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Uncluttering the Mind to Be Creative

Creative writing is defined as writing fiction or poetry with imagination and contrasts academic writing. As a creative writer, we imagine our character to gallop over the green pastures or drag his feet in the dry brown desert. To be able to take long firm strides over the mountainous terrains, or glide over the waters like a speed boat.

Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds, you can grow flowers…..or weeds.

But that requires an uncluttered mind where we have neatly piled all our emotions just as we stack clean clothes versus the scattered dirty laundry.

That allows a single-pointed mind, and a writer can be in her character’s shoes and capture just the right kind of emotions.

Writing is like housework. For that, the mind should be tidied up just like our bed every morning before we sit down to write. It should be crystal clear for those cells in that organ to create something extraordinary for our character. If we cannot differentiate between fiction and our real-life, we will end up writing a memoir unknowingly, of course.

If our mind is hungover from yesterday’s dialog between a friend or a relative, our plot would unknowingly revolve around that scenario. We have limited ourselves to our environment and missed out on a classic scene, which our mind dared to explore. Due to the circumstances, it wandered around our troubled spots and penned those down instead.

Mind and Intellect can go hand in hand, but the mind ought to first spruce up to listen to the Intellect.

A mind without thoughts is no mind, but to tidy up our thoughts is the key.

But how do we unclutter that damn mind to begin exploring the unexplored?

Unclutter Mentally and Physically

Meditate

The learned suggest we meditate. Continue to breathe with closed eyes while keeping your mind over your breath. This activity is like rinsing your mind with fresh Oxygen as you continue to breathe, which helps curb the erratic thoughts. Can you imagine how soothing it would be?

The scenario is like the ocean waves crashing on the shore, washing off any footprints left behind by humanity.

Attached is a guided meditation.

 

Journaling

Writing down thoughts can help your mind stop churning and begin to release them. An individual can choose to write what pains her since most of the time, people are aware of their foul mood, but don’t know its reason. Journaling helps to work through current challenges, helping one get rid of mental blocks. As a doctor drains a wound, write out all those toxins on paper, and those words will glow in gold once your heart is lighter. So, find a comfortable spot, grab your pen and paper, and get going. Journaling is meant to be a stream of consciousness activity, so you can choose to set a timer or just free flow.

Some prompts that an individual can choose to write is:

“What makes you feel happy?”

“What is hurting, and why?”

“What do you believe in most?”

“Write a letter to your future self?”

“What is your past that still hurts you?”

“List the things you are grateful for?”

 

Walk

Walks amidst nature can help turn your mind outside and help calm the chaos in mind. It’s just like distracting a child who is throwing tantrums. This activity enables an individual to relax as she continues to take deep breaths while she is striding through the open space. Such walks not only help clear the mind but also help burn some calories. On a side note, it gives many ideas even if you choose to call yourself a plotter or a pantser.

Uncluttering is simple; the only thing needed is having the awareness to do so. Once that is in check, one can shape the character or the plot as your creative bugs allow you to do so without anybody’s interference. You are at liberty to either project your characters’ mental growth or take them to a dark place.

I’ve tried all the three methods above and can vouch for it.

As a writer, I write about issues that stalk the human’s mind via tales of fiction, making my readers tag my work as, “Books that make you ponder.”

My contemporary romance novels and short stories have allowed my readers to go to a beautiful place and take home a message. That has helped them ponder their true nature and enjoy my characters’ growth as they endure through the journey that I have created.

My work can be found at www.ruchirakhanna.com


This post comes from Rough Writer Ruchira Khanna

A Biochemist turned writer who gathers inspiration from the society where I write about issues that stalk the mind of the man via tales of fiction.

I blog at Abracabadra which has been featured as “Top Blog” for four years. Many of my write-ups have been published on LifeHack, HubPages to name a few.

I can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/RuchiraKhanna01

Twitter: @abracabadra01

Quiet Spirits ~ Open the Gate

Write about what you know.

My initial knee jerk, gut reaction, to that statement was, “No one would be interested in the things that I know.” Followed by, “I can’t write about some of that stuff! People wouldn’t believe half of it.” 

Needless to say, I got past my inner voice with guidance from previous generations, melded with my own experiences and input. I have found writing about what I know is quite enjoyable, even with the hurdles that presented themselves along the way.

I have come across many bumps, frost heaves, and closed gates touring the trails of the four genres that I write in. Yet, the passion to share, and more importantly, preserve the knowledge, pushed me through the shin-tangle, and diversity was born.

Choosing to write in more than one genre occasionally causes me consternation. I think this comes from words pummelled into our brain from those who don’t know us, or what we are capable of. “Find one genre, stick to it, write it well, no cross-contamination, and defiantly no trying to make a name for yourself using more than one genre.” 

