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Raw Literature: From Raw to Ready

anne-goodwin

Essay by Anne Goodwin, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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Every other Sunday, I don my red fleece jacket and drive to an office in a Derbyshire village, where I pick up a radio and, after a cup of tea and a chat, set out on patrol. I’m part of a team of volunteer rangers supporting the day-to-day running of the National Park, each bringing our individual skills, interests and quirks to the collective task. Although the English countryside remains predominantly white and, thanks to funding cuts, the organisation has been subject to re-organisation throughout the almost ten years and I’ve been associated with it, there’s a commitment to diversity and peer and management support. While it’s not always fun traversing the moors in sleet or driving rain, or confronting a cyclist or dog owner who thinks the bylaws don’t apply to them, it’s something I believe in and generally enjoy.

I feel something similar when I ride up to the Carrot Ranch every week with my response to the weekly flash fiction challenge. There’s a sense of belongingness and supportive leadership, balanced with the flexibility and freedom to respond, within the constraints, in our own way. Even when it’s a struggle to find those 99 words, it always feels worthwhile. Sometimes, as with my regular walks that start and finish in the same place but may take me places I’ve never previously encountered, I’m surprised by what I find both in my own stories and in those of the other contributors.

I’ve dipped in and out of other writing communities over the decade and a half I’ve been writing seriously. I’ve also attended courses and purchased feedback from more experienced writers and tutors on my work. Generally, I’ve found that the type of support available differs according to the stage of writing and/or the writer’s experience: for beginning writers and for the production of first drafts (or raw literature) we’re encouraged to play, but when we come to honing it for publication and dissemination to a wider readership we’re handed the rule book.

Of course, you might be thinking, if you want people to read your stuff, it’s got to be right! I’m not disputing this at all. Publication implies a certain standard; what’s not clear is how to set about achieving it, or even what that standard might look like.

The survival of the creative writing industry depends, to a large extent, on the myth that we know what it means to write well. There’s a plethora of advice available, and a lot of it’s extremely useful to the novice – I laugh about it now, but I still recall that lightbulb moment of discovering show, don’t tell. But there’s a gap. If you’re an intuitive writer, someone whose work grows organically in unpredictable ways, who perceives writing as an adventure, you’re faced with a choice: either be the leopard that changed its spots and succumb to rigorous soul-destroying planning, or face a lonely hit-and-miss journey through the mist.

Planning is useful, but right at the start? That might work for some, especially those who wake up one morning and decide I’m going to be a writer never having written a creative word since schooldays. (Do these individuals exist?) But many, like me, have been scribbling away since childhood. We can produce raw literature in our sleep – in fact, that’s where many writing projects originate – but we need guidance in how to make it palatable to others. Unsure what that how to should look like – even after going through the process of publishing a novel people seem to like – I scour other parts of me for a useful analogy.

Just as I was a raw writer before I was a published author, I was a raw walker (although I’d never have called it that) before qualifying as a volunteer ranger. (Note to those more familiar with the raw national parks of most countries, in Britain this role doesn’t imply an intrepid explorer with a gun in her backpack.) To get to the stage of being trusted to escort the public on guided walks, I was trained in navigation, first aid and knowledge of the countryside. These skills might have parallels in the writer’s toolbox, such as my treasured show, don’t tell, but it’s in my development in the role since getting my badge and tramping the moors alone where I might look for clues as to what’s needed to progress from raw to ready-to-read.

I was very nervous when I first set out on patrol alone and perhaps overzealous in my need to get it right. What enabled me to grow in confidence – and, hopefully, skill – has been the supportive framework in which I can do it my own way, forging my own path – both literally in finding my favourite routes and symbolically in pursuing my own interests – and making my own mistakes. Instead of bemoaning my poor knowledge of geology, wildlife and plants, I’ve developed a niche in reading the literary landscape through its links to the novel, Jane Eyre, something that never occurred to me when I first applied to volunteer.

While useful as a metaphor, there are two crucial differences from my writing journey. Firstly, my freedom and flexibility within the role of volunteer ranger is limited by accountability to the national park authority whereas, as a novelist, can choose to please myself until signing a contract. Secondly, while it can be both scary and embarrassing to get lost out on patrol, I’m much more vulnerable when I mine the emotional depths for my writing. I wonder if psychotherapy, which I’ve experienced from both sides, might get me closer to what I’m struggling to articulate.

There are multiple models of therapy but, for the purpose of this post, let’s divide them into two types. One trains and supports clients to adopt the type of attitudes, thoughts and behaviours believed, based on research and theory, to promote well-being among people in general (for example, CBT); the other uses a “containing” relationship in which clients develop an idiosyncratic story of how they can be the best version of themselves within the limits of their own lives and circumstances (for example, psychoanalytic psychotherapy). The former might have its parallel in the literary sphere in planning; the latter in pantsing. Perhaps you can guess what type of therapy I sought for myself!

If that analogy holds, can we identify some elements of exploratory psychotherapy that might apply to a model of the journey from raw literature to ready-to-read? Here are my raw ideas on the issue; I’d be most interested in yours.

  1. The process is difficult to describe.
  2. It takes time, and a lot of it.
  3. It’s different for each individual patient/client/writer.
  4. Change occurs within the context of a relationship.
  5. No-one can tell you how to go about it, because no-one can get right inside your head and see how your mind works.
  6. It’s a process of trial and error.
  7. It’s a journey without a clear destination.
  8. It can be subversive.
  9. It’s a journey of both the intellect and emotions.
  10. It takes us to unexpected places.

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Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was published in July 2015 by Inspired Quill and shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, is scheduled for publication in May 2017. Anne is also a book blogger and author of 70 published short stories. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

January 26: Flash Fiction Challenge

january-26Not knowing anyone, I step out of the car into three inches of wet snow. I smell patchouli, hear drums steady as a heartbeat and see colorful protest signs lining the sheltered wall of city hall. Friendly people smile, greeting one another, greeting me. I’ve never been to Kanab, Utah before, but I once followed a pink sandy road  that crossed over into Arizona and when I feared we were lost, we intersected a highway. We were 6 miles from Kanab, but turned toward Virgin instead.

The Hub pops open the trunk, and I retrieve my giant laminated poster on a yard stick that reads, “Hear our Voices.” I thought it appropriate for a writer at a protest. It’s floppy like a fledged eagle and I’m not sure how to carry it. My yard stick is taped to the back, making a shield of the art. Is that what art is? A shield? I hold it aloft. Hear my voice. The Hub says he taking Bobo for a walk, his signal to me that the perimeter is safe and he’s nearby if I need him. Shield in gloveless hands, I walk in tennis shoes with thin ankle socks toward the collection of signs, feeling unprepared but here nonetheless. I stand where I’m most comfortable; by the words.

