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Why I Write

The Writer's LifeI write, therefore I am.

It seems easy to answer when writing feels akin to drawing breath. But it’s as complicated as trying to explain how the lungs function. Writer, Robin Flanigan, invited me to ponder this question in a blog hop that considers the reasons why we write.

Today, I’m dogged by details. After last week’s post, When the Wolves Give Chase, I’m tempted to say, I’m wolfed. A project that I’ve been working on with a client since April has been tricky at best. Why? Because it’s greatly detailed, thus requires spot-on accuracy and involves multiple interested parties.

And not the kind of parties that are fun.

I’m talking about a financial manager, board directors, a general manager, a marketing manager and her team of communicators. Then there’s the contractors I work with–the designer, the writers, the printer, the digital team. The first thing I crafted for this project was the timeline: who–>does what–>by when.

The first thing that failed? Yes, the timeline. Interested parties began citing their vacations and I re-invented a new timeline, adapting it to who was going to be gone when. Second timeline has worked.

Today was the accumulation of all the details, ready to pass on to the designer. We had a few major glitches gracefully resolved by key parties (toot horns and toss confetti) and are on track as of 45 minutes ago. Whew…

So why do I mention this under the title of why I write? Because one answer is communication. I write to communicate. While projects are challenging and miscommunications frustrating, ultimately it is the challenge of communicating that is exciting, connecting and fulfilling.

But it’s not the reason I ever bought my first notebook and started to write about Silver Chalmers and why her English father returned to England after managing the Silver City mines in California from 1856 to 1864. That I started to write because I wanted to know why the real “Lord” Chalmers (as he was called in my home-county of Alpine) built such a fancy mansion way up in the granitic mountains of the Sierra Nevadas for a wife he left. The old-timers told me she rode to meet the stage every week, awaiting his return until she was committed to the insane asylum in Carson City, Nevada.

I write because I love history’s mysteries, I love a good story and I love to be a part of the unraveling. Later I discovered what many writers do–that if you write into a story it will push back into you with ideas you didn’t know you had. At a writer’s retreat at a Franciscan Center I learned that this was writing into truth. I write because it feels like a brave thing to do.

Yet, there are some things I don’t write about. Some truths are too dark, too painful and I decided long ago that they would not rule over me. I was brave in leaving, of getting out of a bad situation and I’m not going back there with my writing. My writing belongs to me, not them, and I will use it for my own purposes.

I write to communicate, to understand behavior through history, to tell stories, to push into the truth of who I am at the core. I am not my past. I am not my age, my reflection in a mirror; I am not my car, my clothes my stuff. I am a writer. And every day I write myself anew.

Tag–you are it: I’m passing the baton from Robin Flanigan on to Ruchira Khanna, Ellen Muholland and Lori Schafer. These three woman have boldly pressed into their own writing and have authored books. I hope that this blog hop is a chance for them to tell you why they write and also about why they wrote their books.

Carry on, writers!

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Ruchira Khanna is just another soul trying to make a difference in this lifetime by juggling between my passion and responsibilities.

A Biochemist turned Writer who draws inspiration from various sources and tries to pen them down to create awareness within her and the society. Recently published a novel, which peeps into every one’s daily life named, “Choices”  She is working on a children’s book, which should be out this year.

A Reiki Master in her spare time where she passes out information about channeling universal energy and conducts sessions.

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Ellen Plotkin Mulholland grew up in San Bernardino, California. After earning her degree in Journalism and English Literature at the University of Southern California, she moved to London. There she wrote her first novel, bagged beans, stood in the snow for a bus, and watched the trees change colors in fall. Today she teaches academic strategies to struggling adolescents while marveling in the exploits of her own kids. She is the author of “This Girl Climbs Trees,” a first person narrative following one teen’s quest for life’s answers, and “Birds on a Wire,” a coming out of age tale. She is nearly finished with her third YA that focusses on a young girl’s obsessions and her fight to find her place in this world.

“Why I Write” by Ellen Mulholland

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Loris Schafer is a writer of serious prose and humorous erotica and romance. More than thirty of her short stories, flash fiction, and essays have appeared in a variety of print and online publications, and her first novel, a work of women’s fiction entitled My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged, will be released in 2015. Also forthcoming in 2015 is her second novel Just the Three of Us: An Erotic Romantic Comedy for the Commitment-Challenged. On the more serious side, her memoir, On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, will be published in October 2014.

