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March 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Surprise Audience (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

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

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

“You can’t be serious,” said Danni.

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

“Is this a cruel test?”

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

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

 ###

March 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

Gone Art. If I were to write a post-truth era dystopian thriller, that would be the title: Gone Art. What would a nation be like if every citizen had to work a 9-to-5 job to profit Big Pharma, Big Insurance and Big Banks without benefit of performing, visual or literary arts? What if paintings in galleries were replaced by flat-screen TVs that displayed 24-hour state news and reality shows. No more screenwriters or actors, but shows, pitting depressed rural communities against urban ghettos to fight for the best ratings. Winners get to loot the losers’ community under the guidance of Big Brother Border Patrol and their high-tech tactical gear.

Performing art might evolve into public floggings of scientists unwilling to believe alternative facts presented by the state. Blackface might return as a dance movement to mock rap while real rappers and spoken word artists labor in privatized prisons under suspicion that art warped their minds and led to consumption of marijuana, spiced rum and Little Debbie Swiss Cakes. Mockery and punishment would be the only state-sanctioned performances, gathering crowds the way public hangings in Victorian London did. Yet, a generation would grow up not knowing what the word Victorian means.

White House ornamentation might include the piked heads that rolled from the shoulders of journalists and novelists and humanitarian advocates who dared to say, “The TRUTH is out there.” Alternative facts will be the new norm for creativity, the only form of creativity allowed, and the greatest masters of its art shall be cloistered to the Cabinet, given free meals, government moonshine and gilded thrones built from the bones of alt artists and Badlands resisters.

Literacy is no longer required. Books are not burned because no one reads them, anyways. Refrigerators and microwaves inform those who need to know, mostly alternative facts pour from the water spickets on the smart-fridge of those in the working class. Daily updates are given in the time it takes to pour a glass of water. There is no water for the poor. There is no birth control, either. Those who fornicate and reproduce are gathered up on farms, fed GMO corn and below-the-poverty-level children of all colors will become the State’s new white meat.

Billionaires will have evolved to drink champagne of fermented oil and eat truffles made of coal. The rest of the working or imprisoned populace will be sick but have Access to Healthcare that replaces any desire for art, nature or fresh food. This song will be outlawed:

What disturbed rabbit hole did Charli wander down, you might be thinking. Like Alice, let me walk backwards and start at another place.

“Europe has cathedrals; America has National Parks.” Public television tells me this every night. It’s Utah’s programming, and given that this state has five National Parks and more monuments and state parks than any other state, I feel as if I live among a cluster of medieval European cities with deep art and history. My reality is that I live near deep nature and pre-history, near the tallest sandstone pillars in the world and abandoned Anasazi ruins. Zion is so popular that now the park canyon we explored over winter is closed to all traffic. Tourists have returned because nature penetrates the soul the way cathedrals stretch skyward to God.

It’s late afternoon and the Hub and I brace against the stiff struts of our truck as we bounce across a desert two-track littered with rocks of black basalt. The dog leans into me and I hug her close to steady us both. My left foot is propped against swell in the floor that accommodates the transmission. My bag sits on the swell filled with crackers, cheese and my laptop. We all have bottled drinking water, even the dog. At first glance, the road looked to cut across the flat. Driving it corrects the perception of flatness. We dip through hidden washes and round clusters of sagebrush and mesquite.

We have three goals in our pilgrimage to the desert: shoot, chase rabbits and write. I’m sure you can match each goal to us three occupants in the truck.

At last we pull up on a dry earthen dike. Gnarled brush hints at water beneath the ground, but none surfaces. It’s a dirt reservoir and why this land is hostile to farm or ranch. The Hub parks on the hard-packed red clay and unloads his long-range rifles: 7mm08 and 6.5mm Creedmoor. He unfolds a canvas shooting mat and sets up his rifles and bullets, which he’s loaded himself. The dog runs, finds quail, and returns to drink water. I drink in the landscape, noting where the red mesas of the Colorado Plateau slam into the black basalt of a geological rift created by volcanic action.

We are in between places; a transition zone.

The Hub has his ear muffs, shooting hat with Ranger insignia and he scopes the land we tracked in the truck. It’s remote, unpopulated and a clear line of vision for him to test rounds at a mile. Yes, his target is a mile away. I can’t even pretend to make up stories how he does it, but I know it includes as much science as it does art. He has to crunch numbers, understand velocity and range, master powder loads and select bullet shapes, and ultimately imagine the shot before he takes it. Satisfied, he breaks my nature-stupor, and says “Move the truck across the dam.

Easier said than done. I profess to be a writing buckaroo, but admit to also being a cowardly cowgirl. Sure, I can drive the truck, but I have a bad half-memory, half-fear of a reservoir like this. I hate moments of unexplained danger. I note the signs — rapid heart rate, a feeling of sinking and separating from self. I’m afraid to walk on the hard earth, afraid it’s not really hard, that it’ll crumble. Gulping air I walk it first, relieved it feels compact, but further frightened by holes big enough to swallow my dog. Fear dissipates with curiosity, so I investigate.

I’m peering down the rabbit hole. Only it’s not made by a rabbit or any creature. I realize that water in this arid land not only carves ancient dunes and gathers scree, it also tunnels secretly underground as if to escape the evaporating heat above. This dike, built by a rancher at some time, is now pocked by sinkholes. The earthen structure might feel solid to walk upon but what lies beneath is Swiss cheese. Drive the truck across it, I don’t think so! Instead, I drive across the soft flat of the reservoir, turn around until its positioned just so and call the dog. Once she’s safe in the cab, I give the thumbs up to the Hub. He’s free to shoot.

And no matter my earlier intentions, I can’t write out here. My computer is set up on the tailgate, but the screen looks black in all this sunlight. Never mind. I draw a deep drink of bottled SmartWater and stare at the land like Hildegard visioning at Bingen. Art requires time to stare.

I would have stuck to my original post and led a merry chase down rabbit holes, but I read the morning news before I finished writing. I’m not as stressed as I was earlier in the POTUS’s first few weeks. Like the earthen dike, I had stepped out to test the solidity of the situation, my heart reacting to danger unseen but felt. In a nation divided by politics, navigating social space is like one of those books where you pick your own adventure: option A is alternative facts and belief-based “news;” option B is investigative journalism based on facts and science many don’t “believe;” and option C is propaganda renamed “fake news” and is liberally applied to all options, thus giving the real lies longer shelf-life. I’m weary of trying to teach people how to read critically and take accountability for the options they choose to place in their skulls. And it’s redundant to tell the skeptics and resisters what they already know.

