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Raw Literature: Baking, Writing and Children

Essay by Robbie Cheadle, Friend of Carrot Ranch

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars

Minecraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

 

Raw Literature: Got Lit? Try It Raw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

D Avery

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

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

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

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Raw Literature: Interview with Casia Schreyer

Today’s post is a profile interview with Casia Schreyer of Schreyer Ink Publishing. Writer, editor, publisher and advocate of writers, she’s preparing to launch a new anthology. Schreyer Ink is an Indie Publishing House in Canada. We welcome Casia to Carrot Ranch and our Raw Literature guest series.

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CR: What is your earliest memory of crafting with words?

Casia: My earliest writing memory is from grade 2 and 3. We had these large yellow three-panel writing folders. When you opened them it turned your desk into a private cubby. Each panel had a pocket so we could keep our drafts organized. We wrote stories about vacations and 1-page essays on whales.

CR: Did that experience influence your desire to write later in life?

Casia: Oh, definitely it did. My mom kept this school memory book and every year she would list my friends and my extra-curricular activities and what I said I wanted to be when I grew up. Writer never left that list. I was hooked.

CR: When you think about your first drafts, what is a significant part of your creative process?

Casia: I consider my outline to be my very first draft of any story. I take that time to figure out where the twists will come in, and how the story arcs will progress. This allows me to build my foreshadowing. This is especially important in a series. My actual first draft I usually write by hand. The thoughts flow better that way and I can write faster than I can type so I can actually keep up with the brainstorm!

CR: How did you decide to work with other creative writers? What was that initial idea?

I have worked with other writers before. My first collaborative project was a free anthology put out cooperatively by a group of authors. The idea was that each of us would contribute a story and help market the book, which was available for free, as a way to reach new audiences. It didn’t “sell” a lot of copies. I also had a story published in a Witty Bard anthology of science fiction stories. The idea for this anthology came from a story that I wanted to write but that I had no market for, so I created the anthology to fit the story I was writing and invited other authors to submit their stories on the same theme. That theme was tolerance.

CR: Why did you create an indie publishing company? What is your vision for its success?

Casia: The indie-publishing company started simply as a name a logo to put on my self-published novels, to make them look more professional. Then I created a blog for Schreyer Ink Publishing and offered publication services for authors such as editing and marketing packages. These were paid services, but I didn’t require that they list me as the publisher and I didn’t ask for any rights to the work. Then Open Minds came up and I decided that I was going to start publishing anthologies through Schreyer Ink Publishing as a next step. Our goals are to expand into graphic novels and graphic shorts, and to get Schreyer Ink Publishing officially incorporated.

CR: Tell us about your upcoming anthology and its themes of tolerance, acceptance, fear and rejection.

Casia: I think Open Minds is a really important book for what’s going on in the world today. Everywhere we look people are grappling with the idea of tolerance and acceptance, weighing it against theology and tradition and their other personal values. People are trying to define what tolerance and acceptance entails, and put up boundaries as to what they personally will tolerate and accept. The authors in this anthology really showcase these themes in amazingly diverse ways. My own story deals with race and what can happen when intolerant people become emboldened by our current political climate. One story deals with transgender in a very intense human setting while another looks at gender fluidity in a sci-fi setting. One of my favourites though asks a very powerful question: when are we doing enough and when are we doing too much? This story questions that line between “standing up” and “picking fights,” between “helping our friends” and “hurting everyone else.” It’s a really powerful near-future story that looks at a lot of issues. There’s a rather short one that looks at the cost of pursuing our dreams, and the inner peace of finding absolute acceptance and security. And last but not least is the story that I almost rejected: a rambling narrative of parallel worlds, divine wars, and gender superiority. The language in this story set me on edge, I’ll admit it, and I almost rejected it, but the other editors at Schreyer Ink loved the story and voted it in. Now I have to admit that it was the sheer controversy of the story that jabbed at me and I think it adds something special to this book.

CR: How do you think these themes impact writers in their early creative stages of writing a story or book? How have they impacted your own writing?

Casia: I can’t speak for other writers, but for me, these are themes that I’ve found reappear over and over again in my other works, in more subtle ways. I’m working on a coming-of-age fantasy series about five princesses. They are strong women but none of them are warriors and none of them are mothers. I have two contemporary lit novels that deal with bullying, suicide, and sexual harassment in different contexts. I’m building a fantasy world and I’m viewing it through the lens of representation and diversity.

