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New Barns Raised at the Ranch

Carrot Ranch is growing. If you look around you might see some gaps and unsightly piles of lumber. Growing can be inelegant. Mud-work, I call it. It always begins by digging in the mud. Soon, I’ll wash off the foundations, nail some clean boards and you’ll see barns taking shape. By the time the barns open you might raise your eyebrows in surprise or kick up your heels in delight.

Think of me as the buckaroo with a hammer in one hand, a writing quill in the other and eternally distracted by migrating birds, ancient bedrock and stories waiting to be caught. I recently commented to another writer that one day my tombstone will read, “…but I haven’t told all the stories, yet.” This made me think I could stash pencils and paper at my grave, inciting visitors to write 99 words. If I were to leave a legacy, that would satisfy me greatly. It’s not the words published, but the hunt for them, and stories never cease.

99 words at a time allows me to write beyond the range of my novels I’ve cultivated for the long trail ride. Yet 99 words also becomes a tool to refine those longer stories, to explore their characters and scenes, to process research. When this Ranch hung its shingle to challenge writers to wrangle 99 words, no more, no less it was to spark creativity and cultivate connections. Out of that beginning grew a literary community.

If you think of writers who enjoy word play or word craft, then literary art is our common ground. Flash fiction became the sandbox for playing with literary art in a constrained and yet open way: 99 words, but according to where a prompt leads each writer. Anytime someone says they didn’t think they stayed with the prompt, I clap! That means someone felt more driven to pursue a creative idea than sticking to a “rule.” Carrot Ranch is a safe place to practice, bend or even break literary rules. It’s exploration. It’s creativity. It’s community.

Coming from rural places and the cooperative industry, I believe in the difference a small and engaged group of people can make. The barns raised at Carrot Ranch are to expand the reach of this literary community, and to build upon the 99 word challenges with new innovations to push creativity and word craft. The barns are also places to house the abundance of writing from those who wrangle words here. What you will notice are changes to pages, new events, a book launch and a Rodeo.

The Ranch schedule remains the same with enhancements:

  • Mondays: Admin day with #MondayBlogs participation on Twitter
  • Tuesdays: Ranch Business/Guest Authors (essay and advanced flash fiction topics follow for 2018)
  • Wednesdays: Weekly Challenge Compilation posts
  • Thursdays: New Flash Fiction Challenge posts

Guest authors can sign up for the 2018 schedule January – September. There are 38 open slots. Essays will continue to include Raw Literature (about the creative process and early creations in writing) and Platform (about marketing tactics for authors or bloggers). A new essay opportunity is to write a Peer Book Review on a fellow Rough Writer (or Friend who joins us in writing at the Ranch).

In 2018, Carrot Ranch will challenge flash fiction writers to push their craft with Advanced Flash Fiction. If you are interested, you can sign up for the 6th Sense Challenge, History Challenge, or Ultimate Flash Fiction Challenge. Each will be explained on an upcoming new page this month (Submissions). If you are interested in being a guest author at Carrot Ranch in 2018, email me at: wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Carrot Ranch will use the remaining 2017 Tuesdays for Ranch Business. We have an exciting season kicking off, which will become yearly:

  • October: Flash Fiction Rodeo (8 contests, 8 first-place prizes, 0 fees) Tuesdays & Thursdays
  • November: First 4 Winners Featured, Anthology Vol. 1 launches, #NaNoWriMo
  • December: Final 4 Winners Featured, Anthology Vol. 1 Book Parties & Blog Tour, #NaNoProMo

If you want to participate in blog sharing, #MondayBlogs is how Carrot Ranch shares other blog posts on Twitter. Each writer who participates in the weekly challenges with blog links have those links embedded in their flash fiction’s title. I share the compilation with your blog links across a broad platform of active Facebook Groups and at the Carrot Ranch Facebook Page.

Weekly Challenges will continue. If you ever get a burning idea for a prompt, leave it in the comments with your story. I might use it to prompt my own blog post that week, too. Facebook decided to change its format, which has hampered how I save stories for the compilation. It’s caused a hiccup during a busy time, but it’s just hiccup. I’m setting up the compilation differently. It won’t appear different, but my process will change.

IMPORTANT: The Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo in October will replace the weekly flash fiction challenges for that month. The last one will be September 28. Weekly Flash Fiction Challenges resume November 2.

I’m excited for the Flash Fiction Rodeo! This is the big show, the one we built the show barn for and it is led by 8 of our own Rough Writers. My first rodeo was at Bolado Park Arena when I was three. After I married, I hung up my riding boots and followed the ink trail.

This might be your first rodeo, but let me tell you it’s going to be a fun and wild ride! Our fearless leaders have events you’ll not expect. This is not your ordinary flash fiction contest. If you’ve never entered a contest before, here are three compelling reasons why you should enter one:

  1. You have 8 contests to choose from (enter one, two or all)!
  2. There are no entry fees (it’s free, and you might win a $25 prize)!
  3. It’s Carrot Ranch & the Rough Writers (you know we don’t bite)!

Next Tuesday we will introduce the Leaders and their Contests. Each Tuesday and Thursday in October (Oct. 5-31) a new contest will debut at Midnight (EST). Each one will have its own set of rules, deadline and platform — some will be at Carrot Ranch, at least one will be on Twitter, and another will use Submittable. Winners will be revealed at Carrot Ranch each Tuesday Nov. 7-Dec. 26. An All-Around Winner from among the eight will be revealed Jan. 2.

In January, we’ll begin development of Vol. 2. The anthology features the writing of The Congress of Rough Writers. On Oct. 3 Carrot Ranch will have a kick-off party for the Rodeo and announce the new inductees to the Rough Writers. If you’ve been writing here and thinking about answering the open call, email your interest to me at: wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

The saw dust will clear and the barns will soon be up! Save the date to celebrate:

 

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Platform: Branding Yourself as a Writer

Article by Ruchira Khanna, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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Branding!

It’s everywhere.

Rolex, Nestle, Audi, Coach, Tommy Filger, Hanes, Revlon, Prada, Bentley, GE, Kenmore, Maytag, Toyota, Mercedes, and the list goes on…

In fact, companies decide on a product, a brand logo and then go on about manufacturing their product. Such is the importance of a name and logo.

As a manufacturer, a brand is a window for him to peep outside and get noticed by consumers as he advertises his product on his website or a social media outlet, such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Branding just doesn’t happen; it has to be thought about and well planned since ultimately that’s how the consumers will picture you.

Some useful advantages for having a brand are:

  • It helps give you a platform for ease, reliability and a recognition of what you stand for once you vouch for it, with ardor and passion.
  • Branding can put you in the limelight by setting you apart from the crowd that has that same product. You are given a stage where you can continue to exhibit your passion to thousands or millions of like-minded people who agree with the formation of your goods created.
  • Your brand once showcased well, can bring like-minded people together who would love to use your product, thus broadening your consumership.
  • Depending on your brand and the inspiration it can draw to your buyers. It can help motivate them and assist them to reach out high goals in their lives via the incentive of your A-rated product.
  • If your brand has been able to create a good and loyal consumership, chances are they will recommend your work to others while you just continue to be in the production line.
  • A strong brand will give a vision to the users on what to expect while easing the stress of the brand owner as he/she has been able to reproduce it with each production.
  • If you stick to your brand. If you are loyal to your brand, chances are your consumers will also be loyal to you!
  • This is your brand and your promise that you keep production after production. Thus, keeping your promise to your customers.
  • Creating a brand not only helps create loyal consumers, but also helps the producer to stay focused on his/her goal of creating best product to sustain the reputation of the brand name.
  • Once your feet are soaked in your brand, it will help you connect with your consumers on all levels as they have gotten used to using your name.

