Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Home » Posts tagged 'creativity'

Tag Archives: creativity

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.

<< ♦ >>

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.

August 24: Flash Fiction Challenge

Toward the pink I go. Sand and pine needles muffle my steps between trees spaced apart by an unseen arborist’s hand. What mythologies lie beyond where the sound of surf tumbles copper stones? Does Narnia await? Will the Lady of the Lake deliver up Excalibur? Where is the veil of time and can I get a ticket out of here?

With numerous bags slung over my shoulder, I descend to the shoreline with items of escape. One bag is empty; maybe I’ll fill it with found magic: Thompsonite, prehnite, unakite, jasper and rare copper agates. Under the spell of thundering waves, I can disappear for hours, days, millennia. Who knows where I go when rocks tumble and pelt my bare calves. Stone enchantments hold strong.

To sustain a journey of epic distinction, another bag holds elixir, ambrosia and Elven lembas: strawberry-rhubarb beer, cheese curds and pumpkin seed crackers. As the pink spreads through thinning clouds, a feat the sky will host for several hours before sinking the sun for the night, I spread the food across a wave worn log. It’s an enchanted feast.

The final item of escape I withdraw from a bag is a worn leather-covered Kindle. The setting is complete, and I morph into an escape artist.

Books are a vehicle of escape. Stories crafted like spells transport us to other places to become other people. For the avid reader, Narnia remains within reach. Some books play important roles — they introduce us to cultures we can’t travel to on our own. Some teach us empathy and allow us to experience the journey of a thousand others. Some make us think, provoking uncomfortable thoughts, leaving us changed at the close of the final page. Yet the books that offer pure escapism are no less valued for their transformative role.

Most days I feel in and out of life. There comes the moments where I need to focus and set up interviews to write profiles for a client. And then the professionalism breaks down when one call involves interviewing my former boss who is now retiring. I’ve been tasked, no bestowed, the honor of writing her 37 years as a leader. A fifteen minute interview stretches past an hour and I’m taken back in time to when I’d sit in her office and discuss matters of marketing with the highest expectations of authenticity and transparency. How much I learned from this woman of servant leadership, of life-long learning, of taking calculated risks to pursue one’s passion.

My passion, writing; hers, leading a cooperative movement “…to make a difference in the lives of those we are serving.” She taught me that we serve others with our gifts. She taught me that to be a writer I must serve readers. She taught me that if I created a community of writers and readers, it would only work if it is authentic. Just as her co-op worked. As she retires, a co-op that once sold $5 coupons to open its doors twice a week to sell bulk foods — local cheese, honey, oats and wheat germ — is now 12,000 members strong with 130 employees and over 1,000 customers a day. And it was grown from a small group of passionate people who still retain ownership after 40 years.

A moment of reflection whisked me away and a million opportunities presented themselves like a million different plot twists. What if I had stayed? What if we had not left north Idaho? What if Todd went into the Coast Guard and never volunteered to be a paratrooper? Our lives twist with the what-ifs, but it is the writer who works in them. Especially if plots are ones to create space for escape. I can’t escape the decisions I’ve made in life nor my circumstances, but I can escape into a pinking twilight where gems are possible and C. S. Lewis’s lion, Aslan roars among the copper included waves.

Last week, writers approached a hard challenge — Stories to Heal America. What impressed me most was how each writer tackled the prompt with authenticity. Even when ideas or perspectives varied, writers showed the grace of accepting something different from their own view. I’m always delighted at the level of creativity and how writers push the edges of the constraint of 99 words, but last week showed a greater depth of skill and communication, as well as creativity. It’s not easy to write about hard truths, to find an inroad to reach a reader with surprise or agitation.

This week, writers get to be escape artists. Run away to Cirque du Soleil, stow away on a ship, become a master magician in a time-traveling show. Think of where you might want to escape. How you can use escape in a story. Think about your favorite books to escape into. Perhaps take a mental mini vacation and write it in 99 words. Have fun this week; remember the joy of escaping into a story.

August 17, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an escape artist. It can even be you, the writer, escaping into a different realm or space in imagination. It can be any genre, including BOTS (based on a true story) or fantasy. You can focus on the escape, the twist or the person who is the escape artist.

Respond by August 29, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published August 30). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Fowl Play (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“He pulled a hen egg from Roe’s ear, Da!” Cling imitated the move he saw. Lizzie squealed, and Julius practiced his own flourish. Mary stood on the porch, silent.

Cobb saddled his horse, tightening the cinch. “Well, boys, he pulled more tricks than that one.”

“How’d he do it, Da?” Monroe asked.

“The egg was probably up his sleeve. Just a charlatan’s trick.”

“I mean…”

Cobb scowled. “I’m sure he had an accomplice. He distracted you and your Ma.”

“Stop messin’ around,” Monroe told his siblings. “Da’s gotta find where our chickens disappeared to with that escape artist.”

###

Time Travel Interrupted (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni disappeared into the 19th century. Darkness clung to corners and only the light of her head lamp glowed. It reflected off pieces of dull white china – service glass like you’d find in a restaurant or boarding house. She picked up barbed-wire scoured free of its earlier rust. With luck the design of the barbs would reveal the maker. Just one more clue, she thought as she reached deep into the past.

