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Who Gives Audience?

Gather around the desert campfire for it will be one of the last on Mars. There’s yet a few tales to tell from the sandstone region of southern Utah, but this week, we are focusing on the audience. That’s you. That’s me. That’s every person who gathers to hear the tales.

And more. Who gives audience depends upon where each writer focused this week. It’s always lively around the campfire so let’s find out.

The following are based on the March 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an audience.

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The Joy of Childhood by Norah Colvin

The cool grass teased her toes and the breeze tugged at her skirt, begging her to dance. She flung wide her arms to embrace the world as she lifted her face to the skies. They smiled approval and she began to sway. Her fingertips tingled with expectation as her gentle hum intensified, summoning the music of the spheres to play for her. And play they did. She twirled and swirled to their rhythm singing her own melody in perfect harmony. Suddenly she was done. She clapped her hands to silence the orchestra and went back to her sandpit friends.

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Surprise Audience (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni met Peter at the archeological site when a bus pulled up.

“Guess what? We have a school field trip. I told the teachers we’d have Q & A with an archaeologist.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Danni.

“This way, I knew you’d show up. It gives us a chance to tweak your Little Ranger Program. It’s sound, but not kid friendly. Time for you to learn your audience. What age, are you thinking?”

“Is this a cruel test?”

“Kind of. How old?” Peter folded his arms, grinning at the kids.

“Can I look at their teeth?” asked Danni.

 ###

Prime Time Dad by Pete Fanning

I hated sharing my dad. But his sitcom was a smash and Dot said I was lucky. She convinced me to smile for the cameras and hold his hand in public.

The man on television smiled and laughed and offered worthy advice. The one at home was short tempered and stressed. He smelled of brandy, smoked cigars, and sometimes called me Randy—the name of his onscreen son.

Dot always rolled the television out and we’d watch the show. Then one night I started crying. Dot wiped my face and consoled me.

She said Dad was a great actor.

###

For the Watchers (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

“So, the roof will be done next Friday,” Torry confirms. She makes a note to drive by and check on Wednesday. At some point she needs to go through the inside, see what needs to be done. She’ll need a heavy cleaning crew and painters at the least. Then the fun stuff: choosing flooring, draperies, a living room suite. Patio furniture. Wet bar.

It all depends on how you carry it off. She is not in reduced circumstances; she is living in the investment house she intends to flip.

Always leave your audience thinking you meant to do that.

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The Audience by Allison Maruska

The audience cheers from the other side of the curtain. Closing my eyes, I breathe in the moment. Months and years of hard work and sleepless nights have all led to this.

Cameron smiles. “Are you ready?”

“Absolutely.” I smooth my skirt and take his hand, and together, we take the stage.

The crowd erupts. My heart pounds upon seeing joy on so many faces.

Cameron waves and takes his place on the edge. I stay at the microphone, and after another calming breath, I utter the words I’ll say many times in the coming years.

“My fellow Americans…”

###

That Man by Anne Goodwin

Say I’m out walking the corgis, repatriating the Elgin marbles, having a sly fag out the back. I’m pinning a gong on a Muslim, completing my tax return, composing a Tweet. Say I’m out shopping for gold-plated bath taps or up in the Highlands shooting grouse. Say it in Mexican Spanish, received pronunciation or Cockney rhyming slang. Say it with a smirk or a smile, in buckles and breeches, wearing a crown or bearskin or a yellow toupee. I don’t care what you tell him, or how, but I will not grant an audience to that man.

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Flash Fiction by Joe Owen

Brent didn’t like this moment. It took him longer to unpack his instrument than most. But he knew he had to do it with care due to his affected limbs. His mother tried more than once to explain cerebral palsy to him and why it made things so much harder for him, but all he knew was that it hurt and made his life much more cumbersome.

Brent slid his hand in the custom loop that would allow him to retain control of the bow and began to play. One by one people gathered to hear his flawless music.

