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Coffee for WriMos: Day 19

Is your spark already smoldering?

If you sign up for NaNoWriMo, then you know all about the Pep Talks from authors that are emailed to your dashboard. I’ve been waiting for this one from Brian Sanderson since I first found out that he was slated for a Pep Talk.

My eldest and her husband have read out loud to each other since they first met. Over the holidays and visits I’ve heard snippets of their books and got interested in reading Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, Wheel of Time.

Jordan has become my favorite author for his classic story-telling abilities and unfathomable number of characters. However, he died before completing his series. He did leave behind his notes and unfinished work with the intention of passing them on to another writer. His widow selected Brian Sanderson.

Can you imagine being selected to fill n for an author whose work you admire? Beyond that, Sanderson has created his own amazing series and characters with several Best Sellers. Yet in his Pep Talk he spoke about his darkest moment, having been unable to sell any of his first 12 novels and being rejected by 13 MFA programs.

During that dark time, one of his manuscripts was sitting unread on an editor’s desk. The following year, when the editor did read it, he called Sanderson with a breakthrough book deal. He encourages writers not to give up. That we love the process, tell our stories and find victory in the completion.

Thought for Day 19:

“You could be writing the book that changes your life. You could have already submitted it, or self-published it. The spark could be starting a fire for you as well. You don’t know, and you can’t know. That is the thrill of being an artist, of working for yourself, and of telling the stories you want to tell.” ~Brian Sanderson

Word Count: 1,567

Excerpt From Rock Creek:

“Truthfully, it grows fainter as it passes us by. Comet Donati,” said James.

“That’s a pretty name.” The cider was sweet and warm as Sarah drank.

“It’s named after the Italian astronomer who first sighted it last summer.”

“Is it an omen?”

James leaned against the oak tree and looked skyward. “Omens are for old ladies.”

“What do the old ladies say? It’s not as if any speak to me.”

“They say that such terrible lights burn for killed kings and slain heroes. They say a bloodbath is coming.”

Sarah shuddered. “And what do you say?”

James raised his upturned hand to the comet. “Thou speaks thy Maker’s praise.”

A clomping of hooves sounded from the snow-covered road. Cob was walking Captain and leading another horse.

“Evening, Da, Sarah. Are you ready, lass?” Cob swung down from Captain and stood eye-to-eye with his father.

“Might I dissuade you son?”

“You may not. What it done, is done and now I must flee. Leroy will follow with his family and mine in the spring.” He grabbed Sarah’s bundle and began to tie it to the saddle of the second horse. Sarah wondered if she would have to walk.

“I cannot imagine a more beautiful place than Watauga, this lovely vale. I brought my children here to make a home. And now my children leave. My grandchildren, too.”

“Da, come out with Leroy. Get out of here before the war.”

“Bah! These traitors who talk of succession are just blustering. A new President. We have a Constitutional Unionist on the ticket…”

“Enough of politics.The west is were we can prosper.”

“Yes, and I hear that Mormons can have many wives.” James looked pointedly at Sarah.

“Leave her be, Da. Mary knows I’m getting her out of this place so she can have a fresh start, too.”

“Do not be leading your family to a cruel fate, David Colbert.”

The two men grasped arms until James pulled Cob to him. “May angles guard over your journey. Your mother and I shall weep in our old age, not seeing the single smokestack of any of our offspring.”

“Come with Leroy, Da. At least go to Tennessee. It’s safer at Duggers Ferry and you’ll have two daughters to spoil you in old dotage.”

“Ach, I’m not leaving my native land. How could I stray from the Watauga River? Who would fish her silver ribbons the way I do?”

“Then mind yourself angling and take care of mother. Fare thee well, Da.”

To Sarah’s surprise, Cob reached for her and slung her up into the saddle as easily as he had tossed her bundle. He swung up behind her and seated her sideways on his lap. He nudged Captain and the horse responded with a spirited trot.

Sarah heard James call, “Farewell.” His voice sounded choked with tears, yet she couldn’t deny her joy at leaving this place. She would be a free woman.

It was hard not to fidget and the night grew even colder. Sarah watched the comet as they rode up the mountains, cresting the ridge and breaking through drifts of snow. Occasionally they would pass a cabin or farm, a coon dog barking in the distance, but no other signs of life.

“Where are we going, exactly,” asked Sarah. West seemed like a grand place, but she had no idea where west or how long it would take.

“We’ll catch the train at Johnson’s Tank.” His voice rumbled in the cold silence of the mountains.

Johnson’s Tank was a start. Sarah had never seen a train and now she would get to ride on one. Somehow she failed to summon the earlier excitement and she glanced at the comet, hoping it meant nothing at all. Yet, it had to mean something. It was no coincidence that it appeared in her darkest hour of despair or that it was still present the night she escaped the damnation of her family’s punishment. It had to be a sign for good. Her lucky star.

Sarah must have dozed off because she awoke, startled to see the light of dawn shining from behind them. They had ridden out of the the mountains and the land before them was rolling with woods and fields.

“You awake?”


“Good. I have to stop.” Cob reined in Captain. “Slide down,” he told her.

Sarah did and hopped to the ground that was wet with dew and free of snow. Cob dismounted and handed her the reins. He stepped a few paces and with his back to her, she heard him urinating. Her face grew flush and she realized she needed to do the same, but how could she?

“Do you have to go?”

“No.” She stood uncomfortably aware that she had to go even more now that she had denied it.

“Just go.” He took the reins from her.


“Pick a clump of grass and sprinkle it with dew. How about that clump there?” Cob pointed to a small bent row of grass in front of Captain.

Sarah looked each direction and finally walked around to the other side of the horses. Lifting her skirts and spreading her knickers she squatted with her back to the horses feeling somewhat shielded. Her stream sounded like a roaring river in her ears. Rearranging her underclothes and skirts, she turned around to see Cob leaning against Captain staring at her with a big boyish grin. “I knew you had to go.”

“Do not watch me!” Sarah turned away, feeling the flush rise from her neck to her scalp.

“It’s natural.” He chuckled.

“For men, perhaps.” She turned back around and glared.

“Oh? And women politely pass on pissing? What happens when you have to…”

“That’s enough!”

“Time to mount up, my damsel in distress.” Cob bowed as if he were a gallant.



Coffee for WriMos: Day 18

Stories are powerful.

A great reminder today from Geoff Le Pard over at Tangental with his post on the chemistry of storytelling. Be sure to visit and watch the Ted Talk with SJ Murray.

It’s Tuesday, so Carrot Ranch also has stories to share from the Rough Writers & Friends. This week we interrupted our own stories with Flash Photo Bombs. Even a 99-word story can be powerful.

Marketers, companies and entrepreneurs understand that people want more than facts and data to persuade them. As you are writing keep in mind the persuasive qualities of your story. After all, the idea of it persuaded you to write!

Thought for Day 18:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~Maya Angelou

And the only way to get it out is to write it out. It’s Day 18. Keep writing!

Word Count: 1,705

Excerpt From Rock Creek:

“You becoming a sharp clawed catamount is not helping this family any, Mary.” He kicked at his rucksack like a petulant toddler. Mary had a mind to give him a strapping.

“And you’re helping your family, how?” She folded her arms against the chill of the late January air, her breath puffing white with each word. She hoped he froze out there on the trail.

