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Raw Literature: Death Calls Doctor Whitaker

Essay and flash fiction by Sharon R. Hill, guest writer to Carrot Ranch.

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Death Calls Dr. Whitaker was inspired by the title of a nineteenth-century death notice about an ancestor of mine. The title struck me as unique and I knew that it would make a great title for a short story. I initially did nothing with my idea nor did I know where to begin in framing the story.

History is important to me and is a dominant theme in my literary short fiction. It is a blessing to have such a rich variety of characters in family lore to draw from. For instance, my grandfather, a man I never knew, was a con-artist whose actions were countered by my salt-of-the-earth grandmother who kept the family out of poverty and made certain her children received an outstanding education. This backdrop was the basis for my story Life in Silhouette which was a difficult story to write but also cathartic. I found a means to understand and forgive by writing fiction-based-on-fact about emotional pain and physical hardship.

I have recognized that I am great at historical research but poor with organization. In recognizing this, I am transitioning to an informal outline and character sketches because I desire to become a better and more productive writer. My bellwether moment about changing my writing process came when I was trying fix a short story that I’d been working on for some time. My writing mentor explained to me that I hadn’t connected with my protagonist nor revealed his motivation. My third draft of the story also had the same foundational problem so I decided to move on and circle back to it later. Death Calls Dr. Whitaker came to mind and I decided that I would create my first flash fiction. As I began to write, the story evolved as a first-person narrative with the deathbed scene as the catalyst for the experience. Also in the back of my mind was a desire to channel Virginia Woolf because I had recently read her essay The Death of the Moth and I wondered whether I could replicate the essence of this work.

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Death Calls Doctor Whitaker

Death lingers in the bedroom where old Doctor Whitaker sleeps. It infuses the air with dread in a way that only the presence of death can. I think about opening the only window in the room that faces west with a view of the sunset. Like a child, I imagine that this will expel the threat.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock sounds the generations-old grandfather clock, the metered sound is reminiscent of tiny heartbeats. The chimes repeat six times to announce the hour, reminding the living of a bygone day.

Doctor Whitaker is held hostage in a difficult slumber and his eyelids quiver in some erratic timpani, yet they remain shut. I sit by his bed in a stubby, wing-back chair of pale-blue velvet fabric with faded wood armrests. The stiffness of the chair aids me in my duty to stay alert, as I watch for the moment that will complete the outline of a life.

With his wife long dead and the marriage childless, the responsibility of this days’ vigil has fallen to me though I barely know Dr. Whitaker. I accepted this burden because of my fondness for his housekeeper Sally who is expected at her family home today for her parent’s anniversary celebration.

In the silence of all but the ticking clock, verses from a poem lift in my memory to my consciousness “Can you say tonight in parting with the day that’s slipping fast, that you helped a single person of the many that you passed?”

I notice a worn-out leather medical bag tucked in the open square of a simple, dark-oak nightstand. A wall calendar from a Memphis mercantile with a worldwide timetable hangs above to announce the month of May in 1935. In a daydream, I envision Dr. Whitaker as a younger man jogging along an old roadway of dust in his shay offering comfort to the sick. Yet he spends what may be his final hours with a mere acquaintance, even a stranger. I wonder at the absence of visitors, including the children he helped birth and who will now be middle-aged with their own families.

I feel anxious when a pair of whippoorwills’ land on the garden fence as instinct compels their predictive chant.

A trembling left-hand begins an echo in each limb and Dr. Whitaker’s mouth begins to twitch. The thin blanket that covers him from below his neck and is tucked over his feet has shaken loose.

Dr. Whitaker’s face has an anguished expression as though he is in the throes of a struggle with an unseen foe. I understand that the foe he struggles with is time, as his strength of spirit continues the fight for life.

***

Sharon R. Hill moved from Tampa, Florida to Nashville, Tennessee ten years ago. She is a writer of literary fiction and has been published in The Wilderness House Literary Review, Indiana Voice Journal, TWJ Magazine, and The Bangalore Review. Her story Brown Tobe won TWJ Magazine Best of 2016 for fiction. Sharon enjoys using an historical backdrop to explore moral themes and the complexities of the family dynamic.

