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December 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

Flash Fiction Challenge by Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsSeeking icicles, I’ve returned to Zion Canyon. Red walls stained with black mineralization are capped with white and pink peaks as the sandstone fades. It doesn’t truly fade; it’s layers of sediment baked in earth’s oven and uplifted in turmoil, or perhaps triumph. Miles up the canyon, a river bubbles out of a cavern and repeats it’s process of carving. Upstream the rock layer is hard and cuts so steep that 16 miles of water touches each rock side. It’s called The Narrows and it’s hikeable, if you call wading and swimming a hike. Perhaps in summer when the desert turns on heat of its own.

For now I zip my fleece and scan the red rock walls for ice.

Each time I return to Zion, I learn something new. The black streaks, for example, are the tracks of rainwater. I can see icicles far up the canyon walls, but none along the trail. It was warmed up on Mars since last week. Closer scrutiny of the icicles reveal they are no longer ice, but white shadows. A new mineralization. Rain leaves traces of black, and ice leaves outlines of white. Ghost-cicles. A third color, that of algae-green pools, has gone missing. Evidently the famous Emerald Pools are not such in winter. I’ve climbed two miles and found nothing but fades.

My quickened breath reminds me I should hike more often. I say so to The Hub and he grunts that walking would be better. Some parts of the trail are so steep I can’t step my heel down, and I climb on tippy-toes. When the trail dips downward I breathe easier, but take tiny steps like a scrambling crab so I don’t slip on the sandy mud that sweeps across the paved trail of red cement. Somewhere along the trail my second wind kicks in and my leg muscles loosen up enough that my steps feel more confident. Never a sprinter; I’m built for endurance.

Disappointed to not find any icicles or gem-like pools, I see the sun lighting up a peak of white that towers like a glowing ember above the walls of red cast in perpetual shadow with the low winter sun. I take a few photos and notice a bird. That’s when the enormity of scale hits me. These sandstone cliffs are nearly a mile high. That I can even see a winged creature that isn’t some gigantic dragon is remarkable. Pines look like scrubs, caverns like pockmarks, and boulders bigger than buses like stepping stones. Until something appears against the cliffs, the mind is willing to believe they aren’t really the tallest sandstone features in the world.

Because I can see this bird and it’s flying near the rim, I realize it must be huge to be seen. A bald eagle? No white head or tail. A golden eagle? Maybe. I watch it glide against the red rock, approaching a fissure in the face. It disappears into a cave. Yet another thing to fade before my eyes on this hike. Ice, algae and now a bird. Eagles build impressive nests high up on ledges, but this bird went into the wall. One bird in all of Zion does that. And I’m once again breathless — this time because I realized I just saw a rare California Condor, the largest bird in North America.

Seeing this soaring giant of Zion brings up an issue of names. The Hub says we saw condors all the time in north Idaho. Another tourist, joins me in the watch and the bird emerges. He thinks it’s a buzzard. Vultures, buzzards and condors are all raptors and different as bald eagles from goldens. Science is specific about how it names species so we get it all sorted out and the three of us marvel at the rare sight.

If only human names were easy to apply and differentiate. Over time, history and historical writers can struggle with names. Take the names Sarah and James. These two names create challenges for me in my writing of Rock Creek. Sarah is the name of both Cobb’s former mistress and his brother’s wife. Cobb’s full name was David Colbert McCanles, and his nickname was Cobb. But no one recorded the nicknames of the two Sarahs. Since one is the protagonist, I kept her name Sarah, and gave Cobb’s sister-in-law the probable familiar name of Sally.

Ah, but the James names are more numerous. Wild Bill Hickok’s full name was James Butler Hickok. He wasn’t dubbed Wild Bill until after the Civil War. Historical accounts say that Cobb teased the young man for his protruding upper lip and called him Duck Bill. But why Bill? One biographer thinks James went by the name Bill, his father’s name. When Cobb’s brother gave his statement and accused three men of murdering his brother and two ranch hands, he was recorded as calling Hickok, Dutch Bill, probably because he didn’t know Hickok by any other name. The one writing out the statement must have heard “Dutch” rather than “Duck.” If you don’t know the joke, Duck Bill doesn’t make sense.

But that’s not all. In addition to James Hickok, the other Pony Express employee on duty at Rock Creek the day of the incident was James Brinks. Brinks also had the nickname Doc, not because he was a physician but most likely because he worked on the steamship docks along the Missouri. He, along with the station manager (Horace Wellman), and Hickock were accused of murdering Cobb and his two men — James Gordon and James Woods. Four of the six men involved in this hotly debated historical incident were named James.

Joseph Rosa, Hickok biographer, writes:

“No single gunfight, with the possible exception of the Earp-Clanton fight in October, 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona, has caused so much controversy as the Hickok-McCanles affair at Rock Creek on the afternoon of Friday, July 12, 1861.”

Families, historians, State Historical societies, books, movies, magazine editors and western writers have all squared off over the years into factions. I name these the White Hat/Black Hat factions because each side believes to understand what happened that day you have to place a good-guy white hat on one and a bad-guy black hat on the other. You can read the nasty digs historians have given one another in their books or articles. I’ve interviewed McCandless family historians who tell me Hickock was short, mean and the devil on earth. I’ve been interviewed by a writer of a modern documentary who only wanted facts that painted McCanles in the worst way possible. Joseph Rosa offers the most compelling account because of his research into Hickok, but he fails to give the same diligence for McCanles.

No one considered the women’s perspectives.

Several historians did take an interest in Sarah Shull (often miss-naming her Kate Shell), but only due to intrigue over a perceived lover’s triangle between her, McCanles and Hickok. And sadly, no one even tried to research Jane Holmes’ name, only known as the common-law wife of Horace Wellman. To understand the Rock Creek Affair, you need to understand the men through the women’s lens. You need to understand the women. This may shock the history of the West, but women had motives, too.

After my own shock of seeing a California Condor in flight (you, too can see the spec in my photo for this prompt), I remembered that what appears and fades before us can have a sort of non-verbal language that is life. We might set out to see one thing and see another. The best we can do is try to name our experience. Names are such a human attribute.  What is in a name?

December 15, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) explore the importance of a name within a story. It can be naming an experience, introducing an extraordinary name, or clarifying a name (who can forget Who’s on First). Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by December 20, 2016 to be included in the compilation (published December 21). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

His Name Remembered (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane shoveled dirt over her baby’s nameless grave. Her Pa retreated to the barn and more liquor. Hang up that suit first, she reminded him.

That man, that awful man who played his fiddle over the open grave, as if she wanted to share her sorrow uninvited. That man who hauled her father to the gravesite behind his horse all because Pa stole a suit in his drunken sorrow. Who did he think he was to name Pa a thief? He demanded Pa return the suit cleaned and mended. That man. Cobb McCanles.

She’d not forget his name.

###

Puppy Names (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Selling puppies became a town spectacle. Ike’s coffee buddies showed up to chaperone, making certain Ike’s pups went to good hunting homes. Danni didn’t care if they hunted. Everyone wanted the male, including this couple.

“He bites,” said Danni. On cue, Bubbie chomped the tender spot behind Greg’s knee, pinching the skin. Danni diverted Bubbie, smiling.

They bought one of the roan sisters. Trina suggested the name Maria, and Greg countered with Cooper or North. Len from the coffee klatch suggested Buckshot.

As the couple drove off, Danni turned to Len. “Seriously? You’d name one of these girls Buckshot?”

###

Times Past: Grainy Memories

Grainy MemoriesAs a child, I knew the marshmallow give of hot tar while I padded barefoot down the street to the summer swimming hole. I’ve felt the tickle of moss while wading in irrigation ditches, shoes off and jeans rolled up to my knees. I understood sand to be grit I used to wash camp dishes in the dim light of dusk with a creek as my sink. I might be a seventh-generation Welsh-Scots-Irish-German-Basque-Portagee-Dane born in California, but I did not grow up a beach-comber. Cowabunga, surfer dudes and California dreaming was not on my side of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

My only memory of oceanic beaches from childhood is a fuzzy recollection of the clam-digger who drowned; a story I already shared.

To participate in Irene Water’s Times Past prompt, I’m dipping into more recent memory because I simply didn’t spend my childhood upon any beaches. Yet, I do have one summer when I lived along the south shore of Lake Superior, a great inland sea. I followed the feel of sand between my toes to that time. For the record, I’m a Gen X Baby-buster and this is my creative interpretation of adult memories from rural Wisconsin, USA.