Unfortunately, we tend to head these words until we, or perhaps I should say I, finally resolved what works for me. I am not saying it is or isn’t good advice, but these comments proved to be nothing but a frustrating, brick wall challenge for me. Had I allowed myself to adhere to the guidelines of staying in one genre, I might not have bothered to venture as far as I have, into the modern-day literary world. 

There is an old saying that goes something like this, ‘Open the gate and let the horses out if you want to see how they will really perform.’ Well, that about describes me and my creativity to a tee. It took me quite a while to settle within the niche that let me run free with my writing. The realization it was okay to ignore the genre rules made less of an obstacle for me to pen my thoughts. I could now write about everything I love, embrace, and am passionateOld Gate about. I knew all I needed to do was stay true to my brand—something that came easy to me because of my upbringing in ranching country.

While the genre argument was happening in my brain, another mud hole opened up in the road to being published. Notoriety using name identification was certainly not going to happen for me when over thirteen million results of my name, Ann Robson, appear on a search engine. 

I sat looking at a list of books I thought I would write—cookbooks, a collection of my (very) early works, several books to include pictures I had taken, and let’s not forget fiction with some poetry and children’s books thrown in for good measure. How could I write about these varying topics using my plain Jane name? I knew if I was to become remotely successful, garnering a reader following would not be easy; yet somehow, I didn’t care. 

And that’s when the light came on! While I made a list of my first, middle, and last names in as many scenarios as I could think of, the answer became clear. I merely switched out my middle initial/name for my maiden name that starts with the same letter. It made me giddy to think I would include some very important family history in my author’s name. My name was now unique and completely me. The dilemma was over, Ann Edall-Robson would do quite nicely. 

In retrospect, it hasn’t been that long that I have come to terms with the fact that it is okay to write in several genres under the same name. To heck with what ‘they’ say about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Again, I didn’t care, and it made my job easy—each piece of my published work must somehow intertwine with my brand. 

After eight books in four different genres and more than five decades of various types of writing under my belt, I still walk the trail of uncertainty when I come up with a new book idea and where it might fit in. As a writer, I think it is a good thing that I remove complacency with a jolt of what-if questions before I start a new project, it keeps me focused on what I believe in.

If you are new to this game of writing, my suggestion would be to just write and write lots. Try to write something every day, and don’t stop to edit, just write. After a while, and you get to choose how long, read out loud all of your work in the order you wrote it. You should see a pattern forming. You should see what you are comfortable writing about. Ultimately you might find the genre(s) you are best suited for; and, hopefully, you will get a glimpse at a writing voice growing through your written words.

For those who have always written in one genre, maybe now’s the time to dust off those pieces you have squirrelled away. You know, the ones you didn’t think fit within your current genre. You have already tasted the wide-open spaces, so why not open the gate to a different pasture and explore your options. 

Whether you are an old hand at writing, or a greenhorn, taking the plunge through the gate to write in more than one genre should not be taken lightly. Do your homework. You need to find a common ground in these genres you are about to embark on. A commonality that may need to be justified, or explained to others. Try to remember, your name is not that common ground, but your brand should be. 

 

Do you write in more than one genre?  Do you use more than one pen name? Is either of these something you have thought about doing but have some trepidation about opening that gate?

 

I rely on my heritage to keep me grounded. Reminding me of where I come from. Gifting me with snippets of past life and lives. Providing fuel to include in the writing I do about the lifestyle I see slipping from my grasp, from the world.

The taking pictures thing started forever ago, and when I found I could marry them to the material I have written, and am writing, well, to put it mildly, I think I have a bit of a runaway going on.

I am a lover of life and all things that make us smile. I write and take pictures for the pleasure of being able to share at Morning Muse, HorseWest, and my Blog at AnnEdallRobson.com where you can also contact me.

Quiet Spirits ~ Link to the Past

Growing up, life, and events happened because they just did. As I got older, I had a different take on that thought, and every so often something would filter through my day creating a déjà vu moment. I maybe shrugged this off, but it got archived somewhere in the grey matter for future reference.

I was twelve years old the first time I read the trilogy by Richmond P. Hobson Jr. — a.k.a. Rich Hobson. Book one, Grass Beyond the Mountains took place some thirty years before I opened the cover. It didn’t take me long to grasp that I knew some parts of the country the setting was established in. Some would say it was in our so-called backyard. And how cool was it that he passed through our area to get to his destination. Naming towns along the way that were part of my life.