“I’ve explained this to you a dozen times.”

“You’ve explained a dozen different plans to me and all end with the same result. You’re leaving me.”

“Damn it, I’m not leaving you, I’m going west!”

“Going west with another woman who spat out your bastard and I’m supposed to believe that at some future point you will call for me to meet you in this undisclosed new home out west!”

“Yes! No! Yes, I’m going to send for you. No, I’m not going with her. I’ll escort her away from this place until she can manage on her own. We are not together.”

Mary shook her head. “That is the most ridiculous story. Oh, we’re leaving together, but we’re not really together.”

“Has she bore another bastard?” Cob’s jaw was clenched and Mary recognized the dangerous pulsing in his brow. He had never hit her, though he punched men regularly. He kept his temper in check in front of wife and family. But they had not fought so much as they had since after Christmas celebration when she caught him discussing the move west with his brother Leroy. Even James warned her to just leave it be and let him figure out his circumstances.

“No,” admitted Mary. No, she had listened to hear rumors of such. Listened to hear any tell of him traveling the trail to her cabin up the hill behind the Shull mill and everyone, including the worse gossip mongers, all declared that Cob was drinking hooch and betting on cock fights and horse races. The opposite direction. “But there’s plenty of nights you don’t come home.”

“I apologize for my drinking and gaming. I know better than to come home smelling like a still. Going west will be good for us Mary. A man can take charge of his economic destiny out west.”

“Not if he drinks or bets it away.”

Cob let out a ragged and frosty breath. “This is true. I’m frustrated with the limitations of this place.”

“So gold seeking?”

“Just let them think that, Mary.”

“Them? Them, who?”

“Mary I’m in debt to Weath.”

“Oh, like I don’t know? My father has gloated over such, and…”

“He’s a scam artist.”

“He’s a scam artist who pays silver for souls. You’ve known this how long and…”

“I was trying to get ahead. For investments that never materialized. This place won’t ever progress. And I bet on some crappy roosters.”

Mary began to bubble a laugh. She tried to suppress it, but soon she was full out laughing. Cob came over and hugged her to him, chuckling, too. “I’ll make this up to you, I promise. I’ve made mistakes, Mary, but I’m not leaving you. I’m going to secure us a better future.”

“And she’s just along for the getting out?”

“I promise you, she just needs to get out of here desperately.”

Mary laid her head against the rough material of Cob’s coat. “This is an awful day to leave, you know. You do know that?” She looked up at him and saw the pain in his eyes. He knew.

“Didn’t mean for it to be tonight but that’s how it all fell out. Weath’s man caught up with me today, Mary and if I didn’t follow through he would have called in his note on the property.”

“What if he calls it in once you’re gone?”

“It’ll be too late. I sold it to Leroy who sold it to Horton who sold it to Coffey.”


“Exactly. By the time Weath chases down the trail of the property, I’m long gone with its value. Coffey owns it, although for the first it will seem like Jack Horton does. We collected on some other properties, too.”

“Did you steal, Cob?” Mary pushed away from him, but he held on to her.

“No, Wife. I did nothing criminal.”

“But you have silver?”

“The value of our property. And the owner will have the land in exchange. A fair exchange.”

“But not for the Frenchman.”

“No, Mary. All we did was scam a scammer.” He grinned as if it was a good thing, but Mary felt like she had a stone in her belly. What if the scammer didn’t like being scammed?

“What will they say about you leaving your post?”

“I’m not absconding as sheriff. I’ve past my post down to my deputy, to Jack Horton. He always wanted to be sheriff. Now he gets to finish my term.”

“What of the war that’s coming?”

“We’ll all be gone by then, wife. This is a rich man’s war. I just want the chance to make my way. And west is where I’ll do that. I’ll make my family proud. We’ll build something lasting Mary.”

“You want us to say you’ve gone after gold?”

“Let them think I have gold fever. This summer, you’ll leave with Leroy and Sally and bring my family to our new beginning.”

“I don’t know, Cob.”

“It’ll work, Mary.”

“Don’t you dare leave me.”

“I’m not leaving you.” Cob leaned down and kissed Mary full on the mouth and then hugged her close. “I love you Mary of the mountains. You are my red, red rose. You are my love.”

Cob opened the stall and led Captain out. “Hold?” He handed Mary the reins while he fetched the second horse, one she recognized from James’ barn. He tied down the rucksack on the horse. “Would you ask Monroe to come out. I want to give him something before I ride.”

Mary stared at him, as if she could keep his image before her always. Then she nodded. January 26, 1859. It was Monroe’s tenth birthday. Inside the house Julius and Cling were sitting on the floor with Lizzie. Monroe was seated at a kitchen chair with his elbows on his knees and chin resting on his hands. “Monroe, your Da wants to see you.”

Monroe’s eyes widened and he hustled out the door before Mary could shout, “Your coat!”

Throughout dinner, Mary kept the desire to cry at bay. Monroe helped her clear the dishes and she said, “You needn’t help. I’ve got it.”

“Da says I’m to look after you and help you, even daily chores.”

“Well, it’s your birthday. You can rest tonight.”

Monroe reached into his trousers and pulled out a pocket knife. Mary recognized it as the one that Cob received when he became general of musters at academy. He used to whittle wood with it at the barn dances and crow about his service. “Da gave this to me for my tenth year. He says I’m to study hard and when we go out west I’ll continue with an education.”

Mary smiled. “That’s a fine gift. It’s special to your father and represents his own achievements in school.”

“Did you go to school, Ma?”

“I read to you at night, don’t I?”

“Yes. It’s just that you never talk about academy.”

“I didn’t go to an academy. There are ones for girls but parents had to pay more money than my father thought was sensible. Your Grandfather James was my teacher for a few years here in Watauga, before he became magistrate.”

“Monroe smiled. Maybe I can be a teacher or a magistrate.”

Julius walked into the kitchen. “I want to be a fiddler. Cling says he wants to raise chickens.”

“Chickens?” Monroe and Mary asked at the same time and Julius nodded vigorously. “He likes looking for eggs.”

“Da says the west is a place where we can have economic advantages.”

Julius scrunched his face and asked, “Does that mean I can fiddle?”


Coffee for Wrimos: Weekend Edition

I’m a story-catcher.

This idea first came to me when I watched the movie, The Songcatcher, about a female music professor who goes into Appalachia to collect the mountain folk music of the region.  I realized that not only do I tell stories, but I recognize and collect them.

A caught story has to be processed to be retold. Otherwise we are just repeating a story. How do we make a caught story our own? Invite it inside, let it distill and pour it into your words with your emotions and elucidation.

While I am a writer and not a musician, I look to songcatchers to understand the creative spirit of collection. Emmylou Harris is one of my favorite songcatchers. She’s described as a “discoverer and interpreter of other artists’ songs.” Yet she gives the songs back to us with a clarity of meaning.

A story-catcher strives to achieve the same. To take the story and expose its deepest core, to reveal its hidden meaning. And so I am dreaming of such things as I write, listening to Emmylou.

Days 14 & 15 word count: 3,690

Thought for Days 14 & 15:

To live a creative life we must first lose the fear of being wrong. ~ Joseph Chilton Pearce

This is true of our writing. To find the creative heart of our story, we must write with a willingness to be wrong. Editing is about clarity and correctness; writing is about the creativity.