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Bite Size Memoir No. 3

Mountain Ghosts & Water Babies

Avoiding Water Babies
Lake Tahoe had no fairies, but Water Babies prowled its depths. I know because both grandfathers of K. and L. told me so. One man was Washo, the other Apache—both Native American—and they knew. Later, when showing K.’s grandfather a tiny pink arrowhead I found, he squinted, held it between his big thumb and forefinger, and named it a bird-point. It’s an arrowhead for shooting waterfowl. Then he asked me where I found it. I was always scrounging such things, gawking for them from the back of my bay horse, Captain. When I told him where—above the spit of forested, boulder-strewn land between two mountain creeks—he shook his head and warned me to be careful there. That’s where the Water Babies live. I remember feeling afraid and avoiding the dangerous currents that melded as the two creeks combined. He knew people had drowned there. And I was never one of them.

 

I Remember Mountain Ghosts:

  1. The girl buried in the old cemetery overgrown with gnarly sagebrush that hid toppled markers.
  2. The black cat crouched on top of a white marker the night C. and I crept up to the cemetery with her dad’s flashlight that died when we arrived.
  3. The Tommy Knockers who still noisily mined the shafts they had blasted from bedrock despite the fact they had died long ago beneath the granite, their bodies never recovered.
  4. The couple who died in their car that careened over Cadillac Curve where the car now rusts.
  5. Crazy old Mrs. Chalmers who drove her wagon to town every day the stage arrived, seeking her Englishman who never returned to her or the remote mountain mansion he built her.
  6. Jake Marklee who was shot for his land or maybe his toll-bridge or for many other imagined reason that still haunt my imagination.
  7. The unknown Washo elders buried in unmarked, sunken graves in a patch of forest fenced off with barbed wire so old the Jeffry pines had buried the wire deep in the bark.
  8. The two blind Washo sisters who lived in a wikiup above town and hoarded old buttons that scattered down the rocky hillside as a century of snows came and went.
  9. The man who gave name to Hangman’s Bridge over the turbulent East Fork of the Carson River.
  10. The phantom buildings of Silver Mountain City that I could see if I squinted just right even though it was nothing but an empty flat of sagebrush and Jeffry pines to adult eyes.

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Join the flash fun at Lisa Reiter’s “Bite Size Memoir” challenge. Already she is onto challenge number three. Reading other flash memories niggles at buried memories of my own. And this surprises me. It’s like word associations–Lisa writes about faeries and I think about water babies; she writes about magic and I think of old ghosts. I like the detail dredging that is going on in my memory bog, but it takes reading as much as writing to pull it off. What will my memories remind you of?

 

Bite Size Memoir No. 2

Jinks & JapesFor me, exploring memory is like extracting water from a peat bog. It’s saturated, but not easy to pull out clean.

However, I’m taking the weekly “Bite Size Memoir” challenge posted by memoirist, Lisa Reiter, and discovering that I do have resources for writing from memory, after all.

This week’s prompt is “Jinks and Japes.”

Older students sat in the back of the bus. No reserved sign was needed; we simply understood the seating hierarchy. In the winter, we’d fill seats from first-graders to eighth and go skiing at Kirkwood for physical education.

Chatter buzzed the 30 minutes it took to drive up the winding mountain pass. Cheese sandwiches and cartons of milk filled two boxes for lunch. I can still taste the squishy white bread, tangy mayo and creamy American cheese. None of us dared to mess with lunch.

But let loose on the ski slopes, we found plenty of mischief, especially once we became back-seat riders. Our favorite joke was to ski backwards. We’d sing the television jingle that advertised Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars—“sometimes you feel like a nut” (jump to backwards skiing) and “sometimes you don’t” (jump to forward skiing).

We’d only stop long enough to devour a cheese sandwich.

Charli Mills – 1967 – USA

Flash Fiction: Giving Up a Prized Possession

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionMarch 12, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a character from any perspective who has to part with a prize possession.

Hunger by Janika

It had been 3 days since they had had a decent meal. Whatever little she earned from selling the vegetables was spent on her son’s treatment. He had typhoid. She had seen her daughters begging for food while she had taken her son to the hospital. The situation was very bleak and heartbreaking. The tears had long since dried up. She had exhausted her sources from where she could borrow money. She went to Lalaji’s shop – “Lala, I can give you what you want…I need money.” Lala smacked his lips and took her to the back of the shop.

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Stripped by Norah Colvin

She could hear them.

They didn’t think she could. She couldn’t talk. Why should she hear?

Caressing soft leather covers, fingering embossed lettering, she smelt the welcome of well-read pages and familiar characters.