Grass Beyond the Mountain

At that age, what I wasn’t acquainted with were the people in the book. Who better to talk to than someone I presumed knew everything, and maybe everyone…my dad. I did most of the talking and dad would nod, and occasionally answer a question or two that I threw out there, like: 

“Do you know any of these guys (characters) in this book?” 

A nod. 

“How, where, when?” 

“I’ve come across ‘em.” 

That’s all I got. Not a surprise since dad was known for being a man of few words.

In retrospect of how I was raised, dad wouldn’t have seen the need to expound on someone else. It was, after all their life, not his. If I wanted to know more, I was on my own. Yet, being twelve meant the only viable thing I could do was to read the second and third books. 

Some years later, I met people with names that were somehow familiar to me. It was weird to be talking to someone and wondering where do I know you from? Conversations ensued without any definitive answers. Again, I turned to dad. I wanted to know if our family somehow knew anyone that I had been introduced to at a recent rodeo I had attended. He provided his normal condensed version of an answer. “Could be from Williams Lake, or that Anahim Lake country.” Not much to go on, and once again information was archived. 

Fast forward fifty years…A glimmer of light came on when I re-read Grass Beyond the Mountains. A connection to names and places that had been put in the memory vault started to come to life. Until I was reading the book again, I hadn’t known the significance of my conversations with dad. I started putting the pieces together. The last names of people in the book coincided with the towns I had been to some forty-odd years ago for rodeos. 

Bud Edall – Green Lake Stampede – circa Late 1930’s

You see, dad had been a saddle bronc rider in his younger days, and he too would have travelled to some of the places I had. From his rodeo trail, he knew the family names I had originally asked about. The names may not have been the actual people in the story, but it was the sir names and towns creating the link.  

While reading the book,  I came to realize it wasn’t the main characters who were as big as life in the story. Although without them, the memoir would most likely tell a completely different tale. It was the supporting cast of people and animals that brought depth and meaning for me. The discovery of the link opened the door to possibilities. Had future generations of the book’s characters crossed my path when I was younger? Definitely more digging into my archives is needed to confirm my link theory.

The Last Cattle Frontier – Unexplored Territory

The Last Cattle Frontier – Explored Territory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am thankful to have the old copies of Rich Hobson’s three books in my library. Each holds words of how life was for those men and women of that era. The people who were ballsy enough to venture into the uncharted country. Breaking the trail to make a life for themselves and for those who came later. Their endurance resonates with me.

On a side note, if you have any interest at all in the topic of a frontier being opened up by grit, determination, humour, and horsepower, I recommend Rich Hobson’s memoir trilogy – Grass Beyond the Mountains, Nothing too Good for a Cowboy, and The Rancher Takes a Wife.

 

What fragments of (un-researched) personal knowledge has landed in your lap that you have used in your writing?

I rely on my heritage to keep me grounded. Reminding me of where I come from. Gifting me with snippets of past life and lives. Providing fuel to include in the writing I do about the lifestyle I see slipping from my grasp, from the world.

The taking pictures thing started forever ago, and when I found I could marry them to the material I have written, and am writing, well, to put it mildly, I think I have a bit of a runaway going on.

I am a lover of life and all things that make us smile. I write and take pictures for the pleasure of being able to share at Morning Muse, HorseWest, and my Blog at AnnEdallRobson.com where you can also contact me.

Mr. Sagittarius Blog Tour

It’s an absolute delight to welcome author, M J Mallon to Carrot Ranch on her blog tour for her latest book, Mr. Sagittarius. Here at the ranch, our community’s mission is to make literary art accessible. What you decide to do with that art is up to each one of you. It’s always exciting to see a familiar writer achieve an important goal, such as publishing a book. And I’m always interested to know how writers take their raw materials and refine them into something like a collection.

Mr. Sagittarius combines multi-media art — stories, poems, and photography. Much of it was inspired within the greater writing community. M J had to consider what pieces she selected, how she arranged it, and follow a process to completion. So, that’s what I wanted to ask her: How did you take material generated through online challenges and compile them into a collection? Her answer follows.

The Origins of Mr. Sagittarius by M J Mallon

To begin with, I reconsidered a short story I’d been working on and edited it for this collection. The original story about twin brothers Harold and William was too long and disjointed so I cut the word count down. Flash fiction challenges help with this! Many thanks to Charli and her Carrot Ranch, you rock! From that point on, I added the first of my poems which I’d written for Colleen Chesebro’s poetry challenge about a dragonfly. Guess what? The story called for a dragonfly. Luckily, I also had a poem about a willow tree which fitted in too.

It was so fortuitous, as if by… Magic!

Thereafter, I interweaved the other poetry and short pieces from various challenges into the story template of the siblings: Harold, William and Annette. I arranged the various interlocking themes throughout the story namely: the circle of life, seasons, nature, challenges of getting older, and the fun and games of being young: Halloween, love, and romance.

