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I’m like an eagle standing on the ice. The thaw is near enough that I can hear the trout beneath claws designed to grab what I need — words like trout populate the pond of my stories. So close. So close.
But the words I wrote populated pages requested by clients. Nothing creative. Nothing literary. I interview board members and vendors. Such as the ice-cream maker who explained the moment she realized sugar was killing her husband. It was Valentine’s Day and she returned home with a box of chocolate. He loved his chocolates and Mountain Dew. But on that day he met his wife at the door, he told her he had diabetes.
This client told me her story and how years later she still has that unopened box of chocolates in her kitchen cupboard. Her husband stuck to a life-changing diet until he told his wife if he had to give up ice-cream he didn’t think he could stick to it. They were chemists and turned their kitchen into a working laboratory until they created a satisfying, sugar-free, dairy-free, whole-ingredients, plant-based ice-cream.
The secret to their company’s success? They made their mission fun. They were the eagles who broke through the ice and found the pond swimming with all the trout the would need.
I was that eagle on the ice trying to figure out how to break through after my second run at NaNoWriMo in 2013. For 22 years I had been writing for businesses and organizations, writing features, local profiles, and columns. I was a professional writer, a marketing communications manager with a thick freelancing portfolio, but I faced the ice — I wanted to write creatively; I wanted to spread my wings and be a literary writer.
After reflecting, as I do every turn of the year, I felt ready to make the literary leap. But how? I knew I could address writers with my professional experience and share business skills and marketing communication strategies. And that was the first stab I took as the eagle on the ice — Tips for Writers: By What Authority. One person read it. I thought of attracting readers through Ranch Recipes after all my writing beat had been local food systems — artisan cheese-makers, food-justice advocates, and chemists-turned-ice-cream-makers.
No, it was time to take the full literary plunge and it had to be fun.
Anyone who has been writing since the 1990s likely knows who Julia Cameron is — she wrote The Artist’s Way. She is someone who shares my love of Joseph Campbell’s work (especially the hero’s journey), reminding me to follow my bliss just as the creator’s of healthy ice-cream followed theirs. Her method includes daily free-writing, a practice that silences the inner critic. After all, we want to play with our bliss, not analyze it into an early demise.
The other part of her method includes a weekly activity to “fill the well.” She writes:
Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish– an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem.
If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked. Any extended period of piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well.
As artists we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them– to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well. (From The Artist’s Way, posted at Julia Cameron Live.)
Understanding that the well is filled with the art — and raw literature — of others, and that creativity is a tribal experience, I sought to make Carrot Ranch a playground for writers. Flash fiction would be the game we played. Nearly four years ago on February 13, 2014, I wrote my first Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge:
Word prompts continue to make for enjoyable practice. Practice makes for better craft, of course, but it also can be freeing. If it’s just “practice” then the writer can leave behind her critic or his editor, and just do the one thing we all want to do–write.
Take a break to have fun, and you just might return to your work renewed with playful creativity. I’m looking for some writers to play with once a week. The game is flash-fiction and each week will have it’s own prompt. Only 99 words, so not a big commitment. You can even develop a blog post around your submission and meet other writers–poets, bloggers, authors, j-students, teachers. If you write you are invited to play. Nothing serious; it’s just practice.
In other words, I had played with raw literature in mind from the beginning. I had no tribe. I trusted the ice would give and trout would be plentiful beneath. I trusted that if I sought the well every week, other seekers would show up. The first to do was was Norah Colvin. Norah’s first words to me ever were: “Powerful. Sad. Unjust. Distressing. Hateful.” I’m not sure those are the attribute of a strong friendship, but she trusted the space to leave a meaningful comment. And she later returned with her own flash fiction.
We all improved our responses. Practice with any art or skill results in breakthroughs. But the greatest breakthroughs came in recognizing the power of the tribe. I’ve never grown tired of what the well reveals each week. I can’t predict it. But I know it’s going to be powerful.
From our earliest attempts at Raw Literature, our tribe became the Rough Writers. We’ve grown and taken on more Friends as writers also seek the well at Carrot Ranch. We are now a literary community and have debuted an anthology based on our earliest 99 words. We launch our book on February 4 with a live Facebook Event on February 4 from 11:00-11:20 am (EST, same as New York City). Like our flash fiction, it will be quick, inspiring and celebratory of the tribe.
On Monday, February 5, Geoff Le Pard will kick off a Rough Writers Around the World Tour. Every Monday will be in a different country with a different Rough Writer. February’s line-up includes:
This is what one reviewer has to say about The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1:
“A fascinating book packed with bright ideas and worthwhile material. I was greatly entertained by the stories and essays and so taken with the idea that I thought I would give it a go with a 99-word review.