Unchained on Sioux Beach

With each step the sand sings to my bare feet.

I’ve lost my home, my job and now I just let loose the leashes on  my dogs. Fear clutches the breath in my lungs and I wheeze. Yesterday I walked out of my office, the one I had for 11 years, after shaking hands with my own replacement. 90 days ago a judge said, “I’m sorry, I have no choice.” 80 days ago my husbanded dumped jeans and t-shirts into the back seat of his car, dismantled his aviation toolbox, set trays in the trunk, and said he had to go west; it was a job. 30 days ago I declared myself a Craig’s List dealer, giving strangers my phone number and address, giving away books, suits, dishes, furniture and everything my husband left in the garage, wishing I smoked cigarettes after each transaction. 10 days ago my boss called me into to her office so she could cry. She said, “I’m grieving.” I’d have grieved, too if only tears could have breached the shroud of terror and loneliness. Five days ago my staff held a going away party with jazz and cake. Despite having disrobed my life’s accumulations, they gifted me new stuff as if homelessness was not my destination.

Damp and coarse like Kosher rock salt used to freeze home-made ice cream, I feel the sand scrub my feet.

This morning I awoke in a spare bedroom not my own, having slept in a borrowed twin bed and surrounded with the last of Things That Still Matter — three crates of books, enough clothes to make choices, a small writing desk and a laptop with a hopeful half-drafted first-novel. It is not my first first-novel. I had cheerfully told everyone I was going to Wisconsin, to the fishing village where my novel was set to finish my book, as if foreclosure had made me Hemingway. The two dogs remained with me even though they limited my ability to find places to sleep and write. They Still Mattered. They remained my last fragment of scheduled time with a persistence to go outdoors. They had to pee early this first morning when I felt the weight of loss upon me like a death shroud. We could have stopped at the clumpy patch of grass, but I could hear the seagulls and Lake Superior close-by. So I went to Sioux Beach, took off my shoes and removed the leashes on two dogs who had only known their house, yard and neighborhood walks.

Sioux Beach stretches vast and empty. So much sand is alien to me.

In this place, as far away from my former home and office as mars is from earth, I force out the fear strangling breath in my lungs. I watch the unleashed bigger dog lunge after seagulls, his dark coloring a beacon on the beach dressed in khaki and white. The water tumbles to shore in waves, making semi-circles of washed pebbles and foam. The smaller dog, roan and lighter, sniffs with curiosity at the water’s lapping edge. I imagine I’m at the ocean and look across the bay until land is no longer visible. Later I’ll learn that even though Lake Superior is an inland sea, its fresh water wave action is due to a sloshing bathtub effect. Gunmetal storm clouds from the nor ‘east can bring 14 foot swells.

Above the surf I still hear the sand.

Quartz particles rub with each step and emit a sound like a tiny singing bowl. For the remainder of spring and summer, I’ll discard my shoes to walk upon this sacred beach. My feet will become polished as if I could afford weekly pedicures. Fear falls away and home becomes defined by where I am and who I’m with in the moment. Structure diminishes, that of houses and time. In the places polished clean by sand, creativity enters and I finally finish a first-novel. I discard my own leashes and trust what comes back to me. These first steps in the signing sand on Sioux Beach are like a return to living fully engaged and alive. Unchained.

I write thank-you notes in the sand to bankers who robbed me with pens as big as ceremonial halberds, watching waves erase the diminished letters of BOA.

 

January 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

January 27Rain has come early. Like a great science experiment it transforms snow into white fog and ice into silver slush. A woman driving northbound on State Highway 95 hit a patch of slush and spun her lumbering SUV out of control. When the tires caught the snow bank, the vehicle flipped twice, landing briefly upside-down before coming to a rest upright and askew to the railway bed. She had been going about 60 miles per hour; the speed limit.

I didn’t hear the accident, yet sensed it. No squeal of tires, no crunch of metal. Just a silent spin and double somersault, and those who saw it held their breath and pulled over. At that very moment the vehicle landed in three feet of grimy roadway snow, I turned from my computer and was stunned to see an SUV off the highway, other cars braking, some stopping, drivers running to get to the vehicle.

I yelled loudly for the Hub who didn’t even ask what was going on. He clearly heard my tone. I met him downstairs, breathless. “A car’s gone into the ditch.” He nodded, put on his shoes and a hat to keep off the rain. Without discussing it with me, he reacted by instinct. He knows me. He helped her out, talked to neighbors, waved at those who slowed down to ask about injuries through rolled down windows, and then he escorted her to our home. I already had a fresh pot of coffee going, hot water for tea and I set out brownies.

It’s what a community does.

And that’s not all. Those attached to our community in the capacity of civil service showed up — Idaho Highway Patrol, Emergency Medical Service, Volunteer Fire Department, Sandpoint Towing. In and out men in boots and emergency gear or uniforms traipsed, apologized for wet shoes. I offered coffee, tea. She sat in my rocking chair by the fire, ice on her broken nose, cup of tea at her side. She filled out paperwork, answered questions, let EMS examine her head. She laughed at the irony of surviving the accident only to break her nose trying to get out of the vehicle. She was in shock. We kept her warm, talked to her and eventually one of the responders took her home.

The internet technician who arrived days later was more curious about the obvious disturbance to the snow across the road from our mail box than our continuing connectivity woes. Connection, however, is paramount to me.

Though I live in a small community I don’t often see my neighbors or go to town. Lack of internet connectivity forced me to open up secondary offices in the community brew and beer houses. Just in time for no internet, my magazine editor gave me new assignments. I want to stay home, hide out and work within my routines. Then I realized what was really bothering me — I didn’t want to be disconnected from my writing community. It truly is the hub of my work.

Some writers worry about the time spent on social media as if being social were a bad thing. Going to town reminded me that it is not, and I like my new magazine gig that has me interviewing my local community. My interview style is to collect stories and that requires a degree of sociability. And I like it, despite my introverted desire to stay home. Being an introvert does not make one unsocial. Not only is my online community important to being social, it forms an important part of my writer’s platform.

Community is my foundation. All else pushes out from that hub like spokes on a wagon wheel.

Ever since I began decoding the writer’s platform, I had been trying to figure out how to visually show others the importance of community, especially when some writers began to wonder if it was a guilty pleasure or a time-waster. I knew it was neither, but I couldn’t make it “fit” my brick and mortar design for a writer’s platform. As I thought of community, I was reminded of a marketing model from the wellness segment called the “world view.” It’s a core, surrounded by a thicker layer and then a thinner crust.

Then the hub, spokes and wheel idea came to me.

Community is the hub; it’s our core. From the community, spokes of opportunity open up to reach the wheel that drives us in the writing market — readers. While I don’t have a developed visual, I’m working on it! First comes the breakthrough idea. Community is essential and the more organic it is the better. No, I don’t mean we need USDA labels or unadulterated ingredients. An organic community is one that occurs naturally. It’s the kindred-spirits, the shared-values bloggers, the like-minded who gather to write, read and discuss. We might be from varied backgrounds, genres and experiences, but we find common ground in our process, ideas and words.

From this hub of community, important spokes come into play. Like the woman who crashed, our community quickly responded with emergency services. That’s a spoke. For writers in a community, a spoke might be finding advice or trusted beta-readers. It might be an unexpected spoke of realizing that the genre you write is beloved to someone one of your community members know. Another spoke might be the sharing we do for each other in mentioning posts or books on our own sites. Yet another is collaboration, whether it is a Blogger’s Bash, judging a contest or sharing work in an anthology.

All these spokes reach out from our community and touch readers we don’t yet know.

January 27, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about how a community reaches out. Who, or what cause, is touched by a community “spoke”? Do you think communities can impact change and move a “wheel”? Why or why not? Explore the idea of a community hub in a flash fiction.

Respond by February 2, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Community Adjudication by Charli Mills

“String ‘em up,” one of the returning gold-miners shouted. Others laughed.

Ben, the grizzled trader who’d been buffalo hunting with the Pawnee since 1846 shook his shaggy head. “Now that ain’t fair. A man deserves due process.”