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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.

Raw Literature: I Hate Writing

According to her Goodreads bio, Dorothy Parker was: …an American writer and poet best known for her caustic wit, wisecracks, and sharp eye for 20th century urban foibles.” Among her better known quotes is one I often think about because it alludes to writers not really liking the act of writing. She caustically says of her own career, “I hate writing, I love having written.”

I do not hate writing.

You will not find me among the harvesters, breathing a sigh of relief that the work is done, the fields are empty and the yields are in. Dorothy likely said what she did as a jab because some authors like the ego-boost of a book without appreciation for the pen-work. And yet, I know how muddy writing can be.

You can be a writer and still hate elements of the job. For 11 years I had a job I loved more than any other, yet some days I loathed the stresses that came with it — competing deadlines, miscommunications, budget constraints, office politics. Do you ever feel stressed by writing?

At times I can go too deep; dive into a pool without a bottom or stay under longer than I have breath. Or I bring up scenes to the surface of the page certain they are brilliant agates only to realize as they dry they are ordinary stones in need of polish. Sometimes I write with cascading emotions in mind and it reads back flat. Mostly my writing stresses emerge with revision coupled with the fact that no matter how much book knowledge one might have about writing a novel, the experience of taking on a long-term project is all hands on keys.

I love writing. I write every day. I stare at raptors circling overhead, listen to waves crackle pebbles on shore or plunge my hands into warm dishwater and think of writing. I pre-write in my head the way a gambler might count cards. It’s ongoing, quick, automatic. Writing one WIP leads to breakthroughs on another. Forcing a 99-word paragraph to summarize an essay helps me break free of a plodding structure. I often wonder if friends cringe when I comment on Facebook because I want to write something meaningful. I’m terrible at small-talk, prefering to discuss deep perspective and share observations. I want to hear from your soul, not your shallow memes of the day.

Maybe my epitaph will read, “She has finally written.” Written is past tense, done, over. I am writing, and will do so until the day I have finally written my last breath.

The reason I’m pondering my writing is due to the introspective work of preparing literary reflections for a Michigan literary artist grant; a Zion National Park Artist in Residency; a new page at Carrot Ranch called, “Support Literary Arts;” and a near-completed Patreon. The latter I’ve been developing since February, and one of the Rough Writers has taken to nagging encouraging me to finish it. This is not easy work and could fall under the “I hate writing” category. But it’s not writing artist statements or impact essays that I don’t like; it’s my own battles with insecurity. Am I enough? No matter what the black dog might want to answer, I have to stand on affirmative ground — I am a writer. I am writing. I am enough.

Could my writing be better? You bet! We never stop improving craft. Don’t think for a moment there will come a day when rainbows fly out your fingertips and happy muses sing choruses with each page-flip of your book. Writing is grand, but writing is hard. I love to dive deep. I don’t want to have written, yet. I want to keep writing, and writing as many things as I have creative spark to craft. Completion of projects and strategy for sharing them is part of the process, but the writing, ah, the sweet writing will not stop.

A confession and a first look. Confession first — I write many projects at once and I believe it would drive other writers daffy to know my process. I began to feel self-conscious about my process, thinking maybe I was doing it “wrong.” Then I reflected on my work history and college experience. My processing pattern has been with me a long time and when I have time and space for it, I achieve spectacular results. After starting college at age 28 and taking “How to Succeed at Studies” and “Math for Dummies” classes, I graduate magna cum laude with a published honors thesis, two novels WIPS as independent studies and as co-editor of the college lit magazine. I don’t write this to boast, but to remind myself that at one point my process looked crazy because I had so many different plates spinning.

My greatest joy is that I’m writing on my own terms. If I were to focus or apply different terms, I might hate writing. And I don’t want to hate what I love.

