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Raw Lit: For the Love of Rocks

By Charli Mills

Anyone who hangs around Carrot Ranch long enough will know that I have a thing for rocks. No matter where I go, the crust of the earth beckons me for a closer look. I love rocks.

I also love stories, and words, and crafting fiction.

The beauty of art exists in what we can create and how we can couple dissimilar ideas into vibrant unions. #CarrotRanchRocks is one such creative pairing — it’s where literary art meets geology.

I’ve anchored the project on Facebook to take full advantage of the searchability of the hashtag because it will be the unifier between rock-hounds and readers. Rocks in the program will each have a unique serial number along with the hashtag.

These rocks will serve as prompts. Participating writers will craft a 99-word flash fiction, featuring the rock in the story. Here’s an example I wrote from one of my own rocks in my private collection:

Copper Country Stunner by Charli Mills (Keweenaw Peninsula)

When Mabel waltzed by with bare feet and capris rolled high, all heads turned. Conversations on beach blankets halted. Men with walking sticks and ice-cream buckets paused. Children kicking at waves stopped as she sauntered past and peered into the crystalline waters of Lake Superior on a calm August day. Even the dogs stopped yapping.

Mabel was a Copper Country stunner, a legend among locals at Calumet Water Works. No matter which way she swung her fifty-year-old hips, they all stared at the copper nugget swinging like bling from her necklace. They all wanted to find one like it.

###

CPC-L1-001
Found at McLain State Park
August 2017
Copper embedded in rhyolite and quartz with signs of copper corrosion. From the private collection of Charli Mills.

NOTE: The photo, serial number, where and when found, and details are ones I’ll supply.

Key points of communication include a byline with location. While the rocks (and Ranch lead buckaroo) hail from the Keweenaw, our writers are from around the world. That’s an important point of connection. Details also include the serial number for identification, where and when the rock was found, and it’s identifying details.

Something I love about rocks reminds me of what I love writing into a story for — discovery. I recognize an interesting rock and a good story. I want to know more. But when I find out what a rock contains, like a completed story, I want to share it. I can share through the #CarrotRanchRocks project.

Beyond passion, discovery and sharing, #CarrotRanchRocks also build the platform for our writing at Carrot Ranch. One component of platform building and marketing is to identify and reach a target audience. It’s short-sighted to think of readers as only readers. Like me, they have interests.

And it’s likely that those who love rocks will love this union of literary art and geology.

The rocks also act as an icebreaker. When I go to book events this summer, I’ll have rocks to pass out like unique calling cards. Rocks will give me an edge, an entry point by which I can talk about Carrot Ranch and our writing. It’s an example of what I call “maverick marketing” — to think of strategies that are unique to your own love interests.

You can read more about the program on the new page under Literary Outreach. You can like and follow the Facebook page @CarrotRanchRocks.

A big shout-out to JulesPaige who inspired me to think about rocks as art and calling cards; to C. Jai Ferry who took me hiking in the Baraboo Mountains last fall where I discovered #Baraboo Rocks; and to the first writers at Carrot Ranch to earn #CarrotRanchRocks badges for taking on a box of rocks as prompts — Colleen Chesebro and Michael Fishman.

UPDATE: I have a budget to send rocks to two writers a month, although I can issue photographs as prompts, too. If you are interested, use the contact form to connect with me. I will supply all the details (and rocks or photos of them); you write a flash fiction to go with each rock. Most of the rocks I want to hand out at book events, but the ones I send to writers, they can distribute as gifts or leave in a public space (like art rocks).

And, yes, it’s okay to say I have rocks for brains. I’ll take it as a compliment!

Times Past: Cooking with Mum

High in the Sierra Nevada mountains, winds a highway known as “4” or Ebbetts Pass. From the river valleys carved into the box-canyons of the eastern slopes, this highway connects the California Gold Country with that of the Silver Comstock. A right road of commerce, it now connects logging operations with mills and urban tourists with scenic destinations.

I never really cooked with my mom. More like she instructed me to prepare recipes like enchiladas and beans or sopas (a Portuguese roast served soup-style over crusty French bread, topped with fresh sprigs of mint that grew wild in the creek below our old mining-era house). She did most of the cooking, and I worked the cash register at night in her general store. But I learned enough.

Highway 4 passed her store and wound all the way up over the 8,000-foot mountain pass to where my father had a logging camp in Pacific Valley. He worked this Forest Service project for three or four years. When I was 13, I announced I would go find my own job because I no longer wanted to work in the store where I had stocked shelves, bagged ice, stacked firewood and served shifts as a cashier since I was seven.

Note: I now understand why the county staff often asked if my parents followed the child labor laws. I think they had some sort of good-ol-boy immunity.

Anyhow, my father approved a transfer of my labor from the store to his logging camp. I was dismayed because I had a job offer to ride for the local ranch, pushing stock up the trails to keep the cattle in the summer pastures. We compromised — I’d rise at 3 am and ride in the logging truck up that windy pass to arrive at Pacific Valley by dawn and work until noon. After lunch I’d be allowed a two-hour break until we left with a load of logs at 2 pm, getting home in time to saddle my horse and ride up the Barney Riley to push any strays back up the hill.

That summer, over my two-hour break, I read all the Han Solo series, every comic book I could get my hands on, and the summer reading list of classics for eighth-grade. Every morning I cleaned. Yep, sure as shit, I scoured that valley.

Let me pause a moment and explain the phrase “sure as shit.” Evidently my great-grandmother Clara Irma Kincaid passed down that verbal arrangement. Some people descend from proper biddies, from classy ladies. I come from a woman who said sure as shit so often it’s ingrained in me. When my recently long-lost cousin used the phrase, I realized its reach.

I use it for emphasis and to add a tone of anger. Sure as shit the female goes to work in the logging camp and has to clean the valley. I didn’t get to do any of the exciting logging activities or learn to operate a chainsaw. Nope. I got to clean. Cleaning meant dragging brush and bending over repeatedly to pick up any broken fragments of limbs. I raked and piled slash that my father would later burn.

