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September 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

September 23From the coping mind of a messy desk comes this: I’m an author.

I need to make this declaration. Ever since I left my job in 2012, I’ve recreated my career into one of a literary writer. Except it’s not a bring-home-the-bacon kind of career, yet. For bacon, I work with a handful of business clients on various marketing jobs. It’s a point of contention when the Hub tells me I’m good at marketing. I try to explain that I’m good at marketing because I’m a writer. He’s hinted, pushed and fussed for me to find another marketing management job.

Sure. It would bring home the bacon, but I’ll eat dandelions before I do that. I’m determined. What I do every day is to work as an author. Yet I feel disinclined to claim the title. If it is my role, my work, my intention, shouldn’t I say so? It is my profession, my calling, my pursuit. I manage my own marketing the way any professional would when planning a business. Of course, what I want to market are my books. They are not published, yet.

It doesn’t diminish my work as an author.

This is the messy part of building an author’s platform before one is ever accepted as an author. As a marketer, I know that there are two things I can control: the quality of my product and my service to others. Writing, researching and craft-related learning is all about managing the quality of my product. Service to others, customer service, is the management of relating to others in the profession. Both are my work.

Some of you might raise a cliched eyebrow over my boldness to say I’m an author. I’m declaring that I am right now, dictionaries, associations and elitists be damned. I am an author. With no published books. How is that possible? Well, it goes back to my understanding of marketing and my business background.

When entrepreneurs have an idea for a product or service, they begin to develop both the idea and the marketplace for it. It is common in business for people to take years to build enterprises, yet before doors open or annual profits accumulate, they are recognized as business professionals from the start. Many future business owners join Chamber of Commerce or networking groups before they are in position to do business.

Why should it be different for authors?

It isn’t. We build platforms the same way entrepreneurs or future business owners build platforms. A writer’s platform is the same thing as a business’s marketing platform: it’s branding, community, credibility and audience. We know we have to build a platform before we publish, so if we are building such, why are we reticent to declare author-hood in the midst of the process? We writers can get messed up in our ideas of being artists, counterfeit, hobbyists, amateur or comparing ourselves to the glorious best-sellers for success.

Comparison is not a bad thing if you use it to identify where you want to be in the next year, five years, or ten. Use it as a stick of measurement or as proof that your venture is possible. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit! Define your own measures of success and investigate how others did it. Create a reasonable — to you — timeline. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Be your own brand — loud and proud, or quiet and humble. Be you. Declare your intention.

My intention from the day I decided to leave my marketing job has been to write and publish novels. My intention is to be a successful author. Success to me is publishing books I want to write for readers who want to read them. My secondary goal is to market well enough to eat more than hand-picked dandelions from my yard. Many will say it’s a fool’s dream. Never before have so many claimed to be authors. Everyone and their third cousin writes. Never before has there been such a broad market, an over-saturated market, a market divided between traditional/Indies and print/digital.

So what; it’s the marketplace and the truth is that people are reading. Look for opportunities, for openings. Be ready to claim your spot. This isn’t a Ms. Universe contest; it’s a vocation. No one is going to hand you a crown one day. If you want to be a professional then start seeing yourself as one.

Instead of focusing on the chaotic market, the messiness of it all, the doomsayers, focus on your intention. My target audience exists. Finding them will be work, is work, but is part of building my platform. It’s part of what it means to be an author in our time. I measure my humble numbers and they are nothing to post to Wall Street, but they are my metrics. I look for meaning and adjust. I watch for responses to the shifts and I adjust again. Being a marketer is like being a watchmaker. The gears do work, but you have to get it all aligned one piece at a time.

Being an author is writing and marketing.

I write flash fiction, newsletters, business reports, articles, essays and posts. But what makes me an author is that I write books. Here’s where I’ve been frustrated with myself, and I’m sure every entrepreneur and business person alike has reached this point: the product is not yet quality enough to sell. I have two complete manuscripts that I could self-pub tomorrow. But I know they aren’t ready for those who I believe to be my target audience. I’ve slacked on my rewriting the way someone might show up for work but under perform. This made me feel guilty until I began to re-read “The Craft of Revision” by Donald Murray who embraces an enthusiasm for revision. I realized that I need to think like an author. To think like one, I need to act like one.

I declare that I’m an author, and revising becomes my profession. I can control the quality. I’m an entrepreneur progressing development; a business person networking to a target audience for opening day.

