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December 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

December 7 Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsWe crowd into the lobby, snow nipping at our backs each time a new couple or family enters the oak doors. I wiggle my fingers to diminish the giddiness of a night out to the Calumet Theater. I listen to chatter as people explain who they know in the upcoming performance of Alice in Winterland. One mother laughs when she explains how much green paint her daughter wears as the Grinch. Another confesses how nervous her son is the play Charlie Brown.

It’s a winterland mash-up of familiar American Christmas stories all set to the music and narrative arc of Taichoski’s Nutcracker Ballet. It’s a bit like this take on multiple Christmas songs in one minute:

And all of this creativity in bites to produce one performance also reminds me of the weekly compilation of responses to our flash fiction challenges. It struck me, as I took my seat in the historic gilded and velveted Calumet Theater how much of a ballet mom still resides in my heart, rounding up the stories backstage each week. I want to bring roses to all the writers after a performance.

It’s been too long since I connected with my inner stage-mom. For 15 years I lived in awe of The Nutcracker. Five of those years I eagerly watched from backstage as my eldest daughter and youngest son both performed in a professional ballet troupe from Minneapolis.

Every child in dance dreams of shoes and sugar plum ferries. In ballet, it’s point shoes. After spending $100 on a pair of pink satin slippers with ribbons so fair, my darling daughter would pound the toe-boxes, burn the satin off the point and whip-stitch the ribbons. If it sounds horrific, consider what we writers do to a flash fiction.

We pound stories into sentences, slice words to a perfect 99, and strangle characters with twists so fine.

Between the audience seats and the dancers behind the curtain exists a stage upon which we both suspend belief and let art convey the story. I love dance as much as literary art, but I have no skill for it. I can take classes, just as I learned the craft. But writing is the performance I prefer. I’m content to sit in the audience and watch the dancers.

For years, I helped backstage, learning how to double-pin strands of wayward hair and zip sparking costumes during quick changes. A quick change occurs when a dancer must change costumes for back-to-back dance numbers. My son, one of few boys who even studied classical ballet, was guaranteed to be cast as one of Clara’s brothers and rarely had quick changes in the first half. My daughter danced in the corp, meaning she had numerous changes.

And lucky me, one year I was responsible for the Prince.

The Calumet Theater with its opulence and history reminds me of the Red Wing Theater where The Nutcracker performed on tour. I went with the troupe and taxied my kids to classes, performances, and costume fittings. Each December dreams of sugar plums danced on stage. And then the lights went out.

Children grow up, move on and stage-moms are left with no one to buy roses for or help whip-stitch new ribbons. What a comfort it is to be in a theater again, listening to family chatter, watching former students return for the holidays and sneak backstage to say hello. I sink into my seat, wait for the house lights to dim, knowing that these children performing on stage have received classical ballet instruction from my daughter.

A literary community knows such connectedness, too. I’m stage-mom in the back-wings, watching each of you work at your craft, find joy in the steps and brave the spotlight when it’s your turn to perform. And yet we are a whole, each voice lending to a more powerful dynamic than one alone.

Hold on to that feeling a moment. Two points I want you to own: no matter your solo, no matter your dream and your pain to accomplish it, no matter how many hours you write alone — you are not alone here. Second, we are a part of something bigger, something we call art. And we are champions for literary art, giving voice to unheard stories, even giving voice to the invisible.

If you know some of my journey, you are aware of how I feel about the homeless experience and veteran struggles being invisible among society. They are the unsung songs, the canceled performances, the flash fiction in a journal no one reads. Recently I learned of an organization using another art form to give voice to veterans and their families:

Songwriting With Soldiers operates from a simple principle — pair veterans and active-duty service members with professional songwriters to craft songs about their military experiences.

To me, this is a powerful way to use art to heal, to create empathy for another’s experience, to give voice to those who struggle to articulate that experience. Songwriter, Mary Gauthier, wrote The War After the War (below) with the input from six combat veteran spouses, which is the number of women I share my own experiences with each week. It’s empowering when the invisible are seen and heard.

While I don’t have roses to share with all you who perform on the writing stage at Carrot Ranch, I have a digital gift for the holiday season. If you’ll go to my Canva profile, you can pin or download the Carrot Ranch Seasonal Desktop Wallpaper to add a touch of holiday cheer to your computer. I tried to think of different manifestations like the diversity we have here at the ranch (the squirrels are for the nuts among us who don’t like holiday cheer).

Surrounded by velvet the lights finally go low at the theater. The performance has begun. And I’ll let you get to your own.

December 7, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write that features a performance. You can interpret what is a performance any way the prompt leads you.

Respond by December 12, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published December 13). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Performance Anxiety (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Standing in the darkened wings, Danni stretched her hips. She arched her back, clasping her hands overhead. On the stage, Evelyn prepped the audience.

This was her moment. She couldn’t see faces, just the heavy beam of overhead stage lights. Her professor taught her tricks to overcome performance anxiety when she realized that as an archeologist she’d occasionally have to give public presentations.

The Sandpoint Theater was packed, and Evelyn was already giving introductions. “Without further ado, Dr. Danni Gordon…”

Walking out into the lights, Danni conjured the friendliest face, as if she were performing just for him – Ike.

###

 

November 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

In the US, November 23 is a day of feasting. Not the date, but the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving we call it, and it centers on a roast turkey.

Legend has it, Benjamin Franklin favored the turkey as America’s symbol. Some people find the thought silly because they find turkeys silly. I spent my formative years between three ranches — two cattle ranches and a turkey ranch. That might sound silly, too: A turkey ranch. When you realize turkeys once roamed before “free-range” became a designer label at the grocery store, then ranch fits.

Paullus Turkey Ranch in California

Instead, the US chose a bully of regal raptors, the American bald eagle. As a national bird, would the turkey have led us to be more thoughtful in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness? Perhaps. But it would have been weird to eat the national bird once a year for a decidedly American holiday.

Feasting might not be unique, but the foodstuff set upon a Thanksgiving table originated in the “New World.” Potatoes, yams, cranberries, pumpkins and turkey. To this we add the flavors of our immigrant roots. Does my love of butter and bacon reveal Irish DNA? Does the essence of tarragon waft all the way back to 1840s France? Does smoked Spanish paprika reflect the influence of my native California?

This year we revived several vegan recipes. Runner, Rock Climber, and Radio Geek are all gathering  in the Keweenaw. Radio Geek’s husband, Solar Man, is taking the other two back to Wisconsin and Minneapolis (to fly back to Montana before returning to Svalbard, Norway) so he’ll get a second feast with his family in the Twin Cities. With so much food on the menu, we’ve focused on health as much as feast — less white, more greens. We’ve been talking about eating more fruits and vegetables.

The World Health Organization promotes healthier eating with a 5 a Day (fruits and veggies) campaign in many nations across the globe. It sounds simple, but one aspect of food injustice (at least in the US) is that junk food and filling carbs cost significantly less than fresh fruits and vegetables. Expense is a secondary concern to health, and often it prevents consistent choices.

Returning to grow-our-own is an answer. Urban gardening, community gardens, container gardening, gleaning (of fruit trees in neighbors and on city streets), Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), food cooperatives, cheese artisans, family ranches and farmers markets all serve a sector called community food systems. The people involved in these systems seek to overcome the barriers  to 5 a Day through improved access at a local level.

At one time, community food was my beat.

The Keweenaw Co-op is within a few blocks of my daughter and son-in-law’s house. It’s tiny compared to the large cooperative grocer I once worked for as marketing manager. It’s even smaller than the ones I used to audit or assist in developing marketing plans. Size doesn’t matter. It’s the impact. It’s about bringing fresh regional food to people at a fair price. From farmer to diner, it’s meant to be a sustainable system.

