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How To Pull Yourself Out Of A Writing Hole With A Little Help From Your Characters

Allow me to introduce you to Richard and Adrian. You may have already met them; then again, you may not, but did you know that they helped me get out of a writing hole?

I’m not talking about a physical hole that I fell into while looking down at the screen on my phone, but a mental hole I hadn’t realised was there. I think many authors and writers fall into this hole, sometimes without knowing. However, Richard and Adrian helped me realise that something was missing in my writing world. 

If you’ve reached this far reading this post, you may be asking two questions. 

  1. Who are Richard and Adrian?
  2. What the heck is Hugh talking about? 

Allow me to answer both questions. What I’m referring to is the lack of LGBTQ characters in my writing.

Where are all the LGBTQ characters? 

I feel pretty shocked about it. As a gay man, you’d think my writing would have many LGBTQ characters, wouldn’t you? Yet when I look back, I see hardly any sign of them. 

Where are they? Are they all hiding in the closet? And by closet, I mean the way some people refer to when somebody hasn’t told anyone about their sexual orientation. 

Maybe it’s because I’m reading the wrong blog posts or books or not following bloggers who write about LGBTQ subjects, but my email box and WordPress Reader are LGBTQ scarce.

Where I have noticed an increase of LGBTQ characters is on television and in movies 

Soap operas especially seem to have exploded with LGBTQ characters. I also recently read that James Bond’ movies made over 40 years ago had hidden gay characters. ‘Hidden’ gay characters? Why are they hidden? Are they still in the closet? 

I guess it was all to do with the sign of the times back then, but I do recall various open gay characters on television shows in the 1970s. And, strangely enough, I don’t remember there being much outrage about them. Most people welcomed them with open arms, yet as a young gay man, I was still terrified of ‘coming out‘ of the closet because of the consequences I may face. 

The day Richard and Adrian came into my life

Although I’ve had a light sprinkling of gay characters in my writing, they were what I call ‘one-offs.’ They appear in one story or piece of flash fiction, and that’s it. Then, on June 18th 2021, Charli published the following 99-word flash fiction challenge prompt – 

June 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features a solstice. What is the era and setting? Use the solstice as a celebration, metaphor, or talking point. Go where the prompt leads!  

I wrote and published ‘Edge Of Summer‘, which featured two gay characters, Richard and Adrian. The story went down well with readers and received lots of lovely comments. Some readers had already fallen in love with these two guys. 

A week later, Richard and Adrian appeared again in the 99-word flash fiction challenge, only this time Charli’s prompt had led me to kill Richard off. Perhaps I didn’t like Richard as much as Adrian? But if I had killed off Richard, surely that meant the end of Adrian too? 

Richard and Adrian – two short-lived characters. Or so I thought! 

At least they’d had more than one outing on my blog and at the Carrot Ranch. Imagine my surprise then when Charli’s following prompt inspired me to write about Richard and Adrian again.

Had I bought Richard back to life? No. Well, yes, but I had a good reason for doing so.

The boys took a break during the rest of the summer. But come September, they were back in my mind. They’ve now appeared in over twelve pieces of flash fiction. Not only do readers seem to still like and love them, but we’re beginning to build up a picture of their whole lives. 

I feel as if I’m in the process of writing my first LGBTQ novel 

The 99-word flash fiction prompts mean the life stories of Richard and Adrian are not in any particular order. One week we could be witnessing the beginning of their lives, and the following week we could find ourselves towards the end. But that doesn’t seem to matter to those following their journey. 

It wasn’t long before I realised how fond I was of Richard and Adrian. Now, not only have I grown to love these two gay characters, but I realise how they have helped me write more about LGBTQ life than I’ve ever done before.

You know how much I like a twist, yes?

If you’ve read any of my fiction, you’ll know that I love adding twists to my stories. Imagine then, to my surprise, when I noticed that one of my true-story blog posts about gay life started taking off again one year after I first published it on my blog.

Screenshot showing the total n umber of views on a blog post over a 26 month period

I created Richard and Adrian in June 2021. Bought them back to my blog in September 2021, and they’ve been featured on my blog for most weeks since then.

