Home » Posts tagged 'tips for writers' (Page 2)
Tag Archives: tips for writers
By Irene Waters
As you read this I will be sitting on the high seas, nearing the equator, out of range of the internet so I will start by apologising for what will seem my tardy response to any comments. Don’t worry I will get there and look forward to coming back to a conversation in full swing.
Initially, I was planning for this post to discuss what memoir is but decided that I have already written a post on the difference between memoir and fiction so instead I will direct you to that and write instead on the work of Memoir.
Have you ever thought about why you read memoir? Have you ever noticed that you read memoir differently to the way you read fiction? I know I do. I am supercritical with memoir if I find what is written to be unbelievable. If I discover after I have read a memoir that it is not true – I feel angry, duped, used. I never feel that way about reading a fictional work. We feel this way because we read believing the story to be true.
For the reader, a memoir can be a guide through the human experience. It may be an experience that the reader themselves is undergoing and they are looking for an insight into another person’s experience on which they can draw strength for what they are undergoing or give us an understanding of a different kind of life. We can learn from another’s true life experience as we know these real-life characters lived, and we can get guidelines from them as to how we can live our own lives. For the inarticulate, a memoir may offer expression of what they are feeling but which they find impossible to express. It lets the reader know they are not alone with what they are experiencing. Predominantly in reading memoir, we are looking for how the narrated “I” deals with situations to become the “I” of now. We are looking at identity creation. We are honing in on the reflection of memoir.
This brings us to what I find fascinating with memoir – all those different “I” characters. Have you ever thought about how the author – the narrating “I” is telling his/her story and yet is a different person to the person they are narrating – the “I” then or narrated “I” who is a constructed “I”. There is also a past or historical “I” who is the person who can be verified as having lived but this “I” cannot be reproduced exactly as they were in the past. Finally, there is an ideological “I” who knows the cultural rules of the time. Identity is embodied in all these “I”s that we meet with memoir. P. Eakin said: “We learn as children what it means to say ‘I’ in the culture we inhabit, and this training proves to be crucial to the success of our lives as adults, for our recognition by others as normal individuals depends on our ability to perform the work of self-narration.”
If you are writing memoir are you aware of your “I” characters? I believe this is why people read memoir and why memoir is written. It is the biggest difference between fiction and memoir – the narrating ‘I’ as the present day person who does the remembering and offers reflections and interpretations of the past events allows us to see how the author’s “I” character has changed. If the memoir is a ‘coming of age’ story we will read how one ‘I’ changes to another. In a conversion narrative the ‘I’s will be separated by a chasm. It is not unusual for there to be circumstances where the “I”s don’t like each other or understand each other. This is one circumstance where third person can be used in the writing of a memoir (past tense first person is normal) as it shows the disconnect between the ‘I”s.
The modern way of writing memoir using fictional techniques I believe (and remember this is my opinion) detracts from the reason people read memoir. If you use all show, not tell you are allowing the reader to construct their own thoughts on how you got there, how your identity changed and they lose that important part of memoir – the reflection by the narrating ‘I’. This loss leads to the loss to the reader of the author’s gaining of self- awareness and the impact this has on their identity creation. This is one of the fictional techniques that I am loathe to encourage to the exclusion of telling. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Next month I will look at dialogue in memoir.
Please feel free to join in Times Past. This month thanks to a suggestion from Charli, we are going to stay at school and examine learning to write. Write a post of your own and link up to my Times Past Page, leave a comment in my comment section or in the comment section when Charli posts her memories of learning to write. Don’t forget to put where you lived at the time of the memoir, your generation and whether it was a rural or city area. Look forward to reading them on my return.
Ice crystals lace silver threads of intricate patterns across glass so thin I feel surrounded by frozen cellophane. Any minute I expect ice-spiders to skitter across the glass, adding more crystalline webbing. All I hear is the distant hum of a neighbor’s snowblower, chewing mounds of white drifts, recreating front lawns into winter parking lots.
Then snow crunches and squeaks, alerting me to the return of the Huskies to the top of the deck. The door handle is so cold I fumble several attempts to open it. Two dogs with enviable fur puff through the door, their breath froze in the moment, driftless and white. Everything is white, and this porch is officially below zero (Fahrenheit).
We all rush into the welcoming warmth of the kitchen, quickly closing the seeping snow and leaving the unseen ice-spiders to spin their webs until it warms or the earth shatters.
Lady Lake Superior holds us captive like a Winter Queen in a Fairy Tale. On her blustery days, she forces the lake upon us and I imagine drowning in snow. On Christmas Eve we drove out to a friends and family party, a local Finnish family’s tradition for so long that it’s become generational. Our gracious hostess, an artist of local renown, served us food as if she had painted a canvas or raku-fired pottery.
Many people came and went that night as we lingered close to the table with magic abilities to refill platters of meatballs, spinach puff pastries and bowls of salmon spread. My own offering of smoky twice-baked potatoes dwindled and our hostess proclaimed them delicious. It boosted my spirits to receive a nod from one artist to another.
My art, words upon a page, lately feel frozen, ink stuck in the nib. Tis only a season and this too shall pass. Yet like the hunter, I can’t stop. Maybe the rabbit hunt results in a small mouse, but that sustains me until I snag the rabbit. It’s possible I might cross paths with an elk, and as a hunter, I know that will only happen if I go out on the trail frozen and snow-blown as it is.
That evening I met a delightful artist in her 80s. She lives at the end of the Keweenaw at Copper Harbor. We spoke about mentors and how every artist needs one. She told me about her aunt who was trained back east and highly regarded. She was plucky. At age 15 she rode a bus to apply for a copy-writer job in downtown Chicago, lying about her age. She told me many stories that night, still feeling the tug of writing after decades of painting, and concluded, “Artists are weird.”
I laughed. I think the drive to create also drives us to take risks and experiment. Recently the New York Times published an article, “Why Trying New Things is So Hard to Do.” If artists are weird, then it’s because we go against the genetic code and try new things. As you can see, week after week, literary artists at Carrot Ranch can try to write one thing in a new way.
Flash fiction is an exploratory tool. Maybe it makes us weird, but it’s a response to the passion to create and tell stories.
After a jolly Christmas Eve, we left while Lady Lake Superior thrust her might upon the land. Have you ever been in a torrential downpour? Snowflakes pummeled existing drifts like pouring rain. To stand in pouring snow was awe-inspiring; to drive in it was terrifying. It fell so fast it covered all hints of the road and made looking out the windshield like staring into strobe lights. All I could see out of the corner of the windshield was the faintest hint of deeper piles to indicate the edge of the road.
Once back at the house in Hancock, I asked my kids how they navigate in such conditions. They both responded that you learn not to look forward but to the side to find the road’s edge. I had it right but found it frightening to drive snow-blind. Perhaps that is what it’s like to write — we navigate the page blind to all but one edge we follow.
If the stars ever return to the sky, when Lady Lake decides to pull back from dominating the terrain, I know I have one up there — my wishing star. Even covered, I know it guides me. And I think of this star on the cusp of one year to the next because I believe in activating my wish. You might call it a dream, but it’s not a goal — goals are what you set to attain your dream.
Pretend ice-spiders exist for a moment. Pretend Lady Lake is real and in a giving mood. She parts the veil of gray clouds to let the electric particles dance in sheets of apple-green and orchid-purple. The sky displays a light show and stars burn like diamonds on black velvet. She momentarily resets the night sky until one star, your star, shines brightest. She grants you a wish:
“Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.”
Don’t think, don’t blink, write it down now!
This wish holds meaning for you. Perhaps it’s obvious. Maybe you have to ponder its symbology. It’s a wish made when you thought anything possible. Now I want you to think about your calling as a writer, a literary artist, an educator, a philosopher, a traveler, a missionary. Pick or add what resonates with you. If you could call yourself anything, what would that be?
You now hold two hints to your vision.
Did you know that visioning is a process? It’s a business process and entails more than wishing upon stars. It sets a northern star in the sky over an organization to lead the way. Goals are like arrows aimed at this star. At times when you are not sure what is next for you, realign to your star, your vision. Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, I trained with Ari Weinzweig and his team from Zing Train. From him, I learned how to train trainers, give great service and include visioning as part of planning.
“Begin with the end in mind,” Ari advises (you can read more in his book, A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building Great Business).
If you set goals, to what end? How will you know what success looks like? You probably already do this, but like your wish, it feels private and fanciful. But Ari calls visioning “positive futuring.” It’s a way to innovate and inspire the action you take. Zing Train is a division of Zingerman’s Deli (yes, a small college town deli cultivates business leaders). In 2007, NYT called them “The corner deli that dared to break out of the neighborhood.” And I’ve reworked the training I received and used in my own workplace to encourage writers to do something with that wish: vision.
Three years ago in the December 24, 2014 prompt I shared the following peek at my own vision:
Recalculations help redefine goals. Why set goals? Because if you have dreams, goals become a way to navigate to them. Your vision is like the north star, guiding you along the way. My vision is big and includes much more than successfully publishing novels. It includes creating literary spaces both physically and digitally–places to learn grow, create and recalculate. Collaboration is part of the vision.
