was planning marriage. Should I tell him and risk changing everything forever? Would a wife accept our friendship? Few of his girlfriends were too happy with it. Jake didn’t last long with those ones. Either way our relationship would change. Jake can’t love me or he would have told me long ago, yet I know he values my friendship more than anything.

I organised a weekend away; bushwalking and Christmas in July.

Replete and relaxed I surprised him. “Jake! Please don’t go. I love you.”

###

Magic by Udosdottir

“You cannot see me!” declared my son. His shoes clearly visible from under the curtains. “Where are you?” I shouted to his squealing delight “Maybe under the sofa?” He giggled wildly. Next I checked the curtain without revealing him “he is not behind the curtains… ” The giggles stopped and the little man came forward hurriedly “Here I am! – I’ll hide again, come look for me!”- And I realized children live in a scary world, where they vanish when they close their eyes and can only be magicked back into this world by their mothers declaring” there you are!”

###

Early Adopter by Larry La Forge

Ed eagerly clicked on the link. He salivated as the spinning wheel signaled download progress. The beta version of future smartphone operating system 892xx4L would separate him from pedestrian users in the general public, he thought.

Minutes later several error messages flashed on the screen. Suddenly, his phone went dead.

Ed tried to reboot . . . . Nothing. He tried to revert to the previous operating system . . . . No luck.

He sat, totally panicked.

Edna looked on but didn’t speak. She had warned him about being on the bleeding edge rather than the cutting edge of technology.

“Never, ever again,” Ed firmly declared.

###

Man Up by Ann Edall-Robson

Tears streamed down his face as he watched the man walk away with the love of his life. He could do nothing but watch her go with him.

They had known each other since he was a boy. Eleven years of life spent together.

They had gone on adventures. They could speak without words. What was he going to do without her? She was his life. She was his best friend.

Gruff words from his father had told him to man up. He could find another.

His heart told him no. Another dog could never replace this hurt inside.

###

The Lull Before … by Roger Shipp

“You are right, son. A man has to stand up for himself. But he does not attack from the shadows.”

Ruminating on those fatherly words, plans were made for his own Little Big Horn.

Attacks happened between classes… near his locker… inconveniently by the boy’s bathroom.

Carefully casing the hall, a plan was devised.

Just before the start of school. “Mr. Horn, could you stop by my locker just before lunch? I have created a new app in my entrepreneur class for I-phones. Love to show it to you.”

“Clarence. I’d love to see it.”

The stage was set…

###

The Gallery Opening by Ula Humienik

“So what do you think?”

“Well, don’t tell the artist I said this, but…” Her eyes followed the strokes of golden yellow, voice quieted to a whisper. “But this one is a bit pedestrian. All the other ones have all this depth to them, but this is simple, childish. It’s like the artist got tired of all the depth and wanted to be shallow, wanted to paint something pretty but meaningless. I much prefer the complicated messy ones.” She turned and looked at him. “What do you think?”

He smirked. “It doesn’t matter what I think, I painted them.”

###

Leaving by Norah Colvin

It was time. No more would they treat her this way. No more would she accept the cruelty of their world. She was more than this, more than they made her believe. With cash from a secret job stashed in her pockets, a few clothes in a backpack, and hope in her heart, she left. No need to follow a bag through the window. No need to wait for night’s darkness. No. She navigated past their stupor of beer, smoke and flickering screens; paused at the door to declare, “I’m leaving,” then closed off that life as she left.

###

Hurry Honey by Kate Spencer

“Hon. Hurreeee!”

Shit, why is this happening today! Not today.

Gerry’s heart palpitates as he stares at the nightmare in front of him. Complete urban gridlock.

“Should’ve taken the last turnoff,” he mutters.

“Too late. Honk your horn Hon. Do .Some. Thing. Aaaaaooowwwww.”

Gerry listens to his wife gasp the hee hee hee ho breaths.

“Hold on Elsie! We’re not having our baby in this car.”

He spins the tires hard right and gases it, taking out the back bumper of the car in front of them. If they can drive along sidewalks in the movies then so can he!

###

Future Perfect by Geoff Le Pard

‘How did Milton die, Mum?’

Mary blinked at her daughter. ‘Milton? Grandpa’s dog?’