Aha! The importance of branding.

It helps differentiate the goods and services from other sellers while clearly delivering the message while confirming your credibility thus, creating user loyalty over time as your solid brand is motivating buyers to purchase the product.

This same fundamental applies to a serious writer who wants to succeed: branding himself to get recognition and be able to eventually sell books.

A writer has to analyze his write-ups and the subjects he is passionate to write about. He has to ponder over the kind of stories he likes to tell, narrate or serve to his readers. Eventually, that will help him attract the kind of readers that love to read such topics.

Typically genre comes first, and branding follows that. The brand has to exist within the genre the writer pens his words.

Some examples could be: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a writer of a fictional genre, but it revolves around detective/mystery. He gave birth to Sherlock Holmes in his write ups that are still looked upon. Could brand this author as a “The detective writer.”

Nora Roberts published her first book in 1981, and since then she has not turned back. Thanks to her 594K followers she has been nicknamed by The New Yorker as, ” America’s favorite novelist.”

Although she would be branded under, “The romance writer.”

As a writer/author decides upon the theme of his book before penning it down. Have a certain topic in mind prior to penciling it down. Frame your characters and plot if planning to write fiction or a subject relevant to the theme if working on non-fiction. Climb the ladder gradually of plotting and scheming as you cling onto the topic of the book. Towards the end when you have published that work, you will be representing that particular brand.

For instance: “The ——– writer.”

The dash could fill in romantic, mysterious, inspirational, dramatic, comic, lover of life, etc.

After branding yourself; making your own website and showcase your brand by publicizing over the media.

“The adventurous writer” will be easily remembered and when searched upon, like-minded readers will be able to connect the dots via the author/writer’s website, and that would result in clicks on your book links, and voila! you have readers craving for that brand by following it with as much passion as you the writer continues to pen down words fervently.

Once a name has been established thanks to the various social media outlets, with a respectable number of readership; the chances are that along with the readers, a literary agent, and a reputed publishing house could also get drawn to your charismatic brand name.

Aha! The journey that unfolds when a writer decides upon a particular brand name! No doubt there is sweat, dedication, passion and lots of marketing involved from the writer/author.

But, in the end, it is all worth it!

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Ruchira Khanna is just another soul trying to make a difference in this lifetime by juggling between her passion and responsibilities. A Biochemist turned Writer who draws inspiration from various sources and tries to pen them down to create awareness within her and the society. She’s the author of Choices, Voyagers into the Unknown, and a children’s book, The Mystery of the Missing Iguana. Ruchira has published her latest fiction-drama novel titled, Breathing Two Worlds available on amazon world-wide.

Author Website

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Platform is a series that discusses the balance between craft and creation. It’s a writer’s sum total of visibility comprised of branding, community, credibility and target audience. An author markets product (books, blog, podcasts, workshops) from a platform. This series offers tips from experienced authors, publishers and marketers specific to all writers interested in building a platform and selling books and related products. If you have an article to share with the community of writers at Carrot Ranch, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Raw Literature: Possibilities

Raw Literature Possibilities @Charli_MillsFor the purpose of this series, we’ve been exploring what it is to write first works. We’ve considered What Lies Beneath the ongoing process of a memoirist who digs deep. We’ve interviewed a writer newly elected as State Representative of Missouri’s 91st District. We’ve contemplated writing that is Natural or Explicit, as well as recognizing when Raw is Ready. We’ve considered Jewels on the Page, Safe Spaces and what feeds Grit Lit.

Clearly there’s much thought to share about the process.

If you seek prompts, like the Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch, you probably understand the benefits of writing quick raw responses. It can be like practicing scales, or warming up before a sport. After a year or two, you can amass suitcases of raw stories. What to do with them, might be on your mind. This week, Raw Literature is going to unpack some possibilities.

Suitcase #1: Craft

When I studied creative writing in college, I was taught to master the short-form before tackling the long-form. Master is a relative term, as I think writers continue to master their craft throughout their lives. That’s something raw literature reveals to us — our writing evolves. As craft, however, we can work on elements, such as characterization, tone, structure and language. What you practice, explore or learn in short-form you can apply to longer works.

Flash fiction is often spontaneous and can be fun for the surprises it might bring to both the writer and reader. Yet, the writer can also be deliberate in craft. I’ve watched regular writers play with twists (which work well in short form and also becomes a linchpin to ending book chapters). I’ve marveled at others who employ BOTS (based on a true story) as a way to use the challenge to explore inroads to memoir. Poets tackle the challenge with further constraints of form. Some flash focuses on imagery, others are character-driven. The brevity each week can offer ample possibilities to try different craft styles.

Another craft technique flash fiction can offer is what I’ve come to think of as non-committal application (point of view, character traits, tone). Raw literature employs discovery, but if I’m uncertain about a character, I don’t necessarily want to discover something essential half-way through the first draft of a novel. Flash fiction allows me to play with characters. One week a character might be the villain; the next week I might write him as the hero. When practicing craft, I don’t have to commit during exploration.

Something else I’ve seen other writers accomplish are serials. Through the weekly challenge, characters and their plots are born and progressed. Through the course of hosting flash fiction challenges, I’ve seen continuing stories of brow-beaten werewolves, a family with more twists and turns than an epic novel, a school girl explore her life between various ages, a western tale unfold and conclude, and characters start their own blogs. Many WIPS begin as a serial idea energized by weekly additions.

The possibilities for developing craft and raw material are endless.

Suitcase #2: Platform

A writer’s platform is both a billboard (for the writer) and a launching pad (for the writing of a writer). Raw literature can inform the platform’s elements of branding, credibility, community and target audience.

Voice is unique to each writer. Some writers might use the craft aspect of a writing challenge to discover or hone that voice, and more seasoned writers use it to further broadcast identity. That identity — a dark, lyrical writer of YA who is fond of hedgehogs and armadillos — becomes part of the brand. The writing that accumulates gives visual credibility that this is a writer who writes. If a writer intends to break into a specific genre, writing shorts in that genre is also a way to develop brand and credibility.

Writing among other writers is an experience in community. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of a platform. It’s interaction that can lead to friendships, tribes, networks or an assortment of each. Community can be supportive and encourage your aspirations, or you can reach out to community to learn from different experiences. Diversity is another rewarding aspect of community and can lead to greater insights through writing raw literature collectively.

You can use your raw creations to find or test your target audience. Often this is a confounding aspect of platform building because your readers are not always easy to encounter. However, you can use your raw creations to polish a few pieces you think represent your writing and longer-term goals and submit to short-form contests or literary magazines. This is a way to find readers and continue to build your brand and credibility.

Think of raw literature as possibilities for expanding your platform.

Suitcase #3: Marketing

If you are a writer, your writing is something marketable. First, let’s simplify what marketing is: it’s the continuous cycle of research, action and measurement. You can get into it more deeply than that, but at least recognize that marketing is more than promotion (action) and that promotion is one of many actionable tactics.

You can use your raw literature, your excerpts from WIPS or your flash fiction stories to gauge response. You can ask your community what they thought of a particular twist or for their impression of a character. You might produce a flash that others want to know more of the story. Exploration is a part of research when you are attentive to it. It might give you the idea to tackle a different genre. I don’t think I would have taken on a full-blown historical novel without the original feedback I got from flash fiction.

Action items can take many forms. You can use raw literature to build e-newsletters or e-books of short stories. You can quote from your own raw works and make memes on Pinterest or quotes on Twitter or Facebook. You can make postcards or bookmarks for promotion. What better way to promote your own writing than with your own words. You can take excerpts from your published (or soon to be) book and reverse-engineer it into a raw response to showcase the work it comes from. You can use your raw literature on your blog to drive traffic. You can be a guest writer and intersperse your raw literature between lines of an article or essay.