CR: When putting together the anthology, what did you notice about the work as a collective?

Casia: What I really noticed was that they had more in common than just the initial theme of tolerance and diversity. There were threads of fear, rejection, sacrifice, strength, and courage. Even with the stories being so very different in genre and style they just fit together and it was a beautiful thing to experience.

CR: Did you and the other writers discover anything powerful in the process of bringing writing together around a focused set of themes?

Casia: I worked closely with Angil Grafton, another of the authors, because she is also a member of the Schreyer Ink Publishing team. She mentioned that this was an emotionally moving book to work on. Our third editor, Andy Ganz, was impressed with the scope of the stories and their brutal honesty. I was also impressed with the honesty of these stories. I think the authors really took the theme to heart and offered us unique snapshots of their own experiences and questions.

CR: Reflecting back from the completed project of your anthology, what do you think your rawest efforts had to teach you? 

Casia: Well I certainly learned a lot about how to publish an anthology. But I think my deepest discovery was as a writer. I struggled with the ending of my story because I didn’t want my bad guys to be these super evil villain types. I wanted them to be average people, misled by an inappropriate social dialogue but that meant finding some way to reign in their actions before they got out of hand, before they crossed that line into evil. And I saw that in many of these stories – the bad guys weren’t evil, they were misguided and acted out of fear or jealousy. I appreciated that subtly and nuance in the characters because I think it’s more reflective of the world we know. And the best fiction always has a strong tie to a deeper truth.

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@SchreyerInkOpen Minds is available for pre-order and anyone who pre-orders and sends a screen shot of their receipt to Schreyer Ink (even just a comment on the blog of Facebook page) will receive a free copy of another ebook put out by Schreyer Ink.

The Launch Party is a free Facebook event being held online on June 1st from 8am-10pm CST. There will be guest authors, some of the anthology authors, and some free giveaways. There are already some sneak peeks from Open Minds posted on the event.

Open Minds Amazon

Open Minds Smashwords

Schreyer Ink Publishing

Schreyer Ink on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/schreyerinkpublishing

Schreyer Ink on Twitter: @SchreyerInk

Open Minds Launch Party

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Raw Literature: Underneath

Brave and subversive, like gazing upon the surface of a pond

Essay by Anne Goodwin, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers and author of “Underneath,” her second novel.

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I didn’t realise I was obsessed with staircases until I put the first paragraphs of my two novels side-by-side. While, viewed individually, both are effective introductions to the respective stories, it’s rather embarrassing to find I’ve twice begun a book with my narrator descending the stairs at home. How has that happened, and why?

The opening scene of my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, developed late in the writing process, following multiple drafts with at least a dozen different attempts to get it started with a zing. In contrast, my forthcoming second novel, Underneath, was much more straightforward with the opening scene present from the start. Although the phrasing has been amended in the process from raw to ready, the idea behind the words has remained stable since the very first draft. In concept, if not in language, it’s literature in the raw.

It’s always interesting to see where our minds take us in response to a creative writing prompt, such as the weekly Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. Sometimes, I discover another angle on a theme that continually captivates me; sometimes, I surprise myself by following an unfamiliar path. But what do I know? Like the staircases in my novels, what looks like a route untrodden could be one I’ve taken many times without noticing I’d been there before.

This potential to uncover our unconscious preoccupations can make writing raw literature scary, and sharing it with others a brave act. In my years of secret scribbling, although I loved writing, I could never have called myself a writer because I couldn’t open myself up to the feedback we all need to improve our craft. This fear of revealing myself went deeper than a lack of confidence. I’d say I felt ashamed.

Diana, the narrator of, Sugar and Snails, is also ashamed of who she is, stunting her psychological growth so that, at forty-five, she’s retained the emotional mentality of an adolescent. In the novel, she’s challenged to confront her fears of rejection by sharing her secret with her friends. We too act bravely when we bare the inner workings of our minds through exposing our raw literature to others’ scrutiny. Despite having posted my 99-word stories almost since the beginning of the project, I still feel a little nervous some weeks delivering my contribution to the ranch.

What makes us ashamed of our imperfections? In fiction, it’s a character’s flaws that make her interesting; wouldn’t a writer’s quirks do the same?