Snow drifts down in fat flakes that look like feathers from a kill. But there’s no blood. No violent vibes exist as if patchouli casts a spell of peace. The drummers beat Indigenous American drums — skins taut over wooden bowls. A gong accompanies the music. More smiling faces greet me. More snow falls and accumulates. It feels…celebratory. Yet signs proclaim women’s empowerment:

“Women Create”

“Love, Not Hate Makes America Great”

“Ladies Unite for Equality; No Lies, Please”

“Women Want to Go to Mars, Not War”

“Girls Just Wanna Have FUN-damental Rights”

“Build Bridges, Not Walls”

“We the People”

“We the Resilient”

“I Will NOT Go Quietly Back to the 1950s”

“Peace Not Tweets”

“You Can’t Grab Our Rights”

“Can’t Comb Over Hate”

I’m definitely at the Women’s March on Washington, via Kanab. For several months, organizers across the United States had been planning the big march in Washington, DC the day after the Presidential Inauguration. Sister Marches organized in most city centers from New York to Seattle. I had planned to go to Las Vegas, Nevada about 150 miles away, and then saw the march in Kanab which is only 38 miles from Virgin where our RV is parked for winter. The snow is like a big joke. In DC it’s foggy. It shouldn’t be snowing in southern Utah. Only when women march on Mars, right?

A clear-eyed crone walks up to me and I instantly like her. I feel the wisdom and love and I notice her hand-sewn peace patches stitched to her jacket. Her sign is detailed with artistic swirls, bordering, “Women Create.” She chats with me like an old friend and I realize that many of the women here have marched before when I was still a child. I feel on the cusp of my own crone-ness and want to observe and absorb. A peaceful assembly was promised and delivered. After an enthusiastic circling of the ranks, we call out numbers, cheer and know the resistance begins here.

And what are we resisting? We are women (and men and dogs) concerned for the human rights of all. We are resisting incivility, the usurping of our governance by the people, injustice and media silence. It was not so much a protest as it was the celebration of love and humanity, a stand of solidarity for those marginalized. It was a citizens’ promise to hold its elected officials accountable. It was history in the making and I was there.

We walk and the snow begins to lift. Heavy clouds part and reveal a splotch of blue. Someone behind me says, “It looks like the old folks home on parade.” I laugh. My bones aren’t that old, yet I struggle with the increasingly flooded intersections as snow begins to melt. My jeans are wet halfway to my knees. Cars honk and we cheer and wave. Later, I see a sign from another march posted on social media and it describes many who gathered: “It’s so bad the introverts are here.”

Many of us have what are known as “pussyhats” — knitted pink hats crowned with cat ears. Mine is actually mango in color. Women who didn’t march or support the marchers began to ridicule the “vajayjay” hats. No, I think, pussyhats is the correct term. You can’t call them by any other name. He said it first in derogatory tones, in easy talk of sexual assault, bragging. The word has taken on new power. I wear a pussyhat in solidarity with every women who has been raped, sexually abused or molested. We own it. It’s not yours to grab. And that’s the kind of empowerment we walk in, not knowing a thing of each others’ histories. We are united between knitted caps across the world.

When I think of Rock Creek and the three women who reveal its story, Nancy Jane would be the unwitting feminist. She wouldn’t be seeking equality, she just failed to realize her gender was not equal. Of all the historic figures involved in Rock Creek, we know the least about Nancy Jane Holmes. History regards her as Jane Wellman, common law wife of the Pony Express Station at Rock Creek, Nebraska. She’s not legally married so she would be Jane Holmes. History also claims her as the daughter of Joseph Holmes. That’s the thing about women — they are rarely regarded on their own, attached to a father or husband.

That’s what makes Nancy Jane and Sarah Shull interesting. They were not attached in acceptable ways.

Joseph Holmes was one who lived on the fringe of society. He was a carpenter by trade and a documented drunk and thief. He had no surviving wife, no mentioned sons, just his daughter. In the 1860 US Census for Nebraska Territory, Joseph is living near Rock Creek with a daughter, Nancy J Holmes and her infant son. That child is not mentioned again so it’s assumed he died in infancy. All sorts of imaginative ideas come to mind — who was the father of the child; why was Nancy Jane not married; how did she come to be Horace Wellman’s common-law wife a year later; what was her relationship to Sarah Shull; why did she hate Cobb McCanles so much?

As I’ve imagined her, Nancy Jane grew up on the prairie losing a mother and siblings to the cholera epidemic that hit the region during her childhood. Her father was once a talented craftsman, but succumbs to drink after heavy emotional losses. He raises his daughter without borders or societal rules. Nancy Jane meets many people along the emigrant trail where she lives, and was easily seduced by a charming  Russian (I swear I wrote that scene before the Russians hacked us). Her father doesn’t react punitively to her pregnancy, nor does he force her out of his house. By the time Cobb has reached the area, Nancy Jane is burying her baby. It’s her first encounter with the man. And it’s not a good one.

Here’s how I see Nancy Jane becoming the feminist. She then meets Sarah Shull. They have much in common: no husbands, babies out of wedlock that died early, independence and loneliness. I imagine Nancy Jane being in awe of Sarah’s accounting skills. To her, Sarah is “like a man.” Eventually, as their friendship grows and Cobb moves his family to a ranch three miles away, Sarah begins to believe in Nancy Jane’s ideas of her equality and begins to plan a move to Denver on her own. Cobb loses his sway over Sarah. He wants his wife, but he’s also enjoyed the control he’s had over his former mistress.

Unlike the Women’s Marches, tension comes to a violent resolution at Rock Creek and the women are in the thick of it.

The marches are over but the movement has only just begun. As I searched out other marchers later, I saw the repeated themes of love, solidarity and enthusiasm. Women do create. Not to leave out the men (and I love you all who support your mothers, wives and daughters for a feminist knows no gender), but I want stories this week to capture the essence of women. It’s homage not only to the marches which will go down in history, but homage to all women, even those who thought it ridiculous to march.

January 26, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme, “women create.” It can be art, sewing, ideas, babies. What is at the heart of women as creators? Go where the prompt takes you.

Respond by January 31, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published February 1). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Stirring False Creation (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Joseph mumbled, “Sorry, Nancy Jane. I wanted to borrow a suit from Irish Hughes.”

“He borrowed my whiskey, too.” Hughes shot Joseph a dark scowl. Cobb unbundled a fiddle, leveling the bow at Hughes. “He’ll return it.”

“Put that away. This is a burial, if you men please,” she said.

“I’ll play for your child. I’m no preacher, no devil either.” A soft, mournful strain rose from the strings.

Nancy Jane had never heard the like in her life. It stirred creation in her womb, as if the notes could resurrect her son. But men have no such power.

