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February 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

february-9Mud is murky. It gets a bad wrap as dirty — it’s the stuff that clings to soles, tracking across clean surfaces. Dogs are notorious for muddy paws and children are often chided for playing in it. Politicians perfect the art of slinging it. Yet, there’s an allure to mud. It’s become the stuff to haunt me, fearing it’s slickness to slide a full-sized truck geared down into 4-low slowly over the rim of a snaking canyon road. So focused has my mind been on mud, I began to see it had lessons for me.

First, I have to admit I ventured up the mesas too soon. The sun came out after overcast and rainy days, after snow on the mesas and flash floods in the canyons. The sky spread out like a blue tablecloth inviting me to picnic beneath the warm sun. We waited a week. The Hub says, “It’ll be okay.” The dirt road that winds up Dalton Wash certainly looked dry when we turned up it.

“See, it’s dry,” says the Hub.

I watched the brush, the boulders, the small crevice of a creek. “Look! Deer.” Two mulie does with yearlings trot along side the truck like an escort welcoming us back to the mesas.

“See, it’s dry,” says the Hub.

Spindly apple trees stand like dead sticks in fields of mud on the first mesa level. It appears dry…on the surface. “I don’t know,” I say.

The road turns sharply right before climbing several thousand feet through a boulder-strewn canyon — the deeper crevice of Dalton Wash, cutting through layers of time. “It’s fine,” says the Hub.

I suck air hard and grab the steel frame between my lowered window and open wing.The canyon shrouded in shadow, the road cut deep with ruts begins to twist and rise. “Four-wheel drive!” I shout this like making the sign of the cross in reaction to danger. Salvation of trucks, entering unknown terrain. Holy 4WD.

“We don’t need it,” says the Hub. The truck lugs and if it stops we’ll spin tires; if we spin tires we might get stuck of slide off the road. Off the road to the left is gnarly debris, the scree of mesas. Off the road to the right is a rocky shelf, a wall of layered clay.

We need it. The Hub stops when the road flattens before a churning river of mud. Each current carved by a truck before us. That’s hopeful; Other Trucks have made it. He steps out into the road/mud-river and turns the hubs of each front wheel.

NOTE: Hubs engage or disengage the front wheel axles, thus engaging the hubs is to put both axles to work for climbing mountains or navigating spring mud. I have one Hub as in Husband and two manual locking hubs on my truck which requires the Hub to get out and turn. Although I live in Utah, I do not practice polygamy. One Hub is enough.

Hubs engage and Hub settles behind the wheel, we lurch forward and take on the incline the same time a truck above descends. There’s not enough room to pass and the descending truck can’t stop. Can’t. Stop. We call dibs on the wall and the other driver slides between us and the drop off to the canyon bottom below.

“Are we stuck?” I ask when my breath returns. The other truck slides to a stop behind us.

“We’re fine,” says the Hub and indeed we begin to churn mud like brown butter beneath the wheels and bit by bit we edge forward. Until the rock. It stops us and we slide back to where we went off the road.

“You folks stuck?” asks the driver of the other truck. He greets the Hub with a handshake and shovel.

“Just a rock,” says the Hub who proceeds to pick up a rock big enough to stop a truck. Like a shot put he heaves it over the edge. The other driver shovels a patch and we gun it so hard we fish tail out of the rut and up the road. We cant’s stop and the driver understands we aren’t being rude to stop and says thanks. We are entering the steepest grade and the mud actually lessens, but another truck is facing down at us. The driver is slow to understand he needs to hit reverse and hit it fast. We can’t stop or else we’ll slide backwards and off the road, into Dalton Wash.

The nose of our truck is inches from the nose of his and we drive this way the last stretch and then we pass waving, and telling them “Good Luck!” For a while, I’m happy to be in the sun walking through the litter of petrified wood, cherry-picking chunks of jasper. A wet winter has revealed previously buried treasure. By foot I make it to the edge of the Zion Wilderness and I pass through the gate. There’s something I want to find…

…Not today. The Hub catches up with me, the dog dodging between us on shaky legs, howling after rabbits like a banshee. We have to leave before the sun sets.

The sun glows like a distant apocalypse on the far horizon of another mesa. We don’t want to go down in the dark, yet we can’t see with the last rays of sun burning away our sight. We sit at the top of the mesa until the bright orb dips and we go down in dusk.

Sliding in mud.

There’s no stopping the truck. The Hub turns into each skid as the back end of the truck whips around. The back end slides right, he turns left. The back end slides left, he turns right. All I can do is focus on my breath. I think “breathe in” as I breathe out. Halfway down the mesa I realize I’ve focused the wrong words to each inhale and exhale. I calm the rising panic with the thought, it doesn’t matter; just breathe.

We get to the bottom and the Hub says, “See, it was fine.”

What I have learned…

Mud is still. It’s motion that causes the friction. Steady and slow is best

Mud is murky. It teaches me I don’t have to see to get through. It’s okay not to know all the details.

Mud is sticky. Persistence is the lesson here — stick-to-it-ness. Stick like mud to what needs doing.

Mud is mild. As scared as it might make me to drive on it, mud is not a torrent.

Mud has benefits. It has minerals, water and reflections of sky above. It calls me to look for what’s good.

My take away as a writer, is that writing is often messy and murky. It can be like mud. Sometimes, I think I’m flinging mud at the blank page, looking for what sticks. And revising feels like sliding down a mesa, and I feel uncertain how to control the weight of my words upon the flow. No one teaches you how to navigate mud and when it comes to the process no one can teach you to write your stories in your voice. Certainly we can learn to drive, and we can learn the craft of writing, but mud is the original material.

If you haven’t yet read, Carrot Ranch has launched a new guest series that gets muddy, exploring the idea Raw Literature. It’s meant to be an ongoing conversation from different perspectives, and a look at the lives of writers behind the screen. These are the essays so far, and I hope you take time to read, ponder and even submit an essay of your own:

With all that seems to be unfolding in the world, it can feel muddy. The challenge is to find something worthwhile — a piece of land worth preserving; a civic duty worth taking on; a cause you can contribute to; a way to bring art to the artless. Certainly we can create from the clay we are given.