So I’ll stick to my art. Except there will be no more art.

Here’s the rabbit hole I fell down, reading the about the proposed Presidential Budget in the New York Times this morning (note this date in infamy as the Day After the Ides of March When the Dictator Was Not Taken Out: March 16, 2017).

Gone would be federal financing for public television, the arts and humanities.

Gone. Gone art. The article goes on to cover the horrors of other cuts basically bashing in the brains and hearts of artists, writers, scientists, humanitarian advocates, teachers, diplomats and workers. POTUS wants to eliminate…ELIMINATE…the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I disagree with the New York Times journalist who writes that this upsets the East Coast elites. Now just hold your horses on that thought! Damn it! Why do we Western writers get discounted? Because, like Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner, we’re just tumbling tumble weeds writing hymns to places most New Yorkers never see? Because we can ride a horse and rope stray words into stories?

Western writers are relevant right now, especially when it was the VOICE of rural Middle America who elected this destructive clown in the first place. My western fellow citizens, and most across the nation in other rural bubbles of America, the people I roll my eyes at and call “Trumpers,” I get them. Come on, I’m a 49-year old homeless woman married to a combat vet too-long-denied his benefits to the detriment of his own health, a displaced worker, un-insured, Jesus-believer, science nerd and lit geek who wrote profiles of FARMERS and RANCHERS for 20 years, advocating for local food and revitalization of rural communities. I’m their God-damned writer! I don’t agree with them, especially when it comes to Trump, but I speak our common tongue.

The mother-tongue of a westerner is land and water, spoken in poetic contradictions. We fight among ourselves to prepare battles with outsiders who want to wrestle away control of our western lands we love and live off of, knowing better how to manage public lands than some bureaucrat in DC. But they think drain the Swamp means eliminating Fat Cats. They don’t understand the Fat Cats are draining the swamp of all that does benefit the people. They are eliminating We the People, using fear of others. We are fearing the wrong safety-breach.

Trump has blind-sided the people in pain, feeding them populist ideas. They don’t know what a populist idea is! They might be the poster children for populism, but they are controlled by its fake promise to bring back all they’ve worked so hard for throughout generations. Everything I write is imbued with western thinking. I don’t say I’m a buckaroo because it’s fun; actually it’s a painful reminder of my painful past. I’m a buckaroo because my feet knew cowboy boots in toddler size one and my eyes learned to drink in the landscape that contains the bones of seven generations of westerners.

If I’m silenced as an artist, that voice so desperate to be heard that it voted in destruction, will be silenced, too. C. Jai Ferry who writes grit lit is the west’s sharp edge, while Ann Edall-Robson (luckily for her she’s Canadian) is it’s softer nostalgic pool of memories. We need all the western writers in between. We need literature to express that voice in constructive ways, to be heard. We need books young westerners can read and see themselves in, we need to encourage the next Stegner or draw out from the eastern elites, the next Abbey or Thoreau. We need art in the West, the East, the North, the South. We need wild spaces. We need art.

March 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) go down the rabbit hole to a place where art is not allowed. It could be a small story or a dystopian vision. Is there a power struggle over art? Would the general public miss it? Is the end of art a natural evolution? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 21, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 22). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

The Coming Truce (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“You think I shouldn’t be allowed art?” Danni drank the Oregon Pinot, glinting like crushed golden berries in her glass.

Michael stood in her living room, his body tense. Neither wanted to be in the other’s presence, but Ike insisted on a truce while he served in Iraq. “You have no right to Native artifacts.”

“Art, Michael, and it’s mine. Those chinks? My great Uncle Riley made those. His Nez Perce wife beaded them. The peace pipe, a gift.”

“Your art is my history, Danni. I’ll take that wine now. If it’s not toxic.

“The wine or my art?”

###

Out of the Fire

Out of the Fire by the Rough Writers & Friends @Charli_MillsSlag comes out of the fire as a by-product of industrial or artistic alchemy. Iron produces a rough glassy silica and molten glass creates colorful mixtures. In this raw state it has potential. In humans, another definition implies trash as in a lewd or promiscuous woman, and carries a more destructive meaning.

No matter the interpretation or tone, writers went where the slag prompt led them. And it makes for an interesting collection, this week.

The following stories are based on the March 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include slag in a story.

***

Geocaching by Ann Edall-Robson

“We need to go over there!”

“Not according to the directions!”​

The argument was consistent on any geocaching trips they made. This was their fourth trip to the area, an old mining town back in the day. They stood at the end of the trail overlooking mountain meadows and rocks. The GPS on their phones said they were close.

The realization they were standing on the old slag pile from the mine. Mountain grasses disguising historic remnants of the cache left behind. Mother Nature showing off what she’d accomplished over the years, reclaiming the once murky tailing pond nearby.

###

Slag Hill by Pensitivity

You could see it for miles, this landmark in time, rising up on the horizon as you turned the corner.

Some called it an eyesore, some saw it as a monument to times past, but passing it meant I was twenty five minutes from home, where Love, a cup of tea and a warm bed waited for me.

In my time, it was called Slag Hill, but within ten years, it became just The Hill.

It’s gone now, moved or used for heavens knows what, and the landscape is flat and featureless.

I’m glad I don’t live there anymore.

###

Evidence of Existence (form Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni knelt by the fire ring, rain dripping off her oiled hat. No campers remained, and she surmised the last ones had children with chalk. They left stones colored with pastel hearts. Layered coals hid what she sought. Digging with a stick, she unearthed a piece of glass Ike had broken when they last camped here. She couldn’t explain why she wanted the slag. She was an archeologist, proving existence of human habitation. She wanted to prove Ike had existed. G-Dog barked from the truck, bringing her attention to the dogs.  Hers now.

The slag would outlast them all.

###

A Faultless Piece by Michael

She poured over the slag heaps looking for that piece that was the shape she required, the textures and colours needed to create the perfect article of jewellery.

Her fingers combed the debris that was left from the old iron foundry. She’d been lucky a few times in finding just what she wanted.

Many were contemptuous of her work. Said they were pretend trinkets. Gaudy, ugly fakes. She paid them no attention when they slagged her off ridiculing and jeering at her attempts to make some needed finery. One day she’d show them when she found that faultless piece.

###

Slag (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Oh, thank God you found it. ” Jane’s hands shake as she fumbles with the clasp. A stroke of good luck, that she lost it at work.

“Yeah, so, ” the cleaning woman says. “It was under the sink.”