Cobb agreed. The old frontiersman understood democracy better than did most of these farmers who liked the idea of wielding deadly force over miscreants. Cobb stood and towered over them all. “Gentlemen, I wrote a proclamation to our Territorial Governor to petition for our right to adjudicate minor crimes.”

Heads nodded.

“But we won’t be hanging anyone in our community,” he added.

###

Book Review: My Father and Other Liars

Geoff Le PardOne thing you can’t fake as a writer is voice. To some it’s a mystery to develop. It sounds a lot like the adage adults might have offered you as a teen — be yourself. Yet, to others, the pursuit of self and understanding who you are in the context of the greater world, is why we write. Awareness leads to voice. Knowing what captivates us, angers us, motivates us are all topics for our voice.

As a reader, I enjoy books by authors who have a strong voice — something meaningful to say in a way unique to that person.

From the first time I read Geoff LePard’s blog, Tangental, I knew this was a writer with voice. Intelligent, quirky, compassionate, edgy and witty, I felt I struck gold getting to read posts about his father’s military service in Palestine, his growing up in the UK, his love for London and travel, Dog, poetry and fiction. Better yet, Geoff began to write regular flash fiction at Carrot Ranch despite his belief that I said something about his poop (I clearly wrote popped).

The English language can be strange cousins between the US and UK.

Yet, Geoff has tackled bringing the cousins together in his latest novel, My Father and Other Liars. It is a story that extends from England to San Francisco to Oklahoma to Nicaragua and connects global characters through personal and political twists.

Before reading this second novel by Geoff, I began to understand through his short stories and debut novel, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, that he is consistent in developing dialog and characters. In fact, his fiction comes to life through dialog. And his characters are complex, yet approachable in their humanness.

However, I found myself uncertain about the protagonist of My Father and Other Liars. Mo can bristle. He can be sarcastic and unkind. Yet we get insights that he has goodness and valor among his flaws. It’s something I’ve begun to notice, reading two other works that Geoff is writing (Mary’s Saga and Buster and Moo). No one is the good guy or the bad guy. Clearly there are those roles in My Father and Other Liars, but even the most sinister character is given the light of humanity. It’s that perspective that makes Geoff’s characters interesting and worth reading. The ending will stun you and reveal that Mo is better than he makes himself out to be.

Another ability Geoff has as a writer is to twist plots like a rope-maker. Once I got into the story, I kept wanting to read another chapter and another. The science and the creation of a theology and government organization behind My Father and Other Liars, each creates its own strand along with the tension between the characters of Mo and Lori-Ann Beaumont. Yet Geoff unravels the knots in an unexpected but satisfying ending.

Ultimately, My Father and Other Liars made me think about how modern science and religion intersects and how connected the world is through politics, media, business and shared heartaches regarding fathers and what it is like to identify as an adult orphan.

Now available: Amazon UK and Amazon US. my-father-and-other-liars-final-for-kindle

Digging Up Dirt

Digging Up DirtSometimes dirt is obvious and other times you have to dig it up. Not everyone who is dirty looks dirty and those covered with it are some of the cleanest-living folks around. We all have opinions about dirt, it seems. Dirt receives both the seeds of new life and the husks of our dead.

With dirt, writers dug up a variety of stories from every day life, history and beyond. Stories reveal dirt in many tones from the whimsy of a caterpillar to the grit of hiding secrets.

The following stories are based on the June 24, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about dirt.

***

My Space by Ruchira Khanna

I was digging hard since the harsh winter had solidified the soil and made it all dry and parched.

Just then I heard a low noise, “hey.”

I looked around but did not find any activity about me, thus continued with zeal.

“hey! you hear me.”

Stunned I took back a few steps as I brushed off the excess dirt from my claws.

“What do you want?” I glared at the caterpillar.

“Dig with caution since this is my space. Do not invade my privacy,” he sneered at me.

Taken aback with the harsh truth. I nodded in compliance.

###

Red Dirt of Home by Paula Moyer

None of Jean’s Minnesota friends understood the free association: when she heard the word “dirt,” the next word in her mind was “ruby.” Up in the North Country, dirt was black. She had run her fingers through it while pulling weeds. Rich, onyx soil. But it wasn’t native to her.

As the plane circled over Oklahoma City, she glanced out the window. Deep ruby between rows of wheat. She was home. Wet, it was clumpy clay; when dry, fine and sandy, suspended in the air.

“Welcome to Will Rogers International Airport.”

Ruby clay. World’s best tomatoes. World’s best sunsets.

###

The Late Exchange by Charli Mills

Belle searched for signs of rising dirt that announced travelers across the barren basin. By now she could discern hand carts from wagons. She hoped to see indication of the overdue Pony Express rider. Sul would soon go searching, leaving Belle alone.

“I’ll give you the rifle. Point and pull the trigger.”

Belle nodded.

“Ah, Sweetheart, ain’t nobody getting’ in through these rock walls.”

Then, billowing dirt on the horizon.

When the rider arrived to exchange horses, he grinned. “Injuns!” He tossed Belle a calico sack full of pine nuts. “For you, Ma’am. Seems they like your chokecherry pie.”

###

Blood Brothers by Pete Fanning

Ralph rubbed Lamont’s arm. “It doesn’t wipe off? Mine wipes off.”

Lamont shook his head, peering into Ralph’s pale blue eyes as Ralph brushed the dirt off his freckled arm and asked, “What color is your blood?”

“Red.”

Ralph’s fire blond hair bounced with his nods . “Mine too. And your spit?”

Lamont’s spit dropped into the dirt. Ralph let go with his own pool of saliva that touched Lamont’s and formed one big pool. The boys giggled. Their mothers did not, calling after the boys at the same time.

Lamont turned to Ralph. “Your Mom does that too?”

###

Guilty by Sacha Black

It was the kind of dirt that no amount of bleach or cleaning could ever remove. My soul was dirty. Guilty.

I stared down at his greyed mottled flesh and bile rose in my throat.

“Babe. We gotta go.”

I blinked a few times, my tears falling into patches of his blood. Red ran down his cheeks, it made him look like he was crying. A shiver crawled down my back each step a spiked reminder of what I had done.

“Babe?”

“I’m coming.”

I bent down to his lifeless body and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

We had to run.

###

Nowhere’s, Ma by Roger Shipp

“Where have you been, Kyle?”

“Nowhere, Ma.”

“Tell be the truth. You know I don’t abide no stories.”

“Ma, I weren’t doing nothing wrong.”

“Didn’t say it was wrong. Askt where?”

“Nowhere, really, Ma.”

“Nowhere’s gotta lotta dirt. Look at your shoes… my floors… and the knees to your Sunday pants. Go out back and get cleaned fore you come back in. “

“Don’t you come nosing around here for love, Aggy-Belle. Tarnation. Get on withca. If you wouldn’ta hid those blasted kittens under the shed, you and I would both be eating Granny’s blueberry muffins with cream right now.”

###

A Fool’s Gold by Ruth Irwin

“You’re a fool! How could you be so stupid?” She continuously repeated the words, shouting them at times. There was no-one to hear her.

She had longed for a simple, less complicated life. It had seemed like a good idea at the time; swapping city life for a quiet life of subsistence farming. What could possibly go wrong with her plan?

Barren soil. Her dream of nirvana was a dust bowl nightmare that sapped her savings, her energy and her spirit. She kicked at stones that peppered her piece of dirt. Something unusual caught her eye. “A nugget? Eureka!”

###

Crumbling by Sarah Brentyn

Is this sickness?

Lack of light? Solid darkness? Under canopies of lovely trees, thick with glossy emerald leaves, where sunshine cannot reach?

On the ground. Broken bits of self. Hazy eyes, unfocused from pain—grime on windows to the soul.

Shatter me.

Break apart the clumps of soil. Dig into dirt with naked hands, crumbling until fingernails become half moons of filth.

Till the earth of who I was. From this mangled mass of roots, pebbles, and pain, let something whole and healthy break through the ground. Let something beautiful grow.

This wishing. This futile hope.

Is this sickness?

###

Red by Rebecca Patajac

Dirt caked her soft dress. She’ll wash it later. For now, though self-assigned, she had to complete her mission before the sun set – she had to find it.

Laughter reached her, drifting from the house at the bottom of the yard; soon it’d turn to cries.

She had to hurry.

She sped over the ground, eyes darting.

