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Times Past: Themes and Focus

By Irene Waters

Although memoir is a true story of a particular part of your life, it must still have structure if you intend for others to read it. Firstly you have to decide what is the story that you want to tell. For most memoir writers it will be the most exciting, heart-pounding, significant time of their lives. For some, this may be their childhood to their coming of age (known as a bildungsroman) whilst for others, it may be an illness, an experience that happens later in life or it could be the relationship you had with a particular animal or a business venture you had undertaken. In reality – it can be any theme you choose. These days there are even immersion memoirs where a person will undertake some task or live amongst, e.g. footballers, for months and then write a memoir on this experience. For most of us, we know our story, and we know what has had the most impact on us, and that is what we decide to write about. For me – it was when my husband and I, as newlyweds, went into partnership with the paramount chief of an exotic island in the Pacific in the running of a small resort and tour business.

Early in the writing process you also need to decide for whom you are writing. Is your audience only yourself, your family or are you planning to publish and sell your memoir to the public. When I started writing my memoir the plan was that it was being written for my family. I included detail that interested them as they knew the friend that helped us load a pile of timber into a container that was eventually to be the house we built on the remote island. As I ventured further into the story my focus changed and I decided that this was a story that had wider appeal than just my loved ones. However, this change meant that the chapters I had already written had to rewritten to remove information that no-one, other than my family and friends, would have much if any interest in knowing. If, however, you are writing for your family then lots of detail about the family will be of interest to that readership. Early in my blogging I came across a chap that had published his memoir. I purchased it on Amazon only to find that this was a story that had been written for the family and had little appeal to the wider audience. It may have been worthy of some blogging of the more interesting aspects but I don’t think it should never have been put up for sale to the public without a lot of editing. If you are writing just for yourself then you can be free with details of a personal nature that might be therapeutic for you to acknowledge but should never be let into the public domain.

Having decided on a theme and a focus the writing begins. How you do this is an individual choice. Some people free write their first draft, just putting down all thoughts on paper. In the second draft, they add the structure. Personally, I write in a structured way from the start, but in second drafts I may change my starting point. Lee Gutkind, the father of creative nonfiction, suggests that you should open with a scene as it is crucial to draw the reader into the narrative immediately. Scenes are active. They show instead of tell and have dialogue and high definition scenes. Scenes and reflections on the effect that this has had on the author’s life should be put into the structure of the book. Again, this can be done in numerous ways either intermingled or set apart from each other.

Once the first draft has been written it should be re-read looking for the themes, focus, scenes, and reflection. If part of the narrative has nothing to do with the theme, even if it is a great story, get rid of it. If it doesn’t suit the focus, edit so that it does. Rewrite to create scenes where necessary and add reflection where there is none.

I would also suggest, as has Stephen King, Lee Gutkind, and many others, that reading memoirs that are of a similar theme to your own is a helpful exercise. Doing so allows you to see what works and what doesn’t work regarding structure. Sometimes the ones you don’t enjoy teach you more than those that you think are fantastic. Analyse what works and what doesn’t work. Reading is also useful when it comes to selling your book to a publisher as they will want to know – where on the bookshelf would this sit? Be able to tell the publisher who your memoir will appeal to. Mine will appeal to those that like travel memoirs, true-life adventure, small business and those wanting to make a change in their life. Knowing the themes and the focus will tighten your writing. I’m looking forward to joining in the discussion on your views of themes and focus.

The prompt for this month’s Times Past is a little different to those normally given. This month I am asking you to reflect on the biggest change in your lifetime. This can be a social change or a technological one or even one of both. Please join in giving your location at the time of your memory and your generation. An explanation of the generations and the purpose of the prompts along with conditions for joining in can be seen at the Times Past Page. Join in either in the comments or by creating your own post and linking. Looking forward to your memories.

Raw Literature: Young Sung Hero

Raw Literature posts as 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.

We welcome a university student to Raw Literature this week. He’s working on his master’s degree in creative writing and explains how he came to write the following short fiction and why.

The Best Days of Their Lives? by YoungLee Giles

Charlie was sat on the floor with his arms wrapped tightly around his knees. He took a long, slow, inhale but continued to shake like someone who’d just been pulled out of a frozen lake. The girl sat next to him was whispering the lord’s prayer, her words sounded distorted, as if they were coming from the mouth of Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Her prayer was silenced as more gunshots smashed into juvenile innocence trapped outside. Terrified screams ran down the hallway desperately trying to escape the indefensible. There would be no detention for running down the corridor ever again.

‘This morning I told my mum I hated her.’ Luke Noonum the hardest boy in the school covered his face with both hands but his vulnerability had nowhere to hide.