Ten years ago, my co-op hired a meat manager who was an old-time butcher with skills nearly forgotten. It might seem as silly as a brass turkey on a flagpole, but butchering skills are disappearing in the US. With the spread of big-box retail like Wal-Mart, meat processing in the US is completed at the factory. “Butchers” in grocery stores receive shipments of boxed product machine cut (or ground), packaged and frozen.

My friend, the Butcher, knew all about carving whole hanging beef. I did too (remember, ranches?). Our store wanted to work with small family producers to grow beef, pork and poultry according to our clean standards (no fed or injections of antibiotics or hormones, and animals must have access to sunshine, fresh air and be grass-fed). We had the market, and the Butcher had the connections.

One of the small family farms we worked with was Ferndale. They knew turkeys and had raised them for three generations with open access (free-range). They worked with our standards, and for many years they became the signature turkey of my co-op. They were one of six stories a year my marketing team produced in video, magazine, photography and social media. My strategy was to express the brand with the stories about the faces and places behind the food we sold

You can go to Ferndale’s website and see remnants of this work. The top right photo is one I took years ago while sitting in a pasture surrounded by white and red turkeys all giving me the curious one-eyed look. That moment feels like yesterday. You can see the soft glow of a setting sun that cast a glow on red glottals. For me, it’s a bit of a legacy. Not the stories left behind in video, print and photography. But the knowing that I was part of the stories.

So, imagine my delight when I discovered the Keweenaw Co-op planned to special order Ferndale turkeys for Thanksgiving! I’ve moved on from writing about food and sadly, my friend the Butcher died several years ago. The Peterson’s operation looks strong for the fourth generation. And I am serving my family something more than the 5 a Day. Yes, healthy veggies, but also the continuing experience of our Thanksgiving stories.

And for a special treat — if you like recipes — I’m sharing a few recipes from our feasting table. These are ones that include fruits and vegetables, and can be enjoyed across the globe, not just at Thanksgiving time.

Savory Apple Cider

1 gallon local cider
½ C. frozen blueberries
Peel from 1 lemon
10 whole allspice
20 whole peppercorns
5 whole cloves
¼ tsp. cardamom seeds
½ vanilla bean, halved
½ tsp. cinnamon

Pour cider into a stockpot. Add lemon peel as long strips (not zest). Add frozen blueberries and spices. Heat on stovetop, but do not bring to a boil. Simmer and allow the aroma to infuse the kitchen. Serve after 30 minutes. Keep warm in a crockpot, or store in fridge and reheat later.

Roasted Root Veggies

3 large red beets, peeled and chunked into bites
3 large golden beets, peeled and chunked into bites
2 medium turnips, peeled and chunked into bites
2 large parsnips, peeled and chunked into bites
1 large rutabaga, peeled and chunked into bites
8 large shallots, peeled and halved
12 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
¼ C. olive oil
2 Tbsp. tarragon
Applewood smoked salt to taste
Cracked black pepper to taste

Combine vegetables, herbs and olive oil in a medium mixing bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Turn out vegetables onto two cooking sheets. Roast vegetables 30 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 375°F. Reverse baking sheets (top rack to bottom rack) and continue to roast until all vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes longer. Transfer to platter and serve.

Boozy Cranberry Sauce

1-12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries
1 C. sugar
2 1⁄4 tsp. zest of a blood orange
1⁄4 tsp. cardamom seeds, lightly crushed
1 vanilla bean

½ C. Scotch (adjust to taste; booze does not boil off, so add to turkey sandwiches responsibly)

Combine cranberries, sugar and zest in an over casserole. Split vanilla bean in half and scrape into cranberry mixture and add bean. Bake uncovered in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove to stir, return to oven and bake another 30 minutes. Pull from over and stir in the Scotch. Transfer sauce to a medium bowl and cool. Cover and refrigerate. Can be made one week ahead.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, near or far. We need a day to break bread, gather around the table and tell stories.

November 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Five a Day. It does not have to be five servings of fruits and vegetables. What is needed five times a day? Have fun with what pops to mind for the prompt.

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

***

A Better Five a Day by Charli Mills

Five a day, Mama says. Doesn’t she know how awful they taste? Crunchy raw spindles and squishy flavorless lumps. Good for you, Dad crows. Honestly, I prefer the mash the neighboring farmer drops by our house. Mama says it’s not organic.

My skinny legs chase after tastier treats. Beyond the place where parents coop my culinary dreams I have a secret spot to dream. Beyond our scratch existence meanders a brook with a magical bush. That’s where I found the round globes sweeter than any clover.

Blueberries! I’m in chicken heaven! Better than five insects or worms any day.

The Real Nanjo Castille

“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…You killed my father, Nanjo Castille…Prepare to die!”

When writer Liz Husebye Hartmann left that opening line in her comments to the November 9 writing prompt, it promised more creative fun to follow from the Rough Writers & Friends at Carrot Ranch.

During the Flash Fiction Rodeo #2 : Little & Laugh, we discovered a literary side to one of the spammers at Carrot Ranch (the often strange keyword bait calls that end up in our Askimet or other spam folders). It gave us a chuckle, which was the point of the contest. However, Mr. Castille blew the word count.

Not to mention he doesn’t pass the spam test (read more at the SPAM PSA post). Yet you won’t want to miss these robust responses from clever, witty, thoughtful and brilliant writers searching for Nanjo’s identity in the literary world.

The following stories are based on the November 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a fictional story about The Real Nanjo Castille.

***

Aegean Dream by Sherri Matthews

Sunset diamonds scattered bright the Aegean Sea.

Summer warmed my bare shoulders there, high above the glassy plain beneath the ancient Pepper Tree.

Sea Nymph’s breeze whispered tales of gods and glory and the Minotaur while I clutched his words to my chest: scrawled on yellowed paper he declared his ageless love while I dreamt.

I listened for his voice through the rustle of the small, crisp leaves; for the step to his music as I followed my pan piper.

‘I am Nanjo Castille’, he breathed into my hair.

I reached to touch him.

But he was never there.

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Thanks for coming in, Mr. Castille. Have a seat.

Thank you.

What are you doing?

I’m taking the chair.

No, I meant to sit in.

What is good for Gestapo is good for gander, right?

I don’t think that’s it.

Nice for you having me at your bored meeting. Very FAQ. Very yawn introducing.

Right. About the bags.

The bags, yes. $10 apiece.

Are they knock-offs?

Fine, I can do $20. Would you like the Ralphie Doppelganger or Tommy Realfinger? Also have her fumes.

Perfumes?

Top merch. At my house. Very aware. Aware house indeed.

I’ll be in touch.

###

The Anagrammer by Juliet Nubel

She looked at her screen and let out a huge, belly-filled hoot.

She had done it. Fooled them all. She laughed harder as she pictured them imagining her as Nanjo Castille. Could they see a wide sombrero hat and thick stripy poncho?

Where was mousey Ms Stelliac now? Never one to joke around at school she was making up for it now. On their blogs and in these contests. She was the Queen of Pranks.

They had even missed the last clue in the text – a second anagram, Najno.

Joann grinned from ear to ear. Spamming was such fun!

###

A Day in the Life of Nanjo Castille by Irene Waters

Nanjo stretches in the one room he shares with his mother and ten siblings. Rarely does he get to lie in past 5am.

“Nanjo. You get your good for nuttin’ butt in here NOW.” His mother’s voice is angry but weak from hunger. “We gotta clear out Choco Caramel, Coochi, Ralphiger and Verskatche today. You get your arse on the street and start sellin’.’”

“Ma I think Duparts will come through today.”

“Out!”

Nanjo stepped outside with his goods. He hated begging on the street corners. Preferred the internet.” Cameras whirred. Questions buzzed. Fame from form. “You give’em me bitchcoin.”

###

A Job for Nanjo? by Nora Colvin

The parents waited.

Start positive, she reminded herself.

“Nanjo has a wonderful imagination.”

They smiled.

“Very creative too, especially with spelling and punctuation.”

They exhaled.