Measurement is about knowing if your actionable items were effective. While you don’t really use raw literature to measure, you can measure the impact it might have had on your action goals.

Final thoughts: keep writing raw, be mindful of your process and the possibilities of what you produce.

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

December 29: Flash Fiction Challenge

december-29He told me he rode in wagons. Whatever faults I find in memory, that one has long held certainty for me. My Bumpa rode in wagons!

I can’t remember how old I was when my mother’s mother’s mother died of a final stroke. She was Mayme Ferreira Bundeson, born in 1888 Honolulu, Hawaii, and the wife of my Bumpa. He was born Marcus Bundeson in 1884 in Hollister, California where I was born. She was the daughter of a red-haired and green-eyed Flanders Portagee cast off from her home of Medaria, and married to a Brazilian ship’s interpreter. He was the son of poor Danish immigrants who planted apricot trees in California.

Bumpa went to the old folks home after his wife died. I don’t remember her at all. But I remember Bumpa at the home. Often, my mother dropped me off to visit with him while she went elsewhere. We played bingo with the other residents, and he told me about farming apricots and riding in a wagon. Maybe that’s why I felt a kinship later in childhood when I discovered the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder who also rode in wagons as a pioneer girl. Wagons were my entry point to a lifelong fascination with history. Bingo, Bumpa and wagons are all I know of my Danish heritage.

Until I read a curious article in the New York Times about Hygge.

Hygge is Danish for getting cozy. Evidently my predilection for cake, curling up with a blanket and a drink, and watching crime dramas (Peaky Blinders, Sherlock, Longmire) is part of my DNA. While Bumpa failed to mention this lovely Danish tradition, I’ve naturally been drawn to it, especially over the December holidays when winter is darkest and cold. Oh, yes, I’ve been in hygge-mode all week and plan to add Prosecco to my cozy nook to mark the New Year. After that, I’ll disrobe the fleece blanket and get to work on the ranch.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. However, I believe in the power of written goals and taking time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you plan to go. As a writer and literary buckaroo, goals are important to me. Whether you experience set-backs or success, you can learn from examining and adjusting your goals. My long-term goal is to publish fiction about women of the west and build a synergistic writer’s platform. My short-term goals are the steps to get there. Those are the ones I examine and adjust.

One benefit to setting goals annually is that you can reflect on what you expected and compare it to what happened. 2016 has not been an easy year, and I’ve had to confront a personal crisis that continues to rock my goals. I can reflect with disappointment on the short-term goals that didn’t fruit. I can reflect with gratitude on the solidity of community at Carrot Ranch. I can reflect on breakthroughs I’ve had in understanding my own long-project writing process. With much reflection these past two months (November was a NaNoRanCho) I’m eager to move forward.

My writing completely shifted and now I’m revising two WIPs at once. Flash fiction has helped me find my way through bothprojects. I also wrote personal essays about military PTSD and homelessness — two subjects that now feature in one of my WIPs. When I do publish Miracle of Ducks, I’ll have a list of pitches on those subjects to write articles in vetted publications to reach my target readers. That’s the goal. And it’s a big one. The short-term goals are to maintain that pitch list, better define who is reading those topics, finish the revisions, work with beta readers, complete final edits with an editor, and find a publisher or outlet.

That’s another adjustment I’ve made — I’m more open to independent publishing. I better understand the benefits of different publishing paths and can make final decisions later. This year I have two publishing goals, including our Anthology Vol. 1. While the delay was unintended, it did give me time to reconsider publishing options. I’ve gained a greater respect for flash fiction in the development of raw literature. Next week, I will introduce a new guest series to explore what raw literature is, how we are participating in literary arts at Carrot Ranch, and how writers can participate in this greater discussion of what the writing process is.

This year, I’m cautious. Instead of wrapping my arms around all the opportunities that pop up, I’m focusing on specific  short-term goals, and I’m writing them down and plugging them into a greater business plan. It’s my map. I will refine my vision, too. A vision is the northern star by which I’ll plot my map. Instead of expanding my schedule at once, I’m adding incrementally, and waiting until it’s solid before executing the next goal. Already I prepared the way by changing the challenge date, deadline and compilation publication. Tuesdays will be the raw literature guest series. The intended marketing series will follow after raw literature is established.

So what is Carrot Ranch? “Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community online for those practicing craft, reading stories and discussing process.” The flash fiction challenges are the entry point, much like my Bumpa getting me excited about wagons, thus history. This is a place to get excited about writing. Your writing. And this post is to get you thinking about goals. Your goals. What you do matters to me, too. Together, we unite on the common ground where we are actively engaged in the literary arts. We create with words and craft with language. Whether we write YA, modern lit, historical fiction, humor, romance, children’s books or lessons, memoir, creative non-fiction, fusion rap, poetry, westerns or sci-fi we are all artists. Literary artists.

Take time to reflect. Even if it’s a hand written page or a post on your blog, write down your long-term goals and your short-term goals for 2017. But for now, it’s time to extend a bit more hygge with another holiday weekend approaching and a new year looming. Will you join me in a toast with something bubbly? Then get cozy.

December 29, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a cozy story. What is it to be cozy, to experience Danish hygge? It doesn’t need to be culture-specific, but it can be an interesting point of comparison or contrast. A character might long to feel cozy, or you might describe the perfect cozy scene. It may or may not include Prosecco.

Respond by January 3, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published January 4). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Homecoming (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Mary swept the hard-packed earthen floor. “Cobb, put my rocker by the hearth.”

“And the trunks, Wife?”

“Porch.” Her skirts flared as if she was dancing across a southern plantation ballroom. Children darted in and out the door, stew simmered on the hearth and Mary unpacked. She hung fresh calico curtains and made beds. By dark, tallow candles and stew in wooden bowls ended the day. It smelled like home. After three months of camping out of a creaking wagon, Mary felt a renewal of hope in her heart.

“Mary! Cobb! The new boys in the barn. They’re sick.”

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Night Battle (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls

Danni sloshed her Prosecco the night they set off the M-80s.

Before the first explosion echoed through the river canyon, Ike rose from his sportsman’s chair. He set down his glass, poised for battle. He’d later say this was why he disliked bonfires — he needed night vision. Danni’s desire for marshmallows and warmth wouldn’t persuade Ike to risk night blindness. Her idea of cozy-camping never meshed with his need to stand guard between life and death.

He slipped into the dark. Danni almost felt sorry for the jerks who lit off fireworks near a former Army Ranger’s campsite.

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November 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

november-2Clouds stiff as meringue coast overhead and cast shadows upon the red and white sandstone pillars of Zion. I watch as light returns, then gives way to shadow again. The cliffs, canyons and mesas morph in the obscuration of partial clouds. Reds deepen, crevices appear, whites highlight. It feels like watching a live kaleidoscope. All this show, and I also indulge in an afternoon cappuccino and crepe. I think of flying monkeys and wonder what shadows such creatures would cast.

My visit to this tourist hamlet of Springdale today is to uncover stories of flying monkeys. If Virgin (where I now live) is the gateway to Zion Canyon, then Springdale is the doorway. Tens of thousands of people pass through Zion National Park daily during the height of season. Despite a warm sun and partial clouds, tourism is receding. And no, flying monkeys did not chase off anyone. But I want to know more about them, and starting at the wood-fired grill of their namesake seems right. I have coffee at Me Me’s next door.

When I enter The Flying Monkey, savory smoke grabs me; my nose convinces my stomach to let my mouth experience a pizza here. There must be magic enough in the aroma to make monkeys fly. I return to my mind when the hostess approaches. I’m here to ask about monkeys not the fire-roasted pineapple and cilantro pizza.

