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Rodeo #1: Dialog

By Geoff Le Pard, Rodeo Leader

Writers are notorious people watchers. It’s a small miracle we don’t get done for stalking more often. Part of that idea — thieving we do involves listening to what people say — phrases, the modes of speech, dialect, etc. People convey ideas and feelings with words. [READ MORE…]

So, those pesky rules:

  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit.
  2. It’s dialogue only. Everything inside speech marks, please. (American and British styles both accepted.)
  3. Any genre, time, place, just let us know via words. If you can world build a fantasy, hats off! (Oh, by the way, I bloody loathe the overuse of the exclamation mark. Be very sparing or my prejudices may show through.
  4. It’s a conversation so you need two characters at least. But can you have a conversation with yourself? With an inanimate object? Go for it. There’s a prompt at the end for you to use, but use your imagination. It doesn’t have to be anyone in the picture who’s speaking, does it?
  5. I don’t mind what English spelling or slang you use, just make it recognisably English.
  6. I want emotion, but I want fiction. Not memoir, not a personal narrative and no non-fiction, though dialogue non-fiction sounds a challenge in its own right.
  7. You must enter your name and email with your entry using the provided form below. If you do not receive an acknowledgement by email, contact us at wordsforpeople@gmail.com
  8. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 10, 2018. Entries are judged blind and winners announced November 9, 2018 at Carrot Ranch. Please do not compromise the blind judging by posting your entry before the winners are announced.
  9. Go where the prompt leads, people.
  10. Have fun.

JUDGES (read full bios at SPONSORS)

Geoff Le Pard

Find Geoff’s books at Amazon US or Amazon UK. Follow his blog at TanGental and on Twitter @geofflepard.


Esther Chilton

Whether it’s an edit you’re after, some advice about a market, writing in general – in fact, anything and everything, you can get in touch, and she’ll try and help you. To find out more, visit her blog: https://esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com. Or contact her: estherchilton@gmail.com.


Chelsea Owens

When not cleaning (an infuriatingly large amount of the time), eating, sleeping, parenting, driving, reading her blog feed, budgeting, and cooking; Chelsea breathes in and sometimes out again. She also writes daily on her blog: chelseaannowens.com.


In judging we will apply the following criteria:

  1. Word count: 99
  2. Pure dialogue.
  3. Use of the prompt.
  4. Emotion: does the piece convey feeling? Do you generate a reaction in the reader?
  5. Ideally we want a story, something that makes us think. Where’s this going? What’s happened? Engage us in your tale.
  6. We love any clever tricks, to make us go ‘ah ha’. Include something to make us wonder and up the slippery pole you go.
  7. Just remember, in real life, we don’t say everything, we finish each other’s sentences, we talk over each other. Use that. Make it feel real. Make us hear it, and you’ll be a winner.

And the picture prompt?

Oh come on, it’s me. Wadyaexpect? The inside of Starbucks?

Thank you for entering! The contest is now closed. Winners announced November 9, 2018, at Carrot Ranch.

Dialog Unbridled at the Rodeo

Carrot Ranch welcomes back bull-writer, Geoff Le Pard, as one of the Rodeo Leaders for the upcoming flash fiction contests in October. It’s only fair he goes out of the chute first. Geoff’s to blame/thank for having a contest season at the Ranch in the first place.

If you haven’t caught up on his latest, Geoff has penned another book, Apprenticed to My Mother. It’s a moving tribute full of insight and human relationships. When I first read Geoff’s writing, he was a greenhorn blogger, but his post about his parents captivated me the most. Then, there’s his humor that comes in 50 shades, not to mention his mastery of dialog.

And this ain’t his first rodeo.

In September, we will be qualifying five writers to compete in the TUFFest Ride which starts October 1. Check out full details and dates for 24-hour prompted free-writes. After the TUFFest ride is out the gates with five writers competing every Monday, you’ll have a chance to compete in the five Flash Fiction Rodeo events.

On October 3, Geoff Le Pard leads the pack. I’ll let him explain below.

RODEO #1: DIALOG
Contest runs October 3-10
By Geoff Le Pard, Rodeo Leader

Writers are notorious people watchers. It’s a small miracle we don’t get done for stalking more often. Part of that idea-thieving we do involves listening to what people say – phrases, the modes of speech, dialect, etc. People convey ideas and feelings with words. We can learn a lot about them, such as where they are from, their education and so on. Conversations include accents and tone. We can assess mood from tone: anger, joy, frustration. When we write, unless we read what we write to our audience, our words must convey all those things.

We describe through setting, body language, and context. But strip that away and what do you have? Dialogue. Words shared between our characters. Flat, atonal words, yet capable of revelations about character and mood, even without the padding. That’s what I want. Just dialogue. No descriptions. No ‘he snarled,’ or ‘she cried.’ Let the dialogue tell me a story with the emotion shared by those words.

Do you want to tell me the names of the speakers? ‘How are you, Jon?’ ‘I’m not too bad, thanks, Colin.’ That’s how it happens in real life.

In one way it’s easy – ‘You’re crying!’ But you can achieve that in any number of ways. ‘Something in your eye?’ ‘Stop snivelling.’ ‘You ok?’

And remember those crucial pauses. Pinter was right: silences tell us a bundle. People tail off. I want ellipses. Ellipses? Those three dots … that connote the lost thread. People also interrupt. That little m-dash — is a critical dialogue tool for a writer.

But I’m not hung up on punctuation. Use ‘…’ or “…” as you prefer. If you have other ways to show those tails off etc., go for it.

And don’t forget in real life we don’t answer every question we’re asked. Not answering can tell us so much. ‘How’s Dad?’ ‘Tea?’