Excerpt From Rock Creek:

Sally walked out on the porch with Lizzie in a full cry. “I’m sorry, I just can’t seem to calm her.”

No one could seem to calm Lizzie. Born blue, she was fussier than Mary’s previous babies. Yet she grew to be a strong and hefty baby. Although a girl, she took after the big bones of her father. Her hair was blond in that early McCanles way like summer-wheat that would one day turn as dark as molasses. Only Julius had Mary’s black hair and only Lizzie her bright blue eyes.

“Here, I’ll take her.” Lizzie laid her head on Mary’s shoulder. She was over a year old and strong, but she still did not walk and she didn’t vocalize in the same way Mary recalled her boys babbling by this time, testing vocal cords. It didn’t help that Cob avoided even looking at his own daughter. Not that he ever had much to do with the boys as babies. It might just be Lizzie’s constant fussing. God knows Mary grew tired of it at times and was grateful when Sally came over, although she dearly missed Julia. In a recent letter, Julia invited Mary to stay through the fall harvest. It was tempting.

“Who’s that riding up the way?” Sally looked with her hand shading the afternoon sun.

Mary recognized her father and her brother Adam. She sighed and stayed on the porch.Her brother waved as they approached, but neither man got off his horse.

“Hello, Father, Adam.”

The men nodded. Adam asked, “Cob around?”

“No. He rode off to tend to business.”

“Games, more like,” said Joseph.

“Point is, Father, he’s not here.” Mary continued to sway slightly and she hoped by the sound of Lizzie’s breathing, she had finally nodded off.

“The Whigs have no more power. Their short-lived ideas for economic expansion are short-lived and Cob is going to have to decide where he stands. With or without his neighbors.” Adam leaned forward on his horse, saddle leather creaking.

Before Mary could tell her brother to move along, Sally spoke up. “My husband Leroy backs the Constitutional Unionists and stresses the importance of this nation standing together in unity, just like neighbors.”

“That’s my point. We need to stand together and be a part of the secession that’s coming.”

“No. Secession is not unity.” Sally had her hands on her hips, but she had no idea of the ire she was going to raise out of her Greene kin. Already Joseph was raising a finger to drive home more points.

“Father, enough,” said Mary.

“I haven’t yet spoken a word, Daughter.”

“I know. And that’s enough. We aren’t going to discuss politics with you.”

“You better stand on the right side, Daughter or you might get mowed over. I didn’t raise any Tories.”

“I’m no Tory!” Sally looked ready to race down the stairs and take on both Greenes.

“Enough! Cob is not here and we’re not interested in barking with you over the politics of the day. Do you want to be civil and stay for supper?”

“No, we need to be on our way. But you better mind your sides, Sister.” The two men rode off and Mary let out her breath.

Sally stomped her booted foot on the porch. “Why can’t men listen to reason?”

“You’re hanging around the few educated men in this region, Sally. I understand that James and his sons believe in economic development for Watauga as much as for the tidewater places. But lots a folks around here see that as interference. They don’t trust it. Even Cob said, the Whig party is through.”

“Yes, but James believes…”

“With what James believes he had better scoot himself over the other side of the mountain because it’s not what everyone else believes. And I wouldn’t trust my brothers if it comes down to fighting like they are doing in Missouri.”

“Then why must we go out there?” Sally looked like a frightened deer.

“West doesn’t mean Missouri. West means beyond.”

“I miss Leroy. I hope he’s home soon.”

“I’m sorry, Sally, I don’t mean to get you worked up into a fret. Cob received a letter from Leroy. It seemed promising. Good land, good water. Cob wants to know more about economic prospects. Was his letter to you hopeful?”

“I suppose. It sounds lonely and vast out west.”

“Well, it beats being among people and feeling like you live with enemies.”


Coffee for WriMos: Day Ten

Experience what your characters are experiencing.

Unless you are killing off characters. Don’t do that. But like a method actor, crawl inside the experience you are writing. You can do this physically–today we drove up the Pack River one last time because the mountains are filling up with snow and soon we’ll need a snowmobile for the Pack. It was cold and I knew I was working on this chill that Sarah gets so I let myself get cold and thought about Sarah. I came home and wrote 2,500 chilly words.

You can also do this vicariously. Never have we had so many incredible resources so readily available to us as writers. I found photos of the Robbins Hotel from the time period when Sarah had returned to North Carolina. It wasn’t the hotel that struck me with ideas, but the fact that the hills had been strip-logged. Vicariously, I stepped into that photo and let Sarah’s character inform me what it was like to see her childhood home so greatly altered.

Music sets a tone for an era. I’ve been listening to Appalachian music, fiddles and ballads. Last night I found a 1930s radio show that told the story of the 1850s pioneers and had music in the background of the story. Isn’t it amazing what we get to experience as we have this glorious time to free write?

Thought for Day Ten:

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ~Ray Bradbury

Word Count: 2,549

Excerpt From Rock Creek:

“Watch your step, Sarah. It’s crumbly, this rocky trail.”

“Oh, yes.” Sarah looked down at her battered leather boots. These weren’t her boots. That’s right; they belonged to a great grand-nephew or another. Her family begrudgingly provided for her as basically as they could.

Once down the hill, Sarah warmed up in Mrs. Williams’ kitchen. She liked Mrs. Williams, Jesse’s mother. Sarah tried tucking her boy-boots beneath her chair, desperately wishing that her dress were longer. Mrs. Williams looked neat and tidy, her dress ironed, her collar crisp. Sarah always kept herself neat and tidy, but she couldn’t seem to remember where she put her hair pins. ”I’m so sorry. My hair is undone.”

Mrs. Williams smiled and fetched a brush and a tin of hair pins. “Sarah, you have such beautiful thick hair. All snowy white.” She carefully brushed Sarah’s hair. “What color was it, dear?”

“Chestnut brown.” That’s what Cob called it. Like the color of a chestnut horse. But it was Mary’s black, inky locks, her pale skin carefully kept from the sun and her blue eyes that were darker than hers that Cob preferred. Sarah’s eyes were more periwinkle, and Mary’s indigo. She felt like she was washed out in Mary’s shadow. He danced with her that night. By the following February, Cob married 15-year old Mary Greene. He was just 19 and Sarah was only 13, nothing worthy of notice. By the time he was 21, Cob was elected the first sheriff of Watauga County, North Carolina. The Sheriff rode his blood bay Captain everywhere. Sarah still watched him and listened for the pounding hooves. It wasn’t until she was 22 that Sarah caught his attention.

Pinning her hair carefully, Mrs. Williams patted the bun and said, “Done. It’s so thick, even now. I’m sure it was beautiful, all chestnut brown.” She smiled down at Sarah.

Voices from the porch announced Jesse had returned with Luna. Sarah stiffened. Mrs. Williams told her to wait and left the kitchen.

“She wants to be in her cabin.” Sarah could tell by the tone that it was Luna speaking.

Mrs.Williams kept her voice low and even. “That’s not a cabin, it’s a dirty shack and not fit for habitation. Especially in this cold.

“I know your family means well, but you are butting into my family’s business. Aunt Sarah was offered a room in our home and she refused it.”