Carrot Ranch fosters a literary space to practice craft, communicate ideas and read stimulating writing. Rough Writers are regulars or founding contributors, and Friends are our readers and commenters. We have many friends who pop in once in a while when inspired and others who faithfully read. Together we create a community that honors what literature is about–progressing the imagination to describe, define or experience life. Literature thrives in an open environment.
Join the dream. An open invitation to the Congress of Rough Writers & Friends:
- Help develop a Carrot Ranch Anthology (expanded shorts based on flash fiction, for example). It can be a fun way to explore collaboration and indie avenues from crowd-sourcing to publishing.
- Help develop a Christmas project for next year (what trouble can we write Rudolph into with his visits around the globe).
- Research a possible text or workshop based on how flash fiction can build skills and that college classes or writing groups can use.
Three years ago, I had no idea that my husband’s behavior was sign of cognitive demise, that my best friend had incurable cancer or that we’d ever leave Elmira Pond. I was expressing to the early writers at the Ranch my wish to do more than write my books. I wanted a literary community, writer collaboration, the opportunity to explore independent publishing, a fun event at the Ranch, and a way to teach flash fiction as a skill-building tool.
Here’s where I get goosebumps. Despite unexpected circumstances, my vision stayed constant. Carrot Ranch thrives, my books have progressed, we have our first anthology of flash fiction in Kindle, I know tons more about independent publishing and it’s altered my goals, Rudolph morphed into a Rodeo, and I now teach Wrangling Words as a community outreach course and will debut TUFF workshop in February. Retreats on Elmira Pond took me to bigger waters where I dream of one on Isle Royale and another on a cruise to New Zealand.
I’m dreaming big! Are you? Let it all out — in a journal, in an email to someone or no one, in a story, in a conversation. Dream out loud. Wish. And craft a vision for your northern star.
Like flash fiction, visioning has magical results; but also like flash fiction there’s science behind focusing an intention and writing down goals. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California found that you become 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals and dreams, simply by writing them down on a regular basis (“The Power of Writing Down Dreams and Goals” by Mary Morrissey).
As the year turns, set your goals pointing to a bright and shiny vision. Wishing you all a Happy New Year!
December 28, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a wishing star. It can be central to the story or used in a different way. You can have a character interact or not. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by January 2, 2018 to be included in the compilation (published January 3). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Shoveling Midnight Snow (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Wolves padded across the snowy field, mere shadows dappled by moonlight. Danni gripped the shovel and paused. As loudly as her own boots crunched the tight snow, the wolves passed in silence. Had she not turned to shovel the path to the barn she would have missed the pack. Before the last one merged with the cover of night, he stopped and cocked his head. A shooting star rolled across the sky like a snowball down a hill. Before Danni could make a wish both star and wolf vanished. Would her wish still count? Come home to me, Ike.
Eleanor Roosevelt may have said, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” but when taking courage you also need to take care. Not of others. Of your self. It’s a bit like the oxygen mask on a flight — if you can’t breathe how can you help others?
This week writers explored what self-care looks like. With varying perspectives, this collection offers a mélange of ideas. Read and take care!
The following are based on the November 30, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes self-care.
Blue Moon by Juliet Nubel
She never knew which one to choose. She owned dozens, all lined up in neat, colourful rows inside a shiny, purple box.
Their names were so extravagant – Mayfair Lane, Undercover Show, Pussycat was Here.
She settled for Misty Jade, a colour from the depths of the Caribbean sea.
Slowly stroking the brush onto her short, brittle nails, she dreamt of an island, with warmer climes, where she wouldn’t have to work so hard.
A place where she could paint her nails, lie back and idly watch them dry, every single day. Not just once in a pale blue moon.
Caring for Himself by Michael
The last time I picked my older brother up out of the gutter he was in the worst condition I’d seen him in. Drunk, unable to stand and as incoherent as always. I bundled him into the car and took him home. The next morning, I told him it was now time for him to start caring for himself.
I wasn’t going to pick him up anymore as my family needed me too.
I dropped him off and watched him reluctantly enter the facility. With fingers crossed I lived in hope. He lasted a week. The rest is history.
Flash Fiction by Pensitivity
We all cope to the best of our ability, but just one little thing can throw us over the edge into the abyss of depression.
Enter ME TIME, a must for everyone at some time or another, the secret is to recognise When before things spin out of control.
Some write, some walk, some cook, some eat.
Music is my safety valve, and my Dad always knew when something was on my mind.
Each piece I play has a significance, but Dad would listen as it wasn’t what I played, but the way I played it that spoke volumes.
Free by FloridaBorne
June stood at the kitchen door, eyeing the knife next to her mother’s cutting board.
“I talked to my social worker. I’m moving out.”
“I’m your legal guardian,” her mother frowned. “I told her, ’absolutely NOT.’”
“I can take care of myself!” June insisted.
“That’s not a nice word, Leslie.”
“Why can’t you call me mom?”
“You act like a prison guard!”
Mom scoffed, opening the fridge, her ample body covering the door. June grabbed the knife, plunging it into Leslie’s rib cage.
She stared into her mother’s startled eyes and whispered, “Now I can be free.”
Guidance by Jordan Corley
“Brogan, what are you doing here? Have you been admitted again? The other nurses told me you were doing well.”
“No, no, it’s nothing like that. I just-”
Suddenly Sarah’s door flung open and she came wobbling out, carefully pulling her IV pole behind her.
“Hi Brogan!,” Sarah squeaked, “I can’t believe it’s been a week already! It feels like you were just here.”
“Well I wrote a new song I’ve just been dying to sing with someone. And look, I brought Elf and popcorn! I thought we could have a movie night this time.”
Meditation/Medication (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee
“I wish you’d seen the doctor, gotten some Valium or something.”
Torrey edges up the security line, pulling her wheelie, Lesley moving beside her on the other side of the rubber stanchion. “Don’t worry about it, Lesley. I’ll be fine once I get up to the concourse. It’s like a great big mall up there.”
“Oh! That reminds me! I heard there’s a new place you can get a pre-flight massage, aromatherapy…self-care, soothing. Meditate your anxiety away.”
Torrey barks a shaky laugh. “Or there’s booze, because flying sucks. The world’s most sincere drinking is done in airport bars.”
Party of One by Chelsea Owens
Don’t be afraid of you. Others want to know you. She glanced up; scanned the oblivious guests.
“Excuse me,” a sexy voice said. She turned, her finger marking the text. “I need to get to the bathroom,” he nodded, beyond her.
“Oh,” she said, embarrassed. She moved. He went past.
She opened to another, dog-eared entry. The surest way to make friends is to listen. She moved near a chattering group.
“Excuse me?!” A woman asked angrily. “This is a private conversation!”
“Sorry,” she mumbled.
This was hopeless. Before exiting, she carefully tucked Surefire Social Success! into the garbage.
The Joy of Giving by Parinitha
I am a 75-year-old beggar who lives by the banks of the Ganges. On days I am too ill to beg alms, my wife and I sleep hungry. I try to make my absence inconspicuous, but one day, she tracks me down. “This is ridiculous”, she yells. Every day, I share my food with a homeless crippled man from across the street. The joy of being on the other side of the plate is priceless. It makes me forget my misery momentarily. Isn’t the ability to Give a luxury? Is my therapy of self-care is so bad after all?
Socks for Self-Care (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“Dr. Danni Gordon! Good to see you!”
Danni unloaded her ruck sack and hugged Carly. “Thank you for making homeless vets your beneficiary this year.”
“Anything to help our military.”
Danni had sent Carly a list to broadcast: socks, toothbrushes, blankets. Spread out on a long table, women organized the items before packing into backpacks for the homeless in Spokane. Danni added Army surplus socks to the pile.
“What an ugly green,” said one woman.
Danni explained. “It’s a familiar color and texture to these men. Sometimes familiarity is the path to self-care for those who’ve lost their way.”
Rest. In. Peace. by Norah Colvin
“You really should take a break,” they suggested.
“I can’t. Too much to do.”
“You need time off,” they said.
“I know. Soon.”
Eventually, “I’m taking a break,” she said.
The afternoon sun warmed as the sand caressed her aching body. Her eyes closed. Only an occasional seagull’s squawk interrupted the repetitive swoo-oosh of the waves that jumbled with the office cacophony looping incessantly.
“What? What happened?” they asked.
He scrolled quickly, searching for details.
“Sleeping. On beach. Seagull – ha!– dropped a baby turtle – landed on her head – died instantly.”
“And we thought work would kill her!”
The Accident by Kate Spencer
“So tell me what happened,” asked Granny knitting by the roaring fireplace.
“It was surreal,” whispered Carrie, lying stretched out on the chesterfield with a heating pad around her neck. “One minute I was making a left-hand turn out of the parking lot and the next minute I felt as if I was sitting there watching the accident unfold in a slow-motion movie.”
“Sweetie, you had what is known as a shock induced out-of-body experience. I like to think of it as the Universe’s way of protecting us.”
“Cool. ‘Know what Granny?”
“You’re exactly what I need tonight.”