I still can’t fathom why this particular post is suddenly getting lots of attention again. Something inside me wants it to be a real-life twist and tell you it’s to do with Richard and Adrian. Have they come to life and sent traffic to my true story blog post, or are they doing it from within the fictitious world they live in? 

All I can say is thank you, Richard and Adrian. You came into my life and the lives of my readers, have helped me out of a writing hole and are allowing me to share your life stories with everyone. Are you the reasons behind the surge in views on one of my blog posts about gay life?

Have you ever had fictitious characters come to life or help you with your writing? I’d love to know about them. Leave the details in the comments section.

Image showing some straight lines drawn by different coloured pens on a white background

If you missed my previous posts on Diversity With A Twist, here they are.

Copyright © 2021 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.

***

Photo of the writer, author and blogger, Hugh W. Roberts

Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping and while out walking his dogs, Although he was born in Wales, he has lived around various parts of the United Kingdom, including London where he lived and worked for 27 years.

Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.

His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is “I never saw that ending coming.”

Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.

A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and enjoys relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.

Hugh shares his life with John, his civil-partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

You can follow Hugh’s blog at Hugh’s Views And News and follow him on Twitter at @hughRoberts05.

What To Do When You’re Told Reading And Writing Are Not Your Friends

Being dyslexic has its perks, but it also has its disadvantages. Take a look at the heading of this post again. How many writers would read it with horror? I know I would.

So why have I given this post that heading? Because I’m here to talk about being a writer who happens to be dyslexic and who’s in love with words.

Have you ever played the game ‘Hide & Seek?’

Words play Hide & Seek with me all the time. I can go days, sometimes weeks, writing and rereading a blog post or short story, and those words only come out of hiding when I’ve pushed the publish button. Even then, it’s not always me that spots those words. It’s somebody who has read my post and who kindly points out in an email or via the ‘Contact Hugh’ button on my blog that I’ve made a mistake. I get upset when that happens.

However, I’m not upset with the person who has contacted me but upset with the words that knowingly laugh back at me when highlighted to me.

When did it all start?

The horrors of being dyslexic started way back for me – during my school years, I heard these phases –

Hugh is a little stupid.

Hugh is slow when it comes to learning.

If Hugh wants to become a writer, he needs to try harder.

It would help us if you told Hugh he will never be a writer. He gets his words mixed up and writers don’t get their words mixed up.

Words seem to terrify Hugh.

Those were just some of the comments I heard my teachers telling my parents at the yearly school parents’ evening. Today, teachers know what the signs of dyslexia are, but some people still have trouble putting me being a writer and being dyslexic together.

But words have never terrified me. But they have (and still do) play tricks on me.

The tricks words play

Sometimes, I get so frustrated with words that it can bring my mood down and spoil the rest of my day. Why do I, therefore, write in the mornings? Because it’s when I seem to be at my most creative, that’s why. I fill my whole mornings with words, and every single one of them has the potential to bring my mood down. But it’s not the words playing tricks with me; it’s what my brain is telling my eyes.

Even the best software in the universe can’t always help. Have you been in a position when Grammarly (or another piece of writing software) highlights a mistake, yet you can’t work out what the problem is? Even though Grammarly tells me the problem, I often still can’t see why it’s a mistake. Surely I’m right, not a piece of software? That’s what happens when dyslexia jumps out of a box, pokes out its tongue, and laughs at you.

Image showing several attempts of the spelling of the word Dyslexic

Are there any advantages of being dyslexic?

Yes. Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Irving and Linda La Plante had dyslexia? So can I put myself amongst that famous group of writers and stand proud that I’ve written and published two short story collections, have a column at the Carrot Ranch, and have been running a blog for the past seven years where my passion for writing runs riot? Of course, I can.

But the best thing about being dyslexic is that I get repeatedly told that people with dyslexia have ‘special’ creative minds, which sometimes can spark something unusual. Something that makes the reader go, ‘WOW!’

Take, for example, Charli’s recent 99-word flash fiction challenge with the theme of ‘Meltdown.’ Are the comments on the piece I published in response to that challenge proof that dyslexic people do have something special when it comes to writing?