Now for a first look at the essay that will be a part of the Support Literary Art page at Carrot Ranch. It serves a secondary purpose of providing easily grabbed content for opportunities like the Michigan grant. It’s followed by a flash fiction I wrote about the essay to show you how I often use flash in my every day writing process.

Write raw. Write on. Polish hard. Love what you do, and do what you love.

Value of Literary Art

Often we believe artistic expression flourishes in paint and piano keys. If we broaden the idea to include words as art we think of poetry.  If we consider literature, the greats come to mind: Chaucer, Hemmingway, Cather. And right now, you might be debating my opinion on “the greats.”

What is literature, and can we ever define who is in and who is out? Basically, literature is written works recognized as having important or permanent value. A writer who crafts with words and attempts repeatedly to achieve that designation of value is a literary artist. Therefore literary art is the pursuit of studying and writing literature. Raw literature results from the drafts and processes of this pursuit.

Art is subjective, and we diminish its awe with containment. We also contain artists who create to please. Why do we want to please? Most likely to be successful with our art and hopefully make a living or at least a satisfying hobby. Who wants to be the family member who “scribbles atrocious poetry” or the “weird neighbor who writes until 3 a.m.”? Therefore we contain our attempts and hide away until one magical day we think our skills finally equal our imaginations.

Artists, especially writers, can feel isolated and shut-down by containment. When we express, we feel liberated. We desire to connect to others through these literary expressions. So how do we pursue our work as literary artists and not feel contained in the process? How do we grow our rawest forms of literature, take time to develop what it is we’re creating and avoid critique too early? Literary artists need safe space to practice craft, read stories by peers and discuss progression beyond skill mastery and deconstructionism.

In the beginning, Carrot Ranch was one writer’s platform. Out of a need to connect with other literary artists, the site evolved into a dynamic literary community with participants engaging at will in weekly flash fiction challenges. Carrot Ranch is a giant virtual sandbox for writers of different genres, experiences, backgrounds, interests and countries of origin. Literary artists can jam like musicians do. It’s liberating, and the safe exploration leads to breakthroughs in personal projects, new ideas and improvement in craft technique. This is a shared literary platform.

Carrot Ranch is not an exclusive writers club, such as those focused on shared goals. Exclusivity perpetuates the isolation many literary artists experience. And large social media writers groups that include more writers to connect and share links are often too large for creatively play with words and craft. The community at Carrot Ranch serves this gap, and focuses on literary art as common ground between diverse artists.

Literary artists need safe space to play with words, craft story ideas, explore characters, describe settings, investigate research, and discover what the art has to reveal. Art only reveals itself in doing and interacting. With these raw literature attempts, 99-word nuggets of creative expression opens doors that remain closed to literary artists in isolation. It allows the literary-curious to dabble in the art for fun, or gives seasoned authors a break from intense long-term literary projects.

What does literary art look like at Carrot Ranch? It’s short-form micro-fiction, for certain. It’s playful, encouraging and provocative dialog about the art created or its process of creation. The literature at Carrot Ranch includes weekly collections of flash fiction thoughtfully arranged to express and explore a topic. It also includes the works of individuals: novels of multiple genres, short stories, essays, poetry, articles, book reviews, substantial blog posts, and creative works for educators.

The greatest value in literary art is that it opens minds to unfamiliar experiences. In a divisive world full of information, it’s the word-crafters who remind us of the humanity in it all. Literary artists inspire, agitate, reveal, imagine and reflect the good and bad within us. Literary artists give meaning to life. Consider the words John Lennon wrote:

“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

You might say literary art is the pursuit of happiness.

 Literature at Carrot Ranch (99-word Version)

Words seep from behind paint and piano keys to declare art of their own. Hemmingway achieved mastery in six words. We take stabs at the canvas 99 bits at a time. We (literary artists in chorus) defeat isolation in a sandbox, jamming like John Lennon’s friends, pursuing happiness.