Our shame might arise through past experiences of being told, directly and indirectly, that our thoughts, feelings and opinions are wrong. But it makes no sense to evaluate ideas and emotions this way; only our actions can be judged as good or bad. It’s not so difficult, however, to make a child or adult with the right combination of vulnerabilities feel unworthy. It’s called bullying.

In Charli’s engaging posts introducing the weekly flash fiction prompt, she often reminds us (such as here) of the potential for silencing inconvenient voices and the importance of safe spaces in which those voices can be heard. In the current political climate, it’s crucial that we resist the pressure to keep quiet. Writing is part of that resistance, so that in sharing our raw literature we’re not only being brave but, in giving voice to diversity, we’re being subversive.

So what does that say about my staircases? Well, I’m not alone in my fascination with stairs: some will remember that Stairway to Anywhere was the theme of the first flash fiction compilation of 2015. In my novels, stairs symbolise the transition from one state to another, and possibly back again.

In the opening of Sugar and Snails, Diana is stalled between the first and ground floor rooms of her house, between the bedroom, and her shattered hopes of a satisfying sexual relationship, and the cupboard under the stairs where she keeps the knife she will use to convert her emotional pain to physical. The question arises as to whether she can regain the promise of that better life represented by the top of the stairs. But this novel is also about decision-making and choice. Reflecting on a childhood memory of the stone steps outside her first school, with separate flights for boys and girls, stairs signify what is lost when one can follow only one of two options.

For Steve, the narrator of Underneath, stairs denote a more disturbing transition from an ordinary man to a criminal, a jailer who keeps a woman imprisoned in the cellar. For a while, he moves, albeit shakily, between these two worlds, caring for his captive while reporting for work as a hospital theatre orderly and taking the train to visit his mother, who suffers from dementia, in a nursing home. Yet, as implied by the title, his descent takes him to a deeper level than Diana’s, not only physically underground, but into the darkest corners of his own mind.

It might not be much more than an artefact of the dynamics of his family of origin being played out within an ordinary house, but there’s also a significant staircase in Steve’s boyhood memories. With his mother’s bedroom door firmly closed, he tries to distract himself from his loneliness by counting the geometric figures on the stair carpet, which he calls Saturns, reaching 257 and still his mother doesn’t leave her room.

If two novels weren’t sufficient to write out my staircase obsession, stairs also play a part in my current WIP, and hopefully my third novel,  Closure / Secrets and Lies, although fortunately not (currently at least) on the first page. Here, if I’ve done my job well enough, they’ll serve as a transition in the reader’s perception of Matty, one of three point-of-view characters. An extremely deluded patient in a long-stay psychiatric hospital, I hope initially readers will find her amusing and endearing. A secluded staircase, where, in need of cash, she “lifts her skirt for the man with the hairy arms”, reveals the vulnerability behind the cheerful persona. Like the narrators of my two published novels, Matty moves back and forth between different states – for her, funny and fragile – until the final crisis.

I don’t know whether stairs signify something deeper in my psyche; perhaps you’ll spot something that is not yet obvious to me. It’s this that makes me think that fiction is both more and less exposing than memoir: more because there are no facts to block what emerges from the unconscious; less because, if it makes me uncomfortable, I can always fall back on the fact that I made it up. Like gazing upon the surface of a pond, our writing reflects our inner selves back at us, revealing our idiosyncratic preoccupations in its repeated motifs and themes. It’s not often, however, that the surface on which we see ourselves is as smooth as a mirror. Like ripples on water, our reflected features can be distorted. That’s when the fun begins.

***

Like Steve, Anne Goodwin used to like to travel, but now she prefers to stay at home and do her travelling in her head. Like Liesel, she’s worked in mental health services, where her focus, as a clinical psychologist, was on helping people tell their neglected stories to themselves. Now that her short fiction publication count has overtaken her age, her ambition is to write and publish enough novels to match her shoe size. Underneath is her second novel; her first, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. Anne lives in the East Midlands and is a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.

Underneath 

He never intended to be a jailer …

After years of travelling, responsible to no-one but himself, Steve has resolved to settle down. He gets a job, buys a house and Underneath by Anne Goodwinpersuades Liesel to move in with him.

Life’s perfect, until Liesel delivers her ultimatum: if he won’t agree to start a family, she’ll have to leave. He can’t bear to lose her, but how can he face the prospect of fatherhood when he has no idea what being a father means? If he could somehow make her stay, he wouldn’t have to choose … and it would be a shame not to make use of the cellar.