What I’d now want to tell my teachers

Because reading never comes easy to me, I have spent my life wrestling with words and trying to get them down on a page. I am not afraid of words or putting them together to create ideas, blog posts or fiction. Words do not terrify me. I never think “I can’t” when I try to write something. I know from experience that I can. So when I tell myself that words are not friendly, I immediately tell myself that I’m a good writer, who like all writers, continues to improve at their own pace. And ‘Practice makes perfect.’ Doesn’t it?

And it’s thanks to writing prompts like Charli’s 99-word flash fiction challenge that my writing continues to improve. Sometimes I surprise myself, but often not until the comments come in.

No, words and reading are not terrifying or unfriendly. And nor is being dyslexic a problem. No, the problem has always been the people who tell you it’s a problem.

Have you ever struggled with words? Tell me about your ‘word problem’ experiences and share with us how you got over them.

Image showing some straight lines drawn by different coloured pens on a white background

If you missed my previous posts on Diversity With A Twist, here they are.

Copyright © 2021 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.

***

Photo of the writer, author and blogger, Hugh W. Roberts

Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping and while out walking his dogs, Although he was born in Wales, he has lived around various parts of the United Kingdom, including London where he lived and worked for 27 years.

Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.

His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is “I never saw that ending coming.”

Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.

A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and enjoys relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.

Hugh shares his life with John, his civil-partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

You can follow Hugh’s blog at Hugh’s Views And News and follow him on Twitter at @hughRoberts05.

How To Write Yourself Into A Piece Of Fiction Without Knowing It

Do we unknowingly write ourselves into pieces of fiction where we hide out of view until somebody unexpectedly points out that we’re in the story?

When Charli Mills (Head Rancher) here at the Carrot Ranch prompted us to write a 99-word piece of flash fiction with the prompt ‘Swift Passage‘, I immediately saw a big ship. No, I wasn’t at the beach or by the sea, but some prompts can make me think I’m there.

The image stayed with me for two days until my fingers started the journey that would bring a comment that got me delving deeper into what I had written.

I did a little bit of research for this flash fiction piece, something I’m not always very good at doing. As my eyes scrolled a list of names, hoping that I would find my name by a strange coincidence, I felt disappointed when it was missing. Not even a person with the same surname as me was on it, but my eyes were drawn and focused on somebody with the first same name as me – Hugh.

I instantly felt connected with that person and felt sad that Mr Rood had not survived his journey.

By the time I published my response to the prompt, I didn’t think much more about it. I sat back and waited for any comments to come in.

You might have a connection,’ were the words in one comment that got my attention.

Screenshot of a comment left on a WordPress blog post

It got me wondering. Had I’d unknowingly written myself into this piece of flash fiction, I’d titled ‘A Night To Remember.’

After all, I’d always been interested in the location of the true story where my flash fiction piece was based, and this was not the first time I’d used it as a location.

Earlier in my blogging journey, one of the first short stories I’d written and published was partly centred around the same location as ‘A Night To Remember.’ I particularly liked that some of the comments for that early short story highlighted the twist. The twist, it seems, was the last part of the story’s location – a place most thought they knew but which had them making the wrong assumption.

In that early story, I’d included a framed photograph, which was the main item the story was centred around. I laughed out loud when somebody asked in a comment, ‘is the photo in the frame, you?‘ Why had they thought it was me in the picture?

I read the story back to myself before responding to that comment. Although I denied it was me in the photo, something at the back of my mind disagreed. Then somebody else mentioned that they’d thought I’d written myself into the story. It was not long before I started to ask myself if all writers do the same thing without really knowing about it.

When we write fiction, do we sometimes write about our previous lives?

However, back to my piece of flash fiction, ‘A Night To Remember.’ Although my real name was not on the list of the dead, a further comment mentioned I could have had a connection to the actual location of the story. I then remembered that I’m terrified of water. If it goes above my knees, I start to panic. Despite many swimming lessons, I’ve never been able to swim, and I won’t go into the sea or board anything that floats on it.