Sarah heard Jesse ask, “The pantry?”

Luna would not like that she told. She didn’t mean to. Jesse was a clever girl and asked so many questions that Sarah had difficulty keeping track of her answers. Some things she wasn’t to tell. Blood in her hair? She didn’t tell them about the blood in her hair, did she?

“It’s the largest room we have available and the cot fit in there just fine.”

“Well, we have a lovely guest room and we will even take on the expenses of caring for Sarah. When is the last time she’s seen a doctor?”

“Old woman’s healthy as a horse. And no need. She’s our kin and you’d be setting tongues to wagging if you took her in.”

“She has a birthday coming up. She and Jesse share a birthday, you know. She’s going to be 98. She should see a doctor and be kept warm and comfortable.”

“You’re after her money. Well, you can’t have it. She’ll remember where she buried it. By the cabin and that’s our property so don’t be nosing up the mountain with shovels.”

Sarah couldn’t remember the money. Luna kept asking her about it. Threatened to twist her arm even, if she didn’t tell. She had no money. If she had money she would have never returned to this place where the Shulls and the Greenes never forgot her sin.

The kitchen door flung open. It was Luna standing in the door frame, frowning. “Get up, Aunt Sarah. We have a room at the hotel for you.”

Sarah got up and followed Luna out the door. Why was Jesse crying and hugging her mother? She didn’t hear Luna say anything mean. But Luna did have a saber for a tongue. Sarah thanked Mrs. Williams. Did she eat dinner? She couldn’t remember. She followed Luna back to the Robbins Hotel. Instead of going inside, Luna led her to the shed. It was dark but Sarah could see a bed in the back. A chair and a table, too. And there were a few more of those military blankets. How did the soldiers keep warm with those?

“You stay inside. Use the employee bathroom. You do remember where it is?”

Sarah nodded, and sat down on the bed.

“You can eat when we bring you food from the kitchen. Do not go looking for food. Do you understand?”


“You are not to speak to guests, nor wander the property. Remember, you are a blemish on our good family name. Do not embarrass us further.”

Sarah looked down at her hands on her lap. Those hands looked so old. Cob never lived long enough to have old hands. Neither did Hickok. They both had fast hands and died young. Sarah always did have slow hands.

“When you are ready to tell us where you buried the silver, you can have a a room in the hotel.” Luna smiled an ugly smile. “Because then you would have the money to pay for it.”

“What silver?”

“You stupid old fool! The silver Cob stole from the good people here.” Luna turned and slammed the shed door.

So long ago, Cob sold Captain so they could leave. Sarah carefully pulled out her hair pins and set them on the floor by her bed. She laid down and began to shiver again.


Coffee for WriMos: Day Six

Your draft is an ugly baby.

Face it–writing is messy and that first attempt to communicate the dazzling story in your head is not the same as what ends up on the page. Just like not all babies are born looking like a Disney Princess, your first draft is not going to read like Louis L’Amour or Stephen King. Forget being named the next Shakespeare at the end of November.

Ugly babies and first drafts grow up, and like the duckling that became a swan, your first-draft will become a second, third, fourth, fifth or whatever it takes to reach beauty. Think of edits as growing pains. It’s worth the effort in the end. But first you have to have a baby. You need that first draft.

So the point is, don’t fret over your ugly baby. Don’t drag people to the crib and ask them to tell you how gorgeous it is. Expect a dismayed look or two. After all, it doesn’t make you love your baby less. It’s your baby. Give it tender loving care to grow and mature. Today, write and ignore any negative feedback. Don’t ever let that stop you. This is just a phase.

Thought for Day Six:

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
~Lawrence Block, June 1981

Except don’t tear it up just because it’s an ugly baby. Give it time to grow. Go and write some more. This month is about the writing, not winning a beauty contest.

Day Six: 1,897 words

Excerpt From Rock Creek:

Wild Bill Hickok-McCanles Affair of Rock Creek, NE 1861

“…our honest opinion is that the real facts never will be known.”

~ F.J. Elliot to George Hansen Nov. 26, 1938


“Mrs. De Vald! I know you are in there!”

Sarah ignored the rapping and the yelling. She sat down in the old rocker her brother had let her take from the Robbins Hotel. The seat needed re-thatching and despite her stiff knuckles she managed enough weaves to seat herself comfortably. A handy skill to know, not that she ever used it much, but one that James McCanles taught her long ago so that she could thatch seats for him. It was their fair exchange so that Sarah hadn’t felt like a charity case when he or one of the other McCanleses brought her food to this tiny cabin in the woods. Shunned.

“Mrs. De Vald. I am he who has corresponded so diligently with you. Just a few questions is all I ask.”

In ignoring the man from New York City, she let her mind drift. Rock Creek gurgling in summer, insects buzzing like fairies alive in the tall grass. The pounding hooves of an approaching express rider, the exchange of the mochilla, the entrance of a swift moving stage or the choking dust of lumbering wagon trains. So different from the quiet pines and endless mountains of her youth.

“Mrs. De Vald. I know you were there.”

Sarah stiffened. Certainly this man couldn’t read her mind. Her hands gripped the scarred arm rests. Walnut oil would polish them up, but she had none. She looked around the small room. A broom was needed. In her mind she remembered living here, just her and baby Martha Allice. She made up stories every night. She had no rocking chair then. She used to pace, not understanding why her baby girl fussed so much. Colicky the doctor said. This room was much cleaner back then, back when she had kindling and quilts. Now there was hardly a sapling to be found in the area with the massive lumbering that made her hometown unrecognizable. That it was a town was an amazement. When she lived here it was her father’s mill and store. Neighbors had houses within walking distance, but the forest made it seem more private. Now she could see all the way down the stump-littered hill to the town they called Shulls Mill. Her father’s mill washed away in a flood in 1861 and was never rebuilt. It was 1925 and the families of her brothers now ran the Robbins Hotel in the shadow of the cotton mill and the bald slopes. It looked like a wasteland. It was never a place she wanted to return. She closed her eyes and could feel the warm Nebraska sun on her cheeks. This room was so cold.

No shouts, just continuous rapping as if a woodpecker was attacking the door. It was thin, not like the thick doors Cob once hewn for the ranches he built out west.

“Please, Mrs. De Vald. I have a deadline with my publisher…please?”

Sarah opened the door a crack. The man looked startled, but quickly recovered his dignity. His sloping forehead was topped with a mound of gray-streaked brown hair and was cropped closely behind each ear. Sarah supposed it was a city-man’s style. It did look dignified but she couldn’t imagine Cob wearing his hair like that. Or maybe. It was the kind of thing he’d do, trying to look important. “Be about your business quickly.”

“You are Sarah Shull De Vald?”

“Yes. I am her.”

“How old are you, Mrs. De Vald?”



Coffee for WriMos: Day Five

I woke up this morning, talking to myself.

It’s an affliction of drafting daily: I hear voices. It’s perfectly okay. I know whose voices they are; they belong to my characters. Weirdly, we talk about how the story is going as if I’m the stage director and they are the actors. I listen. Soon they’re taking places to act out the crucial scene. We step back and discuss it.

I’ve migrated from the sleepy warm bed to my office, conveniently outside my bedroom. I pace in my pajamas. The scene “we” are working on is the final climax. It’s the whole reason we’re here. I’m not ready to write this scene, but today I rehearse it and ask questions. It’s important that every other scene leads to the clarity of this one moment. So we chat, my characters and me.