Marketing takes time. I so badly want to see my words in print, but writing also takes time. Worrying about “becoming” something I already work at doesn’t help when I encounter doubt. So I continue to develop my prototype. I look to expand my venture through literary connections. The greatest one is here at Carrot Ranch. Originally my website was for marketing clients. In 2014, I declared myself a literary writer and launched flash fiction challenges.

Declarations boost my determination. Intention is where we begin. And we all have to remember that there is an expanse of time and work, tears and joys, confusion and clarity, between beginning and ending. We write in between the two.

Why this ramble from my messy desk? As some of you know, I was derailed this year in my publishing goals. After a confident launch of my first manuscript, I am going to admit to you all, I’ve not sent it to a single publisher or agent since the two I met with in LA. I have felt disappointed in myself. Then my best friend needed me at her side as she died, and I went. Grief has been a bully and it got me weeding instead of writing. It clouded my emotions and I began to doubt my validity as a writer.

But you know what I discovered? I was right to let my first manuscript sit. I have excellent feedback to make changes that really are not as big as I initially feared. I also have let enough time slip by that I have learned improved approaches for revision. I’m finding renewed enthusiasm to fill my gaps in my third novel. I’m discovering that my skills at project management can serve me when I shove my doubts aside. I let grief get too chummy with doubt and it took a toll on my progress.

And most of my doubts hinge on, “I’m not really an author.” So I’m claiming that I am. I will act like an author, plan my business like an author, market like an author, write like an author. And one day it will be so in the eyes of others.

So I am progressing. This declaration does not need to make sense to anyone but me. A declaration feels powerful to the one making it. It’s empowering.

I think about a declaration that Cobb McCanles must have made on July 4, 1860. History records that he was an educated and persuasive orator. It won him two terms in North Carolina as Sheriff. In Nebraska, historians write that citizens sought his spirited speeches on the Fourth of July. What many forget, or fail to record because of complexities, Cobb McCanles and his entire family left North Carolina in 1859 because of secessionist views to which they denounced. His parent and two sisters along with their families, removed to Eastern Tennessee, known to be a Unionist stronghold for the region. Cob, his brother Leroy and their families resettled in Nebraska.

1860 was a year of fierce divisions and unrest in the US. States, political parties and families were so divided that militia and reserves began to train for war and newspapers espoused aggressive rhetoric. War was bubbling; a presidential election kindling the brew. I know Cob spoke at the Johnson County picnic July 4, 1860 from accounts that say so. I know his views from reading family letters, his father’s poetry from that time and the history recorded in Eastern Tennessee in 1902 by those who remained loyal to the Union even though Tennessee succeeded and joined the Confederacy. But I’ve been frustrated not to have his speech recorded.

Then I realized, Cob would have stood to empower his views, to convince others of the importance of this country as a unified whole. Without a doubt, I can imagine Cobb’s declaration as clearly as my own.

September 23, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) declare an intention in a story. Is it one person, a character speaking up or speaking out? Is it a group or a nation? Create a tension before or after the declaration. It can be private or public, big or small. Does it have power to those who state it or hear? What does it change?

Respond by September 29, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Mary Silently Stands by Charli Mills

“Momentous crisis commands great effort.” Cobb’s voice boomed over the celebratory gathering of prairie homesteaders.

Mary stood with the children, letter in hand. Her father wrote with pride that ten of her nephews trained with militia sworn to defend states against federal tyranny.

“We are a territory, daughter of America. Liberty’s interest is ours. Freedom’s policy is ours. We are United!” Huzzas ensued.

Would Cobb’s nephews fight hers? Would her father inform on Cobb’s? Her house divided, yet her husband bellowed with conviction.

“I’m the Union’s man!”

And I abide with my husband, Mary thought when the crowd roared.


Honoring Civil War Ancestors in Fiction

Cousin Against CousinWhen researching family history I dutifully record the facts, using documents such as vital records, census records and old wills. I can see how many generations lived in one place or trace how many places one generation lived.

Being an imaginative person, I can see wisps of stories that linger on the facts like attic dust. Gaps and connections intrigue me most. Therefore, family research evolves into potential stories of fiction for me. Among my ancestors, I have mountain clans from North Carolina who fought in the Civil War–the Greens, McCandlesses, Hatleys, Alexanders and Greens.