February 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rainbow in a puddle. Is it a silver lining of sorts or a false reflection? Think about what it might mean or convey. Simple science? Hope? Or the doom of humankind? Create action or character reflection. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by February 14, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published February 15). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Faith (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“A rainbow in a puddle. We’ll have good luck in our search today,” Michael said.

All Danni could see was a biohazard in mud. She climbed into Michael’s truck and they left to follow leads on Bubbie, missing along the Pack River for a week.

“Did you see it?”

Michael was as bad as Ike, Danni thought. Signs, wonders, miracles. “Yes I saw the oil slick.”

“Ever the scientist. Today, have faith.”

Their first encounter with campers reminded Danni why she had none. The rednecks with AR-15s claimed they peppered a dog fitting Bubbie’s description. For fun, they said.

###

Rock in the Road

rockThe rock is unexpected. But there it is, where it shouldn’t be. It’s in the way.

This week, writers considered the various ways a rock in the road could tell a story. Sometimes it was the story, and other times it was a prop to carry the story. These writers wrote right around that rock in the road.

The following are based on the February 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rock in the road.

***

The Rocky Road by C Jai Ferry

Stella stood several feet from the courtroom entrance. You can do this. She fumbled for the small bluish-gray rock in her pocket, one side rubbed smooth by her anxiety-prone thumb. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. Her thumb moved more furiously.

“You ready?” her lawyer asked, guiding her through the double-wide doors.

Stella nodded.

“What’s with the rock? Lucky charm?”

“S-sorta,” Stella said. Dammit, focus! You can do this. “I fell on it. My first visible scar.” She pointed to her hairline.

“Doesn’t sound very lucky.”

Stella exhaled slowly. “It was the day before I filed for divorce.”

###

Steve Goes Underneath by Anne Goodwin

Childhood taught me home was an illusion but, twenty years on, I was living the dream. A regular job, my own house and a fabulous woman to share it with, I could’ve cruised like that for evermore. Until Liesel changes her mind about children, decides she wants a family with or without me. I can’t be a father, but I can’t let her go.

What do you do when a rock blocks the road ahead? Blast it with dynamite, scramble over it or tunnel underneath? Luckily my house has a cellar … with three strong bolts across the door.

###

The Rock by Michael

I couldn’t believe it but the rock suddenly sprouted rocky arms, then legs as it stood towering above us. In its hand was a giant hammer which it swung above its head. Mum was screaming, dad was screaming it was pure chaos. Then I sat up, mum was wanting to know what was wrong. A bad dream I said, sweat pouring off me. Out of the car window I saw dad negotiating his way round the fallen rock. As we passed to one side I noticed a long crack and a hand appeared. That’s when I totally freaked out.

###

Sticks and Stones by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Two boys huddled on the battlement wall, wind-blown and on fire with An Idea.

pony-2Between them the small catapult waited, fragrant with fresh-tanned leather straps. A pile of stones glittered, rubbed free of ocean, with chapped hands and tunics needing a wash.

No girls around to interrupt their weapons test. Ponies wandered the path to the sun-bright meadow.

Thor loaded the bucket, and with a nod, Peter released the catapult’s arm. The small stone flew and smacked a pony’s flank. It whinnied and shied.

“This time? Bigger rock!”

They didn’t notice the girls step out on the path below.

###

Blocked Way by Kerry E.B. Black

Insurmountable as a mountain, a boulder blocked the trail. Cindy’s mount snorted a cloud of displeasure into the winter air as Cindy considered other paths. Ice made the left impassable, and thick, snow-covered branches provided an impenetrable barrier into the woods.

She sighed into her mount’s neck. “My life.” An overbearing ex, condescending family, and unpleasable boss filled her existence with self-doubt. Only riding healed her.

She dismounted and pushed, but the stone remained. She rounded it and began breaking branches. Blood trickled from scrapes from the effort, but she forced a path, determined not to be stymied again.

###

Rock Diplomacy by Joe Owens

“I’m not moving it,” the Virginia highway worker said.

“Nor am I,” his Tennessee counterpart insisted.

The trouble was the large boulder had come to rest on the state line and neither man saw a majority of the rock in their jurisdiction. Had there been a noticeable portion in either the decision would be simple.

“We can split it in two, then take care of our half,” Virginia said.

“Not with my tools,” Tennessee nodded negatively.

“You’re not suggesting I use mine?”

“Well someone must,” Tennessee stated.

“Let’s call the feds. We can claim interstate commerce or something.”

“Alright!”

###

Rock’s in the Road by Nona Morris

“Rock’s in the road.”

“Already?”

“Getting faster.”

“Guess it is.”

It was hot out, the sun high. Moving the rock was hard work.

“You gotta stop this, Darlin.” he drawled at the stone. Laying his hand on it, he felt the vibration, like it was purring without sound.

He wondered if they ought to call somebody. Rocks shouldn’t purr, even silently. Rocks shouldn’t move on their own, no matter how slow.

“Alright then,” he said, putting his tired shoulder against the vibrating mass and shoving. He wished, not for the first time, it had never fallen from the sky.

###

First Day on the Job by Gwen Couture

The call came early in the morning. Stuart, the sheriff of highway patrol, had his feet up on his desk. Reluctantly, he picked up the phone after letting it ring 5 or 6 times.

“Sheriff, you better come down here.”

Stuart arrived to raw chaos. The 1996 Chevy Malibu was crushed beyond anything he could imagine. The Malibu must have been heading down the steep mountain road going at least 80kph. They simply couldn’t see the massive fallen boulder in time. He knew there could be no survivors.

“Well?” Stuart probed, knowing the answer.

The rookie shook his head and cried silently.