“Look.” Jane holds out the pendant, an iridescent greenish-goldish-brownish cabochon glowing as if from within. “Slag glass, it’s called. We found a bunch in a ghost town that had burned. My grandpa made jewelry out of it. He made this.”

The cleaning woman sniffs. “Doesn’t look like so much to me.”

“Yeah, you’d probably rather have diamonds, like everybody else,” Jane snaps.

###

Victorian King Midas by Luccia Gray

Their skeletal remains were found in the hidden attic room of their Victorian home. She was wearing glass slag amber earrings, necklace, and an evening gown with amber slag gems sewn on.

A note on the bed-side-table, held in place by a priceless Victorian amber slag glass lamp, read:

My husband fancied he was like King Midas and everything he touched turned to gold and became his property, like me. I thought his blood might be amber, but it was bright crimson.

He would have been pleased it was his favourite slag amber lamp which had cracked his skull.

###

My Slag is Not Your Slag by Joe Owen

Karina twisted in front of the shiny 5 x 5 sheet of slag. Allie smiled while watching from her register at the door. It’d be great to sell the sizable piece of art, but her hopes were slim.

“I need to convince my husband” she said covering her cell phone as she neared the station.

Karina felt the swell of optimism, but breathed it out just as quickly. Being in the business meant disappointment was more often your closest friend.

“If you could see my reflection you would agree. I look like I did in Aruba,” Allie said. “Buy it? Okay!”

###

The Heirloom by Kate Spencer

Jim wiped droplets of sweat from his forehead. He and Gladys were spending their Saturday cleaning out the attic and reminiscing over silly items they’d found in boxes.

“Looky here Jim. It’s my great-grandmother’s Diving Dolphins bowl,” said Gladys holding up a purple dish. “I remember my Granny loved it. She always had gumdrops in it.”

Jim reached for the artefact. “Wonder how much it’s worth.”

“Looks like a rare piece of slag glass to me. I’d like to keep it. I’m thinking that some ol’ things are worth keeping around.”

“Like me?”

“Just like you, you ol’ goon.”

###

Flash Fiction by D. Avery

The box itself was a treasure, with its iconic graphics and rich smells, the hinged lid bestowing sanctity. Inside were her rare and special collections, including molten glass, twisted and smooth from a long ago fire; and the purple hued, cratered rocks that were surely meteorites, come to earth from the far off spaces between the stars. Later, when she was older, she would also keep a small notebook in that box, her foundry where she tried to forge something of enduring value. Later still, though she realized it was all slag, she continued to treasure these precious artifacts.

###

Transformation by Sarah Brentyn

I struggle to find what’s real.

I’m picking up sounds—buzzing and static. I think they’re trying to talk to me. Or maybe it’s me saying something. My words are lost in a haze of unrest.

My mind feels like melted glass, being stretched and twisted into something I don’t recognize. If someone were to put my mind on display, it would be unsightly and puzzling. I hope it doesn’t turn out that way. If the glass can be manipulated as easily as pulling taffy, I think it can be made into something beautiful and useful. Perhaps a vase.

###

Desire and Disappointment by Kerry E.B. Black

Henry’s head drooped until his chin rested on his chest. His scribbled calculations littered hundreds of pages and filled notebooks. He’d scoured creaking tomes thick with ancestral dust for research, divining ancient secrets for alchemical experiments. Flames flickered beneath miniature cauldrons and beakers. Metals melted into liquid luxury, but none refined as he wished. Just beyond the glow of his workspace, whispers populated the shadows. “He’s close, but he ignores the elemental marriage.” “They never realize the steps they miss in their haste.” With a wave of demonic hands, the metals produce not desired gold but slag and disappointment.

###

Where Nothing is Wasted, Nothing is Lost by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Pushing the goggles back on her forehead, she waved away the acrid smoke and smiled. Number nine hung from a slender wire, shards of red, yellow, and cool blue joined at their edges and reinforced in their many corners with spare strands of lead.

This was indeed her best spell, one that might save the shire from the Goblin Raiders. She hung it in the shop’s doorway, next to the other eight stained glass salmons. They rotated and collected the full moon’s light.

She brushed the slag into her hand, blowing the remnants, and a prayer, towards the fjord.

###

Volcanic Words by Irene Waters

Setting off at dawn Joshua and Darryl picked their way up the side of the volcano in silence.

“I’ve never met anyone with such a revolving door as Rhonda. The other night I saw Henry and Peter both visit.” Joshua broke the stillness of the morning, puffing out the words venomously as they neared the rim of the volcano.

“Why don’t you mind your own business?”

“Just think you should know you’re sweet on a woman with ….”

“Look at this slag,” Darryl interjected pointing at the scoria remaining after numerous volcanic eruptions. “look at those colours. Beautiful……. like Rhonda.”

###

Reunion of Innocents? by Jules Paige

Clementine anxiously waited for the 5:40 out of the city,
wondering if he would be on board…How much would
he have changed?

Takes time but the crescent moon morphs to full ~
Even the exotic afflatus jailer teasing the pasty longanimity
held captive with stew cooked with mouldy bread ~ will get
his comeuppance, Clem thought.

Thomas Glas had little light from the ledge of a barred window ~
Cringing at every noise trying to filter night from day…The slag
of his wrongly imprisoned heart may not form a diamond, but
an emerald was just as good…for her.

###

Arrogance by FloridaBorne

As my knuckle approached the musty old door, my outspoken personality fled into the background. No! I must get this over with!

A gruff voice said, “Enter,”

“You wanted to see me Professor?” I asked.

“You called me dense. My IQ is 170!”

“I don’t care if it’s 360,” I said. “You told a guy with Down Syndrome…”

“He is developmentally disabled.”

“I’m in your slag heap, too. Mine’s called Dyslexia, you just can’t see it.“

“He belongs in an Arc.”

“He’s making B’s!”

“Students,” he sneered, pointing toward the exit.

I opened it, allowing the university president inside.

###

The Good Girls by Anne Goodwin

They spat that name as she shivered down the corridors, taunts that slapped her ears. They were the good girls with glossy hair and proper parents, while she was ….

It hurt the first time. And the second and the third. But he bought her stuff she needed, and drugs that made it hurt a little less. He promised to protect her. Until he didn’t.

Next time, she’d call the shots; the good girls could call her what they liked. After all, her body was built for pleasure; it was time she took some for herself.

###

Slagged by Bill Engleson

Shelley has moments when the torture of her teens rises up in the wee hours.

She doesn’t scream out so much as squeal the pain.

“No, I’m not,” she sleep-says.

I stir, thinking, momentarily, that she’s awake.

“Wha…?”

But no. It is that distant time intruding.