His job was to reclaim a mountain meadow that had become overgrown with trees after the strip-logging of the mining days. It’s gorgeous now, and I want it known, I cleaned that meadow in a summer when I was 13.

What do Pacific Valley and my parents’ occupations have to do with tea in China or cooking with mum?

On the surface, not much. But deep down, it’s the roots of my cooking influences. My mother, always busy with the store, taught me to cook from a distance to help ease her woman’s work (though laundry was something she never relinquished or explained to me). My father, on the other hand, was a man caught between time. He was born after the mountain men of western culture, and before it was cool for men to be foodies. So, I learned the basics from mom, and creativity over a logging campfire with dad.

And that explains why my children get excited about the phrase “cooking with mum.” To them, it recalls our camping experiences when I prepared menus like this:

BREAKFAST:

  • Sausage Soufflé
  • Strawberries & peaches
  • Cowboy Coffee

LUNCH:

  • Salami Rolls
  • Sliced Tomatoes & Pretzels
  • Rice Crispy Bars

DINNER:

  • Jamaican Jerk Burgers
  • Rum-Spiked Grilled Pineapple
  • Watercress & Cranberry Salad

Or the Thanksgivings in which we spend weeks preparing in advanced to stuff ourselves like the turkey on the table. Or the way I use Penzy Spices, answer recipe questions in texts or make healthy vegan food taste decadent.

Cooking with mum is the verbal phrase I passed down, if not the actual activity. Cooking with mum means visiting with me in the kitchen or at the table. It’s about sharing meals and presence.

And it’s a better phrase than the one I received. Sure as shit.

***

Join Irene Waters with her monthly Times Past memoir prompt that compares the experiences of generation and place.

April 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

I’m riding high in the dentist’s chair. This is not where I expected to be after fighting a cold-turned-sinus-infection since January. Two weeks ago, facial nerve pain drove me to find something stronger than my arsenal of herbs. That’s how I met Dr. Bob, local dentist.

Now, I’m sucking down nitrous oxide, preparing for the crack and pull of a tooth the dentist can’t save. If the sequence of age for a woman is maiden, mother, crone, I must be working on my crone’s smile now. Yet, I don’t want to be thinking about what Dr. Bob is setting up to do. As beautiful as the falling snow can be, neither do I want to be thinking about what’s falling outside the office window.

Instead, I turn my thoughts to the characters of Rock Creek. I wonder which one of them I’m going to torture with a toothache. Cobb came to mind first, maybe because I wanted to sit in this chair with my toughest character. I imagine that his wife, Mary, would try folk remedies first to ease the agony of tooth pain. But once such remedies fail, people seek the torture of extraction in desperation.

George Washington felt such desperation. History records that he had one tooth a year pulled from the time he was 22 until he had none left to pull. As children in the US, we learn early on in school that our first president wore wooden teeth. And yet this is false. Washington wore dentures of human teeth. I suppose those who extracted teeth had a side gig for creating dental wear.

Cobb would likely liquor up before letting someone yank his troublesome tooth. I’m lucky to be sitting in a near trance, daydreaming about my characters as my own procedure progresses. I wonder how much corn whiskey it would take to equal novocaine shots and laughing gas. I’m not going to test any theories. I also wonder who would pull the tooth? Likely a blacksmith who had pliers.

My thoughts drift to gentler musings, and I realize how ready I am to return to my forest trail at McLain State Park. I’m not even craving the rock-hunting, just the healing vibes of the forest. I can picture the trail as it winds through the pine trees on a ridge overlooking Lake Superior. Its scent hangs sharply in the air I imagine as warmed by afternoon sun.

Arms outstretched, feet rooted above roots, ground solid, air clean and the roar of waves crash in the distance. Now, stepping forward not in a sprint but a relaxed walk. This is Shinrin Yoku — forest bathing. First developed in Japan during the 1980s, JulesPaige introduced it to Carrot Ranch in a flash fiction. It’s healing, restorative and rejuvenating. No wonder I recline and bathe in my imagined forest.

An interesting purpose of Shinrin Yoku is

“To transform our cultural relationship to forests through fostering deeper relationships and positive experiences with forested areas.”

Two years ago, I wrote an article about the push to create a wilderness area out of a mountain range in North Idaho. The idea is that we need wild spaces, even those that might be difficult to access. The leader of the project told me that it’s enough to know wild spaces still exist.

This also makes me think of Aldo Leopold, and his essay from A Sand County Almanac called, “Land Ethic.” He argues for humans to see the land as something more than a commodity; to see it as a community to which we all belong.  He sees that we are not separate from the environment. Along with the idea of transforming our relationships to forests, or preserving wild spaces, so they exist, he acknowledges that we won’t succeed. But it remains important that we try. Leopold writes:

“We shall never achieve harmony with the land, anymore than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.”

From this single dentist’s chair, I’m connected to the past and future, to the Lake Superior pines not yet free of snow, to the wilderness I’ve seen and not seen, to forests on distant shores. For a time of healing, I’m going to imagine forest bathing.

April 19, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about forest bathing. You can use the Japanese term, Shinrin Yoku, or you can make up your own ideas about the phrase. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by April 24, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.

***

Free Among the Trees by Charli Mills

Gabriella tapped the last spigot. She caught the trickle of clear sap in a wooden bucket. Daughter of a French trader and an Ottawan mother, she belonged to no one. She kept to the forests outside the ports and mining towns, trading maple syrup with the Black Robes at L’Anse. The forest kept her company, bathed her in its healing embrace. The Black Robes enticed she could become a neophyte, and claimed gospels in her native tongue. They didn’t know she could read her father’s books and already chose her classic path – she was happy as a forest nymph.

For the Bats

INTRO

Bats eat mosquitoes and pollinate many crucial plants, including bananas and agave (a plant used for making tequila). They also occupy the belfries of imaginative minds.

Taking to the bat caves this week, writers emerged with batty stories and stories about bats. This collection promises to be crazy-good.