###

Rocks in Her Head by Norah Colvin

The newcomer was intrigued. Every morning she’d be there, filling a battered barrow with rocks from the road. You’d think that, after a day or two, she’d have removed them all. But, every morning, even earlier, a quarry truck would rumble by, spilling more.

Longer-term residents shrugged indifferently, “She’s got rocks in her head.”

When he asked her one day, she replied, “Come and see.”

He followed into her back garden, and watched. She stood at the edge of a pit and threw in the rocks. After each she listened, hopeful of a sound, of one day filling it.

###

That Rock That Talked by Lady Lee Manila

I had a dream, a lucid dream
Lying on a beach and I saw a big rock
A pervious rock and somehow gleamed
All of a sudden, facing me, it talked

That rock that talked, it warned me to be wary
Wary of things that might hinder my growth
That it’s not smooth sailing and could be blistery
Things might not come my way, perhaps I might loath

Lying below a cellular blanket
Never felt so cosy by the brooklet
I can tell you everything coherent
In the ancient world, life could be brilliant
Come what may, I’m ready

###

Rock! Checkmate! by Bill Engleson

He could feel it.

It seemed to be shuffling around in his belly, in the pit of his gut, a dark shaft of coiled intestine, wrapping around his innards like a viper, slippery-skulking, hardwired for perseverance, soft, mushy fat tissue, oozing up against it, seeking to dissolve its granite impact.

He could feel it.

He shifted his butt, seeking something approximating comfort. It wasn’t going to happen. His body had failed him, corrupted his future, made a lie of his dreams.

He could feel it.

He would forever be less than he might have been, or would ever be.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

He was late.
They had told him where to meet them so that they could arrive together at the surprise birthday party.
They had picked this spot with care knowing he couldn’t miss it.
If he’d arrived first, he could park up and wait for them. How difficult could it be?
They went inside for coffee.

“Look for the rock in the road,” they said.
There was nothing here dammit, except a rock in the road!
He got out and pulled out his cell.
‘Where the hell are you? he shouted.
‘In the Rocky Road cafe waiting for you!’

###

Timed by Reena Saxena

I have always loved your way of doing things, Tim the Timid! You placed a boulder on my path, but left ample space for me, to bypass it, and drive ahead. And I don’t hold it against you, either! Your wife does not like me, and somebody has paid you to do this.

I have become so adept at ducking bullets and manholes. Life has never been easy. Good things happened, but always at the wrong time. Just like my ill-fated rendezvous with you! You will regret this soon, Tim, the Wrongly Timed! I do not forget or forgive.

###

When Mae and Her Dogs Met Jasper by Jules Paige

Until she uploaded her day’s photos onto the computer,
she never noticed the shadow in each of them.

…From the dawn without telling anybody, she made green
pinecones stop heart disease ~ would grimace, moan, and
pray for homeless ex-wife’s, hawk, grizzly bears, John, Steph,
and Dakota, in the back of the truck…

Jasper had come between a rock and a very hard place –
knew Mae was special right off, the way she treated her
dogs. At dusk was she was thankful when the kind man
offered to change a flat on her truck…and the dogs even
liked him.

###

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Sherri Matthews

Tears streamed down Carrie’s face as she read out loud, her hands shaking:

“While we sympathize, we are unable to comment on civil matters, and therefore, we have no choice but to enforce our thirty day eviction notice and foreclosure.”

“Bastards!” yelled Tom as Carrie threw down the letter and ran to their baby, who screamed for them both from his crib.

Two months later, eating dinner at a homeless shelter, Tom took a call about some possible part-time work. He hoped the fact that his mother was Mexican born and bred wouldn’t be another rock in the road.

###

Cracking Rocks and Other Chores by Luccia Gray

‘You’ll get up at 5, carry hot water and light the hearths in all the bedrooms.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘After breakfast, you’ll empty the latrines and make the beds.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Then you’ll prepare lunch and do the laundry.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Such a pretty girl, but so frail.’ He smiled maliciously. ‘The master may use you for other chores.’

Let him try, I thought.

He wasn’t to know I had worked cracking rocks with a heavy hammer all day, until I splintered the forman’s skull when he put his hand down my breeches and discovered I wasn’t frail at all.

###

A Rock in the Road (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane trudges wearily, wondering what on earth made her think a walk was a good idea. It’s cold but she’s hot.Troubles has clearly never been leash-trained; she’s not sure who’s walking who. It’s a pretty day, but it would be just as beautiful from the backyard.

She realizes what the problem REALLY is as she comes abreast of a boulder jutting dangerously into the travel lane. She perches on it and breathes a sigh as she works her shoe off and shakes out a surprisingly tiny pebble.

“Much better,“she says.Troubles whuffs happily and pulls her onward.

###

Flash Flood by Ann Edall-Robson

Water gushed through the trees and across the rutted trail, to blend into the prairie grass on the other side. It wasn’t the torrent it had been in the previous days, but still it flowed with force. Stone boats, pulled by teams of horses had been moving rocks from the flooded road since before daybreak. Each time it rained, they had the same problem. Flash floods carrying rock and debris down the mountain to rest on the open space of wagon road and meadow. It was time to find a different route to move the freight from the railhead.

###

Rocky Road by Florida Borne

In 1989, my third Geology field trip in 3 years, our instructor took the back roads into Nevada and Utah. Instead of a rental van, we were part of an Isuzu Trooper convoy.

Dust flew from his back wheels, impeding the vision of those behind him. Stinging sand became vultures nesting in our hair. With days between shower facilities, I was happy that I’d chosen a cap and NOIR dark glasses for the trip.

On a rare paved road, hillside striations intrigued the newbie. “What kind of rock is this?”

“I don’t do 60 MPH geology,” the instructor replied.

###

The Rock that Changed My World

“I knew it was cheesy. But there was no other way.”

“Throwing my twelve-string in the Chevy, I was there in under ten.”