Thought for Day Five:

“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”
~Leigh Brackett, WD

Are you listening to the people you are plotting about? If they were to tell you the story of your novel, what would they say? Imagine having a cup of coffee with your characters. Talk out loud to them. Listen to what they say in return. Knowing them as intimately as waking up in bed with them will do more to fuel your plot than anything. Plot is people.

Do you talk to your characters?

Day Five: 1,811 words

Excerpt from Rock Creek

Then there were other wagon trains that espoused those who already knew hardship. Many of the women wore sorrow on their faces having to leave behind mothers, sisters, precious carved furnishings too heavy for even the massive Conestogas. One woman last week lamented that she had no fine china to receive the soup. Nancy Jane told her not to fret; that the beans weren’t worthy of fine china. Another woman asked if she was going to pass out those fine looking molasses cookies piled up behind her. Nancy Jane turned to look at the chips and told her those weren’t for supper. The woman offered to give her a copper for one, maybe two. The man behind the woman declared in a loud voice, “Madam, those are chips of dried buffalo dung and I don’t think those lumbering creatures eat molasses.”

Despite the delicate nose wrinkles many eastern wives gave the chips, Nancy Jane knew that once they passed the 100th meridian there would be no wood for warmth or cooking. Those women would come to appreciate the plentiful chips although they were not fit for eating. Nancy Jane tossed another chip on the fire and resumed serving beans until all had passed through. If the beans were not completely eaten, she’d used them to soak the next batch. The road ranch owner was particular about not wasting anything. At least he paid her once a week and she was saving up money for when the season ended.

Tending to children on the trail wasn’t easy and sickness was common. Nancy Jane had her own child on the way, but she wasn’t traveling, just serving beans or stew to those who were. She carefully watched for runny noses or feverish eyes. Often the cholera started with the very young or the very old. Sometimes it just started and took hearty and hale lives. One freighter advised Nancy Jane to boil her water even if there were no squirming worms in it. She didn’t want to get sick, mostly on account of Pa. It would do him in to lose another family member and who would watch out for him? He was working in the long barn with John Hughes, fixing wheel spokes or carving carry-all boxes. Irish John, as folks in Jones Territory called him so as not to confuse him with Welsh John Hughes, was a blacksmith’s apprentice. He could fix simple parts and made decent looking hooks for camp fire cooking.

Irish John watched Nancy Jane in a way that made her feel cornered. One day when she had gone into the barn to tell her Pa she was going to ride Hunk into the Blue River woods to shoot something better than what they had in the salt pork barrel, he pulled her aside and put his work blackened hand on her bump of a belly. “I know what you’ve done to get this, girl,” he said in a low, fierce tone, his brown eyes looking like a child who found a hard candy in the dirt.

“I know, too and this baby’s Pa is Russian cavalry and he knows what to do with a bayonet.”

It wasn’t an out and out lie, but somehow rumors picked up after that incident, claiming Nancy Jane was married to a Cossack. She was pretty sure she had heard Eustace say a few things that sounded like he didn’t like Cossacks, whoever they might be, but if it put fear in men like Irish Hughes, then she’d not correct the tale.


Grooving in the Ruts

Mini-cup of coffee for WriMos: Day 4

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionToday’s thought is don’t stop reading.

If you study for your writing–research or similar genre–set those books aside. Let what you’ve read for study work its way into your writing naturally. But do read. Read for fun. Recall what it is that you love in a good book. Engage with a good story, a good laugh or a good classic.

On Tuesdays, I compile the responses from last week’s Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. So these 99-word stories about ruts are my mini-offereings to WriMos to take a break and read.

For a feel-good break, I suggest Nano num-nums with fellow WriMo and Rough Writer, Geoff Le Pard. He’s published his first book which was a NaNoWriMo project, and is working on the sequel this month. How’s that for inspiration!

What do you read when you are doing NaNoWriMo?


Ed and Edna by Larry LaForge

Ed pays the bills. Edna cooks. They’ve never discussed it, but it’s been that way for 43 years.

Except one time.

Edna wanted to hide the huge bill from Watkin’s Department Store. She intercepted the mail, plucked the bill, and went online to pay it. Edna managed to transmit $2,414.00 electronically to cover the $241.40 bill.

Ed decided to broil himself a chicken. He set the oven to 500 degrees, plopped it in, closed the oven door, and left. The smoke alarm woke him up.

They quickly returned to their rut — or groove.

Ed pays the bills. Edna cooks.

The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.


George by Anne Goodwin

Irene slid the prospectus across the table. “Anything you fancy?”

George eyed the whitewashed villas bathed in sunshine. “You’ll leave Eric for me?”

“It’s what we planned. Once you were retired and my kids had left home.”

“Nobody mentioned moving to Spain,” said George.

“Why not? The heat would do wonders for your arthritis,” said Irene.

“And everything’s so cheap there. How much would you get for this place?”

“I can’t sell The Willows. I’ve lived here all my life.”

Irene sighed. “You’re not still expecting your sister to come back, are you? It must be over fifty years.”


You can read her other two character flashes at Annectdotal. Anne Goodwin is working on her Not Quite NaNo project.


No Way Out Part Five – Breathe by Sherri Matthews

Bill buried his head in his hands as the doctor uttered just five words: “Joey’s operation was a success.”

By early dawn and back home, Bill retrieved his phone from the bin where he had dumped it the day before. So many missed calls from a lifetime ago…

He saw it then: the repossession letter on the kitchen table. Bill’s upper lip curled as he grabbed the letter and his lighter. Outside in his back garden, sparks flew up into the dawn-lit sky as he watched the letter burn. Now he breathed.

“Not yet you bastards, not yet.”


Gall, Gratitude, and Guilt by Ruchira Khanna

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonKatie bangs the alarm.

Each night she promises herself not to go back to that kind of life, but morning strikes, and the gratitude of being rescued when she was in the dungeon always springs up when she wants to revolt thus faithfully follows the 9am to 9pm orders without any debate.

She drags herself to the routine while relying on her destiny.

Knocks twice on her door, prior to entering, and finds her body pale with no expressions.

Screeches for help!

Moans when her master is declared dead, and guilty when she hears about acquiring 25% of her wealth.


The Form by Sarah Brentyn

Oliver knew precisely when it started.

The nurse had asked him to fill out a form. That was eighteen days ago. Oliver had forgotten to write his street number on the “address” line.

Now there was a sheet with Oliver’s name on it, written in blue ink, tucked in a file cabinet somewhere in that building. And on that paper was a blank spot where there should be blue numbers in Oliver’s handwriting.

He had walked to the office twelve times with his blue pen. They wouldn’t let him behind the check-in window to write “1397” in the space.


Cornered by Charli Mills

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonAnd still the flow of wagons continued. By day, Sarah took coins from teamsters for crossing Cob’s toll bridge and at night she tallied the income. Cob was amassing a fortune in dimes and silver half-dollars. He’d stop by when he wasn’t building. Last week it was a hay barn for the stage coach company that agreed to make Rock Creek their stop, and this week is was a cabin for the schoolteacher he hired. It all pounded against Sarah–the busy days, the lonely nights. She felt as cornered as the iron-clad wheels that rolled down rutted tracks.