Charlie’s world churned eternal regret. His tears were sincere but too late.

‘The police will come soon.’ Mr Smart head of year ten wasn’t convincing, his words were pale and insignificant.

Charlie looked around the room, a faint glimmer of hope hidden amongst tearful sobs was rapidly fading.

Outside more gunshots violently consumed the void. Charlie could hear the loud thud of broken dreams hitting the floor. A long, spray of automatic gunfire was replaced by a deathly silence and the sound of footsteps approaching. The young girl sat next to Charlie grabbed his hand and squeezed it tight. Her nails dug into his skin. The door to the boiler room started to open and darkness replaced the light.

###

I wrote my short story in one take, immediately after reading yet another a horrific newspaper article about a school shooting. I started thinking about the children, what would go through their minds? As a child, death is an abstract concept, when a child knows death is imminent, how do they make sense of it?

When I read about a school shooting, it keeps me awake at night and really gets under my skin. I’m left with an array of uncomfortable questions which I can seldom answer. I believe it’s important that we continue to ask ourselves questions, and never become desensitized regardless of how often they happen.

I thought about the child shooter. It’s natural to automatically label him or her evil or someone with mental health issues. To try and neatly tie things ups by saying the killer had mental health issues is just plain lazy. If I were to develop this short story into something more, I’d like to explore the killer’s mind and his background. To humanise the killer would make the story even more chilling.

Many stories that I write are ones that find me, awake me and force me to pick over uncomfortable questions. I want to delve deeply into the subject matter and force the reader to ask themselves their own questions and to achieve an emotional response, to move, unsettle and at times upset. I’d rather tackle a strong, emotive subject like this rather than something straightforward that ends with a happy conclusion.

I’m currently studying for a master’s degree in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University in England. For this semesters script and novel module, I must come up with an idea for a short script. After writing this story, I developed it into a script for radio drama. In doing this, I was able to give each character a strong identity and some background information on the killer. I’m quite happy with the result and might submit it to the BBC.

Much of my work is of a dark, realistic nature. Some would say I’ve lived an unconventional life. I’ve lived much of it in a darknet type reality, and this has shaped my writing. I lived in Mozambique during the civil war and witnessed many horrific things. I was only 17 years old and my years in Africa had a profound effect on me.

After my African adventure, I bought a one-way ticket to the South of Spain and somehow ended up living with an old hippy (who was also a big hashish dealer) on the island of Ibiza. When I returned to England, I became a part of the acid house generation, dancing in fields and warehouses across the country. I became a drug dealer and fell into an illicit lifestyle and was lucky not to end up in prison. Several years later I moved to London and enrolled at Middlesex University. To support myself, as well as dealing drugs, I put on club nights for students and accidentally became a DJ. I became a fairly successful DJ playing around London and being flown around the world. I worked with fashion designers, putting music to their shows during London fashion week, I was the music director for a French play called Bintoe and produced music under the name Ok_Ma, putting out several releases on different record labels as well as making music for television. I always wrote, but mainly music-based material for music magazines. I worked for a few magazines and somehow became an editor of a small magazine called Ecentral which focused on the area of Shoreditch London, but it didn’t last long as the magazine folded due to financial troubles.

In between my DJing and other activities I wrote a 60-thousand-word novel but trashed it due to my insecurities.

As my DJing continued to take off so did my drug use, I had no idea that I was an addict. To me, an addict was someone on the street stealing to buy their drugs. I lived in a nice house, wore designer clothes and drove a flashy car, but I was no different from the scruffy man panhandling. Inside I was dying. Firstly cocaine then came heroin. After about fifteen years of daily use and trying to keep a respectable face on, my life came crashing down, I lost everything and ended up in rehab. I got clean, relapsed, got clean, relapsed.

Eventually, I ended up in a rehab for 8 months and was able to address many deep issues. Whilst there I wrote a novel about a person who ends up in strange rehab. A publisher read it and wanted to publish, but I’ve now realised it’s not ready so am using it for various university assignments where I can edit and improve.

When I came out of rehab, I enrolled to do a master’s degree in creative writing. After a few months at university, I relapsed once more and ended up in a detox unit which was housed in a mental health ward. In there I wrote every day as it was an extreme place but writing gold. I witnessed many bizarre, violent, scary and strange events and I wrote about every one of them. Luckily, I was able to keep up with my studies, and today I’m clean and working hard at my deadlines. I left school with no qualifications (I went to college to get them), so to be doing a master’s degree is unbelievable.

A chapter of my book is being published in May in a university book called Matter, a collection of creative works from the writer’s of Sheffield Hallam University.