People are sloppy. We slur words together. ‘Wadyamean?’ If it’s coherent and fits the context, then I’m good. But please, don’t push your luck. ‘Hijonhowareyoudidyouseemyemail?’ It’s 99 words which are plenty if you’re wise.

Use dialect but use English. Slang’s great too. Swear if you want. People do. Make it real. Make me hear that conversation.

Here’s an example (99-words):

‘Hello, Dad. You ok?’

‘Excuse me…’

‘They feeding you?’’

‘Excuse me…’

‘Yes?’

‘’That’s a tortoise. You said “Dad”.’

‘So?’

‘I wondered. Is he… is it a he?’

‘Of course. That’s a she. Barbara. Her shell curves under her ovipositor.’

‘Goodness, is that even a word? Ha, sorry, you’re an expert. It’s just his name, isn’t it? Because he’s what? The oldest tortoise? Or do you breed them? That would be cool too. I’m wittering, aren’t I?’

‘Yes. I’m rather busy.’

‘Yes, sorry. Bye.’

‘Has she gone, son?’

‘Yes, Dad.’

‘Thank goodness. Any whisky?’

‘In the drinking trough.’

‘Good lad.’

***

My Judges are (TADA) Esther Chilton and Chelsea Owens. Tough but fair is, I think, an apt descriptor of them both.

Esther has always loved words and writing but started out working with figures in a bank. She was on an accelerated training programme and studying banking exams, which meant she didn’t have time for writing, so it wasn’t long before it was a thing of the past – or so she thought. Her love affair with writing ignited again when she had an accident and seriously injured her back. It meant she could no longer carry out her job working in the bank and it led her back to writing, which has now become a daily part of her life.

Winner of Writing Magazine, Writers’ News, and several other writing competitions and awards, Esther has also had the privilege of judging writing competitions.

Esther loves writing, but equally enjoys helping others, which she achieves in her role as tutor for The Writers Bureau. In addition to tutoring, she works as a freelance copyeditor offering an editing, guidance and advice service for authors and writers. She’s edited novels, non-fiction books, articles and short stories. You can find out more about it here.

Chelsea began her writing career at the age of four, composing lengthy essays such as “The Alphabet” and “My Favrit Foods.” Her composition and sarcasm have only grown since, earning her the deference and respect of nearly no one outside her immediate circle of acquaintances.

Her works have appeared in electronic messages to teachers, in the comments of social media posts, and on the backside of napkins slipped into her children’s lunches. She also almost won the chance to be considered in mentioning her story in the list of submissions for a few online contests.

When not cleaning (an infuriatingly large amount of the time), eating, sleeping, parenting, driving, reading her blog feed, budgeting, and cooking; Chelsea breathes in and sometimes out again. She also writes daily on her blog: chelseaannowens.com.

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Rules and prompt revealed October 3, 2018, at 12:00 a.m. (EST). Set your watches to New York City. You will have until October 10, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. (EST) to complete the Dialog contest. Geoff, Chelsea, and Esther will announce the prize winner plus second and third place on November 9. Carrot Ranch will post a collection of qualifying entries.

Raw Literature: Does Writing Need Competition

By Geoff Le Pard

I entered a competition recently. A short story, up to 3000 words with a thriller theme. There was a small entry fee, offset by the promise of some critiquing come what may from a writer whose judgment I trust. Even so, I didn’t really need the critique; I had the story idea anyway; I publish a lot of short fiction on my blog. Why enter a competitive arena? Does it enhance the quality of the writing? The experience?

We are encouraged, as nascent authors, to stretch ourselves. To write, write and write. To offer our work up to publications. To seek out critiques, if not critics. In many, if not all these cases, we are competing with others, at least for attention if not some other prize: acclaim, publication, money.

Do we improve under the pressure of a competition? Does writing to a set of rules make us a better writer? Or are we after the ego boost of someone else saying, directly or indirectly that they liked our work?

In my time as a writer, I have benefited most in two arenas.

First, where I’m offered a view on my writing. A commentary on what didn’t work. What could be improved?

‘That worked’ ‘That was well done’ ‘I loved that twist.’

These are all lovely to receive, but in a sense, they merely record a past success; they don’t drive us to look to improve. The old sporting cliché You don’t change a winning team applies here. If you receive praise, you’re less likely to look to improve what you’ve done. But if the critical eye suggests something didn’t work, then you are more likely to review it and see what can be done to sharpen the prose, eradicate the padding and make it better.

The second is when there is an element of competition involved. Competitions don’t always offer critiquing. But even those that don’t show you who has won and reading them alongside your own effort can be revealing.

Of course, many times the winner is chosen for reasons of taste, genre, an indefinable something but often enough there’s a quality to it that’s lacking in my attempts. Pretty much every Friday I attempt a prompt send out under the Microcosms banner. 300 words, no more. The difference is each entry is judged. The judge gives comments.  You get to see the winners. You get to study someone else against your own attempt. Yes, you could read all the entries and for some prompts – The Carrot Ranch of course! – that can pay dividends.

However that can be a lot of entries and if time is limited, reading the winner and runner-up can be a focused use of that time.

In addition, if you’re going to be judged, there may be, at least unconsciously, a sharpening of the pencil, as it were when you submit your entry.

It’s not for everyone, this urge to compete, this willingness to put one’s ego up for polishing. But try it occasionally, and you might just surprise yourself. After all, we are all in the business of constant improvement and anything that helps that is to be embraced.

All-Around Best of Show

From Lead Buckaroo, Charli Mills

The dust has settled, and the bulls are back out to pasture after the first Flash Fiction Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. From idea to event, this was no solo endeavor. It took a community to dream, organize, support, promote and engage.

To all of you who wrangle words at the Ranch, to those of you who quietly read from the other side of your screen to all who dared to make this contest their “first rodeo,” thank you!