“Has trouble understanding money though, and his knowledge of number facts is non-existent – “ she hesitated, then continued quietly. “I can’t think of any employer who’d have him.”

“Pardon?”

“I mean, employment, suited to his – ah – special skills.”

She cracked.

“I’m sorry. Your son is unemployable. His spelling and grammar is atrocious. He can’t even spell his own name, for god’s sake! I don’t think he could even get a job as a spammer!”

###

Can dei;ver by D. Avery

The ‘student of concern’ meeting was heated.

“Well”, said the ELA teacher, “His spelling and grammar are low even for a second language student. He doesn’t even try.”

“Sure he does. He tries to jerk your chain. This kid is smarter than you think. Just looking for attention.”

“Yes, I agree. The kid does ok in math. Great flexible thinking and problem solving.”

“That may be, but this kid’s behavior alarms me. He has no empathy and no boundaries. I worry he’s going to grow up to be a sociopath.”

“Right. And Nanjo Castille could become president.”

###

Nanjo’s New Pitch by Michael

In a small darkened room in the basement of his parent’s home Nanjo sits at his computer wishing more than anything to be a writer. He has learning issues, he knows that, but with the aid of his spell checker, he is making every post a winner. He was told, the purpose of a good writer is to make your reader believe you are who you say you are.

Today he has an idea: “Its Chewsday, I wan tell yous all about a grate deel, sex for the price of one.” Nanjo sits back pleased with his opening statement.

###

Nanjo Castille by Telling Stories Together

“Several consumer surveys have shown,” said Nanjo Castille, “that having a human name helps customers identify with our brand.”

“Okay,” said Detective Merrick, “but I’m gonna call you by your model number, NAN-50.”

“As you wish, officer,” said Nanjo, “perhaps a handbag for the missus?”

Merrick produced a hologram photo from his trench coat. “Have you seen this girl? Name’s Cheryl Wei.”

“No,” said Nanjo, and held up one of the handbags, “but this is a very popular purchase among our sixteen to twenty-one demographic.

Merrick inspected the tag, and in that instant drew his sidearm. It read “Cheryl”.

###

The Real Nanjo Castille by Rita Bhathal

Her dad had always been terrible at writing.

Downfall of being a doctor.

When he went to register her birth, instead of stating Margot, he handed them a scrap of paper to read, seeing as he’d wet the baby’s head a little too much the night before.

And so, Nanjo Castille came into existence.

It was obviously an omen.

She was diagnosed with dyslexia as a secondary school student, but help came too late. Reading and writing were never her strong point.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining…

She’s now the most popular human spam bot in existence!

###

The Clone by Robbie Cheadle

It had sounded like such a good idea when her friend’s husband, an expert on human genetics, had suggested that she clone herself. A clone would be useful and could do all the social media and other marketing paraphernalia that was expected of her, as a writer, and which she currently didn’t have time for.

Little did she know that Nanjo Castille would soon become unsatisfied with playing a supporting role in her life. The clone’s ambitions soon became apparent when she entered her own short story into a flash fiction competition and was identified as a potential spammer.

###

Mysterious by Reena Saxena

The Real Nanjo Castille had enticed kids for more than a decade. It was the mystery surrounding his existence that built up his charm. He would appear as a gymnast in the circus, a clown or be seen entertaining kids in local schools and events.

Walt Disney wanted to buy the rights, seeing the popularity of the character.The meeting did not happen. Folklore goes that it was not one person, but several appearing with identical masks and outfits. The creator of the myth chose to remain in anonymity.

What could be the reason for turning down a profitable deal?

###

Fatal Error by Ann Edall-Robson

“What have you done?”

“I’ve been watching you. It didn’t look hard. I created a name and took a run at it. ”

“But why, when I promised I’d help you set everything up to sell your bags?”

“I’m old, impatient, and I don’t see what the big deal is. It still turns on and off.”

“It’s not a light switch, it’s my computer. The one I’m writing my next book on.”

“If you were going to show me how to use it, you should be able to fix it!”

“Oooohhhh, Nana Jo Castle, if only it were that easy.”

###

The Story of Nanjo by Joe Owens

Nanjo drummed his fingers on the desk as his to slow laptop churned away at the internet address. He knew the latest rodeo deadline quickly approached and he wanted in.

“Five minutes!” he exclaimed when his screen finally held the needed information.

Nanjo typed so fast, too fast, relying on his newly installed bargain auto-correct to save him. In the bottom right corner his screen continue to tick away the time, adding to his panic. He checked the word count, but there was no room to explain his situation. His entry would look like this.

“Oh well!”

###

The Different Sides of Me by Susan Sleggs

I Nanjo Castille sit in my office staring at funeral home handouts. When with the public, I am calm, reassuring, kind and almost stoic. The mourning around me is not my own. When time permits, I write nonsensical flash fiction that looks like spam and submit it to Carrot Ranch. It eases the pain I see on a daily basis. I absolutely hate good-byes, those of others or my own. At day’s end, I loose my tied back hair, hang the suit up, and ride the long way home on my Harley enjoying the smells and sights of life.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

Nanjo Castille was a member of a street band.

He wasn’t very good, but what he lacked in talent he more than made up for in personality and enthusiasm.

Nanjo had got his name due to a typing error on a Music Hall billboard which his mother had thought ‘cute’. It didn’t help that his father was the banjo player originally given top billing and had legged it as soon as it was discovered Nanjo was on the way.

His Mom had died three years ago and his busking friends had offered him a home.

He played the tambourine.

###

The Real Nanjo Castille by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Blat of mule’s bray, and Nanjo rattled into the village square. People grumbled, crowding the buckboard wagon. They’d been waiting since dawn. The stench of unwashed clothes hung heavy in the morning heat.

“Sorry, sorry!” Nanjo called. “My last stop had dire need of my services, but I’ve saved my best for you!”

He reached behind him and flipped a tarp back. The crowd gasped at the rows of golden bars gleaming in the sun.

“Accept no substitutes! The Real Nanjo Castille soap, a heavenly marriage of Greek olive oil and Viking lye, will cure all your laundry ills!”

###

The Funeral by Frank Hubney

Senor Nanjo Castille sat alone in the church except for his bodyguards. No one else dared attend. They crossed the line this time.

As the Mass for the Dead progressed his business adversary’s money laundering restaurant was destroyed. Twelve dead. The warehouse was next. Fourteen dead. Then the offices. One hundred dead.

In his adversary’s desperation the expected fight around the church began. It lasted ten minutes.

When the service ended Senor Castille walked behind the caskets outside the church and viewed the mess in the street. Then he went to the cemetery to bury his wife and daughter.

###

What’s a Body to Do? by Bill Engleson

Hank looked down at the latest donation.

“Bit grizzled, Phil. None of his organs will be top quality…”

“Check his pockets. See if he’s go a name.”

“Huh, waddayaknow? A bloody diary. Here’s the name. Nanjo Castille!”

“Not from around here, I guess.”

“Small mercies. What’s it say?”

“Okay… ‘My name is Nanjo Tyrone Castille. At the orphanage, they said I’d been left outside the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena on December 25, 1947. The Captain from Castile was playing. Two nuns, Sisters Nancy and Josephine found me…’

“That’s it?”

“The rest is blank?”

“Yup!”

“Odd.”

“Great movie, though.”

“Agreed.”

###

“To Tell The Truth” by JulesPaige

There they were, three people on the panel. All claimed to be Nanjo Castille. Each of the four Judges got to ask questions. Charli, Geoff, Sherri and Norah.

Norah started with; “Where did you go to school? Your Grammar and spelling are atrocious.

“Hard Knocks,” said One.

Geoff quipped through tears of laughter; “Where’d you come up with ‘Bitchcoin’?

“My dog had puppies,” said Two.

Sherri wondered out loud; “What bridge do you troll under?”

“Took over from the Billies…” said Three

Charli queried; “Did you know you remind me of Lake Michigan?”