“So, about the flying monkeys, ” I start to say.

“Oh, you want to know about our name.”

“I know where you get your name. I live in Virgin below Hurricane Mesa.”

“Oh…I’ve been up there…camping…”

“Did you see anything?” I’m excited now. The hostess may actually be an eye-witness.

“It was dark. But I always look at that strip and think about them, you know.”

“Me, too.”

“They all lived!”

“Really?”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Who is the local expert on the flying monkeys?”

This is how I often begin historical research. Casual conversation. I know what you’re thinking, how can conversation about flying monkeys be casual. I listen for rumors, look for odd local business names, seek the resident story-tellers. Today, I got two hits. Maybe the jeweler on the other side of Me Me’s knows something or perhaps the man across the street at the tire shop. The hostess tells me they’ve both lived in the area forever. She’s from St, George and this is her second season working in Springdale.

Geology opened this Pandora’s box. I wasn’t looking for flying monkeys, but places to rock hound. After my first big adventure in southern Utah, the one sliding across slimy red clay in the rain, I came home with some local jasper. I bought a book, Rockhounding Utah: A Guide to the State’s Best Rockhounding Sites. That’s where I read about Hurricane Mesa and it’s curious feature (in addition to agates and petrified wood). Author, Gary Warren, warns:

“There’s some private property up on the mesa now, so be sure to heed any posting. Be especially careful not to enter the test track area. It may be tempting, but it is a great big no-no!”

Knowing the military had a test track up on a mesa piqued my curiosity. That’s when I dug deeper into aviation records locally and discovered that in 1955, the Air Force developed a facility on Hurricane Mesa to test jet-propelled airplane ejection seats. Looking up at that mesa every morning, I think how tempting the big no-no is. Not only am I curious, I’m visual. I want to see what there is to see. And that was before I knew about the flying monkeys.

Now that we are officially Virgin locals (not to be confused with virgin locals), we find other locals readily talk about this magnificent area with a unique history. Filmography has convinced us this is the Wild West, but reality is rooted in Mormonism and mysterious testing. The Mormons pioneered to this geological land of wonder, once home to Paiute, Navajo and perhaps even Anasazi. Tensions between cultures led to deadly encounters. Global tensions after WWII led to the terrifying testing of nuclear weapons for which this area was fallout. We often hear tragic family stories of generational cancer. One John Wayne movie filmed here is reputed to have led to the deaths of all involved by cancer.

Locals tell us radiation surrounds us as much as geological beauty.

Do monkeys fly because they are local aberrations? Creatures resulting from radiation exposure? A Native American myth? A mushroom picker’s mistaken identity? Another local writer’s unchecked imagination? No. The answer is found back on the test track at Hurricane Mesa. Monkeys flew as live test subjects in the jet propelled and track ejected cockpit pods. Before men tested the ejection seats, monkeys did. And, so far, according to local lore or wishful thinking, the flying monkeys all lived.

November is, of course, NaNoWriMo. It’s the perfect season to write a first draft about mysterious government testing, monkeys and how women might have been involved. That is always my angle — history often forgets women among men and monkeys, and those are the stories I ultimately seek. However, No NaNoWriMo for me. More like, November is NaNoRanCho month. With a new home, office and ergonomic chair, I’m ready to get back to my ranch.

You might think that statement as odd as, well, flying monkeys once soared over Virgin, Utah. Why not “get back” to writing novels. First, I never stopped. Each week I work on revising two novels, in fact. Some weeks my revisions are processing, some weeks are filling research  gaps, and more weeks are needed for constructing transitions and new material. I’m not on a deadline for my novels. Perhaps if I had an agent or active publisher, my schedule would be different. As a marketer, I also know I need to have a well-crafted final manuscript for sale and a well-crafted platform from which to launch my books (like flying monkeys).

Carrot Ranch was originally a website I started when I left my last marketing job. I did marcom consulting, spoke at national workshops and managed communications for business clients. But as I worked on my first novel, I felt disconnected to my literary goals. I made the leap and transformed Carrot Ranch into a platform with a literary focus and a flash fiction challenge. No matter what I do, I always want to do good in the world. I began to focus on supporting a literary community. When my own personal crisis hit with a series of setbacks, including getting scammed by the publisher at Go Idaho and getting evicted from our home (and my office) because the owners thought it would sell better empty, my community helped me get through.

Much has changed since last November when I had high hopes for completing my second novel, launching our first anthology and setting up writers retreats in beautiful Sandpoint. A lot of the work I did, such as creating a library program called Wrangling Words and hosting a successful BinderCon event in Montana, has gone aside. Our anthology was delayed as I dealt with issues of homelessness. My confidence and plans felt shaken. But shit happens. I may not be able to control the circumstances, the injustices or recoup what I lost, but I can choose how to transform and reinvest in my platform, my writing and my community.

Therefore, I’m taking a NaNoWriMo-like daily focus on writing a new business plan for Carrot Ranch as a non-profit to support literary writers around the world with weekly flash fiction challenges, encouraging responses, an annual anthology, collective promotions (community books and blogs), contests for good causes, literary craft insights and practical marketing solutions for the everyday writer.

Carrot Ranch is my platform and it also belongs to the community here. By the end of the month, I’ll have all this crafted into a plan. I’ve retained a lawyer for the non-profit side; a designer to complete our first-still-in-the-works anthology and create a branded look for the continuing series; and an academic advisor to help me create a survey that will reveal what writers need to complete a practical and individual marketing plan.

While I’m sad to let go of my dream of having writers retreats in Sandpoint, I enjoyed the writers I did get to host at Elmira Pond. I missed out on one of our own Rough Writers who had plans to stay. I’m grateful I didn’t shut down the ranch, although I admit I’ve struggled mightily to keep my focus and presence since that awful day in March when we were told our lease would not be renewed. Many good turns have happened and in the end, I did deliberately choose my next home to be an RV. We could have rented, we could buy next year, but we own this RV outright and it meets every basic need have (and when you are homeless, you come to understand clearly wants verses needs). It gives us options.

And it has a chair that allows me longer stretches of writing! I didn’t share my greatest challenge: that how we were living led to debilitating pain. I could barely meet ranch duties each week, only write in short stints and I couldn’t read for long. I’ve had three back surgeries and without an ergonomic place to sit or sleep, I developed nerve pain in my legs, shoulders and hands. I thought it would take time to build up to my previous level of desk-marathoning, but the new home-on-wheels with it’s proper bedroom and real bed plus an ergonomic chair and office space has me happily pecking away at the keys. What a relief! I now have a choice of recliner or couch for reading, too. And I’m continuing my walking and pool therapy. Thank you, to all of you’ve who’ve hung in there with me.

I feel like I can start dreaming and doing again. So, of course, I believe in flying monkeys. First, a few shots of the new Carrot Ranch office:

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November 2, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using flying monkeys as a device or phrase. As a phrase it can be something like, “When monkeys fly over Grandma’s tea party.” As a device, you can use flying monkeys as characters (a circus act, astronaut companions, zoo critters). Think of what they are doing and why. How can flying monkeys inspire you this week?

Respond by November 8, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Danni’s Circus (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls

Danni’s yard had become the local circus. Instead of flying monkeys she had ten canine clowns.

By nine weeks, the puppies were the biggest attraction in town. Tourists gathered and Deputy Erikson cruised by daily. He informed Danni she could keep the litter up until twenty weeks unless she was training any, and at that required a special license.

Twenty weeks. Danni would let the circus run away before she lived with this chaos that long. It was time to sell the clowns. Yet, she looked at the male, Bubbie, and wondered if she should apply for a license.