Our Flash Fiction Rodeo consisted of eight unique events that differed in length, prompt and form. Each leader devised their own contest and rules for participation. We worked together as a team to shape the Rodeo, and each leader worked with a partnership of judges. We allowed leaders and judges to enter any contest they were not judging. We also allowed writers to participate as challengers if they did not want to enter as contestants.

A toss of hats in the air to the Rodeo Leaders who showed leadership on and behind the page. Not only did they work diligently to make each event fun and fair, they also rode hard to keep pace with an event that spanned three months. Their counsel, creativity, and camaraderie have kept it all rolling at Carrot Ranch. Thank you, Geoff Le Pard, Norah Colvin, JulesPaige, Sherri Matthews, D. Avery, Irene Waters and C. Jai Ferry. You all earned your spurs!

And a huge Rodeo Thank You to all our judges: Robbie Cheadle, Anne Goodwin, Barb TaubLucy Brazier, Susan Zutautas, Susan Budig, Angie Oakley, Sharon Bonin-Pratt, Mardra Sikora, Lisa Kovanda, Hugh Roberts, Mike from the UK, two anonymous judges in the US, and Sarah Brentyn. Your tasks were not easy, and I appreciate the regard you gave to all who entered.

Thank you to all who rodeoed!

Garth Brooks sings an edgy song in tribute to rodeos. He croons, “It’s the ropes and the reins, the joy and the pain, and they call the thing rodeo.” To me, it’s like the calling to write and be read.

A literary artist has something in common with rodeo’s biggest hero: tenacity. You write, revise, polish, submit, wait for — all in hopes to win that gold in the buckle. The gold might differ from writer to writer. Maybe you want to publish, maybe you want validation, maybe you just want to give your words wings and let them fly. The Flash Fiction Rodeo honors all the sweat, tears, mud and blood writers put into their craft. All who rode the Rodeo in 2017, you got grit!

We hope you’ll stop by the Ranch for some good reading and writing. Keep working your skills, wrangling words and roping stories. Keep on the path you’ve set for yourself. Write on!

See ya’ll next Rodeo in October 2018.

***

From All-Around Judge, Sarah Brentyn

This was a whopper of a job.

Initially, there was a panel of judges. And then there was one. It was supposed to be three and wound up being little ol’ me. But I took up the challenge, happy at heart!

Choosing a winner for this final contest was extraordinarily difficult because let’s face it, they were all winners. Literally. They had all won their respective contests. Also, they are different in genre, form, and length. I was comparing apples to oranges to turnips.

Alas, this is an ‘overall winner’ contest, and an overall winner there must be.

During the past few months, I distanced myself from the contests. I popped in to say ‘Congrats’ then snuck away. Names were removed when I received the final entries.

It was delightful to read these. They are well-written, fantastic pieces. Thank you to everyone who entered the Carrot Ranch Rodeo contests and to the winners who gave me wonderful stories to read. I am honored and humbled to help announce the winner of this collection of contests.

2017 Flash Fiction Winners include:

The All-Around Best of Show goes to:

Rodeo #4: Scars (“Galatea” by D. Wallace Peach)

Congratulations, Diana!

***

That concludes the Flash Fiction Rodeo for 2017. However, that is not the last word. Carrot Ranch is completing an e-book collection that includes the winning entries, honorable mentions, entries, challenges and a few new pieces from our judges and leaders. Stay tuned later this month!

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Please give our Rough Writer’s a debut anthology Vol. 1 a look-see. If you’d like to support our efforts as a literary community you can purchase our book online at Amazon. Soon to be available through other locations (officially launches January 19, 2018).

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Author Bio For All-Around Judge Sarah Brentyn

Sarah Brentyn is an introvert who believes anything can be made better with soy sauce and wasabi.

She loves words and has been writing stories since she was nine years old. She talks to trees and apologizes to inanimate objects when she bumps into them.

When she’s not writing, you can find her strolling through cemeteries or searching for fairies.

She hopes to build a vacation home in Narnia someday. In the meantime, she lives with her family and a rainbow-colored, wooden cat who is secretly a Guardian.

Books by Sarah Brentyn

On the Edge of a Raindrop

Hinting at Shadows

Author Page

Follow Sarah at:

Lemon Shark

Lemon Shark Reef

Twitter, Google+, Website

Winner of Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest #2

Little & Laugh

By Geoff Le Pard

The time has come to talk of many things. Well, only one really. Who won the second of the fantabulous Flash Fiction Rodeo contests hosted by the dynamic, the charismatic, the organic, the titanic Charli Mills.

I had the privilege of setting the contest criteria and, following a theme that echoes down the years from my childhood, I wanted to find the funny in you all. Someone once said, ‘Life is Poor, Solitary, Nasty, Brutish and Short’. Clearly that person needed to have a go at flash fiction; they needed to join the dance at Charli’s Rodeo; they needed to stop looking at their shoes. I mean, feet are funny but shoes? Serious stuff, people.

I’m not a criteria kind of guy. Some of my fellow competition setters had all sorts of rules and stuff. Me? MAKES US LAUGH in between 289 and 308 words. Not hard, huh?

Well, you pretty much all said it was hard. And yep. You’re right it can be. But you tried. 28 of you gave it a shot. A couple of you can’t count but hey, maybe that was the joke. One dudeish kind of guy had a go, flopped the word count spectacularly with a piece of hilarious spam and left us wondering if he (or she, or maybe I shouldn’t be speciesist and genderist and stick with they or it) should at least get an honourable mention.

But this is a serious competition. I mean Charli collects rocks; she might start throwing them if I don’t behave.