“We know!” The ‘Three’ said in Unison.

###

Musing on a Spammer by FloridaBorne

Not everyone has his dream fulfilled, but for one man this represented the culmination of a life well-lived.

The panelists on “To Tell The Truth,” singers and a politician, were easily fooled. An impeccable liar, he was delighted they’d chosen another.

“Will The Real Nanjo Castille please stand up.”

The man at the other end knew a lot about spamming, that was certain, but he wasn’t a billionaire who had built an empire.

Nanjo stood, so proud and confident, until the man at the end laughed and whispered, “I’m a hacker. You’ve just donated your entire fortune to charity.”

###

Nanjo Castille: All the Places by Anne Goodwin

You didn’t see me, as you set off for the fells from your tents and your smart hotels. You didn’t see me, from your government palaces, as you closed the steelworks and pits. You didn’t hear me when you moved the call centres to India where graduates paid a pittance had better English accents than mine. You didn’t smell, from your barn conversions by the lakeside, the stench of slime and shit and sorrow.

See me now, friends, brothers, strangers! See the blood, the bone, the bullet holes. Hear the sirens. Smell the fear. Remember my name: Nanjo Castille.

###

Unknown Soldier by Geoff Le Pard

Mary shivered, regretting her choice of coat. Remembrance Day parades brought back memories of the cold like no other.

As the last note of The Last Post drifted away, Mary read the names on the War Memorial. She’d never studied them before. Two Thompsons, three Greys and Nanjo Castille. Now that was an odd name for a Surrey village in 1918.

Who was he? Spanish immigrant? South American dissident? Did anyone else see his name and wonder? Maybe a writer would take it to embed it in a story, giving him a life beyond his current chiselled anonymity.

###

Historical Fiction View 1 by Gordon Le Pard

The French General read the letter and smiled, the English were on the run.

“This Nanjo Castille is certainly our best agent, he seems to know exactly what they are doing. We march at dawn.”

“But the reinforcements and supplies haven’t arrived.”

“Read the message, they are demoralised, they have lost supplies, it will be the victory we need if we can catch them soon.”

Two weeks later, as he looked across the ruins of the army at the impregnable defences, the Lines of Torres Vedras, he cursed Nanjo Castille.

“Find him, kill him, he has cost us Spain.”

###

Historical Fiction View 2 by Gordon Le Pard

Wellington looked across the battlefield at the retreating French, they had fallen into his trap and been decisively defeated.

“I never thought they would believe it.”

“Ever since we broke their codes we have been able to deceive them. But I must admit that the success of Nanjo Castille was unexpected.”

“Who is Nanjo Castille?” Wellington asked.

The spymaster pointed to two clerks.

“NAthaNiel Chalk and JOhn Castle. They made that name up out of their own names, and the French swallowed everything.”

He laughed, “We march at dawn, if all goes well, Nanjo Castille will have freed Spain.”

###

Interviewing the Real Nanjo Castille by Charli Mills

Danni pressed record, fluffing the sound muffler Ike called “The Muppet.” Today, she had access to living history. An elderly man called “The Real Nanjo Castille.”

Wrinkled and shrunken, he hunched beneath a blanket in a wheelchair. “I was born the year they assassinated my father, Pancho Castille.”

“1923. What were you told about your father?”

“He was a great revolutionary. He captured Buffalo Soldiers after Americans attacked our border towns.”

“Wasn’t it the other way around? Castille’s forces attacked US towns, stealing gold coins and burning a purse factory.”

“Why interview me if you already know the story?”

###

Freedom by Colleen Chesebro

The sun slipped behind the mesa. Nanjo Castille dropped to the ground, thankful for the shade. His travels from Mexico to Arizona had kept him on the run from U.S. Border Agents and the Federales. Yet, real freedom was worth the risks. Selling knock-off designer purses on the streets of Tijuana had been his downfall. If he could make it to California, he was home free.

In the coolness, Nanjo slept; never hearing the agent creep up on him. When he awoke, he was handcuffed. From the window of the truck, he watched his chance at freedom evaporate.

###

An Order for Nanjo Castille by Judy E Martin

Dear Mr Castle, or can I call you Nando?

I heard you have some classy bags and perfumes for sale for a tenner. I am after a Christmas prezzie for my mum and she can’t stand that Coco Caramel, but is rather partial to Optimum. I think John Paul Goatier’s perfume in that bottle-shaped like a girdle would suit her better. Oh, and I need a handbag for my sisters. Have you got any of them Blueberry or Herman’s ones in stock? I’m prepared to pay you twenty quid for the lot! Let me know, please.

Jef Leppard

###

And…from…The Real Nanjo Castille…

The Sales Pitch (spam edited to 99 words) by The Real Nanjo Castille

Dear Mr Chalres and Mrs Gerar Depardue, hi Nanjo.
Iget new email as lAst email say bammed as span.
I nanjo. Not Spanbomb. Spanbomb say “Hello. Is there anything you need any editional assistants wtih?” ectrestera. >>>>no wrories forgive I forgie.
>>>>but perfemes/ is nwo at premeim. for you.nO?
You dont >>>>>>>>>>want Perseus?and Bags? sUperier than orgininal? Not that ether.
Wait.
I no wat you want, you 2 wthi dongle tehchnoelgoy:
Hi-edn forch lift truc; parts?. Letme say how thirs owrks for toughguy lyk u,Mr Xharles Mils:

Run now before boss sees me sales pitch.
By bni. Najnno/Project Shipping

Editor’s Note: Nanjo struggled with the 99-word constraint, which continues to be his Achilles Heel. This had to be cut down from 206 words. And yes, he really did respond! If Nanjo wants a second career as a humorist, he needs to get a legitimate email, website and a more transparent purpose.

November 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

Yellow cats prowl the neighborhood. She has come, the Lady of the Lake. I expected her cloak of white, her hair of ephemeral snow, and her rasping howl. The cats are not hers, although I could imagine creatures trotting at her feet, purring, and observing the wake through golden eyes translucent as honey agate. Instead, the cats belong to the county — grand Caterpillar road graders the color of working-man gold. They’ve come to plow what the Lady has wrought.

In all my life, I’ve known snow. Last winter was my first experience in a warmer climate (Mars) and even there I marched for justice and voice in half a foot of snow at the Kanab Women’s March. Yet, this is my first time experiencing lake-effect snow. It’s a weather phenomenon easily given over to myth and mystery because the science reads like fiction. According to air temperature over water temperature, the result can be snow, blizzard or thundersnow.

It’s the Lady. I’ve hunted the shores of Lake Superior to develop a deep respect, awe and healthy fear of her depths and power. Some days she pelts my calves with tumbled rocks like a mischievous sprite. Other days she intimidates the combers with roars and riptides. I’ve glimpsed her on the North Shore of Minnesota where I first fell in love with Lake Superior. I’ve bobbed in her gentle waves at Chequemegon Bay in northern Wisconsin. Now, I’m seeing her take shape as she rises to the land of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan.

Think about it — lake-effect snow is a visitation. Science or myth, it’s amazing to behold.

During the Flash Fiction Rodeo, Carrot Ranch had visitors of another kind — spammers. Because I pay for WordPress, I have hearty spam filters in place. Sometimes, too hearty. I’ve learned to check it frequently for the occasional writer who gets nabbed for no discernible reason. The spam never makes it through. But with the forms we used spammers did get inventive (such as copying and pasting their spam message in every required field). A few got through.

While it could have been the opening to a murderous musing, I doubt the Cialis ad qualified for Sherri Matthew’s Rodeo #7. Soon after, a dubious person named Male Enhancement began following the Ranch. Sherri quipped perhaps we were on someone’s target list because of her dongle, which had come up in conversation through comments. As naughty of a word as dongle sounds, especially in the presence of those selling vasodilators, it is a technology devise to enhance internet receptivity. Oh, the lurking innuendo in all of that.