Had I been on board the ill-fated Titanic (the location of both stories I’ve mentioned in this post)? And in my current life as a writer, author and blogger, had I written fiction based on events that I’d witnessed?

Have you ever written yourself into a piece of fiction? Did you know you were doing it, or did somebody point out that you were in the story? Do you believe some of our stories are based on our previous lives?

Image showing some straight lines drawn by different coloured pens on a white background

If you missed my first post on Diversity With A Twist, here it is.

Copyright © 2021 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.

***

Photo of the writer, author and blogger, Hugh W. Roberts

Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping and while out walking his dogs, Although he was born in Wales, he has lived around various parts of the United Kingdom, including London where he lived and worked for 27 years.

Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.

His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is “I never saw that ending coming.”

Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.

A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and enjoys relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.

Hugh shares his life with John, his civil-partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

You can follow Hugh’s blog at Hugh’s Views And News and follow him on Twitter at @hughRoberts05.

January 11: Flash Fiction Challenge

Could it be Canada’s gift of a mid-winter Chinook? Perhaps a pressure ridge explained by a climatologist on the evening news that I never watch? Whatever the reason, Lady Lake has retreated to her ice-water mansions and allowed the Keweenaw to recall blue skies.

On my walk, I follow the road that curves downhill, and an unexpected melt exposes pavement like random ink blots. In a region with less snow, one might see ground but ours remain firmly girded by mounds of crisp meringue. Along the driveway, the drifts grow taller than the hood of my car.

The previous week, Jasper, one of two huskies I live with, escaped his pen because the snow drifts and the piles I’ve pushed off the deck until it grew taller than a single story of a house created a land bridge similar to the one I imagine first Americans crossing from one continent to another.

Once free of dog fencing, Jasper roamed the neighborhood and found a rabbit. To my great sadness, the rabbit did not survive being discovered by a husky. I knew that bunny — I’d watch him every night after the household sought slumber. It was the bunny-hour when he’d hop from behind Mrs. H’s garage and burrow his way into our dormant garden.

Who minds a bunny in winter eating what remains of unharvested kale? Evidently, Jasper.

We all awoke to crimson snow, blotted like a crude ink painting by a deranged editor has gone mad with a red pen. You can’t blame the dog for following instinct. We hadn’t realized the bridge formed a means of escape. Never had I mourned a rabbit, but somehow as I age life becomes more precious; spilled blood so wasteful.

That’s when the warmth arrived and the snow ceased to fall. Every time I took the stairs, I could see the red snow from the landing window. I wanted fresh precipitation to cover the evidence. Ever notice how difficult it can be to confront our shadow selves? We see dogs as loyal companions because we want to believe in higher motives for us all.

In the end, they are dogs with instincts and we are fallible to protect the life around us. Recently I read a profound statement that each one of us is dying our own way. I’ve heard it before, that we began dying the day we were born. Even Mel Gibson as his famous character, William Wallace said, “Everyone dies, not everyone lives.”

It’s the second part of that line which draws my attention. The snuffing of a winter rabbit reminds me of my own mortality, yet it is the capacity to feel sorrow at its passing that reminds me to live. To know joy we must know sorrow. To live we must confront the inevitability of death. It comes down to choice.

I know what not living looks like. I’ve seen it in the suburbs with families who train up their children to be conformists. I’ve seen it in the rural areas with people choosing to be separatists, carving out hidey-holes and hoarding food for times of impending doom. I don’t want to pretend death doesn’t exist or that I can avoid it in a bunker. I want to live. I want to throw ink and shape the blots into stories that break through conformity and hiding.

Ink has vexed me these past months. Writers depend upon ink as if it were our bloodline — without ink there could be no written stories, no books, no pages of WIPS to mark with an editor’s red pen. My desk holds no quill or bottle, but my printer drinks vials of the stuff. Ink has run dry.

First, it was black. Makes sense, after all, I write and print pages in black ink. To purchase the recommended replacement, it took me a month to save up the extra cash. By the time I replaced it cyan began to falter like a disappearing Keweenaw sky in winter. Yellow followed and soon magenta. Colorless, I switched to grayscale.