Another Lesson in Self-Care by Sarrah J Woods
It’s Sunday morning and I’m overwhelmed. The bright sun outside only aggravates me more; I long to be lounging in it. But I’ve got dishes, laundry, and more to do, and not much longer before the babies wake up.
My husband, tired as I am, sits unbudging in front of the TV while I clean—and grumble—around him.
Finally, exasperated, I stalk outside. The air is warm and quiet.
Then I realize: he’s expecting me to do what I need.
And how can he help if I don’t leave room?
I lie down in the grass and breathe.
The Choice by Colleen Chesebro
Painful sobs wracked her body while anguished cries escaped from her throat with an unrecognized resonance. She finally understood that death in its malevolence took what it desired leaving an emptiness in its wake. She knew she needed to survive by moving forward or she’d perish.
Nearby, the crystals beckoned to her emitting an ethereal glow. Meditate, they whispered. Align your chakras and feel your healing life force restored. She sat, quieting her breath, slipping into a meditative state. Her breath inhaled the restorative energy while exhaling the grief and loss.
Revitalized by love, she accepted a new path.
Changing Colors by Reena Saxena
I picked up a cheap perfume from the counter, and was floating on a cloud after using it. My conservative husband found it too strong for his staid sensibilities.
“Why do you need to use this? You own better stuff.”
“Sure. But this makes me feel young again. I could afford only this brand at eighteen, with my meagre pocket money, but managed to attract attention,” I grinned.
“Aaahh! What are the other brands which you used then? It makes me see you in a new light.”
Our world was changing from a formal gray to an exuberant yellow.
Back Up by Sherri Matthews
The receptionist was as chirpy as Mandy remembered her.
‘I would like to make an appointment for a check-up please…’ Mandy heard the waver in her own voice.
The pain from the last visit had long gone, but the fear-filled memory of it lingered for years. She had stopped going altogether after that, and then everything fell away.
Years later, Mandy began her slow, uphill climb with a visit to the hairdresser. An office party she dreaded but could no longer avoid. It had meant a new outfit too.
Then Mandy called the dentist for a long-overdue check up.
Control What You Can by Susan Sleggs
“In the past three weeks, we had to move into our new house before the painters and rug layers were done, there were two deaths in my wife’s family and our daughter was in a car wreck and can’t go back to work.”
“How are you coping with such trials?”
“I’m a patient man, but I want answers. I’m praying a lot.”
“How about your wife?”
“I helped her unpack the quilting room and I cut fabric for her to sew, then sent her to lunch with her friends. She felt better after accomplishing something and receiving healing hugs.”
Flash Fiction by Heather Gonzalez
Joe was known for a special brand of self-care which always ended at the bottom of his favorite bottle of whiskey. After the war was over, many soldiers went on to lead healthy productive lives, but Joe was not one of them.
The war had consumed his personality and left him a hollow shell. As much as he wanted to be almost normal, he knew that he was forever changed by what he saw. The small innocent face that appeared in the window as he burned down the village always brings him back to the bottom of the bottle.
Self-Care by Sarah Brentyn
She looked in the mirror at the woman she swore she would never become.
A soft, almost-youthful face with fine lines.
A handful of grey hairs hiding beneath dark blonde strands.
A pudgy middle pushing the waistband of her favorite pair of jeans.
The image irritated her. Angered her.
How had she become this…thing? This wife of a man who created her with perfectly weaved words of manipulation and cruelty then cheated on her for becoming his creation.
Time for some self-care.
She grabbed the prescription bottle, smiling for the first time in months, and dumped her husband’s heart medication.
The Alien Planet by Anuragbakhshi
My spaceship crashed, and as I struggled to somehow extricate myself from the debris, I thought about the importance of my mission- It was not every day that a new inhabited planet was discovered, and a senior diplomat like me sent there to make contact with the aliens.
The twisted metal and broken wires were impeding any movement, and I had nothing but my own strength and ingenuity to depend upon. Remembering my objective, I used all my resourcefulness and finally managed to free myself. I could now proceed on my mission to conquer this backward planet called Earth.
Inkless Blots by Jules Paige
“Life” used to be captured with a pen in a notebook. The
daily writing routine morphed; using a keyboard, unlocking
keys of alphabet letters and sentencing them to sensible
words scripting daily insights into blog; feeding an electronic
community where static electricity was controlled, by the
bribery of imagination and miscellaneous musings.
Cheaper than paying a therapist or a life coach – getting
encouraged by other writers who walked the same crooked
path. June marched, occasionally dancing when someone
liked or showed the slightest interest in her inkless blots.
Slowly gaining confidence that she actually could call herself…
There’s No Writer Wrong by Bill Engleson
“He’s been at it for days. I’m getting quite worried.”
“He’s an adult Joanie. It’s his decision.”
“But…he’s a writer, for heaven sakes. He doesn’t live in the real world. He spends most of his time in a messy little nook in his head. He’s always going off on a tangent.”
“And now he’s trying to take care of himself. Look at him. He’s become a scrunched-up pretzel of a man, hunched over in a writing frenzy.”
“That’s what I mean. I don’t think solo Kama Sutra Yoga and a forty-ounce jug of red wine ought to be mixed.”
I Made a Mountain by Anne Goodwin
I made a mountain. They could not knock it down. But they did not join me on the zigzag path through meadow, woods and moorland to the craggy top. Instead, they dragged me to molehill, had me admire its contours, the texture of its soil. They bathed it in sunshine, cloaked my hill in mist. The only mountains they’d acknowledge were the Everests that pierced the cloud.
I fought through fog to find my mountain, and walked alone along its trails. Birds sang, flowers bloomed, rock glistened in the damp air. I made a mountain. I made it mine.
Self-Care Through Word Salad by Liz Husebye Hartmann
Impression management. Measured words. Think before you write. Intentionality, thought-FULL-ness is all. Be politically correct, especially if that’s not your usual inclination. Diagram your structure, have your measurable outcome in sight.
This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no party. This ain’t no foolin’ around!
Stop making sense. Put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. Slop a little coffee over that mess, but avoid the hard drive.
Don’t stop. Believin’. Let out all those feelings.
Your job right now is to get your foot off the muse’s tail and let it gallop around the room.
I love a morning write.
New Mum SOS by Ritu Bhathal
The crying was relentless, but who else was going to do anything?
He was at work all day, he needed his sleep.
She was exhausted.
“It’s okay,” they all said, “just sleep when the baby does. You’ll be fine!”
What world did they live in? Self-care with a newborn…? Impossible.
When was she meant to do the housework, the laundry, the cooking, if not when the little mite was taking his precious naps?
But after thirteen weeks of sleepless nights and little support from anyone, she was ready to muffle the cries with the pillow currently covering her head…
Ladies First by Chesea Owens
“I’ve got to shop for pants today,”
She told the stingy traffic lights.
She told the grocer and the pump;
And then, the quickly-coming night.
“I’d love to try this recipe,”
She said, as they drew near to home;
With only time for Mac ‘N Cheese,
‘Midst whining, falsely-crying tones.
“A bath would be a lovely break
Whilst reading Lover’s Passioned Call.”
Alas, the heated water drained,
Whilst splashing children took it all.
The lights were off; he found her there,
Her loving, all-day-working man.
“I thought you wanted time alone.”
She sniffed; she said, “And, here I am.”
Mom’s Me Time by Kerry E. B. Black
Moms don’t usually get “me time,” so when the opportunity presented itself, Kaylee almost did not recognize it. Her husband and her in-laws took the kids to a matinee. Kaylee stripped the beds and threw in a load of laundry before it dawned on her. She had the house to herself. She could operate the television remote control without hearing groans. A bubble bath surrounded by scented candles could be hers. When she set the kettle on, she ignored the dishes in the sink and steeped a cup of tea and enjoyed an uninterrupted date with a long-neglected book
Santa Self-Care by Frank Hubeny
Mark loudly rang his own doorbell. “Thank you, Santa!” He heard Julie’s feet pitter-patter as she rushed to the door. “Have a nice day, Santa, in your snowy fairy glen at the North Pole.”
Julie looked outside. “Where’s Santa?”
“Sorry, Julie. Santa’s gone. He left gifts for you.”
Eventually someone would have to tell his daughter about Santa, but Mark couldn’t do it. She’ll have to cure herself even if she breaks her own heart.
Later that day Julie answered the door. “Santa! Back so soon?”
“Who was that?”
“Sorry, Dad. Santa’s gone, but he left you this present.”
The Care Bearing Of The Spotlessly Declined by Geoff Le Pard
‘Why so glum?’
‘Mrs Twistelton says I don’t care enough to be in the orchestra.’
Mary stopped writing. ‘Do you?’
‘You hardly practice.’
‘Everyone is in the Orchestra.’
‘Maisie, and the girls.’
‘Ah! Maisie. I hear her name a lot.’
‘Once I wanted to be a cleaner – I know, me – because Daisy Fullerton had a cleaning job that paid for her cool clothes. Hated it. I learnt.’
‘I needed to care about myself and what I really wanted.’
‘It’s different now.’ Penny wandered off.
‘Really?’ Mary said to the space vacated by her daughter.
Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning
At home, Mom’s been busy. Swabs of cotton on the floor, the kind from a pill bottle. It looks like she shook her purse out all over the kitchen. A pungent smell leads me to a box of hair dye by the sink…scissors…chunks of hair…
I hit the steps with stuttered breaths, my throat closing. What I’d give for just one boring, uneventful day. To come home without holding my breath. Lately I’ve been thinking about taking off, just being done with it all.
But I can’t leave.
Because what if she fell?
Or worse, what if she jumped?
Self-Care by Irene Waters
Prue’s mother was proving difficult. “Mum, self-care is the most appropriate place for you.”
“I’ll stay here if I have to self-care. I want help.”
“But Mum in self-care you get help. Meals are provided, cleaning done, bed linen changed and washed plus you can opt for more services.”
“Then why call it self-care. More like aided living.”
“Self -care is because you remain independent. You don’t need nursing. Aided living is a nursing home.”
“Send me to a nursing home. I’ve had looking after myself.”
“I know Mum. How about going to ‘Care… for the Self?”
Ranch Yarn by D. Avery
“Hey Pal, you oughtta join my self-heppin’-advocatin’-together group- S.H.A.T.”
“Ain’t bein’ no part a yer SHAT group. What the shat you on about anyway?”
“What Shorty said. Self-hep.”
“Shorty said self-care, so I reckon it’s S.C.A.T., an’ I’m hopin’ ya do.”
“Testy… You need a stage coach.”
“Yeah, stage coach. Ta hep ya git through all yer rough stages in life. Talk ya through the prickly patches.”
“I swear, Kid, sometimes I’d like ta put you on a stage, send ya back where ever ya come from.”
“All the world’s a stage, Pal, ya oughtta try’n play nice.”
Coffee spiced with fresh shavings of nutmeg warms my hands while I settle into the cool fabric of the porch reading chair. It’s not porch weather, but tolerable with a sweatshirt. After tossing tantrums of snow squalls for nearly a week, the cool lake air cracks open the cloud cover and presses in like icy tendrils.
Regardless, there’s something irresistible about a porch.
On sweltering days we clink ice cubes in a glass of lemonade. When it’s cold, we still seek the porch with a hot beverage. We aren’t here to resolve any particular issues. Typically meetings are held in windowless rooms, not on open-air porches. Some porches are screened and others paned in glass.
Despite the chill, the south-facing windows capture enough sunlight to set the seasonal room aglow. Bright and warped from old-time glass techniques, the windows overlook the lower neighborhood of six houses and a hockey-field visible through the leafless maples. All the houses have south-facing porches.
It reminds me of the ancient stonework my father discovered at a timber sale located near Lake Tahoe. He showed it to me before logging destroyed the structures that were old enough to contain towering pines nearly a thousand years in age. It was a high elevation job a mill in Sacramento got for top bid. Virgin lumber in the Sierras was rare on the market.
And ancient structures on a mountaintop were so unheard of that the Forest Service didn’t even bother to send out an archeologist. They thought my father mistaken. But my father showed me. He explained how the slope faced south, catching the lowered winter sun, melting the snow naturally.
How long have we humans known the wisdom of south-facing slopes? When did we desire to retire to south-facing porches? You know the longing — growing old together in our rocking chairs on the porch.
In my daughter’s home, the back porch is the reading nook. I find the windows alluring, they call to me to contemplate. We’ve discussed writers and windows before. But this time its more than writers and windows. I’m curious as to why older homes have porches for sitting, yet modern homes eschew the thoughtful space.
If a modern home has a porch, typically it’s an entry space, a catch-all for discarded shoes and jackets. A place for the mail delivery to set a package. In Paco Underhill’s merchandising book, Why We Buy, he talks about how an entry space allows customers to convert hurried thoughts into a slower shopping space.
Thus even as an entry to home or business, the idea of a porch slows down our minds.
My mind is a whirligig today. I’ve gone from a year of wandering to growing Carrot Ranch as a literary community to hosting a collaborative and wild Flash Fiction Rodeo to diving feet first into the mess I made of my WIP, Miracle of Ducks. I’m a NaNo Rebel in search of the clues I need to publish this muddy novel as a gleaming book worth reading. I’m in need of a porch.
Just 10 minutes of cold porch time serves me well. My breathing slows, my coffee cools and disappears sip by sip, and I clear my mind enough to see what needs doing. I’ve already taken my opening chapter to TUFF (which any writer can also enter as the final Rodeo contest by 11:59 pm EST November 6). TUFF acts like a porch, giving me windows to contemplate.
Let me show you what I’m doing:
First, I have revised my W-storyboard with a Dollar Store posterboard and placed it where I write. I can’t miss it. I’ve tweaked it from how I had it set up earlier. Originally, I had my five key scenes (the circles on the W) correlated to five points of the hero’s journey: The Call, The Test, The Cave, The Transformation, and The Return.
After trying to sell my manuscript, the weak point of my novel was its opening. It didn’t punch any agents or publishers in the gut. My editor had advised on an earlier draft that I didn’t give enough page time to Ike. Then I became homeless and decided to shred my manuscript to give my protagonist a western location and more hardship. I went to archeology field school in June and found my opening. All this processing taught me that we need to focus on the hero before we can focus on the call. This moves the test and the cave, which is more towards the end. The transformation is part of what happens between the cave and the return, which I like thinking of as the elixir — what gives the journey meaning.
For my NaNoWriMo Rebellion, I’ve also include a few more Dollar Store purchases: notebooks. What I’m doing in this notebook is applying the TUFF steps to work out revision issues I’m having. On the first day, I did a free write “about” my opening. I chose to brainstorm about it because the last thing I need is yet another opening: I have three!
I brainstormed the action I wanted to set up in the opening, drawing upon the three choices I have. Next, I wrote a 99-word flash fiction. It was flat, but revealed where I was getting hung up (it’s easier to see what is NOT working in 99 words than in 1,099 words). Next I wrote a 59 word flash and I actually liked what emerged. So when I wrote 9 words, I felt I nailed what the opening needed to be about. Of course the next part was to rip into those three scenes and make them the opening to MOD. That was my word count for today as a NaNo Rebel.
Not one to pass up on $1 notebooks, I bought several. This one is just for free writes. I’ve kept fiction journals the way others might keep diaries. Here’s what I learned about free writing many years ago: it’s your best tool against resistance. in his book The War of Art, Steve Pressfield writes about resistance as the enemy of creativity. He compares it to Freud’s Death Wish, our inclination to block our creativity or sabotage our own efforts. For years I wrote three pages very morning, “I hate mornings, I can’t think, I have nothing to write…” Not exactly Pulitzer winning stuff. But the discipline taught me to meet the page no matter what.
So here we are, back at the Ranch, sitting on the porch and sharing a cuppa. I’ve given you a window from my porch before and now I’m giving you a window into my process. I want you to write. You aren’t here because you want to take up parasailing or crochet. You’re here because you want to write a spy thriller about a crochet-loving, parasailing agent. Well, maybe not exactly that story, but one like it. You want to craft with words. Me, too.
November 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story a chair on a porch. Why is it there, and what might it mean? Think about using it as a prop or the main thrust of your story.
Respond by November 7, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published November 8). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Where Stories Begin by Charli Mills
Between Danni and the front door sagged a small front porch. Inside the cabin lived a former log-skidder. Rumor had it Old Man Moe was blind, but his stories of the Great Fires of 1910 remained vivid.
“Take a chair,” spoke a voice behind her.
Danni startled, not hearing the man with foggy eyes ride up on a mule. “Moe, I’m the Forest Service archeologist.”
Moe slid from the saddle as if sighted, and walked confidently up the decrepit stairs to one of two rickety wooden chairs. He patted the one next to him. “Stories begin here Doc Gordon.”
TUFF: The Ultimate Flash Fiction
by Charli Mills
What if I told you that writing flash fiction will get you to where you want to be? Would you scoff, or consider the possibility? Would you think I’m handing you a magic elixir? Ah, an elixir. Let’s pause a moment and talk about the hero’s journey.
If you answered the call to participate in the Flash Fiction Rodeo this past month, you answered the same call every hero hears: the one the hero reluctantly answers. We think of heroes as Thor or Wonder Woman. Yet, the hero’s journey calls to us all. Winnie the Pooh and Frodo and Mary Tyler Moore are all heroes. It’s about the path:
- The call: the opening scene in which the hero is called out of the ordinary world.
- The test: the story develops conflict through tests, challenges, temptations, allies and enemies.
- The cave: the story leads to a crisis, the hero’s darkest hour in the abyss of ordeal.
- The transformation: survival transforms the hero who begins the journey home.
- The return: the hero returns to the ordinary world with the elixir of knowing one’s own transformation.
For many writers, the Flash Fiction Rodeo was a call to go outside one’s comfort zone. Even those writers who wanted the challenge pushed themselves to write more than one response or enter multiple contests. You were all stirred by the call. You are Heroes of the Rodeo. You faced tests, found glitches and helpers, made new writing friends, discovered stories within you.