Then, I realised that some stories, poetry and flash fiction didn’t fit.  So, rather than despairing and discarding them I decided that they’ll be perfect for my next collection—a more personal one—about family, inspiration, writing successes and the places I love such as my old home town Edinburgh.

So, after this process, Mr. Sagittarius, Poetry, Prose and Photography and the beginnings of a second collection appeared as if by chance! That’s so typical of me I’m not a plotter…

It just goes to show how much material you can amass over several years of taking part in blogging challenges. I’ve participated in flash fiction (at Carrot Ranch,) poetry, short story and photography challenges. Many thanks to all those bloggers out there who take the time to encourage us to write, create and photograph regularly: Colleen Chesebro, Rachael Ritchey (Blog Battle: short stories), Diana Peach (Short Stories), yourself Charli and Hugh Roberts (Photography) to name a few.

You do an amazing job!

Don’t worry if at times you can’t join in regularly, even dipping in from time to time works too! That’s me…

I’d recommend challenges to all aspiring authors and creatives, it just goes to show how helpful and inspiring they can be!

About Mr. Sagittarius

Who Is Mr. Sagittarius?

And what is his connection to twin brothers, Harold and William?

When Harold dies, he leaves a simple memorial request

Will his sister Annette honour it?

Or, will the magic of the garden ensure that she does.

A magical story expressed via poetry and prose with photographic images

Mr. Sagittarius is a collection of poetry, prose and photographic images inspired by the botanical gardens in Cambridge. It features a variety of my photos including: trees, a robin and a dragonfly! As well as this there are several stories, and even some Halloween poems!

Mr. Sagittarius is a magical celebration of the natural world, a story about the circle of life, with an emphasis on the changing seasons of the year and sibling relationships.

Cover, ebook, and graphics design by Rachael Ritchey.

Mr. Sagittarius is available at:

You can find Mr. Sagittarius on Goodreads. It helps out authors with further sales if you mark their books in your To Read shelf.

About M J Mallon

M J writes YA Fantasy/Paranormal novels, Horror/Ghost short stories and multi-genre flash fiction as well as micro poetry – haiku and Tanka. She shares book reviews, poetry, flash fiction, photography and inspirational details of her writing journey at her lovely blog home: M J Mallon.

M J is a member of two professional writing groups: The Society of Children’s Writers and Book Illustrators  and Cambridge Writers, and she runs a supportive group with fellow Administrator, D G Kaye, on Facebook: Authors/Bloggers Rainbow Support Club.

M J works as a Receptionist/Event organiser for an international sixth form and lives in Cambridge, England.

Other Books by M J Mallon:

YA Fantasy: The Curse of Time Book 1 Bloodstone

Coming in 2020

YA Fantasy: The Curse of Time Book 2 Golden Healer.

Short Stories in Anthologies:

Bestselling horror compilation, Nightmareland, edited by Dan Alatorre  (“Scrabble Boy” by M J Mallon

Ghostly Rites Anthology 2019 (“Dexter’s Creepy Caverns” by M J Mallon)

Ghostly Writes Anthology 2018 (“Ghostly Goodbye” by M J Mallon)

 

You can follow M J Mallon at her author page on Amazon.

The Last Will of Sven Andersen

It’s amazing to consider how prolific Geoff Le Pard is as an author. He turned on the fiction faucet in 2006, and it’s been blasting ever since as fast as icebergs melt. I read his first novel, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, several years ago, snort-laughing and waiting for the next installment of Harry Spittle’s life. Well, I’m pleased to say, it has arrived with the third installment quick on its heels.

Without further ado, I’ll turn the Ranch over to Geoff to tell you all about his latest book:

The Last Will of Sven Andersen

By Geoff Le Pard

The first book I ever finished was Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, a comedic coming of age tale of the hapless Harry Spittle, then aged 19 as he struggled with the three challenges facing a teenage boy in the deepest countryside: how to earn money, how to spend as little time as possible with his irritating family; and how to someone willing to have sex with h,im. When I wrote it as part of a Masters in Creative Writing I envisaged it as a stand-alone novel that would be driven by the characters and their dilemm,as and decisions. But as the book writing process progressed I became sucked into the plot and the weird and wonderful adventures Harry took me on. Wind the clock on five years and I’ve now committed to paper both a second and third book in the series. And guess what? It’s the characters that dominate. Without their personalities shining through who’d want to carry on? It’s because the characters were the reason, front, and centre for writing the first book that book two crept up on me and kept saying ‘write me’. They tapped on their toy-box demanding an outlet and here we go, a full-fledged series. Characters, huh? Who knew they’d take over your life quite so much?