###

Self Belief is a Precious Commodity by Geoff Le Pard

‘You’re really good.’

Mary couldn’t hide her shock. The woman, Sally, was the class star. She had an exceptional eye for imagery – that was what the rather fearsome Brian had said after the first day. ‘Not really. I’m at sea mostly.’

Brian joined them. ‘Stay there then. It’s great.’

Mary wished the encouragement could come with a smile.

Mary looked at her painting. To her it seemed a mess. They were just being nice.

‘Here,’ Brian called the class to Mary’s easel. ‘See how Mary’s addressed the subject.’

Mary stared forward, face burning. She wasn’t ready for an audience.

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All the World’s a Stage? by Jules Paige

Limping she wondered if she had an audience. So many
expect everyone to be at the peak of health. They just
don’t know and should not judge about anyone except
themselves. Age that relative number that insurance surveys
like to give you when they only ask limiting questions without
room for any explanations.

Was it before, during or after the snowstorm that she pulled
a muscle. Why does it take so long to heel? Why are stairs,
Getting in and out of the car, sitting, standing or even sleeping
so difficult? Thankfully there isn’t an audience for every grimace.

###

Nickilai by Roger Shipp

It started with a suggestive “look”.

It quickly escalated into “yo’r mama’s”.

Now, here behind the textile plant, Nichilai, my best friend, was hell-bent to defend the honor of his family.

Stupidity encircled us… in all shapes, sizes, creeds, and colors.

We were the new-ones. Dad had been recently promoted … a low-level executive position. He had finagled an associate’s position for his nephew, Nichilai’s father.

Family was important.

Defending family… a duty.

More and more were gathering. Bets were being places. Taunts were being tossed. No one here actually cared about the outcome…

Just Nickilai.

And his honor.

###

Audience by D. Avery

Val and Lauren were getting coffee in the kitchen.

“Such sophomoric writing. It was painful.”

“OMG, right? Horrid, trite clichés.”

She knew they were talking about her. She knew she should not have tried this.

Red-faced, she slipped past and rejoined the rest of the group.

Noreen smiled at her. “I truly related to the girl character in your story.”

“Yes”, said Linda. “Your story is raw yet, but powerful. Do you think she will ever get rescued?”

She lifted her head. “Definitely. She might even liberate herself. She’s the type that won’t keep her light under a barrel.”

###

Softness by Sarah Brentyn

Sand shifts under our feet as we run to the sea. It sparkles in the sun.

My chest hurts when I see her smile. It’s been so long.

It’s petty of me but I’m glad I am the one who brought her here, made her happy.

“What are you thinking?” I sit in the slender beach grass.

“Softness,” she looks at the distant mountains lost in mist. “Everything is soothing. Muted and soft. Yet…they’re here.”

Shadows pass over us. Two of the winged beasts. She’s right. We are never alone—we have an audience. And they are always watching.

###

Captive Audience by Scarlett Sauvage

James scanned the crowd – his captive audience – searching for the faintest hint of compassion. He found none. They just sat there, staring at him through the glass – faces like ice carved into sombre death masks. They watched as the guard strapped him into the chair and hooked up the electricity. Some sneered, some smiled, but most just stared blankly, as if he were some other species, not made from the same type of flesh and bone as their family members. He prayed for the phone to ring – a last minute reprieve. It never came. Sometimes, justice got it wrong.

###

Left Hangings by Bill Engleson

“I’ve not seen something like this before.”

“Times have changed. You lock ‘em up…they cost you. You stretch their worthless necks…you’re done with them.”

“You make it sound so…so business like.”

“Retribution is a simple business transaction, I find. In my line of work, and it once was profitable family work, for My grandfather was the Snapper…”

“The Snapper, eh!”

“That’s what they called him. A mortician by trade but a man who appreciated a law that was absolute. His services were in high demand.”

“But public executions are a sideshow.”

“That they are, my friend. That they are.”