Bee Happy by Love Happy Notes

Joseph’s thoughts flurried with worry until a voice quieted them.

‘Isn’t it wonderful to discover something new; a sunset, flower, a way of thinking? Wonders abound! What have you noticed today?’

Joseph searched for the voice. He questioned the sky, sea, fauna and flora.

Speech came from inside a flower.

‘Empty your mind, my friend. You create the brain clutter of worry, regret, and guilt. You needn’t feed them. Set them free. Open your heart. You exist to be happy.’

Mind liberated, unlearning complete, eager to explore the world, Joseph’s new life brought joy to everyone he met.


Out of the Rut by Sarah Unsicker

A deer run approaches the hiking trail. The sign reads “Do Not Stray Off the Path.” Always the rule-follower, Hannah turns onto the natural highway.

The ground is soft, grass bends beneath her feet. She has entered a dim world that smells of earth and evergreen trees. Mushrooms and wildflowers speak peace as dense trees mute hikers’ conversations. Her body settles against a rotting log that gives to her weight. Her lungs expand as she breathes in the forest. The long chore list forgotten, she takes in the pleasure of nature that is carefully cultivated out of modern life.


Blocked In by Pete

Mills stared at the cinderblock wall. He knew each crack and crevice, hell, he’d even counted the pores until the shadows dragged him to sleep. A shake of the head, then back to his notebook. His account needed to be told.
His pen scratched the surface, then stopped. A wail of agony. Mills rose, his old joints aching and popping. That’s the thing about concrete, it just took, never gave.

He never got used to it, the walls or the wails. And still four hundred and thirty one more days until it was over.

If there was anything left.


Walking the Dog by Geoff Le Pard

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonThe rutted path made Mary stumble; she didn’t mind. Cursing the dog was like cursing her father; good for her lungs and it let her think.

She had seen Rupert. He said Peter was her real father which meant he had an affair before the one with Angela, Rupert’s mother. Oddly it didn’t shock Mary; any more than that the woman she called ‘mother’ had accepted Mary as her own.

Mary imagined her mother’s reaction: calm, practical, no emotion; nothing to upset her ordered existence. Mary was different. She kicked the tyre tracks. She would find her real mother.


Rut by Irene Waters

Pamela walked to the clothes line. The rut in the path caused the bag hanging off her waist to bang her hip with each lopsided step.

“You’ve got to stop doing it.”

“No. I don’t want to.”

“It’s not healthy.”


“No habit is healthy if you can’t stop doing it. I’m surprised the authorities let you do it in the first place.”

“Legal precedent. They had no choice. Bess Throckmorten did it. Twenty years she carried Sir Walter’s head. Carried it ’til the day she died.”

“That wasn’t the only rut Bess had. She was jailed for the other.”


NaNoWriMo Day 4 Update:

Goodbye Sarah Shull of my flash fiction. You have led me to your story and no longer will I toy with who you are in 99 words. Never did I suspect that the biggest project I would take on as a writer would evolve from 99-word explorations. Tomorrow I’ll post the next Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge and explain how consistent craft practice led to a break-thru moment as a writer.

Hello Sarah Shull of NaNoWriMo 2014. Today’s Word Count: 2,030

Excerpt (and yes, it’s based on the “cornered” flash fiction):

The scrape of brake on iron-clad wheels and shouts of “Whoa!” signaled the arrival of yet the third wagon train. Dust clogged the air outside the toll cabin with a throat-choking fog. Sarah kept the curtain snugly pinned to reduce the permeating dust that still seeped into the dark room. It was cool inside despite the heat of day. Before stepping outside, she smoothed back her dark hair, checked the hairpins in her bun and put on a sun bonnet of deep blue calico with emerald green hexagons outlined in white.

A man shouted from outside, “In the cabin, ho!”

First she would need to dampen a small patch of hankie, the material neatly matched her bonnet, so as to have it to breathe through if the dust was too thick or to wipe her face to keep it clean.

Another shout of “Ho,” came from outside.

Sarah shook her hips as she stood to settle her skirt and petticoats. She took a sip of water from the tin cup next to the water bucket and felt ready to go dicker with the wagon master. Before opening the door, someone from outside pounded heavily. She frowned at the ungentlemanly haste of the knocking. While she didn’t share Cob’s view entirely regarding the Yankees, they were an impatient lot.

Bright sunlight cut through the dust to illuminate a man on horseback as Sarah opened the heavy cabin door. “Excuse me, Sir. Kindly back your horse off my steps.”

The man wore a duster and had a kerchief of red tied around his neck. It must have served as a mask because his mustache and chin seemed cleaner than the white dirt that paled around his eyes and coated his cheeks like pastry flour. A large round hat shadowed his dusty face but didn’t hide the surprise at seeing Sarah. By now she was used to the looks wagon masters gave her. If any looked too hard or too long they often met a second surprise—Cob’s fists.

Reining his horse back, the dusty animal tucked his nose and stepped back off of the river rock flagstones Cob had paved at the entrance to the toll cabin. He took off his hat. “Sorry about that, Ma’am. Wasn’t expecting a woman.”

Sarah stood on the flagstones and glanced up the line of wagons. This would be a good day for collecting coin. “How many wagons in your party, Sir?”

“About that. Since when has Rock Creek crossing required a toll?” She could see that he was angry, but kept his words soft. He didn’t sound Yankee or Carolinian. So many people had passed through here since she and Cob took over the way station by the first of April, that she was still hearing the variances of place upon speaking.

“Mr. David McCanles, owner of this way station, built a toll bridge in April this year of our Lord, 1859.”

“What kind of cod-head would go and do that?” He snapped his hat against his thigh, dust rising from it and spooking his horse.

Sarah could hear Cob down the knoll among the campers who had purchased space on the broad flat for the coming evening. As loud as his voice was booming, he must be expounding his views to some soul who shared a different idea. She’d have to handle this wagon master on her own. It was not unlike dealing with customers at her father’s store once Mr. Shull had cut off their credit. She was practiced in disgruntled men. It was the disgruntled women who put up the greater fuss. “50 cents per wagon, Sir.”


Coffee for WriMos: Day Three

Take risks.

Why not? This isn’t your hair we’re talking about. It’s your imagination. If you dye your hair purple, you might regret it tomorrow. But if your character spews purple prose, so what? You can fix that. If you give him purple hair, maybe you’ll discover the meaning of it in a day or two. If not, change it to a somber mouse-brown. Or glistening silver. Or flaming red. Take risks with your imagination. NaNoWriMo is about writing. Rewriting follows so take risks now.

Thought for Day Two:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ~Ernest Hemingway

If you are going to bleed, show some blood on the paper. Risks aren’t just about getting hurt, they also help us solve problems and imagine possibilities beyond what is accepted or understood. Don’t be afraid to write. Don’t be afraid that it’s implausible or sloppy. Take a risk and write what needs to come out of your veins.

Be the entrepreneur of your imagination.

Not to be a hypocrite, I’m going to tell you what I’m risking. I’m risking my story by taking on three POVs. Why? Because I think this is a story that needs to be told from three different perspectives. What am I risking? That readers won’t feel engaged, that the plots will tangle, that no elixir will be offered in the end. Today, I’m going for it! I can always pull back when I revise, I can always rewrite with one point of view or two. Today, I take the risk and offer my third character perspective.