The following stories are based on April 12, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a bat. A bat denotes “extra points” for including a cave. 🦇

PART I (10-minute read)

Bats by Irene Waters 🦇

I came too; lying on the ground, my eyes shut tight. I don’t know if I could have opened them. I didn’t want to. The bright purple light made me feel at peace and the forest that was drawn on this backdrop was calming. Verdant green. Mystical. My breathing slowed. My pulse dropped lower and lower.

Bats. Hordes of black spots alighting from the forest. ‘No! My mouth is not a bat cave,’ I wanted to shout but the words froze on my lips.

“Lizzie”

‘Lyssivirus’ I thought before a shake penetrated my consciousness.  Eyes opened.  Yoga meditation embarrassment.

🥕🥕🥕

Pride & Prejudice by D. Avery

“Eew they are so gross.”

“It’s hard to believe they’re mammals like us. They’re so creepy looking.”

“Remember when one got in here? We kept swatting at it trying to get it to leave. Mom, you totally freaked out.”

“They’re dirty and dangerous; they spread disease. Don’t go near them.”

“Oh, come on, they can’t all be all bad, they must serve a purpose.”

“You’d think. But can you think of any good that has come of those hairless apes and their opposable thumbs?”

“Some of them have been putting up bat houses for our kind.”

“It’s not enough.”

🥕🥕🥕

Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na: Bad Date! by Chelsea Owens 🦇

“Good morning, sir.”

“Eeeuurrrgh. Alfred?”

“You seem out of sorts. There is, however, a pressing issue which may require your attention.”

“Errr -what? Attention?” Sploosh! ….Why am I wet?”

“Well, sir, the cave seems to be experiencing an excess amount of water.”

“It’s a cave, Alfred. It has water. …Probably not this much.”

“Precisely, sir.”

“We’ve got to get out! What happened?”

“Do you recall that female companion you entertained last week?

“…No.”

“Saturday?”

…..

“Charity dinner?”

“The blonde?”

“Precisely, sir!”

“Well?”

“I believe, after the young lady stayed the night, that she left the faucet running.”

🥕🥕🥕

5am Paper-route Interruption by Dan Julian

I had just pedaled past the house of that kid who looked like a pint-sized John Cougar Mellencamp when the bat landed on my face. It was about a face-sized bat. I couldn’t see crap. To my credit, I did not freak out – much. Nor, funnily enough, did I slow down at all. Just kept one hand on the handlebars while peeling the bat off of me with the other. Little did I know at the time that this experience was to prove to be metaphorically relevant to the rest of my life. Right up to this very day.

🥕🥕🥕

Flash Fiction by Frank Hubeny 🦇

“You look like someone kicked you out of your bat cave.”

“Me?” Brian was used to it.

“You look like you’d make sense if you had a brain in your bat head.”

Brian repositioned George to avoid bed sores. George was tired of making points that didn’t matter.

“Could you open the window and let in some bats?”

“Sure.” Brian went to the window and opened it wide enough for some imaginary bats to get through.

Talking to one of the them, George observed, “Brian isn’t as bad as he thinks he is.”

“You’re not half bad yourself, Georgie.”

🥕🥕🥕

Batty Shirley by Gloria McBreen 🦇

Conversations with Snooty Shirley are frustrating since she misplaced her hearing aid.

‘I’ve just seen several bats flying around my house,’ she shrieked. ‘Nasty little creatures! Where do you suppose they live?’

Stephano sighed. ‘With an old bat in a nearby cave.’

‘Don’t be silly. There’s no cave around here,’ she retorted.

‘There’s one a few doors away,’ he smirked.

‘I can’t hear you. Speak up,’ Shirley demanded.

‘THERE’S ONE FAR AWAY.’

Her eyes bored into him.

Stephano has known for ages that Shirley has furry little tenants in her attic!

He’s not quite ready to tell her yet!

🥕🥕🥕

Revenge of the Old Bat by Molly Stevens

“Mum’s gone batty,” said Ron, “telling us she sees birds flying all over the house at night.”

“I know,” said Marion, turning out the light. “She stays awake for hours waiting to catch them with a net. She says she needs them for her ‘magic spells.’”

“We’ll have to make an appointment for her to see Dr. Johnson. Maybe her confusion is a medical problem. You know, something treatable.”

“Or it may be time to reconsider a nursing home.”

“What is that fluttering sound I hear?”

Marion screamed, “Something bit my neck!”

From the next room, they heard cackling.

🥕🥕🥕

Mysterious Tales by Reena Saxena 🦇

He was impressed by the depth of her intellect. An exquisitely beautiful face and haunting eyes framed by dark hair, made her look like a princess from a bygone era. Or was she a saint or nun? He was unable to make up his mind, in the besotted mental frame.

Her sartorial taste was rather quaint. Dresses in dark colors with dolman sleeves just added to the allure of her mysterious beauty.

Disheartened by her non-committal detachment, he followed her one evening ….

“A young man found unconscious outside a cave in the old fortress…” screamed news headlines today.

🥕🥕🥕

Bat by Kim Blades

Flies buzzed around the pooling blood. The air was pungent with the sticky fluid’s raw, sweet smell.

Detective Norris stared down at the body. The corpse’s facial features were obliterated. Only the ears identified the bloody fragments as belonging to a head.

Norris looked up from the macabre spectacle as his superior, DCI Mowbray, entered.

He also stared down at the corpse; his face impassive as he asked, ‘Any sign of the murder weapon?’

‘Yes, Sir, the Forensic guys have just taken a bloodied baseball bat with them to the lab. It was lying right next to the victim.’

🥕🥕🥕

Batty by FloridaBorne

“Coke bottle glasses,” Jessica giggled. “You look like a bat! No one wants you on their team!”

Plagued with double vision, and legally blind without glasses, I eagerly took the bench. A sunny day, what a magnificent scent coming on the north winds from a climbing rose. I closed my eyes to enjoy the beauty of it.

“Laura,” the coach said.

“Not another substitute,” I mumbled. “Their compassion is misplaced.”