Carrot Ranch, a collaboration of word wrangling to craft, explore, reveal. Safe space to write without dinosaurs deconstructing early efforts or long-hidden chapters. A place where words wriggle free to crawl among brain folds, loosening shadows to dawn’s first light. Where teachers learn from 5-year olds what universal truth could be.

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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.

 

Raw Literature: Variations Within Memoir

Essay by Irene Waters, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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This writing is raw. Most of my writing that you may have seen to date is raw. By that I mean it is uncooked, the first draft without changes and alterations. The grammar may be imperfect, it may have spelling mistakes, it may be lacking in description and there may be the odd inconsistency. It is done quickly, allowing creativity to flow unimpeded. Blogging raw I find helpful in the creative process. I don’t spend a lot of time on the posts but it kickstarts the flow of ideas, allowing work that I plan on editing and re-editing – cooking  it and processing it – to be written to the page.

For a memoir writer there are a couple of other types of raw writing. The first is a type I rarely do and for some, including one of my thesis examiners, my writing is not raw enough. Some think that memoir should be an open cut, exposing bleeding wounds and laying open the scars for all to pick at. Certainly some types of memoir call for this. The misery memoir is a good example. A few memoirs in this group are Mary Karr’s and Frank McCourt’s three books. Although I am now tackling a memoir that will have this type of raw writing, my previous two memoirs have been written purely for the story where true life adventures are related.

In memoir there should also be a distinction between what is private and what is public knowledge. Whilst maintaining honesty the memoir writer should sift through the raw material and decide what belongs purely in a diary and what can be shared with the world. Elizabeth Gilbert said of her memoir Eat Pray Love that it was so finely tuned (no longer raw) that the reader doesn’t get a sense of her. She is unrecognisable. She said that if you wanted to know her, read her fiction work as there, believing that she was anonymous, she did not censor her writing and to her surprise found that more of her showed through in it than in her memoir.

Another type of raw that the memoir writer needs to be aware of and avoid is writing when the emotions are still raw. The passage of time is essential to enable the episode to be viewed dispassionately. The others in the memoir must be treated ethically – for when you write a memoir you also write someone else’s biography. If you write with raw emotion (useful as a therapeutic tool but not for publication) the purpose for writing is often slanted, and may be judgemental, a desire to hurt someone, to pay them back and this may not reflect well on the writer. Rather than sit in judgement, time allows the memoirist to write in a sensitive manner that will show the reader, through the actions of the characters, what manner of person they are.

For me, memoir is the making of identity. Without memoir, such as when a person is suffering from dementia, the person’s identity fades with the worsening of the condition and eventually is lost to them and kept alive only by others who can tell their stories. Depending on what you tell will depend on the identity you give yourself. But I digress from raw literature.

To conclude I will give an example of raw literature from the first draft of my manuscript Nightmare in Paradise.

My fear as to what I might find on arrival at the volcano overrode the abject terror I normally experienced every time I travelled the road over the mountain to the other side.  It is also the only time I had been over that stretch of road at speeds far exceeding that which would guarantee a safe arrival at the other end.  My head was spinning. Had I brought sufficient equipment with me to deal with anything I might find? What might I find? It just couldn’t be true.

After editing this passage is no longer raw although I feel as though it has more rawness. It gives, I hope, the reader an idea of what travelling to the volcano was like the night one of our tourists, along with a local guide, was killed by a lump of lava from the volcano.

The troop carrier sliced through the dark heat of the night as it sped, at speeds none would attempt in daylight, towards the volcano. I knew I was with other people but apart from Jim, the owner of Tanna Beach Resort I had no idea who was riding in the back with me. No-one spoke, everybody lost in their own thoughts. Mine were a nightmare. A nightmare that allowed the terror I normally felt when negotiating the sharp hairpin bends over the steep mountainside to remain hidden. The visions in my mind were vivid, in full red colour, whilst the reality of where I sat was grey, as though a mist had descended obscuring the others who sat with me.