‘He died the same day as Grandpa, didn’t he?’

Mary hesitated, shifting the baby’s weight. ‘The heat. Grandpa never expected to be more than a minute posting his letter…’

‘Did he suffer?’

Charlotte started mewling and Mary offered her her little finger. Did Penny mean her grandfather or Milton? ‘I don’t think either did.’

Penny’s usually smooth forehead puckered. Instantly, Mary felt guilty. It was much easier at Charlotte’s age. Having to grow up and face reality was hard.

‘Mum, I want to become a vet.’

###

Last Supper by C. Jai Ferry

Lorelei finished off the last of her wine and then smoothed a hand over the restaurant’s tablecloth. Real linen. Fancy.

Too little, too late.

She pictured her therapist cheering her on, the older man wearing a short skirt and swishing pompoms.

“I need to move on.” Her voice was steady, just like she’d rehearsed.

The rah-rah-rah in her mind was interrupted by Jeremy’s derisive snort. “Like you can do better.”

Her anger flared, scorching her thoughts, burning up her balding therapist mid-cheer until the red flames engulfed her, becoming white hot.

Lorelei leveled her gaze at Jeremy. “Watch me.”

###

Magic II by Udosdottir

“You will die.” she said flatly.

“Well, yes, everyone does.” he answered flatly, tired from the fight and not in the mood for more. He stood up, gathering his few scattered possessions in a laundry bag.

” But now that I said it, it will be because of me.”

He looked down at her, and pity touched him: She was drifting off into one of her phases. “I need to leave.”

“Yes.”

It was dark, raining, the streets wet, reflecting the lights. It was so very fast, he hardly noticed the crash. “It wasn’t her.” was his last thought.

###

1000 Voices #1000speak @1000speak

While I have not mentioned this lately, I’m still very interested in being a voice and want to remind others that might not be connected with #1000speak on Facebook to let other bloggers know that feedback is requested. Thanks Geoff, for posting this.

TanGental

I know that Facebook has some idiosyncratic algorithms which means, sometimes, you might not see a post you would want to see.

Yvonne Spence has just posted a poll on FB asking everyone interested in 1000 Voices for Compassion to vote for their preferred structure for future posts. You can find it here. Below is the substance of Yvonne’s message

Hello everyone! We would like make 1000 Voices the very best it can be for all our members. Please take a few moments to read this poll and select your preferred option. Whichever option we choose, on one day each month everyone will share their post across Social Media using the Hashtag #1000Speak

1. Monthly link-ups on the 20th (48 hours to cover world-wide.)

2. Monthly link-ups, but for 3 days (72 hours)

3. Quarterly Compassion link-ups – on the 20th

4. Quarterly Compassion link-ups, for 3 days

5…

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September 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

September 23From the coping mind of a messy desk comes this: I’m an author.

I need to make this declaration. Ever since I left my job in 2012, I’ve recreated my career into one of a literary writer. Except it’s not a bring-home-the-bacon kind of career, yet. For bacon, I work with a handful of business clients on various marketing jobs. It’s a point of contention when the Hub tells me I’m good at marketing. I try to explain that I’m good at marketing because I’m a writer. He’s hinted, pushed and fussed for me to find another marketing management job.

Sure. It would bring home the bacon, but I’ll eat dandelions before I do that. I’m determined. What I do every day is to work as an author. Yet I feel disinclined to claim the title. If it is my role, my work, my intention, shouldn’t I say so? It is my profession, my calling, my pursuit. I manage my own marketing the way any professional would when planning a business. Of course, what I want to market are my books. They are not published, yet.

It doesn’t diminish my work as an author.

This is the messy part of building an author’s platform before one is ever accepted as an author. As a marketer, I know that there are two things I can control: the quality of my product and my service to others. Writing, researching and craft-related learning is all about managing the quality of my product. Service to others, customer service, is the management of relating to others in the profession. Both are my work.

Some of you might raise a cliched eyebrow over my boldness to say I’m an author. I’m declaring that I am right now, dictionaries, associations and elitists be damned. I am an author. With no published books. How is that possible? Well, it goes back to my understanding of marketing and my business background.