###

Audience by Pensitivity

They came from Japan and America, standing in a row over the bridge with their cameras at the ready.

Fascinated by the workings and complexities of controlling the water, they asked questions before snapping and zooming in to their heart’s content.

No matter ‘The Star’ of their little show was running herself ragged with paddles and gates.

At the end of the performance and ready to vacate the lock, she stood tall and asked for a round of applause for being their entertainment.

As she took a bow of thanks, she muttered to herself,

‘I should’ve passed the hat!’

###

The Paper Magicians by Gordon Le Pard

There was certainly an impressive audience for whatever was to happen. No one knew what the two men in the middle of the square were trying to do.

Some people said it was magic, certainly the way the two men were carefully tending a fire under a huge paper bag looked diabolical.

The bag was filling with smoke, and it was moving!, perhaps there was a demon in the bag.

One of the men called to the other, a rope was cut – somebody screamed and fainted as bag rose above the crowd!

The conquest of the air had begun.

In 1783 the Montgolfier brothers launched their first balloon from a square in Paris.

###

The Honcho by Reena Saxena

His plane had crashed into this desert. Habitually, he opened his mouth to swear, and condemn all, with the filthiest words. The corporate honcho was known for his foul mouth and intimidating manner. He stopped at the sight of a tribal group, moving ominously towards him. The brutes were armed with spears and knives.

The honcho was speechless for the first time. The social recluse had never interacted with anyone other than his tongue-tied team. The obliged slaves just bowed in obeisance, as he reviewed their performance and hurled insults. Overpowering this audience would need a totally different strategy.

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Tough Audience by Michael
 
It was a tough audience. I knew they would be. Some idiot had billed me as a playwright and writer and would probably sing them a song.
 
I was terrified to say the least. My play had been a moderate success on its first outing but how would it stand up to a city audience.
 
The audience looked at me with obvious scepticism not believing an unknown could pen such a potentially successful show.
 
I told them of its origins and then I sang the signature song from the show. I knew I had a winner with the song.
###

Queen’s Final Performance by Kerry E.B. Black

They gathered for her final performance, to cheer the Queen’s last bow.
She stepped upon the stage, humbled head bowed. Her costume recalled a younger, simpler maid. No warble betrayed her presented lines. “You see before you a woman who commends herself to your mercies. I’ve made mistakes. Who among us has not?”

Their voices rolled into an oceanic wave, crushing her words beneath theirs. Her stomach lurched as she took the mark, center stage. Their faces blurred before her tearful vision.

She recalled days when they loved her. She knelt, neck outstretched, before the axe-man and met her fate.

###

Dresden by Jeanne Lombardo

When I’d finished speaking, the air in the hall felt like a single, collective breath being held. Then clapping surged, a hard rain on a tin roof.

Several fellow Germans made their way to the podium.

“Very fitting, Doctor,” one said, his voice breaking. “I’ve not thought about those days in so long.”

“Your story is my own,” said another. “No one has talked about what happened to us after the war.”

Last was the distinguished head of a large hospital. Blinking through tears, he took my hand. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m very grateful.”

My own throat closed.

###

Target Audience by Sherri Matthews

Adored by millions, rave reviews splashed across every newspaper. The audience, mesmerized by her performance fell at her slender feet, her talent a gift to the world.

She stared at the portrait commissioned by her husband almost fifty years before and sighed.

“Was that really you Grandma?”

She nodded silently as she admired her once large, firm breasts, shimmering blonde hair and flawless complexion.

Talent? It was never about the talent…

“Fancy an ice cream?” she said, smiling down at her grandson. She might not have the tits and ass anymore, but she had the only audience that mattered.

###

March 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Ahead, partial sunlight illuminates sand that has seeped from a massive geological structure aptly named, Sand Mountain. From the north, it rises like a slope out of the shores of a deep blue body of water, Sand Hollow. On its south-side the underpinnings of metamorphic rock expose ridges of red cliff. Those curious blotches of sand seeps are orange and remind me of powdered koolaid. In fact, the scene on the backside of Sand Mountain translates easily to a candy shop given the unnaturally sweet colors. Grape gumdrops push up against the strawberry taffy base not far from the powdered orange koolaid.

