By Charli Mills
A chef in the kitchen is not unlike a writer at a desk.
Both feel the heat of what it takes to transform a raw start into an end worth savoring. A chef chops vegetables to maximize flavor and texture the way a writer slices sentence structure to evoke reader response. One chef favors reduction sauces, and another fuses flavors. One writer cranks out cozy mysteries, and another crafts a character-driven epic science fiction. A chef is a food artist; a writer is a literary artist.
If you’ve ever tuned into a televised cooking show that challenges chefs with secret ingredients, you’ve seen how varied the results can be. I used to provide some of those secret ingredients to a regional chef show at the Mall of America in Minnesota. For over a decade the foodie culture of Minneapolis-St. Paul immersed me in the artistry of food. I toured the Wisconsin sand bogs, writing about the divergent way to harvest cranberries. I wrote about hundreds of regional food producers over the years.
It wasn’t until I became involved in the chef challenge that I began to reflect on how powerful diversity is to creativity. If one odd food ingredient, such as goji berries could inspire chefs, what about an unexpected word prompt? Or what about ordinary words? It seems, even the common seed of inspiration can lead to many surprising results. You’d be surprised at what six chefs can do with an avocado.
We might not be celebrity chefs over at Carrot Ranch, but we are a multinational, multigenerational, multigenre community of literary artists – writers crafting, playing and mastering words from scratch. Since 2014 we’ve been writing 99-word flash fiction to a weekly word prompt. Each week the results surprise me, as if I were tasting the creations of chefs given a food challenge. Our literary challenge from OTV is food. Several of the literary writers a Carrot Ranch responded. D. Avery explains what we do from the chuckwagon perspective.
What’s Cookin’? by D. Avery
“Kid, why’re you rippin’ through Shorty’s chuck wagon?”
I’m heppin’. Shorty’s been on about food an’ recipes. Wanna see what can be cooked up here at Carrot Ranch.”
“Here’s some piecrust… an’ some berries… Remember those prompts? Jeez, there’s plenty a carrots, carrots all over the place. Keep findin’ cider too, empty bottles anyways…”
“Ya’d think there’d be longhorn steaks. Sayin’.”
“Ya’d think there’d be bacon, that’s what I been sayin’.”
“Kid, the wranglers’ve cooked up mighty fine stories even if they don’t bring home much bacon.”
“Yep. Comforting, hearty, delectable stories. An’ ever’thin’s better with bacon. Sayin’.
D. Avery, author of Chicken Shift, writes at ShiftnShake.
Not all stories are delectable for the same reason. When a writer uses literary art to evoke, readers can prepare to feel a myriad of reactions. How we define a good dish is as different as how we define a good story. Often it is the unexpected twist that adds flavor. Geoff Le Pard evokes a different kind of reaction.
Arnold’s Dilemma by Geoff Le Pard
Arnold sold ice cream. He hated the children he served, their harassed and hormonal carers. But most he hated his mother for forcing him into the business.
Eventually he had enough and, like a waffle cone, snapped. With his dead mother at his feet, he had a dilemma. The corpse. He could freeze it, but disposal appeared insurmountable.
Then inspiration: the drained blood made a self-congealing ripple; the adipose fat, a whippy ice; and the flay-dried skin a crispy cone.
The produce flew. When asked where he sourced his new products, he had the answer off pat.
Geoff Le Pard, author of Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle who writes at Geofflepard.com.
Surprises come in many flavors. Two chefs might use the unexpected twist to surprise readers and evoke a response, but story twists can widely differ the way the same dish by two different chefs tastes different. Here, Irene Waters serves up an alternative food surprise.
Bring a Plate by Irene Waters
Food was supposed to give comfort. All it gave Alicia was a headache.
“Bring a plate” they said. All very good for them. They were perfect mothers. They would bring either healthy foods, where the colours would entice and flavours delight, or divine delectable indulgences. The spread would include veggie bakes and caprese salads, pavlovas and slices. Then there would be hers, curried sardines. Alicia smuggled the silvery black slurry onto the table knowing she’d leave early, sliding it into her bag as she left. If only her husband hadn’t been a chef, perhaps she’d have learnt to cook.
Irene Waters writes at irenewaters19.com and is awaiting publication of her first memoir.
Often a chef will consider the ingredient. How can it be used to appeal to the senses. Writers use words to evoke the senses, creating scenes that come alive and make us feel as we are a part of the story. Maybe it jostles a memory. Likely, you’ll have your own comfort food in mind when you read C. Jai Ferry’s story.