When entrepreneurs have an idea for a product or service, they begin to develop both the idea and the marketplace for it. It is common in business for people to take years to build enterprises, yet before doors open or annual profits accumulate, they are recognized as business professionals from the start. Many future business owners join Chamber of Commerce or networking groups before they are in position to do business.

Why should it be different for authors?

It isn’t. We build platforms the same way entrepreneurs or future business owners build platforms. A writer’s platform is the same thing as a business’s marketing platform: it’s branding, community, credibility and audience. We know we have to build a platform before we publish, so if we are building such, why are we reticent to declare author-hood in the midst of the process? We writers can get messed up in our ideas of being artists, counterfeit, hobbyists, amateur or comparing ourselves to the glorious best-sellers for success.

Comparison is not a bad thing if you use it to identify where you want to be in the next year, five years, or ten. Use it as a stick of measurement or as proof that your venture is possible. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit! Define your own measures of success and investigate how others did it. Create a reasonable — to you — timeline. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Be your own brand — loud and proud, or quiet and humble. Be you. Declare your intention.

My intention from the day I decided to leave my marketing job has been to write and publish novels. My intention is to be a successful author. Success to me is publishing books I want to write for readers who want to read them. My secondary goal is to market well enough to eat more than hand-picked dandelions from my yard. Many will say it’s a fool’s dream. Never before have so many claimed to be authors. Everyone and their third cousin writes. Never before has there been such a broad market, an over-saturated market, a market divided between traditional/Indies and print/digital.

So what; it’s the marketplace and the truth is that people are reading. Look for opportunities, for openings. Be ready to claim your spot. This isn’t a Ms. Universe contest; it’s a vocation. No one is going to hand you a crown one day. If you want to be a professional then start seeing yourself as one.

Instead of focusing on the chaotic market, the messiness of it all, the doomsayers, focus on your intention. My target audience exists. Finding them will be work, is work, but is part of building my platform. It’s part of what it means to be an author in our time. I measure my humble numbers and they are nothing to post to Wall Street, but they are my metrics. I look for meaning and adjust. I watch for responses to the shifts and I adjust again. Being a marketer is like being a watchmaker. The gears do work, but you have to get it all aligned one piece at a time.

Being an author is writing and marketing.

I write flash fiction, newsletters, business reports, articles, essays and posts. But what makes me an author is that I write books. Here’s where I’ve been frustrated with myself, and I’m sure every entrepreneur and business person alike has reached this point: the product is not yet quality enough to sell. I have two complete manuscripts that I could self-pub tomorrow. But I know they aren’t ready for those who I believe to be my target audience. I’ve slacked on my rewriting the way someone might show up for work but under perform. This made me feel guilty until I began to re-read “The Craft of Revision” by Donald Murray who embraces an enthusiasm for revision. I realized that I need to think like an author. To think like one, I need to act like one.

I declare that I’m an author, and revising becomes my profession. I can control the quality. I’m an entrepreneur progressing development; a business person networking to a target audience for opening day.

Marketing takes time. I so badly want to see my words in print, but writing also takes time. Worrying about “becoming” something I already work at doesn’t help when I encounter doubt. So I continue to develop my prototype. I look to expand my venture through literary connections. The greatest one is here at Carrot Ranch. Originally my website was for marketing clients. In 2014, I declared myself a literary writer and launched flash fiction challenges.

Declarations boost my determination. Intention is where we begin. And we all have to remember that there is an expanse of time and work, tears and joys, confusion and clarity, between beginning and ending. We write in between the two.

Why this ramble from my messy desk? As some of you know, I was derailed this year in my publishing goals. After a confident launch of my first manuscript, I am going to admit to you all, I’ve not sent it to a single publisher or agent since the two I met with in LA. I have felt disappointed in myself. Then my best friend needed me at her side as she died, and I went. Grief has been a bully and it got me weeding instead of writing. It clouded my emotions and I began to doubt my validity as a writer.

But you know what I discovered? I was right to let my first manuscript sit. I have excellent feedback to make changes that really are not as big as I initially feared. I also have let enough time slip by that I have learned improved approaches for revision. I’m finding renewed enthusiasm to fill my gaps in my third novel. I’m discovering that my skills at project management can serve me when I shove my doubts aside. I let grief get too chummy with doubt and it took a toll on my progress.