Among the sweet treats of this lower staircase of land, beneath the Navajo Sandstones of Zion white as cookie dough and the gnarly basalt of the Virgin Plain black as licorice, is a level that holds something more of child-like interest: Jurassic dinosaurs.

All of Zion, its surrounding mesas and transitional zone, are all Jurassic in age, spanning back 145 to 200 million years. The candy around here is stale and crumbly. Once it was an area with swaths of mudflats, an early flood plane. Conifers, ferns and cycads lined the shores, sand dunes swept to the northeast and fish populated the seasonal lakes and streams. Dinosaurs tip-toed through soft sediments to leave behind impressions in what looks like petrified chocolate.

If there’s anything better than going to a sweet shop, it’s going with a friend. Today, I have Norah Colvin in my pocket.

Norah is not only one of the first generation Rough Writers at Carrot Ranch, she’s also the One. She’s the one who discovered a brand new flash fiction challenge three years ago. She’s the one who introduced other blogging friends, and the ranch gathering has become like writing at the local soda fountain where we have learned what malts or sodas each prefers. Through our sweet shop talk, I’ve come to learn that Norah’s grandchildren are dino-crazed. And what a good interest to have! Science, mystery and Jurassic monsters all rolled up in one. What else I’ve come to know about Norah is her dedication to early childhood education. Her newly launched website readilearn is an accumulation of her experience, creativity and passion for teaching.

Our truck kicks up fine red dust as we travel across the hard-packed land. After our last outing, the next destination is my choice, and I want to find dinosaur tracks for Norah. I learned about these tracks when we first landed on Mars (also known on maps as southwestern Utah). Because of anticipating her excitement for such a discovery, I’ve been on a mission to step where Jurassic lizards have trod. We’ll be leaving Mars soon and still, I hadn’t found the tracks. So we are searching among the purple gumdrops and oozing orange koolaid.

Tiny mesquite leaves unfurl among spindly brush and newborn cactus needles blur the outline of the plants with fuzz. Garnet red buds line the tops of prickly pear cactus and tiny yellow bells trumpet from thorny shrubs. White flowers on a single stalk rise up like spears from the dark brown clay. This is Warner Valley in spring. Somewhere out here, the toes of Dilophosaurus and Megapnosaurus trailed across a mudflat millions of springs ago before this was a desert. in 1982, a man from Cedar City, Utah was walking down a wash and found an exposed fossil of over 400 tracks.

Locating the site is like finding a lost cactus spine in the sand. Unless you directly step on it, it remains hidden. The Hub and I traverse several BLM (Bureau of Land Management, public lands) roads. The reason we had found the Honeymoon Trail earlier is because I was looking for this site. I understood the old pioneer trail was nearby. But, as often is the trouble in this steep terrain, the Honeymoon Trail plummets over the Hurricane Cliffs in what is now regarded as an extreme Jeep trail. Thwarted in our search, we’ve come to the Warner Valley a different way — this is below the Hurricane Cliffs and behind Sand Mountain (which was the first place I search for the tracks).

Our BLM map shows the valley as deceptively flat. We trundle over hillocks, and dip down and up through dry washes. We stop to chat with a motorcyclist, and he confirms the dinosaur tracks are out here, “somewhere.” Another cyclist comes along and encourages us to continue down a road we decided wasn’t going anywhere. Turns out, that road led us to the grape gumdrops and we are on a two-track that feels similar to a carnival roller-coaster. The purple landscape might be a clue: according to geology books this level gains its color and treacherous stickiness when wet from ancient volcanic ash. That sounds Jurassic to me.