###

From my Rock Creek Playlist, this is the song I hear Cobb playing the day he met Nancy Jane at her son’s burial on the prairie near Rock Creek Station.

From the Quarry

quarryCracking away at hard-rock or sifting layers of metamorphosed sandstone, these are tasks of a quarry. Slab by slab, useful material emerges from a hillside or plateaus. Such is the efforts of writing.

Writers quarried for stories this week. What would be found in the quarry or the process? Read to find out.

The following stories are based on the January 19, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry.

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Love Carved in Stone by Kerry E.B. Black

Heinrich chose marble with an artistic eye. He shook the quarryman’s hand as he paid.

“Be needin’ more next week, I reckon.”

The quarryman avoided eye contact. “I’ll set ‘em aside for you.”

He chiseled the message with a practiced hand. A daisy drooped atop, sprinkling petals below the words, ‘Helen. Beloved wife.’

Helen’s husband wiped tears as he approved the final piece. “You do fine work, Heinrich. The daisy’s a nice touch. She’da liked that.”

As Helen’s widower walked to his car, Heinrich devised another tombstone. Next week, he guessed, and the old man’s would reside beside hers.

###

Devil’s Work by Sherri Matthews

“This is it, ‘The Devil’s Punchbowl’,” panted Scott as he bent forward to catch his breath.

Donna swiped at her hair as the wind flicked it back into her eyes. “It’s deep, you’re right, it does look like a massive punchbowl.”

“Yeah…erosion caused by water running beneath the sandstone caused the earth to sink, so it said up there on the information board…but I always thought it was an old man made quarry.”

“Or maybe the Devil really did make it, like the legend says,” Donna laughed as she lunged forward.

Devil or not, Scott never saw it coming.

###

Mining Disaster by Lady Lee Manilla

People in this remote island were naive. They thought that foreign companies which invested to mine for copper would give prosperity to the island. But disaster happened and leaked a lot of chemicals into the river, the foreign investors left the island fended for themselves without any support. It was the locals who suffered, serious health and environmental problems had placed the community at risk. Mining in the area polluted waterways, killed fish, and flooded agricultural fields. People were being poisoned indirectly through the fish and water, but also, workers were dying from direct contact with the mining operations.

###

Abandoned by Neel Anil Panicker

Long after the last of the trucks laden with earth’s richly loot had left, their monstrous wheels kicking up toxic spirals of dust and smoke, its fumes angrily billowing into an ever blackening atmosphere, Robert stood, his legs as if transfixed to the brackish grounds that hollowed out in front of him.

It was time for the chief works supervisor of Trump Constructions Inc. to move on__to another site, another site, another excavation, another emptying out of the earth’s bowels.

His reward: a further scraping out of his soul.

One day, he resolved, he would fill the void.

###

More Curbless Ruins by Elliott Lyngreen

At a designed opening; yet splitting land’s running road; spans long salient gazes under the girders that support the tube crossing, imagining we could be pneumatic; snuck in the dip of the long hill, in a dead silent pocket of the other side. .

Rock-plate, jagged Limestone, the sorrow finally interrupted by thoughts sped in that intimidating right there, “everything makes sense here,” and fear vanished and we began burning for the impossible.

Red setting never quite went, or traveled as deep into all the shaping of the formation and color ever-bending the quarry as when Heather said that.

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Endless by Jane Dougherty

“It has no bottom, you know.”

“Don’t be daft. It’s an in-filled quarry not something out of a fairy tale.”

He shrugged. “Whatever. I’m not going in anyway.”

It was her turn to shrug. She peeled off tee shirt and shorts, ran to the edge. Her hair glinted gold until a cloud passed before the sun. He frowned.

“Don’t. I mean it.”

She waved and dived, her red swimming costume flashed, bronze limbs sliced. The water closed over her heels without a ripple.

In the dark, the thing the quarry had disturbed heard and rose to meet the intruder.

###

Quarry Quandary by Kate Spencer

“Mom, you’ll never guess what happened!” Emma ran into the kitchen, the back door banging shut behind her.

“There were cop cars at the quarry today. Simply everywhere! I know you told me I shouldn’t ever go there, but I just KNEW I had to have a look. I’ve been LONGING to do this ever since Joey told me there were ghosts there. It was SO exciting Mom. I even helped the police,” she said holding up a bundle of fur.

“See, I rescued the dead man’s puppy. The officer said I could keep him. I can, can’t I?”

###

The Quarry by Pensitivity

We used to take the dogs to the local quarry every day.
They loved it, could run for miles in perfect safety, the most threatening thing likely to be a scared rabbit.
That was 20 years ago.
Some wiseass got the idea he could make a fortune by developing the land into a theme park and holiday resort.
Work started within six months of sale.
And stopped before the end of the seventh.
Now it lays a shambles of overgrown brambles and pot holes, dangerous, even in daylight.
No wildlife at all, not even crows in the granite rock face.

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Perception Changes by Florida Borne

My 2nd husband’s mother’s cousin was one of two family members who survived the holocaust. The other, my MIL, moved to America with her brother (circa 1930) so he’d have someone to keep house for him.

She’d purchased a place on the outskirts of Chicago for people over 65. At the parking lot’s edge, a fence divided her corner condo from a sheer drop that looked to be at least 1000 feet down, too deep to hear the trucks below carrying stone out of the quarry.

I think it’s safe to say that experience changes your perception of danger.

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Strike at the Quarry by Luccia Gray

‘Look at him, the great Sisyphus. Ever wondered where his rocks come from?’

‘Rocks? There’s only one.’

‘One, for all eternity? They get worn down in no time, and he’s got an army to roll ‘em up for him.’

‘Really?’

‘Do you know who does all the work?’ He asked pointing a finger at the pickets.

‘We dug those rocks out of the quarry, carried them for bloody miles, and pushed them up, but he gets all the praise.’

‘What a nerve!’

‘We’re going on strike. No more exploitation of the working classes. Get your own rocks, Sisyphus!’

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The Quarry by Norah Colvin

Old and disused, the bare earth was dry with no hint of topsoil or sign of life. Rock fragments, remnants of its past, littered the surface still pockmarked by tyre tracks. One wall, etched by diggers’ teeth, stood silently telling its story. Circles of ash littered with shards of glass and cigarette butts told another. But tonight it was to tell a story as old as time. Where once huge trucks had carted away boulders carved from its interior, now rough timber platforms stood. As darkness fell, flaming torches cast an eerie light as storytellers wove their epic tale.

###

Samuel Beckles in His Quarry by Gordon Le Pard

The professor looked into the quarry and gasped, he was impressed, and it took a lot to impress the man who had given the world dinosaurs.