And most of my doubts hinge on, “I’m not really an author.” So I’m claiming that I am. I will act like an author, plan my business like an author, market like an author, write like an author. And one day it will be so in the eyes of others.

So I am progressing. This declaration does not need to make sense to anyone but me. A declaration feels powerful to the one making it. It’s empowering.

I think about a declaration that Cobb McCanles must have made on July 4, 1860. History records that he was an educated and persuasive orator. It won him two terms in North Carolina as Sheriff. In Nebraska, historians write that citizens sought his spirited speeches on the Fourth of July. What many forget, or fail to record because of complexities, Cobb McCanles and his entire family left North Carolina in 1859 because of secessionist views to which they denounced. His parent and two sisters along with their families, removed to Eastern Tennessee, known to be a Unionist stronghold for the region. Cob, his brother Leroy and their families resettled in Nebraska.

1860 was a year of fierce divisions and unrest in the US. States, political parties and families were so divided that militia and reserves began to train for war and newspapers espoused aggressive rhetoric. War was bubbling; a presidential election kindling the brew. I know Cob spoke at the Johnson County picnic July 4, 1860 from accounts that say so. I know his views from reading family letters, his father’s poetry from that time and the history recorded in Eastern Tennessee in 1902 by those who remained loyal to the Union even though Tennessee succeeded and joined the Confederacy. But I’ve been frustrated not to have his speech recorded.

Then I realized, Cob would have stood to empower his views, to convince others of the importance of this country as a unified whole. Without a doubt, I can imagine Cobb’s declaration as clearly as my own.

September 23, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) declare an intention in a story. Is it one person, a character speaking up or speaking out? Is it a group or a nation? Create a tension before or after the declaration. It can be private or public, big or small. Does it have power to those who state it or hear? What does it change?

Respond by September 29, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Mary Silently Stands by Charli Mills

“Momentous crisis commands great effort.” Cobb’s voice boomed over the celebratory gathering of prairie homesteaders.

Mary stood with the children, letter in hand. Her father wrote with pride that ten of her nephews trained with militia sworn to defend states against federal tyranny.

“We are a territory, daughter of America. Liberty’s interest is ours. Freedom’s policy is ours. We are United!” Huzzas ensued.

Would Cobb’s nephews fight hers? Would her father inform on Cobb’s? Her house divided, yet her husband bellowed with conviction.

“I’m the Union’s man!”

And I abide with my husband, Mary thought when the crowd roared.

###

Love is Everywhere

Love Is EverywhereIf you look closely at the cupped cosmo blossom, you’ll see winged-cupid in the form of a bee, caressing the heart of the flower. If you look around, you’ll see that love is everywhere.

Writers pierced the heart of this topic like knights of old on a quest, and returned with stories worthy of court. Gather round and prepare to move through each flash that promises to move you. Love never sits still or remains with only a few. Love expands the more we recognize it and share it.

This week, the following stories are based on the September 16, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a love story.

***

Honk’tar: A Love Story by Kate Spencer

Honk’tar flails his massive wings and thrusts himself toward the dog, hissing at it with his powerful beak wide open. The dog lunges forward and they struggle and thrash until Honk’tar hears a whimper. He’s drawn blood. The fight is over.

He waits for the dog to scamper away and then swims toward his injured mate, extending his long neck, waving it gently back and forth. She gracefully extends hers in welcome and their necks intertwine.

A gunshot ricochets among the reeds.

Honk’tar immediately begins to push his mate, urgently steering her toward the dense thickets of the marsh.

###

Finding Your Own Way by Roger Shipp

“I never wanted this to happen.”

“I know.” We lay, relaxed, under the old oak back of our dorm. “We both knew what could happen… each seeking separate ways for one year of service. We could have visited. We purposefully chose not to do so.”

“I still love you.”

“I love you. But Garth is where your heart is now. I see it when you talk about him. Your eyes used to glow like that when you spoke of me.”

“We promised each other.”

“We kept that promise. Let’s just rest here, collecting our memories, before we say goodbye.”

###

More Than All the Stars in the Sky by Norah Colvin

Child waited on the step, counting stars.

Soon the clatter of dishes ceased. Feet padded out.

Child snuggled into warm enveloping arms. The ritual began.