“Why don’t you try to hit the ball?”

Dutifully, I went up to bat. The ball looked like several moving toward me. Swinging, I missed, and endured the laughter.

🥕🥕🥕

You Said It Was Ok… by Caitlin Gramley

“No! How could you?”

“What? It’s just a bat.”

“Why would you kill it though? Bats are wonderful, mysterious creatures”

“No they are not. They are disgusting.”

“That’s your justification?”

“They are also annoying and ugly.”

“Anything else?”

“They are pests. They come into your house unwanted. They make noise.”

“So all those reasons make it ok to kill?”

“Yes. I just can’t stand to be around them. Killing them is just a public service.”

“Oh. Ok. Good to know”

“Hey, what are you doing with that shovel?”

“The way I see it, I’m…..doing a public service.”

“Wait! ……..”

🥕🥕🥕

Bat Out Of Hell by Sherri Matthews

‘I heard it…fly in through the open window, so fast, wall to wall…it touched my hair and I screamed. I…’ Emma bit her lip.

‘You’re doing fine. What happened next?’

‘Well…he heard me scream and came into my room, annoyed. I told him about the bat, asked him to help get it out safely.’ Emma stared down at her hands, then looked up. ‘But he got my tennis racket and killed it. I hated him, for the bat and for me. I wanted to take the racket and beat that bastard dead.’

‘Now we’re getting somewhere,’ nodded Dr Harper.

🥕🥕🥕

Batty for Summer by A. R. Clayton 🦇

It was official: I had gone batty. Bats in the belfry, Alfred in the Batcave serving lemonade and bats in the dugout, collecting summer rays and warming their metal handles for the next gloved batter contender. It was summer, the splendid season where sundresses, popsicles and grass stains abound. Need I say more? Summer in America, simplistic and beautiful, trailing on the dresses of fireflies, a brilliant schooner floating off of a child’s eager fingers. We hide the pickle jars with pierced lids back under the kitchen cupboard.

Let beauty transgress just a little longer, young one.

🥕🥕🥕

Bat by Michael Grogan

In Australia, the word bat is synonymous with cricket. We use a bat to play the game. Two teams play, one-team bats with each batter batting and wearing batting gloves until they get out and when one team has finished batting the other side then bats.

We talk about going in to bat for a friend, to offer them help and support.

We do have tiny furry bats hanging in trees and being in some places a nuisance.

We refer to eccentric relatives as going batty, but overall it’s a word with many meanings we love to bat around.

🥕🥕🥕

Belfries (Other Boxes Are Available) by Geoff Le Pard

‘Logan, explain cricket, will you? It’s driving me bats.’

‘Why, Morgan?’

‘My boss is taking me, ok.’

‘Right, you have two teams, ok?’

‘Uh huh. Got it.’

‘The team tosses a coin to see who bats…’

‘Bats? They’re the flying ones?’

‘No, moron, they’re wooden. So, one team bats. The batsman goes out to bat. He’s in until he’s out when he comes in until everyone’s out, and then they all go in to try and get the others out. You ok, Morgan. You look pale…’

‘It’s… someone mentioned ducks? Is that as well as bats or instead of ?’

🥕🥕🥕

Howzat by Ritu Bhathal 🦇

Parker readied himself, bat in hand, waiting for the bowler to release the ball.

He was a top spinner, and a fast one at that; tricky to handle, but he’d been practicing.

Here it came… Parker lifted his bat and slogged it!

It flew over the heads of the fielders, sailing over the boundary.

“Howat!”

Parker started to celebrate his first ever sixer, when it landed, with a crash, through the window of the newly refurbished club bar, aptly named The Bat Cave.

Celebration turned to commiseration – he’d have to pay for that.

So much for this month’s bonus.

🥕🥕🥕

Night of the Dark Knight by Anurag Bakhshi

“Mom, I can’t find my bat,” I cried out exasperatedly. It was the night of the Little League World Series Finals, and the hopes of my team depended solely on me…and my bat.

“It’s outside in the lawn Jamie,” my mom replied from her favorite spot in the house, the bathroom.

Aghast at this outrage, I shouted, “Outside? But it was raining the entire day!”

And without waiting for a response, I rushed outside to bring it in. Our team did not stand a chance in hell without my pet bat to distract the opposition during the game.

🥕🥕🥕

Born Champion by Christina Coster

He was fearless in the ring. Everyone wanted to endorse him; he was the face of Pepsi in his heyday. He was swift. Opponents didn’t see his left hook coming. He was light on his feet; surprising for his size.

It was his last entrance though, that everyone remembers; the crowd were eating out the palm of his hand. His final 12 bouts, a career spanning nine years. Striding into the ring to Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell, he was confident. He had no reason not to be. He captured the moment poetically. His rival had no chance.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Lullaby of Bats (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Logs of cottonwood crackled and threw flames toward the night-sky. Most of the travelers had left the bonfire to bed down beneath their wagons. The baby Sarah heard crying earlier had stopped. Night insects chirped, and somewhere near the wagons a horse stomped. Night sounds of camp. Sarah relaxed on a log stool while Cobb played a slow fiddle tune. Back and forth he rubbed the bow. Bats darted in and out of the visible light, bobbing to the gentle lullaby with wings spread. Sarah sighed, looked toward the stars and watched the last of the evening’s dancers fly.

🥕🥕🥕

Flight of the Fruit Bats by Norah Colvin

All day they hang upside-down like blackened fruit left too long in the hot sun. Only an occasional stretch shows them capable of independent movement. Passers-by sometimes stop to wonder and photograph. Other keen observers travel greater distances to marvel at the spectacle.

Locals grow to abide their noisy, smelly presence and accommodate their daily activities.

Every evening at dusk, the colony flaps and stretches, then rises in unison like a cloud of dust shaken into the darkening sky. High above, their silent wings carry them away for night-time foraging. Others screech and squawk their joy in closer feasts.

