Raw Literature: Tell Your Story

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

June 18, 2019

By D. Avery

This past weekend I took time away from my regular work to peddle my written wares under the local author’s tent at the Nantucket Book Fest. This was my first time attending, and I was glad for the opportunity and exposure. If you’re wondering, I didn’t get rich, but I was enriched by the words of some of the visiting authors.

At the opening celebration of the Book Fest, three authors took to the pulpit (literally, it was at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House) to speak of their motivations. The question posed was, “How can we write when everything’s wrong?”

Ben Fountain asked, “How can we not?” The author of Beautiful Country Burn Again, also said, “I try to understand everything I can,” and spoke of language and writing being a tool for that understanding. Regardless of genre, writers are “the scouts and spies of the human tribe.” Dave Cullen, who wrote Columbine and Parkland, and who “writes because he has to, he writes because he gets to,” reiterated the idea of writers as spies, and told of his vocation, his “being called” to be a “participant observer,” as opposed to objective reporting where a distance is maintained.

Perhaps it was the “human tribe” line that made me think of our tribe here at Buckaroo Nation, where we report back to one another every week after receiving our mission, the prompt. We take up a lens, a spyglass, at times a telescope, at times a kaleidoscope, but we scout out a story and bring it back to the communal fire for sharing. Sometimes we bring back entertainment and sometimes truths, often both.

How can we write, when everything’s wrong? How can we not? The human tribe is a tribe of storytellers. Madeline Miller, author of Circe, reminded us that stories are where there are tears for things and where mortality touches the heart. With her references to the Aeneid a reminder of both the antiquity and the universality of stories, of the constant presence of monsters and dangers and journeys, her closing remarks also brought it back to the fire. “Stories say, ‘I hear you.’ Readers hear, ‘I’m heard, I’m here.’”

This and more I have also heard at the campfire of Carrot Ranch. Writers must write; readers must read. At the Book Fest, the theme continued when Alex Marzano-Lesnevich spoke about their book, The Fact of a Body, a book intriguing to me not for its content, which is grim, but for how they were uncovering one story and discovered their own. The interviewer called the writing “unflinching” and “brave” for the places it goes. Alex admits it might have been easier to have not gone there. But how could they not? Alex suggested that writing is a moral obligation. Their book not only gave the victim of the crime a voice, readers were given a voice, too many readers who had remained silent. Because of Alex’s book, these people felt their story had been told, that they were heard.

As Alex says in the introduction of The Fact of a Body, the book is “my interpretation of the facts, my rendering, my attempt to piece together this story. As such, this is a book about what happened, yes, but it is also about what we do with what happened. It is about a murder, it is about my family, it is about other families whose lives were touched by the murder. But more than that, much more than that, it is about how we understand our lives, the past, and each other. To do this, we all make stories.” The human tribe shares stories.

Sometimes, even in just 99 words, we might, after scouting and spying on pasts and places, on histories, come back with a story that, through the telling and the reading, becomes something more than we knew ourselves. We share in our community; we take communion of story. We might come to understanding or bring understanding through writing, through story making. Our words might make someone else feel heard. And that’s good for the human tribe.

Book Fest was not what I thought it’d be. It was much better than what I thought it would be. Book Fest made me feel like a writer, but not through volume of sales under the tent. True story: A woman whom I had met only the night before when she bought a book, came back to tell me she had just read the first story in After Ever and it made her cry. The story was about her friend she told me, and she was very touched by that. Did I sell a ton of books? I sold enough.

D. Avery lives on an island off the coast of Massachusetts with a husband and a cat. She is a teacher of middle school mathematics. She enjoys kayaking, baking sourdough bread, and reading. She sometimes write. People sometimes read what she writes. ShiftnShake is a place for you to read some of D.’s writing, including her weekly Ranch Yarns.

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  1. Susan Zutautas

    Sounds wonderful Charli!