They picked out stars and constellations.

“And Venus,” said Child. “Tell me about the love planet!”

“Well,” began Parent. “Long ago there were two people who loved each other …”

“More than all the stars in the sky,” interjected Child.

“That they wanted a child to love too …”

“So you got me!” said Child.

“Yes.” Parent scooped up the child. “And just as there’ll always be stars …”

”We’ll always love each other!”

###

The Game by Larry La Forge

Ed was in heaven. The game of the year blasted on the big screen, sound system blaring. The frenzy seemed to leap through the TV into Ed’s living room. It doesn’t get any better than this, he thought.

Above the TV noise, a familiar sound was heard. The garage door movement meant Edna was returning from the grocery store loaded with the week’s supplies.

“This is going to be real interesting,” the TV announcer said, as though aware of Ed’s potential predicament.

Ed laughed, then immediately went out to unload the groceries for Edna — because that’s what you do.

###

faithful by Jules Paige
(haibun poem/ flash BOTS fiction)

there was no theft
nor any gentle persuasion
just the meeting and melding
of two soul mates

partners honoring
family traditions; then
tied the marriage knot

compromise, honor, respect
grows love every single day
***
How unusual is it to meet your future spouse at someone
else’s wedding? We did. Four homes, two children, two
grandchildren later… wasn’t that just yesterday?
We think so – though our silver locks say otherwise.

We celebrate everyday we are together with humor. So it
is a very nice surprise when I get flowers on our anniversary.
Because I don’t get ‘em every year.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Edwin was careful and patient, steering Dorothy clear of the debris. Broken beams and rusted nails littered the grounds. Shingles from the church house roof that had been removed, splintered boards and shims from the bullet shaped holes where stain glass windows once captured the rising sun. Yet the couple trudged on, as though headed for a Sunday sermon.

Traffic rushed past the future Rent-to-Own center, past the steeple laying in the grass. Past Edwin and Dorothy, lifelong lovers determined to renew the vows they’d made in that very same church on that very same day fifty years ago.

###

Years Later by Charli Mills

Sarah lost her nerve at the molasses pull. David Colbert McCanles flashed like a brook trout in his military school uniform, taller and more vibrant than any in the Greene barn. Mary Greene had nerve. She dominated dances, her laugh rich as summer honey.

That they married so soon took none by surprise. Sarah hid her love for Cobb until years later, when he’d stop by her father’s store at night. “Keeping books?” A simple question that kept her at the ledgers late, hoping he’d see her light burning.

She gained nerve when she should have told him no.

###

Love Grows by Irene WatersJake and I did everything together and told each other all our secrets. We knew the other as though we were one. We discussed our boyfriends and girlfriends, often going on double dates together. We solved the world’s problems and many of our own. Having similar interests it made sense to go to the theatre, opera, hikes, everything together. Above all else, we made each other laugh. Life was fun, enhanced by each other’s company. We were best friends.

Bosom buddies until he planned a trip to the Philippines to find a bride. Then I knew I loved him.

###

Love and Passion by Ruchira Khanna

Sarah aimed her glass at him, but instead it hit the table crashing to the floor into multiple pieces. She could see her heart in each of those broken fragments as she wept uncontrollably.

He looked from a distance but dared not come near.

Minutes ticked by, which seemed endless to both the individuals.

“Go, live your way!” she announced

“Thank you” he squealed and exited the room with a flying kiss to her.

Sarah took a deep breath and got up to clean the mess while her beau made a journey across continents to live off his passion.

###

Puppy Love by Geoff Le Pard

‘I hate you!’

Mary watched her daughter run indoors in tears. In an instant she was back thirty plus years to a similar argument with her mother over being dressed ‘inappropriately’.

She petted the dog who offered her two devoted brown eyes. ‘Are you the only one whose love is unconditioned?’ The dog nodded; she laughed.

‘What’s funny?’ Paul put the tea down.

‘Why are dumb animals the only ones who don’t make you work for their love?’

Paul eased himself onto the floor next to the dog and looked up at his wife. ‘Who are you calling dumb?’