When he had seen the tiny fossil, and told his friend he needed more specimens, now buried under thousands of tons of rock, he had never expected this. He climbed down.

“We have them.” Were his friend’s first words. He held out a rock, full of tiny black bones .

“It’s true – mammals did live with the dinosaurs.” The professor gave one of his rare smiles.

“Time to rewrite the text books again.”

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To Swim in the Quarry by Anne Goodwin

Father Gregory at the wheel, Father Benedict beside him. Three boys and their towels in the back. No room for me. “Get your dad to take you.” Yeah, right, if we had a car.

Kicking a ball across melting tarmac, my envy burned. Why did those scruffs get to swim in the quarry? Snotty nosed kids from broken homes, not even the manners to look grateful.

Years later, I hiked past the quarry, the pool filled in with rubble since the scandal broke. Understood how I’d been the lucky one. Wondered if the boys’ memories were buried so deep.

###

An Ounce of Prevention, or Who’s Chasing Whom? by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Betsy jogged through the underbrush, pounding her Calphalon saucepan with a designer stainless slotted spoon. The rhythm was irregular, to keep the grizzly ahead in a state of terrified confusion.

“Where is that granite quarry?” She should have reached it by now, according to that burly park ranger. Betsy shuddered as she recalled his cloying, musky scent, full beard, and hat pulled low over twinkling brown eyes. She’d hurried away.

Suddenly, she saw the bear rise up on its hind legs, look back, and disappear over the hill. She sprinted, confident, tripped, and plunged screaming over the cliff’s edge.

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Fitting Pieces…by Jules Paige

Fitting pieces: In observing nature there is a raw beauty of watching
living things survive. The haiku was written based on watching the a
pair of hawks destroy a squirrels nest that was high in an old willow
tree:

Seedy? (haiku)

hawks wanting to plant;
raid the squirrels high nest for
more than just acorns

Red Tails; Non-fiction (and free verse)

Pair of hungry Red-Tail hawks
Carefully shred
A squirrel’s nest
One succeeds only to drop his prey
Who runs into the bushes ~

One hawk flies away while
The other takes up a high post
Like a sentinel
Waiting for sounds of movement
To appease his appetite

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Rocks for the Fish by Joe Owens

“Frank, I need more of the six inch slabs!” Jerry told his foreman. “They are for a big job at the Mills’ place.”

“Does she realize the weight?” Jerry asked.

“Don’t matter, she pays cash, the quarry runs on cash, she’ll figure it out.”

Frank nodded as he climbed aboard his dozer to fetch the load. Two hours later the flat bed trailer sagged under the weight.

“What’s she makin’?” Frank asked.

“A fish pond,” Jerry said.

“Must be a big one!”

“It is for the Marlin her husband caught in Malibu. Poor fella can’t let the fish go!”

###

Last One There . . .by Ann Edall-Robson

The sounds of children laughing and yelling, “Last one there is the rotten egg.” It was alway a race to see who would be the first to jump off the rocks and into the water. Looking out from the jump-in rock brought the memories flooding back.

Someone suggested a park along the edge of the quarry would be a nice touch. HA! The park brought rules. All too soon, the race to the rock to jump into the water was vetoed. No more swimming under a full moon.

At least they’d left the water. But for how long?

###

The Quarry by Michael

The abandoned quarry was once the source of clay for the brick works. Today it’s a swimming hole but fraught with danger. Lots of stuff has been thrown into the quarry over the years. Now filled with water it conceals a multitude of dangers.

Every now and then a kid disappears. Sucked into the middle of the quarry never to be seen again. My mate Brian went that way. We were playing on his dad’s old inner tubes when he splashed once and down he went.

We searched for weeks but found nothing. None of us swam there again.

###

Rationing Information: the Teenage Years by Geoff Le Pard

‘We’re going to a quarry. For geography. You need to sign a form.’

‘What are you going to see?’

‘The quarry. God.’ Penny’s look spoke volumes.

‘I know. But there must…’

Penny shrugged, and turned back to her phone.

Mary signed.

The next day, Mary heard Penny talking to Nadia. ‘It was cool. All these strata, going back millions of years. They found a dinosaur there, like whole.’

At dinner Mary asked, ‘So, how was the quarry?’

‘Like a big hole. What’s for tea?’

Mary smiled; one day they’d share things again, once they’d both grown up a bit.

###

At First Sight (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Mary swayed like corn in a cradle, the wagon rocking, creaking. Her back ached and hands cramped as she drove the team. Ahead Leroy sagged with fatigue in the saddle.  A full moon guided their final push to Rock Creek. To keep alert, Mary forced the first memory when she became interested in Cobb.

The mountain girls gathered at the creek, wading and gossiping. Sarah Shull hung back. Her cornflower blue eyes watched the trail from the granite quarry. He rode shirtless and reckless. Mary smirked. She recognized the twit’s crush. That’s when she decided to woo Colbert McCanles.

###

The End Of Her Miscarriage by Diana Ngai

Saying that she was in a lot of discomfort was putting it mildly. Contractions racked her body as a piece of failed pregnancy moved slowly through her cervix. The doctor tweezed tissue out through the spectrum and Carrie was immediately comforted. The relief from pain was so great, Carrie thought the doctor was a miracle worker. Only days later would she think otherwise. If he were a miracle worker, he would have been able to save her baby. But there was no baby. Her womb was an abandoned quarry excavated of treasure. In that moment, her dreams were demolished.

###

My Quarry by Bill Engelson

“Breathless.”

“Are you?”

“Yes.”

“It is quite a site.”

“Breathtaking.”

“Do you need to draw in air, or something.”

“I’m a little winded. I never thought I would see this beautiful quarry again.”

“Hmm. When were you last in Carrara?”

“In ’68. At the creation of the International of Anarchist Federations.”

“A long time ago.”

“Yes. Time has not worn me well. Nor the quality of the marble.”

“We work with what we have. And today I have to think of the George Washington Statue by Greenough.”

“America. Yes, I think of her too. Lesser men. Lesser marble.”

###

Raw Literature: Natural or Explicit

geoff-le-pardEssay by Geoff Le Pard, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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When I was asked by Charli to consider what raw literature meant to me, I did what all lawyers do (and sometimes I can’t not give best to that training, however hard I try); I gravitate to a definition, in this case of ‘raw’.

One settles neatly alongside Charli’s opening where she posits ‘raw’ literature is:

…first-works. It’s the original material a writer produces in response to an idea, challenge or aspiration. It’s the novelist’s first draft; the poet’s scribbling of a sonnet; a screenwriter’s initial storyboard. It’s a memoirist’s recognition of a relevant story to share. It’s that ah-ha moment when the imagination outpaces the fingers across a keyboard or a tongue giving diction. It’s the writer’s eye on the blank page like a sculptor’s gaze through a block of marble

My definition states ‘raw’ is:

being in a natural condition; not processed; not having been subjected to adjustment, treatment or analysis.