Excerpt from Rock Creek WIP. NaNoWriMo Day Three: 1,809 words (here’s a few):

Hunk nickered as they drew closer to the small cabin and barn that Pa built not far from the Old Military Road. It was called Jones Territory, but it was a part of greater Nebraska. Nancy Jane didn’t understand why Kansas Territory was always bleeding, but no one bled here among the ravines and hills. Pa said Nebraska was more peaceful and that folks weren’t uppity. There were always wagon trains kicking up dust when the season for settling began. Mormons pushed cartwheels headed for some promised desert. Nancy Jane wondered why God would lead people to the barren salt-flats. Jones Territory with its sand cranes, summer bluebells, red ferns and endless grass seemed more promising. Desert sounded too close to the brimstone one pastor yelled about when he passed through. Fire and brimstone, he shouted. Something that befell those not right proper. Pa called him a moral fussbudget. William just shook his head and laughed.

Pa was sitting at the bench of the cabin, his head in his hands, wispy long strands of faded red teased over his thick fingers. What looked like a letter was wrinkled in one hand and held to his head as if it were a rag pressing a wound. Nancy Jane slid off of Hunk. “I got us supper, Pa.”

Joseph Holmes looked up at his daughter with red-rimmed eyes. His wisps of hair looked like disturbed pond reeds. He held out the letter to Nancy Jane. “Look here.”

Nancy Jane looked at the looping lines like inked embroidery and couldn’t make any sense of it. She had no schooling and even though Mrs. Bacon tried to teach Nancy Jane how to spell her own name, the letter was cryptic beyond her. “Pa, I can’t read this.”

“The freighter out of St. Jo pulled off the road to bring it to us. He said it contained the announcement of William’s death.”

Nancy Jane dropped the quail. “William? Our William?”

“Our William. Killed by ruffians. Don’t know about them other boys.”

Nancy Jane looked at the paper with its scrawling ink. It made no sense to her no matter how hard she squinted and tried to find meaning. “Maybe the freighter was wrong, Pa.”

“He walked up to me with his hat in hand and if you know old Bart, you’d know he rarely takes off that hat to show his shiny head that looks nothing like that greasy beard of his. It’s got to be the gospel. Death comes too quickly to this family. I swear I heard…”

“Don’t you say it, Pa! I won’t have you talking about any prairie winds sounding like banshees. We’ll wait for better news or wait for someone to come along and read us this letter.”

Joseph nodded and Nancy Jane clenched her fists. She picked up the quail, tossed them to the bench and went about unsaddling Hunk. After she fed him and the milk cow, she furiously plucked the feathers of the quail. She cursed, realizing she hadn’t started the wood-fire. Inside the cabin was cold and her toes longed for something warmer than the sod floor. She cursed again realizing she wasn’t going to get any new boots.


Tools of the Trade: Self-Editing

Tips for WritersThe fledgling barn swallow careens drunkenly, barely lifting off the ground higher than the dog chasing it. With fumbling feathers it flits to the top of the pasture-gate and clings with wiry bird toes as the dog sniffs from below. Later, it attempts flight again, swooping almost comically from side to side, crashing into a clump of tall pond reeds.

I cringe because I can relate.

As an emerging author–dare I say it too early–I feel as though I’m careening through process like I’ve a bottle of moonshine stashed in my desk drawer. Nip, nip on the bottle, snip, snip on the page. I take a deep breath. I don’t drink at my desk and I don’t randomly edit with scissors, but some days I feel as wet-behind-the-ears as that fledgling bird.

To counter doubt, I assemble tools important to my trade. I feel more like a carpenter when I wear a carpenter’s belt with hammer, nails and level tucked close to me.  I’ve talked about other tools employed in writing such as

When you write, write. But before you call it a book, edit.

Last week we discussed a few time management ideas and broke down editing into levels. When it is time to edit, edit with tools. This will help steady you if you feel like you’re careening when faced with the tower of pages in a project. Think of your tools as guides or training wheels. Even when you master this thing called writing a book, it is because you’ve mastered how to use your tools.

Self-editing requires knowledge and assistance: books, beta-readers and professional editors.

Self-Editing (2)

Books for Self Editing

Writers, know thy language. Before you can write brilliant prose, you need to know how to construct basic subject-verb-object sentences. You need references that remind you what it is to write clearly and correctly. Yes, brilliant authors break basic rules, but only because they wore the basics long enough to make them into comfortable, ragged jeans that they could retrofit into the latest-greatest fad.

This short-list of must-have books for self-editing is American-biased. I’d love to hear from writers outside the stars-and-stripes as to what would be comparable references.

  1. Strunk & White, “The Elements of Style.” Don’t let the thin book fool you–it is as dense as a slice of chocolate torte. Be clear. (That’s chapter 16, by the way.) But know your punctuation, your constructs of sentences. Strunk and White advise, “Be obscure clearly! Be wild of tongue in a way we can understand!” This book must grace your shelf and be your self-editing companion (well, if you are American).
  2. The Associated Press Stylebook. The caveat here is that this book is for media writers. However, most authors–established and emerging–blog these days and the AP Stylebook is the proper reference guide, referred to as the “journalist’s bible.” I use it as the foundational guide for client work, making notes for differing styles or words not included (such as, fair trade). It defines email (not e-mail), farmers market (not farmer’s market) and proper weather terms.
  3. Webster’s New World College Dictionary. This is the companion dictionary to the AP Stylebook. Before I got into editing, I relied on my Heritage New Dictionary, and if I want to geek-out on words I go to my beloved Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology. What I love about my version of Webster’s is that the book came with a disk so I have loaded both the dictionary and companion thesaurus onto my computer. It makes checking words a breeze (even those occasional “chiefly British” words I hanker to learn). Point is, have a dictionary.
  4. Williams & Bizup “Style, Lessons in Clarity and Grace.” If you are serious about mastering language, get this book. If you are in college to study English (Lit or Writing) you will be required to get this book. So, if you are at home working on a DIY MFA, get this book. It’s $50 and worth the expense. If you don’t have the dough, go to your library and work on the lessons there. Bring a notebook.
  5. Eyes. Not a book, but a self-editing tool. Use your eyes to read other writers (good writers, masters, classics). Use your eyes to review your own work. Use your eyes to look up references, not problem areas and learn as you work on your craft.

Beta-Readers for Self-Editing

Why do I think somebody else reading your manuscript is a form of self-editing? Because you need to be in control of this process (unless you are a control freak and then maybe you just need to lighten up). Don’t just blindly say, “Hey–want to read my book? Yea! Great! Thanks!” Be mindful of why you want your beta-readers to read:

  1. Content. At this level of editing you are seeking feedback. Is the plot flowing, are the characters believable? While it is important to gauge a reader’s interest in your book you do need to go deeper than an opinion (“It was great!” or “It sucked!”). Ask specific questions for your beta-readers to answer.
  2. Clarity. It’s entirely possible to have a beta-reader review your book for clarity. This is a level at which you might ask an industry expert to read. For example, I wrote a climate-fiction project and I might send a few chapters to a climatologist or to someone who is familiar with Baffin Island. My sweet neighbor Bessie isn’t going to be the best beta-reader at this level unless she’s a retired book publisher who worked for NASA and visits Baffin Island.
  3. Correctness. I have more than a few Grammar Tyrants in my life who’d love to scan my sentences for errors and bleed red pen on the page. These are NOT the beta-readers I want at the content level as we will only frustrate each other. But they can be terrific proofers at the level of editing for correctness. However, be sure that they can manage focus for a project the size of a book. Most editors minimize their editing hours or else they overlook mistakes. Personally, I’d prefer a professional, but maybe you are lucky enough to have one volunteer or work out a trade of sorts.