Your crisis is personal, but I know you had one — doubt, fear, panic. Our inner critics chide, Who are you to enter a writing contest? The Black Dog rips our confidence. Even when we boldly go forth, we fumble a word, forget a rule, or worry that a form went to the bottom of the bull pen. Maybe your crisis rose from a topic that stirred a painful memory. Maybe your crisis eroded your time and forced priorities. Whatever it was, it is yours, and you overcame it.
You survived the Rodeo.
Contest #8 delivers your elixir. Yes, it’s called TUFF, a play on the acronym and the idea that it’s a tough challenge. It’s five steps, five flash fictions! Yet, it is a tool, a gift to you that you will understand because it will resonate with what writing flash fiction has already taught you.
So far in this Flash Fiction Rodeo writers have reflected back to childhood, poked at the hardness of scars, laughed when humor elicited fear, cast a magical spell with a new literary form, signed up for a twittering social platform to write publicly, braved the unknown with a bull draw, and contemplated murder despite being good people. This Rodeo was a rough ride, but you stayed in the saddle. You wrote.
Trust the surprises you made along the way. If you found yourself writing about a topic, or in a format or on a platform previously alien to you, you likely found a nugget of satisfaction. I’ll tell you something about flash fiction — it’s the constraint that shifts the gears in your mind to problem-solving speed. The 99-word format we challenge weekly at Carrot Ranch becomes satisfying because our brains recognize that we are going to solve a problem (write a story) and 99-words is the tool.
Now it’s time to challenge you to go where you want to go…as a writer, as an entrepreneur, as a creative person. TUFF is your elixir. TUFF teaches you that each flash fiction you write takes you closer to transformation. Call it creativity, an insight, an a-ha moment or a breakthrough. TUFF will return you to your ordinary world as a writer, author, educator, business professional, parent, creative with the elixir meant for you. Like your writing crisis, your writing breakthrough is personal. But it will happen.
Use this format any time you are struggling to write a scene, chapter or novel. Use it to write the various blurbs for your book synopsis. Use it to write out your goals, mission statement or vision for your blog, business or career. It’s a tool and it’s now yours. However, until November 6, it’s also the final Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest.
Using the form below, write about a hero’s transformation after facing a crisis. Each step is its own flash fiction, but it is the evolution of a single story.
- Use the form for all five steps to write about a hero’s transformation after facing a crisis.
- A hero is anyone or anything going from normal to a crisis to a transformation.
- Each step is a revision of the same tale, beginning with a free write and ending with a complete three-act story.
- In step one (free-write) time your writing to 5 minutes even if it’s incomplete.
- Enter the free-write unedited.
- You may edit steps 2-4.
- You must edit step 5.
- The final story has three acts: beginning, middle and end.
- Entries must be original (no cheating on the free-write; you’ll only cheat yourself out of the elixir).
- Entries due by 11:59 pm EST November 6. Enter each step in the form all at one time.
You have one week. Pace yourself.
CONTEST NOW CLOSED. WINNER ANNOUNCED DECEMBER 26.
CHALLENGE OPTION: Due to length, challengers are asked to use the form. Be sure to write (CHALLENGE) after your title. Weekly Flash Fiction Challenges resume November 2.
Charli will be joined by two Michigan authors over coffee, during a continuous Keweenaw snowstorm. Judges will consider the following criteria:
- The original idea expressed in the free-write.
- The process by which the writer uses steps 2-4 to work that original idea.
- The completion of the final story based on the original idea and the flash fiction process to get there.
- The unedited free-write reads like a draft.
- The final story shows insight, polish and has a beginning, middle and end.
- The interpretation of a hero (epic or common), crisis and transformation.
- The final deadline met: 11:59 pm EST November 6
Winner Announced December 26. All who stayed in the saddle and wrote for the first annual Flash Fiction Rodeo are heroes! Your journey is nearly complete. Thank you for your courage to express and share literary art with and among others.
Complete schedule of winner announcements:
One of my favorite analogies for writing and revising a book is to look at editing in three layers: bones, flesh and skin. At any layer, your writing can be raw — newly knit bones (structure); exposed flesh (details); and tender skin (polish). It depends upon a writer’s process, unique voice and set of strengths as to what one’s first efforts unfold to be. This is what we are talking about in essays by guest writers at Carrot Ranch. This is raw literature.
Today, I was reminded of the importance of structure at the beginning of a writing journey. I’m beginning a different journey, my first ever pulling my home/office on wheels. We had a dinky (and leaky) camp-trailer last summer that pulled behind our farm truck after our rental went on the market and we had no other rental available in our rural north Idaho community. We became among the shadow homeless, meeting other rural homeless in RV parks and veterans living out of their vehicles. This is different from what you see in urban centers where those experiencing homeless are on the streets.
It’s been a raw experience in the sense that it was unexpected and not intended.
But like raw literature, it holds surprises. We’ve learned that with the right RV, it can be enjoyable. I’ve even met a few other uprooted writers and we’ve become part of a sub-culture in America. However, with the right RV, we needed the right truck — a bigger truck. We landed on Mars and have been stranded in lot 70 for all of winter. With the return of tourists to Zion National Park, we knew our home needed to get moving. Through several moments of synchronicity, the Hub’s sister found us a truck. And appropriate to Carrot Ranch, it’s a ranch truck.
The Hub drove 2,400 miles to swap the farm truck for the ranch truck in Kansas. We had a tight schedule, having been given a date by the RV park that we needed to move out of lot 70. On the way back, the Hub encountered the Dodge Death Wobble on an 8,500 foot mountain pass in Colorado. It scared all three of us, the Hub, the Sis and me. He got back on the road after talking to us both, and the Sis and I stayed on the phone together, helping each other not to worry. The ranch truck did fine after that. The Hub met a group of cowboys at a cafe the next morning, and he asked them if they experienced such a vibration in their Dodges. They all laughed and welcomed him to Dodge ownership.
In a way, it’s like writing. We often encounter death wobbles in our first efforts — stale details, flat characters, cliche-pox. It scares us into thinking our writing isn’t sound. But it is all fixable. Like the cowboys told the Hub, slow down on the corners downhill. Dodge is a good truck; it has good bones. In your first efforts, focus on your story, the bones of what you want to do and slow down and pay attention to the details and leave the polish for last. Write strong bones.
In this review, we are looking back at three essayists who explore raw literature. The purpose of the reviews is to give writers and readers time to catch up and reflect on the previously posted essays in the Raw Literature series. This is meant to be an ongoing discussion. One essay may spark an idea for another.
- Anne Goodwin considers what it means to develop first works and take your work From Raw to Ready. She reflects on the industry standards that don’t come with a rule book: “Of course, you might be thinking, if you want people to read your stuff, it’s got to be right! I’m not disputing this at all. Publication implies a certain standard; what’s not clear is how to set about achieving it, or even what that standard might look like.” Anne compares raw writing to raw walking and the importance of acquiring skills or tools. She also applies a model that takes the writer from raw to ready and asks for your ideas, too.
- Jules Paige takes us directly to the page and explains her pen name in Jewels on the Page. She shares her first process as a child that has led to the writer and poet she is today. Jules says, “I write for amusement. Perhaps guided by a muse. Though some may argue that muses do not exist. Maybe my muse is my own intuition, which often unconsciously picks up even the most subtle of cues.” She explores the process, the impact of prompts and interweaves her poetic verse.
- C. Jai Ferry takes us to an unsettling incident in a rural community to give us the experience of what it’s like to seek stories for Writing Grit. She talks about how her stories explore human nature between black and white norms. C. Jai says, “My stories will never be made into after-school specials. They are gritty and raw, tackling difficult issues that we all face at some point in our lives.” She explains how her goal is not to normalize these raw lives of her characters but to shed light on the evil lurking in our own communities.
As you can see from this set, the idea of raw literature is as varied as the writers who step up to create. Enjoy this week’s review!
<< ♦ >>
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ahead, partial sunlight illuminates sand that has seeped from a massive geological structure aptly named, Sand Mountain. From the north, it rises like a slope out of the shores of a deep blue body of water, Sand Hollow. On its south-side the underpinnings of metamorphic rock expose ridges of red cliff. Those curious blotches of sand seeps are orange and remind me of powdered koolaid. In fact, the scene on the backside of Sand Mountain translates easily to a candy shop given the unnaturally sweet colors. Grape gumdrops push up against the strawberry taffy base not far from the powdered orange koolaid.
Among the sweet treats of this lower staircase of land, beneath the Navajo Sandstones of Zion white as cookie dough and the gnarly basalt of the Virgin Plain black as licorice, is a level that holds something more of child-like interest: Jurassic dinosaurs.
All of Zion, its surrounding mesas and transitional zone, are all Jurassic in age, spanning back 145 to 200 million years. The candy around here is stale and crumbly. Once it was an area with swaths of mudflats, an early flood plane. Conifers, ferns and cycads lined the shores, sand dunes swept to the northeast and fish populated the seasonal lakes and streams. Dinosaurs tip-toed through soft sediments to leave behind impressions in what looks like petrified chocolate.
If there’s anything better than going to a sweet shop, it’s going with a friend. Today, I have Norah Colvin in my pocket.