In her mind.

While they annihilated shelves of prized possessions.

“No value here.”

“Dump them!”

Stripped of speech and movement, her twisted body dumped in her “favourite chair” for “minding” while they pillaged her collection: a lifetime in the making; seconds to destroy.

Laughter. Her eyes flickered. She knew those words by heart. She had written them –

Her last refuge.

Shit!

and that’s gone too!

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Selling His Soul by Diana Wenzel

I watch the man frantically search for the keys to his truck, with pants pocket linings turned out. He asks if we have seen his keys. Mom catches my eye with a knowing look, for she has hidden his keys.

The man’s days have always been filled with miles and miles of open road. Those are the keys to his kingdom, but now he cannot remember places. If he leaves, we cannot be sure he will find his way back.

I believe Dad might sell his soul to have his most prized possession in hand once more… his freedom.

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Flash Fiction Challenge –March 12 by Susan Zutautas

Looking at the older couple in the hawk shop brought tears to my eyes as I overheard them discussing what they could get for the woman’s diamond that she was toying with on her wedding ring finger.

From what I could gather they had just lost their home due to a fire, and had nowhere to go. Selling the diamond was their last hope for somewhere to stay that night and for a bite to eat.

In my heart I wanted to help but didn’t want to interfere, afraid that their pride would be shattered. Then I spoke up.

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Flash Fiction by Pete

Any other day a ride to the dump would have made my week. The mountains of treasures, stacked far and wide over the rolling hills. Sure, the smell could get thick, nearly visible during those muggy days of summer, but today my nose was too stuffy to smell anything. I wiped my face with the back of my hand, still unable to look back at my old friend, sitting on garbage bags in the bed of the truck. Dad put a gentle hand on my shoulder, his eyes soft.

“Son, I’ll get you another big wheel, this one’s caput.”

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Flash Fiction by Allison Mills:

The pages felt too real. One, two, three—forty-nine total. Three acts, a dozen scenes. At least eleven separate voices. Heavy pages, weighted with anticipation.

Jordan walked down the hall, nursing a paper cut. Gray walls, a university is an institution after all. Photographs line the corridor, evenly disrupting the monotony of office doors. Thin, black frames, like reading glasses. Here a distorted spiral of unidentified color. Children on a trampoline. An empty truck. A cowboy dumped in the dirt, looking away from the bull.

Jordan stopped; the door was closed. She slid her thesis under her adviser’s door.

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Small Sentiment by Jason Kennedy

I was twelve the first time my heart was torn in two. I had handed her a small bracelet – nothing special. It was painted gold and won from a 25 cent machine, but holding it then, it felt like she’d rejected all of me. She had shaken her head no, hiding a giggle behind her smile. Anger and pain swelled inside my small frame. I clenched my fist around the costume jewellery. I knew I would start to cry, so I took action. With all my might, I threw my heart on to the roof of the school.

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Flash Fiction by Paula Moyer

It hadn’t been easy, but Jean had done it. Gone were the diphthongs, the idioms, the quirky Oklahoma expressions. No more “meaner’n a striped snake,” “told him how the cow ate the cabbage.” Those colorful expressions were the easy ones to unload so that she could pass as a Minnesotan. But what to do about “y’all”? That sweet, handy second-person plural. It filled a hole in English that had been missing since the end of the Elizabethan age and the death of “ye”: “Ye are my people.” To fit in, “y’all” had to go. Keeping it exposed her. Sigh.

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A Prized Possession by Ruchira Khanna

Melissa finishes ironing the shirt and places it neatly in the pack of pressed clothes. Her eyes are moist as she enters his room with the bunch of formals.

Places them on his bed, and walks swiftly to her room.

Plops on her bed with a heavy heart and quivers while looking around those picture frames that make her walk back in memory lane when he held her hand to walk and climb steps. His first birthday and those gawky expressions that stole everybody’s heart, and today, this prized possession, of hers, is grown up and leaving for college.

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March 12 Response by Charli Mills:

Middle of a Monday rah-rah meeting before the store opens and my cell phone vibrates in my apron pocket. I’m not supposed to take calls at work, especially not during the weekly sales goal pitch. A manager glares at me as I hastily exit to the backroom among stacks of boxes.

“I’m calling about your listing,” says a voice.

I’m sick to answer these calls. Already 18 people want to buy my sea-kayak, the one I take out on Lake Superior. But when you have lymphoma, prized possessions pay for treatments.