Working With a Professional Editor

One valid reason yet for traditional publishing is to work with industry professionals. However, the conundrum is how do you get the professionals to even glance at your emerging book project? Often, you will need a professional to work with you on the editing. Again, you, the writer, are a part of this process.

  1. Find a professional. There are plenty who call themselves editors. I do, but I would never edit anyone’s book. I have zippo experience in the book publishing industry. I’ve worked for daily newspapers, magazines and businesses. I do volunteer to edit as a beta-reader for friends working on their masters or books only if I know that they are also working with advisers, professors or a final proof-reader. I want an editor who has worked in the industry, read books in the slush pile and honed a knowledge based on experience.
  2. Have your manuscript assessed. For me, revision was paralyzing. I knew I needed to make changes but i doubted each one. So I hired a professional who listened to my desire to write a hero’s journey. Not only did she point out where it was working, she also pointed out where it needed bolstering. She also brought things to my attention such as a persistent slip on point-of-view. I would never have caught that and my early beta-readers hadn’t noticed. I felt confident revising my novel project after her assessment and it cost less than two nights out for dinner.
  3. Have your final revision proofed or copy-edited. Again, you need to be involved with making this decision. If you had an editorial friend go over your book as a beta-reader, maybe all you need is a final proof. If in doubt, send a few chapters and the professional can help you decide what you need to polish the pages until it shines like the star you want it to be. Stay actively engaged in your edits and complete the suggested changes. Always be using your eyes (unless you are writing, then use your imagination to get into that flow).

What tools do you have in your writer’s belt? Have you used beta-readers or editors? Let me leave you with a testimonial for my editor in case you are in search of one or want to check out her company.

Testimonial: Write Divas

When I experienced trouble with revision, I sought the help of Write Divas. I chose this organization out of my list of editors because they had a strong and vibrant brand backed by expert posts on craft and industry. They were punctual in responding to my inquiry; affordable and accurate in their quote; and they saved the day with my manuscript, pointing out weak places that needed attention. Before you can copy edit, you first need to make sure that your story is clear, your structure sound and your characters believable. That’s what an assessment can accomplish. I feel more confident as a writer with the feedback from Write Divas, and I’m able to revise without second guessing my changes. They will help me each step of the way to achieve my publishing goals. Every writer needs an editor, so why not a Diva?

5 Reasons to Hire Write Divas:

  1. Because you get to tell your tweeps that you have your own Diva.
  2. Just look at their brand. Don’t you want to go hang out with them? Write Divas are hip!
  3. It sounds impressive to say, I’m a writer and I have an editor who is not my grandmother.
  4. Because now you have deadlines and no one wants to miss a deadline to a Diva.
  5. Besides all the fun, you have now committed to being professional in your writing pursuit.

July 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

Before you begin reading, turn on some music: Mark Isham.

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionOur county had no high school of its own so students had to be bused out of the mountains of eastern California into a valley of northern Nevada. The bus ride was an hour each day, each way. Buses can be socially awkward spaces, especially for socially awkward teenagers, and I just wanted to sit alone. If I had to double up, L was a safe choice.

No one wanted to sit with L, saying she smelled. Despite the efforts of our grade-school teachers to explain certain cultural norms for the local indigenous Washo families, many wrinkled their noses. But she could flash the warmest smile that lit her brown eyes and she’d welcome another reader at her side.

It was L who introduced me to Farley Mowat’s books. Upon his death in May of 2014, The New York Times hailed him as “the champion of the far north.” Through Mowat’s stories, I was transformed to arctic places where wild wolves were less viscous than the people who sought to eradicate them and where I met the Inuit through his compassionate filter.

As a writer, The New York Times says this of him:

“He wrote with great range, from light, humorous fiction to historical accounts and dark tales of injustice, from children’s stories to tales of exploration, whale hunting and deep-sea salvaging.

But one theme remained constant: humanity’s relationship with nature, one in which he frequently cast people as a devastatingly destructive force.”

You might say that Mowat planted the seed for my interest in climate fiction–a genre that explores the impact of anthropogenic climate change. But it would be the music of Mark Isham that fed the seed. In 1983, Disney produced one of Mowat’s books for the big screen: “Never Cry Wolf.” And Isham supplied the haunting score that still can touch me deeply.

Filed away in the recesses of my mind was the note-to-self, “One day write about the Inuit in the Arctic.”  Then in 2007, I was at a conference and learned about Will Steger’s Global Warming 101 Expedition. Through serendipity my eldest had applied for a scholarship to go as an exchange student and was accepted. The following year I hosted Inuit students at my home for dinner. My desire to write about this place and culture reignited.WLMI Cover Concept

Now I had a garden on Arctic stories growing within me. And still Mark Isham spurred me on. I wrote a short story in a 24-hour story slam and the editors invited me to present it. I held onto the potential and let it flower last NaNoWriMo into a project I titled, “Warm Like Melting Ice.” My mock-cover borrows a photo from the exchange students of the Global Warming 101 Expedition. My music of choice while writing was Isham, of course.

Over the years I’ve owned the album you are listening to in various forms–record, cassette, CD and itunes. While it has musical scores from several movies, I equate them all with the arctic. I played it as I designed my concept cover; I’ll play it as I revise. Have you ever found music to connect with your writing?

Last week, Rough Writer, Sarah Brentyn, let her inner Darth Vader out to write flash fiction. Now I’ll hear the Imperial March every time I read something chilling from her. And that set me on this course about how music can move our writing. How it can reach into recesses long passed over to pull out a forgotten story idea that had grown to novel proportions.

Judging by the shared music over the past few weeks on blog posts, I don’t think I’m alone in this influence. So I’m curious to hear your stories this week and, if available, link the music that influenced your flash when you submit it. Youtube has just about everything. It’s up to you if you want to include a song with lyrics, but try to be influenced by the sound rather than the words.

July 16, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story influenced by a musical score.  Where do you drift, hearing the notes? How does it fire you up to grab the story and hurl it into existence? Or is it gentle, and leading you into lyrical pastures of green? Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, July 22 to be included in the compilation.

McCandless Rides by Charli Mills

Hooves pounded in the distance, hollow like ancient kettle drums. Sarah heard Cob riding his leggy blood red bay with main as black as his owner’s thick hair. Only Cob rode so recklessly down the mountain. No one was about the store this time of evening. She was only there to tally the books. Sarah set her ink quill aside, shuffled the accounting notes for her father’s business and smoothed her long hair that was artfully coiled at the back of her head. Hers was lighter than his; ‘chestnut’ he called it, when he had stroked her uncoiled locks.


Written to The Lone Wanderer by Antti Martikainen


Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.