Overhead lights illuminated the school auditorium. “Hey, Dr. Gordon?”

Danni growled inwardly at the disruption to her time travel.

“Want some pizza? Archeologists have to eat, too!”

###

Level 6 by Charli Mills

Slick hung his brass key on Level 6. It remained; a tarnished token to a missing miner. Some thought he entered a low tunnel to follow a vein of copper. He might have fallen. Jeb reported hearing the widow-maker chipping until lunch. Maybe he collapsed. They all recalled the pasties that day. Slick’s was gone, so at least he vanished satisfied. His mother grieved. His father grumbled the boy never paid attention. Not many paid attention to Slick, the quiet sixth son of eight. Who’d suspect he’d escape the Keweenaw mines with enough native to buy a life elsewhere?

###

Music of Berries

Music of Berries by the Rough Writers @charli_millsBerries deserve music. After all, their sweet-tartness plays a tune upon our taste buds. For writers, how might the two pair? Perhaps it’s like wine and cheese. Perhaps not.

With writers, inspiration can go many directions. Something like berries and music can result in an orchestra of flash fiction.

The following are based on the August 10, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include music and berries.

***

Meddling by Kate Spencer

“Dennis tells me Erin is getting married,” said Jim, dropping the grocery bag onto the counter.

“Oh Veronica must be thrilled,” said Gladys. “She’s had her daughter’s grandiose wedding planned for years.”

“Apparently Erin’s all upset about it. She and Jason want a simple ceremony on Blueberry Hill where they met.”

“And so they should,” huffed Gladys grabbing her purse. “SOMEBODY had better get over there and remind Veronica that all she really wants is for her daughter to be happy.”

“I found my thrill, on Blueberry Hill,” crooned Jim and headed for the study with an impish grin.

###

Price of Silence by Kerry E.B. Black

I asked her to stop singing, but she wouldn’t. Studying grew impossible while my sweater-stealing dorm-mate belted out pop tunes, hummed arias, or whistled nursery songs. No amount of begging inspired her silence.

As a botany student, I knew what must be done. I gathered berries and made the drink, a fragrant tea. Tea soothes the throat of a singer, and the serendipity of it pleased me. She studied philosophy. I provided a way for her to experience a closeness with her idol, Socrates.

###

Play a Little Tune by Hayley .R. Hardman

Bert’s blueberries were not doing so well this year. The too wet summer was the cause. He had been trying everything to make the blueberries happy as they were his biggest sellers and God knew he needed the money. Finally, he decided to take his violin and play for them though it broke his vow to never play again. As the first notes rang out, tears marked Bert’s cheeks. He played and played till he couldn’t anymore but the magic of the music seemed to work because the blueberries grew and became the best crop he had ever had.

###

Blow a Raspberry! by Anne Goodwin

Another invitation popped through the door. Blow a raspberry! It couldn’t be clearer. Or easier – even babies manage that. Practising before the mirror, he vowed to do his best.

Meandering between the stalls, his mouth watered. Cranachan with oats, whipped cream and whisky. Raspberry sorbet and ice cream. Raspberry-tinged cider and non-alcoholic cordial. The buzz of bees and equally cordial conversation. Summer’s heat tempered by a light breeze.

Checking in beside the stage, the steward looked at him askance. “Where your pipes, laddie?”

The Scottish word for lips? Alas not: every other contestant had bagpipes tucked beneath their arms.

###

Farmer’s Market (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Crowds jostle, fish tossers call, children beg for ice cream, candy, a Starbucks. Pike Place Market bustles and hums, smelling of flowers, fish, peaches, damp. Gulls scream and music threads through it all. Jane wanders the stalls, assimilated.

Two dollars gets her an iced bottle of tea and a basket of blackberries. With no way to store them, she’ll have to eat them all. Back out on the cobblestones she finds a seat on the curb, in the sun, near the busker with the violin, finds another dollar for his case.

In the words of the Bangles – Sunday, Fun Day.

###

Berry Syrup by Ann Edall-Robson

It’s the season of harvesting produce and picking berries to create all kinds of goodness to enjoy over the long winter months.

What you make with your berries is as versatile as the various types of fruit you have available. Every year produces different quantities and selections. Wild berries seem to have the best flavour; but they take the most amount of time when it comes to picking and cleaning. A local farmer’s market is a good source for your choice of berries.

Choose your fruit, turn on your favourite music and make some of our yummy Berry Syrup.

###

Squish by Michael

Squish, squish, squish those grapes

Feel that juice between your toes

Drop your feet in one two three

There’s wine to be made so squish, squish, squish.

And so, the song went as we walked in single file around the barrel, the juice oozing out, our feet turning red from the stain of the juice swirling round our ankles.

It was a job, it kept me in cash for the holiday season. But I have to say I was so sick of that boring song all day every day. The free bottle prize at the end was small compensation.

###

Flames of Memory by Bill Engleson

The air this morning is a smoky hymn, a thin grey hum of haze hanging from the horizon like a tract of flimsy flypaper.