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Irene Waters blogs at Reflections and Nightmares where she focuses on photography and writing challenges. She has written a memoir Nightmare in Paradise which she hopes to publish in 2017. As a memoirist she found that there was little scholarly scrutiny on the sequel memoir. She carried out research on this subject gaining her Master of Arts in 2017. This also saw the completion of her second manuscript. She is now working on a novel way of writing raw memoir.

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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.

 

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Raw Literature: The Power of Words

Essay by C. Jai Ferry, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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The process of writing is unique to each writer, but the longer I write, the more I realize that many readers have no understanding of the writing process in general—which for the most part, I am perfectly fine with. I’ll be honest, I kind of like being perceived as a magician who strings together words that pack an emotional punch. Something that feels so natural to me (although far from easy) awes and (hopefully) inspires many of my readers, and that is an incredibly euphoric realization.

But like I said, not all readers understand that creating a story is a process. I was reminded of this recently when a friend accused me of stealing her family’s stories for my own personal gain.

After the initial shock and anger wore off, I was somewhat amused by the accusation. Anyone who knows my writing style and the areas I tend to explore in my writing would probably agree that being the subject of my stories is not a good thing—certainly something you would never admit to! Many of the people important to me won’t even read my work. My writing partner is incredibly supportive of all of my writing efforts, but she has clearly defined rules for what she will and will not read from me. More often than not, a story falls in the latter category. My brother also supports my writing in ways that truly humble me, but he has made it crystal clear to me and his quickly-becoming-adult daughters that they will not read my stories. Ever. Friends on social media block my writing-related posts and even unfollow me altogether.

As much as such reactions hurt and frustrate me, I totally understand these actions. I write about things happening in our world that most people don’t want to—or can’t—think about. I tend to put a sympathetic face on evil—not because I promote evil, but because there’s some dangerous stuff happening in our own backyards (and sometimes in our own living rooms), but many people choose not to see these things, pretending they happen somewhere else, affect someone else, are carried out by someone else. This is a mentality that I genuinely abhor, so when I write, I often am reacting to my own disgust and frustration: How can you let this happen? Yes, you. You let it happen day in and day out by refusing to even consider that it could be happening right in front of you!

So when a friend says I stole her family’s story, I take the accusation seriously as a writer and as a human being. The story in question tackled a less scary issue, but the main character was dealing with more than a few issues, which were subtly woven in through the storyline: spousal abuse, PTSD, debilitating fear causing him to act out in dangerous ways. I tried to reassure my friend that the story was not taken from a few episodes that she shared about her family (episodes that had none of those issues from the story, by the way) and in fact had been written several days before we even got together and discussed these issues. I hoped that if she could understand my writing process, she would see that the story triggered such a strong reaction in her because of what her family was dealing with, not because of the words I had strung together on the page.

Unfortunately, that part of the situation does not have a happy ending. She and I are no longer friends, and I doubt we ever will be able to be in the same room together much less talk to one another. But I did learn something valuable from this entire experience:

I’m a damn good writer.

I wrote a 99-word story in response to a one-word prompt that evoked an incredibly strong reaction in a reader. No, it was not the reaction I wanted, but as writers, we don’t have the luxury of telling readers how they must react. We hope they will react a certain way, we envision them having the same reaction to our words that we might have had while writing them, but ultimately their reaction is theirs alone to have. And that reminds me of a maxim often bantered around the writing groups:

Writing is a lonely profession.

I have most often heard this said in reference to the writing process (e.g., locked away at our writing desks for months at a time), but the more I write, the more I believe that some writers become ostracized by friends and family because of what they write. Readers often think erotica authors are having sex all the time, so writers who focus on darkness and horror must be demented in some way, right? (Just to clarify, that’s sarcasm.) What about authors who demonstrate their power by making unsavory characters sympathetic in some way? Did Nabokov feel isolated and alone, ostracized even, after writing Lolita? He certainly struggled with his decision to seek publication, fearing he might lose his friends and even his job if his name was attached to it, but he ultimately did submit it for publication—and continued to do so when publisher after publisher rejected it.