Recently I’ve also found a memory stick containing the first novel I wrote and lots of writing that my father did before he died. He was in the special forces and worked around the world, some jobs were somewhat semi-legal. I’m currently looking at editing his journey from Seoul, Korea to London England in the 50’s as I think I can make it into an interesting story.

If I can stay well, I’m confident that my future can be an interesting one. You can read the first draft of my book here. Also on the link is an audio of my first chapter voice by English actor Terry Burns.

Raw Literature: Writing the Other

By Pete Fanning

We’ve all heard the old cliché about how a character “speaks” to an author? It happened to me a few years ago. This young girl popped into my head with a story. She was good company, persistent, too. She went on for about a month until one day I sat down and began writing what would become her story.

Now, this girl, she happened to be a person of color. And if you check my bio, you’ll quickly see that I’m a run-of-the-mill white guy, closing in on middle age. We’re talking, wears-cut-off-shorts-and-black-socks-to-cut-the-lawn. SPF 50 on the nose, kind of guy. But none of that mattered when I set out to write this thing. I can honestly say it never once occurred to me that it might be odd, me writing from the first-person perspective of a twelve-year-old black girl.

Maybe it’s because I hate to plot. Outlines for me are like creativity killers. And speaking of killers, people write from the perspective of serial killers so why did it matter? Okay, where was I going with this? Oh yeah, it does matter.

So I wrote a story about this old curmudgeonly blues player and this young girl, Nita Simmons. Even in the roughest—or rawest—drafts, I was aware enough to avoid stereotypes. No Ebonics or broken English for Nita. In fact, being so tip-toe careful to avoid stereotypes, I went the other route, and Nita became this gifted, straight-A student. A case-cracking superhero.

Reading through those first drafts, it was clear. In not wanting Nita to be a stereotype, I’d done something just as bad, or worse: I’d made her perfect.

And where’s the fun in that?

I dove back in, peeling the layers to the real Nita. The Nita in my head was a normal girl with normal problems. She was self-conscious, stubborn, she doubted herself and fought with her mother. She was still a gifted writer but shaky at math. And being a budding teenager, she was a know-it-all at times, terrified by the world around her at others. And she was gullible. She fell for the stories the old man told her. And it was through the stories that a friendship formed. After all, friendship—not race, was the heart of my story.

And because I write in frantic sparks of inspiration, always in haste, like an idea might slip away if I don’t get it down, it took multiple drafts for the Nita on the page match the Nita in my head. I worked at this story for over a year. I combed over every word and submerged myself into this world I’d created. I bought a guitar and taught myself some old blues standards. I’m awful, but I can pluck some chords now.

I’m no Harper Lee, but Nita is my Scout. I root for her every step of the way. I listen to podcasts, study black history and devour middle-grade books. I’ve read my share of Life Magazines. I fell in love with my characters.

Here was the original query.

Putting yourself out there can be tricky. Whether you’re 12 or 72, headed to a new school for smart kids, or strumming up the courage to play the blues in front of a crowd. Such is the case for Nita Simmons and Earl Melvin, two friends too stubborn to quit on each other.

After a disastrous day at school, the last thing Nita wants to do is solve the puzzle that is her neighbor, Mr. Earl Melvin. People say he’s crazy, that he once tried to burn down the city library. But something in that sturdy voice of his grabs her, and after a second encounter her fear gives way to curiosity. From there the unlikeliest of friendships takes hold.

Mr. Melvin regales Nita with tales of protests and sit-ins. How he marched against segregated schools and lunch counters. His stories are magical and inspiring, his cooking unmatched, and his guitar playing is the truest thing she’s ever heard. Nita decides that old man did all those things, then she can deal with school. But when she stumbles upon a discovery—one that threatens to prove everyone right about Mr. Melvin all along—Nita’s left with a decision to make: leave the old man in the past or drag him into the future.

Not perfect, but it worked. I got some bites. I think I queried over fifty agents. I don’t recall the exact number, but I received somewhere in the neighborhood of ten full requests and five or six partials. Not bad, I’m told.

But in all my research, in all my writing and revising, I completely missed something else entirely. Something big. Something raw.

As the agents got back to me, some were short and sweet in their rejection, and others came with some editorial advice. A few I never got back. Then, I got all the feedback I needed.

Here is a sample of what she passed along (as she passed on the story).

First, the good:

Hi Pete,

Your story intrigues me and I think you do a good job with the middle grade voice here. I really like the interactions between the characters, Earnest and Nita specifically, as well as Mrs. Womack and Nita, and of course, Mr. Melvin and Nita. You develop these nicely.