But it also gave me this:

exposed (as in a wound); explicit, in realistic detail

Let’s just note here there are other definitions and that may lead to other debates, by other writers.

Looking at definition no 1, we begin to see why the birth analogy is made. Often it is said we ‘give birth’ or ‘life’ to our work. I think that’s what Charli means by ‘raw’ literature.

But that started me thinking; if raw literature is birth, what about conception? What’s that? In the writerly process? And why is it so many people rubbish raw literature, that first draft, in ways you wouldn’t rubbish a new born?

I think, probably stating the obvious here, that the spark Charli references is in fact conception. That initial idea, that’s the act of conception. After there’s a gestation period, usually hidden away from public view, the idea growing inside us, changing, taking on some sort of shape that warrants it being put onto the page or typed into a machine. That period may not be long but there is a period, even for the speediest of flash pieces.

We may share our condition with others but they may not recognise it in the early stages as we blather our way round the idea. But eventually we give birth to something, we have created some sort of first draft, something tangible. It is more than the mere act of scribbling an idea down, a treatment, a few headings. It has to have some sort of independent existence, it must be recognisable by others as a work, a whole, even if not yet particularly coherent. It still needs a lot of support, guidance, nurturing; it’s by no means the finished product.

It is, indeed, raw. But in saying that, let us grasp the most important point from this analogy. A first draft, like a new born, isn’t shite, rubbish, not worth the paper, etc., etc. It’s a perfectly formed yet undeveloped thing that needs care, love and attention, guidance and support. Much like a new born.

You don’t diss a baby for being a baby, do you? You don’t expect it to be what it’s not any more than you tell it it’s rubbish until it grows up. That sort of parenting went out with the golf ball typewriter and spats.  Sure, the first draft is ugly; so are all babies whatever we say of our own, but so? They’ll grow and, with help – editing if you like – they can become splendid.

Raw literature is that. It’s not the idea, the germ, not even the first note or scribble. But it is the first attempt at a coherent whole and worthy of everyone’s support and understanding. When I start anything, any writing I know it will need work. I may not have much time: a flash prompt may give me 24 hours, a blog post may be programmed to go inside a day or two but it will always benefit from finding some space to spend on it.

That is so, even if that editing changes it so fundamentally that none of the original words are used. It would be an unusual piece, after all, that contains nothing of that original idea. The fact that the words used are different or in a different order doesn’t mean the original had no merit. Individually the words are meaningless concepts – it is only when brought together that they take shape as a work – much like cells. But you cannot reach that final shape without the original unrefined lump of prose.

Imagine an opening: He walked slowly past the shops.

Over time you might change that to: The man strolled along the High Street.

Apart from one ‘the’ all the words have changed but the opening stays conceptually the same.

Writing a book is a journey. We’ve all heard that cliché? As with any journey, the beginning isn’t rubbish; it’s just a part of the process. As Charli suggests, starting on creating a novel is like the commencement of a sculpture. Does that make the first few blows rubbish, redundant? Course not.

But if it’s so important, if that raw lump is in fact a crucial part of the process, how careful should you be in its creation, in that first attempt? Not very, would be my judgement. Of course a pregnant mother takes care of herself to take care of the baby, but mostly the body does the job, come what may. So, with that first draft; let it happen. Do not be frightened by what you’re giving birth to. In the way of new births, your power really to influence only comes after birth. So, get it out there. Kick the inhibitions into touch. Let it all hang and just write.

Which neatly brings us to that second definition: exposing yourself, being open, vulnerable. Is it any wonder we have inhibitions if creating something raw opens us to hurt?

When you start a piece of writing, when you let it flow, you must resist the urge to restraint or you might never reach the birthing point from which the whole process can really flow.  If you give in, you’ll slow the process and risk gumming it up before you have something coherent from which to work.

For any work, if we truly want to get that rawness, newness, freshness, we should be prepared for some hurt and not be scared to expose our vulnerabilities. You know it is said you need to be brave if you are going to be true to your ideas. But how brave, how raw, how vulnerable will we really allow ourselves to be? Isn’t there always something that stops up being completely raw? Aren’t there some inhibitions that you simply can’t avoid?

When I wrote my first published work, I set it in 1976, in a rural setting. The characters included a family of displaced Ugandans with Indian ancestry. One of the main characters, the mother finds herself having to give a home to the Ugandans and is unwilling and unpleasant to the visitors. By today’s mores she is clearly racist; at that time her behaviour wouldn’t have received anything like such approbation (that’s not an excuse, just the explanation).

I was advised modern audiences would take against her because of those views, common as I knew them to be back then. I challenged that notion but, being my first book, felt I was losing the battle to moderate the character as more than one beta reader expressed their confusion over how they felt about her. My original writing was raw, uncensored and, in fact honest but so what? I felt then I needed to listen to the critics and accept their advice; if that was the market, I didn’t want to jar with it.

However, had I not written it, initially, as I thought right I wouldn’t have been able to clarify my own thinking and make appropriate calls on what I wanted to achieve with the book, how it might reach its audience.  To me that early draft needed to have the language, ideas and concepts of the time, even if some reading them would be angered, annoyed and shocked. That’s a sort of raw writing.

Now, four published books into my writing life, I might approach the criticism differently.  But equally I am well aware that I don’t really write raw fiction. Not completely. You see, it is not just the attitudes of characters that’s the issue. It is the language they use, too.

These days I populate my novels, as I see appropriate, with the ‘f’ and ‘c’ words. I don’t care and even if beta readers think my characters potty-mouthed (some do, some even count the number of times I use the ‘f’ word), I know that to be real that’s how they would speak and think and I shrug and think it’s the beta reader who needs to get real.

But would I use the ‘n’ word? The ‘p’ word? Me a white male, a child of a former Empire-controlling nation whose dirty boots are all over the globe?  Nope, I can’t imagine I’d have that courage, ever. I might have a white supremacist character, or just a cowardly bigot who pretends to be open minded but isn’t really; even so I’d censor them for my own peace of mind. That is, I think, on one level a shame. I doubt, even for a first draft would I use those words. Sure, it may mean I avoid offending people but really I’m not doing it because it improves my literature but because I don’t want to offend. Or more likely I don’t want to be thought of as offensive. Cowardice, then. So raw literature isn’t always something to be applauded or indeed created.

So given I can change things, as I did with my first book, in the editing process, why don’t I let it out, in all its gory glory with ideas, words, and characters I find offensive? Even at the outset, when the first words hit the page, why not be truly honest, open, raw?