It has led to a change in approach to things such as editing too. I am now more confident in my characters that I want the Beta ,reading to come later in the process.

All of which of course doesn’t mitigate the fact that there are many times when I misunderstand them and they tell me in no uncertain terms to, change tack because they just wouldn’t, do/say X. Now though I’m less likely to make those mistakes and I’m certainly less likely to argue if I do. I think we, my characters and I, know who’s right.

BIO: Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels, he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry, short fiction, and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

BOOKS:

The Last Will Of Sven Andersen

When Harry Spittle, nearly qualified as a solicitor, is approached to write a Will for old acquaintance Sven Andersen, he is somewhat surprised but rather pleased. That pleasure sours after he finds that the Will Sven actually signs is very different to the one he has drawn up, with Harry as the executor. Disappointment turns to horror when he discovers that Sven has been winding up his late father’s criminal empire and a number of not very nice people are interested in the Will’s contents.

If he is to remain in one piece, able to continue his career in the law and save his on-off relationship with his girlfriend Penny, who is unfortunately under suspicion of murder, he needs to find out what’s happened to the money and distribute it according to Sven’s wishes. The trouble is Sven has not only hidden the assets but also the identities of those who benefit. Harry will have to solve a fiendish puzzle Sven has left behind with the help of his sister Dina before his world comes crashing down. With so many people depending on him, Harry knows it’s time for him to grow up – it’s just that he really, really doesn’t want to.

Set in 1981 to the backdrop of punk, Thatcherite politics and an upcoming Royal wedding, this is a book for those who like their nostalgia served with a side of humour and a dash of optimism all wrapped up in a compelling mystery.

Pre Order Here

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle

It’s summer 1976 and hotter than Hades. Harry Spittle, nineteen, is home from university, aiming to earn some money to go on holiday and maybe get laid. He expects he will be bored rigid, but the appearance of an old family friend, Charlie Jepson, his psychopathic son, Claude, and predatory wife Monica changes that. As his parents’ marriage implodes, Harry’s problems mount; before he knows it he’s in debt up to his ears and dealing in drugs. Things go from bad to worse when he is stabbed. He needs money fast, but now his job is at risk, his sister is in trouble and he has discovered a family secret that could destroy all he holds dear. Will Harry have to join forces with the local criminal mastermind to survive the summer and save his family? Can he regain some credibility and self-respect? Most importantly will he finally get laid?

Dead Flies will be free from 30th October 2019 to 3rd November 2019

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

My Father and Other Liars is a thriller set in the near future and takes its heroes, Maurice and Lori-Ann on a helter-skelter chase across continents.

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

Life in a Grain of Sand is a 30 story anthology covering many genres: fantasy, romance, humour, thriller, espionage, conspiracy theories, MG and indeed something for everyone. All the stories were written during Nano 2015

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

Salisbury Square is a dark thriller set in present day London where a homeless woman and a Polish man, escaping the police at home, form an unlikely alliance to save themselves.

This is available here

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

Buster & Moo is about about two couples and the dog whose ownership passes from one to the other. When the couples meet, via the dog, the previously hidden cracks in their relationships surface and events begin to spiral out of control. If the relationships are to survive there is room for only one hero but who will that be?

Smashwords

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

Life in a Flash is a set of super short fiction, flash and micro fiction that should keep you engaged and amused for ages

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Smashwords

 

Apprenticed To My Mother describes the period after my father died when I thought I was to play the role of dutiful son, while Mum wanted a new, improved version of her husband – a sort of Desmond 2.0. We both had a lot to learn in those five years, with a lot of laughs and a few tears as we went.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

Life in a Conversation is an anthology of short and super short fiction that explores connections through humour, speech and everything besides. If you enjoy the funny, the weird and the heart-rending then you’ll be sure to find something here.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Geoff Le Pard’s Amazon Author Page

Raw Literature: Tell Your Story

By D. Avery

This past weekend I took time away from my regular work to peddle my written wares under the local author’s tent at the Nantucket Book Fest. This was my first time attending, and I was glad for the opportunity and exposure. If you’re wondering, I didn’t get rich, but I was enriched by the words of some of the visiting authors.

At the opening celebration of the Book Fest, three authors took to the pulpit (literally, it was at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House) to speak of their motivations. The question posed was, “How can we write when everything’s wrong?”