    • Susan Zutautas

      I read this on the white page and thought it was you that wrote this and then I came over to the ranch and now I see that D. wrote it. 🙂 Still sounds wonderful!

      • Charli Mills

        I posted it and forgot D.’s byline and bio! Popped back in and gave proper credit! It’s a great experience and insight she has to share with us.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Phew, I’m glad you still like it. It was a wonderful weekend, I wish I could have gone to more talks and events.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        I made the same mistake, Susan, reading the email version first.

  2. Jules

    A few months ago I went to some kind of woman’s convention. Whole bunch of booths and such. I went because it wasn’t anything I had done before – I had gone by myself. I think I would have preferred a bookfest. But then I like trolling Little Free Libraries and my Library Cafe Book Store. I’ve gotten to prefer quite over crowds.

    Being part of a tribe – To be inspired by prompts and others contributions.
    And to have others find perhaps subconscious meanings to the things we tap out into cyber space is always an eye opener. It is truly amazing how much that we write as individuals reflects in others lives. Like that Gal who said one of the stories of your book, D, made her cry because it was a story she yet to write about her friend.

    I’m not sure yet how I feel about self promotion for me. I tease that I need a secretary to do all the business end of things. But the more I write for the ranch – I think that one of these days I might have to try more submissions of the collections I have already put together. Or make my own Chapbooks… But I just haven’t gotten that far.

    Glad that you D, had a great time and sold some of your collections. I very much enjoyed the book you sent me. And plan on attempting to order some of the Ranch Hand books this summer. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, even though you prefer quiet to crowds (and I think many if us would agree) it’s good to get out of our comfort zones. We can find greater and deeper moments of inspiration as D. did. I look forward to talking with you face to face and dreaming up what next for your writing.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Jules, I couldn’t help but think of us all here at the Ranch when I heard the writers talking about the power of stories and the imperative to write them and read them.
      I didn’t bother to tell that Gal that I’d written that story for a friend of mine. She was a reader so if she says it was written about her friend, so be it.

      • Charli Mills

        Art means it was written for your friend and her friend and every other person who sees themselves or others in that role. To me, art is magical because one story can mean something to thousands of other people.

  3. Nicole Horlings

    I am sooo glad that I discovered Carrot Ranch, and I have felt such a warm welcome around the campfire. Writing and reading are things that touch the core of what it means to be human. Stories are more than just the words written out; stories are the impressions that they leave on other people’s hearts.

    • Charli Mills

      Nicole, you are so right about what stories are, and how they humanize us and our experiences. I believe in the greater power of literary art — any art, but words are our medium here — to impact hearts and change minds. Carrot Ranch is meant to be a safe space for writers to play, tell stories and gather around the campfire. Glad you made your way here!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      That’s well said, Nicole. And welcome to Carrot Ranch.

  4. Chris Mills

    Thanks for sharing, D. Selling a few books and touching a life is a good combination. Keep it up.

  5. cam8510

    Thanks for sharing, D. A few books sold and a person touched is a good combination.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for stopping by Chris! One of your messages got caught in the spam filter, sorry about that!

  6. Angie Sim

    This sounds wonderful! I didn’t even think about getting some exposure for my books through book fests. I’m new to all of this, so I’m always looking for ways to get my story out there. I have no idea how to promote my book or where to even start (it’s kind of overwhelming actually). I’m glad you shared this and it gave me some ideas of my own 🙂

    Happy I found your blog!


    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for stopping by Carrot Ranch, Angie! Yes, it’s a big marketplace and can feel overwhelming. But it’s also an exciting time to be a book author and connect with people through events.

      If you scroll back up, on the left-hand column is a post category, “A Writer’s Platform” with lots of good posts to help you figure out where to start with your book promotion. A series I wrote helps to understand the platform and how to use it. Start with Decoding a Writer’s Platform at https://carrotranch.com/2015/04/03/decoding-the-writers-platform/.