At last she spotted it, red fabric peeking out beneath the roses.

Hiding behind the gum’s roots, she held her breath as her charge’s carer emerged, collected a red blanket, disappeared and all became quiet inside, as the lights went out.

###

Santorini Dirt by Tally Pendragon

Mid-September, 2013, on Santorini. Red had led them here, to the ruins of the Temple of Apollo in very ancient and dead Thera, in her byzantine jewellery, features all fuzzy in that dream-people way. Vanda had seen her somewhere before.

She scratched absently at the dirt with her toe. Something glinted. Vanda used her fingers instead. Someone shouted, distantly. She brushed some more. And there she was, Red in gold – Empress Theodora – right in the middle of a small mosaic dish. The shouting got louder. Time to run … So this is what an antiquities thief feels like!

###

Dirty Girl by Mercy.James.

Scrunched up baby face – disgust grass prickly on tender hands; laughter surrounds – as I fussed.

Twenty three years later, I stand before you, dirty. A fine layer of black – compost – covers my jeans, my tee-shirt, smudged with sweat and swipes of dirty hands. Fingers, though glove covered, show dirt under trimmed nails.

“Well, you are the expert” …. as I offer pointers, as asked. Disapproval drips like your mini-water garden feature.

Fifteen years later, I wait – broken from work – for the moment when sod will cover you. Will I dance barefoot? Or simply walk away – if I bother at all.

###

Digging for Gold by Norah Colvin

Her spade crunched against the obstinate soil. Then tap, tap, tap, another thin layer loosened. She scooped up the soil and tossed it onto the pile growing steadily beside the excavation site. With expectant eyes and gentle fingertips she scanned each new surface. Then again: tap, tap, tap — toss; tap, tap, tap —toss!

She pushed back her hat to wipe her sweaty brow, leaving a smudge of dirt as evidence. She glanced skyward. The sun was high. She’d been digging for hours. She must find something soon. What would it be? Pirate’s treasure or dinosaur bones . . .?

###

Morning on the Third Day by Susan Budig

It’s morning on the Third Day
There’s lots of work to be done
Sky slips from black to gray
Then glory-be, here comes the sun

There’s lots of work to be done
Soil opens its banks to receive
Then glory-be, here comes the sun
Hush-hush as seed and soil cleave

Soil opens its banks to receive
A puff from God’s own lips
Hush-hush as seed and soil cleave
Then up shoots vines in tidy strips

A puff from God’s own lips
Sky slips from black to gray
Then up shoots vines in tidy strips
Morning on the Third Day

###

Home by Sarrah J Woods

In the dirt that covered the cave’s smooth rock wall, the girl drew an outline of the woolly mammoth she had seen last week.

“Uhn-ga.” Her mother’s grunt summoned her to stay close. The men were farther in, exploring silently. Behind her, a baby whimpered.

She glanced up at her mother’s excited eyes. For so long her family had been on the run from wild beasts, hunger, exposure, and territorial rages of other clans. Could they have finally found a refuge all their own?

The call came. “Ay-ah-o!”

Her mother smiled, and she clapped her hands.

They were home!

###

A Garden Meditation by Vagrant Rhodia

Sunday morning I rise before birdsong begins and drop of moon in the sky. My chocolate mint, she waits to be bedded down into cool earth among her own kind. Mozart tags along as garden meditation begins. Her breath matches mine, inhale.

Trowel digs deep into garden next to spearmint, breathe out and stretch. The soil, palpable and alive, relaxes as do I. Breathe out, transient roots provide stability covered with cool earth. Morning air, warm embrace.

Movement to my right disturbs my meditation, and I look up. Ten yellow-headed blackbirds rest on lavender, like bees to flowers.

###

Sporcizia by Jules Paige

There it is under my fingernails, again. Dirt. I’ve got garden gloves.
But that black-brown-crumble-rock-moss-seeded-leftovers just gets
there. From the ground the hornets, voles, moles, muskrats, bees,
snakes and ants of various colors ooze. Some at dawn others at
dusk. It isn’t like that delicious silk mud we made pies out of when
we were kids. Mostly because we just didn’t care what was in it.
Except for the bit of water we used to shape it.

I care now. That the violets and tomatoes have what they need to
bloom and grow. Just like my nonno did.

###

Soft Soil Secrets by Christina Rose

Kneeling in the soft soil, dirt caked to her palms and legs, tear stained cheeks. Painfully trapped under her nails, the granules scratched at delicate skin. The dirt between her clawing fingers, firm under her palms, packing down the mound. Gently covered with leaves, hidden from sight.

Rain started to pound the earth, summer dust turning to a sticky mud pit. Flower petals placed wilted under each drop, traces of the day washing away with the deluge.

Memory trapped forever under the moss laden log deep in the forest. Grass and debris now covers, that place only she remembers.

###

Flash Fiction – Dummy by Bill

Andy tossed a handful of dirt in the grave and wiped a tear from his cheek leaving a smear of mud.
“I prayed for you last night momma. I prayed you could be my lookout angel.”

His ears were burning from the sun.

“You caint wear no hat to your momma’s funeral dummy.” Grandad had said.

“But my ears will burn.”

“That aint the only thing that’ll be burnin if you don’t get them pills from your momma’s purse like I told you. She don’t need em anymore, the cancer took her like I told you it would dummy.”

###

A Book Review From the Teacher’s Perspective by Dave Madden

Each year, I await our unit of study that coincides with the perfect read-aloud for 4th and 5th graders: Marshfield Dreams by Ralph Fletcher.

I anticipate skipping the chapter titled “Michele” because explaining why Michele won’t go to hell after she finds herself six feet under is wise.

Without question, there is no bypassing “Tommy”. Tommy decides to “eat the world”: ABC gum, cigarette butts, grass, and dirt.

“Yuuuuuuuuck!”

I was ready for that.

Then, a lone cub amongst the pack,

“God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt.”

“Ah….”

###

Clay by Pat Cummings

Fingernails dig into my palm around the handful of dirt. All except the grave is hazed with tears, but the box below me is sharp-focused despite them.

Sam! Even so many years is too few! I knew I would lose you. Each stroke brought a clearer recognition of the coming loss, but even so, I never really believed I would remain, bereft, and you would perish.

I still see you, immobile beneath the closed lid. A calm voice says, “That is not Sam, it is only clay, Mamaw.” A gentle hand unclasps my fingers to let the dirt fall.

###

Dirt Baby by Irene Waters

“Put his bunny rug on the grass Mum. Lucky Ocean and Tim Winton will entertain me whilst Oscar plays on the grass.”

Patricia got the baby, her book and her music. Returning, she plopped Oscar onto the rug laid on the lush green grass. She reclined. She was enjoying Dirt Music both the book and the music. Music for playing on the verandah without any electricity. She loved the amazing sounds, classical, bluegrass.

Oscar touched the grass and screamed. The grass frightened him. Being a desert baby he only knew dirt. He too liked dirt. Patricia discarded her book.

###

The Real Dirt by Larry LaForge

Ed held up the jar. Edna looked puzzled.

“Twenty bucks,” Ed said.

“Huh? Tell me you didn’t pay twenty dollars for a jar of dirt.”

“I didn’t, but about 10,000 folks did.”

Ed explained how he dug the dirt himself from the site of the historic basketball coliseum. The college razed the building to construct a new arena, and is selling dirt from the original site to crazed fans.

Edna tried to keep a straight face.

“Here’s the best part,” Ed continued. “I know my dirt is legit. Who knows what’s in those fancy jars the school is selling.”

###

Picture This by Geoff Le Pard

‘Are you Mary North?’

‘Yes.’

‘Sorry to disturb. We’ve bought 52 Rose Street. And, well, we found this.’

The woman fumbled in her bag, smiling apologies. ‘We’re doing a few things. Modernising, you know. We’ve been clearing out the attic. Filthy of course.’

Mary felt her embarrassment. She knew she was removing Mary’s parents from their home.

‘It’s a locket. There’s a catch…’

Suddenly, the pewter pendant sprang open, revealing a sepia picture of two chubby babies.

‘Is one you?’

Mary caressed the silky smooth surface and nodded. One of these girls was her twin.

‘Were you identical twins?’

###

Pallet Garden by Ann Edall-Robson

The hours spent planning and deciding her personal haven were now going to happen.