“They made me into something I wasn’t,” she has told me repeatedly.

I remember my school days, the things I said, carelessly, cruelly, about others.
I’ve tried to tell her how small I once was, am no longer, I pray.

“Words… like rats-teeth. They never stop gnawing at my soul,” she has cried.

###

Slag by Reena Saxena

My sister called to say that Dad was terminally ill, and we should go see him once. Mom was happily settled with her second husband and kids, and would not bother to check on him.

Just before I left, I kissed my daughter in between her play, and invited protest. She wanted to be left alone.

“Sure, darling! But Mom and I will always be there for you.”

I could give anything to provide her the snug comfort of loving parents. I could not ever forget being referred to, by both of them, as ‘slag’, from their failed relationship.

###

The Artist by Norah Colvin

They, each with a single colour, used packaged accessories to form identical sets of flat, life-less shapes. He worked by hand, collecting and incorporating their slag, as he explored the properties of his clump of multi-coloured dough. They proudly displayed neat rows of unimaginative templated shapes. With humble satisfaction, he regarded his creation with its countless possibilities. Each time they started again, they repeated the same familiar fail-safe patterns. Each time he began anew, exploring, seeking, discovering the dormant, hidden potential, sculpting to allow uniqueness to shine. They remained stuck in what is. He focused on creating the future.

###

March 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

march-2What had been murky pools a few weeks before are now flats of cracked mud. The kind of cracks that call to be pressed with the toe of a boot. It’s like nature’s original bubble wrap. You know, the kind you can snap and pop?

I’m walking down a desert road with ruts that have dried to resemble molded plastic. It’s not so dry yet that it’s dusty, and I know the moisture of an intensely wet winter in southern Utah (Mars) will bring an explosive spring. Already the desert has a different hue from when I first arrived in early September when temperatures were still topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was dusty red beneath blue sky with faded brush.

Ahead of me, a rabbit runs from mesquite to sagebrush, both which are green. Not grass green. Sage is silvery blue-green and mesquite is dark like pine needles. I look to yucca plants and prickly pear, hoping this landscape transforms with flowers as only a desert on Mars could bloom. Until then, I hunt for spring-signs and rocks. There’s no rocks of interest on this plane beneath the shadow of Hurricane Mesa. So I look up.

Was this area where the monkeys landed?

Beyond my focus, I can discern something white at the edge where I know the tracks aimed off the mesa to launch test monkeys in test ejection seats. I imagine a monkey in a pod drifting slowly overhead, its parachute white as the snow that lingers to the west on the Pine Mountains. If I can see the ghostly memory of the past, what else can I see? Shoshone boys chasing rabbits, a Mormon wife hanging laundry. This would have been a safe place to live, high enough above the flash flood washes, close to sources of water, flat for a house.

And there are foundations. I kneel to examine the rock foundation of a home or barn. Old chunks of seasoned beams lie scattered. A tangle of wire rusts near tracks of modern all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs). Broken glass glitters. Upon a closer look, the glass is modern. A strange pile of old debris, as if a homestead had burned. I poke around and find slag: cobalt blue streaked with white as pure as monkey parachutes; green like grass that doesn’t grow here streaked with black; golden and brown.

What were these remnants? Its not clear like bottles,  more opaque like iron slag, yet way too colorful. A desert mystery from a kitchen long ago on the spot beneath an Air Force test site. How strange when life is like multiple disconnected plays that share the same stage over and over. Eventually, the stage changes, but not as fast as the flashpoint of a human life or the drift of a flying monkey.

It’s been a long journey for me to get to this flat stretch of ground, picking up the slag of my own life. Like these transformed pieces, I’m changed, too. I’m not as polished as I once was. My edges are sharper, my color deeper. When I set out to conscientiously write a novel about the spouse of a veteran who decides to return to Iraq in mid-life, I wanted to explore why soldiers serve. Perhaps in the beginning of exploring service, I had high ideals of duty. I knew my husband was closer to his Ranger brothers than any other friendships or even family ties. And he has lots of cousins and hometown friends.

In fact, I think that day last summer when we finally got the Hub in front of a VA psychologist for an assessment, I realized something deeper about all those relationships he grew up with. In describing how easily he was friends with people, I nodded. The Hub never meets a stranger. But when pressed about his service and specific events, it became clear how detached he became from those formative ties. After service he was changed. Anger became a low-burning fuel that propelled him through life. Others describe him as intimidating. I learned (as did our three children) that he’s all bluster. He’s not dangerous or frightening, but that doesn’t change perceptions in the workplace. All these years he’s had us, his past ties and his Ranger brothers. Yet, he’s still on mission.

Duty isn’t to country and service is not driven by an ideal. He’d die for any one of his Ranger brothers, even now, and he continues to keep my perimeter safe and drive defensively. Why would he go back to Iraq if he were my character Ike? Training.

When you are in an elite force, you use your brain, brawn, morals and emotional strength to train. It’s important to understand that after all these years of seeing cracks in my husband’s behavior that it wasn’t simply PTSD. He does have PTSD, mild, as numerous evaluations state. As he describes to me, PTSD is merely a survival trigger to push a person into fight. The elite forces are not populated with flight responders. It’s the extreme training in this heightened survival mode that becomes like a switch turned on. And they want to do their mission. They train for their mission. They protect their brothers on mission. They dream of home; idealize it, but can’t stand to be still in it. They want to go on serving.

The Hub was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder just weeks before we came to St. George, Utah for the job that didn’t work out. It had no chance of working out. We had so many stress factors going on, stemming from our bout of homelessness, that his anxiety was off the charts. I never thought of my husband as anxious until I realized what it was. The gruffness, the anger, the mistrust of authority, the refusal to let others walk over the top of him, the idea that others wanted to walk over the top of him and not recognizing how work-culture behaves. That training to do the mission no matter what has created a beast of anxiety within him. Serving in Iraq would relieve it.

But that’s not the answer. Unlike my character Danni, I said no way. Instead I kept my husband home, but he grew more restless and frustrated, detached and demanding. I was certain the behavior stemmed from undiagnosed and untreated PTSD. I also believe (and this is pure opinion) that the high rate of veteran suicides in the Hub’s age range (over 50) has more to do with longevity of suppressed PTSD, anxiety or depression from service than anything. Younger soldiers undergo readjustment therapy and the VA offers programs my husband never had. Yet fighting for VA service can be a battle of its own, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard veterans and their doctors minimalize their disabilities. Wiser veterans and advocates in the system warn other vets against “soldiering up.”

It took four years to get the Hub to “soldier down.”