Because I just can’t. Not completely. And I wonder how many of us are capable of that degree of uninhibited writing? Don’t we all have taboos?  Aren’t we all a product of the societies we live in, the cultures we adopt and so we never really let go fully? And maybe, because we have to rub along that’s not a bad thing. But, as I say, I think it is actually quite sad.

There are some who might say I lack ‘honesty’. But those are the self-same people who will tell a hurtful truth, rather than dissemble because they can’t help but be ‘honest’. Rubbish. Since when has undiluted honesty, much like undiluted alcohol, benefited anyone?

So what about you? Do you agree with the birthing/conception analogy? Or is that overdone? Do you think first drafts are indeed rubbish or merely staging posts in the life of a written work? And can you write truly raw, un-self-censored fiction, or memoir, or whatever else it is you write? Is anyone that brave, or foolish, or maybe just crass?

***

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. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

My Father and Other Liars is a thriller set in the near future and takes its heroes, Maurice and Lori-Ann on a helter-skelter chase across continents.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle is a coming of age story. Set in 1976 the hero Harry Spittle is home from university for the holidays. He has three goals: to keep away from his family, earn money and hopefully have sex. Inevitably his summer turns out to be very different to that anticipated.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

life-in-a-grain-of-sand-by-g-le-pardThis 30 story anthology covers many genres: fantasy, romance, humour, thriller, espionage, conspiracy theories, MG and indeed something for everyone. All the stories were written during Nano 2015.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

salisbury-square-by-g-le-pardSalisbury Square is a dark thriller set in present day London where a homeless woman and a Polish man, escaping the police at home, form an unlikely alliance to save themselves.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

<< ♦ >>

Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Safe Space for Our Voices

lizadonovan-hearourvoice-1At noon today, January 20, 2017, a new administration takes over leadership in the US. Inauguration, balls, protests and marches will magnify every moment in Washington, DC this weekend. The first 100 days of the new administration will reveal just how much change is going to unfold and judge its benefits or detriments. To say the entire world is watching is not hyperbole. And writers cannot escape this gaze.

The US Press Corps has issued its stand in an open letter to Trump: “We believe there is an objective truth, and we will hold you to that.” Media has derailed in its quest for objective truth the moment advertising dollars oozed past the boundaries of editorial in an act of survival when print faded in the light of the rising digital sun. Media has long toyed with sensationalism to grab attention, often obscuring the truth to get readers. But now we live in an age of reality-TV masquerading as real and fake news making fools of all. We are now struggling with a post-truth era.

Let objective truth become your safe phrase.

We cannot hide from the events unfolding. To be an informed writer — even a novelist or poet or memoirist or creator of educational materials or creator of flash fiction — we must be informed readers. When it does not feel safe to read or listen to the news, often it is because of biases and worry over propaganda or fake news. Focus on objective truth. Read critically. Read deep. It might be tempting to scan the sound bites or let well-intentioned friends inform you in a Facebook post about those “six things you need to know about _______,” but seek the deeper reporting. Here’s my list of news sources:

  1. The New York Times (I pay for a monthly subscription)
  2. ProPublica
  3. Associated Press
  4. PBS NewsHour
  5. Audible (I pay for a monthly subscription and follow Channels like Scientific America and Masters of Fiction)
  6. Pocast Republic
  7. NPROne

Be a critical reader. Even the best of journalists can express bias. At times, I’ve caught a tone of exasperation missed by an editor or perhaps added by one. Recognize tone and intent. Be on guard for bias. Occasionally read a source you know to be bias (liberal or alt-right) to compare the reporting on the same story. Know the difference between opinion and fact. Look for sources. Look up sources. Do some sleuthing on your own, don’t become reliant upon outlets like Snopes because then you are letting someone else think for you. Don’t “like” biased news, call out fake news or lies when correction is needed, and don’t copy and paste incomplete information from your BFF. Seek objective truth.

One of the challenges writers have when filling the mind-well is wanting to write about it, of course. Be aware that this is not a safe environment for writers. Journalists have called for solidarity. Many groups, such as #LinkYourLife offer private safe space on Facebook with member rules to protect the space and moderators to encourage participation. Carrot Ranch is an open literary community. Most writers participate in multiple social media platforms and write blog posts, articles or literary submissions. We express our thoughts and our thoughts are informed by what we experience and read or observe.

Yet, doing so makes writers vulnerable. What was intimate in our hearts and minds becomes words on a page. When we share those words publicly, we can’t control the reaction of others. Something as simple as an encouraging quote or an expressed opinion can receive negative feedback. Recently I posted a quote from Langston Hughes and endured a vitriolic debate from someone on Facebook who inappropriately associated the quote to an offensive art exhibit. And yet, I defended artists having the freedom of expression. It felt ironic because I didn’t feel so free in expressing myself. Another writer posted a political meme and was trolled on her Facebook page. Another writer wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that created a media storm complete with public shaming from Bill O’Reilly and death threats.

So how do writers stay safe yet continue to write?

Know your boundaries. Find safe groups where you feel welcome and comfortable. Have a crisis plan. If you are new to blogging and are journaling personal thoughts and feelings, you can keep your blog private until you feel ready to share. Use your comfort to share as your cue. Sometimes, in order to grow, we have to expand beyond our safety zones, and being scared does not mean you are helpless. Set your boundaries on your social media and craft rules of what you will tolerate (you can block and report). I tolerated the vitriol on my FB because I want my posts to be public (part of my writer’s platform) and I knew the offender (my Hub’s opinionated cousin). The writer who was trolled on Facebook thought she could learn from opposing opinions, but it became clear it was an organized attack (by people she didn’t  know) and she blocked them. The Washington Post writer rode out the storm with the help of her publicist.

Before negative remarks send you into a crisis, have a plan: don’t engage with anyone who makes you feel unsafe; know how to block and report offenders; reach out to moderators; adjust your level of sharing.

As someone who leads a literary community, safe space means a place where our writing is not critiqued in the normal academic way of tearing down. Trolls would never be an issue here and that is why I have tight security on my comment feed. It can be annoying when comments or pingbacks delay or even get lost but it’s worth keeping the space here safe from undue criticism. We also have some basic rules at Carrot Ranch which are always linked. In the three years we’ve been flashing as a community, only once did I have to send an email to an inappropriate commentor, and the writers never saw the comment. Of course, we are not the Washington Post or The New Yorker, but it’s important for writers to know that having a safe zone to practice creative writing — raw literature — is a priority at Carrot Ranch.

Each week we focus on writing flash fiction as play, the way musicians get together and jam. Writers often comment and the focus is on what is engaging in the flash, or craft techniques that worked well. A safe place for literary art practices appreciative inquiry to build upon a writer’s strengths. A safe place expresses adult ideas in content, and we keep them to the level of: would you share this with your boss. If not, give a content warning, post it on your own blog and link to it in the comments. It’s never been a problem to date, but worth explaining that there is a process for sharing extreme content.