So, I fed my fellow judges lime jelly-babies and peanut butter oysters and we set too. Those delightful judges – Barb Taub and Lucy Brazier – had their own unique take on the entries. We battled, and we bartered – I’d allow number 19 if they stopped bighting the heads off first. Eventually we shortlisted three. And then we got really mucky. We dived for more oysters and eventually an arm appeared above the broiling ocean holding a winner…

 

The Bus Stop

By Colleen Chesebro

In 1971, I was a sergeant in the U. S. Air Force, stationed at Korat Air Force Base, Thailand. The Vietnam War raged around me.

Each morning I took the bus to the base. The voices of my military superiors echoed, reminding me to be careful. Saboteurs were everywhere. The Viet Cong traveled freely between the borders. Last week a sergeant had been stabbed on his way home. I trusted no one.

I strolled into the bus stop like I owned it. Crouched in the shadows, was an old man. He stared at me and our eyes locked. He spoke in Thai, “Sawadi ton chaw.”

My fear erupted. I said defiantly in English, “Fuck you, old man!” I gave him “the finger,” my feeble American attempt to intimidate him. The old man stared at me with razor-sharp eyes.

I worked with Thai civilians and knew they would help me. I explained the incident to a group of my friends. The workers exchanged glances as their eyes creased in laughter, saying, “The old man said good morning to you.”

Now, I understood. I knew if I was to survive I had to learn the language and the customs of the people.
“It is Thai custom to show proper respect for our elders,” they chorused. “When you see the old man again, bow and say the same thing to him that he said to you.”

The next morning at 0500 hours, I set out. I was guarded but kept my wits about me. There in the shadowy recesses of the bus stop, crouched the old man.

I approached him with a smile and bowed, saying, “Sawadi ton chaw.”

The old man regarded me with those sharp eyes I had noticed the day before. In the clearest English I had ever heard, he said, “FUCK YOU,” and gave me the finger!

 

Charli asked us to say why we chose this entry; we judges talked about that. Actually, we barely said anything. We were stumped as to what to say. See, that’s the thing with humour. If it works, it works. There isn’t really a mechanic. In so far as we articulated (ha! Have you met my judges? Articulated, indeed! Hector; browbeat maybe but something as civilised as articulated?) why it was funny it was because we knew something was coming, the set up was delicious and when it did appear we all barked out a laugh. It worked. Sorry if we can’t say more, but we can’t.

Charli then gave us the option of promoting, as highly commended, our own favs. We had whittled our list down to three, and we loved the above, so we were loath to go outside of those three. So here are the other two finalists. Well done; spankingly good pieces, both. Why did we laugh? We did. End of. Keep it up.

 

The day my phone turned into a needy surrealist and developed an obsession with otters!

By Sam Catchpole

When I set my phone the task of writing poetry, I never expected it to reveal a secret life full of angst, rich plotlines and otters…
“I hate it when people think they know me
I have been thrown away
It does not matter
I hate it when you don’t think of me
I have just noticed the otter
It seems that there is no such thing as Tuesday”
That could have been extremely depressing if it hadn’t turned suddenly, into a surrealist, near future expose on a world with otters peering at you from behind the impending destruction of Tuesday.
“During that moment you can tell me how you feel
Yes it was meant for you but I am not
Soon I will be honest with the otter”
It would seem that I have been lying to the otter. But what about and why? Was it about the destruction of Tuesday, which really can only be a good thing. Why would anyone lie about that? Maybe it was something else, something I was not sure that the otter could handle. Maybe I was concerned that the otter would indeed tell me how he felt…
I had to find out why I lied to the otter!
“I don’t know what you are
Otters and I have gin and tonic
I am just so ready for a new wildcat”
That explains it, the otter didn’t know about the new wildcat. Everyone seems to have gin and tonic though so I think the honesty went well. I am not so sure about the wildcat however…
“The otter is definitely the best sort of dragon
We need a better wildcat
Don’t forget to check out the other angry bears”
I think the otter should possibly lay off the gin…

 

Flash Suit

By Dermott Hayes

Bullying, Salvatore resolved, can never defeat me but resolve can be a tough and exacting master.
The politics of envy makes people mean and desirous of everything they don’t have and want, particularly when someone has it who they believe don’t deserve it as much as them.

Just don’t ask them to tell you why they deserve it because they become all bitter at attempts to deny them something they now claim as a natural right.

That’s why irony seemed an unlikely saviour but Salvatore was determined to recruit Irony Man to help his cause in his struggle against the bullies.

Irony Man is a modest superhero who dresses like a dandy with the whimsical character of a Limerick poet. His laconic demeanour, fancy clothes and manicures would set him aside.

“So you want me to make myself the object of their destructive derision?” Irony Man, clad in an emerald tweed tailored suit, asks Salvatore.

“Well, yes, or at least make them appreciate the inherent contradictions in their own position,” Salvatore suggests, “so they recognise its true intention and their own negative delusion.”

“I see,” says Irony Man.

Three weeks later, Salvatore’s on the receiving end of yet another lesson in, apparent communal intimidation, according to the report, when his shoes are stolen.

On the night of the High School Prom, Salvatore arrives, bouquet in hand, for his Prom date.

She arrives, in a Cadillac, with her father.

The bullies turn up and glower.

Only until the latest glare of a new arrival makes them squirm.

Irony Man is in a brilliant shining suit.

‘What the fuck?” asks Salvatore.

“I did what you asked,” Irony Man offers.

“How, for fuck’s sake?” asks, Salvatore.

“It’s a mirror suit,” says Irony Man, ‘anyway, I buy all my suits from Goodwill.”

 

NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:

Congratulations to all the writers who entered! You dared to stretch your writing and braved the first Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. Each participant has earned the following badge, which you may copy and post on you blog, social media or print out and frame. It’s a badge of honor. And now you can say, you have had your first rodeo! You wrote well.

We want to share all the contest entries in a collection. We’ll be contacting each of our contestants and challengers to seek interest and permission to publish a digital collection in January. Writers retain all copyrights to their work.