🥕🥕🥕

Flight by Kay Kingsley

It was dusk as I drove over the delta causeway. The sun had set, a grey haze developed while the heat hung in place. The once vibrant colors quickly muted their glow as darkness encroached.
I drove a steady pace, the rhythmic sound of tires bumping the sections of the causeway drifted my mind towards sunset.

The smoke in the distance was changing shape, rising and falling in a moving circle. As I neared, my focus sharpened. Bats, thousands of them. They flew from their cave below the causeway into the darkness, predators in flight, a sight to behold.

🥕🥕🥕

Summer, Early ‘80’s by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Indiana Summer, in cheap housing with no a.c., a mixed neighborhood of blue collar, elderly, and our houseful of assorted grad students, temporary sublets like me.

We students don’t know each other yet. We will by summer’s end. They’ll return to their dorms and I’ll peel off North, searching for something more real than school. But at present, we have a family of sorts, and music.

The neighbors strike up their guitars, fiddle and banjo, singing sweet country tunes. I’m drawn outside, to the back steps, to the night, barelegged and barefooted.

Grateful for the insect-eating bats, dancing overhead.

🥕🥕🥕

Bats by Luccia Gray

‘Granny, what do bats eat?’

I sighed wishing my daughter was here to answer her son’s question. ‘I have no idea, Jimmy.’

‘We need to find out.’

‘Why is that, sweetie?’

‘We’re doing a class project about what animals eat and I got the bat.’

‘Let’s ask Google.’

‘Who’s that?’

‘Someone who knows everything.’

‘Everything?’

I nodded and tapped the microphone. ‘Ask your question.’

‘What do bats eat?’ Jimmy asked.

A woman’s voice replied. ‘Most bats eat insects and are called insectivores…’

‘Mrs Google is a really clever lady, granny. Can we ask her when mummy is coming back?’

🥕🥕🥕

Batgirl by Juliet Nubel

James swore he wouldn’t let her do it again. But deep down he knew he didn’t stand a chance.

She batted at him day in, day out.

Sometimes her batting made him wash up the dinner dishes alone. Sometimes it dragged him into town on a busy Saturday afternoon. Often it made him change channels in the middle of a match.

His beer buddies warned him endlessly.

“You need to make her stop, James. She’ll be the ruin of you one day.”

He knew they were right, but how could he resist the bat of those perfect black eyelashes?

🥕🥕🥕

The Three Walters by Anthony Amore

Their bat removal plan was solid.

Big Walter, Little Walter and Old Walter would rush the door behind Memere’s thick and ancient quilt. Big Walter would go left with the tennis racket, Old Walter would break right with the goalie stick and Little Walter would attack forward holding the quilt

They were boldly confident; Little Walter wasn’t. Witnesses agreed Miller Lite was likely the source of their profound assurance.

The bat in the upstairs bedroom, however, fled sometime before the battle. Two Walters toasted victory, while the third shook his head muttering, “Grown ups are stupid.”

🥕🥕🥕

Mating Right by Miriam Hurdle

“Hey, Bat Boy, you’re in my territory. Out!”

“No way, Bat Kid, my girlfriend is coming here to look for me. Off you go.”

“Nonsense, Bat Boy. Did you see the mark I left last year? I have been living here for the last 20 years. You’re the invader.”

“Who cares?” He whacked Bat Kid left and right, left and right.

Bat Boy wasted in no time to smack him back faster and faster.

They banged each other fiercely until their wings got punched and fingers were broken.

They were lucky to be rescued by the Bat World Sanctuary.

🥕🥕🥕

Uninvited but not Unwelcome by Wallie the Imp and Friend 🦇

Bats are whispering, fluttering creatures. Their furry bodies, their reptilian wings, are such a contrast of the charming and repulsive that they catch the unready mind off guard. For dragons as much as humans, bats are a surprise.

“You’re not a little dragon,” said Smoak, “and you’re not a mouse. What are you?”

“Bats! Bats! Bats!” came the answer from the eager, whirling masses. “Home! Home! Home!”

The dragon watched the little creatures snap the mosquitos and gnats that loved her damp cave.

“Well, it’s my home,” said the dragon. “But if you eat the bugs you can stay.”

🥕🥕🥕

Flash Fiction by Paula Moyer

Jean was five months pregnant with the baby that would become Lydia. Halfway there, nausea going away. Starting to love the kicks from the inside out.

Then Moira, their roommate, came down the attic stairs. Eyes bugging out like Groucho Marx.

“A bat.” Her words eked out, toneless. “It. …” She stopped and gulped. “It flew into my hair. Got stuck in my hair before it got out.”

Jean and Sam looked at each other, then at Moira, and then at each other again.

Jean started. “What should we –”

The creature, looking for home, swooped down the stairs.

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Flash Fiction by Shalom Galve Aranas 🦇

At the edge of the night, Manika wrote stories inside a bat cave. She wrote about a young Indian poet whom she had fallen in love with. Each night, her bat drone flew towards a tree and perched downwards to spy on the lovely young man write his poetries for publication.

One night, she blew the tapers and dared come out of her bat cave. She went to his home and knocked. It was brownout. By the candlelight he saw the most lovely young woman with succulent red lips. He smiled but when the lights went on he frowned.

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Time of the Season by D. Avery 🦇

The steady snowfall created a classic Christmas card scene.

“No!” Myrtle complained, “Christmas cards don’t have sap buckets hangin’ off the trees. This isn’t even a damn Easter card, that was two weeks ago!”

Her husband, whose hobbies had only been enhanced by nature’s disregard for the calendar, took a swig of his drink. Without taking his eyes from the TV, he shared his recurring thought that Myrtle might be going batty.

“Hey,” he continued, “Does summer fall on a weekend this year?”

“I’m leaving this bat cave.” He didn’t look up when Myrtle trudged out to her garden.

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Bats by Susan Sleggs

“Lady, you’ve got bats in your belfry.”

“I’m not batty. I know I saw your signed bats in the attic.”

“Those bats better be in my gun safe; they’re worth money. Any bats in the attic better be the furry kind.”