“But Daddy, it takes almost twenty minutes to get to Grandma’s.”

“Light traffic, sweetie.”

“Mommy’s window was open and the curtains were flapping out the window.”

“Jumping out of the car, I grabbed ole Betsy and I was under the window before I could change my mind.”

“But had to know she was there.”

“Daddy, what did you do?” Vanessa loved this part.

“This, sweetie.” he said, holding a small rock. “This rock changed my world.”

###

‘These Rocks Don’t Lose Their Shape..’ by Geoff Le Pard

‘Why are boys so stupid?’

Mary studied her daughter. ‘Stupid?’

‘Jack. I thought he was different. But all he’s interested in is Pokémon cards.’

‘Does that make him stupid?’

Penny frowned. ‘No, but… all boys do is collect stuff. They’re not interested in people.’

‘Maybe that’s generalising…’

‘But they do!’

‘So do I. Tea pots.’

‘They pretty. And useful.’

‘True. At least cards are easy to store. Not like when I first knew your dad. He collected rocks.’

‘Rocks? What for?’

‘Their colour, their rarity…’

‘Like diamonds?’

‘Hardly.’

‘Exactly. They’re never useful.’

‘Rocks or boys?’

Penny laughed. ‘Both!’

###

Midnight Rock (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Michael knelt at the bumper, shining his flashlight. “Hell of rock you hit, Danni.”

“It was an easy target, squatting there in the middle of the road like a legless grizzly.”

Michael shined the powerful light up the canyon wall. “Can’t see anything else unstable.”

“A rock just for me.” She slumped her head on the hood. “Ike loved this truck.”

“He still does.”

“Yeah, Ike’s in some hell-hole, pining for his truck!”

“He’s enduring because of what he has back home, Danni. You, the truck, the dogs.”

“Too bad he won’t have a home to come home to.”

###

A Rock in the Road by Drew Sheldon

During a stop one day, a kid asked me for my pen. It was nice, and I didn’t want to give it up. So I asked him what he had for me, knowing he’d have nothing. He ran around the corner and came back with a rock that he obviously just picked up from the road. “Magic,” he said. “Bring you luck.” You could tell that pen was like gold to him. Giving it to him brought me a rare smile during that hellish year. I lost a few bucks, but I got the better end of the deal.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

I found him leaning against the rock, peaked and scared.

“You okay, Papa?”

He slapped the rock. A car-sized boulder unearthed from blasting, when they put in the new sewer line along the edge of the creek. The blasting went on for months, cracking the walls and stirring up old memories in Papa’s head.

“Papa.”

He slouched down low, his back against the only place he could trust. I could see the house, but Papa was floating the Mekong Delta, lost but looking for the ambush. With a sigh, I crouched with Papa, hoping he’d find a way out.

###

Snow Day by Kate Spencer

“Some boys were out tobogganing at McDonald’s hill today,” said Jim, his mouth full of Glady’s lasagna.

“Really,” said Gladys, reaching for the garlic bread.

“Yup. It looked like Tommy dared the others into it.”

“He would. He takes after his dad. Dave was always getting into scrapes as a lad.”

“One of them broke his sled; ran it into a rock.”

“He okay?

“Just a bruised ego,” said Jim and wiped his mouth. “I heard we’re in for another blizzard tonight.”

“Well it may as well be snowing rocks. We ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

“No, but the boys will.”

###

Dancing on Rocks by Allison Maruska

“There.” I tighten the band securing my daughter’s hair. “You excited for your first day?”

“Yeah!” She hops down from the stool. “Mrs. B. said a new school means new friends.”

“Well,” I kiss her nose, “I’m happy you’re happy. Now hurry, or you’ll miss the bus.”

Smiling, she hoists on her backpack and skips out the door.

I watch her head to the corner. She’s twirling.

I laugh. I’d worried how she’d adjust to a new school after hers closed.

I’d worried needlessly. Some people let rocks in the road stop them.

My baby girl dances on hers.

###

Raw Literature: Jewels on the Page

jules-paigeEssay by Jules Paige, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

<< ♦ >>

“How complex in its simplicity or how simple in its complexity; is writing. Much to think about that is for certain,” and so she thought…

How do I describe how I write. I put a pen in hand or place fingers on a keyboard. Do I need prompts? When I started writing about fifty years ago; while sitting at a table at a Teen Arts Festival, I asked those who stopped by for a subject – I then wrote a poem. Simple as that.

While some years I wrote less, other years I wrote more than one piece a day. For the last several years, I write a small daily piece, maybe adding a longer verse and or a fiction piece as well. Prompts sites on the web reintroduced me into writing fiction and memoir. Some have a limited word count. But generally I try to limit myself to one ‘typed’ page. Though I also have done/do series. Some evolving into chapters which could possibly make it into booklet form.

I see prompts, quotes, images and the light bulb in my brain goes off. And to challenge myself further I combine prompts as few as two as many as five or six. I make associations to memory, news articles and anything else and everything else that crosses my path.

I write for amusement. Perhaps guided by a muse. Though some may argue that muses do not exist. Maybe my muse is my own intuition, which often unconsciously picks up even the most subtle of cues. I write for myself as well as everyone who believes they can see themselves in something I have written. I can not explain how my brain works. I just like to, I just have to, write. For me writing is like breathing. A necessity of my life.

I write as JulesPaige (or as evolution has occurred; just ‘Jules’) because words are like ‘jewels on a page’. Not all are gems. But a good lot of them strung together are fair enough.

Daughter, sister, friend, poet, wife, mother, and grandmother. More introvert than extrovert, inspired by nature and pretty much anything.