It was hard living in town with only a balcony for a yard. She had decided to make the best of situation until she was finished the contract and could move to the country.

Off to the greenhouse to gather up the rest of the herbs and flowers she wanted. The hardware store was next on her list for garden fabric and a used pallet.

Tiny space be darned, she was going to have her garden. Today she would get to play in the dirt!

###

Little Things by A. R. Amore

About a year ago, Joe started bitching at Janice. Nothing major really. He harped on little things. Griping about the cheap hotdogs on the grill, her baking fewer cookies at Christmas, or going with ham instead of lamb at Easter. “Something’s wrong,” my wife observed. I shrugged. He kept later hours too, getting home late. Sometimes he’d leave early and I’d see Janice in the screen door framed by sadness. I’d always look away. One day my wife remarked, “I’ve got some dirt.” Joe was downsized, Janice told her. He’s fine, she said, except for the little things.

###

Hard Places

Hard PlacesHard places are universally known. The teacher put on the spot by a parent; the childhood friend who died too young; the ailing family member; the medical condition that won’t go away; roadblocks and stream-blocks; abandoned buildings and glimpses of earlier struggles.

Yet circumstances such as these have a rock — a way through the hard place. It might be the support of a colleague or pure determination to get through. It might be a way to remember or a way to honor what has passed. This week, writers looked for connections. We might not control the hard places we are in, but we can find connection.

Connection is the monthly theme for a group of writers and bloggers who gather to overcome hard places and connect with one another in compassion. These stories are part of the May collection from 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion and are based on the May 13, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows a hard place and a connection.

Connection in a Hard Place by Irene Waters

Natasha dreamed of death. These visions were always pleasant unlike the bombs that fell around her, killing all in their path. Except her. She who longed to die seemed immune to the terror surrounding her. All her family were dead. Her lover too had died, beheaded. They had forced her to watch. Now, except when dreams of death lulled her, the nightmare never left. The latest bomb left her scrabbling at the rubble to reach the trapped cry below. She pulled the unharmed baby to her and connected her to her breast. She smiled as the milk flowed again.

###

A Game by Mercy.James.

Rock  Paper  Scissors

Scissors cut paper. Rock smashes scissors. Paper weighs upon both.

Who wins?

None exists without the other – each complimentary – a serving of needs met – sometimes left wanting – as reliable as the waxing and waning moon, sitting in crescent left or right-faced.

Does not paper come from the earth? From trees that are deeply rooted in soil, rock and nutrient infused. And silver – precious metal – it too comes from the earth, lying in rock’s embrace.

What matters in the end – now – we realize connection is absolute truth – no room for control over elements in purity – nature’s way.

###

A Dawn Concert by Jeanne Lombardo

Four a.m. The pain a staccato knock. No going back to sleep. She pushed up on gnarled hands, scooted, let the sharp ache push her into the wheelchair.

She followed the grooves in the carpet, pushed past the girls’ rooms, imagined their young bodies. They looked like her, thirty years ago, before the arthritis made a crippled birch of her.

She parked at the kitchen table. No coffee until Dan rose to percolate it. She waited.

At last a pale lemony light washed through the window. The familiar room emerged. And the concert began.

The robins never forsook her.

###

United With a Song by Kate Spencer

She sat on a log hugging her knees, smiling softly as she gazed at the campsite community seated around the blazing fire. Some were chatting quietly; others were busy roasting marshmallows.

She nodded to her husband who leisurely reach behind him and pulled out the worn guitar. He tinkered with the strings and began strumming an old familiar ballad.

Slowly he started singing, the lyrics filled with love and sorrow, longing and hope. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes as she raised her own voice, joining her husband. Gradually everyone joined in – united with a song.

###

Fiona Meets the Universe by Ula Humienik

Fiona felt alone and small under the twinkling of the universe and sweeps of the Milky Way. She’d never seen the night sky living in the city all her life. Tears made rivulets on her cheeks.

She remembered her last conversation with her sister.

“Dad never meant to hurt us,” Nina said.

“But he did. He hurt me. I can’t trust men, I’m afraid of them.”

“You have to forgive him.”

“I can’t,” Fiona said as she ran off. They hadn’t spoken since.

She looked up at the expansive sky and imagined each star a soul watching over her.

###

The Friend Inside by Sarrah J. Woods

A sudden breeze rose up and ruffled Maggie’s hair as she gazed over the valley. The wind was changing inside her, too.

Loneliness had become her straightjacket in the past year. The more desperately she struggled to make friends in this unfriendly town, the more isolated she felt.

Now she was giving up. Aloneness had won.

But, somehow, this decision only lightened and sweetened the silence that had oppressed her for so long.

“I’ll keep trying to make friends,” she said, “but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy my own company. I will become my own friend.”

Her heart smiled.

###

House of Thorns by A. R. Amore

Nesting in the back are a pair of cardinals. They’ve chosen the most evil of shrubs, a dark red demon laced with poisoned oblong pellet sized berries and black tipped briars. The bold male roots in empty planters on the deck for building materials while the duller female scuttles in and out of the shrub seemingly unscathed, her beak filled with a gathering of grass or twig or twine. Like any couple, they visited and revisited, no doubt debating merits and drawbacks. Flitting in and out, despite the risk of harm, they nestle hopeful in their house of thorns.

###

Little Boy Lost by Sherri Matthews

I saw him, that little boy. His back turned to me, holding the hand of a man leading him further into the crowd.

I recognised his saggy blue jeans and the curl of his boy-short, soft brown hair.

Don’t go, oh God, please don’t go.

Then the boy, hearing my silent cries and knowing my love turned back, and his brown eyes locked into mine.

He tugged at the man’s hand, but the man held too tight and kept walking.

Mummy!

Gone. Just like that.

Now my boy is a man and I hug him with everything I have.

###

Just a Soul by Ruchira Khanna

Jane was pensive, yet persistent as she was staring at the pen.

Took a deep breath, blinked a couple of times.

“I am not the body. I am not even the mind,” she chanted as she disinfected a small area of her thigh and placed her pen over it.

Clicked the pen, and the pain was intense. Her eyes were moist by the ache.

She waited for the syringe fluid to enter her body, while she continued her chant, “I am not the body. I am not even the mind.”

Released the pen, and wiped the drop of blood.

###

Brown by Norah Colvin

She glanced at the child, usually so eager to please, and knew this was no ordinary day.

Downcast and avoiding eye contact, the child trembled. Her instinct was to reach out with comfort to soothe the hurt; but stopped. Any touch could end her career. What to say? Brown earth/brown rocks? would ignore and trivialise the pain. Any talk now would be insensitive with other ears listening. Any word could unravel the relationship built up over time. Nothing would harm more than doing nothing. Her steps moved her body away but her heart and mind stayed; feeling, thinking.

###

Selfish Devotion by Rebecca Patajac

Fist clenched, Warrick scribbled signatures across paperwork. His wife, face pale, breathed hard on a hoverbed. She looked worse with each day.

Labouring took a greater toll.

She screamed before the relieved laughter and a nurse placed their child in her arms.

Warrick relinquished the papers and nodded.
The nurse reclaimed the newborn.

His wife turned her head to him, eyes trained on their child, “Warrick? What’ve you done?”

Men guided the hoverbed to a cryo-chamber.

She screamed, “No! I want my baby!”

Warrick steeled himself, muttering, “should’ve had the treatments.” He left the child. “I’ll find a cure.”

###

Mentoring the Gaps by Roger Shipp

“Mr. Raycomb, you are needed in the office.”

Having just left the office, I wondered why I was needed to return.

“Come on in. Push the door shut.”

I do so. With stomach and thoughts intermingling… I’m wondering why the sudden closed door conference with our new principal.

“Steven’s mother is on the phone. She has asked, what I feel is a very unusual request.”

I gasp. I immediately know what has happened.

He presses speaker-phone.

“Hello, Ms. Jackson.” My faltering voice answers.

“I can’t tell him it’s returned. I won’t win this one. Will you tell him? Please!”