Flash Fiction Challenge Begins Next Week

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionNext week is the debut for Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction. March 5 and every Wednesday thereafter you’ll find a prompt at this blog to initiate the week’s challenge. You’ll have up until the next challenge to post a link to your blog.

How you craft your 99 words is up to you.  This is meant to be a friendly exercise among wordsmiths. Sometimes you might feel humorous and write something funny; other times you might be frustrated and write something horrific. Some will write into hard truths like warriors and others will gently catalog the wonder of fluttering butterfly wings.

The point is to find your true expression. That’s why the challenge is 99 words. The limitation on the number of words–no more and no fewer–actually is a key that unlocks creativity. Try it and you’ll understand after you’ve completed a few challenges.

Return to the weekly challenge that you are responding to and post a link to your response on your own blog. It’s a way to share our blogs in addition to fostering our craft of creative writing. If you do not have a platform to share your response you may publish it in the comments only if it is “business-friendly.” Why? Because my writing is my profession and  I don’t want to freak out any of my clients or promote writing that doesn’t fit my brand.

My belief as a writer is that writing is a business, even creative writing. My priorities are improving my craft, learning the publishing industry and extending my career as a professional writer. I want to meet other writers on the path to exchange ideas, inspiration and knowledge.

I also want to meet readers who voraciously gobble up stories like M&Ms. As writers we often think about what we want to say, but not who we want to say it to. The reader is as important as the writer in the art of written communication. Creativity is a dynamic relationship between writer and reader. My hope is that both will join in the Flash Fiction.

Here are the Rules of Play:

  1. Flash Fiction at Carrot Ranch begins Wednesday March 5.
  2. New challenge issued each Wednesday at noon (PST).
  3. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  4. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  5. Post your response on your blog before the following Wednesday and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  6. If you don’t have a blog, you may post your entry in the comments as long as it is business-rated, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read. Your blog, your business.
  7. Create community among writers–read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. When the next challenge is issued, I will post the response links to the previous challenge.

See you next week at Carrot Ranch! Lasso some time to ride on over and herd some words on March 5, 2014.

 

Flash Fiction Becomes a Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionAfter exploring options for developing the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction on Wednesdays (beginning March 5), I’ve refined two points. First, I’m clarifying that this is a “challenge,” meaning that any writer can participate. Second, there will not be a link option in the body of the hosting post.

 

These two changes alter the rules of play. Here is what to expect:

  1. Flash Fiction at Carrot Ranch begins Wednesday March 5.
  2. New challenge issued each Wednesday at noon (PST).
  3. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  4. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  5. Post your response on your blog before the following Wednesday and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  6. If you don’t have a blog, you may post your entry in the comments as long as it is business-rated, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read. Your blog, your business.
  7. Create community among writers–read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. When the next challenge is issued, I will post the response links to the previous challenge.

At this point, I feel like the new buckaroo on the ranch, and I have no idea if the other buckaroos will want to play cards with me. That’s okay. We can start slow. The point is for the challenge to be engaging to writers, including me. I’m inspired by other creatives and want to meet people who are tackling the same writing issues as me.

If this grows into something bigger, I’m considering making the challenge a contest. Top three responses would be highlighted and one monthly winner selected from the top responses to receive food. That’s right, I said food. Fun, foodie, organic stuff that I have access to on the ranch. No, not carrots from my garden, but prizes from vendors in the natural food industry.

But for now, mark your calendar for March 5 and stop back next week for a final reminder. This buckaroo looks forward to meeting you and reading your responses!

Power of Word Prompts

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionThe first word prompts I ever used were issued weekly by my 7th-grade teacher, Mr. Price. It was called a spelling list and the assignment was to use 10 of the 20 words in a story. That’s when I discovered my calling as a storyteller.

Word prompts continue to make for enjoyable practice. Practice makes for better craft, of course, but it also can be freeing. If it’s just “practice” then the writer can leave behind her critic or his editor, and just do the one thing we all want to do–write.

Take a break to have fun, and you just might return to your work renewed with playful creativity. I’m looking for some writers to play with once a week. The game is flash-fiction and each week will have it’s own prompt. Only 99 words, so not a big commitment. You can even develop a blog post around your submission and meet other writers–poets, bloggers, authors, j-students, teachers. If you write you are invited to play. Nothing serious; it’s just practice.