And then:

To write such a story, an editor will prefer you belong to the ethnic race of the primary characters. This story speaks to so many significant moments and people of the African American experience so, ensuring this is accurate is essential. But even more important, because you utilize first person when writing this text, Nita specifically, an editor will question your validity to do so.

Two things. I’m not saying the writing was perfect. It wasn’t. And let me make it clear that I’m one hundred percent in favor and support the #ownvoices movement. It’s great, a crucial tool in getting diverse books in the hands of kids who need them. Publishers want books about people of color written by people of color. Because think about it. How authentic is it going to look to find this book, with a black cast of characters, only to see some blue sock wearing, lawn mowing white guy on the cover jacket?  (I suppose I could ditch the socks).

But damn.

Rejection sucks. It hurts. And yes, it is personal. After spending so much time with a story and its characters and every single time it gets requested you feel like you could just march up a staircase to the clouds. And each time it gets rejected it feels like being knocked back a few steps. But I always hit the ground running. Until that last one, that one stopped me cold.

It was like a funeral, knowing it was the end of the road. Sounds dramatic, sure, then again, I do write fiction. After that last rejection, there was a new voice in my head (my poor wife), a suggestion to change the characters. Simply make Nita white.

I guess that’s on the table. But to me, it’s absurd to whitewash my main character in the name of diversity. So I’ve retired the story. Because Nita is Nita. And I still have control over that.

I’ve written a few novels since this one. One has gotten some requests, while another is getting closer to querying. And I don’t regret writing Nita’s story. I can’t help who spoke to me (pause here to acknowledge blatant cliché usage), or what characters emerged in my head. They’re mine. And if I could do it over, yep, I’d write it again. After all, I write for me first. In fact, I have, but that’s for another post.

Rejection is tough just one time, it starts to wear on you after a while. But those hours I spent getting lost in Nita’s world? In Mr. Melvin’s world? In their relationship? I think it was worth it.

I started and finished a project. I submerged myself in race relations and its ugly background (even as I ignored its current climate) and came out a better writer and person for it. And hey, maybe most importantly, I can play the blues on guitar.

So it wasn’t all for nothing.

Times Past: Conversations

By Charli Mills, Generation X, Rural US

Television killed the conversation. That’s how I think of “family” dinners growing up. As an only child in rural northern California, my parents didn’t converse at dinner. Instead, my mother prepared the meal on tv trays, and we watch Laverne & Shirley, MASH, or Benny Hill — whatever the three networks televised between 6 and 7 pm.

Conversations happened elsewhere and involved other people. Often, late at night after a search-and-rescue call (my father was a volunteer) several deputies and other volunteers would converse around the kitchen table we never used for dinner. From my bedroom, I could hear the adults talk, and some of the harrowing stories they’d tell.

Coming from a story-telling culture, I grew up listening. Even now, I consider myself to be a story-catcher. However, I never really learned the art of conversation among non-story-tellers. I always enjoy meeting other story-tellers because we swap stories in a dynamic of your story/my story give and take. I’ve noticed that as more and more screens dominate our lives, we tell fewer stories and have less time for conversation.

When I met the Hub, I spent that first evening with him and his friends, listening to their stories. We laughed, and the camaraderie shared through stories enveloped us all that night.  Often, I judge the quality of stories told as to whether or not I’m going to connect with this person. I liked his stories, a lot! Over 30 years, we’ve made our own stories.

And I think that’s what I miss, our narrative sharing, our personal conversations. The Hub suffers from a diminished focus. He tests in the one percentile, meaning 99 percent of his peers can out-focus him. One way he compensates is to tell remembered stories — it’s like living in the past.

Conversation is awkward because he can only follow so far. New stories get mixed up because he doesn’t get the details right. By the third detail of a story I’m trying to share with him, he’s gone elsewhere. Focus leaves, zooming in an out on unrelated information, and I feel unheard.  I also feel like he has nothing to new to say. It’s a frustrating place to be, especially when his memory is actually sharp.

He remembers, but focuses on the past I want to get beyond. He can’t focus on the future, and planning causes anxiety because he can’t do it. It’s almost like being time travelers who can’t share the moment, always somewhere different on the timeline of life. And the Hub is migrating toward a different screen. He plays Solitaire because it helps reset his brain after an anxious episode.

Conversations seem to get sucked into the vortex of screens in modern times. Give me a good campfire, and people willing to sit around it and tell stories and dream of the future.

This post is in response to Irene Waters’ Time Past memoir prompt and reflection on generation and geo-location. Leave a reply or link to it on her current post at Conversation Time.

Raw Literature: Cake & Cookies

I said, “Colorful.” That’s the only reason I  ordered a white cake with white frosting. I was thinking magenta roses, blazing copper sunsets, and turquoise cowboy boots. Instead, I got a polite pile of pale pink rosettes and a sprinkling of confetti along the edges. What it lacked in vibrancy, my birthday cake made up for in taste. It was superb.