Norah is not only one of the first generation Rough Writers at Carrot Ranch, she’s also the One. She’s the one who discovered a brand new flash fiction challenge three years ago. She’s the one who introduced other blogging friends, and the ranch gathering has become like writing at the local soda fountain where we have learned what malts or sodas each prefers. Through our sweet shop talk, I’ve come to learn that Norah’s grandchildren are dino-crazed. And what a good interest to have! Science, mystery and Jurassic monsters all rolled up in one. What else I’ve come to know about Norah is her dedication to early childhood education. Her newly launched website readilearn is an accumulation of her experience, creativity and passion for teaching.
Our truck kicks up fine red dust as we travel across the hard-packed land. After our last outing, the next destination is my choice, and I want to find dinosaur tracks for Norah. I learned about these tracks when we first landed on Mars (also known on maps as southwestern Utah). Because of anticipating her excitement for such a discovery, I’ve been on a mission to step where Jurassic lizards have trod. We’ll be leaving Mars soon and still, I hadn’t found the tracks. So we are searching among the purple gumdrops and oozing orange koolaid.
Tiny mesquite leaves unfurl among spindly brush and newborn cactus needles blur the outline of the plants with fuzz. Garnet red buds line the tops of prickly pear cactus and tiny yellow bells trumpet from thorny shrubs. White flowers on a single stalk rise up like spears from the dark brown clay. This is Warner Valley in spring. Somewhere out here, the toes of Dilophosaurus and Megapnosaurus trailed across a mudflat millions of springs ago before this was a desert. in 1982, a man from Cedar City, Utah was walking down a wash and found an exposed fossil of over 400 tracks.
Locating the site is like finding a lost cactus spine in the sand. Unless you directly step on it, it remains hidden. The Hub and I traverse several BLM (Bureau of Land Management, public lands) roads. The reason we had found the Honeymoon Trail earlier is because I was looking for this site. I understood the old pioneer trail was nearby. But, as often is the trouble in this steep terrain, the Honeymoon Trail plummets over the Hurricane Cliffs in what is now regarded as an extreme Jeep trail. Thwarted in our search, we’ve come to the Warner Valley a different way — this is below the Hurricane Cliffs and behind Sand Mountain (which was the first place I search for the tracks).
Our BLM map shows the valley as deceptively flat. We trundle over hillocks, and dip down and up through dry washes. We stop to chat with a motorcyclist, and he confirms the dinosaur tracks are out here, “somewhere.” Another cyclist comes along and encourages us to continue down a road we decided wasn’t going anywhere. Turns out, that road led us to the grape gumdrops and we are on a two-track that feels similar to a carnival roller-coaster. The purple landscape might be a clue: according to geology books this level gains its color and treacherous stickiness when wet from ancient volcanic ash. That sounds Jurassic to me.
We come to a fence, turn up the road and a BLM sign marks the spot — to park, that is. From here, the search continues on foot. The rolling trail continues and I walk past smooth sandstone clusters that look like ruins of Bedrock from the 1970s cartoon, The Flintstones. The closer I get to the cliffs and scree of Sand Mountain, the more obvious the carving of the land by water. The trail dips into a flat wash that continues to travel down as if servile to water when it marches this way. Finally, a broad flat of chocolate malt rock spreads out before me. I have found the Holy Grail of sweets in this gumdrop desert. Norah, this treat is for you!
It might sound silly to take along a friend in a pocket, but truly, as writers we do that. When we go on these journeys of discovery, and writing is both, we think of audience. Many talk about turning off the “inner critic.” Critics are for editing. Creative flow needs friendly encouragement. That’s why I like to write to a friendly audience. And you don’t have to actually know your reader. Norah doesn’t always have to ride in my pocket! Many times, I make up the audience. And the reason is sane and important to writing. You might write first for yourself, but if you want to connect with others, you write next for an audience.
It’s easy for me to match up an adventure involving dinosaurs to a friend who appreciates the Jurassic lizards (or ancestors of birds). So how do I do this with an unknown audience?
My beat used to be organic and local food systems, such as cranberry farms, artisan cheese-makers, grass-fed cattle ranches, urban community gardens, Hmong collective farms, CSAs, farmers markets and cooperatives (farm, producer and retailer). For 15 years, I interviewed people where they tilled black soil, bogged cranberries or fought for food justice. I wrote for publications like Edible Twin Cities, Stress-free Living and This is Living Naturally. I’ve been featured on NPR, interviewed for local news and contributed to regional cookbooks.
Each time, I was aware that I was writing for an audience. If I was alone, prone on the soft earth in a French vineyard that endured Minnesota weather for three decades, poised to capture the sunrise over grapes that suffered, I talked to my readers as if they were blind. I took notes and photographs as if I were their eyes. I included other senses, too and built relationships with the land and those who tended it as if I were match-making with readers. I was the experience, and that’s how I learned to write sensory. It became engaging to the point that I had real readers who wanted to go with me.
And many did. I’d put out a call and take others along. They asked questions I hadn’t thought of which taught me to anticipate what a reader wants to know. One memorable experience was with an accountant who didn’t agree that local food should “cost” a premium until I invited him to go with me on assignment to an organic cranberry bog. We toured the entire day, the farmer introducing us to neighbors so we could see the multiple ways farmers harvest cranberries. We left, but the accountant never fully left the bogs; it was in his system and he became a local food advocate.
What about fiction? I start with the story, and think as a story-teller — what would an audience want to know and what will surprise them? But first, I write my novels for me. Now, I’m writing them for readers. I carry along readers in my pocket to remind me to look at the journey for them. This is one way to write for readers. I’m sure more than a few of you, especially bloggers, have experienced processing a post mentally as if you were in conversation with those you know read. And for those we don’t know, we think of them as friendly. We, the writer, return from the desert with a gift we can share.
And thank you to everyone here at Carrot Ranch — Rough Writers & Friends, Readers and Lurkers — last week resulted in a profound collection of writing that supports the idea that art is free and within us, no matter political climates and cuts. I know many of you read as responses are posted, but if you get the chance, take a read of the Without Art collection as a whole. Thank you. That is the gift writers share, and reading is the gift in return to writers.
March 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an audience. It can be broad or small, and gathered for any reason. How does your character react to an audience? Is the audience itself a character. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by March 28, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 29). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Surprise Audience (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Danni met Peter at the archeological site when a bus pulled up.
“Guess what? We have a school field trip. I told the teachers we’d have Q & A with an archaeologist.”
“You can’t be serious,” said Danni.
“This way, I knew you’d show up. It gives us a chance to tweak your Little Ranger Program. It’s sound, but not kid friendly. Time for you to learn your audience. What age, are you thinking?”
“Is this a cruel test?”
“Kind of. How old?” Peter folded his arms, grinning at the kids.
“Can I look at their teeth?” asked Danni.
In the pre-dawn light I hear the Hub mumble, “radial engines.” I awaken to hear a roar overhead and wonder what it was like to experience the sound of radial engines in the sky during WWII. Both historians, but he thinks of the engines and I think of the experiences. Our eldest daughter is named for two radial engines, not that I was aware at the time of naming. However, as a writer, I can easily get hung up on sound. How does one describe the “roar” of a radial engine versus the roar of a lion or a firestorm?
A DC-10 is now stationed at Grant County International Airport because the fire season has blown up in central Washington, Idaho and western Montana. It’s a seasonal reality, one that has greater impact in modern times due to human populations near and within forests. The airport skirts the town of Moses Lake, Washington where I currently live un-homed in a camp trailer. The Hub works on Boeing 777s and 737s for unnamed executives retro-fitting commercial liners into personal pleasure jets and casinos. Next door to the hanger where he turns wrenches on jet engines, the old radial planes gather as bombers to dump borate on wildland fires.This particular airport once trained B52 Bomber pilots and has a 13,500 foot runway. Thus home to a variety of mega-planes, old and new.
Does sound matter to so silent an activity as writing?
Yes, because writers build a believable world for readers by using tangible details from which to suspend their story. Sound is vital to construction. However, similar to learning styles, typically a writer will construct with a dominate sense (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch). I know that I’m a visual writer. I can create scenes that readers can “see.” Yet I also know I tend to forget some of the other senses. I’m a visual learner and sometimes a kinesthetic one. Sound is actually difficult for me to capture and describe. Therefore I often challenge myself on the spot to describe a sound or push past a cliche like “the radial engines roared.”
What do I notice? The sound is distinct and it builds as it gets closer. It has a feel to it, like a vibrational rumble. It’s a landslide in heaven, a detonation overhead, a passing combustion. Roar is also an onomatopoeia; a word that sounds like what it describes. If I try to replicate the sound (and keep in mind my auditory senses are my weakest), I might use bruuummm. At 4 a.m. a DC-10 shook the trailer and bruuummmed overhead to wake us up, knowing fires yet blazed. I’ll keep working on it.
Last week, I was delighted to spot an onomatopoeia in Larry LaForge‘s flash fiction Home Office. I couldn’t help but notice the last line immediately: SWOOOOOOOOOOSH. Anticipating the character Ed’s affinity for sports, I expected the ending referred to a ball in a net. Ah, but Larry had a different sound in mind and it worked well to reveal where Ed’s home office resides. Swoosh is a fun word that tries to replicate the sound of rushing air…or water.
