June 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

June 19, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionMists and guests swirl around schedules and deadlines, creating a cowboy two-step kind of dance at the ranch. A Congress has been declared, and new plans unfold. Thus work at the ranch continues.

Beginning July 10, Carrot Ranch will raise a barn–in the form of a new page on this site–dedicated to the recently declared Congress of Carrot Ranch Rough Writers. From an idea born in the wild west–to wrangle weekly flash fiction from 99 words each week–a global lot has galloped in with saddlebags full of writing vim and vinegar.

Think of the upcoming page as a dandified “blogs I follow” with special attention given to the unique contributions of each Rough Writer to Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction. Each writer will be introduced in sequential Thursday posts with insights to their writing process, influences and goals.

Why do this? Well, I had hoped to create a “literary community” out of practicing flash fiction. Writing is like riding a horse–we ride/write alone. We imprint our ideas, imaginings, perspectives and sense of identity upon the page and our readers reflect back their own. Yet, often we don’t get to experience full literature (reading, writing, discoursing) because we are alone in what we do.

Therefore, a literary community writes, reads and has discussions. It’s a group dynamic. Writers can trot through once in a full moon or saddle up weekly. It’s not the frequency; it’s the contribution. The Rough Writers have each exhibited the talent to write; the courtesy to read; and the intelligence to reflect, comment and discuss. This is how literature connects us.

Flash fiction–as a weekly practice–does make one a better writer. I remember saddling up my horse in spring after a winter of not riding. I felt floppy in the saddle and sore after the first few rides. By the end of summer, my legs were strong, my reflexes quick and my sense of joy in riding was maximized.

Practicing the craft of fiction regularly results in a stronger, quicker and joyful writer.

So, onto the prompt. Last week we explored exhaustion, everything from birth to dying (and beyond); from the practical to the fantastical, which included the return of a few favorite unicorns. This week, we are going to look at the result of hard work. It’s the Rocky Balboa story of getting stronger:

June 18, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about getting stronger. What hard work or practice has paid off? Has the character, setting or story changed as a result? As you continue to write, may your writing get stronger. May your words fly! Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, June 24 to be included in the compilation.

Ready to Ride by Charli Mills

Hickok stood holding the reins of an unsaddled roan. He watched what looked like a barn-fly bobbing on the prairie horizon until it waxed into a frothing mount and rider. Hickok flexed his gloveless hands. If the Pony ever paid him he’d buy a beaded pair with fringed gauntlets. His roan nickered at the approaching relay, anticipating the mail saddle that would soon pass to his back. Every morning when Sarah gathered eggs by the corral, Hickok galloped the roan through several maneuvers. Today he’d get the chance to show her he was more than a pretty stock tender.


Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.


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  1. lorilschafer

    The new page is a great idea, Charli. You know, even though I don’t participate in your flash fiction challenges myself, I do actually refer to those of you who do as “a group” in my outside conversations. You’ve already built this community; this is a wonderful way of formalizing it. 🙂

    • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

      Lori, one of the benefits of individuals coming together is that we each know other people. Because of association, I’ve discovered your fiction; memoir writing through Lisa; book reviews through Anne; education theory and issues through Norah; travel writing through Tui; radio podcasts through Allison, other blogs through everyone…on and on…That a core group would commit to literature regularly (it doesn’t have to be weekly) amazes me. I thought it deserved some formalizing! Thank you for reading and commenting because those are important aspects of literature in a broader sense.

  2. Paula Moyer

    Quiet Pride

    By Paula Moyer

    Jean could hardly believe it. Her B.A. had almost finished itself in four years. No muss, no fuss – a change of major and a divorce notwithstanding. Commencement and a diploma capped it off.

    Her M.A., though – 15 years, four changes of programs, and life in between – including remarriage and two children. For reasons that would puzzle her later, she did not plan to attend this degree’s ceremony.

    After all the effort – exams, classes, graduation reading, “starred” papers. The last paper – finally turned in.

    With her one-year-old snoozing in the backpack, Jean strolled through the art exhibit. Graduation day, indeed.

    • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

      That’s a story of determination despite transitions and real-life hurdles. Jean knew her worth without having to go through the pomp and circumstance. That last image of her walking through the art gallery with a child in backpack was her graduation walk. A strong walk!

    • ruchira

      woot woot for Jean for standing out tall and proud after all she has been through!

      • Charli Mills

        I agree! I love that image of her walking through the art gallery with the baby on her back.

  3. Sarah Brentyn

    How cool is that?! A whole page for the Rough Writers! I can’t wait to see this page. It will be the most amazing patchwork quilt yet. 😉 You are lovely, Charli.

    • Charli Mills

      A quilt of many colors! Aw, thanks, Sarah. 🙂

  4. Gina Stoneheart

    Wow, Charli, what an amazing idea. Although I don’t participate in your flash fiction posts, I always enjoy reading them as well as your other writing. Even in this one post, I felt I had to take a step back, fold my arms, and then lean in closer to re-read your thoughts. Your writing is impeccable and I look forward to following up with the Rough Writers!

    • Charli Mills

      I’m glad you like reading the flash because that’s an important interaction here, too!

  5. Pete


    I used to cry myself to sleep at night, only to be haunted still by Old Father Martin’s dull eyes in my dreams. But one morning in class it changed, and when he gripped the yardstick I stood stock-still, my lips curling into a smile.

    “Miss Baldwin?”

    I didn’t even blink. And I felt my resolve strengthening when Old Father Martin yanked me to his desk. His calloused hands tore at my wrist as he spoke in that disgusting, spit-clucking way, cursing and trembling with each whack of the stick. And with each whack I laughed a little harder…

    • Charli Mills

      That’s a heart-wrenching flash, Pete. Reading, I can feel the emotional pain and the resolve that evolves from reaching a breaking point. It’s like you have to hammer metal over fire to ultimately make it stronger. But when the metal is a child, it makes you hold your breath.

      On a “real-life” note–my husband went to school in Nevada where they had corporal punishment. He had a second-grade teacher who had it in for him and he got daily swats. This reminds me of what he went through. Oddly enough, that swat paddle is now in the museum in his hometown (not that he’s THAT old, but thank goodness it’s a relic and no longer used). Powerful writing!

    • TanGental

      Goodness, this is horrible (in the sense of good writing). I wonder if those days are completely behind us – the sat paddle may be emotional now.

      • TanGental


    • Sarah Brentyn

      Ugh. Awful. (The story, not the writing.)

      Charli: Geez, I’m sorry. I hate this stuff. Especially those evil teachers who seemed to enjoy the power of abuse. &^%$#!

    • ruchira

      Gosh! that is one heart wrenching saga!

    • Charli Mills

      Your flash definitely shows strength coming from exercising the courage muscle. Your story behind the story is so insightful. It’s like memoir meets flash fiction! I also noticed that you and Pete swapped genders in your points of view. It’s great to see writers pushing their craft to explore how the story might look from a different POV. Great flash!

  6. Norah

    Hi Charli,
    I am honoured to be part of the literary community, especially a Rough Rider, riding the range. How I used to love doing that, in my mind, watching TV shows and movies when I was growing up. “Westerns” were always a favourite, but then there wasn’t much more than that at the time. I am learning so much from each of the other Rough Riders and our amazing leader.
    I have joined in again this week with a piece, you won’t be surprised to know, about education! http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-hj
    I love the way you continue the story of Bill and Sarah, a little more titillation each week!

    • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

      Howdy Norah! How fun that you used to watch westerns! Isn’t it great to learn from each other and to get to share as well? Love how you manage to tie back your flash to your purpose of education…hopping over there now and anticipating another thought-provoking essay and flash.

      A little note on Bill and Sarah–A new book came in the mail yesterday, called “Tales Around the Campfire.” It has an entire chapter dedicated to the “Mystery of Sarah Shull.” Even has photos of her, Cobb, Bill and Rock Creek!

      • Norah

        So how did that book find it’s way to you? You must have been very excited when you opened it up. I just know we are going to hear more of this story from you! Exciting!