We’re writers, magicians with words, and although the spells we cast may not always produce the expected effect, that shouldn’t stop us from writing and sharing the result. Indeed, it can’t stop us.

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C. Jai Ferry grew up in a small rural town in one of those middle states between New York and Los Angeles. She put together her first book of poetry, complete with a lime green cover, for a class assignment in fifth grade. Today, she focuses on short stories with narrators who are often described as brutally honest and who likely need some form of professional help.

Her most recent collection of microfiction, “Unraveled,” earned a 5-star review from Readers’ Favorites, and her award-winning short story “Skeleton Dance” was made into a short noir film that was chosen by the Prairie Lights Film Festival for its Nebraska Noir anthology project. To learn more about her publications, get a free collection of short stories by signing up for her newsletter, and read her (more or less) weekly musings and stories, visit www.cjaiferry.com.

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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.

Raw Literature: Seasonal Summary #4

No matter where you are in the world, seasons hold a certain cadence. It might reflect work patterns or lifestyle; weather or crops; and even a season of writing. Whether or not you are at the beach with a good book, eating strawberries freshly plucked, or tapping the keys in a windowless nook, take time time to catch up on the Raw Literature guest essays at Carrot Ranch.

In this round up of essays, you will enjoy some visual creativity, discover newly published works, experience the weather and possibly develop a craving for cake and milk. Our essayists range from Poland to South Africa to England to Canada to the US. Raw literature knows no boundaries.

Raw from California Past: Charli Mills Imagines the Weather’s Impact. This is from my own pen, in response to the interesting memoir prompt hosted by Irene Waters in Times Past. Writing raw, I dug into memories of California weather to recreate the lives of historic figures in a trio of 99-word stories.

Raw from Poland: Art and Literature in the Raw by Urzula Humienik. While many writers visualize their characters, this novelist creates visual art as her characters. Urzula explains why she pursued a degree in art to expand her passion for literature. She writes, “There seems to be an interwoven connection in my mind between art and literature, and it’s possible I’m not the only one.” Her original artwork from current characters are included.

Raw from the East Coast: Sarah Brentyn is a Writer Unplugged. A master of brevity, Sarah writes from the raw center that marks her style. With a new book out, Hinting at Shadows, Sarah explores her process and awe for “raw.” She writes, “This tiny three-letter word is like a super hero. I’m a word nerd and I love that this petite power house can describe so many items, objects, and states.”

Raw from England: Anne Goodwin Goes Underneath. Crafting fiction from raw concept to publication ready is becoming second nature to Anne. In fact, she’s recently launched her second novel, Underneath, how one man decides to make use of his cellar. In her essay, Anne considers her obsession with stairs as a reoccurring theme in her writing. She writes, “In my novels, stairs symbolise the transition from one state to another, and possibly back again.”

Raw from Canada: Casia Shreyer Gives an Interview. With a new anthology published by Shreyer Ink Publishing, Casia answers questions about her creative process and working with other writers to develop collaborative works from raw literature. The theme is that of tolerance. “Everywhere we look people are grappling with the idea of tolerance and acceptance, weighing it against theology and tradition and their other personal values.”

Raw from Northeastern US: Lit Like Raw Milk by D. Avery. Long in the saddle and new on the scene at Carrot Ranch, D. Avery is making cream at the top of raw literature. The author of two books of poetry, Chicken Shift and For the Girls, D. reflects on memories of milk as a child. She writes about her recent experience writing with the literary community at the ranch, “The writing that is gathered there is rich and flavorful, like raw milk. It is filled with associations and connections, showing evidence of its origins and of its journeys.”

Raw from South Africa: Baking, Writing and Children by Robbie Cheadle. An interest in baking leads to one of writing and it’s a family journey with mother and son, Robbie and Michael. Both have expansive imaginations and now they are published. Robbie writes, “This original idea of Michael slowly developed into the Sir Chocolate series of books that exists today. We have written ten books, three of which are currently published.”