###

For Chris – The Rock by Susan Zutautas

I have a rock I keep upon my window ledge that is my connection to you
They were handed out at your funeral so we had something to hang onto
It sits in sunshine almost every day
I pray your pain has left and gone away
Young children should never die so young
Your life had just begun
You are and always will be Garth’s best friend
For the rest of eternity
We talk about you after all these years
Remembering your courage, showing no fear
Until we meet again one day

You are in our hearts Chris Jackson

###

The Yellow Rose of Kennedy by Deborah Lee

It feels subterranean inside the ruined cabin. Dust motes eddy in the beam of light fingering through the glassless window. This gold-panner’s squat has long been picked clean of souvenirs. Fine dirt like powder covers the floor. Smell of decay and old scat.

Outside again, he is brought up short. Growing hard against the cracked and weathered wood under the window is a vibrant green rosebush, blooms at once shy and defiant in this wilderness. Not wild; deliberate.

Who planted it? A woman, in a mining camp? A cultured forty-niner? That is the story he would like to hear.

###

Aunt Gloria by Geoff Le Pard

Rupert called, ‘She’s taken a turn for the worse. Her cancer is back.’

Mary dreaded visiting. Letting herself in, Gloria’s call was as usual cheery. But her face was grey. She saw Mary looking. ‘Cheekbones like Garbo. About time.’

Mary wept and felt guilty that it was Gloria comforting her. ‘Who will I talk to?’

‘Paul’s a rock. Rupert too…’

Mary shook her off.

‘God’s still here.’

‘I don’t believe in him anymore.’

Gloria put a hand on Mary’s stomach. ‘I’m here, every time you need me. Just talk, dear and we’ll be listening.’

‘I’ll try. Both of you.’

###

The Power of Science by Larry La Forge

Ed stared at the weathered concrete wall still standing behind the Science Hall patio. His mind drifted back nearly five decades.

A power outage had sent the class outside. Ed sat on the wall facing the professor. A cute coed plopped down next to Ed—it was the only spot left.

“This stuff’s impossible,” she said.

“Tell me about it,” Ed replied as he mimicked the current assignment: Calculate the magnetic flux density of a parallel plate capacitor when completely submerged in a homogeneous isotropic dielectric.

They agreed to try to figure it out together.

Her name was Edna.

###

New Friends by Ruth Irwin

First day at this school. She had been to many schools before, but not long enough to settle in and make friends. Small for her age, very thin, unkempt hair, stained ill-fitting clothes and battered shoes revealed that this six year old had been doing it tough. She remained aloof at recess, watching the other children as they played in already formed friendships. She wondered how long she might be at this school and if she would have friends. Then she saw an out-stretched hand and a smiling face saying “come and play with me”. How could she resist?

###

The Rock by Sarah Brentyn

“It’s cool that you don’t say stupid shit like ‘How do you feel about that’ or whatever.” She grabbed a grey rock from its shelf and examined it.

“Well,” he swiveled in his chair, “glad to hear that. But I do need you to talk to me.”

She turned the rock over in her hand, “Okay. I’ll talk. You have this like professional office with expensive leather couches and shit then there’s this ugly, little rock. Seems out of place.”

“It’s special.”

“Why?”

“My father gave it to me. He died last year. You think it’s ugly?”

“Not anymore.”

###

The Portal by Ann Edall-Robson

A welcome familiarity reached out as she stood in the doorway.

The aroma of coffee brewing and bacon frying coming from the old wood stove. The quiet murmur of voices around the kitchen table, interrupted by intermittent laughter.

Through the curtain-free window, the hand hewn log barn stands silhouetted against the early morning sky. A stoic soldier offering shelter and sanctuary while scrutinizing the activity beneath its massive structure.

There was no doubt within her soul. These old abandoned buildings were the portal to the inception of life. The premonitions would be answered. Finally, she had arrived home.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Revenge fantasies kept me warm in bed. She’d lose her job; she’d crash her car; some thief would take her precious ring. The news infused my heart with joy. Let her learn how it feels to lose a husband.

The kids, though, mine and theirs, would lose a father.

I made a casserole, seasoned with rosemary, his all-time favourite. Thought I’d leave it on the doorstep, but the door opened before I could nip away. I took no pleasure from seeing her so unkempt. She opened her arms. We wept on each other’s shoulders. Soon we’d both be ex-wives.

###

River Ganges by Kalpana Solsi

And she tried desperately to hold his deliberate loosening grip, the diamond

ring slipped off and remained in his cupped palm, as she saw his sinister smile

before the foaming Ganges sucked the bride into the river-bed.

After the last rites, he sat, staring at the diamond ring.

Horror was largely writ on his face as he saw a hand with the wedding ring,

rising above the rapid Ganges water-current. His feet gave away as he

couldn’t resist her strong grip dragging him.

“In life and in death together”, the wedding vow, he remembered.

A watery grave they had.

###

A Chink in Her Armor by Sarah Unsicker

“We are concerned, Mama,” Kate said. “You spend too much time alone. I found a widow’s support group that might help you …”

“I don’t need a support group,” Cecilia said.

“You need friends.”

“John’s been gone too long. My pain is stale.”

“Pain doesn’t go stale, Mama. It fades away, and yours hasn’t.”

Cecilia sighed dramatically. “I’m going up to bed. You know where the door is to leave.”

Before she had time to answer, she heard the stairs squeak as her mother climbed up to her bedroom.

For the first time, Kate’s arrows had pierced Mama’s armor.

###

Indomitable by Pat Cummings

The racetrack surges with imperative: we must return. Each mile upstream also means climbing a body-length vertically, darting past the rocks, and the other racers. Our run has the ultimate prize, but there is no call to win. There is only the urgent invitation of the water upstream.

Closer and closer we come to the finish. Suddenly the water almost disappears. The final lap is a tight tunnel, already full of racers. Has someone already won?

No, there is one more obstacle, a leap to a tighter passage. I alone make it home, one salmon of thousands hatched here.

###

The Rock by Charli Mills

A contact rock. Yin and yang. Feldspar and…?

Ramona frowned, retrieving the smooth river rock from beneath a wild rosebush in the west pasture. It felt heavy, familiar. She closed her eyes, willing recollection. Running water. Yes! She and Vic riding to the grotto, up the creek, metallic horse-shoes clanging on rocks this size. Vic, off his horse, reaching elbow deep into the water.

“Look, Ro, a contact rock.”

Her eyes fluttered open. Why did her memories have holes? She cradled the rock to her chest, willing herself to remember the twins. This rock was connected to them somehow.

###

Bugle Boy by Pete Fanning

They found his bugle amongst the bodies. A few of the survivors recounted of how fourteen-year-old Eli had charged right into the line of fire and dragged three soldiers to safety, only to return and man the cannon as confederates advanced on his position.

When Eli awoke his chest ached. Nearby, a soldier screamed out in agony. He watched through blurry eyes as a bandaged Colonel limped over and laid his mangled bugle beside what was left of his family’s songbook. Eli grimaced, studying the musket ball embedded in its pages.

Those rebels were going to pay for that.

###

Ministering by Paula Moyer

“Thou art Peter … upon this rock I will build my church.” When Jean heard these words – like most Baptists – she remembered what Simon did that caused Jesus to rename him: he declared his faith.

The rock was more than Peter.

Now Jean sat in her house with her little kids, five days after her husband had moved out.

The phone rang. “Jean, it’s Lynn.” Her cousin, a rock in her own right. “I’m here for you.”

Thirty minutes on the phone.

Lynn showed her faith by enacting a passage from a letter of Paul’s: Bear one another’s burdens.

###

Decoding the Writer’s Platform: Why

While working on the next post in this series, a client shared with me their logic model for a re-brand. Because they are a large organization, re-branding is a huge undertaking. It’s more of a refresh to update their look and clarify their internal and external brand experience. I manage a couple of their media projects so I get to see the evolution of their process.

Any time we build or revise what we have built, it takes clarity.

One area where a writer can be clear, is why you write. It’s a part of your branding and can lead to community engagement, credibility and be the reason your audience reads what you have to express.

My client shared a TEDtalk video that is one of the best explanations as to why “why” matters. Think of this as a sidebar to what we are discussing in this writer’s platform series. Take five minutes to better understand the power of why:

So how can you have an inspired writer’s platform? Begin with why you write. Not what you write or how, but why. Is that a part of your blog? Your bio? Is it part of what you share in your community? People are going to connect with why.

I’m intrigued by the application of this idea to a writer’s platform. I look at my own bio and read what and how. Why do I write? That is a question we all need to answer with clarity. What do you think?