And that’s why another piece of spam caught us off guard. Was it brilliant innuendo? Was is intentionally misspelled and miscalculated to look like spam, but be humorous? It was submitted to the Funny Man himself, Geof Le Pard of Little & Laugh Rodeo #2 for which the winner will be revealed on Tuesday, November 13. We laughed. We said, truly this is spam, and then we wondered. Norah Colvin, educator that she is, pointed out the plausible intention behind the content and its errors. One of the L&L judges suggested she might even know this character.

A character he is (or she). We’ll pick a gender and go with he to balance the Lady of the Lake. Both blow over Carrot Ranch in a shroud of mystery with a hint of playfulness. He, our humor spammer, is Nanjo Castille. While disqualified, we will share this clever spam that pulled our chain as an entry to Little & Laugh:

Website Overstock

Hello Mrs Geoffarey DuParts. How are you for ten dollars? Or just a $20?
i am Nanjo. I have lots of extra high end luxyry purses and handbags because of website overstock gilch.
Are you intestrested? Let me explain to you how this works, Mrrs Geofarai:
Perfume and excessories all loaded up ready to ship out. The man came in and fool#s forch lift broke down. Cant transport stock out of the building. Gfppd fpr the gppse. Good for the gander/. Hence shooting off quick message in your FAQ bored.
Some of the finest stitching amd sewing work in many of the persfume bptt;es.
Not only that but you will find purses and hand bags of Ralphiger, Verskatche, Mr. Tommy Rott, and Coco Carmel.
How much would you be willing to me for this in money? A very little amount of bitcoin?
$20? For as little as $20 of BiTCHcoin we candei;ver to you a fine Channel bag and perfume for just £20. Reverse the other side of it, and it will fill your home with deliicsours vagrance!
>>>>This is 1 time deal because of warehouse overstock. Lots of high end
>>>> merch including Coochi, Pravda and Choco Caramel handbags.
Fo go go! No time!
By bi.
Najno/

Whether it was intentional or not, Nanjo harvested laughs among Rodeo Leaders. The only clue to his name was the email which we all avoided like the plague. Charming as Nanjo Castille might be, funny, nonetheless, we didn’t want to get sucked into his sketchy world. And if perchance you are a writer now realizing you absolutely fooled us with what was meant to “read” like spam for the sake of a good guffaw, fess up!

Writers are fond of personifying snow and lakes, imagining the lives of people in house we pass, and studying circumstances for stories. So, we are going to make up the life of Nanjo Castille.

November 9, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a fictional story about The Real Nanjo Castille. You can set any gender, era or genre to reveal the character behind the mystery. You can also imagine the daily life of The Real Nanjo Castille. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by November 14, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published November 15). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Interesting, but when I sat down to write my response I was thinking of all the funny stories we’d get. I’m a NaNo Rebel, revising Miracle of Ducks this month, so I chose to question what interaction my character might have with Nanjo. As what happens often, what I set out to write did not end up on the page. And I was struck by the lack of humor. Instead the  irony of those who witnessed history being told it happened differently appeared.

I mention this to encourage you to go beyond your expectations. This is your time to explore. You never know what you will discover.

***

Interviewing the Real Nanjo Castille by Charli Mills

Danni pressed record, fluffing the sound muffler Ike called “The Muppet.” Today, she had access to living history. An elderly man called “The Real Nanjo Castille.”

Wrinkled and shrunken, he hunched beneath a blanket in a wheelchair. “I was born the year they assassinated my father, Pancho Castille.”

“1923. What were you told about your father?”

“He was a great revolutionary. He captured Buffalo Soldiers after Americans attacked our border towns.”

“Wasn’t it the other way around? Castille’s forces attacked US towns, stealing gold coins and burning a purse factory.”

“Why interview me if you already know the story?”

###

November 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

Coffee spiced with fresh shavings of nutmeg warms my hands while I settle into the cool fabric of the porch reading chair. It’s not porch weather, but tolerable with a sweatshirt. After tossing tantrums of snow squalls for nearly a week, the cool lake air cracks open the cloud cover and presses in like icy tendrils.

Regardless, there’s something irresistible about a porch.

On sweltering days we clink ice cubes in a glass of lemonade. When it’s cold, we still seek the porch with a hot beverage. We aren’t here to resolve any particular issues. Typically meetings are held in windowless rooms, not on open-air porches. Some porches are screened and others paned in glass.

Despite the chill, the south-facing windows capture enough sunlight to set the seasonal room aglow. Bright and warped from old-time glass techniques, the windows overlook the lower neighborhood of six houses and a hockey-field visible through the leafless maples. All the houses have south-facing porches.

It reminds me of the ancient stonework my father discovered at a timber sale located near Lake Tahoe. He showed it to me before logging destroyed the structures that were old enough to contain towering pines nearly a thousand years in age. It was a high elevation job a mill in Sacramento got for top bid. Virgin lumber in the Sierras was rare on the market.

And ancient structures on a mountaintop were so unheard of that the Forest Service didn’t even bother to send out an archeologist. They thought my father mistaken. But my father showed me. He explained how the slope faced south, catching the lowered winter sun, melting the snow naturally.

How long have we humans known the wisdom of south-facing slopes? When did we desire to retire to south-facing porches? You know the longing — growing old together in our rocking chairs on the porch.

In my daughter’s home, the back porch is the reading nook. I find the windows alluring, they call to me to contemplate. We’ve discussed writers and windows before. But this time its more than writers and windows. I’m curious as to why older homes have porches for sitting, yet modern homes eschew the thoughtful space.

If a modern home has a porch, typically it’s an entry space, a catch-all for discarded shoes and jackets. A place for the mail delivery to set a package. In Paco Underhill’s merchandising book, Why We Buy, he talks about how an entry space allows customers to convert hurried thoughts into a slower shopping space.

Thus even as an entry to home or business, the idea of a porch slows down our minds.

My mind is a whirligig today. I’ve gone from a year of wandering to growing Carrot Ranch as a literary community to hosting a collaborative and wild Flash Fiction Rodeo to diving feet first into the mess I made of my WIP, Miracle of Ducks. I’m a NaNo Rebel in search of the clues I need to publish this muddy novel as a gleaming book worth reading. I’m in need of a porch.

Just 10 minutes of cold porch time serves me well. My breathing slows, my coffee cools and disappears sip by sip, and I clear my mind enough to see what needs doing. I’ve already taken my opening chapter to TUFF (which any writer can also enter as the final Rodeo contest by 11:59 pm EST November 6). TUFF acts like a porch, giving me windows to contemplate.

Let me show you what I’m doing:

First, I have revised my W-storyboard with a Dollar Store posterboard and placed it where I write. I can’t miss it. I’ve tweaked it from how I had it set up earlier. Originally, I had my five key scenes (the circles on the W) correlated to five points of the hero’s journey: The Call, The Test, The Cave, The Transformation, and The Return.

After trying to sell my manuscript, the weak point of my novel was its opening. It didn’t punch any agents or publishers in the gut. My editor had advised on an earlier draft that I didn’t give enough page time to Ike. Then I became homeless and decided to shred my manuscript to give my protagonist a western location and more hardship. I went to archeology field school in June and found my opening. All this processing taught me that we need to focus on the hero before we can focus on the call. This moves the test and the cave, which is more towards the end. The transformation is part of what happens between the cave and the return, which I like thinking of as the elixir — what gives the journey meaning.

For my NaNoWriMo Rebellion, I’ve also include a few more Dollar Store purchases: notebooks. What I’m doing in this notebook is applying the TUFF steps to work out revision issues I’m having. On the first day, I did a free write “about” my opening. I chose to brainstorm about it because the last thing I need is yet another opening: I have three!