Ben Fountain asked, “How can we not?” The author of Beautiful Country Burn Again, also said, “I try to understand everything I can,” and spoke of language and writing being a tool for that understanding. Regardless of genre, writers are “the scouts and spies of the human tribe.” Dave Cullen, who wrote Columbine and Parkland, and who “writes because he has to, he writes because he gets to,” reiterated the idea of writers as spies, and told of his vocation, his “being called” to be a “participant observer,” as opposed to objective reporting where a distance is maintained.

Perhaps it was the “human tribe” line that made me think of our tribe here at Buckaroo Nation, where we report back to one another every week after receiving our mission, the prompt. We take up a lens, a spyglass, at times a telescope, at times a kaleidoscope, but we scout out a story and bring it back to the communal fire for sharing. Sometimes we bring back entertainment and sometimes truths, often both.

How can we write, when everything’s wrong? How can we not? The human tribe is a tribe of storytellers. Madeline Miller, author of Circe, reminded us that stories are where there are tears for things and where mortality touches the heart. With her references to the Aeneid a reminder of both the antiquity and the universality of stories, of the constant presence of monsters and dangers and journeys, her closing remarks also brought it back to the fire. “Stories say, ‘I hear you.’ Readers hear, ‘I’m heard, I’m here.’”

This and more I have also heard at the campfire of Carrot Ranch. Writers must write; readers must read. At the Book Fest, the theme continued when Alex Marzano-Lesnevich spoke about their book, The Fact of a Body, a book intriguing to me not for its content, which is grim, but for how they were uncovering one story and discovered their own. The interviewer called the writing “unflinching” and “brave” for the places it goes. Alex admits it might have been easier to have not gone there. But how could they not? Alex suggested that writing is a moral obligation. Their book not only gave the victim of the crime a voice, readers were given a voice, too many readers who had remained silent. Because of Alex’s book, these people felt their story had been told, that they were heard.

As Alex says in the introduction of The Fact of a Body, the book is “my interpretation of the facts, my rendering, my attempt to piece together this story. As such, this is a book about what happened, yes, but it is also about what we do with what happened. It is about a murder, it is about my family, it is about other families whose lives were touched by the murder. But more than that, much more than that, it is about how we understand our lives, the past, and each other. To do this, we all make stories.” The human tribe shares stories.

Sometimes, even in just 99 words, we might, after scouting and spying on pasts and places, on histories, come back with a story that, through the telling and the reading, becomes something more than we knew ourselves. We share in our community; we take communion of story. We might come to understanding or bring understanding through writing, through story making. Our words might make someone else feel heard. And that’s good for the human tribe.

Book Fest was not what I thought it’d be. It was much better than what I thought it would be. Book Fest made me feel like a writer, but not through volume of sales under the tent. True story: A woman whom I had met only the night before when she bought a book, came back to tell me she had just read the first story in After Ever and it made her cry. The story was about her friend she told me, and she was very touched by that. Did I sell a ton of books? I sold enough.

D. Avery lives on an island off the coast of Massachusetts with a husband and a cat. She is a teacher of middle school mathematics. She enjoys kayaking, baking sourdough bread, and reading. She sometimes write. People sometimes read what she writes. ShiftnShake is a place for you to read some of D.’s writing, including her weekly Ranch Yarns.

Raw Lit: From Mite to Might

By D. Avery

Their colors are those of Tibetan prayer flags, but these squares are not yet whispering in the wind. An unassuming plastic wrapped cube; they appear to be ordinary post-it notes. These are not ordinary post-it notes to be used for mundane purposes. This five-colored cube is composed of post-it notes destined for a special purpose. They will remain in their pristine packaging, neat and orderly until I’m ready to apply them to their designated task. For now I am inspired by their contained order while the story they will eventually help shape and organize swirls free-form in my head.

Ha! I happened to notice the word count (opening paragraph) — exactly 99 words. That’s seriously funny. And if there had been a prompt with “prayer” or “flag” or “post-it” those 99 words would suffice, no more, no less. 99 words come more easily since my early days at Carrot Ranch, but it is still very satisfying to meet the challenge of forging a 99-word story. To write even 99 words every week has been a worthy exercise, one I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. But lately, I am seeing how 99 words might, like another prompt, lead to more.

Yes, that second paragraph is also 99 words and is better for it. The constraint forced its construction to be more carefully considered, like with our flash fiction pieces. I enjoy crafting stories that are complete in just 99 words. Honing those skills is challenge enough. But recurring characters keep insisting I write their bigger story, even though I don’t know how. I’m not skilled or ambitious enough to write a big story. But then a funny thing happened after I published a collection of flash fiction and short stories. I found myself imagining how I might do it.