Housekeeping

0911141300It’s cold and rainy, and I’d like nothing more than to curl up with a good book in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Yet, that space in between things–more formally termed transition–beckons me to do some much needed housekeeping.

My desk is cluttered; my storyboard needs erasing and I have neglected my social blog duties.

Desk and storyboard can be cleansed with the same cloth. Before I begin drafting the new novel, I need to cleanly cut the threads from writing the last. Publication, promotion–those are next steps outside the realm of writing. It’s like project management of multiple projects at different phases.

Those good books I want to curl up with include ones by people I know, writers I follow because I like their style, or sense of wonder, of the world, of humor. My list  includes multiple genres and books written by the Congress of Rough Writers and those who engage between blogs I read:

  1. Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle by Geoff Le Pard (UK and US versions)
  2. On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness by Lori Schafer (pre-order)
  3. The Adventures of Alex and Angelo: The Mystery of the Missing Iguana by Ruchira Khanna (Kindle version which I’ve read to my grandnephews)
  4. Unbound by Georgia Bell (US version)
  5. This Girl Climbs Trees by Ellen Mulholland (US version)

Lately, I have a growing interest in YA because my recent queries for my first yet-unrepresented novel, Miracle of Ducks, clearly shows that agents and publishers are looking for YA and Middle School books. It makes sense if you look at the over-saturated book market because education pushes literacy and literacy drives book sales in those genres.

Over saturation is a term I know well. As a former marketer of a natural food store in the Twin Cities, I faced an over-saturated grocery market year after year. It taught me to have product that customers value, an engaging brand and relationships that create synergy.

Carrot Ranch is a place to build a dynamic literary community of writers and readers. We practice craft, read each other’s writing and discuss process and ideas. It’s an open-ended place that fosters friendly collaboration without any obligations. Writers are free to post fiction, link to blogs and join (or not) the conversations.

You might not think that collaboration among writers is important to your career or aspirations as an author, but consider others who say that it has value:

  1. Writing coach, Daphne Gray Grant, writes about the Surprising Value in Collaboration on her blog. Among her reasons (generating ideas, finding good reads and sharing editing duties) she concludes that: “Life is about collaboration. And writing is about life. They’re inextricably linked.”
  2. The Gallup Strengths Center reports: “A key component to strengths success is knowing the talents of those around you and how they factor into your own talents.” Writers can grow and learn from other writers.
  3. After contributing to a campaign to raise funds for NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program, I received this inspiring message from Grant Faulkner, Executive Director: “The gift of writing shouldn’t be closed within one; it should foster a spirit of benevolent connection…”

Recently, Sarah Brentyn, Rough Writer and Chief Navigator of the newly-minted WP blog Lemon Shark, nominated me for #authoryes on Twitter. It recognizes and honors the supportive relationship between authors and bloggers. Again, this harkens to friendly collaboration. It was a pleasant validation that a supportive environment matters.

Collaboration can take on more, of course–we have talented writers, a growing pool of 99-word flash and the ability to make it into something more. We could collaborate on an annual Rough Writer anthology, create a fun workbook for other writing groups or launch a digital magazine. Really, it’s as expansive as the ideas, vision and participation of the group.

And like #authoryes and collaborative inspirations beyond shared craft and process, blog awards circulate in a hand-shake way to meet others and show respect. The blog-o-sphere is kind of like one big party with multiple rooms and sometimes we try to find our way to the right room by saying, “Hey, I like your place, what places do you like?”

Receiving the award baton is a flush of “aw, shucks, thanks” followed by a moment of “oh, darn, what do I do now?” Bloggers I greatly admire have recently clipped the ties that oblige with thought-provoking (and even funny) posts on these awards and other time-distractions for writers. Paula Reed Nancarrow addresses, Blogligations: Breaking the Blog Award Chain and offers 10 Ways to Just Say No to Blog Awards. Memoirist, Lisa Reiter, posts about putting more blank space back into her schedule by reducing her time online in Ask a Busy Woman.

Collaboration is time I’m willing to give. #MondayBlogs is a great way to share, meet and greet, and build platform. I also use it to promote the Rough Writers as my gift to the collaborators willing to write flash, discuss in the comments and RT. Beyond the Rough Writers, I actually read all the posts that I RT on Mondays, and like Lisa Reiter advises, it’s a way to focus on an “admin day” online. That way I stay up on my favorite blogs, pass around the flash and feel connected in a constructive way that feeds my own writing goals.

So back to housecleaning. Some fabulous bloggers have gifted me the award baton and I’m going to use this space to dust off my belated gratitude. And I’m going to clip those ties that oblige. I’ve already rambled long enough and I’m not going to answer any questions and risk rambling even more. I’m going to take huge liberties with all rules.

I’m going to tell you why I think the nominators are tops in my world, link to the original award posts and forgo the upload space for icons. You’ll find plenty of links to bloggers that inspire me within this post, and I’ll continue to RT them on Twitter. This is my way to sweep the room clean so I can move on (with these awesome bloggers) to pending writing things, give a nod to collaboration and be as supportive as I can within the spirit of these awards.

Gratitude:

Anne Goodwin and Geoff Le Pard spare me the expense of subscribing to The New Yorker. Seriously. Anne is by far the best book reviewer I follow because she studies modern literary fiction as a writer so she addresses process issues, as much as topic and readability. Geoff is my UK travel agent and his eclectic writing style extends from his blog into his book; far more entertaining than anything The New Yorker could print and less pretentious. Both illicit great discussions on their blogs, and with their recent publishing success, I’m far more inspired by any award they could bestow.

Lisa Reiter has touched me deeply with the Spreading Butterfly Light Award. It reflects my vision to spread light through writing into truth. More so than this award, Lisa has fostered that vision by creating a supportive environment for memoir-writing. Through her blog Sharing the Story, I’ve met other amazing memorists who are also Rough Writers: Irene Waters and Sherri Matthews. I think of these three writers, their blogs and writing and I see a field of butterflies.

Along with a clever post on tennis, Sherri Matthews lent me a suitcase of awards from her Summerhouse. I know that one day I will share a glass of Prosecco with her and see the “view.” We have too many uncanny coincidences to not be fated to meet in person. We will have so much to talk about (we already do!) and that day will be the best award from the Summerhouse.

Georgia Bell and Ellen Mulholland pop over to the Ranch on occasion and get feisty or climb trees, delighting us with their sleek 99-words. These Rough Writers are savvy in the book industry, well-published and fun on the page. They both have classy blogs and a spirited sense of humor. I may one day ask for YA advice and their experience will be reward enough, but chuffed (the good definition) to be included in their awards.

Technically, Ellen recognized Elmira Pond, and so has Gina Stoneheart, another published author with a light-spreading, thought-provoking, anti-bullying blog. In fact, she has a new blog and it looks fabulous! Both bloggers paid recognition to Elmira Pond Spotter, my country-living, bear-fearing, horse-celebrating, bird-nerding online journal. I had aspirations to make it into “something” because of this recognition, but it works best to just let me wander the pond, so I’ll post my gratitude here and say thanks for checking on my birds.

Norah Colvin, has an educational calling. Anne Goodwin wrote in her award post that Norah is the teacher we wished we had. Norah is my teacher, nonetheless. She’s so passionate about education and such an advocate for children, I always learn something from her posts. As a Rough Writer, Norah shows great imagination in both the creativity of her responses as well as how she ties fiction into her mission. She’s also the nicest blogger I’ve ever met on the page.

For the Love of  blogger, Amber Prince, offers a refreshing look at falling in love with fiction. I remember feeling that way–enthralled and unsure, wanting time and having no time. When I follow my favorite bloggers and realize that they still have families at home, children to chase, spouses to pay attention to, I marvel that they blog at all. Let alone have time to bestow awards. But read Amber’s post–she handles it succinctly, yet with grace. That she finds time to be a Rough Writer is the best award.

Roz and Patty Write one lovely blog. They surprised me on Twitter with an award, but I’m more fascinated by their collaborative writing. They make writing collaboration look fun and inviting. Thank you Roz and Patty! I invite you to co-write a 99-word flash fiction sometime in the future.

Looking over my list of bloggers to whom I’m grateful for the recognition, I feel a bit sheepish that I took so long to say thanks. But you can also see how much effort would go into crafting individual posts, answering questions, promoting rules and finding yet more bloggers to bequeath the award baton. The house is officially clean (I’m working on the desk) and the baton stops here.

