I once interviewed an 89-year-old woman who had skin that glowed translucently. Her vibrancy of body and mind rested in her easy smile and witty responses to my questions. When I was writing foodie articles, I asked her, as I asked everyone I interviewed, to share a personal health food tip. You might be surprised to learn that I never got the same answer twice. Or, maybe, you read the weekly 99-word collections and have come to realize that perspectives are unique to each person and their life experiences.
Her answer? Avocado toast.
The interview didn’t end because I wanted the story of why. What she told me was a life-long grapple with pain and joy. Born in 1916, she grew up in southern California, where her family had avocado trees in their yard. To her, it was magical food, and every morning for breakfast, her mother smeared avocado on toasted homemade bread. When she was six, they moved back to the midwest to be near family, leaving behind avocados.
They left California with its breakfast trees after she accidentally dropped an oil lantern on the stairs. Terrified, her mother grabbed her, both suffering burns. She showed me the scars on her hands. They escaped, but the fire took their home and her younger sister. At 89, the grief still showed on her face when she said, “It was my doing.”
She didn’t blame herself, nor did her family. It was an accident. But she took accountability in an interesting way. She lived every day as though it could be her last. And once an adult who could afford to buy avocados, she bought them weekly and ate avocado toast every morning to remind her of the good life she had as a child before the fire.
Stories are powerful, and we carry many with us. Some we discard. Others we re-frame. A few we hold onto as precious and necessary.
As writers, we recognize stories all around us. It was hearing stories like this woman’s that compelled me to want to write fiction, not to make up things but to express the truths I found in stories I caught. Health might stem from a diet of good fats like avocados, but owning our stories makes us whole even when some stories broke us. We juggle to write and revise those stories until the truth gleams like gems within the lines.
It’s not about getting the best words; it’s about getting the story right.
If you want to know yourself as an artist, keep updating your bio. That’s your story as a writer. If you plan to write outside a locked diary, then likely others will read your work. People will be naturally curious about who you are, and we should continue to have that same curiosity for ourselves and others. We are not static. Even our past stories evolve with our understanding of them.
Do you have a set of author bios? Yes, I said a “set.” You need a brief bio for your byline; a short bio for anthologies or social media; a longer bio for speaking engagements or public readings. Seems how this is Carrot Ranch, I’d say 9-59-99 words. However, my MFA program recommends that writers have three 20-50-100 word bios. Here are mine:
Charli Mills comes from a vaquero culture, winning rodeo trophies before first-grade. She now wrangles words from Michigan’s U.P., where she lives with her husband, a former Army Ranger, and fellow westerner. Charli reclaims forgotten voices, writing about veteran spouses and historical frontier women. In 2014, she founded Carrot Ranch, an online community for international literary artists. As lead buckaroo, she hosts a weekly 99-word challenge and publishes stories from around the world. She’s developing an education program to teach creative writing with her MFA. Charli’s mission is to make literary art accessible among women, veterans, and underserved groups.
Charli Mills grew up out west, where she once won a rodeo trophy for goat-tying. Now she wrangles words, writing about veteran spouses and the frontier women forgotten to history. She makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She’s finishing her MFA thesis novel in 2021, planning to teach creative writing.
Charli Mills, lead buckaroo at carrotranch.com, wrangles words, reclaiming forgotten voices from the fringes and frontiers. She’s an MFA student.
Plan to update your bios annually, and every time you are asked to submit a bio. Annually because you grow as a writer and your focus can shift. I love what Anne Goodwin maintains in her bio that “she writes fiction for the freedom to contradict herself.” I recommend her article about brands and bios for ideas on the subject. As you write, who you are will change — you will discover more and release outmoded views. It’s the nature of writing.
When you are asked to submit a bio, stick to the requested word count (it will likely be one of the three formats). Also, consider your audience. If I submit a bio to a school publication, I emphasize my MFA student status. If I submit one to a regional publication, I tweak it to show I’m a local author. If the writing attracts a specific audience, I use my bio to compel them to read. Your bios are part of your author toolkit.
You will also want to write a story that answers the question, why do you write? It can be an avocado toast moment. What are your joys and sorrows tied to a writing life? Who influenced you? Do you have an origin story or cultural influences connected to who you are today as a writer? You might actually write ten different stories! Pare it down to one, blending details or going with the strongest account. Share only the details you are willing to publicize. This is the story of you, and you are evolving.
For my final (this is finals week; only two more terms left after this one!) I developed an author platform. I focus on my community platform here and treat my author brand more like an archive and work for hire that I no longer do. Talk about evolution. I will be cleaning up Carrot Ranch to emphasize community outreach and use Cahrali-Mills.com for my author platform. I’ll be making changes as my May graduation date approaches, and I start teaching. Compare how my story differs (it has definitely evolved) here and at the site under construction.
You can have both your bio and your story on your website if you have one. Include the basics — who you are, what you write, why you blog, and how you connect with readers and the writing community. Your platform is to demonstrate your brand, credibility, community, and engagement of your target audience. I have been to too many blog sites where the About Me remains a mystery. If you write under a pen name, say so and clearly state the pen name. It’s your right to be private, but you do have to present an identity of some kind. I can’t call everyone, “Hey, you!” If you dream of being a published author (or if you are a published author), you impair your reach by not having basics such as bios.
So, added homework this week — update or write your set of bios and your story about why you write. Feel free to link in the comments, too. Ask for feedback if you want it, otherwise, I will celebrate your feat.
And to all who signed up to serve in any and all branches of the military (anywhere at any time), I want to recognize your willingness to die for others. My husband volunteered three times. That is more than enough to tell you, “Welcome home, and thank you for doing something I did not.” May all you sheepdogs feel welcomed among the sheep you protect, and may all of us spouses who share your burdens be seen. I see you and honor your service, too. (Veterans Day, November 11, 2020.)
November 12 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story includes avocado toast. How can this be a story or a prop to a story? Use your senses and imagination. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by November 17, 2020. 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 now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.
A Separation Tale by Charli Mills
Maria padded across the road to gather dropped avocados where the foreman lived in a huge ivory house. It didn’t smell of beans and tortillas like her tiny home. It felt cold; its size scared her. When vehicles slid to a stop in front of the bunks, Maria hid behind a hedge of pink roses. Her throat pinched shut at the sight of her Abuela in silver bracelets that imprisoned her hands. The men in black uniforms loaded all the neighbors in two vans and left. When her Papa did not return at noon, she ate avocado toast alone.