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Tales from Kansas (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Then the witch sends out winged monkeys to stop the farm girl from Kansas.” Jesse Williams read Sarah her favorite chapter from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Sarah sipped her tea, not wanting to leave the warmth of Jesse’s family parlor. “I knew of a real fantastical man from Kansas.”

“Tell me, Sarah!” Jesse seemed more of a child than a near-grown woman of 16. Maybe it was because Sarah felt so old. She was ancient.

“He came to Rock Creek after wresting a grizzly bear.”

Jesse’s Dad coughed, and laid down his newspaper. “You knew Wild Bill Hickok?”

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#LinkYourLife Roundup Challenge

linkyourlifeWelcome to the first community #LinkYourLife Roundup Challenge. The roundup is a cooperative collection of links from the “LinkYourLife community online. The challenge is open for any member of this community to host. If you would like to know more about the #LinkYourLife movement to connect and share through several online connections, see Shawna Ayoub Ainslie’s post on how “We Are Better Together.

Connecting with other writers online in meaningful ways offers personal satisfaction and broadens your writing platform’s community reach.

The idea is that as writers we can encourage one another in our journey and form more lasting social media connections. This aligns with our purpose at Carrot Ranch. Here we are a dynamic literary community online for those practicing craft, reading stories and discussing process. We host our own flash fiction challenge each week based on a prompt and constrained by 99 words, no more, no less.

My hope is that our local writing community at Carrot Ranch will discover the #LinkYourLife movement, and that the LYL community will join us in adding to the diverse lens of literary fiction. Both places are safe environments to share one’s writing, voice and stories. Furthermore, Carrot Ranch believes in the power of literature to reach beyond what we know and experience, thus broadening our impact and influence on readers who can gain empathy and perspective through engaging fiction.

The following are blog posts, essays and articles shared by writers from the #LinkYourLife community.

Austin Hodges (@Austin_Hodgens) reflects on his favorite film to reminds us that no man is a failure who has friends. Such a man can also get help with getting the right new jacket (be sure to say how fine it looks). Austin writes:

“How can that finale not tug on your heartstrings?  For a Hopeless Romantic like me, Modern Philosophers, It’s A Wonderful Life is a perfect movie.” Read more at Friends Can Make It a Wonderful Life.

Thomas Ives (@BestowingFire) shares an earlier post on the influences of harsh issues in the news that can trigger depression and anxiety. He offers positive counterpoints and writes:

“I will not let the chaos of the world stop me from bringing light into someone else’s darkness. So here are four things that can be done to create positive change.” Read more at 4Ways to Create Positive Change.

Olisha Charles (@divine_things) offers a glimpse into a romantic encounter, delicious with details. She writes:

“A raindrop splattered across my face and interrupted my thoughts as I realized in my hurry I forgot to grab my Leopard print umbrella as I ran out the door. Nevertheless that night was going to be a good night.” Read more at His Diamond in the Rough.

Shareen Mansfield (@ShareenM) publisher and creator of Open Thought Vortex (OTV) magazine, has been exploring identity in October, hosting many guest writers. She shares an essay by one of her writers, Stacia Fleegal (@ShapeShifter43):

“Hi, I’m Stacia, and I tell self-deprecating jokes when I’m profoundly uncomfortable because someone has matter-of-factly pointed out that what I thought I knew about myself, I might not really know at all, and I’m possibly in the throes of a full-fledged, trauma-induced identity crisis.” Read more at Know Thyself. Ok, But How?

Habibi Habibi (@Amina_Berg) explores the silence and solitude to connect with the self. She shares the wisdom gained with experience in getting to know herself better. She writes:

“Sadly, when you hit rock bottom at some point in life, you are faced with one enemy, yourself, in which you are forced to ‘bond’ with in order to heal, grow and persevere. “ Read more at A Misunderstood Introvert.

Meghan Sara (@MeghanSaraK) also writes at OTV. As Halloween approaches, she reflects that in the US, the presidential elections are the scariest thing happening. She doesn’t hold back on Trump and writes:

“For today’s recap, I just want to walk you through Trump’s seven big mistakes at the final Presidential debate, in escalating order of holy-shit-you-just-messed-up-ness:…” Read more at Final Debate POTUS 2016 Rocky Horror or American Horror Story :Trump.

The Rough Writers & Friends (@Charli_Mills) publish a weekly compilation based on the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. What stands out each week is the diversity of perspectives on a single topic. Here the writers tackle a  shifting medium:

“Just as there are different beaches, you will find different stories. The following are based upon the October 12, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a walk across the sand.” Read more at a Walk Across the Sand.

Update on the Rodeo Ride to Get Published

RodeoI have this analogy at Carrot Ranch: That the path to publishing a book is like a rodeo ride. My father, his father and his father were all bull-riders. My father gave it up after high school. I really wanted to ride bulls, coming from a family that did so. I rode training barrels, goats and steers. I never made it to the level of bulls. If I had, all I would have needed was one eight-second ride at a rodeo to prove my merit. I never got the chance.

Now it’s about writing novels. I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years, mostly publishing in newspapers, magazines and business publications. But I’ve trained to write novels. It’s a bit like my childhood, comparing my writing experience to that of training with goats and steers when I really want to ride bulls. Every lesser step matters though. It’s how you develop skills and practice your craft.

Also, other life experiences matter.

Parenting teaches you a certain kind of dedication that a job does not — you can always change jobs. Every job teaches you something of value, even if it is the recognition of what you don’t want to do. It can teach you the value of teamwork, negotiation, administrative skills. When you feel stumped about how to ride a bull, think back to what it was like to ride a goat or steer. Back up to what you know and look for connections from your experience to take you down an unknown path.

Publishing is the big dream. Think big. Dream big. Publish. However, it’s not quick and easy.

When I first set out, I was so certain I’d ride the biggest, baddest Brahma bull the rodeo had to offer. I would get published. Turns out, that requires getting an agent and the agent brokers the ride. It’s a long process. In the meantime, I kept writing. With my third WIP, I discovered that genre really does matter when it comes to getting published in the bigger arena. This means I won’t get my chance to ride until I finish revisions on my third. And just because a publisher is interested to read doesn’t mean it will get picked up. I have much anticipation on one ride, but it is a strategy and I’m committed to see it through to success or failure.

Then what?

Well, no one can take from me what I’ve already written. If one ride doesn’t work out, there are plenty more rodeos to aim for. I will most likely consider a new strategy or shop it out to other publishers and agents. Then there is self-publishing.

Self-publishing has remained low on my list of rodeos to consider. To me, it’s like aiming for the county rodeo when I really want to ride at the Nationals. However, it can be a legitimate strategy for authors. Some start with the county rodeo with the intention to get picked up for the national ride. Others enjoy the county rodeo and that’s where they want to be. Many are successful there. It doesn’t matter which rodeo you want, as long as it fits the ride you seek.

While some might think self-publishing is an easy ride, they speak from a lack of experience. It requires a writer to provide more, and to understand book publishing regardless of your entry point. It’s one thing to know how to ride bulls, but do you know what each rodeo requires of you? Self-publishing requires specific skills and planning. It’s more than knowing how to upload a digital file. It requires every step that book publishers take. Thus the author becomes a publisher. It also puts your book into the same market. Thus the author becomes a distributor.

The P-word: planning. Not every author likes the p-word. In fact, a successful author I follow had a hard-truth-response to an author who said they’d self-publish and see what happens. C. Hope Clark, author of several mystery series and the weekly Funds for Writers, responded:

“I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. I encourage it, actually. I have no problem with people publishing as a hobby. I encourage that, too. But . . . when they hint that they do not have the time to do it right . . . when part-time is an excuse for not doing it thoroughly, I just want to get to a microphone someplace and rant!

Of course ranting to anyone is not the way to make them understand. I don’t want someone shaking their finger at me, either. So I try to educate.