Then my printer decided it couldn’t do black anymore. I bought another but it refused to print, saying the colors must be replaced too — it did not have enough ink to maintain printer quality. Is that some analogy for writing (oh, you know it is)? Without the lifeblood, we can’t produce. Without choosing to be ink we go dry and nothing happens. Nothing gets written. No stories emerge.

It took another month to afford the three colors. My list of what I needed to print bloomed. No store carries my printer brand, so I ordered online. When the brown delivery truck arrived I rejoiced. Ink had returned like the sun! Ah, blast it all — the ink catridges fit but my printer declared “can’t detect.” Learning I could return the inks, but needing to print a return slip, I ordered a cheap off-brand.

It didn’t work, either.

Finally, I called the printer company, and after I recited printer models and serial numbers, and tried the ink cartridges with the rep on the line two conclusions arose — first, I ordered an incompatible but correct brand, and second I ordered the wrong brand. My printer would not accept the microchips in either. Microchips? Yes, ink is chipped and I don’t feel good about this technological advance.

Give me ink. Give me life. Let me create freely, unfettered by monitoring, policing, judgment or microchips.

The irony of it all is that I had to order yet a third round of ink before I could return the first two. At least I get my money back for the frst two or else it’d be after the return of daffodils before I was up and printing again. Ink arrived today along with a splurge purchase of a turquoise infinity scarf decorated with golden-red foxes. I plan to wear it to my Vet Center book event.

Tonight I’m late in finishing this post not because of my nocturnal writing preference but because of a follow up to the Jasper story. We blocked his land bridge but he found access to it nonetheless. Knowing dogs, once they catch the scent of prey, they’ll keep sniffing so I’ve become mindful when I let him out and supervise his outdoor time.

Someone else let the two huskies out, and I realized it when I heard the other, Ilya, barking his stranger-danger bark. Thinking, Jasper might be out, I rushed to the door to the deck and pen below and Jasper pushed into the porch. Relieved, I called Ilya who was barking at a man parked on the road that had been ink-blotted the day before but now was buried beneath a fresh snowstorm.

Through the pelting snow, he yelled up to me as I stood on the deck, something about hitting a dog with his truck. Knowing Bobo was inside on the couch, Jasper on the porch and Ilya making conversation in a blizzard difficult, I assured him it wasn’t our dogs. Then he said, “But I hit the dog you just let in.” My heart stilled a brief moment.

By then my SIL had come out and I told him Jasper had been hit…by a huge truck. The man explained it was snowing and he tried to stop when the dog bounded out in front of him but his brakes locked on the fresh ice, and he slid into the dog. He followed Jasper to our place and watched the dog get back into the pen. We thanked him for his kindness in letting us know, otherwise, we’d have had no idea of the event.

Tonight, we’ve monitored Jasper after a call to the vet. No long bones seem to be broken, his stomach is not distended and his gums readily pink (if he had internal bleeding his gums would stay white after pressing upon them because of lack of blood flow). But the dog is contrite and sore. He pressed into my thigh with his big husky head and I crooned in his ear, rubbing his shoulders.

I told him, “Sometimes we get lucky and find bunnies in the big world. And sometimes we get hit by big trucks. But for tonight, you’re alive Jasper and I’m grateful.”

I suppose we seek a balance between reckless living and fear of dying. Don’t be afraid to use your ink, but don’t take it for granted either.

January 11, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about wet ink. It can be artistic, writerly or something completely off-the-wall. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by January 9, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published January 10). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

The Evaluation by Charli Mills

“This?”

“Looks like an athlete running.”

“And this?”

“Definitely a giraffe dancing the mamba.”

I can’t tell if the suit showing me ink blots takes my answers seriously. He’s just another cog in the government wheel of oppression.

“This?”

“A storm with black raindrops.”

His pictures are stale blots. After watching FBI agents shoot my mother why would I conform to the government? They killed the adults in our compound. I’m only 13, but I know the freedom he doesn’t.

“This?”

“A deer in the willows.”

My imagination is wet ink. I’ll survive captivity to create a better world.

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