Then I received an email from one of our Rough Writers who had an interesting dilemma related to sound. Jean Lombardo has been cracking away at a client memoir and needed a meaning check. She had a scene peppered with cuss words and had replaced the strong language with soundalike words, including effing. She also had a clever replacement for an offensive phrase and if she joins in with her passage, I’ll let her share it with you (warning: it’s very Chaucerian, as in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale). And speaking of Chaucer, he used a fun onomatopoeia in that chapter from the Canterbury Tales: whoopee!
Can we cuss in our writing? The answer depends upon who is the intended audience for reading. Young ears, easily offended sensibilities or fundamentalists will avoid raw language. It’s why we have ratings for movies. Editors and clients might direct a writer one way or the other and publishers will have a keen sense for what will be acceptable to their market audience. If you are an indie writer, you might want to beta test both ways. Jeanne’s sampling all agreed the cussing needed to be raw to sound real.
Among the writers who join us at Carrot Ranch are poets and musicians. I admire the ear for sound such writers have, for balance upon the page they achieve for the silent words spoken in readers’ heads. When I was attending open mic nights in Sandpoint, I’d read from the Carrot Ranch compilations and discover how rich and rhythmic many of the 99-word stories sound aloud. Even when writing longer pieces, it’s a good practice to read one’s writing aloud. Many readers today are in truth, listeners. An entire industry within book publishing is audio-books.
Sound is relevant. Even the absence of sound has meaning. One of my favorite Simon and Garfunkle songs was recently remade by a hard rocker, Sound of Silence:
…People writing songs that voices never share…
…Take my words that I might teach you…
…Whispered in the sound of silence…
Writers, we can paint a soundscape of color and orchestrate stories with our mere arrangement of words. When you are writing, pay attention to all the senses and include sound. When you are revising, read aloud to shape the sound of your story. And decide to cuss explicit or use soundalikes.
Yes, you know where this is headed. First, a nod to those pilots flying the borate bombers. I hear you hard at work. The photo for our prompt this week is credited to Port of Moses Lake and is from the 2014 fire season and you can almost hear the roar of the DC-10 radials as it drops fire retardant. I know how dangerous the fires can be; history and modern reporting tell similar tales of fire’s unpredictable nature. The history book I picked up in Wallace, Idaho while camped on the Coeur D’Alene River is one I imagine my character Danni would read. And it recounts a horrific firestorm on August 4, 1931:
“The fire was burning practically everything from the bridge down to Brett Creek on an old burn that was full of fireweed and fallen timber. That hillside threw so much heat you couldn’t face it for more than half a minute at a time…The fire exploded in the mouth of Cinnamon draw and took off like goin’ up a chimney. Birds and game under it didn’t have a chance. It throwed up a great wave of flame…Then she boomed up and down and she throwed big waves up the drainage one after the other…The roar of the flames and the gale from the draft sucked in by the flames made a scream and that along with the sounds of smashing timber — Hell! — I couldn’t hear nothin’. I got off the horse and stood right along the fire chief and yelled in his ear and all I could see was his lips movin’…That whole Cinnamon Creek drainage went out in 8 minutes. The whole damn works. 8 minutes! 15 square miles. 8 minutes took the fire to Pond Creek and the divide…Night time it looked like a great city, spread over the mountains.”
That’s where we camped for three weeks, just below that drainage in northern Idaho. Now a similar blow up has occurred across the border in western Montana near Hamilton where the Hub’s great-great grandparents are buried. It’s called the Roaring Lion Fire and if you watch the time lapse sequence below, you will see what a roaring fire looks like. And we are now camped near the airport that launches the bombers to fight fires. It seems, there is always a connection to be found.
This amazing time lapse video of the Roaring Lion Fire is the creation of Montana photographer, Gary Schild.
August 3, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the sense of sound. It can be an onomatopoeia, a swearing session with sound alike substitutes, lyrical prose or a description of a sound. Go where you hear the prompt calling.
Respond by August 9, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
War Zone by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
Danni sloshed her peach margarita the night they set off the M-80s.
When the AR-15s blasted a volley into the darkness, Ike ordered Danni to the tent and dashed down the rutted dirt road, favoring his wounded knee. She complied only to dry her hand and restore the splash of peach spirits over limeade. It was the best part of the drink and she wasn’t going to let idiots lighting off fireworks on the far end of the campground disrupt a good nightcap. Ike would soon realize the sounds of war he heard were celebrations of a free nation.
Silent Night on the Prairie by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
Cicadas trilled from the honey locust trees and coyotes yipped in the distance, their song drifting further away. Sarah missed the sound of rushing creek water that used to lull all sounds at night. Here, on this vast stretch of prairie, it was so quiet she could hear critters tip-toe in the dark.
She sat up in bed. Horse hooves? By the time Sarah was certain, she heard men shouting from the camp at Rock Creek. Commotion. Low voices. None nearing her cabin, though. Should she dress? She hesitated. More horses, this time heading east. Then silence. And cicadas.
Flat and prickly, comes to mind. In the distance on a clear day, you can see the glacier cap of Mt. Rainier and a shadow of the Cascades on the western horizon, but in Moses Lake, there are no mountains. Trees are better described as shrubs and any ground cover growing out of the black sand has thorns. Of course, there’s sagebrush with soft leaves of silvery blue and twisting trunks of brittle gray bark. This is the desert of eastern Washington.
Geologists note that the uplift of Cascades is what robbed this plateau of moisture, turning the forest to an arid zone. What land-rifting tectonic plates took away to build the mountain range, left a bleeding wound. Lava oozed and cooled in layered columns of black basalt to form gristly black scars that marble the desert. Flat and prickly rocks.
My new terrain fits me. I feel ripped from my home and planted in an arid place to heal wounds that promise scars. Anger, like lava, has oozed. I’m a slave of Egypt promised miracles and wonders only to find my bus broken down in the desert. 40 days, 40 nights or 40 years. I do not yet know my fate, but circumstances have lead me to dry ground far from my beautiful mountain views and cozy nightly bed. Circumstance; it is not my choice to be in Moses Lake. I resist liking anything about it.
My husband points to paper-thin flowers that bloom white like desert moons. “Go take a picture,” he encourages. He stops the car. I grumble as black basalt gravel migrates between my right foot and sandal. Can there be anything uglier than sand that looks like ground road tar? Yet I see the delicacy of the flowers he’s spotted. Next I look up to see the rising moon, waxing near full. It casts a back-light to the sun dipping behind the smudge of Cascades in the distance. Clouds blaze like pink neon, brighter than the cotton candy hues of home. A home I no longer have. And lava oozes again.
The next day I hold to a choice. I can still make choices even though experiencing homelessness was not one of them. After acknowledging my anger I choose to let go of it for a weekend. The first day, I escape into a movie theater and watch The Legend of Tarzan. Buttered popcorn only masks my mood. I recognize the effort as a cheat; an avoidance of anger at best. I ask my husband if we can take the truck and drive out to the dunes behind our RV park where our trailer sits in a pool of condensing moisture. Like my attempt to not be angry, stopping the trailer’s leaks has been futile. And all around me I see flat and prickly land. Desert.
If we had toys — dune buggies, ATVs, motorcycles — the black swells of gritty sand might have appealed to me. Many of our transient neighbors have “toy-haulers” which are massive trailers big enough for house-like beds, sofas, home entertainment systems and space for riding-toys. We are surrounded by luxury and recreation in our homelessness. Many RVers have saved their retirement for this lifestyle, trading homes for RV coaches, costing between $50,000 and $800,000. The sleek Class A motor-homes that tower over our $3,700 dribbling camper makes me feel like a squat mutt among pedigreed wolfhounds. The dunes offer no relief. We have no toys.
Yet, I’m not without. I have my camera, a truck, dogs, husband and freedom of mobility. We head northwest and encounter the biggest coulee I’ve ever seen in my life. Why didn’t I know the mini Grand Canyon lurked but miles away from what I thought was flat and prickly. As I let go of anger, I grab the camera with frequency. As I snap shots, my curiosity blossoms like a paper-moon desert flower. We spent all of Sunday exploring the Grand Coulee from a lake of healing soap suds to three-mile wide dry falls to basalt cliffs to gorges to the Grand Coulee Dam built by order of President Roosevelt.
A growth mindset apparently expands the heart, as well.
Sunday was truly the first day I felt like me again — a curious writer with an eye for natural beauty and human connection. Anger slid off my shoulders instead of hardening upon that perch. We stopped at every historical sign, and I was excited to discover the Cariboo Cattle Trail. In 1858, the same year Cobb McCanles and his brother explored Nebraska and Colorado Territories, Oregon Territory ranchers were driving cattle to miners during the Cariboo gold rush in British Columbia. I thought I knew all the western cattle trails and here was a new one — right through the desert coulees.
When my eyes open to what surrounds me, I see more birds. It’s surprising how avian rich the desert is.