By the time we got the diagnosis that leads to the care, we moved to Mars. To this date (March 2017) the Hub has yet to receive a primary care physician in St. George (and he’s been requesting one since September 2016). When he was placed on unpaid temporary leave, he was shocked and I was angry. Angry because I knew he was reacting to his anxiety poorly and the reasons cited for his eventual dismissal were related. I helped him write a letter to his employer asking for legal accommodations to his service-related disability. It was ignored. I called the VA and said we were in crisis. No one called back. I called the director and had a response in 15 minutes, an appointment the next day and a referral for CBT or EMDR.

And not even that came easy. Although we are taking classes and doing group therapy, the Hub’s first individual appointment was two days ago. Mine is tomorrow. I’m actually excited. Rarely do spouses or family members get mental health care or support. The Vet Center does allow for it, but they’ve been short a therapist. Poor woman arrived Monday and me and numerous other spouses from couples group therapy for vets with PTSD are ready to beat down her door.

We are slag forged in the fires with our veteran spouses, and want to fully transform into something of beauty and purpose.

We are the home-makers and although I aspire to be more than that with my own individual hopes and dreams, the home-maker role is as important as any.

And I have an update on our young and dedicated home-maker, bank-teller and overall Sweet One with her family’s new home after living in shelters and cheap motels. Her son is doing well in school, and thanks to all the books we collectively sent (I’m sure it was writers who sent books!) he has discovered a joy of reading. I’ll be certain to keep that joy alive.

Sweet One wants to thank all who sent house-warming gifts and to say she is cooking dinners for the family, making her first pot of chili in a crockpot. I had to laugh when she soaked the dry beans overnight and then texted me her concern the next day — are beans supposed to smell? I’ll keep fostering that joy of cooking.

For privacy, I can’t share full photos, but Sweet one approved these to be shared in a thank-you to you all:

How can I thank you and your friends for everything?? Hosting the welcome home party and all the wonderful and amazing beautiful gifts??? Thank- you just isn’t enough.
I’m overwhelmed…. And both of the guys are as well. J LOVES all his packages he gets, but last night a tie between both the tupperware and crockpot he helped me pick out. If possible more excited then I was. It was SO funny and cute we were both doing our happy/ excited dances and he was happier than I was about them!

Thank YOU ALL SO much for everything and ALL the love in each and every package.

March 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include slag in a story. Slag is a glass-like by-product of smelting or refining ore. Slag is also used in making glass or can result from melting glass. It can be industrious or artistic. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 7, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 8). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Evidence of Existence (form Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni knelt by the fire ring, rain dripping off her oiled hat. No campers remained, and she surmised the last ones had children with chalk. They left stones colored with pastel hearts. Layered coals hid what she sought. Digging with a stick, she unearthed a piece of glass Ike had broken when they last camped here. She couldn’t explain why she wanted the slag. She was an archeologist, proving existence of human habitation. She wanted to prove Ike had existed. G-Dog barked from the truck, bringing her attention to the dogs.  Hers now.

The slag would outlast them all.

###

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Tales of Immigration

Tales of Immigration by the Rough Writers & Friends @Charli_MillsMigration, traveling for work or life improvement, defies borders. Migration because of war and strife, blurs borders. And the migrations of butterflies and birds, know no borders.

Human migration is big in the news with changes to travel bans and non-citizen statuses. Those seeking to live elsewhere are seeking more than a new place. What we accept as cyclical in nature, we try to curb for humans with rules and walls.

The following stories are based on the February 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a migration story.

***

Arrival by Enkin Anthem

She’s making friends. Already.

It’s been only a few weeks. So little time, so many changes. The people are strange, but at least they don’t shoot at us.

My little girl goes to school. It’s the law. And now she brought home a boy. Where she’s dark, he’s fair – blond and pale like all of them, grey eyes lowered. She pulls him inside. “This is Nils. We’ll do homework together.” He looks confused, uncomfortable.

She changes to Swedish, gestures. “My dad,” I guess she says. He bows, stretches out a hand.

“Hallå,” I say. The only word I know.

###

Into the Storm by Allison Maruska

I claim my place in the boarding line. Twenty hours from now, I’ll be there.

Mom tried to convince me of the inherent danger. Grandpa argued the region’s war killed my uncle. To them, I am heading into a storm.

To the people I’ll be helping, I am rebuilding after one.

The attendant scans my pass, and I head for the plane.

In a way, Mom is right. Over There is less safe than Right Here. But my heart won’t let my able hands stay.

So, as I watch the Earth shrink beneath me, I head into the storm.

###

Leaving for the West (from Rock Creek) by Charli

“Pa? Are you leaving us?”

Mary glared at her husband. To avoid the new administration’s secession policies, Cobb was leaving his sheriff’s post. Her family and friends no longer visited, political beliefs dividing neighbors and kin. “Answer the boy, Cobb. He’s your son. He deserves your words, not the gossip to come.”

“Monroe, anyone asks, tell them I’m seeking gold with the Georgians.”

“What about our farm, Pa?”

“Sold, son. We’ll have a new farm out west. Uncle Leroy will bring you all out once it’s settled.”

“Out west? Where they sent the Cherokee?”

“Further west, son. The frontier.”

###

Blood, Sweat and Tears by Neel Anil Panicker

Makhan Lal offers one last look at the arid expanse before him.

All his weary eyes can spot are acres upon acres of barren fields.

Sweat-lathered tears stream down his heavily lined visage and die slow deaths on his bare-chested, all boned torso.

This year’s been particularly harsh: no rainfall, no crop, no food, and two deaths_ his brother and his

his grandson, all of two weeks.

His weather beaten sixty-five year old self can take no longer.

The decision’s made: migration; to the city, to any place that will get his family of seven two meals a day.

###

Boat People by Michael

The spring rains had not arrived, the fields were barren, prospects dim. His young family faced hunger if he didn’t act.

He made a life changing decision. He packed up his family and set sail to a foreign land. They were boat people, with nothing to keep them in their homeland they sailed for the opportunity of a new life.

It took four months to cross the oceans and when they arrived it was hot and humid. His brother met them and took them home. They began a new life, in a new land. My grateful, paternal, great grandparents.

###

Hathersage Welcomes Basque Refugees by Anne Goodwin

Fresh air, dry stone walls and purple heather; how naive to think it would suffice. Roast lamb on Sundays on return from the Meeting House, wide-open spaces in which to play. When we tried them with our schoolboy Spanish, their faces registered not familiarity but fear.