I brainstormed the action I wanted to set up in the opening, drawing upon the three choices I have. Next, I wrote a 99-word flash fiction. It was flat, but revealed where I was getting hung up (it’s easier to see what is NOT working in 99 words than in 1,099 words). Next I wrote a 59 word flash and I actually liked what emerged. So when I wrote 9 words, I felt I nailed what the opening needed to be about. Of course the next part was to rip into those three scenes and make them the opening to MOD. That was my word count for today as a NaNo Rebel.

Not one to pass up on $1 notebooks, I bought several. This one is just for free writes. I’ve kept fiction journals the way others might keep diaries. Here’s what I learned about free writing many years ago: it’s your best tool against resistance. in his book The War of Art, Steve Pressfield writes about resistance as the enemy of creativity. He compares it to Freud’s Death Wish, our inclination to block our creativity or sabotage our own efforts. For years I wrote three pages very morning, “I hate mornings, I can’t think, I have nothing to write…” Not exactly Pulitzer winning stuff. But the discipline taught me to meet the page no matter what.

 

So here we are, back at the Ranch, sitting on the porch and sharing a cuppa. I’ve given you a window from my porch before and now I’m giving you a window into my process. I want you to write. You aren’t here because you want to take up parasailing or crochet. You’re here because you want to write a spy thriller about a crochet-loving, parasailing agent. Well, maybe not exactly that story, but one like it. You want to craft with words. Me, too.

November 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story a chair on a porch. Why is it there, and what might it mean? Think about using it as a prop or the main thrust of your story.

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

***

Where Stories Begin by Charli Mills

Between Danni and the front door sagged a small front porch. Inside the cabin lived a former log-skidder. Rumor had it Old Man Moe was blind, but his stories of the Great Fires of 1910 remained vivid.

“Take a chair,” spoke a voice behind her.

Danni startled, not hearing the man with foggy eyes ride up on a mule. “Moe, I’m the Forest Service archeologist.”

Moe slid from the saddle as if sighted, and walked confidently up the decrepit stairs to one of two rickety wooden chairs. He patted the one next to him. “Stories begin here Doc Gordon.”

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September 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

Tendril by tendril the plants pull themselves sun-ward. Leaves bob on light currents of air, hiding fragile white blossoms. The plants thicken to the point of hiding the slender iron trellis they cling to. They’ve grown so equally green, I can’t distinguish one plant from another. Nor can I tell when the white blossoms have fruited. This is not a patch of raspberries or sun-gold tomatoes. I await a harvest of peas.

The late summer day when the plants drooped, pulling the trellis out of alignment, I knew. I recognized the heaviness of harvest.Ever since that transition from growing, climbing green to drooping, gifting green I have haunted the pea patch. It’s not easy to spot the first pea, but once you train your eye to see, you see the full magnitude of pea harvest glory. It’s a bit like practicing flash fiction.

When I first began writing various short forms, I did so because it sparked my creativity. After that, I began requiring my team to write a specific creative form of 25 words before our meetings. We didn’t have time to linger over creative writing so most meeting days, I announced to the department that we would meet at the Round Table in ten minutes. I reminded each person to bring their project updates, meeting agenda and their cinquain. Often, team members scribbled their 25 words in the final five minutes of preparation.

As a prompt, a flash fiction of 99 words doesn’t take long to write. When I was leading Wrangling Words at the Bonner County Library, I gave participants five minutes to write. Many wrote several hundred words! The first time I gave the prompt it was 10 minutes and the stories were much longer than I anticipated for our group activity. So I know it’s possible to write 99 words in five minutes. Is it ideal for those who gather here? Perhaps not.

But what does flash fiction have to do with spotting a hidden pea harvest?

Draw the similarity between learning to spot green peas and learning to write tight prose. I view it as training. When I first spot a hanging pea pod, suddenly I see more. My brain understands the cue. When you practice flash fiction, you train your brain to tell a story in 99 words. You might still write 200 and cut, or only write 70 and add, but your brain gets better at recognizing its target.

I used to joke that writing creative constrains was magic because my marketing team responded by solving project problems with improved innovation. But I know science supports the power of constraints in forcing the brain to go into problem-solving mode. Thus two factors occur when we regularly write flash fiction — our brains think more creatively quicker and we train our brains to adapt to a pattern.

If you are concerned that you’ll pick up the 99-word pattern, fear not. It isn’t as if you can only write in that mode, it’s more like you can use that mode to solve clarity or literary issues with other forms of writing. I’ve marveled over our writers who add in verse, and now I realize that as poets they have other forms their brains use. These patterns are of benefit to a writer and it legitimizes writing short forms as a tool.

Of course, if you are like me in a pea patch, you probably care more about the pleasure the taste of fresh pea pods bring over the idea that you trained your brain to find what is easily hidden. You might enjoy the challenge of word-smithing among others, the fun of creating stories and reading what others create, and the weekly activity. And that’s good! I’m not in the pea patch munching on pods because I read that peas are high in magnesium. I simply like peas. And the fun I have, knowing I get to them before others in my household!

Ah, the competitive nature. It’s not that strong in me unless I know everyone is having a good time. That’s why I want you all to have a great pea-picking time at the upcoming Rodeo. It is a contest and it will bring out the competitiveness in some, the intimidation or perfection in others. Let’s admit that’s all possible. We’ll likely have many writers show up whom we’ve not met before or who aren’t interested in hanging out by the campfire. So let me be clear about goals.

Number one: Carrot Ranch is a fun and welcoming place to practice literary art. Don’t be put off by the word “practice.” In no way do I want to demean anyone’s writing as scribbles of art. When I say practice, I mean it according to my personal philosophy that literary art is something writers master over a lifetime. How do you know you’ve mastered it? You’re dead. Shakespeare mastered all he was capable of mastering by the day he died. It’s not about comparing our work to others. It’s about never stopping to push into what we can create with words. The process is the hallmark of a literary artist, not the finished product. Therefore, let’s have fun while we figure out what is possible with words and how to sharpen our stories. The Rodeo is intended to bring you something different and exciting from our weekly writing.

Number two: Carrot Ranch wants individuals within the community to succeed. Those who regularly gather and are willing to do collaborative projects like the anthologies are part of a smaller group that helps spur on the Ranch. They are the Rough Writers. In return, they get expanded visibility for their own writing. Those who gather for fun, who share our posts and read regularly are the Friends. It’s up to writers to decide. Either way, there are no obligations. However, Carrot Ranch is a place where writers can step out of their comfort zones. A contest is an example. If it becomes achievable here, it can become achievable elsewhere. Success is what you interpret it to be, and the Ranch believes in the value of literary art and your contribution to it.

Number three: Carrot Ranch is growing and we want to celebrate. The growth comes in more ways to support access to literary art — the creation of anthologies, public readings of flash fiction, free adult education classes that use flash fiction as a tool to build a local literary community, inspiring retreats, and innovative workshops. We will be launching our first The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol. 1 late in November with pre-sales in October. A Rodeo is one way to generate excitement about what we do at Carrot Ranch.

Enjoy the Rodeo, use the contests to try different prompts and don’t let intimidation hold you back. Every writer feels doubt. Don’t let it stop you from the joy of what it is to create literary art. Join in, saddle up and write! Remember, the Rodeo replaces the weekly prompt with two weekly contests Oct. 5-31. Stop by the Ranch for a progressive kick-off party on Tuesday, Oct. 3. You might win a random drawing prize so leave a comment on the Oct. 3 blog post. CR FB page will have drawings and live readings from Vol. 1.

Last call for Rough Writers for the next anthology: the one criteria is willingness to participate. We use material from the compilations to build upon, and some of our writers create new work. If you’ve been writing here weekly (even occasionally) send me a quick note. Find out if it’s something you want to pursue. I’ll introduce new Rough Writers at the Rodeo Fest (kick-off party on Oct. 3).