Though she knows this choking vapour has floated in over the straight from the interior of the Province and that it’s the residue of fiery loss, of dislocation, she is mesmerized by its fugue of gloom.

She has always loved fire.

“Many have lost their homes, their livelihood,” I remind her.

“I know that,” she snaps, “but…what would Grandma say if she was here…it’s the berries.”

That crazy old lady also loved a good fire.

###

The Mulberry Tree by Jeanne Lombardo

This is how my little story ends.

A cup of tea in an easy chair. A slide into memory as a corona of flame licks at a burner on the stove.

The mulberry tree in the scruffy yard on East Las Palmaritas Street. A tinny song from the radio wafting through a window. “I want to hold your haaand…”

I balance under the canopy. Lift one foot and reach, reach, reach for the purple bounty. And slip.

The ground rushes up. The last thing I feel is my small chest expelling its wind.

And I go up in smoke.

###

Ripe for the Picking by Irene Waters

“I said bring your bog boots.”

“Should’ve told me I’d need clothes for the Arctic as well. I may have listened to you then.”

“It’s summer. Not that cold. Don’t be a wuss.”

“It’s not the cold that’s getting me. It’s these huge bloody mosquitos.”

“Ah!” Johanna fumbled in her back pack and pulled out an item that looked like a memory stick. She flicked its switch to on. “Music for female mosquitos. They won’t come near us now. See those yellow berries.”

“Where?”

“Low to the ground. Cloudberries. Musky, tart, exotic, and elusive. An enigma.”

“Just like you.”

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

My sister sits with her feet propped up on the dinner table. She tosses blueberries into her mouth, one after another, recklessly, how she does everything. Without rinsing or worrying about E Coli or choking hazards.

It’s a mystery we’re related. Mona flies into each day, bobbing to the music in her head, trusting things will work out. Not me, I wash everything—hands, food, teeth—compulsively.

Mom and Dad return from their walk. Dad steals a blueberry and one of Mona’s ear buds, bobbing along like a goof. Mom settles beside me. She asks how homework is going.

###

Early Berries by Kerry E.B. Black

Erin and Marlin squeezed berries at each other, laughing as the early sun bronzed their noses and cheeks. Erin considered her stained fingers. They stuck together and tugged when she peeled them apart. “Don’t get the juice in your mouth, Marlin. It’ll make you sick.”

Marlin’s laughter rivaled the lazy music of the bees. “Who’d want to drink this mess, anyway?” A berry burst within his grasp, erupting pulp and seeds. “I do wonder what they taste like.”

Erin chewed the inside of her cheek. “Me, too.”

Marlin touched his tongue to his palm. “Sweet.”

Erin ran for help.

###

Squish by Pensitivity

Please join me in a little game reminiscent of our days in Lincolnshire and the local radio station.

How many songs or pieces of music can you name with ‘berry’ or fruit in the title?

Strawberry Fields Forever
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
One Bad Apple
Raspberry Beret
Blueberry Hill
I heard it through the Grapevine
Tutti Frutti
Blackberry Way
Cherry Cherry
The Banana Boat Song
The Lemon Song
Little Green Apples

My favourite cheat is The First of May (Date, get it?)

Then you could always ask for cover versions by the 1950s group

The Rockin’ Berries.

###

Mulberry Stew by Norah Colvin

Branches hung heavy with berries in reach of even the youngest child. They ate more than they bucketed; but there were plenty, including for birds singing in higher branches. Mum had forbidden them. “Mrs Wilson’s poorly. Don’t disturb her.” But they couldn’t resist. They scampered the instant she called.

“Where have you been?” She eyed the purple stains.

“We …” the youngest began to sing.

“Nowhere,” they shushed with hands concealed.

“What were you doing?”

“Nothing.”

Her lips twitched. “Hand them over.”

Later they pondered together how she knew.

When Dad got home, they’d have to face the music.

###

What’s Raspberry Picking Without Music? by Joe Owens

This was the first time Ed had picked berries in so many years. The dream job pulled him to the other side of the country and away from his family and traditions. Still, something seemed strange about this berry patch he remembered so well. Try as he may he couldn’t place what it was.

Two hours later while emptying his smaller container into the larger one he began to sing. His mother, sister and cousin peeked out of the berry bushes to listen as he crooned a song sung by his grandfather years before.

“That’s my boy!”

###

Laying By by D. Avery

“Thank you for the coffee in bed, sorry I’m so lazy, it’s just that morning sounds have become such sweet music to me.”

“That’s okay, Mom, we don’t mind, do we Dad?”

He grunted his assent and lingered with his own coffee after Hope left to tend her chickens. “Everything okay, I mean, you ain’t got your traveling itch again do you?”

“If you must know, I plan on traveling to that spot over the hill where the blackberries are, fill some buckets, and then come back, scratches and all, and make jam… Stop worrying, I love it here.”

(Follow the story…Offerings)

###

From the Obscuring Mist by Kerry E.B. Black

A merry band of trick-or-treaters skipped along the sidewalk, elbows locked, voices raised in wolfish songs and merry laughter. Parents followed, lugging the kids’ sacks of sweet loot.

Fog curled from the valley, obscuring autumn leaves gathered along bone-white fences underplanted with berry bushes. Nearby, an owl hooted.