We couldn’t distinguish the bombing’s repercussions from culture shock, grief from adolescent sulks. Saddened that our kindness couldn’t cure them, we wandered through the village to the moors. Indifferent, they followed, until their sluggish steps segued into leaps and jumps. Gambolling among the season’s new lambs, strangers no more.

###

Migration by Ann Edall-Robson

Their sound reverberates across the meadow. Haunting voices carried on the wind. Finally, the recognizable V comes into sight. They split. They reform.

It seems early in the fall for their trek to have begun. Makes you wonder what they know about the coming winter that we don’t.

They’ll stop where there’s open water and feed. But, for today, they are making miles while the weather’s good. The long journey taking them south to warmer climates for the winter. Where they’ll stay until the spring thaw opens the lakes and ponds and they wing their way north once again.

###

Vagabond Soul by Pete Fanning

Stu checked the address and stepped out of the car. He cursed Ed, his sponsor, and his conscience. They always teamed up on him.

He was far from that kid who threw that drunken punch twenty years ago. His mind, body, and soul, had migrated, were still migrating, carving wrinkles as it sojourned out of the muck of stupidity to, what was he now, anyway? Middle aged? Tormented? Humbled?

Two knocks. Duty fulfilled. But the door opened.

Reconstructive surgery on his left eye, the guy couldn’t even cry properly.

Without warning, Stu released the two words that haunted him.

###

Spaced Out? by Jules Paige

Is moving around most of your life migration? Especially if you
ain’t returnin’ to that place you was born. For a the most part of
livin’ front doors seemed to always be different colors with
differing keys. An’ most them keys just don’ open the attitude
of folk to welcome you with open arms.

You think you settled as you ages. Then there’s a call to clear
outta your home world and find a new hovel, in space. But you
knowed you ain’t on that list. Ain’t migrated enough education
to lift off to one of them new planets.

###

Ban-ter by Bill Engleson

“Their parents are dead. That surely is a factor?”

“Not to me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not unsympathetic.”

“Perhaps not. Still, they would have a better chance here, in our country.”

“And lose their identity? Their culture? Their language? We cannot be the world’s orphanage.”

“Is that what you think this is all about? Look, no matter what we do, how many we take in, it will never be enough. But to do nothing, under the pretext that they’ll come to hate us makes no sense, shows no humanity.”

“The risk is far too great. My ban stays.”

###

Migration to ‘TRAPPIST-1’? by Liz Husebye Hartmann

“You’re telling me there are seven new human-habitable planets, a mere 40 years away light-speed distance?” She looked at him, eyebrow raised.

“Yes! No more worries about ruining our natural resources here on Earth,” He squeezed his sweaty hands together. “We can leave today and arrive in time for retirement!”

“Once we fund and develop the advanced technology?”

“We can easily rewrite Universal Healthcare, and the tax code! It’ll be huge! What could go wrong?”

“Okay, Donnie,” she sighed, looking at the armed border patrol. She flipped open her copy of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora. “We’ll just wait here.”

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

They come in their hundreds, if not thousands.
Families, young adults, those seeking a mate, returning to the same grounds year after year by instinct.
They travel up to 200 miles a day, with a maximum speed of 35 mph, to arrive in April / May and depart in September / October.
Not for them the comforts of planes, centrally heated homes, and an endless food supply in the freezer.
I’ll be here to photograph their presence, listen to their chatter, and marvel at their sky aerobics.
We shall also have our mops and buckets ready to wash away the swallow bird poo.

###

Deported by Luccia Gray

‘You’re Magwitch, the convict at the graveyard.’

‘Wrongly convicted, Pip. Compeyes was the mastermind.’

‘Miss Havisham’s groom who abandoned her at the altar?’

‘He was imprisoned and I was deported to New South Wales.’

‘You tricked me into helping you.’

‘I’ve paid you back generously.’

‘You’re my anonymous benefactor?’

‘I worked hard at the Penal Colony. My money is yours now.’

‘I don’t want your soiled money!’

‘Are you planning on giving up your fancy life and going back to being a blacksmith?’

‘You’ve ruined everything. I hate you!’

‘And yet, Pip, you have Estella to thank me for.’

###

On the Move by KL. Caley

The packing had begun again.

I knew what meant; new house, new town, new school.

It hadn’t been a problem when I was younger but now things weren’t as easy.

Making friends became harder and harder.

Being the new kid, the stranger in a class that had been together since primary was like being a cat in a room full of dogs.

Still, I loved my dad and this was the life he chose, the army was all he knew.

When I’m older I think I’ll do the same.

He says in the army you make friends for life.

###

Adventurous Plans by Norah Colvin

His bag was packed. He was ready. He stopped at the door for one last look, then stepped outside, pulling it closed behind him. At that moment, he was certain; he would never return. There was nothing for him here. Exotic places and untold adventures awaited. At the stop, he hailed a bus and climbed aboard. “Where are you off to?” asked the driver. “I’m on an adventure,” he said, tendering a fistful of plastic coins. “But only if you take me with you,” said his out-of-breath mother, smiling. “Okay,” he said. The driver winked as she climbed aboard.Adventurous plans

###

Migration Watch by Geoff Le Pard

‘Oh for f…’

‘Paul! Language.’

‘I’m trying to migrate my website and it’s an utter disaster.’

Penny, his daughter, laughed. ‘First world problem dad. Be glad you have power.’

Paul growled. ‘Easy to say.’

‘We had a new kid in school today. From Darfur. His English is amazing. He said he learnt it from listening to music.’

Paul switched off his laptop. ‘You’re right. I don’t know when I’m born.’

Penny hugged him. ‘Glad you’re getting perspective.’

Mary barked as laugh. ‘All it means is he’ll get his people to fix it at work. He hasn’t migrated that far.’

###

Migrating by Irene Waters

“The Spaniards rejected us.”

“Bastards won’t let us put out deck chairs!”

“The Aussies want us. Only cost us ten pounds.”

They arranged migration interviews, arriving late.

“You boys better make it to the ship on time,” the embassy official warned.

Their mother’s packed clean underwear, hankies and saucepans; crying as they waved goodbye.

Within days they hated ship life as they rounded Cape Horn and faced the days at sea. Finally docking in Freemantle they hit the pub, horrified by the white walls, straw strewn floor and beer served from a hose.

“Perhaps we might need those saucepans.”

###

 Vagabond Vampires by Scarlett Sauvage

We flew towards a better life, seeking something more than the rubble of our ruined world. Our nearest neighbours welcomed us with open arms. They’d never seen a vampire before, but they soon realised that our bad reputation was the result of wild imaginations. We worked alongside the natives to build our shared world. Then the salesman came. He told tales of wicked vampires that brought fear and terror around the world, of the horror we would one day inflict upon their children. He pitched it perfectly and sold the natives silver bullets for the price of a soul.