We’d appreciate your feedback! We want to make this an annual event that is fun, engaging and supportive of literary art. Please take a a few minutes for a brief 5 question survey. Thank you!

Raw Literature: Spring Review #1

January 4, 2017 we kicked off the new year at Carrot Ranch with an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers. What marks us as literary artists is not poetry or prose, it’s not genre or length of writing. What marks us as literary artists is creativity with the written word. After three years of writing with diverse writers from around the globe and across genres, I was curious about how we create in our chose medium.

It’s interesting to explore the whirring behind such inventive minds, and understand that the term raw literature applies broadly to what we do as much as what we first write. So far, we’ve had ten writers talk about what raw literature means, why writing is a creative process and how literature impacts other areas of life. It’s a dialog that could continue indefinitely and the conversation grows as we ponder what another has said.

That is why I’ll periodically pause for reviews of previous essays in the series. There’s good pondering and inspiration you don’t want to miss. This week we’ll catch up with the first three essays from guest writers.

  1. Sherri Matthews introduced the guest series with Memoir and What Lies Beneath, and reflects on her initial idea for a memoir. It’s a deep and introspective path to recreate life moments with words on a page. She writes, “But I am not writing a memoir for personal catharsis, nor to air the family’s dirty laundry, wreak revenge or set the record straight.  It’s an itch I can’t scratch, the baring of my soul in a gut-ripping, blood-letting, snot-flinging exercise in pursuit of the real story.”
  2. Sarah Unsicker has temporarily hung up her writing hat to serve constituents as State Representative of Missouri’s 91st District. What an historic time for a woman to be elected to office in the US. While she might not be writing creatively in her new role, it’s influence remains. She tells us in an interview for Rough Writer for Congress, “Literature helps people consider different situations in life with more empathy and understanding.”
  3. Geoff Le Pard jumped into the conversation with a lawyer’s regard for definitions. In Natural or Explicit, he explores the meaning of raw and goes beyond definitions to what it means to feel exposed, writing, “For any work, if we truly want to get that rawness, newness, freshness, we should be prepared for some hurt and not be scared to expose our vulnerabilities.”

Be sure to join catch up with us some more the next two Tuesdays. Join the conversation or consider adding to the continuing dialog. What does raw literature mean to you? How do you view yourself as a literary artist and what do you do with your first efforts? If you are launching a new book, consider writing an essay in this series as part of any blog tours you might be doing. You can share how your published work began as a literary artist’s first raw attempt.

<< ♦ >>

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.

Raw Literature: Natural or Explicit

geoff-le-pardEssay by Geoff Le Pard, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

<< ♦ >>

When I was asked by Charli to consider what raw literature meant to me, I did what all lawyers do (and sometimes I can’t not give best to that training, however hard I try); I gravitate to a definition, in this case of ‘raw’.

One settles neatly alongside Charli’s opening where she posits ‘raw’ literature is:

…first-works. It’s the original material a writer produces in response to an idea, challenge or aspiration. It’s the novelist’s first draft; the poet’s scribbling of a sonnet; a screenwriter’s initial storyboard. It’s a memoirist’s recognition of a relevant story to share. It’s that ah-ha moment when the imagination outpaces the fingers across a keyboard or a tongue giving diction. It’s the writer’s eye on the blank page like a sculptor’s gaze through a block of marble

My definition states ‘raw’ is:

being in a natural condition; not processed; not having been subjected to adjustment, treatment or analysis.

But it also gave me this:

exposed (as in a wound); explicit, in realistic detail

Let’s just note here there are other definitions and that may lead to other debates, by other writers.

Looking at definition no 1, we begin to see why the birth analogy is made. Often it is said we ‘give birth’ or ‘life’ to our work. I think that’s what Charli means by ‘raw’ literature.

But that started me thinking; if raw literature is birth, what about conception? What’s that? In the writerly process? And why is it so many people rubbish raw literature, that first draft, in ways you wouldn’t rubbish a new born?

I think, probably stating the obvious here, that the spark Charli references is in fact conception. That initial idea, that’s the act of conception. After there’s a gestation period, usually hidden away from public view, the idea growing inside us, changing, taking on some sort of shape that warrants it being put onto the page or typed into a machine. That period may not be long but there is a period, even for the speediest of flash pieces.

We may share our condition with others but they may not recognise it in the early stages as we blather our way round the idea. But eventually we give birth to something, we have created some sort of first draft, something tangible. It is more than the mere act of scribbling an idea down, a treatment, a few headings. It has to have some sort of independent existence, it must be recognisable by others as a work, a whole, even if not yet particularly coherent. It still needs a lot of support, guidance, nurturing; it’s by no means the finished product.

It is, indeed, raw. But in saying that, let us grasp the most important point from this analogy. A first draft, like a new born, isn’t shite, rubbish, not worth the paper, etc., etc. It’s a perfectly formed yet undeveloped thing that needs care, love and attention, guidance and support. Much like a new born.

You don’t diss a baby for being a baby, do you? You don’t expect it to be what it’s not any more than you tell it it’s rubbish until it grows up. That sort of parenting went out with the golf ball typewriter and spats.  Sure, the first draft is ugly; so are all babies whatever we say of our own, but so? They’ll grow and, with help – editing if you like – they can become splendid.

Raw literature is that. It’s not the idea, the germ, not even the first note or scribble. But it is the first attempt at a coherent whole and worthy of everyone’s support and understanding. When I start anything, any writing I know it will need work. I may not have much time: a flash prompt may give me 24 hours, a blog post may be programmed to go inside a day or two but it will always benefit from finding some space to spend on it.