I explain:

1) A book not prepared with a professional eye, will not sell.
2) A book not edited hard by people other than the writer, will not sell.
3) A book placed on Amazon with no steady promotion, will not sell.
4) A book published without the author marketing herself, will not sell.

One gentleman threw those words at me, “and see what happens,” and I simply replied, “It won’t sell.” He looked like I’d slapped him.” (Read the full post, “I’ll Throw it Out There and See What Happens.”)

Planning is essential. I love the craft of writing, too; I love creation, to create, to dwell in the hum of creativity. But I want to ride bulls to make the purse. In other words, I want to publish what I write to earn a living. I’m not so ignorant of the state of this profession to not see how difficult that is. In fact, it’s why I equate publishing books to making a rodeo ride. But consider this: I have student loan debt for a writing degree; I worked in the trenches at newspapers, magazines and in marketing departments; I workshopped my craft on my dime each year and invested money in craft-related books. This isn’t a hobby for me. And just as I have nothing against those who do write for a hobby — I know and admire many who are on this  path — I want to help myself and others who are serious to make writing a viable career.

If you do plan, understand it can take years to come to fruition. I wrote a guest post for Rachel Poli about planning and how it’s part of establishing your writer’s platform. You can consider three different plans, all or one. A vision plan is great for all writers. It helps you understand what you want out of writing, an answer only you can give. Once you clearly see your vision, decide if you need a business or marketing plan. If you are having trouble keeping to your plan, adjust it.

Don’t beat yourself up every time you fall off the bull. You will fall off the bull 8,000 times, but you only need one eight-second ride.

You will fail to meet your plans. You will be rejected by others. You will fail to convey your ideas in words. You will experience disappointment. Don’t linger in disappointment (back in the 1850s, it was a common reason for getting committed to an insane asylum). Connect with other writers who are on similar paths. Study the rodeo rides of successful authors and absorb that the ride can be done. Find your voice and use it. Acknowledge your falls, but get back up and try again. You might even want to quit for a while until the itch to ride brings you back to the arena.

The purpose of this post is to give a backstory to posts to come. I’ve been working to define a writer’s platform as what you build from branding, community, credibility and audience. Currently, I’m stuck on audience building. It’s similar to building community, but often harder to make the connection. Community is getting to know your fellow bull riders. But say you had to fill the grandstands with rodeo attendees. Sure, a few bull riders might attend, but most are going to be in the arena with you. So, how do you find people to come watch the show, buy tickets and see your ride? That’s the same question every author has — how do I get people to find my writing, buy my book and read it?

I’m also exploring the world of publishing, specifically self-publishing. Currently the Congress of Rough Writers are collaborating on our first anthology. Sarah Brentyn is riding as Trail Boss; she’s our editor. Volume 1 will include flash fiction from our first year of writing at Carrot Ranch and will introduce several chapters of new work, including essays from our memoirists and longer stories from our featured fiction writers. Sarah Brentyn is also writing a chapter to make this anthology a teaching tool for book clubs, writers groups and classes. Several writers are assisting on teams to guide the processes involved. We plan to self-publish. As Lead Buckaroo, the planning is my task.

What I’m learning is that the marketing channels for traditionally published and self-published books are the same. The difference is what and how distribution is available. Another difference is that as self-publishing, I’m the publisher.

Subsequent posts will explain:

  1. the marketing channels,
  2. the role of authors,
  3. each publishing requirement,
  4. the process of planning,
  5. ideas on pricing,
  6. target-audiences,
  7. how a writer’s platform applies to the anthology.

An anthology is a way to explore at low risk. Each participant is risking little on this ride. If it’s successful, it benefits many. It it fails, it doesn’t take down any one writer’s hard work, like a full novel. If I fail, I learn from it. We can always try again. My hope is that the anthology becomes a practice arena of sorts. We can experiment with self-publishing, pricing, distribution, platform and even craft and content, which are all lessons we can individually apply to our greater individual rides. As a group, we have greater experience and skills to share, too.

Stay in the saddle! Once a week, I’ll post something new from what we are doing, learning or discussing. Feel free to add to discussion in the comments.

January 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

January 27Rain has come early. Like a great science experiment it transforms snow into white fog and ice into silver slush. A woman driving northbound on State Highway 95 hit a patch of slush and spun her lumbering SUV out of control. When the tires caught the snow bank, the vehicle flipped twice, landing briefly upside-down before coming to a rest upright and askew to the railway bed. She had been going about 60 miles per hour; the speed limit.

I didn’t hear the accident, yet sensed it. No squeal of tires, no crunch of metal. Just a silent spin and double somersault, and those who saw it held their breath and pulled over. At that very moment the vehicle landed in three feet of grimy roadway snow, I turned from my computer and was stunned to see an SUV off the highway, other cars braking, some stopping, drivers running to get to the vehicle.

I yelled loudly for the Hub who didn’t even ask what was going on. He clearly heard my tone. I met him downstairs, breathless. “A car’s gone into the ditch.” He nodded, put on his shoes and a hat to keep off the rain. Without discussing it with me, he reacted by instinct. He knows me. He helped her out, talked to neighbors, waved at those who slowed down to ask about injuries through rolled down windows, and then he escorted her to our home. I already had a fresh pot of coffee going, hot water for tea and I set out brownies.

It’s what a community does.

And that’s not all. Those attached to our community in the capacity of civil service showed up — Idaho Highway Patrol, Emergency Medical Service, Volunteer Fire Department, Sandpoint Towing. In and out men in boots and emergency gear or uniforms traipsed, apologized for wet shoes. I offered coffee, tea. She sat in my rocking chair by the fire, ice on her broken nose, cup of tea at her side. She filled out paperwork, answered questions, let EMS examine her head. She laughed at the irony of surviving the accident only to break her nose trying to get out of the vehicle. She was in shock. We kept her warm, talked to her and eventually one of the responders took her home.

The internet technician who arrived days later was more curious about the obvious disturbance to the snow across the road from our mail box than our continuing connectivity woes. Connection, however, is paramount to me.

Though I live in a small community I don’t often see my neighbors or go to town. Lack of internet connectivity forced me to open up secondary offices in the community brew and beer houses. Just in time for no internet, my magazine editor gave me new assignments. I want to stay home, hide out and work within my routines. Then I realized what was really bothering me — I didn’t want to be disconnected from my writing community. It truly is the hub of my work.

Some writers worry about the time spent on social media as if being social were a bad thing. Going to town reminded me that it is not, and I like my new magazine gig that has me interviewing my local community. My interview style is to collect stories and that requires a degree of sociability. And I like it, despite my introverted desire to stay home. Being an introvert does not make one unsocial. Not only is my online community important to being social, it forms an important part of my writer’s platform.

Community is my foundation. All else pushes out from that hub like spokes on a wagon wheel.

Ever since I began decoding the writer’s platform, I had been trying to figure out how to visually show others the importance of community, especially when some writers began to wonder if it was a guilty pleasure or a time-waster. I knew it was neither, but I couldn’t make it “fit” my brick and mortar design for a writer’s platform. As I thought of community, I was reminded of a marketing model from the wellness segment called the “world view.” It’s a core, surrounded by a thicker layer and then a thinner crust.

Then the hub, spokes and wheel idea came to me.

Community is the hub; it’s our core. From the community, spokes of opportunity open up to reach the wheel that drives us in the writing market — readers. While I don’t have a developed visual, I’m working on it! First comes the breakthrough idea. Community is essential and the more organic it is the better. No, I don’t mean we need USDA labels or unadulterated ingredients. An organic community is one that occurs naturally. It’s the kindred-spirits, the shared-values bloggers, the like-minded who gather to write, read and discuss. We might be from varied backgrounds, genres and experiences, but we find common ground in our process, ideas and words.