###

Thinly Veiled by FloridaBorne

“Women freed from ISIS are burning their veils,” I said, staring at the video on-screen.

“I just watched a classroom full of girls learning how to wear one,” My husband chuckled.

Aghast, I asked, “Where was this?”

“The Midwest.”

“If you put oil and water in a blender, they’ll still find a way to separate once the whirring stops,” I frowned.

“What does that have to do with veils?”

“Migration! We’re the USA, not the dark-ages,” I said.

“What do veils have to do with migration?”

“Why don’t you ask Native Americans what happened when they adopted European clothing?”

###

Migration (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane snaps the gate latch shut and unsnaps Troubles’ leash. She’s making her way toward the back door, picking her way automatically around weeds and old bricks before she notices in the dim moonlight.

The weeds and bricks aren’t there.

Her fingers are shaking as she turns on her phone’s flashlight, casting a circle of light around her while Troubles sniffs around the door.

Clean.

The rhododendron trunks are cleared of blown-in trash, the old bricks and broken furniture have been cleared out. In the bright wash of phone light, the brown grass even looks raked.

Oh, God, no.

Is Guilt Not Enough by Cheryl Oreglia

I follow the same, excruciatingly predictable pattern, almost daily, traveling from home to work, to home, to mom’s, to home, like a migrating bird, I wonder when my wings will fail? Although I take the same damn roads, I remain neutral, aloof to my surroundings. Sometimes traffic forces me to stop, it’s like being stuck in an elevator, I’ll glance around just to avoid making eye contact with my fellow travelers. Today I not only notice a new homeless encampment on Southwest beside the light rail tracks, but on the same expressway, where the old White Front used to be, a new housing development is springing up. The simultaneous construction of housing for humans living worlds apart yet across the street from each other gives my heart a savage twist.

###

Raw Literature: Raw From the Soul

ann-edall-robson

Essay by Ann Edall-Robson, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

<< ♦ >>

I struggled with the thought of writing something insightful, useful and raw. Several starts and stops took me to the same conclusion. I write from my heart, about things I am passionate about. Often capturing moments others may not have had the chance to experience. Sharing, not only what I view in my everyday life, but also from the western heritage I am so proud to say I am from.

Writing isn’t something I just decided to do one day because it had become a fad. The stacks of journals, pieces of tattered edged papers, loose leaf pages and old school scribblers are a testament of how long my mind, paired with writing tools, have been having a love affair.

Books filled with poetry, fiction and life stories. Dribs and drabs of teenage dreams, and adult realism. All following me in boxes from my rural home, where I was raised, to the place close to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where I now call home.

Raised with the expectation that please, thank you and excuse me, were not only part of every person’s vocabulary, you had best be using those words, yourself.  Respect for everything and everyone, unless they proved otherwise, was mandatory.

This was not the beginning of the raw world I cherish.  Our western heritage encompasses so much, and is almost nearing a point of the “forget about it” era. Technology infringing on moral standards is pushing the wild, raw, traditional life, to the side. Ranching, farming, neighbouring, and knowing the land cannot and should not be shunned. It is such an important part of going forward. Without remembering, telling the tales, the history, we are nothing.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. We are in a time when no one writes letters by hand and mails them. Families don’t eat meals together, and when they do, they have no idea how to carry on a conversation. AND, our heritage is being paved over for the next shopping mall.

Now, more than ever, is the time we need to be the keeper of the old ways, traditions and stories. The raw life, regardless of the culture, needs a home. In both my writing and photography, I am passionate about recording and sharing the old days and ways.  Every chance I get, I include something from a time gone by. A time when our grandparents and parents were children. A time when I was a child.

How easily we choose to forget, or perhaps ignore, the history we were making in our young years. How we fervently wish the door could be opened to find it close at hand. Disappointed and even devastated, when we know it’s lost, gone forever, without a trace and without a recorded word.

I was connected to the land in my young years and didn’t even know it. Yet, when I read pieces I penned almost half a century ago, I recognize the influenced of my lifestyle. The Wire and Post Contraption and Partners, both included in Moon Rising: An Eclectic Collection of Works are from that era. Other short stories written for this book, came from within. From the heart of where and how I grew up.

horse-belly-deep-grass-2My writing and photographs are fed by the old-cabin-2soul of our western heritage. A honourable culture I remember, the stories I was told, the people I have known and places I have been. The fields of horse belly deep grass speak to me. Inviting the imagination to reminisce about the pioneers homesteading in the cabin, where now, only a few weathered grey logs are left.

The Quiet Spirits, my current project (Release 2017), has traits of western heritage immersed throughout.  And yes, there is another book being penned, not yet titled, and modeled after western ranching traditions.

Writing Raw or Raw Fiction is a style I have always embraced. The word Raw, to me, means open, unbridled, passionate, from the heart. I write by the seat of my pants, not missing the chance to record a thought, any thought. I made a recent comment, “The first draft should sting with every thought imaginable.” That is what raw writing is all about. Uninhibited, telling the story as if you were there. Find the whatsit, whatchamacallit, thingummy you are passionate about and use it until you exhaust the soul it came from.

***

Ann Edall-Robson, writer, photographer, lover of life, and all things that make us smile. She has an unwavering commitment to share the traditions, heritage, and stories of the country life she hails from. 

An avid quilter and gardener, Ann grew up participating in rodeos and gymkhanas. She now lives with her husband near the rolling foothills, mountains, and country life that inspire so much of her work; both written and photographic.

Published books include: 

 

Moon Rising: An Eclectic Collection of Works

            From Our Home To Yours: Cookies

From Our Home To Yours: Cakes & Squares

Other writings:

Voice and Vision 2016 includes two of Ann’s stories

WebsiteAnnEdallRobson.com

<<♦>>

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

February 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

february-23In my mind, my Aunt Mary McCanles is as stoic as the women painted in pioneer portraits. Grim smile, bun puled taut, knuckles gnarled from the hard work of homesteading folded passively on her lap as she sits in her rocking chair for the camera. The romantic notion that wagons west was the adventure we modern descendants missed, that times were once simpler and more decent is among the big western myths. It’s true, Mary had courage and the wit to survive. She worked hard to raise four sons and an invalid daughter on the vast prairie of Nebraska Territory as a widow.