You might wonder why I include the Greens twice. Well, the McCandlesses and Hatleys married Greens twice as much as any other family. I’m related to the Greens through multiple branches which is not uncommon for remote areas or the times. It gets challenging to keep straight the Aunt Marys, though–there’s Aunt Mary McCandless Green and Aunt Mary Green McCandless.

Today is Memorial Day. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the last Monday in May commemorates the men and women who died in military service. It began as a springtime tribute to those who died in the Civil War (1861-1865), or the War of Northern Aggression as it was known in North Carolina (and other Confederate states).

If you read much on the Civil War, especially histories and accounts written directly after 1865, you’ll understand that people then were as opinionated and controversial as people can be now. If Americans feel that politics are divisive today, try facing down the muzzle of your cousin and having to answer to both Aunt Marys as to why you shot him. Because you were wearing Blue and he was wearing Gray.

My ancestors left Scotland and Ireland in the mid-1700s. They followed the faint footsteps of Daniel Boone down the valley along the Smokey Mountains into a place they called Watauga. They leased land from the Cherokee tribes living in the area and they lived outside of the known and governed colonies. Eventually statehood caught up with them and they became a part of North Carolina. To most they were known as the mountain people.

When the Civil War broke out (and broke apart the United States), not all the families agreed which side to take. In fact, many didn’t want to take a side. According to historians, 1,000 men from Watauga County, NC joined the Confederacy and 100 joined the Union.

“Joined” is a curious word in regards to the Confederate forces. Conscription–a type of draft–often joined men against their will. However, to join the Union, one had to trek over the mountains into Tennessee and risk life (and family) to deliberately sign up for Union forces in a Confederate state.

My third great-grandfather, Riley B. Hatley, writes in his pension account how he had to scoot across the mountains to avoid conscription. His two brothers followed him and all three fought for the Blue although all three of their names are listed on the roster for the Gray.

Their cousin, Lafayette Hatley (my first cousin 5x removed), also shows up on the roster for Company D, North Carolina 58th Infantry Regiment. But he didn’t scoot. He stayed. To give you an idea of how bad the war was in the mountain region of North Carolina, families took up arms against families–and these were not soldiers. The soldiers of both uniforms often delivered retribution more than carrying out battle formations. What an awful time.

One historian wrote the cries of the Wataugans as, “Peace, Peace, When There Was No Peace.” As a fiction writer, how can I ignore these unwritten stories? They speak as much about us today as they did back then.

The same historian claims that after the war most men and women took heart and hope, beginning all over again. Yet others, like my kin, were completely discouraged. My family (four generations) left for Tennessee and founded new communities in Colorado, Washington and Idaho. Some only moved as far away as Tennessee.

As for the cousin on the opposite side of Papa Riley, he was the only son of Riley’s father’s only brother. Pvt. Lafayette Hatley never survived the war. He died in Dalton, GA from congestion of the brain on March 23, 1864.

No matter the side, no matter the reason, I seek to honor my Civil War ancestors in fiction, trying to understand their motives, their fears, their hopes, their disappointments. After all, they are stories I carry in my own blood.




May 14 Flash Fiction Response

Due to the technical difficulty known as “not enough time,” I didn’t write my own twisted flash when I posted the May 14 prompt. So I’m posting a stand-alone response today.

My flash is based on the May 14, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that begins with a twist. How did the character get there? Are there more twists? It’s up to you.

This story is based on conversational inspiration. Let me explain. Socks came up in a Twitter conversation and I started thinking about the role of mothers as family laundress. But the idea led me to think of a twist–what if Mama’s boy had to wash his own socks? And why?

If it seems that I have Civil War and western history oozing out of my flash writing, it’s a reflection of my love of genealogy and collecting family histories. One day I might write westerns or historical fiction. But for now, the genre is a favorite  because it’s different from my longer prose which is commercial and climate fiction.

(Thanks, Anne!)

SocksSocks by Charli Mills

Yesterday bullets buzzed my ears like summer honey-bees. No longer do I farm Papa’s land. I’m a Union soldier. Today, my life is socks. Precious wool socks. I was issued one pair.

Silence shrouds camp, though fires crackle outside our dog-tents. I pretend the smell of boiling socks is coffee brewing; a commodity we lost before winning this bloody ridge. In bare feet I wring water out of each sock. Mama would have bashed socks heartily on the rocks along Greene Creek, as if waging her own war. Hers was against dirt.

I no longer know what mine’s about.


If you want to submit your own flash, do so in the comments for May 14: Flash Fiction Challenge. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, May 20 to be included in the compilation.