And the guests were the colorful ones!

First shift brought a small group of veterans and their wives. We hit the champagne. Then moved the huge picnic table so it could be in the full sunshine. May 20th and it was a sunny but cool Copper Country Day. With the sun on our backs or in our faces, we relaxed while the Hub grilled brats.

Next came the dancers. The night before I had watched the performance, mesmerized by the storytelling of dance. Like literary art, dance transforms into performing art with an audience. Our words and movements are meant to be shared. After the Sunday matinee, several dancers arrived for cake.

Last, the Rock Sisters arrived. Three women, including Cranky, lived a dream with me — to pick rocks on the shores of Lake Superior as the sun set with a cup of champagne. We went down to the beach, combed through rocks and watched the sun melt like molten copper into the lake, igniting the sky in violet hues.

But after cake came the cookies.

Anne Goodwin writes about the situation in her post, “GDPR chaos and confusion.” I’ve been trying to find a definitive answer to what is compliant on my various platforms. It’s clear as chocolate cake batter, and yet, I understand it involves cookies. I’m updating messages for my primary e-newsletter, and I’ve added the annoying “cookie jar” widget as a footer.

Somehow, I thought my platforms would have my six; that they would be advising me that they have provided the necessary functions to be GPDR compliant. However, Facebook warns me every time I hop on the site to “be compliant.” I kind of feel like those of us on Facebook should be issuing the social media giant with leaky data that message!

When I tried to research what it meant in practical terms to control my cookies, I did a Cookiebot scan and found cookies that needed nibbling, or deleting or some kind of “manual classification and a purpose description.” Wait a minute. I don’t bake cookies, how am I to explain them? Isn’t that Word Press and shouldn’t they be supporting their paid customers? (Cue crickets.)

Cookiebot also gave me a mind-boggling list of action to take:

  • Inform your visitors in plain language about the purpose of your cookies and trackers before setting other than strictly necessary cookies (ePR)
  • Provide options for the visitor to change or withdraw a consent (GDPR/ePR)
  • Have a mechanism in place to log and prove consents (GDPR)
    Map and document data streams performed by third parties (GDPR)
  • Configure your consent method to use explicit/active consent when processing sensitive personal data on your website (GDPR)Provide the identity and contact details of the data controller in your company (GDPR)
  • Disclose that the visitor is entitled to access, correct, delete and limit processing of personal data (GDPR)
  • Disclose that the visitor is entitled to receive personal data so that they can be used by another processor (GDPR)
  • Disclose that the visitor has the right to lodge a complaint with a supervisory authority (GDPR)
    Inform about the occurrence of automatic decisions, including profiling (GDPR)

So, in clear and concise language, I’m using Raw Literature’s column to conform or confirm my cookies in 99 words, no more, no less:

So Ya Know by Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo of Carrot Ranch

In the olden days, neighbors swapped cookies and stories. Carrot Ranch is safe space for writers to share stories, to create literary art, to read, learn, inspire, grow. Any cookies you swallow at the Ranch come from the Word Press Bakery. There’s cookies to test if your browser accepts cookies, cookies to change language preference, and I imagine (not being the baker), there’s cookies that act like a homing device after you nibble. Any data these cookies collect are not used at Carrot Ranch by Carrot Ranch because we make literary art accessible. We don’t sell or trade cookies.

It’s not the small businesses or interactive blogs that need to carry the burden of exposing cookies. It’s the tyrants who encoded them in the first place. Carrot Ranch has no desire to participate in data mining or other stupid capitalistic practices. Words for people, not for profit! Carrot Ranch collects stories and writers consent by submitting said stories. Emails are only collected for the purpose of communicating with the writers. All stories collected are published, and all copyrights stay with the original authors.

Clear? I hope so. I suspect this is not GDPR compliant, but I have done my best. Kind of like my white cake. I could be more colorful on the subject, but I want you to know that our substance here at the Ranch is superb. We aren’t doing anything nefarious with cookies.

That’s my Raw Lit take on the fine mess of cookies, and I’m going to go eat another piece of cake.

<<🥕>>

Raw Literature posts as 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.

Easy-Bake Cookies!

If you don’t sell anything, go have a piece of cake. If you have to deal with cookies, here are some useful links if you monetize your blog in any way (sell books, services or ads):

Privacy and GDPR Compliance by MJ Mallon

GDPR Chaos & Confusion by Anne Goodwin

Automattic and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

Raw Literature: Writing with Mother

By Robbie Cheadle

About mid last year, my Mother and I decided we should write the story of her growing up during the Second World War in the small town of Bungay in East Anglia, Britain.