That is so, even if that editing changes it so fundamentally that none of the original words are used. It would be an unusual piece, after all, that contains nothing of that original idea. The fact that the words used are different or in a different order doesn’t mean the original had no merit. Individually the words are meaningless concepts – it is only when brought together that they take shape as a work – much like cells. But you cannot reach that final shape without the original unrefined lump of prose.

Imagine an opening: He walked slowly past the shops.

Over time you might change that to: The man strolled along the High Street.

Apart from one ‘the’ all the words have changed but the opening stays conceptually the same.

Writing a book is a journey. We’ve all heard that cliché? As with any journey, the beginning isn’t rubbish; it’s just a part of the process. As Charli suggests, starting on creating a novel is like the commencement of a sculpture. Does that make the first few blows rubbish, redundant? Course not.

But if it’s so important, if that raw lump is in fact a crucial part of the process, how careful should you be in its creation, in that first attempt? Not very, would be my judgement. Of course a pregnant mother takes care of herself to take care of the baby, but mostly the body does the job, come what may. So, with that first draft; let it happen. Do not be frightened by what you’re giving birth to. In the way of new births, your power really to influence only comes after birth. So, get it out there. Kick the inhibitions into touch. Let it all hang and just write.

Which neatly brings us to that second definition: exposing yourself, being open, vulnerable. Is it any wonder we have inhibitions if creating something raw opens us to hurt?

When you start a piece of writing, when you let it flow, you must resist the urge to restraint or you might never reach the birthing point from which the whole process can really flow.  If you give in, you’ll slow the process and risk gumming it up before you have something coherent from which to work.

For any work, if we truly want to get that rawness, newness, freshness, we should be prepared for some hurt and not be scared to expose our vulnerabilities. You know it is said you need to be brave if you are going to be true to your ideas. But how brave, how raw, how vulnerable will we really allow ourselves to be? Isn’t there always something that stops up being completely raw? Aren’t there some inhibitions that you simply can’t avoid?

When I wrote my first published work, I set it in 1976, in a rural setting. The characters included a family of displaced Ugandans with Indian ancestry. One of the main characters, the mother finds herself having to give a home to the Ugandans and is unwilling and unpleasant to the visitors. By today’s mores she is clearly racist; at that time her behaviour wouldn’t have received anything like such approbation (that’s not an excuse, just the explanation).

I was advised modern audiences would take against her because of those views, common as I knew them to be back then. I challenged that notion but, being my first book, felt I was losing the battle to moderate the character as more than one beta reader expressed their confusion over how they felt about her. My original writing was raw, uncensored and, in fact honest but so what? I felt then I needed to listen to the critics and accept their advice; if that was the market, I didn’t want to jar with it.

However, had I not written it, initially, as I thought right I wouldn’t have been able to clarify my own thinking and make appropriate calls on what I wanted to achieve with the book, how it might reach its audience.  To me that early draft needed to have the language, ideas and concepts of the time, even if some reading them would be angered, annoyed and shocked. That’s a sort of raw writing.

Now, four published books into my writing life, I might approach the criticism differently.  But equally I am well aware that I don’t really write raw fiction. Not completely. You see, it is not just the attitudes of characters that’s the issue. It is the language they use, too.

These days I populate my novels, as I see appropriate, with the ‘f’ and ‘c’ words. I don’t care and even if beta readers think my characters potty-mouthed (some do, some even count the number of times I use the ‘f’ word), I know that to be real that’s how they would speak and think and I shrug and think it’s the beta reader who needs to get real.

But would I use the ‘n’ word? The ‘p’ word? Me a white male, a child of a former Empire-controlling nation whose dirty boots are all over the globe?  Nope, I can’t imagine I’d have that courage, ever. I might have a white supremacist character, or just a cowardly bigot who pretends to be open minded but isn’t really; even so I’d censor them for my own peace of mind. That is, I think, on one level a shame. I doubt, even for a first draft would I use those words. Sure, it may mean I avoid offending people but really I’m not doing it because it improves my literature but because I don’t want to offend. Or more likely I don’t want to be thought of as offensive. Cowardice, then. So raw literature isn’t always something to be applauded or indeed created.

So given I can change things, as I did with my first book, in the editing process, why don’t I let it out, in all its gory glory with ideas, words, and characters I find offensive? Even at the outset, when the first words hit the page, why not be truly honest, open, raw?

Because I just can’t. Not completely. And I wonder how many of us are capable of that degree of uninhibited writing? Don’t we all have taboos?  Aren’t we all a product of the societies we live in, the cultures we adopt and so we never really let go fully? And maybe, because we have to rub along that’s not a bad thing. But, as I say, I think it is actually quite sad.

There are some who might say I lack ‘honesty’. But those are the self-same people who will tell a hurtful truth, rather than dissemble because they can’t help but be ‘honest’. Rubbish. Since when has undiluted honesty, much like undiluted alcohol, benefited anyone?

So what about you? Do you agree with the birthing/conception analogy? Or is that overdone? Do you think first drafts are indeed rubbish or merely staging posts in the life of a written work? And can you write truly raw, un-self-censored fiction, or memoir, or whatever else it is you write? Is anyone that brave, or foolish, or maybe just crass?

***

Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

My Father and Other Liars is a thriller set in the near future and takes its heroes, Maurice and Lori-Ann on a helter-skelter chase across continents.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle is a coming of age story. Set in 1976 the hero Harry Spittle is home from university for the holidays. He has three goals: to keep away from his family, earn money and hopefully have sex. Inevitably his summer turns out to be very different to that anticipated.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

life-in-a-grain-of-sand-by-g-le-pardThis 30 story anthology covers many genres: fantasy, romance, humour, thriller, espionage, conspiracy theories, MG and indeed something for everyone. All the stories were written during Nano 2015.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

salisbury-square-by-g-le-pardSalisbury Square is a dark thriller set in present day London where a homeless woman and a Polish man, escaping the police at home, form an unlikely alliance to save themselves.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

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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.