In the spirit of writing tight, I’m condensing the rules of play:

  1. Flash Fiction at Carrot Ranch begins Wednesday, March 5.
  2. New prompt issued each Wednesday thereafter for submission the following Wednesday.
  3. Entry is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  4. Entry is to include the prompt.
  5. Entry is to include the Week# in the title.
  6. Post your entry on your blog and link it to the host blog.
  7. If you don’t have a blog, you may post your entry in the comments as long as it is business-rated, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read. Your blog, your business.
  8. Create community among writers–read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.

Here’s an example based on a flash-story I wrote back in 2008. The prompt was: “Write a short scene in which one character reduces another to uncontrollable sobs without touching him or speaking.”

Week #8: Incident in a Raspberry Patch

Raspberries spilled from Grandfather’s hand. He lay on his back, a gunshot wound to his groin, another spreading blood across his chest. I longed to go to him, and place new moccasins on his feet.

From my hiding place, I watched the white invader kick Grandfather with his boot, then tie a rope under his arms. He rode off with Grandfather dragging behind his horse.

Later I found Grandfather’s body in a refuse pit outside their town. Hair hacked off, body decaying, nostrils blown away by firecrackers celebrating the 4th of July.

Tears spatter like raspberries left in the dust.

©Charli Mills 2008

Questions? Leave me a comment!

Why Flash Fiction?

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionLet me tell you why I’m excited to share flash fiction with other writers.

Back in “ye olden days” of the initial Gather.com, it was the first social network site that I joined. It was created to give voice to those who typically followed and responded to National Public Radio. The idea was that Gather was a collection of people who were poets, artists, photographers and writers. You could share and read the stories of others who were intelligent, engaging and creative.

While active on Gather, I met many people who are now good friends. I learned how to write tankas, cinquains and other short-forms of poetry because I was inspired to try. What I learned from practicing poetry, is that the creative exercise unlocked my mind. In fact, cinquains became the opening to all my department meetings–I actually required my staff to show up to weekly meetings with project updates and a poem. By that simple act of creation, my team became more open to creativity.

As a storyteller, my favorite short form is “flash fiction.” It is similar to cinquains only in brevity. Beyond that, it is a story. By challenging yourself to craft a story in 99 words, you unlock potential in your brain. When the brain shifts into problem solving, it shifts into creativity. The constraint of 99 words adds to the problem solving activity and you will be amazed at the results.

Not only is flash fiction fun, it can be powerful. The short stories can resonate in unexpected ways with readers. A benefit of regular practice is that you also learn to “write tight.” You will find that after practicing flash fiction, your sentence structures will become more dynamic. You know, the experts always say, if you’re going to write then you need to write regularly. I’d like to tack onto that statement–have fun!

Are you with me? Do you want to infuse your writing with more creativity? Do you want to practice weekly flash fiction with other writers? Then get ready for this coming blog hop. Here are the details:

  1. Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction begins March 5 and continues every Wednesday.
  2. Look for the weekly prompt (such as, “Facts About WWII”) on Wednesday and submit your Flash Fiction link to that blog post by noon (Pacific Time) the following Wednesday to be promoted in the blog hop.
  3. Yes, this is a blog hop. You will write your Flash Fiction on your own blog (any day before the Wednesday deadline) and submit it, using the link-up widget supplied at Carrot Ranch.
  4. Carrot Ranch will promote all the submissions and make comments on each one. You are encouraged to read and comment on the other submissions, too. It’s a great way to get to know other writers and connect with authenticity.
  5. With enough active participation, this blog hop will grow into a contest. Random House is giving away a box of Kind Bars and a Valentine’s Day dinner for a writing contest they are hosting, so I figure, writers must like to eat. I do. And I’m connected when it comes to food. So I’ll be networking for food prizes so that winners can declare, “I’m not a starving artist!”

Questions? Comments? Leave me a note! Share this coming Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction post with other writers and let’s get to know each other, practice our craft and have some fun!

Here’s an example of a flash fiction I wrote on Gather to the prompt, “Facts of WWII.”

“Now what I want is, facts.” My mother’s cousin made this demand with her pencil poised to record the facts of WWII. I glanced to the hospital bed where my once giant grandfather now lay withered and wasted.

“Fact,” he said, wheezing, “I enlisted in 1942…Marines…”

“And?”

“I earned top rifle scores…one of eight men…selected to guard…Admiral Nimitz.”

“Why were you selected?”

Although weak, I saw him grin slightly, replying “Looks…build…smarts.”

She grilled him for 20 more minutes then left. Once the door shut my Papa’s eyes filled with tears. “Facts are easy to recall…what I faced…I will never tell.”

©Charli Mills 2008