I had listened to my Mother’s childhood stories for my whole life. I thought her tales of chamber pots and an outhouse, food, coal and clothing rationing, icicles inside the scullery windows, washing using a copper tub and a mangle and children being sewn into their vests called stays, were very interesting. The additional overlay of war conditions only added to the excitement as she spoke of buzz bombs that suddenly dropped out of the sky, wreaking devastation on the area below, American soldiers billeted in canvas tents on the common, and the family hiding in bomb shelters during air raids.

I thought my Mother’s story was interesting enough to warrant writing down and I also thought it would be a good way of preserving some of the histories of life in a small English village during WWII and allowing people, especially children, to gain knowledge of the hardships experienced by people living through a war. My rather optimistic reasoning was that if children were made aware of the horrors and hardships of war, they would be more inclined to ensure such a state of affairs never occurs again.

Mother and I embarked on this interesting journey of writing down her history. Initially, I wrote a series of essays based on her different life experiences. These essays were not in any particular order but were written more as she remembered and thought about different events and happenings in her early life. My Mother was only one year old when the war broke out in 1939 and six and a half years old when the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945. The idea was that we would write the basic information and order and edit it afterward. This process of writing essays took from May until November 2017. Once the basic writing was done, I put the various pieces together and ordered them in a way I thought was appropriate.

We went on holiday for four days after Christmas and my Mother, and I spent a couple of hours a day editing the manuscript and adding pieces of information. It was quite amazing to me how my Mother kept remembering new things as we went through the draft book. The manuscript grew by approximately 3,000 words during those few days. Writing with my Mother was not all plain sailing. She had very exacting ideas about how the story had to be written, and she didn’t want anything that wasn’t “entirely” true included. In other words, it had to be written exactly as it happened and no minor poetic license was to be applied.

At that point, we had a fairly good draft, and I turned my attention to creating the illustrations out of fondant. We had discussed illustrations, and we both thought that keeping to my usual style of fondant figures for the new book was a good idea. We also agreed on the inclusion of a few of our family recipes that were appropriate for the time period and style of the book.

By March 2018 the new book was in a sufficiently good form for me to send it to a few proof-readers/editors. I received good feedback from all three, but Charli gave me two great pieces of advice.

The first was to include dialogue in the manuscript. Strangely, I had included very little dialogue. I am used to writing non-fiction publications on investment in Africa which don’t need to include any “warmer” tones. My Mother had said she thought I needed to make it “warmer” but she wasn’t able to explain what she thought I should do so when Charli mentioned including dialogue I understood what she meant immediately.

The other great idea Charli gave me was to include a timeline of the events of WWII as they pertained to Britain and to overlay my Mother’s childhood over this timeline. This was a stroke of genius as far as I was concerned. I created a detailed timeline, and this led to my including all sorts of additional titbits of historical information. As the advice came from an editor, my Mother was then willing to accept a bit of poetic license so long as I didn’t stray too far from the facts. An editor, of course, must know far more about book writing than me. Letting an older sibling do something which she had done when she was older but which fitted nicely in at a certain point in the story became acceptable.

We are now nearly at the end of the re-write and editing which has actually resulted in me revising most of the original ordering of the book, and I am very happy with it. We are hoping to finalize the manuscript for a final proofing by the end of May.

It has been a wonderful journey of discovery with my Mother, and I have enjoyed it so much we are talking about writing another two books to cover the next two phases of her life. The gradual changes that took place in England after the war and her decision to come out to South Africa.

***

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.

Times Past: Dealing with Others

By Irene Waters

I write memoir – my memories of particular times or events in my life. In this process, through no fault of their own other than being part of my life I write another person’s narrative.

Who are the other people in our story – firstly there is the “I,” and then because we don’t live our lives in isolation, there are those people whose lives intertwine. It is impossible to leave out these other people when we recount our memoirs, but we must remember that they are having their story written as unwitting real-life characters and as such are due a good deal of respect. So how do we deal with these people?

Ideally, we tell them that we are writing a memoir in which they feature. Don’t show them what you have written until the book has had close to its final edit. Where possible stay with them whilst they read the portion in which they feature. Don’t give it to them to take away. Get their opinion at the time they read it. This is the ideal way because if they take it away they may give it to others to read and the feedback you get may not be their own. If they object to anything you have written, then you must consider the costs to you of leaving it in the memoir. Is this a person you care about and you don’t want to lose their friendship? Is the passage they have objected to necessary to the event? Can it be reworded without losing the truth? Are you prepared to accept that you might lose a friendship? Letting them read is the ideal situation but is not always possible. Strangely, for those people who have done this the majority report that the person will usually find something they are not too happy about but it is rarely the item that the author has been worrying over.