One last note: I’m not perfect. Seriously, it’s worth saying! We all make mistakes and I tend to bring in a bumper crop. So, I fudged my hastags. I’m not a hashtag genius to begin with and I forgot that I had created #FFRODEO for the Rodeo — Flash Fiction Rodeo. When I created the Rodeo Fest promotion I inadvertently created a second hashtag of #CRRODEO as in Carrot Ranch Rodeo. Better editors than my Inner Editor, pointed out the blunder, but by then both hashtags had been shared widely. I’m a flash fiction writer, so having trained my brain for solutions I will simply use #CRRODEO on October 3 for the Rodeo Fest and pretend that’s what I meant.

Be sure to follow along the Rodeo on Twitter at #FFRODEO. May it bring you all a bumper crop of fun!

And if you missed the post on Tuesday, check out the new Flash Fiction page at Carrot Ranch. It includes recipes for preparing flash fiction and introduces something I’ve been working on for a while — The Ultimate Flash Fiction (TUFF), which is a challenge, the final contest in the Rodeo, and the foundation for a new workshop I’ve developed using flash fiction as a tool to teach an integrative writing/editing approach to book revision.

Thank you for your patience as the sawdust clears on all these new barns and events at the Ranch! I’m a week behind on compilations, but whipping and spurring to get caught up in the next few days. I’ll let you know as new pages go up, too! This is the final prompt until weeklies resume November 2. I’m delighted to have you all here!

September 21, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest. You can use the phrase or show what it means without using the words. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 26, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published September 27). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Harvests Aren’t Gathered for All (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Sarah gobbled picked peas from her gnarled hands.

“Get out of there!”

Sarah blushed, gathered threadbare skirts and fled fast as a 91-year-old could muster. She held her head despite the curvature of her back and walked past the angry gardener as if she were on a Sunday stroll. In fact, Sarah realized, it was Sunday.

“You stay out you tramp!”

So much for Christian charity, she thought. Wandering without a destination she passed other gardens in full harvest. At the end of the street named after her father in the town bearing her surname, Sarah turned away, hungry.

###

Raw Literature: Publishing A Literary First

Essay by Elliot Lyngreen, guest author & flash writer at Carrot Ranch.

<< ♦ >>

I have been given the honor and opportunity by the inspirational Charli Mills of Thee Ranch (Carrot Ranch Communications, where flash is the fiction) to talk about my story of my first published piece of literature Inextricable Knot in some Raw Literature here. Sweet. Let’s rock.

Well, the idea still comes to me every morning. With highs from the radio like Finch (Bury Me) inside a vehicle, the morning commute crowds. There are many ways it could turn. Our destinations feel the presence and the world anymore, the highway multitude, speeding that could end up on the stage of AGT and reinforcing all the hearts with our performance. Or…

Yes, is there anything better than a road trip? Gripped to the wheel, is there anything better than driving a vehicle with one of your favorites reeling ears? And such emotions truly and equivocally warming, skin surfacings and porcupine dreams all instantly percolate alive? Make you feel ready to be thee great wave? That is how it begins anyway. And it began so long ago, dreaming to turn off any one of the exits fleeting for another destination than where we always end up; turn to where the world reads me as some tremendous book in the blast of an anthem. I truly wanted to capture that current, and that flow, and that sensation of traveling the road; and for…ever wanted it to open my book. But the way it begins to be imagined, turns in yet at a totally different destination.

By serendipity once along a road trip many moons ago when I was like 20 and with a few buds coming home from Syracuse, we were flying in this pouring rain in the middle of a fleet of semis all going 91 miles an hour and I thought THIS! THIS. This is it! I got chills and such heavy inspiration thinking, this is thee exact place the world goes now. So much metaphor and connection. This is where we exist, traveling enormous. This is such thee force. Such a fine scene for…the loads of material out there. I wanted so bad to spill out raw in the prose that was coursing ma soul right there and then in our sojourn placement flying along the turnpike, highway, the ineffable…but I don’t write like that.

But like anything and everything it turns away and divides, separates, the pack of semis drifts apart to other lanes, a variety of autos coast in and out, the radio changes to New Order (Ceremony) and the power in my hands breaks apart, and the true world arrives and there’s demand for more from the insides. But mine ache and distract and deter me from that long story which could arise, right? So, here is what I got so far.

It begins there, too; cuz I was reborn on a street, a 4-laned avenue when I was 12 and “I awoke” (what I told my photo caption should read on the website it was published on, if ya take a look; it’s ok but hey that must be publishing I guess, anyways…) in the summer of 91. That’s when it hit me; an automobile going well close to 50 maybe; in a residential zone, a street-lighted dreams distance, the busy road between my friends and our homes, our placements in the separation of our neighborhoods. And me, the guilty child, and yea, wanted to get up and just ride on along home. But drop back or resurface then unto that road this child we once were. Awake. Give him a chance to hear Ceremony. Read Pynchon. Oh my. Oh me. Oh Drop, yes oh graceful angels of destiny lower, place him breathing up ‘heavenknowsit’sgotobethistime’ into the rage -gasp! (and the world becomes wavy) as he opens the flashes and the world ripples outward; and I…yeah me, I want to ride along on my own shrinking moment, memory. I want to redo. But, I can see the whole thing over and over fearlessly still. ‘forev..erer’ — That is my perspective anyway.

Yet peel back them tears a little further and glimpse a force, and drive around as they cut my favorite T-shirt from my young lifeless body coming back alive; from these frail searches like for breaks and fractures, bruises, around my sides and my waist, looking for impressions, pain, checking the head maybe, whiplash; that. But with pulses and breathes around; scatterbrain consume the exulted—“did you black out son?”—form the crowd, paramedics, folks together harmony and rhythm it all again slipped but inside the horn renaissance you now swim in; ahhhh with me, and there see the low profile vehicle coming… and then on the other side there was pretty much nothing wrong. So, yea let me ride along on home. But…well, that is not in the literature, in the cards anyway; court date you know what I’m saying? But it was me, my fault anyway; but provides some good background, my un-layering, my memories, in the grimy enormous confusion; but the presence.

Kind of the idea…Just like that. A great collision this piece was turned out to be. Meant to be.?. Also, my wish for another way through life. A different story let me tell you in such a small thickly arched pocket, and form a manic congested little loop, down down down to swallow a scene where quick-as-the-energy sparked from an empty grave –am I ghost? that! but quaked!? Then disintegrate. Oh ho, bent loose in them physical  — just conquered — momentums of the earth, that all became the summer afterward, the…91 releases if you know what I mean (and I hope you do). All makes me wonder so much of that which is connected, but mostly, makes me grateful to still be alive; but mostly, like something the sacred hour that got tighter and tighter at every turn to twilight there that I came back into; sets me up to believe I will never be allowed out; until I go through THIS, write the nonsense, buzz ALL heartstruck about how I entered the darkness, but then marveled the light flooding back on down and throughout; but ewww more than anything else, but how I must tell it, now…so wrenched inside. How I am unable to be normal, yet I must be. And I just cannot. How it was there before all this.

(Until I explain it. Right? Right. Let me try here.)

Ok. Like take your Grateful Dead any day, I will take my Jefferson Airplane live instead. Or sometimes you need Mazzy Star (Had a Thought) in the ears on a rainy afternoon setting off coyly the momentum of these epic anthem stealings, this creativity of stealing Keyser Soze-esque fragments of them snippets of songs ‘inyoursmiletherearemanyofwaystocure_ThePain_uh-huh’ and literature and movies and reusing such for the moments when it comes time to define what it’s like coursing through these terrors to be alive right now with this wrinkle in my guts. But to reach, touch God say, in the Sistine! In the overwhelmed distractions and the overwhelming media around, and just to try and be…understood. And in control. Oh let me play the piano once for everyone. But, I can’t. No. To avoid the collision, Wait…Because I am really not telling it just…right. And that is why I write and write and rewrite; and wrote this piece and rewrote it ten thousand times and ten thousand ways. To make sure to take a stand; in myself; and against everything already out there. It is my stand against the psychology already established. And my stand in the reality of a disability. Not in fiction. It is my stand against that which is fuming down the highways ready to tell me that I am wrong; by showing exactly where it is I stand (or sit, for that matter). No, it is not another protest. Hang on a sec…

And so many times I wrote it; streaking the ineffable, taking note of the minor details of things on vehicles — the foaming on the road, a little piece whipped around a tailpipe of a pickup and shredded as it unravels, flutters galore…so maybe it would be; and in so many different ways; so right…I sorted through visions and very many different songs for the soundtrack within, to exactly grasp that feeling of what is I am trying to say; and where it could reach so many, and how celeritous it was going; and where; and why; and all that…’representation.’ Cuz it seems it must. And, well also, I mean, why else am I still here? Just for this piece? I hope not. So, let’s make it true, right. And make it rock. Great!