About (me, sort of):

I’m just an old leather boot

not army boots, though I once thought about joining

however early rises and following someone else’s rules –

you know that a rebellious artistic spirit just wouldn’t work there

trying to walk on a catwalk

or eggshells, being the ‘monkey in the middle’

Jane of all trades, master of none, little bits of knowledge

tucked between aging marbles and greying locks – still young at heart

and nobody cares because

Oh maybe there are a few, but I’m not in the spotlight

and frankly that’s OK too – If you are looking for frilly lace

and a made up face – you’ve come to the wrong place – I’m not a rock and…

I’m not a plastic mock animal high heel shoe.

###

I was a teacher for young students and worked in various retail positions full and part-time until I became voluntarily employed to watch my grandchildren for a few years before semi-retiring to travel with my husband (who does so for his job). I’ve also had an active volunteer life when my own children were younger. I also enjoyed singing in choirs, though I only sing now to my favorite oldies station (though I enjoy other music too), because I’m a misfit of the 1960’s.

Always young at heart, humor is a big part of my life. While I’ll celebrate turning sixty this year, I still like to tell the story of how while vacationing with family that not once but twice I was mistaken for my oldest son’s wife. But I can be very serious, and have had bouts with depression after the loss of my maternal mother at a young age, and having to move many times as a young child. Even in my very healthy marriage I’ve had several homes with my loving husband whom I often write about, like in this renga:

Love 1

On’t Truth

(a renga)

she found a book by

an author he liked, and placed

it by his pillow…

he found it and asked her where

she found it… ‘charity shop’

so that night they read

when politics aired instead

of a favored show

©JP/dh

“We love being in love, that’s the truth on’t.”

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)

English Novelist

The Book Of Hearts: Visions of Love in Word and Image

Running Press  * Philadelphia / London

© 1994

Through the internet I’ve learned many different short forms of poetry and experiments with combining them, even creating a new form called a Shadorma Summation. Where a haibun is prose that has haiku (within and or) ending the piece, a Shadorma Summation does the same with the six line syllable counted verse like this (first attempt in September of 2015):

Mooning Mayhem

(free verse/ shadorma haibun? Shadorma Summation)

Definitely and defiantly a horse of a different color.

She never did have one of those pink princess ponies.

Now she was getting on to be an old grey mare.

That reflection in the mirror could just have well been

in the smooth reflection in an aged fine wine.

Doppelgangers are not twins.

Are most of us really triplets; me, myself and I?

Grammar notwithstanding or sitting either, I suppose.

It all has to do with one’s id, ego and superego –

Are all horses of the same color, Thoroughbred?

The person I am becoming…ever evolving…

empathetic humane human, valuable, priceless?

Trying consistently constantly to remember the worth of

my being – self awareness, self forgiveness,

self indulgent; enough to give myself some hugs

Looking up what the human body is worth

can be deceiving; dead or alive – pieces and parts –

from about $3.50 to about $9 million

which doesn’t take into account what one

person’s actual artistic or intellectual value might be.

Definitely and defiantly wake up each day

Rule it with passion, exploration, devotion – It’s all better

than being lead astray through some unknown dark alley

where you might not know which way is up,

especially if you forgot to pack your compass rose.

as she was

a fish in a bowl

out of her

natural

element

it was all she could do to

step back, look and breathe

©JP/dh

I would like to be a published author, but I know that poets are hard pressed to get agents. I’d have to hire a secretary, and I’m not terribly fond editors who seem to like to change the tone and value of even short pieces. Having also almost been taken by some vanity publishers, I’m wary of the whole process and don’t feel skilled enough self publish via the web. Though I have put together several booklets and have just given them away.

***

Jules Paige, a Rough Writer  for Carrot Ranch, writes every week for about a year and a half since she found the ranch through another blog friend. You might think so, but she is not a professional writer or at least hasn’t been paid any money…yet. She’s been published in school and college journals, congregational services, a narrowly themed chapbook and a local newspaper. She also entered and got an honorable mention in a haiku book contest. She has been ‘published’ on her friends blogs for haiku and Elfje and for prompts in flash fiction, non fiction and memoir. Jules also has a few pieces published in a book overseas that is raising money for charity. A self proclaimed opinionated rebel, born in the south, but northerner by life, Jules is thankful for all of the friends she has made throughout the world via the net. And is most grateful for the opportunity to write for Carrot Ranch and be one of the Buckaroos.

Jules attempts to stay organized by keeping her short verse here. Her longer verse here, and fiction or non, here.

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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.

February 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

february-2Hills old as dirt. Rocks ancient as time. Mesas drawn from memories of dinosaurs. It’s old around here. Solid as a rock.

And yet…

Hillsides mess with our sense of time and solidity. Geologically speaking, the wrinkled hills of debris at the foot of mesas and canyons in Zion National Park are newborns. Water carves rivulets into canyons so deep and serpentine that many of these winding features miles long went unnoticed by surveyors for years. If you believe the canyons rock-solid, I have some alternative facts for you. But before we get to fiction, let examine a few facts from science:

  • Zion’s geological features are indeed old: 250 million years old.
  • The sandstone features with cliffs over 3/4 of a mile high were once sand dunes. Sand dunes!
  • Water shapes the area’s stunning geology, including hidden canyons and the winding Virgin River.
  • Water is also trapped in sandstone, forming a weeping feature that takes water 1,000 years to emerge.
  • The park’s 229 square miles includes wide mesas, narrow sandstone canyons, seeps, springs and waterfalls.

The Zion features are not alive with music; instead they pulse with mud-pushed rocks, reshaping debris heaps. The process accelerates any time water joins the mix. Mud becomes a powerful sludge, and sometimes entire hillsides calve like a glacier. Other times a trickle of rocks tumble across trails and roads.

And some times there’s a rock big and brown in the middle of the road.

Geology reminds me that life is not static. We never have the same day. We never truly have an ideal image of ourselves in the mirror. We never fix the meatloaf exactly the same way as last year. Even the institutions we believe unshakeable are not the same from year to year. Everything shifts and sheds like Zion rubble.