You will have guessed that the solution, like the previous paragraph, is 99 words. I might be able to use flash fiction as a tool to shape and sharpen a larger story. But there’s that word “might” again. Might. Its verb and noun definitions almost seem unrelated. As a verb, it is a form of “may” as in maybe, as in possibly. As a noun, might means strength, force, power. Maybe the noun and verb definitions are aligned. Maybe power comes from imagining possibilities and persevering to realize potential. Maybe 99-word flashes might be pieces of bigger stories.

If you are still reading you might rightly doubt me, might wonder if I could ever leave the comfort of 99 words; wonder if I could ever actually organize a big story. You wonder if I’ve forgotten those five colors of post-it notes. Nope; they are the color codes of characters and flashes. They are the pieces of a quilt, its pattern still emerging. The still unopened cube has been joined by a doodle pad where a scene gets hurriedly splashed onto its own page as it arrives unbidden. I might be getting ready for something I might do.

I will do it. I will write a big story. Because the mightiest outcome from writing weekly flash challenges has been in finding my creative courage, 99 words at a time, going wherever the prompts lead. These flashes and the encouragement of this community led to a book. It was through that experience that I finally got the idea of “raw” and finally accepted it in my own writing. It’s leading to more. I will write a bigger story because it is there. I will figure out how as I go along. Now it’s just a matter of time.

It’s all a leap of faith. But I will open that plastic wrapped cube, will start stringing my post-it prayer flags together. My characters and their stories will flash uncontained, will spread their wings to soar on the winds of possibility. In the meantime the hunting and gathering will continue, week to week, 99 words here, six sentences there, some flashes so raw it’s a health code violation, some satisfying and tasty. Risks will be taken, flaws will be evident, revisions will be made. I look forward to this self-imposed challenge; and then the next one after that.

Author of For the GirlsD. Avery, Rough Writer spinner of Ranch Yarns, shares prose and poetry at ShiftnShake. She has published two books of poetry, Chicken Shift and For the Girls. Her third book, After Ever, little stories for grown children, is evidence of her shift to fiction writing. You might find her funny, except when she’s serious, but you can certainly find her at Twitter and Amazon.

According to Sean Prentiss:

D. Avery has written a stunning collection of flash fictions that take us from here in Vermont to places far afield and from children to the elderly. These short stories in After Ever, though, all share one common thread, and that is tight, beautiful prose about the human condition, about the moments of our lives that make us weep from sorrow and from love.

<<♦>>

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.

Times Past: What is Memoir

By Irene Waters

I started off this series for Charli saying that I had already written about what memoir is and at the time I chose not to repeat it. However, in summing up for the last post in this series, I thought it is probably worth revisiting what a memoir is.

Firstly, memoir belongs in the creative nonfiction genre. These works are described as true stories that are well told. They generally utilise the fictional techniques of dialogue and high definition description of scenes. The truth is told in a way that is compelling for the reader.

Memoir is derived from the French term for memory. Memoirs also come from this word, but memoir and memoirs refer to two different things. The plural form is interchangeable with autobiography (the complete life story of a person in chronological order). Memoir, however, refers to a modern form of life writing that looks at only a part of one’s life and is told in the compelling way discussed in the previous chapter.

Although both autobiography and memoir are true, an autobiography tells facts that can be found by researching the life. The information should be verifiable. It is the history of a life. Memoir, on the other hand, is coming from within. It is the story of self and is how one person remembers a portion of their life. These memories are true to the author but are not necessarily verifiable by anyone else. When I write a memoir it is true to my memory but not perhaps to others. We all approach an event with a worldview that is our own, and the memory we will take from that event will be influenced by it, thus giving us different perceptions of the same event. This does not mean that anything can be made up. There have been a number of fraudulent memoirs written such as famously by James Frey and Norma Khouri. In these, the incidents in the book did not occur or were grossly exaggerated.

There has been an explosion of memoirs since Mary Karr and Frank McCourt each wrote their memoir, both of which are credited with being the start of the modern memoir boom. These paved the way for anybody to write their own story – we have misery, travel, dogs, celebrity, grief, illness memoirs and the list goes on and on and on. Memoir is often similarly seen in the nonfiction world to the way romance is seen in the fiction world. Why is this? Most likely because everyone has a story to tell and many who aren’t diligent in editing and writing publish. Sometimes people see it as narcissistic – to my mind, this is usually an unfair assumption. Those writing feel they have a story that may help others by the knowledge that they gleaned in their processing of what happened to them. This reflection is an integral part of memoir. Others write because they feel they have a good story to tell but again there will be a change in the person because of the event, and this reflection will be shown in the narrative. For those that want revenge or a cure for self, publishing a memoir is not the way to go.