Will this be the solution to his problems, or the catalyst for his own unravelling?

Published internationally 25th May 2017 in e-book and paperback:

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Raw Literature: Writer Unplugged

Essay by Sarah Brentyn, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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I’m in awe of “raw”.

This tiny three-letter word is like a super hero. I’m a word nerd and I love that this petite power house can describe so many items, objects, and states. We use it to talk about food (uncooked), the weather (cold and damp), skin (red and sore), emotions (intense and unrestrained), fabric (unfinished, unhemmed)…

My favorite definition, from the depths of Google’s dictionary, is of “a material or substance”: in its natural state; not yet processed or purified. It also provided some marvelous synonyms: unrefined, untreated, natural, unedited… That, to me, is raw literature.

And that is all I write.

I’ve been scribbling stories since I was nine years old. Probably younger, but that’s when I remember completing my first fictional tale. Have I moved beyond that? Of course. And no.

I write.

Because that’s what children do. They write.

They color, they build, they read.

I think back to what was important to me during those times.

When I colored? The feel of the crayon, the choice of color. No consideration of palettes and hues and color wheels.

When I built things? The placement of blocks, the satisfaction of knocking them down. No concern over whether the blocks were positioned correctly or, if it were to scale, would hold the weight of cars.

When I read? The pure enjoyment of a story, the sparking of imagination. No analysis of plot, character arc, or dialogue.

As for writing, there were no thoughts of revising or editing.

Maybe I never grew up.

I have a style. It’s stream of consciousness. It’s how I’ve always written and all of my pieces, whether they were for school or websites or newsletters or blogs, started out that way. Most of them stayed.

I was never very good at changing my style to fit into a box for academic papers or employers.

I’m capable of it, of course, but it’s not as enjoyable. I can tailor my style for an audience. It’s one of the things I taught my students. It’s one of the things I asked my clients. Who is your audience?

It’s important, regardless of whether you’re writing for a magazine or for yourself. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

But, when I’m in the zone, that strange and fascinating Writing Zone, I don’t think about audience.

I write.

As my bio says, “I bleed ink.” That’s basically what I do.

I recently found something I wrote three years ago, in March 2014:

“first drafts have an amazing combination of raw emotion and the writer’s real voice.”

First drafts bring freedom. To dance like no one is watching. I write like no one is reading.

I connect with my Self. My inner thoughts and emotions. This kind of writing presents a vulnerability and genuineness that is not often found in a polished piece. It is found in the raw, unrefined writing that travels from heart to head to keyboard.

By connecting with your Self, being vulnerable and genuine, you connect with readers. The veil is lifted.

This is me. Writer unplugged.

* “Unplugged” is a reference to musicians playing their music (usually live) without electronic instruments or enhancement. It’s not, like, a toaster or computer or something. It’s a musician, sitting on a stage, strumming an acoustic guitar and singing while you drink your ice cold beer.

***

Sarah Brentyn is an introvert who believes anything can be made better with soy sauce and wasabi.

She loves words and has been writing stories since she was nine years old. She talks to trees and apologizes to inanimate objects when she bumps into them.

When she’s not writing, you can find her strolling through cemeteries or searching for fairies.

She hopes to build a vacation home in Narnia someday. In the meantime, she lives with her family and a rainbow-colored, wooden cat who is secretly a Guardian.

Amazon: Hinting at Shadows & Author Page

Blog: Lemon Shark

Lemon Shark Reef

Twitter, Google+, Author Website

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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.

Art and Literature in the Raw

Essay by Urszula Humienik, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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Kurt Vonnegut once told The Paris Review, “I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.” Which is something I must have thought or heard or read somewhere sometime in high school, because instead of writing and literature, I decided to pursue a degree in my other passion.

I didn’t decide to go into some useful and prestigious field like law or medicine, like many other writers such as Harper Lee, John Grisham, Anton Chekhov, Khaled Hosseini, or even Gertrude Stein. No. I decided to go into art, a field even more useless than being an English major. Of course, I don’t believe that. I believe both art and literature to be essential. These two fields make us truly human while simultaneously showing us the human condition in the raw.