From the obscuring mist another costumed group emerged. The small ones added their voices to the wild song. Their caregivers’ lips sparkled with adult distractions- drinks and elicit kisses.

The youth embarked on promised adventures with their new companions. As the children sampled other-worldly treats, the others gathered their innocent souls.

###

Can You Hear the Music by Robbie Cheadle

The small blonde boy sat at the piano, his little face white and pinched with determination. He ran his fingers lithely over the keys, the music flowing directly from his heart to his fingers. The audience sat and watched. Their faces agog with astonishment at this tiny child’s huge talent. One plump lady tapped her foot in time to the prolific flow of notes. Only one face showed anxiety and concern. His mother’s face was tightly drawn as she thought about his obsessiveness. Nothing could distract him from his playing this morning, not even his favourite berries with ice-cream.

###

Music and Berries by FloridaBorne

“What’cha doin’?” six-year-old Jennifer asked.

“Picking blackberries.”

“What’er you listenin’ to?”

“Debussy,” I sighed.

“It’s weird,” she said, picking her nose.

My home was small but freshly painted, had a nice flower garden, and…manners. A child that age should know to ask for tissues!

“Where is your mother?” I demanded.

She pointed at a woman slumped over the filthy couch on her front porch. “She was ‘sleep when I woke up.”

“When did you last eat?”

“Yesterday.”

Good. A reason to contact abuse and get more riff-raff out of our neighborhood. While she devoured lunch, I’d make the call.

###

Tart by Jack Schuyler

“I like the ones that aren’t ripe yet,” Max picked a purple and red berry from his bucket and popped it in his mouth. His face puckered into a smile, “It’s so tart!”

“Don’t eat all the blueberries,” Mamma said picking at the bush next to him, “we haven’t payed for them yet.”

Max shifted guilty eyes her way and sat down. Tart turned to sour in his mouth. A jay tittered its song from a post at the end of the row. If I were a bird, he thought, it wouldn’t be naughty to eat too many berries.

###

Grim Harvest by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Lilimor slipped out the back gate, trotting to the meadow as fast as her little legs could carry her. She’d wanted to arrive at sunrise, before anyone noticed she was gone.

Rounding the hill, she crowed in delight at the sparkling field of dewy wild strawberries. She plucked one and tasted the sweetness of afternoon sun and magical, cool nights.

Squatting, she strung berries, tiny as her pinky nail, onto a thread-thin stem of meadow grass. Her mother would be so pleased to have these with her morning smørbrød.

‘Twas then she heard the fiddle, beckoning from the waterfall.

###

Forbidden Fruit (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Save the seeds,” Nancy Jane said, berry juice running down her chin and cleavage.

“To plant?”

“Nah. To make Otoe dice. Fun game.”

A canopy of trees dappled the sun where bluffs and a thicket of buffalo berries barricade this hidden spring. Nancy Jane bathed here. Naked. No wonder she laughed when Sarah protested hiking her skirts to ride horseback astride.

Sarah sank her teeth into the small black fruit with a golden center, wanting to laugh. If she did, Cobb might hear. Perhaps a trick of the mind, but she swore she heard strains of his fiddle nearby.

###

Solo Honeymoon by Diana Nagai

Untying her swimsuit top, she reclined in one of the many chaises which lined the white-sanded shore. She felt daring, being half naked in public, but when in Rome, right? Laughter and splashes composed a summer’s cadence, producing an atmosphere of leisure.

A shadow eclipsed her sunlight. Opening her eyes, she took in the Greek god standing above her. With her best attempt at the local language, she accepted the cream and liqueur smothered berries.

The handsome waiter offered a lingering smile making her glad she didn’t refund the honeymoon tickets. Emboldened, she flirted and smiled back.

###

Strawberry Wine by Rugby843

Washing the berries in the old sink, she felt like singing. Thinking of the previous night, she dreamily sang “Strawberry Wine”. It was true, not a fantasy, that he loved her. She could still feel his touch on her lips, the scent of strawberries on his breath. It started as a friendly picnic and ended as a beginning.

She washed them thoroughly but left the stems. It was much easier to feed someone a strawberry with the stem attached. Whipping the cream, she planned it well. The wine would be the appetizer, feeding him berries and cream the dessert.

###

Berry Befuddled (Janice vs Richard #17) by JulesPaige

Carla Scott was visiting Janice when Longhorn called.
Richard had been back to Janice’s home with some nasty
intent. He must have lost some focus on his reality. He had
taken and eaten berries from her bushes, But had a violent
reaction, and vomited in the kitchen sink. Although he had
attempted some clean up – Richard left fingerprints, as well
as shoe prints in the garden… and he left a trail.

This was music to Janice’s ears. Though there might still
be a long row to hoe, at least maybe there was going to
be a soothing Coda soon.

###

Hedgehog and Mole by Michael at Afterwards

“Do you like berries Mole?” Hedgehog asked, emerging from the thicket to the sound of Sparrow’s morning music.

“Oh yes, especially plump and juicy ones!” Mole replied licking his lips.

“Then follow me” said Hedgehog, “I know a place where the juiciest berries grow!”