      Glad you found your way to the Ranch!

      • Angie Sim

        That’s awesome!! Posts like this help me feel more than reassured. Thanks so much for the link and directing me to the right place for some insight! Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out where to begin 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        That first step can be the hardest, Angie, but I can see you’ll be off and running soon.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      I am fortunate that this big Book Festival happens, but it was also a bit competitive to get some space. There were many local authors vying for limited space. Doesn’t hurt if you are known by your local librarians and local bookstores. I also saw that the blurbs they ask for for the brochures do get read and do make a difference as people attending want to make the most of their time and experience.
      Good luck!

      • Angie Sim

        Oh gotcha thanks for the heads up!! I can definitely see why it would be competitive and kind of expected that- this sounds like an amazing opportunity! I was looking into getting touch with my local librarians anyways once I start getting my books out there, and I’ll definitely keep what you said in mind 🙂 thanks again!

  7. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Reblogged this on ShiftnShake and commented:
    How can we write when everything’s wrong? A book festival celebrates writing, reading, and the human tribe.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for recognizing that your experience would make a great Raw Lit story, D.! Your post is encouraging to many.

  8. Colleen Chesebro

    Way to go, D. Great discussion of what can be found at a book fest. It sounds like you had a blast! <3

    • Charli Mills

      Hey Colleen, good to see you at the Ranch! Hope you are relocated to a new place with lots of desert fairies! <3

      • Colleen Chesebro

        We landed in Buckeye, AZ, a suburb town on the western edge of Phoenix! We love it! We’re close to Ron’s brother in California too so it’s a win-win situation. I hope to writing on the weekly challenge soon. I miss you guys and the creativity! ??????

  9. robertawrites235681907

    In South Africa, the economy is now so bad that fewer and fewer people have money to spare for books. There were only approximately 40 000 people who bought new books in the first place and this is shrinking. It is a sad thing for the future of the country. Knowing this, I tend to go to book fairs for the company and joy of being with other writers and friends.

    • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

      That’s a good attitude, Robbie, going to book fairs for the company. Even here in the UK, people hesitate to buy.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      That sounds quite grim. But there are still book fairs for you, that’s good. What a blessing and a boon then, this international connector, this internet to put you with writers, friends, and a buying audience. It’s an ongoing Book Festival!

    • Charli Mills

      Robbie, do people outside the South African economy impact book sales at all? I’m glad you are able to go to book fairs, and I think all writers can benefit from the company.

  10. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    Welcome to the world of book fairs, D. This one sounds really inspiring. But it’s tough selling books and I always count going home with a slightly lighter case as a victory. How wonderful to have that reader come back and tell you she lives your story. Those moments of connection are worth the dozens who listen to our spiel and decide it’s not for them.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      I did overpack, that’s for sure, but went home with some few fewer books and a quite a few more stories. My covers got lots of likes, but it’d have been nice for more people to crack a cover. It’s a weird place to be.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        I attended my first book fair a couple of weeks after two launch parties – it was quite a come down. And yeah, that case was heavy!

    • Charli Mills

      Considering that I also take rocks to book fairs, my boxes are extra heavy! 😀

  11. Lisa R. Howeler

    Sounds like a good trip and I agree with so many of those authors about why we write. I’ve gone from writing news for 14 years to writing fiction and it’s a lot more freeing than writing hard news

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Yes, and you can still tell the news.
      Many of the featured authors this year were originally journalists. I just finished Alex Marzano-Lesnevich’s book and, wow!
      You will enjoy the challenge of fiction in 99 words, no more, no less.

  12. Norah

    What a wonderful literary experience, D., that gave you affirmation as a writer and provided opportunities for growth. Thank you for sharing the learning you gained, as you help us learn too. We are all connected through humanity, the Ranch is but a part of it. I’m not aware of most authors and books you mention. As you’ve described it, The Fact of a Body sounds intriguing.

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