Stories of ninety-nine words, no more, no less, little gems from the Rough Writers of the Carrot Ranch. Like wild flowers in an early morning meadow glistening with dew and I, a butterfly or bee, flitting from bloom to bloom, immersing myself in a kaleidoscope of experiences which pass through my mind like an ever-changing dreamscape. Stories of love and loss, victory and defeat, struggle and gain from the pens of talented authors with backgrounds as diverse as their stories. A brilliant idea that has created an astounding anthology, one that you will return to time and again.” Charles Remington, Readers’ Favorite 5-Star Review
You might think that a 5-star review from an independent source before a book has officially launched is tops. But it’s the fact that the reviewer found the well and was inspired to write his own 99-word story. That’s the beauty of the Ranch — a deep and open well for all who seek.
The eagle has plunged through the ice.
Last week netted another compilation of stories as flashy and minute as minnows in a stream. Each week I feel child-like in the wonderment of how stories can burst to life and be told in 99 words. Practicing weekly flash within a dynamic literary tribe certainly charges my batteries.
Literature has three sides. Like an equilateral triangle, each side is valuable: reading, writing and discoursing. When we come together in a literary community we get to participate in all three sides.
And when we practice all three, our production grows stronger. We learn and experiment with new processes; we gain insights from different perspectives; and we discuss ideas that bubble up. It also “fills the well” as Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way,” would say. It means that we fill the well of inspiration as we empty ourselves onto the page.
Each story, comment and blog reflection sparks my creative side and challenges me to think beyond opinion, pop culture and what is. I can unleash my mind to consider what is possible. Which leads us to imagination.
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying,
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Imagination powers the gears in a writer’s mind. Even the memoirist must imagine how memories transform into moments with meaning. Creative non-fiction writers must imagine what the mundane holds. Think of Annie Dillard in “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” who once described her tom cat with such imagination that she turned grisly reality into an act of beauty:
“I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. I’d half-awaken. He’d stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood. Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with his front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his claws, or pummeling a mother for milk. And some mornings I’d wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I’d been painted with roses.”
Often I try to think of the most outlandish thing to describe the most simple. It taps into my imagination, cracking open cliches to reveal our own unique voice. Imagination lets me become something else, lets me see something strange in something common. It pushes my voice to speak creatively as I did in a piece called “Carnival Clouds”:
The thunderheads are rimmed in pink like airy cotton-candy. To the west the sky lightens and to the east the clouds look back-lit like garish signs for carnival rides. I want to ride the clouds like the birds do, to soar on thermals and dip fast toward the pond and pull up again, roller coaster-style.
Writer, Sarah Brentyn, reminded me of the power of imagination in writing in a comment she made: “maybe our next prompt should be unicorns and rainbows.” It was ironic, too because the day she left that comment I had doctored a photo of one of the Elmira Pond horses:
So if you are following me, let’s go over the rainbow this week! Let’s snap the halters off our inner unicorns and let them romp through our writing. Feel free as a phoenix in flames to write fantastically, yet also think of how you can use the fantastical to enrich realities.
It can work both ways–the best fantasy stories (like “The Hobbit” or “The Dragon Reborn” series) are grounded in concrete details. Think of it this way–what sound would a unicorn make as it trotted past traffic on a busy city street? What real place might an unreal creature show up?
Or, how can you use the idea of a unicorn in a non-fantasy story? What symbolism does it have? Can it be funny, tragic or ironic? This week, inspired by a burst of creativity, I’ve crafted two stories, one fantastical and one a continuation of historical fiction (about Sarah and Cobb). And both stories include a unicorn.
June 4, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a fantastical element or creature. The element can include a memory, describe something common as outlandish, or it can be pure, unfiltered fantasy. I can’t wait to see what emerges from your imagination. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, June 10 to be included in the compilation.
The Secret Stall by Charli Mills
“I don’t wanna pick blackberries. Too many thorns. ” Libby stuck her throbbing thumb in her mouth.
“Look, Libby’s a baby.” Her brother Joe pointed and their cousins laughed. Libby headed to the barn. The cat was nicer than these five boys.
“Here kitty…” She could hear boy-chatter across the yard. It was dark inside. A shuffle sounded from behind the farm tractor. Careful not to trip over tools, Libby made her way to the back where a glow in the stall revealed a shining horn.
It was attached to a unicorn sleeping on a pile of quilts.
Innocence Declared by Charli Mills
Sarah stood outside the log cabin, arms folded, watching a blackbird perch on a cattail. Inside Cobb argued with Mary. His wife. Was the man foolish enough to declare his relationship with Sarah was “nothing”?
The word stung. Silence consumed the cabin. Then Mary stepped outside, following Sarah’s regard of the marsh.
“What are you looking at, Girl?”
“There, bedded in the reeds. She’s the color of sunlight with a golden horn.” Sarah pointed at the blackbird.
“I don’t see it.”
Sarah glanced at Mary. “I forgot. Only maidens can see.”
“Are you innocent?” Mary asked.
Rules of Play:
- New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
- Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
- Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
- Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
- You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
- 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.