Mostly the process equates to the movement of sand. It’s over the years we notice the ravages of grain — the days’ activities are noticeably different; the face in the mirror has aged; meatloaf had a makeover; governments erode. Sometimes, though, the rock crashes down in an instant and we are shaken by the change. We prefer the illusion displaced sand gives us. Sand seems easier to sweep away. And we do. But that rock — that rock in the road cannot be ignored. It calls us to change or be changed.

Rocks always take us by surprise. We know they exist in the sludge of life, but we always believe we can dodge the big ones. We do what we can to avoid the dangerous slopes where we know rocks lurk. One might acknowledge vulnerability. How often I’ve heard many people say, “I know, I know, we’re all just one paycheck away from being homeless.” But that’s just a fear many use to stay in an unsatisfactory job, town or relationship. We settle and take our chances with the sand, avoiding rocks.

When it does happen to someone — that rock of homelessness — we shore up our own crumbling edges with notions that the person struck by the rock of unexpected change must have done something. “That’s right, they asked for it. They were digging where they shouldn’t have dug.” People say those things to justify walking past a panhandler on the street. They justify not giving money because it would be spent on drugs or drink, without thinking to buy a meal or a blanket. They justify dehumanizing the homeless.

Let me introduce you to a few faces besides mine. There’s the divorced woman whose husband hid the assets and at 62 she has no employability. There’s the man and his wife and their two sons who can’t come up with first, last and deposit on a rental so they camp while raising the money that never seems to be enough. There’s the woman kicked out of a motel room after the landlord beat her. He. Beat. Her. She lost her room and now sleeps in a tent a church gave her. There’s the veterans in their trucks, belongings piled in the passenger seat and a bed in the back beneath a camper shell.

And the boy with the big grin blowing out seven candles on two cupcakes for his birthday. He’s in his third shelter, or transitional motel room. The rock that hit his parents was an unrenewed lease. The apartment complex preferred adults to seven-year-old boys with no where else to go. Once you have no where else to go, the complex web of family homelessness awaits like Shelob’s lair. More rocks dislodge — most shelters separate men from women and children; shelters have rigid rules that interfere with jobs; some shelters have a lottery system. There’s long-term motels with their own set of dangers and frustrations.

This boy’s mama dreamed of a kitchen. She dreamed of cooking. I know, Sweet One, I know. I miss my kitchen most. I miss everything that a woman creates in a kitchen —  meals and memories. Sweet One is a daughter to me. I’ve known her for nine years, ever since she was a teen working where I worked. I respect her privacy, but I want you to know this is a good woman, a good mama. She and her family got hit hard by one rock after another and they do not have the normal familial safety net. Adult orphans.

That can be hardest, which is why I asked her if the Hub and I could be Nana and Papa to her boy, Our Boy.

After six months, Our Boy, his Dad and Sweet One got an apartment. Our Boy has been doing well in school, although he had some scary days when he was taking public transportation to school, arrived late and got locked out. A seven-year-old alone in the city! Sweet One nearly lost her mind over that one and the school worked with her to make Our Boy safer in his transitions. Think about the dedication of these working parents to get their son to school every day. Together we believe in him going to college.

Carrot Ranch is hosting a Welcome Home J-Family house-warming for Sweet One and her family. Between now and February 28, there will be a Wish List on Amazon for the family. When families become homeless, they often lose most their possessions. I’ve heard people say, “It’s good to purge.” But unless you’ve had to get rid of your personal and household belongings, you couldn’t know the sorrow. Or the frustration when you want to cook after getting re-homed and are missing what’s needed.

At first Sweet One was modest and asked for three items: microwave, muffin pan and a crock-pot. After some nudging she got into the spirit of dreaming! She and Our Boy dreamed of waffles, zucchini zoodles and omelettes shaped like hearts. Then she thought out how to set up her kitchen, and I added cookbooks. Could I ask you to share this house-warming far and wide? If you can, and are moved to help one who got hit by the homelessness rock, consider buying her an item on her list. Her son is seven if you want to send him books, too. Let’s give them a landslide of a house-warming!

It was hard for me to think about my character’s homeless event this past summer even though I knew I wanted to hit Danni with that rock. I had already written a scene where she is unable to access Ike’s account right after he leaves for Iraq. Often these banking issues arise and when the spouse is deployed, they can be tricky to sort out. Using my own experiences and understanding of how easy it was for banks to foreclose on military families, that becomes Danni’s event.

Seeing what is happening in our government seems like a catastrophic event in the US, but some of us had earlier hits to know the whole thing had become unstable for those not billionaires many years before the orange rock hit DC. Although why those hardest hit would elect a demolition man to office seems counter-productive. Maybe they just wanted to see a rock-slide hit everybody else, too.

February 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rock in the road. It can be physical, adding to a plot twist, or it can be metaphorical for a barrier or hardship. Go where you find the rock.

Respond by February 7, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published February 8). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Midnight Rock (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Michael knelt at the bumper, shining his flashlight. “Hell of rock you hit, Danni.”

“It was an easy target, squatting there in the middle of the road like a legless grizzly.”

Michael shined the powerful light up the canyon wall. “Can’t see anything else unstable.”

“A rock just for me.” She slumped her head on the hood. “Ike loved this truck.”

“He still does.”

“Yeah, Ike’s in some hell-hole, pining for his truck!”

“He’s enduring because of what he has back home, Danni. You, the truck, the dogs.”

“Too bad he won’t have a home to come home to.”

###

Women Create

Women Create by the Rough Writers & Friends at Carrot Ranch @Charli_MIllsWhat is the mystique of a woman if not her ability to create? A home. A family. Give her an apple, she’ll make you a pie; yarn and she’ll knit you a hat. Give her a Sharpie and she’ll make signs and march on Washington, DC to express her heart, mind and voice.

A women’s role is whatever she creates it to be. Yet she’s often faced with standards or expectations she didn’t create. Some women crave the safety of traditional roles, and others won’t stop creating new ways until the glass ceiling rains shards. Writers this week explored this vast territory of women and what, how or why they create.