Ultimately Carrot Ranch is a safe place for writers from diverse backgrounds to share across genres, topics and national origin. Literary art is the common ground for diversity.

Even fiction explores objective truth. In fact, fiction is most powerful when it clearly expresses truth. Just because we live in uncertain times does not mean we have to be uncertain about what we write. Perhaps we are called to be more mindful of what we write, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Safety is a reasonable concern. It’s my greatest hope you come here to write because you feel safe in expressing yourself in raw literature among this literary community. We learn from different perspectives and we grow when we dare to be brave.

It’s a new era, today. Hone your voice and write on.

***

A Note about the artwork: Hear Our Voice is by artist, Liz Donovan and is a free download from the Women’s March on Washington. The purpose is to amplify the messages women bring to the march. I’ll be marching on Saturday in a Sister March, holding a sign made from this artwork. My body guard and faithful dog march with me.

***

I’m a member and co-moderator of the Link Your Life group on Facebook which is a safe place to share writing links. The LYL Mod Squad has joined forces today to reflect upn what safe space does and doesn’t mean. Here’s the complete list:

Heavy Lifting: Accountability, ego and a safe team environment, By Shawna Ayoub Ainslie

What Is a Safe Space? by Drew Sheldon

What an Online safe space is and isn’t by Stacia Fleegal

Why this one life hack will change your life forever, by Raymond Baxter

The importance of safe spaces and how to understand them better – Link Your Life, by Charlotte Farhan

Harmony, by Rachel A. Hanson

How bringing others in improves healing and progress, by Thomas Ives

 

January 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

january-19Mars is a mess. Brandy-wine clay smudges the paved roads, making paint brushes of tires. Red sand so fine a geologist might call it silt pours from rock crevices to keep time. When time’s up, entire blocks of sandstone cliffs slough like rocky debris to block paved roads. Constant patter of rain on my RV drives me to drive. Driving therapy we called it back in north Idaho. When life is a jangled mess, when cabin fever settles, when you can’t afford to do anything else, drive.

And drive we do in the white farm truck with the pinkish underbelly, stained by sticky wet red clay of an unusually wet southern Utah winter.

We can’t go up. Kolob Terrace is closed, choked with snow at its elevations. The mesa roads are unstable. The clay roads are impassable. Zion Scenic Drive is  closed. We can’t go far. The truck guzzles gas and we are back to living on a writer’s budget. That miracle of a job wasn’t such a miracle. The anxiety of living homeless, moving 1,000 miles in a leaking tin can, losing our big brown dog, and finally getting diagnosed with combat-related anxiety after 33 years left the Hub ill-equipped to deal with office politics.

Tourists flesh the bones of this place, visiting Zion in the thousands daily. Tourist season is March through November, and the three months of winter are quiet enough to enjoy the park when not beneath tumbling debris. Park rangers are more evident. Locals in the Virgin-Rockville-Springdale area are friendly. We feel out of place though, like Earthlings on Mars. We can’t go north yet because it’s buried in the tundra of winter.

Along the flat and recently graded dirt road we encounter an unwelcoming sub-culture — tweakers making, buying or simply driving the back-country of Mars to use crystal meth. We had one move into the RV for the month of December, as we waited, a full month, to hear the decision of the Hub’s employer. We watched muddy vehicles come and go. One day an unmarked police vehicle showed up and the next day the tweaker was gone. I hadn’t realized how tense it had made us until they were gone.

We’re in limbo, executing Plan B. It involves the VA and the VA moves like a sloth unaware that it needs to hurry up across the paved road. Phone calls, phone calls, phone calls and we push through. The Ranger drivers on, no quit in him.

So we drive. Clay crackles where rain had saturated it three days prior. Our drive is the one sunny afternoon in between storm systems. The road crosses the red and swollen Virgin River and I think there’s a metaphor between the condition and its name. But inspiration fails to make the connection. We drive. Carefully we wind up a serpentine rise, avoiding grand puddles and washed out gullies. A small SUV is stopped pointed the direction we are coming from, and the Hub rolls down his window to talk to the woman getting out the driver’s side door.

“How’s the road ahead?”

“Uh…?”

“The road. Is the road clear?”

“Uh, um, yeah, uh, yeah.” She pulls out a walkie-talkie and ignores us.

The Hub rolls up the window and we both realize she’s high on something. Two pre-teens look bored in the back seat. They don’t make eye-contact with us. Silently I hope they both grow up knowing a different life. Yet, I’m not so sure I believe in clean breaks. Even in this desert known as Mars, we’re all dragging around cumbersome crates. Moody with my thoughts, I’m curious to see mounds of tailings, often an indicator of a mine. Not a mine. We drive around the wide curve in the road and see a quarry.

Flat rocks neatly stacked reminds me of the pressure I feel when I think of life’s pain.

As a writer on a drive is wont to do, I begin to think of my characters. I’ve switched to Rock Creek as my writing focus this week, among blog posts, social media and client work. On the red road I can think of my characters without the rocks of deadlines and news articles. My imagination finally bubbles up and rolls muddy like the Virgin River. Mary. Mary Greene. Mary Greene McCanles. She’s neat like the quarry rocks. Orderly. Sarah Shull was neat, too, but dreamy. Mary was pragmatic. Sarah could account. Mary could make any household item her family needed, sweep a dirt floor and balance all the babies. Sarah was progressive, Mary traditional.

Like politics, my two lovers of Cobb McCanles were polarized. Yet where is the tension in my story? Mary is the wife he cheated on, Sarah the mistress he brings to Rock Creek. Yet Sarah is a business partner, the sullied and pitied woman. I get Sarah’s complexities, I can define each stone in her stack. But Mary? She cooked and cleaned, cleaned and cooked. This is exactly why I write about women in the west because I know we are more than that. We cook, clean and meet up with drug dealers before driving the kids to Scouts meetings. What is Mary’s drug? What is her boredom? Her fear? Her pain? More so, what does Mary do with it?

We drive and I imagine Mary vindictive. She wouldn’t look at Sarah Shull without some bile rising. Corn liquor was for her man. Mary planned, poking her adversaries weaknesses. What if Cobb was not the one who made the women get together for dinner exchanges like historians claim from eye-witness accounts? I’ve entertained the idea before that Mary initiates the dinner exchanges to shame Sarah who never learned to cook. What else would she have planned to make Sarah look bad and elevate her own status? I realize I’ve been reluctant to sort out Mary’s stack of rocks, accepting she was the stoic pioneer woman, respecting she was my kin. I feel soft toward her.