Book Review: My Father and Other Liars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critical Role of Beta Readers

Geoff Le PardLittle did I know that when I slung the “ranch open” sign on a literary project called Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge that I would find some of the best writers in the world. As a Rough Writer, Geoff Le Pard has been one of the most prolific flash fiction contributors, writing an entire saga week by week, 99-words at a time. His dedication and enthusiasm for craft is inspiring! He’s the author of two novels, and joins us today to discuss the importance of beta readers to his second novel, “My Father and Other Liars.”

Welcome guest blogger, Geoff Le Pard, to Carrot Ranch.

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My beta readers have been critical to me: how did I find them and chose them and what does having informed and knowledgeable beta readers mean to me?

I learnt early that no book can be created in isolation. It needs to be read and read by people who haven’t lived, eaten and breathed it for months, years maybe. Even writing for yourself, you will not spot what doesn’t work, you will misdirect yourself over plot errors, character inconsistencies and unbelievable story lines. It is easier to suspend one’s own belief than have others do it for you.

That’s where Beta readers come in. And they are gold dust.

Let’s just get a definition out the way. Beta readers don’t edit. Sure they may spot typos, may be grammar nerds, may be brilliant at spotting clunky dialogue, fantastic at picking up continuity errors but, for me, this isn’t why you use them.

For me they do two things.

Firstly they replicate your final reader. They are the one time reader who needs to be drawn in, wants to turn the page and see the story with the clarity of a committed reader. Therefore asking someone who is a fantasy nut to read a piece of kitchen sink human drama is rather pointless. Clearly countless people read widely but they aren’t always available. Just be a bit careful who you choose because you want someone who has the chance to be engaged in your story.
What you want is an honest appraisal. And that is difficult to give. People don’t want to offend. We read about a number of people who say they won’t post a review for an Indie author if it’s less than 4 stars. Which is fine and grand but would be useless in a Beta reader. For me at least. If it’s two stars I need to be told.

The people who can eviscerate my novel are perfect for me. Sure I don’t want gratuitous criticism but if it’s pointing out a failing I’m not that concerned if it’s wrapped up in brown paper or in nice jolly wrapping paper or unwrapped. I have between four and six people I’ve learnt to trust but with every book I try and involve someone new. You never know. And those who give it a try, often not sure if they’ll be any good, turn out to be excellent.

Because My Father and Other Liars has taken about five years to reach this point, it’s probably been read by upwards of ten people. Of those, four have given it a nod and nothing much more and the rest have done me the biggest favour someone can do a writer; they’ve given their work detailed attention and spent time articulating what they thought about it.

The second use for me, is the specialist reader. With My Father and Other Liars I have really needed expert help.

As I explained over at Annecdotal, there is a lot of science – and especially genetics, life sciences and biology – that underpin this book. I gave up biology in the second year, year 8 at school. When my children had biology homework I nodded in another’s direction. It was beyond me. But I researched and checked and read and listened and I thought I had it pretty clear. But still… Then the Vet mentioned one of her friends who was just finishing her Biology degree at Oxford. ‘Would she…?’ I wondered. Yes she would. Indeed a second Biology grad asked to read it. Between them I had several lectures, a deeper understanding and a much better book.

The second area, which I discussed over at The Daily Echo, was the subject of locations. I moved my story around, crossing the Atlantic. Washington, London, New York, Surrey, San Francisco and Northampton. I’ve been to these places, I’ve developed a sense of what they are like. I feel I can describe them with a degree of accuracy. But two locations caused me some trouble because in one case, I’ve not been and in a second I made the place up and stuck it in the back of beyond in Oklahoma!

Nicaragua was the first of these. It’s a Central American country and I used a real city, Leon. If people have been they may have questions for me that I may well not be able to answer. I’ve researched all I can; my son and his girlfriend visited and gave me great feedback, but at the end of the day it may sadly fall short. I hope not. People who have read the book and have a sense for Central America feel it passes muster but still I worry. A Nicaraguan beta reader would be marvellous (I still have one possibility, but that would be for the second edition!) You may ask ‘Why not change the story?’ ‘Take it somewhere you know about.’ Sadly the story demands a Central or South American setting and Nicaragua was perfect.

Sometimes you do your best and then hope some!

The second location and one I feared for most was the fictional town of Beaumont in Oklahoma. My fictitious Church needed a fictitious home and it needed to be remote, and in the Bible belt states in the US. On a metaphorical toss of the coin I came up with Oklahoma. I read about the state, I did all the usual Google earth stuff but still. I placed it close to the Panhandle and wrote away.

Months, nay years later and I’m asking for some beta readers. To my American friends I asked if anyone knew anyone who lived or had lived in Oklahoma. Charli, my host today pings back. Her fellow in-law – her daughter’s husband’s mother – hails from Oklahoma. Better still she grew up in a strict Baptist environment. Better than that she wanted to be a Beta reader. Joy and double somersaults all round. Paula not only gave me a sense of place but she pointed out timing fallacies, errors in how the local airports work in practice, the ubiquity of the red dirt and the language ticks as well as lots of good stuff around food that added nice little touches to the narrative.

There. The benefit of blogging to a writer in a nutshell. I’d never have found Paula Moyer without blogging, never have got the introduction. My Father and Other Liars is a tale that romps hither and yon; its pace defines it. Yet if something like the location descriptions, just as much as the language of the characters, jars with any of the audience, it’s like driving with the hand brake on. Possible but deeply unsatisfying.

I’m deeply grateful to each and every reader. Some gave me a few sentences but each of those are like rivers of nectar from the gods. Those who sent me pages of thoughts, or a manuscript dotted with tracked changes and comments, I’m both touched and emotional at the thought of the effort involved. You all are part of this project, every one of you. Thank you.