###

The Beginning by Ann Edall-Robson

Weathered hands, brown from working outside, lay resting on her lap. She rocked slowly back and forth enjoying the sounds and the view. The voice from the creaking chair soothed her as it moved to her body rhythm. She could see everything from this spot on the wooden porch.

She remembered the beginning of their life together. A life that started during hard times and required hard work to survive. The foundation of what was now before her.

The initial introduction had been love at first sight. She had known from the beginning she belonged here. On this land.

###

Love by udosdottir

The box opened, a first glance and his heart beat faster.  There was this delicate smell, and when he reached out to touch, he knew he was in love. His fingers ran along the delicious spine, his eyes examining the headband and tail. The skin on the front seemed to be tattooed. He never had seen anything like it before. All the details fit together so perfectly. His eyes met the vendor’s: “How much?”
The door closed behind the visitor, and he sighed a sigh of joy. He marvelled at his acquisition once more, and then started to read.

###

Marital Bliss by Ula Humienik

“Something’s been off with you. I can’t put my finger on it, but I feel like you’re slipping away. Remember how happy you were when Stephen was born?”

“I remember,” Lou smiled, “but what would really make me happy, Tom, is getting out of the house, doing what I love.”

“What’s that?” He seemed genuinely surprised, as if it hadn’t occurred to him that his wife could have other interests besides the family and their home.

Lou looked in pain, shocked by his reaction. “I want. I want more time to write.”

“Oh, that silly nonsense.” Tom seemed relieved.

###

Love Truly Is A Battlefield by Dave Madden

How does one define the intangible? Recently, glued to my monitor, I defined love: MMA.

MMA feeds my soul everything it needs, and I came to terms with this realization during a Titan Fighting Championships event, Titan FC 35.

Round after round, I now define love as:

Sheer excitement in the presence of another,

Great night of fights!

Even a cage can’t contain our devotion,

Distance growing the heart’s fondness,

Kindness,

A deep-rooted understanding of one another,

Care for what I think,

Periodically connecting with one another,

Bringing closure to matters with no judgments.

###

Nursing Love by Cindy Scott

“Remember when you were sick that weekend?” Sasha said at the table. “And I had to make you chicken bouillon in your microwave?” while watching tiny sparrows fight at the plastic feeder hanging on the porch.

“Well, no actually,” said Myron.

“Oh come on,” she said, “You mumbled in your sleep that night, ‘Gotta catch the viruses,’” she giggled in the early morning sunshine streaming into the kitchen.

“Oh, right. Well, I remember the time you hallucinated in your sleep,” he said.

“Dreaming?”

“Okay, dreaming. You said, ‘Get the frogs after them’.”

“Okay, touché,” she said smiling at him.

###

Neighborly Romance by Paula Moyer

Frances met Bill in third grade. Classmates ever since. First semester of college, both were music majors. She was his assigned accompanist. He played trombone.

Pearl Harbor.

Bill enlisted, Asked Frances to write to him. She did. They drifted apart.

Five years after the war, Frances walked home from the bus, right past Bill’s. His mother looked out the window.

“Bill, Bill,” she called. “There’s Frances! Better go get her.”

Bill called out the door, “Need a ride?”

The ride became dinner. Two weeks later: “Will you be my girl?”

They married six months later: 55 years, three kids.

###

Love in 99 Words by Shane Kroetsch

I watch as she takes a seat at her usual table, her hands wrapped around a large coffee cup.

I think about my dream last night.

We sat alone on a park bench, under a sky like amethyst.

“I think I’m ready,” I said.

“I’ve told you how it will end.”

“I know. It will be worth it.”

She smiled then, gave me a lingering kiss on the cheek, and the dream faded.

I stand and walk to her table. I focus on her warm, hazel eyes.

“Hi,” I say, “My name is Brandon. Mind if I join you?”

###

The Smile by Sarrah J. Woods

Lisa came from a world of cigarettes and food stamps—a world where you aimed to get by, not get ahead—a world where you aimed to be sexy, not beautiful.

But then the window cleaning company she worked for hired Ricky. He was younger than her and had crooked teeth, but he treated her so sweetly and respectfully that she felt like lace. He told her about his childhood and asked about her three-year-old’s favorite movies.

When he said, “You’re beautiful,” she knew he meant it. And the smile that bloomed across her face proved his words true.