“If there are, I’m out’a here.”

“For how long?”

“Don’t get excited, only until the exterminator is successful.”

“Darn, I thought I could tell my friends my old bat left.”

“Buddy, you’re cruisin'”

“Just kidding darling, you know I love you. You’ll always be my Robin.”

“Goody, first a bat and now a boy. Where’s my furry cape?”

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Emma on Bats by Nicole

I’m an optimist. Emma prefers pessimism. When I’m wrong reality is rough; when she’s wrong the news is not so bad.

I was planning to write about beneficial bats. Emma said, “Bats? Oh yeah, spring’s here. The bats will be coming out to harass people and cows.”

I was certain she was wrong. I consulted National Geographic.

“During the darkest part of the night, common vampire bats emerge to hunt. Sleeping cattle and horses are their usual victims, but they have been known to feed on people as well.”

Next, I’m writing optimistically about politics.

I’m not consulting Emma.

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Writer at Bat by Bill Engleson

“Stumped?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Cause you’re watching softball instead of writing.”

“Yup. Indiana at Purdue.”

“And that helps? What’s the prompt?”

“Bats.”

“Ah! So, being a couch potato watching sports works for you?”

“Hey, its softball. Women with bats. Bound to shake up the muse.”

“I want to watch CNN. Comey is driving the Donald batty. There! Better then baseball.”

“Softball.”

“Pardon?”

“I’m watching softball.”

“Don’t they both use bats.”

“Of course.”

“So, it doesn’t matter. Anyways, let’s watch the news. I want to know what Trump is tweeting from his bat cave.”

“Fine. I’m overthinking this anyways.”

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The Bat Fight by papershots

He got a punch in the face because he said to his friend he was a bat, at recession in the courtyard. The animal impulse in this (un)usual kid fight, the species gathered round to witness. And now mom is trying her best in discipline-&-living-together parenting, although, well, it’s funny because “why a bat?”, the 5-year-old replies that she used it, to dad, once. “Really?” Surely no adult would… “Yes, in the car, to the airport.” “Sweety, I probably said rat.” “Daddy a rat?” “It’s a long story. Forget it.” Pause. “Rats are cute. Jamie is a bat.”

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Batting in the Batty Place by Anne Godwin

Henry wasn’t a batsman, but he didn’t mind donning his whites when they were a man short. In fact, he was pleased to be asked. Until he discovered Saturday’s fixture was at St Luke’s.

Fortunately, they played the staff team. They let the inmates out to watch but kept them away from the pavilion. They weren’t invited for tea.

Standing before the stumps, Henry hoped he wouldn’t disgrace himself. The ball hurtling towards him, a familiar voice called his name. Tilly? Here?

He heard the willow smack, but not against his bat. Blame the batty woman. Henry was out.

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That Night We Learned She Can Sing by Elliott Lyngreen

Indescribable patterns flutter through until Eleanore Fairview unravels a roll of toilet paper up soaring to the twilight.

Near the muddled shadows of forestry two bats sharply twist from, disarray swiftly and smoothly encircles the uncoiling roll.

Believe you me we did not want, yet had to do which these things made us do.

She scattered silent screams before the white stream misconstrued the irregular scene from this dystopian future.

She’s 100 neons beyond, instantly.

A hologram jukebox performing ages ago and more than ears can handle, she sings ever determined they will follow us. She reveals some talent.

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Death Comes With Wings by Kerry E.B. Black

Sadness draped Carole. Medical charts and inconclusive connections conspired against her until dread deadened her thinking. She lit a candle and said a prayer. “Will she be okay?”

As though in answer, a strange, irregular flapping and pounding echoed from the chimney. Carole’s heartbeat altered. She squeezed her eyes against the inevitable.

Something burst from beneath the confines of the mantle. It buffeted her hair, pandemonium on leathery wings. The bat turned, dove, beat an unsteady dance through her living room. It bumped the candle against her friend’s photo.

Carole groaned. She knew the portents. Death comes with wings.

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Sermon Bat-tles by Sarah Whiley 🦇

I tried to focus on the priest’s sermon, but the light fixture behind the altar, kept drawing my attention. How realistically it flickered; shadows dancing behind the coloured glass even though it wasn’t turned on! I craned my neck and squinted my eyes, trying to see what was moving. Suddenly, there was a high-pitched shriek. The congregation looked, confused, but I knew from where the sound had emitted. A black wing unfolded over the edge of the light fitting, as the creature found a more comfortable position. A bat who’s found himself a new bat cave! I thought incredulously.

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PART III (5-minute read)

Foolish Follower (Part 1) by JulesPaige 🦇

Phillip Ratsbane knew the Lady’s aversion to all things night. So it was with staged gravitas, his asset that he made her make an incredible Pit Friend Promise. Phillip had already convinced her to bribe the bellman for him… so he could easily escape over the horizon as easy as pie.

Fog had made the night blurry. There was no margin for error on the Lady’s part. She’d have to go into the batcave and find his next clue in order to escape his clutches.

Would she be lost without Ratsbane? A gentle rustle, the bats were leaving.

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Liberated in Loss (Part 2) by JulesPaige 🦇

Lady sat down on a rock by the opening. Temporarily lost in the mystic of the flight of the bats. She momentarily seemed to become one of them – once the disorientation faded and her sonar vision cleared. Lady saw Ratsbane enter the cab – with his leather bag. He was leaving, not waiting for her to return. Was there even any clue in the cave for her to find.

Detective Collins had convinced her to place a tracking device in Ratsbane’s bag. Then Lady remembered she had a similar device in her shoe. Someone would be coming to rescue her!

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Gilding the Lily (Part 3) by JulesPaige

Lily had nothing left to fear. Having been relocated and given a new name. She had told Detective Collins any location without rats, but bats were just fine. Perhaps she’d even study them. Help in some way to discover how to prevent the White Nose-syndrome that was driving some of them insane.

After all the bats, at least one of them had saved her, had let her exchange souls just to let her see that one horrid man was a true snake in the grass. She didn’t want remember any of her time with Ratsbane. Maybe that would happen?

