My walls are a color between lemon meringue and key lime pies. If you’ve ever eaten a Key Lime yogurt, you know the phosphorescent glow of the paint I slathered to bring cheer to my home. The Hub says he feels like he’s a frog, living on a lily pad. I like frogs, and I like key lime pie. Looking at my walls makes me simultaneously happy and hungry.
Painting was not on the plan. I’m plowing through grad studies eyebrows deep in plots. For a plantser (a writer who writes by the seat of her pants), plotting can feel awkward and frustrating. Yet it’s become apparent that plotting is my weak point, and if I want to get stronger as a writer, I have to work that muscle. Evidently, I needed to paint to plot. Last time I was in school, I had a clean house from baseboards to ceiling. Now, I’m destined to have a colorful one.
Recently, I wrote a 1000-word romance, which my professor critiqued after peer review. It’s interesting, how much harsher peers are with one another. Not that my professor goes easy on us, but she points out the strengths of a piece and makes suggestions for improvement. Peers, like me, are learning. It’s not easy to give productive criticism. It’s much easier to criticize through opinion. That’s a start, but incomplete. The difference, as an example, is that one of my peers flagged my heroine as a dumb country chick. That left me struggling — was it my ability to craft a character or a difference of opinion?
My professor, on the other hand, praised my ability to develop characters, although my heroine didn’t resonate as strongly with her because of a lack of detail in what the character was thinking. The praise gave me enough confidence not to think I went off the rails, and her criticism was specific. Instead of telling me my character was “dumb,” she said my character did not resonate with her, and she offered a fix. In fact, she flagged three places to show me exactly where and offered examples, so I knew what to do.
While I’m working on my MFA to publish, I’m also earning an additional certificate to teach creative writing online. I’m focused on mastering the ability to read novels with x-ray vision (to see the underpinnings of how authors construct books) and critiquing writers to help them improve their manuscripts without slaying their vulnerabilities. I want to tear apart books and build up writers. And I’m practicing as I go.
I’ve painted myself into a corner, though. The dining room is perfectly smooth and ready to eat. The living room needs a touch-up and curtains hung. But, alas, the kitchen has odd angles. I’ve painted the walls I can reach, but there are corners I cannot. That’s where I’m at with my writing. How to fix my corners and beyond my reach? It’s going to look amazing once I figure it out. The upper ledge above the cabinets will be a dark blue-purple, the backboards behind sink, counters, and stove will be dark green, and the remaining walls will be key lime pie. I can see it.
Just like I can see my finished novel. I know Danni’s journey, I know what’s at stake for her. But I’m at the point where I can’t reach all the spaces between draft and finished manuscript.
At times like these, it’s easy to freeze up as a writer. I feel like I have nothing more to type! But I also know that is not true. The brain shuts down with anxiety, but I have a tool for creativity. It’s called 99-words. All this play, practice, and craft we do at Carrot Ranch train our brains to respond to problems with 99-words. This week, I’m writing another 1000-word microburst, and this time, it is in a less familiar genre to me — speculative fiction. I have several ideas, so I’m taking them to 99-words to explore.
The idea I like best is based on a weird dream I had after painting. Maybe the new color induced the strangeness, and yet it was not a nightmare. It felt curious. In the dream, I found hand-made crafts left like gifts in my cleaning cupboard. Among the artistic and woven items were a pair of slippers or moccasins. I had seen a group of strange people of various heights walking confidently beneath the tall branches of a winter tree. One bald man in a full gray cloak turned to look at me, and his face was blurry. I thought it looked like a face seen through a rain-washed window; only the window was clear. It wasn’t scary. It was like seeing water take human form. But why the shoes?
I still do not know why, and I wrote a 99-word story! I’ll TUFF it out and see if there’s a heart or a kernel or a punch to be found. I’ll rewrite it and (surprise, surprise) I’ll plot it out, using a flow chart that I’m building in Canva. I appreciate visual aids, and they make more sense if I create them, thinking about their use. If you are interested in flowcharts, check out Flowchart or Venngage. You can use the flow charts to map your story arc, plot, or show a protagonist’s (former hero) journey. A great model for plotting a story is something you might have encountered, but this is the original Story Spine.
This Saturday, I’ll be at the Rozsa Center listening to a live performance of Selected Shorts. I led a couple of workshops locally to prepare local writers to enter a contest to have a local story read on stage. We don’t know who won, but all the entrants will have their stories displayed at the Rozsa. I’m going early to join other writers for this exciting literary event. I also submitted a story to a contest to win a writing scholarship. I did not get picked as a finalist, but I’ll be studying the stories that did, and I’ll have another chance to enter next year. I also submitted two pieces to a regional journal and wait to find out if my pieces were selected.
I find that I don’t fret after I enter. No, fretting, just forgetting!
One of our Ranchers has met with lit journal success. D. Avery submitted a story that’s now published with Enchanted Conversation, a bi-monthly webzine that publishes original stories using fairy tale, folktale, and mythic themes. It’s more than 99-words and is paired with gorgeous cover art. Check out Wolf at the Door.
Incubation is powerful. I used to read our flash fiction collections at a poetry night in Sandpoint. The Poet Laureate taught me the power of incubating works with a live audience. Poets do it all the time. Musicians jam and come up with new ideas for songs. And we fiction and memoir writers? We write 99 words at a time — exploring, creating, and incubating literary art. Think of all the seeds you plant here! A mighty oak grows from an acorn.
December 5, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes a key lime pie. How can you use it in a story? Is it about the pie? Or about characters making, eating, or otherwise engaging with one? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by December 10, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
Curious Shoes by Charli Mills
Jena Warbeck found new shoes in the cupboard under the sink with her cleaning supplies – organic sage scents and purple dust-cloths. The shoes sat in a wreath of woven willow, soft brown leather and handstitched. She stood up and saw the beings with smeared features watching her from underneath the leaf-barren maple. They wavered like a wet mirage. Jena felt no fear. Only peace like when she relaxed with a cup of peppermint tea. Had they left the curious gift in exchange for nabbing her key lime pie? When they evaporated, a raven flew off with the pie tin.