###

A Country Love Story by C. Jai Ferry

I held up his ice cream. The pup sniffed it before sticking out his tongue for a lick. His tail wagged. He eyed me while his tongue darted out again.

When his head started shaking, I pulled the cup away, almost expecting his teeth to be chattering. He sat, adopting his polite “I’m waiting for you” pose. He didn’t seem to mind the brain freeze.

I held the cup out again. This time, he skipped the licking, instead gulping down the soft-serve in three bites.

He licked the cup clean, then noticed my dessert. His eyes were my Kryptonite.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

You saved me a seat in the lecture hall, knowing my bus was always late. You cheered louder than anyone when I got the prize for the highest marks in our year. You persuaded the corner shop to stock gluten-free croissants, so you could serve me breakfast in bed. You held me tight when the memories overwhelmed me, despite knowing no amount of holding could undo the past. You wore top hat and tails at our wedding, though more at home in jumpers and jeans. You did it all with perfect grace. You did it gladly, unthinkingly, for me.

###

Delivery by Pat Cummings

An intense cramp shot through Carrie’s back. Just a little more, just one more push, and she’d be free of the burden she carried. She turned her head to see Jacob watching with concern. They had begun the loving task together, but this pain was hers to endure.

A bead of sweat trickled; damp hair clung to her brow, but she had no energy left to shake it from her eyes.

Reaching the edge of the field, Carrie dropped her rock. Across the new field of the farm they both loved, she saw Jacob’s plow turn up another stone.

###

Critical Role of Beta Readers

Geoff Le PardLittle did I know that when I slung the “ranch open” sign on a literary project called Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge that I would find some of the best writers in the world. As a Rough Writer, Geoff Le Pard has been one of the most prolific flash fiction contributors, writing an entire saga week by week, 99-words at a time. His dedication and enthusiasm for craft is inspiring! He’s the author of two novels, and joins us today to discuss the importance of beta readers to his second novel, “My Father and Other Liars.”

Welcome guest blogger, Geoff Le Pard, to Carrot Ranch.

***

My beta readers have been critical to me: how did I find them and chose them and what does having informed and knowledgeable beta readers mean to me?

I learnt early that no book can be created in isolation. It needs to be read and read by people who haven’t lived, eaten and breathed it for months, years maybe. Even writing for yourself, you will not spot what doesn’t work, you will misdirect yourself over plot errors, character inconsistencies and unbelievable story lines. It is easier to suspend one’s own belief than have others do it for you.

That’s where Beta readers come in. And they are gold dust.

Let’s just get a definition out the way. Beta readers don’t edit. Sure they may spot typos, may be grammar nerds, may be brilliant at spotting clunky dialogue, fantastic at picking up continuity errors but, for me, this isn’t why you use them.

For me they do two things.

Firstly they replicate your final reader. They are the one time reader who needs to be drawn in, wants to turn the page and see the story with the clarity of a committed reader. Therefore asking someone who is a fantasy nut to read a piece of kitchen sink human drama is rather pointless. Clearly countless people read widely but they aren’t always available. Just be a bit careful who you choose because you want someone who has the chance to be engaged in your story.
What you want is an honest appraisal. And that is difficult to give. People don’t want to offend. We read about a number of people who say they won’t post a review for an Indie author if it’s less than 4 stars. Which is fine and grand but would be useless in a Beta reader. For me at least. If it’s two stars I need to be told.

The people who can eviscerate my novel are perfect for me. Sure I don’t want gratuitous criticism but if it’s pointing out a failing I’m not that concerned if it’s wrapped up in brown paper or in nice jolly wrapping paper or unwrapped. I have between four and six people I’ve learnt to trust but with every book I try and involve someone new. You never know. And those who give it a try, often not sure if they’ll be any good, turn out to be excellent.

Because My Father and Other Liars has taken about five years to reach this point, it’s probably been read by upwards of ten people. Of those, four have given it a nod and nothing much more and the rest have done me the biggest favour someone can do a writer; they’ve given their work detailed attention and spent time articulating what they thought about it.

The second use for me, is the specialist reader. With My Father and Other Liars I have really needed expert help.