As a smart English teacher once said, “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” (John Keating, Dead Poets Society)

There seems to be an interwoven connection in my mind between art and literature, and it’s possible I’m not the only one. Lots of writers and poets made art, including: Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut, Lewis Carroll, Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, Herman Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, William Blake, e.e. cummings, and many others. Some artists also wrote. The surrealist painter Leonora Carrington wrote stories. Salvador Dali wrote screenplays. Even such brand names as Warhol and Picasso wrote. Gertrude Stein straddled the fence between these two worlds as a writer, art collector and muse. Her home was filled with artists of all types, including writers – so many of whom we know and love (or love to hate).

Then there are people like Patti Smith and Audrey Niffenegger, most known for The Time Traveler’s Wife, who make a living working in several artistic fields. I admire them both, and hate them just a little out of jealousy for being able to do what they love without staying within the boundaries of a neat label. We so love to label and put things in their place. I remember a friend once yelling at me in the stairway in high school, “Are you an artist or a writer? You can’t be both.” My answer throughout my life has always been why not.

There are several things I believe to be unarguable truths. One, our passions make us more interesting. Two, writers without passion for writing and the subject cannot write well. Three, any activity done without passion cannot be sustained for very long.

Somehow, in my life, I was fortunate to develop several passions. Two of them – art and writing – developed almost simultaneously, interwoven, interconnected to the point of being inseparable, one needing the other. I do not know if one can exist in this mind without the other. The way I see it, writing and visual art are just modes of expression, of connecting to another human being, of creating a space for an idea.

Visual art and literature begin in the same place in the psyche of their creator. I’m not sure if the spark to create them are the same, but maybe it is. Sometimes I feel that something that has come to me must be in the written and sometimes in the visual form, but I cannot explain the why or how I know that. The most interesting is when these two intersect. I have characters in my stories that are artists, for example, and I am drawn to create their art.

My art background also provides material for stories. An example is the following flash I came up with in response to one of Charli’s prompts, where I imagined what it would be like growing up in a house with a stolen painting hidden in plain sight.

Father’s Poppy Painting

A painting hanging in my father’s study figured large in my childhood. I remember its exotic golden yellow and crimson poppies on a background of burnt sienna and ochre. I remember days spent studying and copying it. I remember my mother constantly practicing Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in D minor. I remember father always gone on business. I remember the scent of Arfaj flowers wafting through the windows. Father’s poppy painting was the reason I decided to study art history at university.

One day when taking a class on famous stolen paintings, I discovered father’s poppy painting in my book.

There are several similarities between art making and writing. For starters, they often begin with a concept. Sometimes it’s just a word or a color or a vague idea. Once you have a concept, art and writing both have different phases of creation and exploration before achieving the final product:

  • play and experimentation – I’d argue that this may be one of the most important stages for both;
  • sketching, what would be akin to raw writing;
  • planning or outlining – depending on how a writer/artist works, this may happen earlier or later in the process;
  • and application of several layers.

This last phase may be thought of in different ways, but over time it has become how I think of the formation of a piece (of artwork or story). In a painting, this phase is obvious. The painter begins with a sketch or several, then the canvas is prepared with a base paint, next several background layers are applied, details are added, and added, and added, and added until the painting has achieved the painter’s intentions.

This is an oversimplification, of course, but a similar process occurs when writing. We begin with an outline or maybe just a rough story idea, which is then written and refined over layers. Some parts of the original raw writing become hidden under the layers of “improved” writing, but they are still there. And in my experience, the raw writing is necessary and enriches the final piece in ways others may not fully comprehend.

I spend much of my time thinking how I would describe a piece of art. It’s an exercise that’s more difficult than it seems (try it). There are many ways to talk about color and qualities of a line. It’s possible I could write essays on just those two characteristics alone. I also spend a great deal of time visualizing things I am writing, and I hope that improves my writing, deepens it, making it more tactile. I hope this means my writing is refreshing in the way Vonnegut said.

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Urszula Humienik is a freelance writer and editor from Chicago, currently living in Bialystok, Poland. When she’s not working on her first novel, she’s doing yoga, meditating, or making delicious vegan food. You can find her on her blog or her latest obsession, Instagram.

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Raw Weather

Wind howls across the high mountain desert of Gallup and rocks my RV with a steady wave-like rhythm. I’ve heard the joke several times already from locals: spring arrives, depositing Arizona in New Mexico. With the airborne sand, I do believe it’s from across the state-line to the west. It’s so gusty here, highways post windsocks to warn of cross-winds that can tumble a semi or RV. For now, we’re rocking while stationary.