I have not given my memoir to anybody to read who I featured in it. To do so poses some problems as we are geographically removed in some instances, I have no idea where some of the people are, and one doesn’t want to read it. I have given it to a lawyer to check that I have written nothing by which I could be taken to court and sued. I have also changed some names. I have been dead against doing this but suddenly I came to a decision that for minor characters, who could be hurt by what I have written and I have no desire to hurt them, it is easier to change their names. In the author note, however, I will make it quite clear that I have changed some names. I have also changed a name to make it easier for the reader to know who the character is in the scene. On Tanna, there were some people named Chief Tom. Some names can’t be changed, such as my husband’s. He will be my husband no matter what I call him and thereby readily identifiable. I asked him if he would like to read the manuscript, but he refused. The reason he gave was that if he read it, he knew that he would be saying “you should say it this way” and be trying to get me to alter it to fit his voice. As far as what I have written about him he trusts that he already knows my thoughts. He will probably read it after it is published, but it is possible that he doesn’t want to revisit this period of our lives.

If you do or don’t give it to the character to look at, avoid at all costs, labelling them in the narrative. For example, don’t say that Rebecca was an alcoholic – show what she does and allow the reader to determine what she is. If Gary is a paedophile in your opinion, again don’t label but show. Labelling tends to reflect poorly on the author, and it will be more than the character that will dislike you – your reader will likely form a bad opinion of you. Last month I suggested that we need to let time elapse so that the high emotion we feel close to the event can dissolve to allow us to write from a non-judgemental point of view. This is crucial.

A chap called Paul John Eakin suggests that we are taught by our parents at an early age the rules relating to the telling of life narratives. These rules are, to tell the truth, to respect the privacy of others and to be aware of the normative model of personhood. The first two are self-explanatory. The last refers to who you are writing about and your responsibility to them based on their level of normalcy. For example, if you are writing about your partner, you can be much freer with what you write because the partner can respond with his or her own memoir. This is not the case with those suffering dementia, brain injuries and children. Thus the level of respect shown to any vulnerable person must be immense.

The other person that you must show consideration to is yourself. The person you are narrating is not the present day you, but he or she is capable of creating a crisis of emotion in the present day you. Just the other day I was searching for something and thought it might be in the court documents. I sat down and read the entire file which consisted of letters and court records. I thought I had dealt with our time in Vanuatu and was surprised at the level of anger and hurt reading these documents brought out in me. If you are at risk make sure you have a support system in place that you can call on if necessary – that may be a friend or professional help. I vented on Roger.

This month’s Times Past looks at a facet of life that can only exist if there are other people in the memory – family conversation – where did it happen? This also draws on your memory of place. Often by dragging back visions of particular rooms or places little stories and details will come unbidden. I hope you’ll join in, giving your location at the time of your memory and your generation. An explanation of the generations and the purpose of the prompts along with conditions for joining in is at the Times Past Page. Join in either in the comments here, in my comments section or by creating your own post and linking. I’m looking forward to your memories.

Raw Literature: Does Writing Need Competition

By Geoff Le Pard

I entered a competition recently. A short story, up to 3000 words with a thriller theme. There was a small entry fee, offset by the promise of some critiquing come what may from a writer whose judgment I trust. Even so, I didn’t really need the critique; I had the story idea anyway; I publish a lot of short fiction on my blog. Why enter a competitive arena? Does it enhance the quality of the writing? The experience?

We are encouraged, as nascent authors, to stretch ourselves. To write, write and write. To offer our work up to publications. To seek out critiques, if not critics. In many, if not all these cases, we are competing with others, at least for attention if not some other prize: acclaim, publication, money.

Do we improve under the pressure of a competition? Does writing to a set of rules make us a better writer? Or are we after the ego boost of someone else saying, directly or indirectly that they liked our work?

In my time as a writer, I have benefited most in two arenas.

First, where I’m offered a view on my writing. A commentary on what didn’t work. What could be improved?

‘That worked’ ‘That was well done’ ‘I loved that twist.’

These are all lovely to receive, but in a sense, they merely record a past success; they don’t drive us to look to improve. The old sporting cliché You don’t change a winning team applies here. If you receive praise, you’re less likely to look to improve what you’ve done. But if the critical eye suggests something didn’t work, then you are more likely to review it and see what can be done to sharpen the prose, eradicate the padding and make it better.

The second is when there is an element of competition involved. Competitions don’t always offer critiquing. But even those that don’t show you who has won and reading them alongside your own effort can be revealing.