Communion by C. Jai Ferry
On Sundays, I crave blueberry muffins. Not the prepackaged gummy chemical kind. Not the fresh-baked oversized sugar-topped kind produced in a commercial oven, either. I crave the store-bought box of cakey muffin mix—on sale for 99 cents and complete with a tin of “real blueberries.” Mix in a couple of eggs, a drizzle of vegetable oil, and a sprinkle of water, pour into a muffin pan, and pop in the oven. Fifteen minutes later, split open, add a pat of butter, and dive into memories of Mom’s Sunday morning services held each week around the dining room table.
C. Jai Ferry, author of Unraveled, writes at cjaiferry.com.
My experience among foodies and chefs taught me that people who grow or prepare food with passion often feel deeply about causes that impact people or the environment. Food justice rates high. Writers share many such passions for the dignity of others and justice, or a lack of it can be expressed in literary art. Norah Colvin, an advocate of education, gives us food for thought in regards to access.
Food? By Norah Colvin
His eyes widened, flitting across the table, scanning the feast, a smorgasbord of sensory delights. His mouth moistened and tummy growled.
Where to start? A bit of this. A little of that. A whole lot of that! Mmmm!
He rubbed his belly and licked his lips.
Suddenly he was marched away and slammed onto a hard wooden bench. A bowl of colourless pap was flung at him. “Eat this!”
The overfilled spoon was shoved between tightened teeth.
“It’s good for you!”
Over time he learned. “Not so bad,” he thought.
Norah Colvin writes at NorahColvin and is author of educational resources available at readilearn.
Instead of writing about food, and those involved with community food systems and preparing it, I began using food in my literary writing. Characters must eat, too. I also thought about how segregating the foodie market can be. Don’t get me wrong, I love pomegranate seeds, and I can read recipes like a juicy romance novel. But I also know that pantries and parties, watching celebrity chefs and dropping $100 on an organic Thanksgiving turkey, are for those with the wallet or credit for it. I also know that while many in the local food industry fight for food justice among the poorest sectors, those who make it popular can be clueless. Here’s my character who notices the difference.
Honor Pantries by Charli Mills
Beth knocked on neighborhood doors. “Hello, I’m with the CHS Honor Society, collecting for the Food Shelf.”
She glimpsed entryways bigger than her bedroom, and kitchens gleaming with steel and granite like celebrity cooking shows.
People gave her expired cans of chickpeas and spinach. One woman thanked Beth for the chance to clean out her pantry – water-crackers, something called couscous, and jars of ethnic sauces.
Beth wondered what families like hers would do with such items. She went home and, though it meant she might miss a few meals, she gathered all the boxed macaroni and cheese they had.
Charli Mills, editor of The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol. 1, and lead buckaroo at carrotranch.com.
What you’ve read here are six different flash fiction stories by six different literary artists all writing to the prompt of food. It’s a taste of what we do at Carrot Ranch with weekly flash fiction challenges. It’s open to all writers. Like many who want to cook but feel they aren’t a chef, or they think they don’t have time in the kitchen, I have a few simple recipes to entice writers to try literary flash fiction.
For the busy writer, the best recipe is served quickly. Write the flash fiction in five minutes.
For the writer who wants a polished flash, the best recipe involves several steps. Do a quick free write. Revise words to 99. Let it sit at least overnight. Read it out loud the next day. Revise for flow of language. Let it sit. Look for any words or ways to improve the original. Proof. Submit or post.
For the pantser, write a story until it feels complete. Likely the results will be hundreds of words. Distill the main idea into 99 words. Or use a section and make sure it stands on its own as a 99-word story.
For the plotter, map out three acts. Whip up a beginning, middle and end. Serve.
For the distracted author, use the prompt to further your WIP. Take a scene or character, and apply the prompt and constraint. It can be a new dish; a fun and satisfying break. Or it can be a new meal to apply to your work.
For the lonely blogger, bring a dish and join the potluck. Write 99 words and visit the flash fiction posts of others, striking up delicious conversation.
Best of all, literary artists, like chefs, bring people to the table where we can share civil discourse, recall what is good and resolve all that is asked of us as compassionate humans, breaking bread and sharing stories.
The literary writers at Carrot Ranch are known as the Congress of Rough Writers. Look for our first anthology, Vol. 1, out this month. It’s food for through based on the 99-word flash fiction started at Carrot Ranch.
From riding horses to writing stories, Charli Mills is a born buckaroo wrangling words from her home-office on wheels. She hosts a weekly flash fiction challenge at CarrotRanch.com, teaches writers about platform marketing, and writes stories about women of the American west. Charli lives and works in an RV with her former US Ranger spouse and their German Short-haired pointer.