It’s more than windy today at the ranch. I thought I scheduled a guest for the series Raw Literature, checked the calendar and see that I scheduled next week! In the midst of a move and a break-down, it’s just another hiccup. I’m fond of lemonade so today’s scheduling lemons gave me opportunity to participate in Irene Water’s fascinating memoir prompt, Weather: Times Past. What’s unique about her prompt is the collection of data based on memory, generation, region and urban or rural proximity. Participants and readers get to compare experiences. It’s open to anyone, and as is the case with most responses to prompts, this is a piece of raw writing.

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Memory of a Gen X Buckaroo, Weather in Rural North California

The old Californios Ranchos sat inland from the coast where fog creeps in by night and burns off by mid-morning. This region is home to cattle ranching, centuries old. Before there was California, there were the Land Grant holdings of Mexico and the original Missions of Spain. Weather didn’t change ownership; gold did. When Sutter discovered a gold nugget at his lumber mill, the (18)49ers poured into the region, and the US claimed it as a state: California.

To the ranchos, a change of hands didn’t mean a change in work. The miners needed to eat, and the ranches provided beef.

Some men came to mine, others to set up businesses. My family came to ranch, raising cattle, apricots, turkeys, hay or managing ranches. One grandfather was the foreman for an original rancho and another bought it after making his wealth by turning his ranch into a golf course. For generations, both the men and women in my family rode in the San Benito Horse Show & Rodeo. I even won several trophies for horse showing and one for goat tying, all before I was of an age to go to school.

This is buckaroo country — a culture unique to the Californios influence of the Ranchos style of ranching and horsemanship. And like any agricultural community, it’s always focused on the weather. In rural California, dry spells could turn into years long droughts, and rain could flood the dry river beds. It was a deluge-fueled flood that first caught my attention in regards to weather, and it was so severe, it cut off ranches from communities. One of my earliest recollections is standing with my parents on one side of a raging torrent of water as my grandparents stood on the other side. That memory has transfixed a fascination and horror of floods.

Many more times I would stand over flooded rivers in other states, drawn to relive the earliest memory of how water could swell so vast and swift, muddy and full of churning debris. Such has been the weather cycle in California and I wonder how the earliest ranchos managed. And that is how I begin raw thoughts for historical fiction. The confluence of memory and history and curiosity.

So I will end with a trio of flash fiction (at this rancho, its always 99 words, no more, no less) based on where my thoughts led me.

The Bad Dream of a Californios Girl

Maria shouted across the arroyo swelled with frothing mud. “Papa! Vaya con Dios! Papa! Mama!”

“Maria! Maria! Wake up. You’re dreaming the bad dream.”

Maria gasped in the dark, feeling her Aunt Tessa’s hands. “I’m awake, Tia.” Outside, she heard rain splatter against the hacienda’s shutters. She shivered.

“Maria, I’ve fixed of a cup of cocoa.” Her aunt lit the hurricane lamp and Maria saw the steaming cup sitting on the small table by the window. Her aunt had fixed her cocoa five years ago when she escaped across the flooded arroyo. The flood that swept away her parents.

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The Only Path Left

Father Sean Kincaid, nudged the mare to press forward in the rain and sopping ground. He’d experienced thunderstorms back in Missouri, but this was different. God Almighty had forged a sky river the first 12 days of 1851. Hadn’t scripture promised an end to God’s flooding wrath?

The bridge he’d crossed earlier was gone. Not a splinter remained. Sean’s chest tightened. On the other side was his parish church. Behind him was Rancho Santa Ana he had failed to reach because of a landslide. He looked up. Not to God, but to the steep incline he’d have to traverse.

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Good Horse-Sense

Capitan reared and snorted. The stallion charged his herd, pushing mares back, away from the river overflowing its banks on both sides. A deadly lake, pooling in the moonlight, eroding pasture. Capitan whinnied, turning on any horse who tried to bolt in fear.

“Damn stud save them mares,” Joe said, over coffee. The old ranch-hands gathered after mass at Kincaid’s Cantina.

“Unlikely, Joe.” Corey Fairfield expressed the skepticism of a vineyard owner. Educated.

Patty poured toppers. “Unlikely? As unlikely as your sons serving in the Pacific?”

Corey flushed at the chuckles. Their sons were Marines. Good horse-sense meant survival.

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