The following is based on the January 26, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme, “women create.”

***

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.

###

Creation Comedy, Starring Trump, Bill Gates and Freud by Anne Goodwin

In the beginning, says God, was the Word …
In the beginning, says Bill, was Microsoft.
Ahem, Wordperfect was created long before your Word.
In the beginning, says Donald, is and was the phallus, source of power and pride. And who needs words when 140 characters can express the deepest truths.
Or lies, says Meryl (the overrated actress), and the women in their pussy-hats raise a defiant cheer. Besides, the Creator must be female; it’s She who bears the child.
As a penis substitute, says Sigmund. Born of envy.
Yours or ours? says Anna, as she confiscates his pipe.

###

Women Create by Melissa G.

Change is a constant. The action of change is something that’s always enabled personal growth and eventual peace. One mom’s journey shows how two babies inspired fierce feminism.

She read the test, it was indeed positive. She was pregnant. She was both shocked and amazed. We create babies.

Baby number one was here for six months. Baby number two would arrive in another nine months. We create unplanned babies.

Baby one and baby two are amazing. Mom is inspired to truly make this world a place where girls can do anything their little heart’s desire. We create strong children.

###

Prize Pies by Norah Colvin

“Life’s not on a plate. It’s what you create.”

Two little girls in their Sunday best

Snuck outside when they should have been at rest;

Splashed in the puddles, laughed in the rain,

Shared mud pies and murky champagne.

Two young girls with flour in their hair

Climbed on the bench from the back of a chair;

Opened up the cupboards, emptied out the shelves,

Less in the bowl and more on themselves.

Two young women watching TV

Decide master chefs are what they will be;

Enter the contest, invent new pies,

Wow the judges and win the prize.

###

Monday by C. Jai Ferry

I tried to create a feel-good dinner
but burned the onions and rice
(the carrots were still edible).
I tried to create harmony
but people-pleasing? Not my forte.
I gave up pretty quickly.
I tried to create smiles
By telling stories about my muddy dog
who has more Facebook friends than I.
I tried to create awareness
but my friends asked why my wall is so depressing.
It’s not me, I said; it’s the world.
I tried to create hope
but was trolled on Twitter.
Hope’s so trite these days.
I tried and tried.
I will create again.
Tomorrow.

###

And On The Seventh Day…by Geoff Le Pard

‘Mum, are you a feminist?’

Mary titled her head. ‘Sure. Not the burning bra sort.’

Penny pulled a face. ‘Eww. You didn’t?’

‘No but your grandma might have.’ Mary shook her head. ‘We made posters once, and hats. Your grandma loved making things.’

‘What was the protest?’

‘Nuclear weapons. Seems a long time ago. I was ten. Grandpa stopped me going but grandma went. She cooked for the campers. At her happiest doing that. Creating.’

Paul looked up. ‘She was pretty good at creating a fuss too. A pacifist but never passive.’

‘Can I get a pussy hat, then?’

###

What Women Create by Florida Borne

Proudly I raised my flag, “Feminists unite.”

A matronly woman smiled, walking over to greet me. “What did the women of Egypt in the 1950’s, Iran in the 1970’s and the USA in the 1940’s have in common?”

“They wanted equal rights?”

“They had more rights than at any other moment in their history. Those rights were taken away overnight,” she said. “Remember Mileva Marić?”

“Who?”

“Einstein’s first wife, a physicist. She deserved equal credit for his work. What women create, men will take. Until all men recognize that women are equally as important, we will never have equality.”

###

The Other Woman by Jules Paige

Butterflies? She thought of pupa, remembering pinned winged
insects at the museum. She could not create an image with a
nice nose – while waiting in the ward bed. She thought first of
mice, then of rats – She wanted to collectively sear mankind.
Grab a triptych of insufferable egotistical men and ramble
pleonasmic about their faults.

The pregnancy had been difficult. The stillbirth…cruel. Once
a mistress always a mistress? Yet…this other man, he said he
loved her with undying passion. His children became hers…
She created a new life filled with honorable love. And just a
few secrets.

###

Flash Fiction by Michael

She’s a small woman, not the type you would say stands out in a crowd but within her is a feisty energy.

I was first attracted to her passion and compassion, the way she reached out and touched the lives of so many. I don’t know how we connected as we come from opposite ends of the social and cultural spectrum but we have. She has created network of support, of encouragement and of love.

For me she showed me it is never too late to love again. I’m eternally grateful, this tiny sassy woman, created desire within me.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

She’d ruined dinner again.
No going to the takeaway this time to cover her inadequacy,
he was due home in fifteen minutes.

The scene was set for romance, candles burning seductively.
A kiss on the cheek, and a cold beer in his hand, he sat.
Wearing nothing but a smile and an apron, she lay the plate before him.
In the flickering light it looked intriguing.
He took a bite. Grimaced. Spat it out.
She bolted like a scared rabbit.
‘I’m sorry,’ she blurted. ‘I can’t cook!’
‘I know’ he said, ‘but you sure are creative in disguising it!’

###

Dana’s Song by Kerry E.B. Black

The Apocalypse destroyed Dana’s beauty as it ravaged the world, and Henry dreaded looking at her. No more diamonds danced in her eyes. Manicures gave way to peeled, raw hands, and bony-bare and charcoal-grey described her once lush, nubile figure.
She prepared the protein they pretended was beef and set it sizzling over the fire. She swiped a wisp of mousey colored, anemic hair from her wrinkled brow as she turned the meat, sprinkling it with chopped greens scavenged nearby. A sweet sound eclipsed his stomach’s growl. Her song of better days somehow brought beauty to their hideous state.

###

What Darkness Inspires by Liz Husebye Hartmann

There was little light in the cellar, but it was nothing to the darkness of the army of boot heels sinking into the bloody ground overhead.

Their families had been murdered in the homes they’d built with their bare hands, burned in fields they’d tilled with the muscle in their backs, and watered with the sweat and tears of desperate hope and determination.