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“I Curse You!” by Colleen Chesebro ~ The Fairy Whisperer

The hourglass sand ticked off the minutes. If she didn’t figure out how to reverse the revenge magic spell, she would have to live out her life as a bat. Esmerelda spread her wings and circled the cauldron careful to avoid the searing steam.

“Where is that eye of newt?” Her tiny bat voice squeaked as she landed on the table with a thud. The spell against her ex-best friend had backfired.

She scrambled toward the bejeweled bottles holding her witchy potions. The special decanter she desired was empty.

Karma was turning out to be a real bitch.

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The Ghost Bat by Anita Dawes 🦇

It is said that an old hermit lived in the old bat cave many moons ago. Children called him the batman, chanting behind him as he roamed the woods for herbs to make his potions.

The villagers never worried about the old hermit, leaving food by the cave for him and children would often watch the hermit make his potions.

He had once been a doctor and he still travelled through the village caring for those who needed his potions. On one of those trips, the children noticed the white ghost bat fly from the folds of Henry’s sleeve…

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Flash Fiction by Robbie Cheadle 🦇

The change in temperature made the boys shiver as they entered the cave.

Their flashlights made dancing shadows on the floor and walls as they made their way towards the far corner, dragging their spades behind them.

Dark shapes fluttered past them heading upwards into the darkness. Tom felt something like spiderwebs brush his face and he yelled out in fright.

“Come on, Tom,” said Paul. “They’re only bats. Think of the gold.”

Tom thought of the legendary Kruger Millions that were thought to be hidden in this corner. He started digging into the deep bat guano with enthusiasm.

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Flash Fiction by Pensitivity 🦇

‘I tell you I’m not going out there!’

‘Don’t be so silly. You’ll be fine.’

‘No! I like it here. It’s safe.’

‘It is for now, but sooner rather than later you’re going to have to trust yourself and take the plunge with the rest.’

‘I said no, and I mean no. I’m staying here.’

‘OK. I’ve tried being nice. Now, as your mother, I’m going to have to lay the law down. YOU ARE LEAVING!’

‘Shan’t.’

‘You pups think you know it all. We all have to go before the cave floods, otherwise we’ll die. Your choice. Coming?’

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Transitioning Wings by Jo/The Creative PTSD Gal

Every night the winged beast hung from the trim outside my window. One night he flew into my room instead. I screamed, ‘DADDY!’ and topped that off ear-piercing whaling. My dad comes storming into the room and finds me crying under the blankets.

‘Honey, what’s wrong?’

‘Dad, the bat flew into my room. He’s going to give me rabies!’

‘Shh, no baby. They are actually a symbol of transition and rebirth. It doesn’t mean death or demon nights. Wait, something will change for the better in your life.’ Two weeks later I received my scholarship to the art academy.

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Sue & Chiroptera by Lisa Rey

The day Sue met Chiroptera she was sitting in the park eating her sandwiches. 72 and in early retirement, she felt there was not much purpose to her life anymore. Then a gust of wind blew and a bat flew off the tree landing on the ground beside her. She rushed to him and was glad that he was safe apart from a broken arm. She nursed Chiroptera back to health and visited him each day when she had released him back into his habitat. Sue made a friend and regained a purpose in her life. Her little star.

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Platform: Branding by the Back Door

By Anne Goodwin

If there’s a demographic for the brand averse, I’m it. As a Brit of the baby-boomer generation, I’ve grown up in a culture that wrinkles its nose at any hint of self-promotion. I’ve felt personally affronted by the privatisation of public services, where passengers become customers and I daren’t even comment on the weather to the person delivering the latest batch of books to my door because, if they don’t complete their around in record time, the contract will go to another company. I’ve been professionally offended by the repeated rebranding of the NHS, leaching funds from patient care into headed paper and signage. Now retired, I’m still affected, as a volunteer for the national park, which has swapped its logo of a millstone with a circular hole in the middle to one with a square, and I’m expected to tramp the moors as a walking advertisement for the outdoor clothing company that’s our current sponsor. And yet.

And yet I’m a writer with small-press published books to promote. I understand an author needs a brand. But because I’m ambivalent, I approach it haphazardly, swinging between living with fingers-in-the-ears indifference to frantic clamouring to board the latest bandwagon – sometimes latest in the sense of newest, sometimes in a sense, it’s already left town – the blogosphere’s been hectoring me about.

And yet, as Charli has so kindly pointed out, I do have a brand. It might not shine and shout as strongly as some brands, I might struggle and blush to articulate it succinctly, but it does exist. And I’ve created it, both consciously and unconsciously, through being me, with all my clumsiness and contradictions. Committed branders should look elsewhere but, for the confused and reluctant, here are a few things I’ve learned.

You can develop your brand at your own pace. I set up my website almost ten years ago and didn’t begin blogging until it was starting to go out of fashion. In my back-to-front way, I joined Twitter a few months later, quaking in my bedroom slippers. Yet I’ve got somewhere.

Something is better than nothing, and you can’t do it all. Yay, you don’t have to be perfect! How many times a day do you have to remind yourself of that? Working meticulously through some version of ten-steps-to-branding might be the most efficient, but if that’s not you, don’t worry. But don’t let it stop you from doing the teeny-tiny bit you can do. Every little bit helps.

You don’t need a personality transplant, and you don’t need to sell your soul. Charli’s expertise in marketing for a non-profit organisation has helped me to see that a brand needn’t espouse the nastier tenets of late capitalism to thrive. Cooperation, compassion, and integrity can be part of a brand; Carrot Ranch providing the perfect object lesson in how these values translate into practice. You can choose how much of your everyday persona goes into your author brand, but you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. While confidence and eloquence are attractive, brashness can be off-putting, and even shrinking violets can sell their books.

Don’t sweat over how others do it. Shall I compare me to a better brander? Alas, there are myriad opportunities for seeing how we fall short. But, when everyone’s circumstances are different, isn’t this like comparing apples and oranges? Notice others’ success in order to celebrate with them, or learn from them, but turn away if it makes your own achievements seem shabby or small. Just because I’m better at giving this advice than following it doesn’t make it any less valid.