Hedgehog led Mole to a clearing where the bramble bushes strained under the weight of the dark fruits.

“I can smell them!” said mole excitedly, “Oh Thank you hedgehog!”.

As Mole devoured berries hedgehog crept slowly away, passing Fox at edge of the clearing.

“He’s all yours” Hedgehog snarled “I expect payment in full tomorrow.”

###

Plum Crazy by D. Avery

“Is Shorty plum crazy? What’s she want us gathering buffalo chips for? That what she uses fer charcoal?”

“No, Kid, she wants berries. So let’s go git some buffalo berries.”

“Hmph, buffalo berries. Shorty makin’ pies agin? I reckon with buffalo berries it’ll be like a cow pie.”

“They’re not chips.”

“Hey, while we’re at it, let’s git some horse muffins too.”

“Kid, will you ever stop fiddlin’ around?”

“Heck no. Shorty wants music too, so I’ll jest keep on fiddlin’, thank you berry much.”

“I hope Shorty is plannin’ on fermentin’ some of these berries.”

“Yep, wine not?”

###

Save

August 3: Flash Fiction Challenge

Science. It’s what brought my eldest and her spouse to the Keweenaw, where Michigan Tech has been a public research university since 1885. She’s now Director of Research News, writing and directing science stories for several academic publications, including the university’s research blog, Unscripted.

While I’ve had rocks on the brain since arriving — a common Keweenaw affliction — I’ve been pondering the relationship between arts and science. As a literary artist, science fuels my imagination. Yet science relies as much on creativity as it does data. As a geoscientist and dancer, my daughter understands this dynamic and writes about the intention of Unscripted:

“…This is a place where metaphor and methodology meet. Where curiosity inspires conversation, art, and science. We write the research you can’t find on news wires, capture science in action, and speak frankly about the work we do. Often succinct, we’re not afraid of an in-depth exploration either. Yeah, Unscripted is a university research blog—and then some.”

Metaphor and methodology. It’s like finding a mineral in its matrix with a spectacular inclusion at the juncture. As writers, we work to balance what drives our rawest ideas with the structure of craft. And like scientists we don’t go at this alone. We share research, theories and ideas. We encourage that curiosity to drive both art and science.

Tonight, I’m in a weather warp. Rain pummels my umbrella and I’m chilled in a sweater. Half-way up the hill I realize the “path” we chose is actually a broad rain gutter. At the top of the hill we’re greeted at the door with amusement and the comment, “Not from here, hey?”

(Note: “hey?” is an inflection not a question, a Keweenaw colloquialism.)

“Hey! No, we just relocated.”

“You’ll like it here, hey?”

We already do. The stress of the past year fades each new day, even though we face medical mountains and home hurdles. We have a safe pad at the home of Michigan Tech’s News Director and her Park Ranger/Bubbler/Baker/Solar Man. We’re exploring options to use the RV to get homed, setting up VA appointments and growing the Ranch. You might have noticed the banners for Carrot Ranch changed here, on Facebook and Twitter. That’s part of the growth that has been delayed by a year of wandering on wheels.

Branding is both art and science. The art appeal is subjective — it always is, so don’t take it personally if someone likes or dislikes your art, it’s not a true measurement. However, I like the art and what it conveys: we are a literary community. Ann Rauvola, my long-time friend, colleague and CR designer uses her skills, her scientific knowledge of color and collage to create the art. I’ll let you in on a design secret — the banner is a fusion of three photos. But the shot of the bird and horse? Hey! That one lucky shot from an afternoon of photographing the interplay between blackbirds and Elmira Pond ponies.

A science part of branding is consistency. The change was meant to be subtle, and yet I didn’t do it until I could upgrade all three banners. This is in preparation for a launch of Patreon in preparation for a launch of an annual rodeo in preparation for a launch of the first CR anthology in preparation for work on the next. Whew! Timing is everything and a misstep, or a house loss, can really throw a monkey wrench in the workings. It’s why I’m grateful to have this Keweenaw stability to actualize the literary community vision.

Why, you might ask? That’s a legitimate question.

My process is both art and science. The latter coming in the form of research — historical or natural. The art flows from the writing. Like the Unscripted researchers, I want that conversation and connectivity. Art and science is best shared, and we do learn from and inspire one another. As a platform for my writing I can be the lone cowpoke or a lead buckaroo. A community of writers is dynamic, and together we make a bigger footprint in the writing world. My long projects are, well, long so collaborative short projects keep me going. I hope you find something here, too that gives you purpose in being here.

At the heart of the community is taking time each week to interact, play and think. You all make me think. And I like thinking.

Which is why I walked up a rain gutter to listen to a scientist speak on the world-class mineral collection at Michigan Tech for a program called Science on Tap — a pub crawl with scientists. Four more blocks in the rain and we arrive to hear a second presentation on the shipwrecks of Lake Superior and here’s where science bent my brain. First, an oceanographer stands before us declaring the Great Lakes “inland seas.” He explains ocean currents and government funding; how he has to explain science to a current administration not keen on it.

Then, he tell us we can see with our ears.