Maybe it’s because of the romance of the west, or maybe because she was my kin, I find it difficult to access her complexity. She’s human and must have been a woman of dichotomies. Aren’t we all? Life isn’t just about our personalities and the places we live, but it’s the intersection between our worst and best traits on our worst and best days. Add to the mix a harsh land and the reality of migration, and Mary had no chance to be a paper doll from a children’s American West set. She was a flesh and blood, heart and mind, physical and soulful woman.

When I think of stories, I think in terms of what if. To me, that’s where the action unfolds. What if a woman followed her husband and his former mistress out west, migrating to a frontier? What if she left behind a home and family she’d never see again? What if her husband was gunned down one afternoon? What if is the blueprint for the external story.

Internally, motivation becomes a driver. Why would she follow her husband and his former mistress to such a place? How did she cope in a new community? Did his death change her? What about love? Did she love her husband because he was the father of her five children or did she marry out of a sense of duty? The internal story shapes the human triumph or tragedy.

For a work of historical fiction, research collects the facts that detail the story. These details include every day occurrences, such as the life of a pioneer homesteader. They can also give clues to personality through eye-witness accounts or remembrances. Newspaper clippings give tone to decipher attitudes and culture. For example, slavery in the US is unavoidable, reading a southern newspaper from the 1850s. The attitudes of the culture emerge in ads advertising poultry and slave auctions like normal events. They were, for the times.

I’ve talked about the story structure I use to write novels — a W that outlines the hero’s journey. Recently, I heard Matt Damon give an interview about an upcoming movie about the Great Wall in China. He called it a classic hero’s journey. Yet, I think even the tale of a woman on the prairie, sweeping a cracked mud floor and boiling laundry can be a hero’s journey, too. Rock Creek, my historical novel in progress, has five heroes. Two are historically accounted as one hero and one villain. I retell their story through the three perspectives of the women who knew them both and experienced the infamous event at Rock Creek one hot July day in 1861.

Only one character has the full hero’s arc — Sarah Shull. The remaining characters fill in the external or internal stories.

Motives for the two men have been debated over 150 years. I have new ideas on plausible motives to expand the narrow thinking of the men who have written the histories. I also have motives for the women. But Mary’s domestic motive has seemed bland to me — I don’t want to paint her as just another stoic prairie wife. And Sarah Shull, as former mistress, has been given several titillating motives and I didn’t want her to be a mythological soiled dove of the West. Nancy Jane has been vibrant to me because she is what any woman unfettered could have been — capable and feisty.

Writing into Mary’s dark intentions one flash a few weeks ago, I hit on an important plausible motive behind her pursuit of Cobb. It continued to worm its way into my imagination to give more fertile ground to consider motives of Sarah. How might Sarah’s knowledge of Mary’s motives shadow her own? That led to me thinking about Sarah’s friendship with Nancy Jane. After spending a weekend with a McCanles cousin whose research and opinion I respect, I was in a brain churning process. Do you know that feeling? That mind-space where you go over your internal and external stories trying to dig deeper for that coveted surprise you know is there, somewhere between the details?

Then a conversation with a trusted friend who knows the full story (something I protect from historians because it is a bombshell and will rock the Wild Bill World) led to a moment of inspiration. You might say, I had a perfect storm this week. When I sat down to tap out that inspired idea, 5,443 words later I actually had my motives emerge fully and I had my ending. That might sound odd — to find an ending to a historical story where we know how it ends. But of course, who would read it if I told the story from start to finish? That’s why novels are never a straight forward telling of the external story.

My W has been mapped out for Rock Creek. I have worked hard to fill in historical gaps; I scrapped the first half of the book; expanded the Nebraska accounts; and wrote Sarah Shull later in life. However, I’ve been stumped as to how to weave the three women’s perspectives to show the men in action and use Sarah’s reflections in old age. It all came together in this new ending I wrote. What blew me away is that Sarah had one last secret for me — a motive of her own I had never considered. And it would not have come to me if I hadn’t allowed myself to think of Aunt Mary in a darker way.

While breakthroughs seem to abound this month for both my novels in progress, I hoping for a breakthrough in my homeless situation. I have come to enjoy my RV with my little office, couch, kitchen, bedroom, shower and toilet. I don’t feel so “homeless” with such basic needs met, yet we are displaced and have to move on by April because the tourist season at Zion begins in earnest and rates go up beyond my earnings as a writer. The Hub was accepted into a VA vocational program and we continue to battle the stress of his PTSD, he being more stressed than me. Progress is slower than our timeline to move. And we have no way to move our big RV, something we said we’d figure out. Well, we’re still figuring! I’ll hope for some perfect storm of inspiration.

The first anthology is making its way back to our capable and talented Trail Boss & Editor, Sarah Brentyn next week. She and all the Rough Writers have been patient and I appreciate that. The Raw Fiction series is meant to be a platform for our anthologies, expanding the literary community here as one that discusses as well as performs feats of raw literary art. The synergy is evident in what we write individually and collectively among such diverse writers. Once we have Volume 1 under our belts, we’ll invite new Rough Writers to join our core of ranch hands and continue to grow.

With all this movement and wandering (imaginatively) across the plains of Nebraska Territory, I can’t help but think of migration. Immigration dominates world news as refugees seek asylum, countries ponder how to balance humanitarian efforts with safety protocols, and the US slams shut its borders and evicts “illegal” immigrants from our neighbor, Mexico. The announcement of 15,000 new jobs for border control is not one that has many cheering new jobs in America. What would we have done had Trump lived 150 years ago and was chief of the Plains Indians? Would the west have known such a migration as the pioneers? Would we have an Indigenous west, open to Mexico, closed to Americans?  And we just discovered 7 new earth-like planets only 39 light years away! What will future global migrations look like?

February 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a migration story. It can imagine the dusty or arctic trails of the frontiers past or look to the travel across the galaxy. What issue about modern migration bans might influence an artistic expression in a flash? Migrate where the prompt leads you.

Respond by February 28, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 1). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Leaving for the West (from Rock Creek) by Charli

“Pa? Are you leaving us?”

Mary glared at her husband. To avoid the new administration’s secession policies, Cobb was leaving his sheriff’s post. Her family and friends no longer visited, political beliefs dividing neighbors and kin. “Answer the boy, Cobb. He’s your son. He deserves your words, not the gossip to come.”

“Monroe, anyone asks, tell them I’m seeking gold with the Georgians.”

“What about our farm, Pa?”

“Sold, son. We’ll have a new farm out west. Uncle Leroy will bring you all out once it’s settled.”

“Out west? Where they sent the Cherokee?”

“Further west, son. The frontier.”

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