From this hub of community, important spokes come into play. Like the woman who crashed, our community quickly responded with emergency services. That’s a spoke. For writers in a community, a spoke might be finding advice or trusted beta-readers. It might be an unexpected spoke of realizing that the genre you write is beloved to someone one of your community members know. Another spoke might be the sharing we do for each other in mentioning posts or books on our own sites. Yet another is collaboration, whether it is a Blogger’s Bash, judging a contest or sharing work in an anthology.

All these spokes reach out from our community and touch readers we don’t yet know.

January 27, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about how a community reaches out. Who, or what cause, is touched by a community “spoke”? Do you think communities can impact change and move a “wheel”? Why or why not? Explore the idea of a community hub in a flash fiction.

Respond by February 2, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Community Adjudication by Charli Mills

“String ‘em up,” one of the returning gold-miners shouted. Others laughed.

Ben, the grizzled trader who’d been buffalo hunting with the Pawnee since 1846 shook his shaggy head. “Now that ain’t fair. A man deserves due process.”

Cobb agreed. The old frontiersman understood democracy better than did most of these farmers who liked the idea of wielding deadly force over miscreants. Cobb stood and towered over them all. “Gentlemen, I wrote a proclamation to our Territorial Governor to petition for our right to adjudicate minor crimes.”

Heads nodded.

“But we won’t be hanging anyone in our community,” he added.

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December 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

December 30Mile marker 490 on Idaho State Highway 95 marks the spot where industry once built a town called Elmira. Throughout my two blogs, I’ve explored what remains of the town, mostly an iconic 1910 schoolhouse. I’ve guessed that the industry was logging or railroads based on what brought people to settle this area.

Last month, I got a writing gig with a new online magazine called, Go Idaho. It’s not yet live, but it will live up to its promise to be a magazine about amazing people and places in my state. You can sign up for the VIP List and I hope you subscribe. It’s an innovative magazine that forgoes advertising and generates revenue through subscription. And, it pays writers. I’ve freelanced for 22 years and watched the industry shift from robust regional publications to watered down global internet.

Yet, I still believe in the value of quality writing. Companies still need copy-writers who understand consumer engagement; readers still want good stories to read; and we all recognize top-shelf writing with appreciation. Making a living as a writer is not exactly the career path any school counselor would promote, but any industrious writer can make it work. You have to find a niche (business background, regional access, past experience, interests), an outlet and fair payment. If you are all about the literary writing, seek artist grants in your town or region, set up a plan to submit to contests with prizes or polish your work to submit to paying literary outlets.

Do the groundwork and keep writing.

Living way up north in the Panhandle gives me a regional writing niche. Funny thing is, my book editor got me in touch with the magazine editor, so be open to who others might know. It’s a perfect fit to my Elmira Pond voice, journalism profile background and content writing for internet. Your perfect fit is out there, too. Same goes for publishing a book. First you need to know what you want to achieve, then you have to find the right publishing partner. I believe that many rejections writers experience are due to poor fit. Get to know that agent or publisher or editor and study what interests them.

It’s why I know Elmira was a railroad and logging industry town — it fits the terrain.

One of my assignments for Go Idaho is a series about places and the traces of cultural diversity in its history. Naturally I began with Elmira. For fun I called up people (random neighbors) and asked each to complete the sentence, “They say Elmira was a ________ town.” I was trying to find the myths and compare it to historical record. For example, I’ve heard that Elmira was founded by Italian immigrant railroad workers. My neighbors gave me even juicer myths and history gave me a surprise. I will continue to write this series and have already explored Swede Island and have a spring trip planned to discover a Chinese burial ground known to some locals.

The magazine gig and a new client project has made me a naughty novel writer. I set my revision aside for a rest at Thanksgiving and, yes, it’s still resting. My goal this year is to discover something in between revision obsession and revision avoidance. Right now, I’m coming out of a holiday break that I can’t claim was adventurous, productive or reflective, but it was restful. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get industrious again.

Where to begin? Assessment. The turning of a new year is always a good time to reflect. Not all writers set goals, but I tend to be goal-oriented. I also have a vision for what “success” looks like for me as a writer. In fact, I shared that vision last year and mentioned my interest in hosting writing retreats in northern Idaho. Whether you have set goals, an idea of what success means to you, or you simply reflect on what has come to pass and what next, now is a good time to take stock.

2015 was not the year I expected. However, I didn’t let the setbacks derail me. In taking time to assess at various points throughout the year, I found it wise to shift priorities. Next week, after Longboarder returns to a more boisterous home and friends and I have in all my client submissions, I plan to plan. We have our first Anthology to craft and publish; Carrot Ranch is expanding to a live monthly writer’s support program at the local library; my Rock Creek revision deadline is the end of January; and I need to continue to source writing income.

Vision. Goals. Plan. Assess. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

And above all, write. Writing is a combination of drafting, researching, arranging, revising, reading, inspiration and perhaps other activities such as plotting, people-watching, imagining, exploring. Writing is a hearty stew, not a single ingredient. And these days, if you publish — magazines, blogs, books — you need to add promoting to the mix. I’d like to get back to my platform building posts. Target audience is the biggest gap I see in our book publishing industry, and it’s a tricky one to deal with whether you publish independent, small press or with the big pillars.

Humans are industrious. Sometimes our industry is driven by greed — the desire to make money and be powerful through wealth — and sometimes it is driven by compassion — the desire to help others. I’m sure industrious people have a plethora of reasons for their efforts. Cobb McCanles came to Nebraska in March of 1859 and built a toll-bridge, dug a new well for pioneers, settled four ranches, operated a Pony Express relay station, traded with indigenous tribes, ran a stage coach stop, kept a wife and family and kept a former mistress. He was definitely industrious. The west often afforded such opportunity. In part, it’s what frustrated him about the southern economy based on plantation expansion and support of a slave trade. Only a few made wealth. Out west, a hard working man could make a living.

So could immigrants who came to America, believing in better opportunities for those clever and hard-working enough.

You see that picture up above for the flash fiction challenge? That’s a train of railroad cars all carrying steel rails for maintenance. I’ll give you the hint that Elmira was, and still is, a railroad maintenance hub. I see those rails parked outside and I think of the gandy dancers of men that once worked in teams to realign the rails before modern machinery. Were they Italian? Did they settle Elmira? Ah, you’ll have to read my story at Go Idaho!

December 30, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write an industrious story. It can be about an industry or the efforts of a person or group of people. What does their industry reflect? Does hard work pay off? Are there risks or accidents?

Respond by January 5, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Prairie Industrialist by Charli Mills

Sarah knelt on the bank above, handing Cobb tools he needed. He waded the icy creek and directed the digging. The timbers he squared himself.

A small and curious crowd gathered. A few of the buffalo hunters pulled whiskey and crouched alongside several Ottowas. Many traded at the store. Her store. Well, Cobb’s store really, but she was running it.

“What’s he doing?”

Sarah looked up at the ranch wheelwright Cobb hired. “He’s building a toll-bridge to make a safer crossing at Rock Creek.”

“First spring flood’ll wipe it off the face of the earth.”

“Cobb’s a solid builder.”

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Re-creation of the bridge Cobb built over Rock Creek at Rock Creek Nebraska State Park:

DSC_0253

September 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

September 23From the coping mind of a messy desk comes this: I’m an author.

I need to make this declaration. Ever since I left my job in 2012, I’ve recreated my career into one of a literary writer. Except it’s not a bring-home-the-bacon kind of career, yet. For bacon, I work with a handful of business clients on various marketing jobs. It’s a point of contention when the Hub tells me I’m good at marketing. I try to explain that I’m good at marketing because I’m a writer. He’s hinted, pushed and fussed for me to find another marketing management job.