I’m all ears. Show me…And he does. Through a series of slides he shows us photos taken at sunset, elongating shadows. He points out optical illusions, and how to see beyond. Then he shows us slides of Lake Superior where it’s so deep it’s always dark in her ice water mansion where thousands of ships have wrecked. You can’t see those depths with a camera, but with sonar you can create a picture of light and shadow. Sound makes an acoustic image of many historic wrecks on the lake (cue Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of Edmunds Fitzgerald).

“Superior, they say, never gives up her dead…” And it’s estimated that more than 30,000 lives have been lost in this lake. This is why the scientists do not sound map more recent wrecks like the Edmunds Fitzgerald — not only is it an iron ore ship busted in half on the deep floor of Lake Superior, it’s also the grave of 29 men with family who yet live. In our collective psyche, we all think of Lightfoot’s song in this region, the scientist even admits to owning the musician’s collection of albums. Where science doesn’t go out of respect for the recent dead, our imaginations do. Art and science help each other to see.

Scientists have sent down dive teams on other wrecks they’ve discovered through the sight of sonar. In 1895, divers identified one of the wrecks as a coal ship struck and sunk by a steamer in thick fog. Four crew died in that wreck and the legs of one can still be seen poking out from spilled coal of the shattered hull. During WWI, the French worked on secret mine-sweepers in Thunder Bay (Lake Superior on the Canadian side). Two ships were lost in a November blizzard on Lake Superior without any clue of where. Two captains and 76 men disappeared. The search with sonar continues.

As writers we create images with words to tell these stories, to show these stories. Sound is often a sense overlooked in the craft of creating that image. It’s intriguing to think of how sound can map an action, character, tone or scene. Can we use sonar, sound navigation, to make a flash fiction? It might be difficult, but the art and science is there to push us to try.

August 3, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) use sound to create a story. Just as you might “see” a scene unfold, think about how it might sound. Even one sound to set the tone is okay. Go where you hear the prompt lead. Feel free to experiment.

Respond by August 8, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published August 9). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

A Grating Sound (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Gears ground when the all-terrain vehicle powered up the slope. Danni heard Evelyn shout, “Giddy-up, Mule! Haw! Haw!” The revving engine faded, and a drone of voices washed over Danni like white noise. She studied the sonar graphs, puzzling over the dark features buried four feet below the Kansas clay. Trowels scraped, volunteers called to one another and the porta-potty door slammed intermittently. Danni focused. The active noises blurred.

“I’m a gardener!” A high-pitched voice like nails on a chalkboard.

Danni grit her teeth hard enough to hear enamel chip. A child. Who brought a child to her dig?

###

July 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

Crystalline waves slap behind my knees. A copper sun sinks slowly toward the horizon, extending sunset from about 8 to 10 p.m. The best time to catch the waves at Calumet Water Works, a public park and beach on Lake Superior, is around 7. If the waves roll just right, they act as a lens to the tumbled rock beneath the surface of clear water that has not a trace of sediment, algae or vegetation. Pure water, fresh water from ancient and icy depths.

Agates bring me here like a junkie looking for a hit. Just one more rock.

Beachcombers walk the long evening in either direction: dogs stroll and children in rubber boots and neon swimsuits dart along the shore like tropical fish. Serious rock-hounds lug buckets and agate scoopers, quickly scanning the wave-saturated edges for glints of agates among the red and black basalt, broken and tumbled smooth into goose eggs. The agates and other stones of interest are marble-sized or smaller, each year decreasing in population. Agates have no mating cycle in geology.

How to find an agate: go to where they are found and look. Rock-hounds can’t tell you how to develop an eye for them, but you can learn tips: look for luster, look for quartz. What does that mean exactly? If you were in your yoga pants and rock shoes, and me in mine, we’d go to the edge together and I’d pick up several rocks of white to show you — this is dull, like a teacher’s stub of chalk. It’s limestone. But it could be chert if it’s glassier, like this one. See? That’s luster. Chert is silica, but fine grained and opaque.

See that one, glinting white as a wave recedes? That’s nice. No, not gneiss… I mean, it’s nice and all, pretty, but it’s not that secondary metamorphic rock. Let me see. Hmm, yes, it’s a granite, has quartz but that’s not the quartz we’re looking for. The shiny you see is mica. It’s a mineral that forms in flakes. The black spots are hornblend. Sometimes you can see pink crystal faces and that’s feldspar. This is granite. Not gneiss, not schist. Don’t take schist for granite.

Ah, here’s a possibility, a white robin’s egg just rolled up with that wave. Catch it before it rolls back down! Let’s look at it. Nope. Toss it back it’s calcite. Lots of calcite and zeolites on this beach. They are silica, too. Quartz is silica. Different heat and pressure results in different grains (crystals) or lack of them, smooth like glass. Calcite is softer and has less luster than quartz. Here’s one: see how translucent it is? If we were lucky and this were an agate you would see distinct rings or bands. I found one white agate with a delicate banded eye of apricot. Exquisite but the size of my thumbnail.

My daughter — she picked up this massive caramel agate of banded chert the size of a fat fig. She’s got an eye. She and her hubby also have matching geology degrees. He has his masters. Seems like the more a geologist masters the more he says, maybe. As in, maybe that’s Thompsonite. I find lots of pretty maybes that glow when wet but dull when dry. Kind of like writing — when it’s fresh with wet ink it’s an agate of a scene. Dry it becomes a maybe page.