We come to a fence, turn up the road and a BLM sign marks the spot — to park, that is. From here, the search continues on foot. The rolling trail continues and I walk past smooth sandstone clusters that look like ruins of Bedrock from the 1970s cartoon, The Flintstones. The closer I get to the cliffs and scree of Sand Mountain, the more obvious the carving of the land by water. The trail dips into a flat wash that continues to travel down as if servile to water when it marches this way. Finally, a broad flat of chocolate malt rock spreads out before me. I have found the Holy Grail of sweets in this gumdrop desert. Norah, this treat is for you!

It might sound silly to take along a friend in a pocket, but truly, as writers we do that. When we go on these journeys of discovery, and writing is both, we think of audience. Many talk about turning off the “inner critic.” Critics are for editing. Creative flow needs friendly encouragement. That’s why I like to write to a friendly audience. And you don’t have to actually know your reader. Norah doesn’t always have to ride in my pocket! Many times, I make up the audience. And the reason is sane and important to writing. You might write first for yourself, but if you want to connect with others, you write next for an audience.

It’s easy for me to match up an adventure involving dinosaurs to a friend who appreciates the Jurassic lizards (or ancestors of birds). So how do I do this with an unknown audience?

My beat used to be organic and local food systems, such as cranberry farms, artisan cheese-makers, grass-fed cattle ranches, urban community gardens, Hmong collective farms, CSAs, farmers markets and cooperatives (farm, producer and retailer). For 15 years, I interviewed people where they tilled black soil, bogged cranberries or fought for food justice. I wrote for publications like Edible Twin Cities, Stress-free Living and This is Living Naturally. I’ve been featured on NPR, interviewed for local news and contributed to regional cookbooks.

Each time, I was aware that I was writing for an audience. If I was alone, prone on the soft earth in a French vineyard that endured Minnesota weather for three decades, poised to capture the sunrise over grapes that suffered, I talked to my readers as if they were blind. I took notes and photographs as if I were their eyes. I included other senses, too and built relationships with the land and those who tended it as if I were match-making with readers. I was the experience, and that’s how I learned to write sensory. It became engaging to the point that I had real readers who wanted to go with me.

And many did. I’d put out a call and take others along. They asked questions I hadn’t thought of which taught me to anticipate what a reader wants to know. One memorable experience was with an accountant who didn’t agree that local food should “cost” a premium until I invited him to go with me on assignment to an organic cranberry bog. We toured the entire day, the farmer introducing us to neighbors so we could see the multiple ways farmers harvest cranberries. We left, but the accountant never fully left the bogs; it was in his system and he became a local food advocate.

What about fiction? I start with the story, and think as a story-teller — what would an audience want to know and what will surprise them? But first, I write my novels for me. Now, I’m writing them for readers. I carry along readers in my pocket to remind me to look at the journey for them. This is one way to write for readers. I’m sure more than a few of you, especially bloggers, have experienced processing a post mentally as if you were in conversation with those you know read. And for those we don’t know, we think of them as friendly. We, the writer, return from the desert with a gift we can share.

And thank you to everyone here at Carrot Ranch — Rough Writers & Friends, Readers and Lurkers — last week resulted in a profound collection of writing that supports the idea that art is free and within us, no matter political climates and cuts. I know many of you read as responses are posted, but if you get the chance, take a read of the Without Art collection as a whole. Thank you. That is the gift writers share, and reading is the gift in return to writers.

March 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an audience. It can be broad or small, and gathered for any reason. How does your character react to an audience? Is the audience itself a character. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 28, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 29). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Surprise Audience (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni met Peter at the archeological site when a bus pulled up.

“Guess what? We have a school field trip. I told the teachers we’d have Q & A with an archaeologist.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Danni.

“This way, I knew you’d show up. It gives us a chance to tweak your Little Ranger Program. It’s sound, but not kid friendly. Time for you to learn your audience. What age, are you thinking?”

“Is this a cruel test?”

“Kind of. How old?” Peter folded his arms, grinning at the kids.

“Can I look at their teeth?” asked Danni.

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