It was going to be such magnificence.

But you see, I have this problem. (I sometimes think I am talking to the stars..).. No seriously though, they call it IBS and I cannot disagree more. Call it something else. Please. You see, it is so much more than what it is and the way it is perceived. And that is where the whole Inextricable Knot thing turns. Turns out I have this problem (you know, with how they treat me and how they diagnosis it. Like it is something I do NOT have. Or, just have? A problem). Like it is a somatic disorder and merely inside my head or my psychology; because all tests cannot explain the pains I feel. Was it the accident? Does it matter? It was there before I am pretty sure. And I can’t take it too much anymore (and that was 30 Years ago! I was writing that…). And with how much it costs me trying to get help, how it makes me not even want to ask anymore. Write. Write it down yo…Cuz I really cannot afford to! But I got to. And I got to go go go but I got these lumps/growths forming all over me now. Oh what the hell are these?? So much…… yet it is; and yet it is completely not. So I wrote…

That is another thing I was trying to get to in this work. Reality. With fiction, kind of…Or, that I intended with the book, that which it was supposed to be; that originally was; then, this…Piece…And still is — as I left a novel in pieces on the cutting room floor, a great many pages and words and various images that were going to magnificently follow this fantastic opening scene into the chapters after…and rapturous speakers and so forth. So, somewhere it turned. Crash. Maybe it just simply crashed. I did. How it is completely out of my control; trying to fuel, feed and so forth; change roads so much, that I cannot disagree more, as I said. And, moreover, I have this problem because I cannot finish that novel; and just have this little story now. That! explains it all ever so perfect; but, furthermore, that I will not settle for a lack of explanation. I have the full argument in my head every single day driving to work; the full book; getting ready; turning awake; oh groans…but, cramps (Am I woman?)… furthermore, in my stance; bowels, mmm bowls over? and even still — at the toilet. I know — disgusting. Right? That is what this piece does. Where it goes. Zoom! Spoiler alert!! In my guts. Sunk. Oh how precisely that describes — whoosh! where it unsettles? Maybe. And here it comes down the heavy road. With a full force of passion, the music of the world through the 90s, and yet…

It is revealing these issues I deal with; that was going to be the book. That is the hook, the short of it; this piece; an overly described just awful mess of symptoms, condensed into which did not just magically come to me; or, desire to be turned to some shortened little path, a tiny portion of frustrated fiction. Cuz it is embarrassing and ridiculous and such a shame. Especially for men. Am I even a man? It is so much more. And I don’t think so in the world of them (men) — I tell you what. It is so hard enough to talk about awful poop anywhere, and even harder to be understood how different it is for folks like me; while not laughing out loud. And there is the secret to it, the taboo and the jokes and just between you and me, it simply, truly is really frickin gross; more gross than just having some potty issues coursing this circulation and such; but that is how it is viewed. A joke. So Cameron, I took a stand, too. Sat down and poured into notebooks so much ink; then typed it all up over the years. (I really would rather pen it all down down down I know that now). And, I got a great sense of humor (and threshold of pain) I like to think. Good outlook on things. But, I changed and changed this corrosion of the insides that it is constant, chronic, into words that maybe will convince them (whoever they are, right?) just a little better than Fluffy. HA! He’s great. To — ok- laugh a little — ok. But to make ya feel this way; all upside down and inside out, with finer details I must hide at these moments; but do not want to get too far into…cuz yea eww…Well, to show that it is my life. And that! is the other thing that I was trying to begin with this piece. Turn the literature from something out of imagination into the reality of living inside one of them fears of some dystopiated fictional character they made up. Yes, I just invented a word. Mmmayb…

It is unbearable at best. There has always been a sense that I can write what so many others have merely imagined. Yet, it did not turn out like that. And yet, maybe another one (piece) will. Hopefully it introduces that concept. Grounds all the fiction. And rises them up. Oh it makes me tire to think how much more I must create. Cuz this piece feels incomplete. To turn it into the story I see…

Well, let me tell at least (tell) Why it is called – Inextricable Knot. Cool? Cool. Ok great! The title comes from a line in the Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne: “This feeble and most sensitive of spirits could do neither, yet continually did one thing or another, which intertwined, in the same inextricable knot, the agony of heaven — defying guilt and vain repentance.” Now, while that has a deeper and different meaning as it refers to the minister Dimmesdale’s doom of being unforgiven, I thought, well that is very similar. Especially that mention of a knot. But, moreover, the purgatory of it all. And whether I talk about my symptoms or hold them secret due to the severity (it seems) of the awful things that happen, that no one wants to or needs to talk about or read anyway, or probably will if I unveiled the journal of these feelings inside, that character I am continually dealing with — cancer maybe, an inextricable lump, or knot, what’s that?!… — well it would not matter. It is my doom.

I really wanted to draw the line between. And still deeper, deeper, down…divide the mind and the body. Or, should I say eliminate the idea that this is in my mind, because…where was I? … oh that’s right…so, instead of a character in fiction and a terrific imagination of a story, instead of a short fiction, I attempt(ed) to place the feeling of living within some grotesque or diseased story; all at one instant but truthfully, maybe as being left lingering in a kind of stuck existence, an in-between place. But it is not imagination entirely. The body sends pain signals to the brain to tell it that something is wrong. I just wanted to say that just now. And with this work and the book I want/ed to redefine this irritable issue (along come a multitude of disabling issues out of one’s control, I know) and rearrange (all of you stars too;) the pieces — until these are some things that we can study and dissect, rather than use a cash cow. Cuz I am flippin broke in the ‘Black Market Mercurio’ (which is another story I got for ya’ll).

Anyways, it is meant to be an exciting little piece that is ripped away from the spectacle coming and was very hard for me to read, narrate, or audio that is…So, if you want to check it out, it is at an “online journal of deaf and disabled literature & art” — called Deaf Poets Society.

Now, you may be asking how is this a disability? And that folks is such a novel thing…That! Is why I think I needed to explain, write this piece again if it takes…; and that is why I am always writing things too personal; but, why and how this piece came to be…It feels incomplete and I am getting a little weak, tired, distracted by more things and songs to tell about…than I ever will be able to, you know…? but hey there’s nothing wrong with me. Cynical Right?

I hope it unveils a little more of yours truly and this…..whatever it is. So, yes, but please check out my my very first published material, my beginning to this whole literature thing. I Hope.

Find it here: Inextricable Knot

I cannot express my appreciation and gratitude if you do. And to Charli Mills at thee Ranch, and to the Deaf Poets Society for the opportunity to share my piece in their Issue 5 release.

As always, thanks for ragin’ and God bless.

***

Elliott Lyngreen was born, raised, and schooled Catholic. He’s a middle child of a very large mixed family. Stepsiblings and half sisters; a whole brother, and cousins upon cousins; not all blood, but all family. He’s a 38-year-old electrical systems designer for a local engineering firm. Marvel music, sports, photography, films, etc. and has been writing since 15. He proses on mostly short pieces. Afflicted by an indescribable sickness, he tries and aims to eliminate the idea of its definition as a frequent urgency manageable with dietary changes. Because it is so much more.

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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.