And we drive and I get hard of heart. If there is anything worth sifting, I’m going to have to get hard with Mary, see her as a real woman, strong, but fallible, too. Mars is a proving ground. As a writer, I have to pick at the quarry and create characters like stacks of many rock, each one applying more pressure.

January 19, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by January 24, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published January 25). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

At First Sight (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Mary swayed like corn in a cradle, the wagon rocking, creaking. Her back ached and hands cramped as she drove the team. Ahead Leroy sagged with fatigue in the saddle.  A full moon guided their final push to Rock Creek. To keep alert, Mary forced the first memory when she became interested in Cobb.

The mountain girls gathered at the creek, wading and gossiping. Sarah Shull hung back. Her cornflower blue eyes watched the trail from the granite quarry. He rode shirtless and reckless. Mary smirked. She recognized the twit’s crush. That’s when she decided to woo Colbert McCanles.

###

Raw Lit Profile: Rough Writer for Congress

raw-literature-profileCarrot Ranch is a community of literary writers from around the world. Those who began as regulars to the weekly flash fiction challenges are among the current Congress of Rough Writers. The group name is a nod to Wild Bill Cody’s Wild West Show that was also made up of global participants who amazed audiences with daring feats of riding. Our writers amaze readers with literary writing feats.  The group name reflects the theme of a western-style ranch, which personifies the roots and western writing of Carrot Ranch’s Lead Buckaroo, Charli Mills. The collective writing, however, is as diverse as the individuals who encompass the Congress.

One Rough Writer took a break from writing raw literature to run for Congress. Sarah Unsicker, one of the earliest members of the Rough Writers, ran a successful campaign as a Democrat for her state’s legislature. On November 8, constituents elected Unsicker as State Representative of Missouri’s 91st District. While all of us at Carrot Ranch wish her the best in her new role, we are also curious as to what she’ll be doing.

Already, Unsicker, is preparing for the life changes election will bring to her. As a lawyer and mother, Unsicker has already practiced walking between the different worlds of career and parent. In fact, she wrote a flash fiction in August of 2014 that responded to “a multiverse situation,” which could be based on her experience as a lawyer-now-parent moment.

The Crosswalk by Sarah Unsicker

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

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

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

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

###

Off the literary page, Unsicker is preparing for the transition to elected life. As a State Representative, she will work in sarah_unsickerJefferson City, Missouri four days a week between January and May. Because the state capital is two hours from her home, Unsicker will set up a temporary second residence. Her work commute will begin on Mondays after she drops off her kids at the school bus stop. She’ll return to her family on Thursdays.

If you read between the lines in Unsicker’s flash fiction, you’ll catch glimpses of a character’s longing to be a part of social justice. Unsicker says she’s always been interested in politics, and felt frustrated in recent years by her state’s legislature. She ran on a platform that supports children and families; one that tackles ethics reform in government. A job she is capable of accomplishing. Her beliefs and experience as both a mother and lawyer shaped her political platform:

“Sarah believes every person deserves dignity and respect. That the mom receiving welfare should have as much power to be heard as the CEO. Sarah believes that everyone plays the best game they are able with the hand they are dealt, and we have a responsibility to make the playing field more equitable.” From Sarah Unsicker for State Representative, 2016.

When Unsicker gets to work at Missouri’s state capital, she’ll review correspondence from her constituents and prepare for committee work. Committees are how government bodies function to address a myriad of issues. She will work on the rules (administrative oversight) committee, fiscal review committee, and the special committee on innovation and technology. Unsicker will await news of her appointment to which committees on which she’ll serve and do the bulk of her legislative work.

President John F. Kennedy made a famous statement during his 1961 inaugural address: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Any citizen who steps up to serve the nation at the sacrifice of his or her known way of life is leading by example. It’s not easy for a wife and mother to put aside her own activities, including gardening and writing fiction,  and leave the comfort of home.  Unsicker once addressed the unsettling thought of possible life disruption in a flash fiction prompted by “a crack.”

Crack of Thunder by Sarah Unsicker

I lay in bed, refusing to wake up. I enjoy this quiet morning, even with the toddler kicking me in the back. Eyes closed, I see a quick flash of light.

Am I hallucinating? The world bright for a moment, then suddenly dark. The flash does not happen again. Is this the beginnings of a brain tumor? After that quarter-second, the world is back to normal. Quiet, dark, toddler in the back, nothing has changed. Or has it? Am I cracking up?

I hear a distant crack, a rumble of thunder. Everything is, once again, right with the world.

###

Unsicker knows the work ahead of her will be daunting; she’s an elected Democrat facing a newly elected Republican President and Federal Congress. Yet, it’s heartening to know that among our local, state and federal representation we have a process by which we, as concerned citizens, can still be heard. Unsicker witnessed the negativity of the last few weeks, as candidates slung mud at one another in their bids to get elected. While negative campaigns might work, the elected officials have to work through that negativity to find real solutions facing their residences, states and nation.

The elections might be over, but now is not the time for any citizen to sit back. Acceptance doesn’t mean inaction. Just as Unsicker is rolling up her sleeves to do the work for her state, she advises other citizens to participate. Anyone can correspond with their state representatives (and federal elects, too). She encourages people to write letters, make phone calls and try to form relationship with their representatives. “Keep telling them what’s important. Show up for committee hearings,” she says.

And those of us who write can continue to voice alternative perspectives through literature. Unsicker understands how the process of writing allows individuals to access feelings and ideas. One premise at Carrot Ranch is that a weekly prompt by which writers respond can offer readers a way to explore the collective responses that vary in perspective. Literature has the power to offer new ways of seeing an old problem or experiencing a different culture or lifestyle. Unisicker says, “Literature helps people consider different situations in life with more empathy and understanding.”

Thus begins a new Congress for this Rough Writer. On behalf of Carrot Ranch, we are all whoopin’ and hollerin’ for Sarah Unsicker’s successful candidacy. We know her to be a thoughtful and compassionate writer and expect her to lead with intelligence and integrity, standing up for all people in her state. We leave you with a final flash fiction from writer-turned-representative. This particular flash is based on a character Unsicker developed in a longer work in progress. We hope she one day returns to her creative writing, but in the meantime, she has constituents to nourish.

Filling the Heart With Calories by Sarah Unsicker

Baking filled in the hole in Cecilia’s life where family was missing. It comforted her when she was lonely; it was the warm hug she fed herself every morning; it reached out to embrace friends when words would not suffice. The smell of the bread she baked every full moon filled her empty house and chased away memories. Kneading sweet buns, she fought those forces that had left only ghosts to share the house. The crescendo of smell of the chocolate chip cookies that she baked for the neighbors muted her need for grandchildren. Yes, baking nourished Cecilia’s soul.

###

Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Occasionally, the Lead Buckaroo, will profile those who create raw literature. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay or profile idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.