How do you tell if it is fiction or memoir? The name of the author should be the same as the ‘I’ character in the narrative. Phillipe LeJeune coined the term “The Autobiographical Pact” whereby the author is the ‘I’ character and pledges to the reader that the narrative is a true story. The reader reciprocates by agreeing to believe the narrative is the truth. Reading memoir is different from reading fiction, and that abuse of trust hurts if the memoir writer does not tell the truth.

As for writing memoir – know your audience, know your theme and keep the focus narrow. Use dialogue and high definition descriptions of the scene, use small detail that only someone that was there could have known. Use your voice. Personally, I think there should be a combination of telling and showing so that the reader is left in no doubt as to how you changed as a result of the events being told. Always show unsavoury characters – let the reader be the one to decide that they are not too nice – don’t label or condemn. As a result, time may have to pass before writing. Time should be played within the narrative.

Before sending it out for publication – make sure that it has been copyedited and proofread. I hope in the writing you enjoy owning your story. Thanks Charli for giving me the opportunity over the last few months to talk memoir. There have been some good discussions, and although I have never wished to change anyone’s thoughts on memoir, I hope that it has given everyone some food for thought.

Times Past will continue monthly. Join in Times Past where this month we are looking at Horses and Childhood Dreams.

Life is a Memoir: What is Fiction?

By Irene Waters

Truth is considered fundamental in writing memoir. The work of Smith and Watson show that memory is not an exact memory of the past event but the past combined with the present, differences in history and ideologies of the time so rather than memory being existential it is a construct and will vary at different times and places. Recent innovations in brain imaging have shown that autobiographical memory shares the same part of the brain as visual activity. It is possible that this explains why, when you visualise a scene vividly, even if it is not true, that this false memory will be added to autobiographical memory. As our remembering creates our identity, then, is our self a fiction?

For me, this is the most interesting part of memoir for I believe that memoir gives us our identity. Memoir, when used as a book genre, refers to a part of a life story that is well told truthfully from memory using techniques commonly used in fiction. I would argue, however, that we are all storytellers of our life story only most people don’t write them down. Instead, we tell anecdotes (a truthful story about a real incident or person). These, to my mind, are the equivalent of a memoir in aural form. They are stories, usually well told from memory about a portion of our life. These, I believe, give us our identity.

There are two facets to identity. There is our identity that can be researched by anybody. Our birthdate, our parents’ names and occupations, later our own occupations, marriages, divorces and even addresses can often be found if one has the desire to dig deeply enough. But does that give you your identity? For the authorities maybe but not for those that come in contact with us. It gives the what of your identity. The second facet is not researchable but rather it is our personality and character and these are found through our actions but predominantly through the stories we tell of ourselves and these give us the who of our identity.

Our parents give us our first pieces of identity. They give us not only our name but our first simple stories. “My daddy is a minister.” That little story had me labelled a goody two shoes, someone to be mindful of language around and friendships slow to make. My Dad also told funny stories which I know I would have repeated as in those very young days, I had no stories of my own to tell, and I most likely wanted to be like my daddy who I adored. I didn’t tell my mother’s stories as I wanted to be more like my father than my mother. I don’t know what the first story I told about myself was but if I assumed it was one I still tell — about being quarantined from school and filling in the time playing the leper from the bible, jumping out on unsuspecting passerbys and telling them they were going to catch the dreadful disease my mother had because I was a leper, I’m sure that for some my identity would have taken on one of a non-caring individual for some I regaled it to and for others I would have been labelled creative.

We are selective as to what stories we tell and those we keep close to our chest. Some we know that if we were to tell we would be seen in a bad light, and the who we are of our identity would take a battering. This part of our identity changes over time. As in reading a memoir the author’s journey is followed until it reaches a point where it is irrevocably changed because of something that happens. It is, as Charli discussed in her prompt preamble, the hero’s journey only we are the hero of the story, our own story. If our identity weren’t to change as a result of life events I think it would be a poor, shallow life we’ve led when we can’t learn and grow and change.

Do you still tell the same stories now that you told when you were 15? I know I have a period in my life that will forever be closed to public scrutiny. It was at the time and it is now. I didn’t tell it then and I don’t visit it now. We edit what we tell but even so the stories we do tell reek of our essence.

When writing memoir this can create a huge problem for the author when writing a second memoir. The readership of the first memoir may simply not like the identity which the author has become in the second book and a totally different market may be needed.

If you are not convinced that your stories gives you your identity that is fine. Consider however those people who have lost their stories. Those with brain injuries and those suffering dementia. Those without their stories become empty shells. They retain their name, their race and nationality but their identity fades until they are no longer the person that we once knew. When they no longer have their stories they no longer a made up person – a fictional self.

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on memoir and identity and hoping you will join in Times Past where this month we are looking at bicycles.

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.