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my-father-and-other-liars-final-for-kindleMy Father and Other Liars is the second book by Geoff Le Pard. Published in August it is available as an ebook and paperback here:

Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com

 

His first book, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle can be found here:

Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com

 

Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls.

Be sure to catch more guest posts from Geoff Le Pard in Week 2 of his Blog Tour at these fine blogs:

Blog Tour 2 poster 2

August 5: Flash Fiction Challenge

August 5Dusk dims visibility along the three-mile stretch between Samuel’s and home. I’m watching a rising blue moon over the Cabinets to the east, feeling satisfied from a Friday night fish, chips and clams dinner at the gas station. Best food and fuel around.

The Hub slows down. “Do you see the buck?”

He’s got the gaze of a sniper and the eyes of a 20-year old with perfect vision. He could have been a pilot. Instead he jumped from airplanes, an Army Ranger, then learned to turn wrenches on powerplants that drive aviation. 30 years later and he still has quick reflexes. Without over-braking, he slows down and we both watch the white-tailed buck trot into the obscurity of tall dry grass in low light.

We missed the other buck.

Well, not exactly missed him because we hit him with our red Ford Fusion, our James Bond car if you’ve seen Casino Royale. Neither one of us is licensed to kill anything. True, we have fishing licenses, but we fly-fish with barbless hooks, catch and release. Hitting a deer on the road is deadly for all involved.

As with most accidents, it happened like a flash of lightning. You wonder, was there really just a bolt of white electricity that reached from heaven to earth? Did we really just hit a deer? Did it fly into the air and scramble away? Oh, dear. The car, the insurance rates, the poor animal…is he okay?

Suddenly, dinner isn’t settled in my tummy. I’m sick with grief for the buck. I feel as though I reached out with my own fist and punched it senseless. I feel guilty. Responsible. And I wasn’t even driving. Riding shotgun, I’m often the early warning system, navigating my husband through a series of safety questions. Did you see that turn signal? There’s a curve up ahead, what’s your speed? Are you watching for deer? Moose? Elk? Do really think you can drive like Mr. Bond?

It’s human, this rush of emotion. In fact, it’s even common to want to rescue an injured deer along the road, according to an editor at the Tahoma Literary Review:

“One particularly surprising theme I’ve noticed gaining in popularity is ‘I ran over a deer (or other animal) and have decided to nurse it back to health.’ The idea here (and it’s not a bad one) is to create a metaphor for the protagonist’s desire to rescue his/her life by rescuing another’s. Unfortunately the premise of the story is common enough that an editor may turn it down just on that basis.”

What felt like an exceptional experience, smashing our hood and fender on the rump of a buck, turns out to be nothing more than a commonplace theme that fatigues literary journal editors. Oh…the editor sighs…another struck deer story

But wait, Mr. Bored Editor. I have a gun.

Shock value? Does that get attention? It must. Last week writers ripped stories from the headlines and even common stories were led with shocking titles. It’s become so prevalent, these headlines, that even innocuous stories are using them to get attention. Consider the headline for the woman who makes dinner: “She went to the grocery store, bought food and you won’t believe what happened next!” The reason news headlines stand out is because they rely upon shock factor.

Does that mean our stories, books or novels need to shock? Put the fear of somebody’s god into another? Show gallbladders and guts on the first page? Guilt parents into sleepless nights? Spank a character silly? And all because editors are tired of common themes?

Here’s a thought. Apply imagination. Ultimately writers know how to retreat into both head and heart space, taking with them the everyday occurrences of life, and mixing it into a concoction that includes what-if scenarios, what-should-be-but-isn’t, characters with ability, characters with disability, ideas, emotion, places we’ve been to, and places we’ve never seen except within our own minds and dreams.

It’s not that we need to shock readers; we merely need to surprise them and for a purpose. Offer meaning. Get readers to understand the implications of themes that touch our lives. Really, those common themes are why classics have universal capacity. But authors of such classics have applied imagination. Go deep beneath the surface when you write and find your voice. It will be the one thing you have over a sea of writers all writing about the same things.

Voice will serve you better than shock value.

This week’s challenge is two-fold:

  1. August 5, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write the common premise: “I ran over a deer (or other animal) and have decided to nurse it back to health.”
  2. But before you write, daydream. Do something out of your normal routine for 10 minutes. Go outside, sit and stare into space. Rest in a meditative yoga pose. Lock yourself in the bathroom. Mow the lawn, or do the dishes. Let your mind wander to the story and daydream before you write it.

In the comments, state if this exercise had a profound effect or not. I look forward to your imagined commonplace stories. And as to our buck, we did go back and found no blood or deer. We hope he is merely sore and has an uncommon story to tell his herd. Our car, well, it may get totaled. We find out tomorrow.

Respond by August 11, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Be sure to check out the updates to the Bunkhouse Bookstore. We have three Rough Writers in the midst of launching novels: Anne Goodwin (Sugar and Snails), Geoff Le Pard (My Father and Other Liars), and Luccia Gray (Twelth Night at Eyre Hall). All three books are worth a read and a resounding yee-haw!

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Good With Animals by Charli Mills

“Sylvia, darling, off to the store.” Mae pumped the gas pedal with her worn slipper until the truck engine rumbled. Lights on, she drove the backroads, carefully.

The store was closed. She had no money, anyhow. Mae drove back, watchful for deer. One smashed the front grill and lay panting on the pavement.

“Hush, now. I’m good with animals.” With a winch, Mae loaded the deer and returned home, dragging it to a barn stall of soft hay. She flicked on the light, illuminating hundreds of eyes.

Returning to the house, Sylvia asked Mae, “Did you get cat food?”

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