Cheers to whatever season may find you. May you live and write raw from the heart, from your deepest parts to your highest aspirations.

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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.

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Raw Literature: Baking, Writing and Children

Essay by Robbie Cheadle, Friend of Carrot Ranch

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My love of baking and writing both stemmed from attempts to do the best I could for my two boys. When Gregory was born, I decided that I wanted him to have as healthy and preservative free a diet as I could possibly manage. That was when I started baking as this was the best way I could think of to ensure that he didn’t eat a whole lot of unhealthy additives in biscuits, cakes, pies and other baked goods. It might seem to some people that I would have done better to steer clear of these [delightful] foods altogether. I, however, believe that if you try to take these sorts of treats away from your children they will find a way to partake of far worse sweet items [like fizzers] behind your back. If you can’t beat them, join them and do it your way.

My first major attempt at baking something more impressive took the form of Gregory’s first birthday cake. I made a Winnie the Pooh cake using a cake mould that I hired from our local baking store. This venture took me the entire day before the party and I did make a few small mistakes. I made a double cake mixture for starters and soon discovered that this was far too much for my single cake mixture cake tin. I didn’t want to waste so spend a good hour making cupcakes with the rest of the cake mixture. My attempt at red butter icing was a bit of a bright pink failure but, fortunately, the one year old Greg was not unduly fussy about colours. Last but not least, I iced the cake on the plastic lid of a large Tupperware box. Once iced with rows and rows of butter icing stars, there was no way I could move the cake off the lid without damaging the icing. I surrounded the cake with the cupcakes, iced with the left over butter icing, and served it like that. Luckily, most parents of one year old children are far too busy surviving to notice little details like that.

From this illustrious start, my baking developed. Greg turned out to be a very avid assistant. He was happy to stand for at least 30 minutes sloshing the dirty dishes around in a sink full of washing up water. He would join in the baking by licking out the bowl and, frequently, upending it on his head thereby necessitating an immediate bath and hair wash.

When Michael was born two years later, he also swiftly took to the world of baking [and eating]. Michael’s interest in baking and cooking has continued and he will often make pancakes or French toast for breakfast and will participate in making stews, dumplings and curries with his father or my Mother. I like to share the pleasure of cooking so I am happy for my Mother and husband to dominate the everyday meal space if they want to [they apparently do want to!]

Some of the birthday cakes and food the boys and I have made over the years are as follows:

Star Wars

Minecraft

When Michael was six years old and started school, he was diagnosed with a processing learning barrier. This meant that Michael struggled with reading speed and, particularly, with writing. I knew that Michael had an amazing imagination and loved to make up sweet stories. His favourite made up characters were Mr Chocolate and Mr Sweet. This fun pair lived in Chocolate Land where everything was edible, including the trees and the flowers.

This original idea of Michael slowly developed into the Sir Chocolate series of books that exists today. We have written ten books, three of which are currently published.

Set out below are some pictures of Michael’s original writing and drawings that ultimately became Sir Chocolate and the strawberry cream berries story and cookbook.

We have kept the books as close to Michael’s original concept as possible. I re-wrote his ideas into rhyming verse and we, over time, we started making the illustrations out of fondant. My brother-in-law gave us the idea of adding the family recipes and that is how the books, in their current form, were born.

***

Robbie Cheadle was born in London in the United Kingdom. Her father died when she was three months old and her mother immigrated to South Africa with her tiny baby girl. Robbie has lived in Johannesburg, George and Cape Town in South Africa and attended fourteen different schools. This gave her lots of opportunities to meet new people and learn lots of social skills as she was frequently “the new girl”.

Robbie is a qualified Chartered Accountant and specialises in corporate finance with a specific interest in listed entities and stock markets. Robbie has written a number of publications on listing equities and debt instruments in Africa and foreign direct investment into Africa.