They’d been purged.

They were the lucky ones, hidden underground. And because they were the lucky ones, they would squeeze out their remaining life force to start again.

Clasping one another’s hands, they bowed their heads.

###

A Bookish Woman by Bill Engleson

There is something in the way she holds the book, a ratty old 1951 Penguin edition, dust-covered, that draws me in.

“I see the way it is now,” she smiles. Her smile is etched with a twist.

“And…?” for she is deeper in thought than me.

“When Orwell says, ‘Perhaps a lunatic is simply a minority of one,’ “Well, we know who that is, don’t we?”

“We do,” I confess. “So…?”

“We build a resistance. We have no choice, love.”

My heart sinks. I am a peaceful creature. But she, she is not.

I will follow. She will lead.

###

The Rebel by Allison Maruska

I squeeze my hankie as I approach the massive cathedral. The veins in my old hands stand out, and my husband’s words echo in my mind: You’re one of the only ones left. Who else will attend the service?

I ignored him. The woman created an escape from the ghetto. Because she rebelled, I lived.

Even if I’m alone, I have to attend.

A young man opens the door for me, and I freeze at the threshold.

The foyer is packed wall-to-wall with people, families of those she saved. Smiles and tears coexist.

Because she rebelled, we all live.

###

The Idea is Everything by Sacha Black

Two things were wrong. First, the morgue was warm. Morgues aren’t meant to be warm. The second, her skin despite the heat, was cold and skin shouldn’t be cold.

I took a deep, lasting breath and bit back the tears. “You started a rebellion,” I say, brushing my fingertips over her icy hand, “and now I’ll turn it into a revolution.”

She did so much more than just organise a group of heretics. It was the idea she created that was the power behind us. The hope of freedom.

“Goodbye, Liza. I loved you in ways you never knew.”

###

Freedom by Sherri Matthews

Another. Fresh. Start. That’s what she told herself as she stared at the ceiling. More like another sleepless night she thought as she slid out of bed.

She hadn’t wanted to move again, but this was her escape, shabby, cold bedsit or not.

“Damn him and damn his lies” she said to the peeling papered walls. “He can keep the house and I’ll keep my sanity.”

She shivered and grabbed her knitting bag. At last, she could do what she wanted without him. A warm scarf first, she thought and for the first time in too long, she smiled.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Julia held court, serving Bud, Jack, and Jim to Bud, Jack, and Jim. She’d heard it all, which wasn’t much. But the rules were clear: One word of politics equaled a searing blast of Fiona Apple.

She found Hank, roughly her father’s age, eyeing her rear. “I’ve got a new drink just for you.”

“Hell no. Your last creation had me pissing stones.”

“I don’t think it was the drink, Hank.”

The bar erupted. Julia spun off, wielding objectification like a super power. She let them look. And she left each night with $300 and a girl named Guy.

###

Last Stitch by Ann Edall-Robson

Her vision was not what it used to be. Too many hours doing close work without good lighting. Back in the day, there were chores that needed her attention. At day’s end, when the house was quiet, her hands created beautiful pieces she stored in the cedar chest in the closet. Intricate, hand stitched quilts and doilies for new brides and new borns.

The elderly widow tucked the needle into the cloth. Sewing the ends in would be for tomorrow. She turned off the lamp, sitting for a moment. Her eyes closed. The hoop slipped from her frail hands.

###

The Diary by Gordon Le Pard

“Nothing, I have been wandering all day and nothing.”
She looked up from her writing, her brother was always irritated when he couldn’t get an idea for a poem.
“I am supposed to be the writer, yet you are writing. What is it?”
“Just my journal, I am writing about the trip we took across the lake, do you want to see?”
He looked, read for a moment then his eyes glazed over.
“flock, no host” he muttered.
Dorothy smiled and left to make tea. Later she returned to see him writing furiously. Looking over his shoulder she read;

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud …….”

Many scholars believe that William Wordsworth’s great poem was inspired, at least in part, by an entry in his sister Dorothy’s journal.

###

Creating Jane Eyre by Luccia Gray

“Who’s the author of this abhorrent attempt at a novel?” asked Lady Eastlake.

“Currer Bell,” replied Mrs. Mozley.

“Who on earth is he?” asked Mrs. Rigby.

“Some say he’s a woman,” said Mrs. Mozley

“Women don’t describe such coarse and shameful relationships between men and women,” snapped Lady Eastlake.

“Unless it is such a woman who has long forfeited the society of her own sex,” said Mrs. Rigby.

“It’s unchristian. We should make sure it’s banned,” suggested Mrs. Mozley. “Just in case it’s a woman’s creation. Imagine how degrading it would be for the rest of us.”

They nodded.

###

Woman Writes by Elliott Lyngreen

Yes. the same for generations. like women preparing newborn nieces.

That escalates quickly. She snaps upon getting dressed. Over shoulders. Like Waiters.

Shredded flag. Stripes separate wind. Lets remember to provide pull strings for future cabling. In the conduits.

Chimes. Winds.

She twists off the holder. grabs a shovel. Spring enters, a tidal wave of white-dark.

11 puppies Zen. 3 did not survive.

She thinks as i am the poor, tired, weak insides.

And i will never my love tell your name. Or the song she begins. Yes, them women can write. Even best, are where stories been heard.

###

Women Create (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane shifts the notebook balanced on her backpack balanced on her lap, twisting her wrist so pen meets paper.

How long since words flowed like this, since a concept glowed so brilliantly inside that she has no choice but to give it voice? She scribbles, oblivious to the lurches of the bus, other passengers brushing by, gabbing into phones, herding children.

Words flow, like the river behind a broken dam.

She pauses and looks out at the bus stop shelter just in time to see the sign, “poetryonbuses.org,” and almost laughs aloud. She feels free, and not alone.

###

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.

***

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!

***

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.

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