At one stop, four mother hens manage a collective brood of 27 turkey chicks. Perhaps more acclimated to people than the wild turkeys along Elmira Pond, I’m able to snap several photos up close. A killdeer hops across the lawn and poses in front of the turkeys. Imposter. Another traveler stops to shown her son the flock and we laugh about the idea of mothering so many chicks. She claims her one turkey is enough, and her son groans, “Aw, Mom!”
We end up at Grand Coulee Dam, one of the largest concrete structures in the world. After experiencing the Grand Coulee itself, the dam is not as impressive. The Visitor’s Center is, however, and we immerse ourselves in construction and hydrology history. We learn that the Grand Coulee is the result of ice dam flooding 13,000 years ago. To see the scouring of basalt scabs and the remaining walls of Dry Falls, to think this happened during an age when humans lived in this area is stunning. What a science fiction plot. We finish our trip at Dry Falls and take dinner at Soap Lake where eastern Europeans flock for healing in the summer. Eyes open, and story plots are as prevalent as birds in a desert oasis.
Shedding my anger allowed me to make another choice…focus.
Ever since knowing I had to leave my home-office, I’ve had trouble focusing. Once homeless, I despaired of ever finding focus again. Wisely, one of the items I packed for my traveling home was a printout of the Pomodoro Technique. I had tried it before when I was writing up to ten articles a week for a web content client. I even purchased the red tomato timer, but it’s noisy clacking and startling ding turned me off to the whole process. For some reason, I thought I might try it again, using my quieter smartphone timer with a ringer that employs classical music.
Upon reading the pages, I also discovered the added method of tracking distractions — both remembered tasks and true distractions. Here’s how it works:
- Create an activity sheet. Mine includes entries like weekly prompt, client projects, check emails, support Todd’s VA progress.
- Set a time for work. In an atmosphere of zero routine, I’m working to create one. I do not consider my early morning routine work (walk dogs, tidy camper, find breakfast, read scripture). I clearly define my work separate from my leisure or routine.
- Break activities down into daily to-do tasks. Here’s where the timer comes into play. You focus on each task for 25 minutes, so think of your tasks in such increments. The first day I had check email and social media. That was a task that exceeded four increments; a sign to break it down into smaller tasks. Now I list each email address seperately and have a separate task for social media.
- Take breaks. Every 25 minutes, stretch, go drink water, deep breathe, walk in place, move for 2-3 minutes then get back to the task or next one. Every four to eight pomodoros, take a longer break like walking the dogs or doing dishes or riding a bike or eat.
- Pay attention to time suckers. When the timer goes off, either you have finished or not. If not, mark an X next to the task. Those Xs will signal tasks that are taking much of your time.
- Do important tasks first. This comes from time management I used to teach my staff and something I learned in college: work your As off. Prioritize the most vital tasks to accomplish as As. Important but not vital, Bs. Necessary, but not today, Cs. Studies show we have a tendency to work on C level tasks. Instead, work your A level tasks first.
- Be mindful of intrusions. Each time (in the middle of a task) you think of another, write it down on the back of your activity sheet with an apostrophe before it. That way you note it, but don’t go chasing after it. If a task is an interruption (like a fly buzzing or a smart phone notification) note it with an exclamation point. Use an X each time it comes up again. If you have a repeating distraction, come up with a solution like buy a fly-swatter or turn off phone notifications.
This has really helped me! I have trouble focusing when my routine is off or I’m uncomfortable or my setting is new. When I can’t focus, I begin to develop achievement anxiety. It’s been a month since I’ve been homeless and office-less. At last I feel that I’m making a turn-around and can do work that fulfills me. It’s had a settling impact on the dogs, too. Between discovering desert coulees and timing my tasks, I’m feeling productive. And less flat and prickly. Less angry; less despairing.
So let’s continue to explore how weekly flash fiction prompts can blossom in your writing life! Flash fiction can spark creativity; give you a playful break from serious work; allow for discovery; develop setting, plot or characters in a WIP; express an idea; showcase a WIP scene; experiment with new forms (dialog, poetry, punctuation); connect with other writers and readers. All are welcome here, and for whatever benefit or pleasure or tool you use.
July 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a surprise from a desert. You can interpret desert in any way — an arid body of land, an icy wasteland, a relationship void of humanity; shelves with no books. Once you have that spark, write a surprise twist — an un-burned book in the back of seized shelves or a disco in the arctic.
Respond by July 26, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Painted Existence by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
The painted rocks annoyed Danni. Why would someone go camping and bring paint to deface natural geology? She recalled her childhood in the southern Idaho desert. Her dad moved from ranch to ranch and she hardly had time to make friends in each new school. No one would ever paint her name on rock.
Yet name painting was not new. Pioneers scrawled their names in lye upon trail bluffs, as if to let the world know they came this way; they existed despite vast unknowns ahead.
If she painted “Ike” on a river rock would she feel more secure?
Prairie Welcoming Committing by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
Desert extended as far as Mary could see. “My God, Leroy, it’s barren.”
Leroy, twisted in his saddle, obvious joy on his face as he looked up to where Mary sat on the wagon bench. The cattle from Tennessee milled past, reddish blots cutting through blonde grass the height of a bull’s back.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Mary could hear stifled sobs from his wife in the canvassed section behind her. Sally stopped looking days ago, pleading to go home. Just when Mary thought she’d join her sister-in-law, a burst of cranes took to the sky. The desert held magic.
If you want to see some coulee wonders, enjoy the slide presentation.
It’s a season.
Watching mason bees bob from flower head to flower head, I see the symbiotic relationship of life unfold beneath my seat in the grass. Life is full of the unexpected. Life is full. As a writer, we must drink it all in, the colors, scents, sounds and yes, even the stings.
Dandelions provide balm beneath a sky half torn between sunshine and clouds.
Thus I have felt torn between one place or another; one choice or another. And yet I write. Writing is an act, an empowering one. As lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch I’m reminded what a community can do. Many thanks to the ranch hands posting guest posts; the Rough Writers carrying on in reading, writing and commenting, and the friends who show up to join in or read. I’ll be back next week. For now, I hand you over to Rough Writer, Anne Goodwin, who is about to take you all on a journey this week. Carry on!
Showing someone round: Carrot Ranch guest prompt 28th April by Anne Goodwin
Writers are especially curious about other people, always alert to the variety of ways in which a character reveals their quirks. If we’re lucky, we can stamp our personalities on the places in which we live. On that basis, who wouldn’t relish the opportunity to nose around someone else’s home, scrutinising their bookshelves, peeping into drawers?
How many of us believe, as does Hildy Good, the protagonist of Ann Leary’s novel The Good House, “I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions”? I’m surprised that, given their creative potential, she’s the only fictional estate agent I’ve encountered on the page. But I’ve given one minor role in my second novel, Underneath, currently undergoing its final edits, in which a house with a cellar is the setting for some disturbing goings-on.
The opening of stately homes to the public affords an opportunity to pry into the past in a way that can feel particularly personal. In the UK, visiting National trust properties is a popular weekend pastime – although I’m sure part of the attraction is the quality of the cakes. I live only a walk away from a fine Elizabethan mansion famous for its tapestries (although the nineteenth century workhouse an hour’s drive away feels a better fit with my assumed heritage). Any connection to a famous figure, however spurious, brings in the tourists. Last weekend, to mark the author’s bicentenary, I was helping out at the open weekend of North Lees Hall in the Peak District National Park, thought to be Charlotte Brontë’s inspiration for Mr Rochester’s house in Jane Eyre.
But back to our ordinary houses, is it as much fun to show prospective buyers around a home as it is to do the snooping? I guess it depends on the circumstances. When my then partner was working weekends, and in the process of selling his house to move in with me, I used to enjoy cycling over to his place to show someone around. But I’ve seen the other side of this in the trauma of a house for sale because the couple is getting a divorce. And, in different but equally painful circumstances, we’ve all felt for Chief Buckaroo, Charli Mills, having to suffer people looking around the rented home she doesn’t want to leave.
With so much on her plate right now, the Rough Writers have been rallying round to maintain the ranch routines. So I’m proud to follow Lisa Reiter and Norah Colvin into the ring with my own guest prompt. You’ve probably guessed it already, I’m inviting you to compose a 99-word flash on the theme of showing someone around a property. Who’s showing whom, and how do they feel about it? Is it a country house, a garden shed or something in between? Is it even a building or is it a piece of land or a virtual property like website or blog? Don’t let your imagination be constrained by four walls.
If you’re new here (and if so, you’re most welcome), you might want to check out the rules. If you’re a regular, you know the drill, post here by 3rd May 2016 to be included in next Wednesday’s compilation. Meanwhile, here’s where the idea took me:
The renter’s revenge by Anne Goodwin
Oops, should’ve warned you about that low beam. It’s not normally a problem, though one friend got concussion, but that was yonks ago.
Don’t worry about the damp in the spare room; it dries out completely in summer. Though I should mention my grandson developed asthma after sleeping there.
Oh, those? Yeah, for the rats; you stop thinking it’s cruel after a few sleepless nights with them scurrying through the loft.
Well, nice to meet you too, and sorry it’s not the kind of place you’re looking for. I hope nothing I said put you off.