Are you a reluctant brander? What strategies have worked for you?

Rough Writer Anne Goodwin’s author brand encompasses grey hair and perhaps the only English accent Americans don’t find cute. Her writing explores identity, marginalisation, mental health, psychology, and attachment. She also has a pronounced intolerance for dodgy fictional therapists.

Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who seeks to resolve a relationship crisis by keeping a woman captive in a cellar, was published in May 2017. Anne is also a book blogger and author of over 80 published short stories. Her short story anthology, Becoming Someone, will be published in November 2018. Catch up on her website: annethology http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/ or on Twitter @Annecdotist.

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Platform is a guest blog to discuss ideas or share tips for building and marketing a writer’s platform.

Rough Writer Tour: Lisa Reiter

Lisa Reiter is one of the Rough Writers whose calling is not fiction. She writes about her experience writing flash fiction as a memorist. More than that, she explores the topic of perfectionism, giving sage advice to all writers who might struggle with perfecting drafts. She frames her story with a memory of worming cats. For a few laughs and a delightful and informative read, visit Lisa at her blog as we return to England on our Rough Writer Tour Around the World.

via How to worm a cat, Flash Fiction and other ways to tackle Perfectionism.

Join us next week as we go to Poland to visit Urszula Humienik.

Times Past: Cooking with Mum

By Irene Waters

My almost ninety-year-old mother rings me every night. A habit that began many years ago both to ensure that she had someone to talk to every day and from a safety perspective. Too often the elderly fall and are not discovered for days. Every day she tells me minute by minute how she has filled her day. She is autobiographically using time to chronologically map her day. When her day is complete, she asks me what I have done. I pick out bits that may be of interest to her, starting with that which I consider to pack the most punch. I may also join a few events making one, such as meeting Donna five times that day and getting some different bits of the story each time. It is easy just to conflate time (join them together) and tell it as one. I am giving her memoir and with my use of time making the narrative interesting and compelling.

Last month we looked at dialogue and high definition description as a fictive element allowed in memoir writing that is acceptable when it is in the style of what would have been said at the time. Time is another element that can be used creatively in memoir. However, there is much more to time than simply technical aspects which create a compelling narrative.

You cannot divorce memoir from time as memoir deals with the duality of time – where the narrator looks back in time to understand the past from his present position. There are three different purposes for writing memoirs. Firstly, there are the “lyrical seeking” narratives, where the memoirist is trying to come to terms with lost experience. Secondly, the bildungsroman (coming of age) that often relate torrid circumstances. Thirdly, there are those narratives where the author has an overwhelming need to write what is purely a good story. Each of these types deals with time differently. The lyrical seekers combine ‘then’ and ‘now’ whilst in the bildungsroman the past and present are separated, often using flashback strategies.

Unlike time in auto/biography, time in a memoir can be manipulated. It does not have to follow a chronological order starting at birth and finishing at the end (biographical works) but focuses on a particular theme which can take place over a long or short period of time. The narrative can be started at the beginning, the middle, or the end – jumping backwards and forwards in time or, alternatively, the past and present can be written together. Birketts, who wrote The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again believes this use of time is the difference between a good and bad memoir.

By conflating time, that is writing several events as one, allows the author to have a smooth flow in the narrative and for the reader removes any boredom caused by repetition of repeated events. Additionally, vivid memories don’t follow a chronological time frame and may be presented as recalled by the writer with movement between past, present, and future. Mary Karr demonstrates this as she struggles to allow the past to surface. She jumps back and forward in time creating a tension and compelling the reader to continue reading to find the answers that Karr, herself, seeks from memories which are deeply hidden.

For the memoirist, time has some other important functions. As a memoir contains both memories and reflection, the passage of time before the memoir can be written is essential, as this distance allows the events affect upon the author to become known. Additionally, it can be a difficult reliving experiences that caused the narrator such pain in the past. Distance may be needed to safely revisit the situation. Memoir can be used as an agent of healing, but I believe that these valuable cathartic memoirs are written for personal consumption only and not for publication.

Time is also an important factor when writing a memoir about other people. Memoir should never be written close to an event when we are still wielding an axe we wish to grind, wanting to pay back someone who wronged us. Enough time must elapse so that we can deal with these difficult relationships objectively and ethically. When writing people who have adversely affected our lives it is better to objectively write, showing the reader rather than telling them, allowing them to determine a person’s character through their action rather than being told what the character is.

Time can also change what we write. The culture that we live in may have changed their views on what is acceptable allowing a different version of the narrative to be told (this happened particularly with slave narratives). Time may also change our perception of ourselves. We might not like the ‘I’ of the past. Virginia Woolf wrote in her memoir Sketch of the Past “…it would be interesting to make the two people, I now, I then, come out in contrast. And further, this past is much affected by the present moment. What I write today I should not write in a year’s time.”

Having said earlier that time must pass before writing a memoir letting too much time elapse may be detrimental also. It is a generally held belief that memoir is more prone to becoming irrelevant to a readership than does fiction. As readers often read memoir to see how another has dealt with a particular situation, perhaps following the path taken by the memoirist over time or for the inarticulate using these narratives to express how they feel, as time elapses at least some of these situations may have ceased to exist because of, eg, medical advances, political change, etc., thus making the memoir outdated. Memoir, I believe, will always give a social commentary of interest to social historians and other researchers.

Time is important in memoir, and a subject I touched on slightly in this post – dealing with others is also a crucial consideration when writing memoir and that will be the topic of next months post.

Please feel free to join in Times Past.  This month we are going to look at cooking with Mum reflecting on whether our childhood experience affected our cooking as an adult. Write a post of your own and link up to my Times Past Page, leave a comment in my comment section or in the comment section when Charli posts her memories of learning to write. Don’t forget to put where you lived at the time of the memoir, your generation and whether it was a rural or city area.