Of course, many times the winner is chosen for reasons of taste, genre, an indefinable something but often enough there’s a quality to it that’s lacking in my attempts. Pretty much every Friday I attempt a prompt send out under the Microcosms banner. 300 words, no more. The difference is each entry is judged. The judge gives comments.  You get to see the winners. You get to study someone else against your own attempt. Yes, you could read all the entries and for some prompts – The Carrot Ranch of course! – that can pay dividends.

However that can be a lot of entries and if time is limited, reading the winner and runner-up can be a focused use of that time.

In addition, if you’re going to be judged, there may be, at least unconsciously, a sharpening of the pencil, as it were when you submit your entry.

It’s not for everyone, this urge to compete, this willingness to put one’s ego up for polishing. But try it occasionally, and you might just surprise yourself. After all, we are all in the business of constant improvement and anything that helps that is to be embraced.

Raw Literature: Themes from Peregrine Arc

By A. R. Clayton

Ms. Charli Mills of Carrot Ranch accepted my request to write a guest blog. A big thank you for inviting me to Carrot Ranch and for your ongoing kindness and support of writers. I appreciate Ms. Mills’ honest, detailed writing and am enjoying the stories she shares about her childhood and life. From one cowgirl to another–yeehaw! (Also, I’m not actually a cowgirl, but I do so enjoy that expression.)

Charli’s request: “I’d be delighted if you addressed the topic of what it means to you as a writer to include themes of “disabilities, adversity and resilience, criminal justice, and minority populations. The best way to approach the essay is to answer the questions, why do you write, or why do you write about certain topics.”

To dip my toes into this broad question, I write about these topics because I care and want others to consider these sticky, flytrap areas of society. We often avoiding discussing uncomfortable topics and want to believe the world is fair and comfortable. I don’t believe the world is particularly fair, kind or interested in our general well being. This is especially evident if we’re not white, rich, or have something noticeably different about our bodies or minds. My country (America) bases healthcare on capitalism, charges exorbitant amounts of money for wonder drugs and penalizes people for their skin color and socioeconomic status. Our jails are mostly filled with poor minorities — juvenile jails included — many with mental illnesses and histories of abuse.

In my novel M.B., all of these themes play into the narrative and wrap around the characters. Anne (my protagonist) is delivered a missing children’s flier shortly upon moving into her new house. The missing child is a young, Biracial female named Shannon who was born into a dysfunctional, poor family. The girl has hearing loss and lives with her uncle in the poor side of the mostly white, working-class village. Anne’s realtor uses racial epithets to describe Shannon’s family and makes no qualms about how he feels about them. The realtor also shows his ignorance about mental illness, comparing bipolar disorder to schizophrenia in the same terms. I use the realtor as a diving point to begin illustrating the town Anne finds herself in.

Further on in the story, Anne finds herself trying to help locate the child. The detective Anne works with mentions the weak support of the village in the search efforts, particularly as time passes. The detective bluntly blames this response on Shannon’s race:

“…If Shannon was white, bam! News crews, leaky eyed interviews, community restaurant fundraisers, the whole nine yards. But Shannon’s half black and all this village can give is a half assed response for one month before they move on to gossiping and every day routines. What a joke.”

Why do I write like this? Do I think I’m some kind of perfect angel, hovering above the masses, free to pass righteous judgment? Am I doing it for sensationalism, to poke at old wounds of a country repeatedly tripping over its history of slavery? No. I write what I observe and synthesize from the world around me, the good and the bad. And I believe we can — and must — do better, myself included.

If we pivot ourselves, approach things a little differently from the “others'” perspective, our compass would be oriented. Braille, Sign Language, acceptance and an understanding of history are a few tools we need to get started. Then watch the desert flowers bloom into fireworks and turn the desert of ignorance into a beautiful oasis.

Humans are resilient and adaptable — let them be and watch them thrive.

***

A. R. Clayton is an American writer hoping to become published one day, or oh so very soon. Peregrine Arc is a platform she created in March 2018 to help steer her publication dreams. Until then, she continues to write and talk with her characters, wondering what they’d like for dinner in the next chapter. Genres include young adult fantasy, horror/mystery and science fiction.

Special themes that resonate with her include disabilities, adversity and resilience, criminal justice, minority populations, humor, history, the fantastical and limitless imagination.

She’s currently working with an editor to have M.B., my first published novel, finalized. Subscribe and follow for upcoming publication dates and other updates as they arrive.

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Raw Literature posts as 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 Lit: For the Love of Rocks

By Charli Mills

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

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

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

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

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

Copper Country Stunner by Charli Mills (Keweenaw Peninsula)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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