As I explained over at Annecdotal, there is a lot of science – and especially genetics, life sciences and biology – that underpin this book. I gave up biology in the second year, year 8 at school. When my children had biology homework I nodded in another’s direction. It was beyond me. But I researched and checked and read and listened and I thought I had it pretty clear. But still… Then the Vet mentioned one of her friends who was just finishing her Biology degree at Oxford. ‘Would she…?’ I wondered. Yes she would. Indeed a second Biology grad asked to read it. Between them I had several lectures, a deeper understanding and a much better book.

The second area, which I discussed over at The Daily Echo, was the subject of locations. I moved my story around, crossing the Atlantic. Washington, London, New York, Surrey, San Francisco and Northampton. I’ve been to these places, I’ve developed a sense of what they are like. I feel I can describe them with a degree of accuracy. But two locations caused me some trouble because in one case, I’ve not been and in a second I made the place up and stuck it in the back of beyond in Oklahoma!

Nicaragua was the first of these. It’s a Central American country and I used a real city, Leon. If people have been they may have questions for me that I may well not be able to answer. I’ve researched all I can; my son and his girlfriend visited and gave me great feedback, but at the end of the day it may sadly fall short. I hope not. People who have read the book and have a sense for Central America feel it passes muster but still I worry. A Nicaraguan beta reader would be marvellous (I still have one possibility, but that would be for the second edition!) You may ask ‘Why not change the story?’ ‘Take it somewhere you know about.’ Sadly the story demands a Central or South American setting and Nicaragua was perfect.

Sometimes you do your best and then hope some!

The second location and one I feared for most was the fictional town of Beaumont in Oklahoma. My fictitious Church needed a fictitious home and it needed to be remote, and in the Bible belt states in the US. On a metaphorical toss of the coin I came up with Oklahoma. I read about the state, I did all the usual Google earth stuff but still. I placed it close to the Panhandle and wrote away.

Months, nay years later and I’m asking for some beta readers. To my American friends I asked if anyone knew anyone who lived or had lived in Oklahoma. Charli, my host today pings back. Her fellow in-law – her daughter’s husband’s mother – hails from Oklahoma. Better still she grew up in a strict Baptist environment. Better than that she wanted to be a Beta reader. Joy and double somersaults all round. Paula not only gave me a sense of place but she pointed out timing fallacies, errors in how the local airports work in practice, the ubiquity of the red dirt and the language ticks as well as lots of good stuff around food that added nice little touches to the narrative.

There. The benefit of blogging to a writer in a nutshell. I’d never have found Paula Moyer without blogging, never have got the introduction. My Father and Other Liars is a tale that romps hither and yon; its pace defines it. Yet if something like the location descriptions, just as much as the language of the characters, jars with any of the audience, it’s like driving with the hand brake on. Possible but deeply unsatisfying.

I’m deeply grateful to each and every reader. Some gave me a few sentences but each of those are like rivers of nectar from the gods. Those who sent me pages of thoughts, or a manuscript dotted with tracked changes and comments, I’m both touched and emotional at the thought of the effort involved. You all are part of this project, every one of you. Thank you.

***

my-father-and-other-liars-final-for-kindleMy Father and Other Liars is the second book by Geoff Le Pard. Published in August it is available as an ebook and paperback here:

Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com

 

His first book, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle can be found here:

Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com

 

Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls.

Be sure to catch more guest posts from Geoff Le Pard in Week 2 of his Blog Tour at these fine blogs:

Blog Tour 2 poster 2

Upcoming Guest Blogger

Be sure to ride over to Carrot Ranch next Monday, September 21 as Rough Writer, Geoff Le Pard, takes the reins. He’s going to discuss beta readers and how he used their feedback to shape his most recent novel,”My Father and Other Liars.”

It’s a thriller that entwines religious dogma and controversial scientific stem cell research. Having just finished reading the book, let me tell you it is an exciting read!

Geoff has a busy second week on his blog tour and I’m looking forward to learning more about how he developed his beta readers.

Geoff is a prolific and witty writer. His amazing feat at Carrot Ranch has been a nifty trick of writing an entire saga 99-words at a time! So far, he’s adapted his story to each weekly prompt without missing a beat. A true Rough Writer and talented author!

Here’s the line up for Geoff’s Week 2 Blog Tour:

Blog Tour 2 poster 2