Sure. It would bring home the bacon, but I’ll eat dandelions before I do that. I’m determined. What I do every day is to work as an author. Yet I feel disinclined to claim the title. If it is my role, my work, my intention, shouldn’t I say so? It is my profession, my calling, my pursuit. I manage my own marketing the way any professional would when planning a business. Of course, what I want to market are my books. They are not published, yet.

It doesn’t diminish my work as an author.

This is the messy part of building an author’s platform before one is ever accepted as an author. As a marketer, I know that there are two things I can control: the quality of my product and my service to others. Writing, researching and craft-related learning is all about managing the quality of my product. Service to others, customer service, is the management of relating to others in the profession. Both are my work.

Some of you might raise a cliched eyebrow over my boldness to say I’m an author. I’m declaring that I am right now, dictionaries, associations and elitists be damned. I am an author. With no published books. How is that possible? Well, it goes back to my understanding of marketing and my business background.

When entrepreneurs have an idea for a product or service, they begin to develop both the idea and the marketplace for it. It is common in business for people to take years to build enterprises, yet before doors open or annual profits accumulate, they are recognized as business professionals from the start. Many future business owners join Chamber of Commerce or networking groups before they are in position to do business.

Why should it be different for authors?

It isn’t. We build platforms the same way entrepreneurs or future business owners build platforms. A writer’s platform is the same thing as a business’s marketing platform: it’s branding, community, credibility and audience. We know we have to build a platform before we publish, so if we are building such, why are we reticent to declare author-hood in the midst of the process? We writers can get messed up in our ideas of being artists, counterfeit, hobbyists, amateur or comparing ourselves to the glorious best-sellers for success.

Comparison is not a bad thing if you use it to identify where you want to be in the next year, five years, or ten. Use it as a stick of measurement or as proof that your venture is possible. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit! Define your own measures of success and investigate how others did it. Create a reasonable — to you — timeline. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Be your own brand — loud and proud, or quiet and humble. Be you. Declare your intention.

My intention from the day I decided to leave my marketing job has been to write and publish novels. My intention is to be a successful author. Success to me is publishing books I want to write for readers who want to read them. My secondary goal is to market well enough to eat more than hand-picked dandelions from my yard. Many will say it’s a fool’s dream. Never before have so many claimed to be authors. Everyone and their third cousin writes. Never before has there been such a broad market, an over-saturated market, a market divided between traditional/Indies and print/digital.

So what; it’s the marketplace and the truth is that people are reading. Look for opportunities, for openings. Be ready to claim your spot. This isn’t a Ms. Universe contest; it’s a vocation. No one is going to hand you a crown one day. If you want to be a professional then start seeing yourself as one.

Instead of focusing on the chaotic market, the messiness of it all, the doomsayers, focus on your intention. My target audience exists. Finding them will be work, is work, but is part of building my platform. It’s part of what it means to be an author in our time. I measure my humble numbers and they are nothing to post to Wall Street, but they are my metrics. I look for meaning and adjust. I watch for responses to the shifts and I adjust again. Being a marketer is like being a watchmaker. The gears do work, but you have to get it all aligned one piece at a time.

Being an author is writing and marketing.

I write flash fiction, newsletters, business reports, articles, essays and posts. But what makes me an author is that I write books. Here’s where I’ve been frustrated with myself, and I’m sure every entrepreneur and business person alike has reached this point: the product is not yet quality enough to sell. I have two complete manuscripts that I could self-pub tomorrow. But I know they aren’t ready for those who I believe to be my target audience. I’ve slacked on my rewriting the way someone might show up for work but under perform. This made me feel guilty until I began to re-read “The Craft of Revision” by Donald Murray who embraces an enthusiasm for revision. I realized that I need to think like an author. To think like one, I need to act like one.

I declare that I’m an author, and revising becomes my profession. I can control the quality. I’m an entrepreneur progressing development; a business person networking to a target audience for opening day.

Marketing takes time. I so badly want to see my words in print, but writing also takes time. Worrying about “becoming” something I already work at doesn’t help when I encounter doubt. So I continue to develop my prototype. I look to expand my venture through literary connections. The greatest one is here at Carrot Ranch. Originally my website was for marketing clients. In 2014, I declared myself a literary writer and launched flash fiction challenges.

Declarations boost my determination. Intention is where we begin. And we all have to remember that there is an expanse of time and work, tears and joys, confusion and clarity, between beginning and ending. We write in between the two.

Why this ramble from my messy desk? As some of you know, I was derailed this year in my publishing goals. After a confident launch of my first manuscript, I am going to admit to you all, I’ve not sent it to a single publisher or agent since the two I met with in LA. I have felt disappointed in myself. Then my best friend needed me at her side as she died, and I went. Grief has been a bully and it got me weeding instead of writing. It clouded my emotions and I began to doubt my validity as a writer.

But you know what I discovered? I was right to let my first manuscript sit. I have excellent feedback to make changes that really are not as big as I initially feared. I also have let enough time slip by that I have learned improved approaches for revision. I’m finding renewed enthusiasm to fill my gaps in my third novel. I’m discovering that my skills at project management can serve me when I shove my doubts aside. I let grief get too chummy with doubt and it took a toll on my progress.

And most of my doubts hinge on, “I’m not really an author.” So I’m claiming that I am. I will act like an author, plan my business like an author, market like an author, write like an author. And one day it will be so in the eyes of others.

So I am progressing. This declaration does not need to make sense to anyone but me. A declaration feels powerful to the one making it. It’s empowering.

I think about a declaration that Cobb McCanles must have made on July 4, 1860. History records that he was an educated and persuasive orator. It won him two terms in North Carolina as Sheriff. In Nebraska, historians write that citizens sought his spirited speeches on the Fourth of July. What many forget, or fail to record because of complexities, Cobb McCanles and his entire family left North Carolina in 1859 because of secessionist views to which they denounced. His parent and two sisters along with their families, removed to Eastern Tennessee, known to be a Unionist stronghold for the region. Cob, his brother Leroy and their families resettled in Nebraska.

1860 was a year of fierce divisions and unrest in the US. States, political parties and families were so divided that militia and reserves began to train for war and newspapers espoused aggressive rhetoric. War was bubbling; a presidential election kindling the brew. I know Cob spoke at the Johnson County picnic July 4, 1860 from accounts that say so. I know his views from reading family letters, his father’s poetry from that time and the history recorded in Eastern Tennessee in 1902 by those who remained loyal to the Union even though Tennessee succeeded and joined the Confederacy. But I’ve been frustrated not to have his speech recorded.

Then I realized, Cob would have stood to empower his views, to convince others of the importance of this country as a unified whole. Without a doubt, I can imagine Cobb’s declaration as clearly as my own.

September 23, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) declare an intention in a story. Is it one person, a character speaking up or speaking out? Is it a group or a nation? Create a tension before or after the declaration. It can be private or public, big or small. Does it have power to those who state it or hear? What does it change?

Respond by September 29, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Mary Silently Stands by Charli Mills

“Momentous crisis commands great effort.” Cobb’s voice boomed over the celebratory gathering of prairie homesteaders.

Mary stood with the children, letter in hand. Her father wrote with pride that ten of her nephews trained with militia sworn to defend states against federal tyranny.

“We are a territory, daughter of America. Liberty’s interest is ours. Freedom’s policy is ours. We are United!” Huzzas ensued.

Would Cobb’s nephews fight hers? Would her father inform on Cobb’s? Her house divided, yet her husband bellowed with conviction.

“I’m the Union’s man!”

And I abide with my husband, Mary thought when the crowd roared.

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