Robbie is married to Terence Cheadle and they have two lovely boys, Gregory and Michael. Michael (aged 11) is the co-author of the Sir Chocolate series of books and attends school in Johannesburg. Gregory (aged 14) is an avid reader and assists Robbie and Michael with filming and editing their YouTube videos and editing their books. Robbie is also the author of the new Silly Willy series the first of which, Silly Willy goes to Cape Town, will be available in early July 2017.

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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.

 

Raw Literature: Got Lit? Try It Raw

Essay by D. Avery, prolific Ranch Hand, rowdy Range Writer and author of “Chicken Shift” and “For the Girls.”

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Menus now have asterisked warnings regarding the consumption of underdone meat or fish. Raw usually comes with a warning. What about literature? Is underdone the opposite of done well? That is the question that gets rarefied consideration at Carrot Ranch. The consensus seems to be that some like it raw, despite the risks.

Every week at Carrot Ranch Charli Mills presents a flash fiction challenge, the prompt having bubbled up from her experiences and musings on her “enchanted” life. Just as she makes the most of her situation, we make the most of the prompts and “go where it leads”. Though all my responses have been fiction, I have often been led back home by these prompts to get inspiration. And as I read the essays on raw literature and try to mull over that concept, I am again led back to a time when rare meat was not questioned and when you could still get raw milk.

A half-mile up the dirt road, our nearest neighbors kept a milk cow in addition to the beef steer that most of us kept, a friendly little Jersey who produced more than they could consume. So I would walk with the dollar in my pocket and an empty glass gallon jug to exchange for a full jug of raw milk.

Drinking raw milk was an acquired taste, and friends that were only used to store-bought milk generally were skeptical, having to be dared to drink up, especially if they imagined seeing a cow hair or two. Their homogenized, pasteurized milk paled in comparison; in color, in taste, and in associations. This raw milk was not the paper white of modern homogenized milk; it was a light cream color, yellowish. It settled into rich strata with the thick cream rising to the top. Occasionally we made butter. Usually we just shook the jug vigorously to mix up the layers before pouring a glass of frothy headed milk. And if there was hair on the glass, it didn’t matter, it was from a creature that I knew fairly well; I knew her being milked, patiently chewing her feed, switching her tail as Ken, using colorful language in soothing tones, squeezed and talked, the pail steadied between his feet gradually filling as he filled my head with his stories.

My milk route was a road cradled by woods with stories to tell too, stories of long ago times still marked by old stone walls and cellar holes from when all was field and farmland. In early summer I would be distracted by roadside toads or newts and the muddied condensation on the bottom of the jug in our fridge showed that I had set it down in the gravel dust to watch them for a bit. In the winter I would slide down the hill that began the walk then use the sled to transport the milk on the return trip. I monitored the milk levels of the jug in our fridge, noting when I might make the trip again.

Now I make a weekly trip to Carrot Ranch. The writing that is gathered there is rich and flavorful, like raw milk. It is filled with associations and connections, showing evidence of its origins and of its journeys. It is not a pale, thin, over-processed liquid in standardized opaque plastic containers, overstocked on refrigerated shelves. And if it’s raw, perhaps underdone, that’s far more filling than undone. The whole experience of writing and reading at the Ranch is nourishing and enriching, from gathering and consuming and to simply sharing our raw products with each other. Raise your glass.

***

D Avery

D. Avery has long been a compulsive poet. Despite a very important day job educating public school children, she is often distracted by this compulsion, as well as by life’s great questions, such as “Kayak, or bike?” Influenced by sights and smells observed from the bike saddle, her first book of poems, Chicken Shift, began as tales of roadkill, but developed into a philosophical inquiry and explanation of why chickens cross roads. Her second book of poetry, For the Girls, was the result of over exposure to breast cancer.

Recently, D. Avery simultaneously discovered the internet and flash fiction, and is using both to flex her writing muscle. Her debut blog, Shiftnshake, has not yet catapulted her into literary renown. Follow her on Amazon.com and Twitter @DSlaytonAvery.

<<♦>>

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.

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