Moving forward, I’d love to hear your ideas for collaboration. Blog hops, book tours, guest posts and other meaningful ways to connect are always welcome. But before my schedule gets busy again, I’m going to take time for that cuppa and finish my good reads.

Remember–the best way to recognize a blogger you follow and who is an author is to buy his or her book and offer a review (Good Reads, Amazon or on your blog).

Take Time to Play

liebster2Today’s tip for writers is: take time to play.

We take time to write, improve our craft, publish and promote our words. We understand that there’s this word “social” in social media, but we get so serious about promoting that we for get to play. We forget to be social.

Within a span of two weeks, I’ve had two fellow bloggers reach out to me at Carrot Ranch with a Liebster Award. In essence, I was called up to play. Back in December I had a fellow writer surprise me with a Sisterhood Blogger Award. While I was thrilled and delighted, I failed to play.

And that’s not good for the writing soul. We need to take time away from our busy-bee business and interact with people as people (more than writers or readers, buyers or sellers). As one blogger told me, “It’s always a great feeling when we realize we’re not talking to thin air.” Yes, it’s a great feeling to be asked to play hopscotch on the playground instead of watching from the shadows.

Publicly, I have four writers to thank. Susan Zutautas of Everything Susan who calls me out daily to play while keeping her own writing energized and prolific. Thank you for the Sisterhood Award despite my fumbling the play. Lorraine Marie Reguly of Poetry Perfected for taking time to research and post what the Liebster Award is all about. Maggie (Cafe Maggieato) of Just Get it Written for honoring me with the first Liebster Award. Her blog is an inspiration to writers. Norah Colvin of Norah Colvin for honoring me with the second Liebster Award. Her blog is full of intelligence and educational advocacy. Thank you!

Yes, Writers, I hear the call to play and will respond with a post for each set of Liebster questions. To the rest of you out there, tapping away at keys, remember to pause and play. It just might refresh all your serious to-dos and writing!

Liebster Award — Just Get it Written Response

Liebster Award — Paying it Forward Response

Liebster Award Paying It Forward

Blogger Norah Colvin of Norah Colvin has honored me with my second Liebster Award, reminding me that bloggers can pay it forward. It’s an opportunity to read other bloggers and to be read. As part of the acceptance, she has posed the following questions to her nominees, which I have answered:

  1. What do you value most in life? I value living in such a way that I look for beauty all around me and find good even when life’s path gets rocky. It feels like a way to live truth. Not big truths, necessarily, but my own.
  2. What activities do you enjoy and why? Since I still love to dig in the dirt, I enjoy gardening and scrounging for rocks and old bits of broken glass. Activities that connect me to living in the moment are best; simple things like cooking and writing about the birds outside my window.
  3. What is something you wish you had more time for? I used to wish I had more time for writing, and now I do. I think we fill our lives with too much busy-ness. I’ve found that by taking time to stare at a sunset or falling snowflakes, I have all the time in the world. It’s what I do with it that matters.
  4. What is one change you would like to make in the world? I’d like to contribute to world change through one beautiful book at a time. It seems we have too many books embracing darkness, and I just want to honor the hero’s journey within us all and to actualize everyday beauty.
  5. What is something you would like to change about yourself? To stop worrying whether or not people approve of what I do. It’s a deep-seated issue that I work on rooting out and some days I do better than on others.
  6. What surprises you most about your life – something good in your life that you hadn’t expected, dreamed of or thought possible? Wow, if you would have asked my three years ago when I was going to take on the “writer’s life” I would have said, maybe in 20 years. Little did I know that an upheaval in my life would open the door for me to step into that writer’s life. It isn’t easy, but it is what I’ve dreamed of doing and I’m doing it.
  7. What ‘big” question do you often ponder? How do I listen to God’s calling and live in the light?
  8. What sorts of things amuse you? Silly little things amuse the daylights out of me. I have a quirky sense of humor that’s easily triggered. I laugh at things like realizing that my hubby and I forgot to drop off our trash at the dump before we drove into the mountains to fish. I laugh at the knowledge that it’s going to summon every grizzly bear in the region and I’m so scared of bears. All I can do is find amusement in the juxtaposition of garbage vs. bear-fear.
  9. What do you like to collect? Stuff from the ground that’s old–rocks, fossils, arrowheads, purple glass. I have a keen eye for these things. I have a large glass vase filled with old glass, buttons, marbles, tokens that I find while gardening or walking the pastures around the house. I have bowls and clusters of river rocks, fossils and Lake Superior agates and beach pebbles. Oh, and books!
  10. If you could talk with anyone and ask them to explain their ideas and/or actions, who would it be, and why? I’d love to talk to my 5th-great grandfather, James McCanless, and ask him why he left North Carolina. He was a poet and wrote such sad verse about leaving those mountains as an old man. I’d like to have coffee with him and talk about why we feel compelled to seek other places beyond what is familiar.
  11. What is something you can’t do without? Internet! Awful to admit, but I’d go crazy as an isolated writer in the Rocky Mountains without human connection, and the Internet provides that daily touch. Also, I’m not only compelled to write, I’m compelled to share what I write and read and comment on what others write.
  12. What is something important you learned about life, and how did you learn it? A life of truth is not an easy one. Some truths are scary, others humiliating, yet  truth sets us free. But many people cling to lies that they use to cover up truth. I’m drawn to people, artists and writers willing to be vulnerable in seeking their truth. This is why I’m drawn to  write fiction–I seek the truth that is revealed in the hero’s journey. I learned this the hardest way, being a survivor of incest. Such families are masterful at deceit. Seeking a different way became my own hero’s journey, and I successfully raised three children away from that family, thus breaking the cycle of lies and ugliness. But it’s hard, not to have a family of origin that I can trust.
  13. What is your earliest memory? One of my earliest memories is of a black cat that I coaxed into being a pet on a ranch where I lived the first seven years of my life. That cat made me feel safe.

The purpose of the Liebster award is to help discover new blogs. In keeping the engagement dynamic, I’d like to offer this nomination to the following bloggers who I’ve recently discovered their poetry and short stories, something that inspires me in pursuit of my own fiction. You can read their work at:

I Am A Writer, That’s What I Am is a terrific blog with stories, thought, photos and quotes. Truly it’s a well of inspiration. I’ve learned that creativity is a pool we swim in; if you don’t dive into its waters, you’ll never know. This is a blog that you can dive into and find out about yourself and your own writing.

A Little Bit of Poetry is a new blog by seasoned blogger, Susan Zutautas. This blogger is multi-talented from the kitchen to her writing space. She inspires me daily with her posts, recipes and poems. I have fun every Sunday with her on another blog (she’s prolific) but this new blog of hers is new and deserves discovering.

The Well Tempered Bards is an amazing blog of poetry. It’s the kind of poetry that seeps into your bones. You’ll discover many poets who make guest appearances so it offers a variety.

Squirrels in the Doohickey is great fun. I started grinning at the title and went into full-blown belly laughs as I read entries. This is a new blog to me, but I hope other will discover it too–sharp writing, well-branded and spot-on humor.

The Real Housewife is neither fiction nor poetry, but is so funny it should either be chick lit or a series of life’s limericks. Kelly finds funny anywhere, and her humor is scathing. She’s such a character she might show up in my fiction (just kidding…sort of…).

If you have been nominated you can choose to accept to play along, or not. No pressure. It’s a bit of fun, an opportunity to connect and can help spread knowledge of your blog. If I nominated you, it is because I do read your blog! If you accept, here are The Liebster Award Rules adapted from Wording Well:

  1. Each nominee should link back to the person who nominated them.
  2. Answer the 10 questions which are given to you by the nominator.
  3. Nominate 5-11 other bloggers for this award who have less than 1,000 followers.
  4. Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
  5. Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them.

Questions for my Liebster Award Nominees:

  1. Congratulations! You just won a Liebster Award. What award do you dream about winning?
  2. What compelled you to start a blog?
  3. How did you come up with the blog’s name?
  4. What else do you write?
  5. Why are you drawn to writing fiction?
  6. What is your favorite genre to read?
  7. What is your favorite writing snack?
  8. What is your strongest writing strength?
  9. How do you keep focused on your writing?
  10. Who is your favorite book character and why?