We’ve only learned about luster, quartz and white rocks to look for tonight. I forgot to mention that you should look for odd shapes, the not-quite-marbles. If dull they could be fossilized limestone of honeycomb coral. I have a terrific eye for fossils, maybe because I rock-hounded on Mars and in Nevada and Montana where inland seas left fossilized coral beds. I once found a coral fossil the size of a economy car. A gold mining company had left it behind in an abandoned pit because fossils aren’t currency.

The Industrial Age drove the copper miners to seek the webs of shiny copper formed in and on quartz of the Keweenaw. They dug deep and long, mining since the Cliff Mine founded in 1836. No one can say for certain why the copper formed here. Perhaps alien spiders spewing webs of copper or God’s game of where-did-the-Almighty-hide-that-mineral? Junkies have come to this beach before me, looking to get a rush from the naturally sluiced rocks found here, chasing down their origins.

Rock-hounds say the motherlode of agate is off the shore and if you’re serious you should buy scuba gear. I’m tempted. Maybe I can snorkel. Oh, look — this one is covered in fiery copper strands as thin as silk, the color of the last spill of molten metal from the sun on water. The copper is subtle. It’s hard to say what to look for; hard to say what to write. But the more you show up to the beach and the page, the better your chances of finding a crystalline wonder. Develop your eye for it. And don’t mind the slap of cold waves or the constant grind of rocks. It’s natural.

July 27, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the word crystalline. It can be used in typical forms or in creative ways (like the name of a town). What meaning does it hold for the story or character(s)? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by August 1, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published August 2). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Clearly a Party Site (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni crouched and considered the crystalline structure of the rock in her hand. The lab had scoured Kansas clay from its coarse features. Pink. Granite. Not the Woodland sandstone hearth she had expected to find at this depth. What did it mean? She glanced at the identified bones – beaver, deer, elk.

“Dr. Gordon?” One of the Lawrence students approached, sweaty after a humid day of trowel-work. “Wanted to invite you to a pig roast this weekend.”

“Pig roast?”

“Yeah, my uncle’s a pit-master”

“A pit…It’s a pit not a hearth! Ha! We’ve discovered a thousand year old BBQ site!”

###

Raw Literature: I Hate Writing

According to her Goodreads bio, Dorothy Parker was: …an American writer and poet best known for her caustic wit, wisecracks, and sharp eye for 20th century urban foibles.” Among her better known quotes is one I often think about because it alludes to writers not really liking the act of writing. She caustically says of her own career, “I hate writing, I love having written.”

I do not hate writing.

You will not find me among the harvesters, breathing a sigh of relief that the work is done, the fields are empty and the yields are in. Dorothy likely said what she did as a jab because some authors like the ego-boost of a book without appreciation for the pen-work. And yet, I know how muddy writing can be.

You can be a writer and still hate elements of the job. For 11 years I had a job I loved more than any other, yet some days I loathed the stresses that came with it — competing deadlines, miscommunications, budget constraints, office politics. Do you ever feel stressed by writing?

At times I can go too deep; dive into a pool without a bottom or stay under longer than I have breath. Or I bring up scenes to the surface of the page certain they are brilliant agates only to realize as they dry they are ordinary stones in need of polish. Sometimes I write with cascading emotions in mind and it reads back flat. Mostly my writing stresses emerge with revision coupled with the fact that no matter how much book knowledge one might have about writing a novel, the experience of taking on a long-term project is all hands on keys.

I love writing. I write every day. I stare at raptors circling overhead, listen to waves crackle pebbles on shore or plunge my hands into warm dishwater and think of writing. I pre-write in my head the way a gambler might count cards. It’s ongoing, quick, automatic. Writing one WIP leads to breakthroughs on another. Forcing a 99-word paragraph to summarize an essay helps me break free of a plodding structure. I often wonder if friends cringe when I comment on Facebook because I want to write something meaningful. I’m terrible at small-talk, prefering to discuss deep perspective and share observations. I want to hear from your soul, not your shallow memes of the day.

Maybe my epitaph will read, “She has finally written.” Written is past tense, done, over. I am writing, and will do so until the day I have finally written my last breath.

The reason I’m pondering my writing is due to the introspective work of preparing literary reflections for a Michigan literary artist grant; a Zion National Park Artist in Residency; a new page at Carrot Ranch called, “Support Literary Arts;” and a near-completed Patreon. The latter I’ve been developing since February, and one of the Rough Writers has taken to nagging encouraging me to finish it. This is not easy work and could fall under the “I hate writing” category. But it’s not writing artist statements or impact essays that I don’t like; it’s my own battles with insecurity. Am I enough? No matter what the black dog might want to answer, I have to stand on affirmative ground — I am a writer. I am writing. I am enough.

Could my writing be better? You bet! We never stop improving craft. Don’t think for a moment there will come a day when rainbows fly out your fingertips and happy muses sing choruses with each page-flip of your book. Writing is grand, but writing is hard. I love to dive deep. I don’t want to have written, yet. I want to keep writing, and writing as many things as I have creative spark to craft. Completion of projects and strategy for sharing them is part of the process, but the writing, ah, the sweet writing will not stop.

A confession and a first look. Confession first — I write many projects at once and I believe it would drive other writers daffy to know my process. I began to feel self-conscious about my process, thinking maybe I was doing it “wrong.” Then I reflected on my work history and college experience. My processing pattern has been with me a long time and when I have time and space for it, I achieve spectacular results. After starting college at age 28 and taking “How to Succeed at Studies” and “Math for Dummies” classes, I graduate magna cum laude with a published honors thesis, two novels WIPS as independent studies and as co-editor of the college lit magazine. I don’t write this to boast, but to remind myself that at one point my process looked crazy because I had so many different plates spinning.

My greatest joy is that I’m writing on my own terms. If I were to focus or apply different terms, I might hate writing. And I don’t want to hate what I love.

Now for a first look at the essay that will be a part of the Support Literary Art page at Carrot Ranch. It serves a secondary purpose of providing easily grabbed content for opportunities like the Michigan grant. It’s followed by a flash fiction I wrote about the essay to show you how I often use flash in my every day writing process.

Write raw. Write on. Polish hard. Love what you do, and do what you love.

Value of Literary Art

Often we believe artistic expression flourishes in paint and piano keys. If we broaden the idea to include words as art we think of poetry.  If we consider literature, the greats come to mind: Chaucer, Hemmingway, Cather. And right now, you might be debating my opinion on “the greats.”

What is literature, and can we ever define who is in and who is out? Basically, literature is written works recognized as having important or permanent value. A writer who crafts with words and attempts repeatedly to achieve that designation of value is a literary artist. Therefore literary art is the pursuit of studying and writing literature. Raw literature results from the drafts and processes of this pursuit.

Art is subjective, and we diminish its awe with containment. We also contain artists who create to please. Why do we want to please? Most likely to be successful with our art and hopefully make a living or at least a satisfying hobby. Who wants to be the family member who “scribbles atrocious poetry” or the “weird neighbor who writes until 3 a.m.”? Therefore we contain our attempts and hide away until one magical day we think our skills finally equal our imaginations.

Artists, especially writers, can feel isolated and shut-down by containment. When we express, we feel liberated. We desire to connect to others through these literary expressions. So how do we pursue our work as literary artists and not feel contained in the process? How do we grow our rawest forms of literature, take time to develop what it is we’re creating and avoid critique too early? Literary artists need safe space to practice craft, read stories by peers and discuss progression beyond skill mastery and deconstructionism.

In the beginning, Carrot Ranch was one writer’s platform. Out of a need to connect with other literary artists, the site evolved into a dynamic literary community with participants engaging at will in weekly flash fiction challenges. Carrot Ranch is a giant virtual sandbox for writers of different genres, experiences, backgrounds, interests and countries of origin. Literary artists can jam like musicians do. It’s liberating, and the safe exploration leads to breakthroughs in personal projects, new ideas and improvement in craft technique. This is a shared literary platform.

Carrot Ranch is not an exclusive writers club, such as those focused on shared goals. Exclusivity perpetuates the isolation many literary artists experience. And large social media writers groups that include more writers to connect and share links are often too large for creatively play with words and craft. The community at Carrot Ranch serves this gap, and focuses on literary art as common ground between diverse artists.

Literary artists need safe space to play with words, craft story ideas, explore characters, describe settings, investigate research, and discover what the art has to reveal. Art only reveals itself in doing and interacting. With these raw literature attempts, 99-word nuggets of creative expression opens doors that remain closed to literary artists in isolation. It allows the literary-curious to dabble in the art for fun, or gives seasoned authors a break from intense long-term literary projects.

What does literary art look like at Carrot Ranch? It’s short-form micro-fiction, for certain. It’s playful, encouraging and provocative dialog about the art created or its process of creation. The literature at Carrot Ranch includes weekly collections of flash fiction thoughtfully arranged to express and explore a topic. It also includes the works of individuals: novels of multiple genres, short stories, essays, poetry, articles, book reviews, substantial blog posts, and creative works for educators.

The greatest value in literary art is that it opens minds to unfamiliar experiences. In a divisive world full of information, it’s the word-crafters who remind us of the humanity in it all. Literary artists inspire, agitate, reveal, imagine and reflect the good and bad within us. Literary artists give meaning to life. Consider the words John Lennon wrote:

“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

You might say literary art is the pursuit of happiness.

 Literature at Carrot Ranch (99-word Version)

Words seep from behind paint and piano keys to declare art of their own. Hemmingway achieved mastery in six words. We take stabs at the canvas 99 bits at a time. We (literary artists in chorus) defeat isolation in a sandbox, jamming like John Lennon’s friends, pursuing happiness.

Carrot Ranch, a collaboration of word wrangling to craft, explore, reveal. Safe space to write without dinosaurs deconstructing early efforts or long-hidden chapters. A place where words wriggle free to crawl among brain folds, loosening shadows to dawn’s first light. Where teachers learn from 5-year olds what universal truth could be.

<< ♦ >>

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.