      • Charli Mills

        One of my distant cousins, whom I met recently while researching, told me of the book. It was only available used and kind of pricey. But since I started writing flash about Sarah, Bill and Cobb I ordered it. Oh, my–it’s like getting a huge chocolate truffle in the mail and I don’t know where to start nibbling first! I might be talking about research on Wednesday!

      • Norah

        Sounds delightful! I’m looking forward to sharing the feast on Wednesday!

      • Charli Mills

        I had been reading some of our earlier flash compilations and wow–we are writing a feast!

    • Charli Mills

      You speared it as neatly as Milton! What an interesting form your story is taking, flash by flash.

    • Charli Mills

      So glad you are taking time to read the flash archives at Carrot Ranch. It’s good to see you returning to write, too. Off to give your flash a read and post it on facebook!

  7. Sarah Brentyn

    Teetering On the Rocks

    He heard the clinking. It was a sound he knew well. His stomach tightened, heart raced. Consciously taking a deep breath, another, he walked into the kitchen where his wife was mixing a martini.

    She held it out to him and winked. “It’s strong.” He cringed. “I can make a rum and coke. Or a gin and tonic,” she offered.

    “That’s okay.” Shaking, he reached for the glass. The mouth-watering alcohol smell reached his nose. He flashed back to the bar two weeks ago. The family barbeque in June. Last night.

    Walking to the sink, he dumped the glass.

    • TanGental

      So much to this. And intriguing it is his wife who is encouraging his drinking. A real b***h or something more?

      • Charli Mills

        Lots of layers. Co-dependent, most likely. Sure–we can psychoanalyze each other’s characters!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Ha! Yes, just a b***h. A co-dependent one at that. Nothing more. Awful, isn’t she? I already hate her and am rooting for this guy to keep his strength in this fight.

        I’m feeling good here that you both got this. I love flash challenges. Thanks!

    • Charli Mills

      The clinking…when I get ice from my dispenser the dogs come running! Of course, I don’t offer them any whiskey, just straight up ice cubes. I had severe anemia last year and I guess it’s common to crave ice so I developed an ice habit that got passed on to the dogs. Now that the anemia is not so bad, I don’t crave ice but the dogs still do!

      It’s interesting reading this after reading Geoff’s flash–how important the senses are to revealing a powerful story. The last line, although not stated, echos the first in that I could “hear” the final clinking of ice in the sink and what a moment of strength it becomes. Also the tight writing in this sequence: “He flashed back to the bar two weeks ago. The family barbeque in June. Last night.” So few words that fills in a huge background to the story. Well done!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Whoa, really? I didn’t know about the ice cube craving. I’ve always been slightly anemic but never had anything that severe. Is it the cold or the hydration or…?

        Yes, clinking. It’s a trigger for him (and rightly so…can’t you imagine?) I do hope the sink is the final clink. 😉 I can’t wait to see all the ways people interpret “strength”. So fun.

        Thank you!

      • Charli Mills

        The final clink! 🙂 Somehow ice triggers a need for minerals, the way they say chocolate cravings are signals for magnesium. Seeing all the stories together is great fun!

  8. rllafg

    Here is my 99-word contribution for the prompt “getting stronger.”


    The Speech by Larry LaForge

    Edward’s knees wobbled as he stood facing his classmates – and his lifelong fear. His throat was dry; his heart pounded.

    He swallowed hard, feeling sick to his stomach. All his preparation seemed for naught.

    Edward anticipated ridicule and harsh judgment if he excused himself yet again.

    Nearing panic, a strange and wonderful calmness suddenly enveloped him, as though a great burden had been lifted.

    This was the moment Edward finally accepted himself.

    The words he prepared came out, although his presentation was well below the class standard. Edward realized that didn’t matter.

    He knew he’d never again be speechless.

    A 100-word version of the above story is posted at LarryLaForge100Words on Flash Fiction Magazine:

    • Charli Mills

      What a great capture of the moment when a person pushes past that near-panic. I once had a boss who was terrified of public speaking and she was harshest on herself if she stumbled or forgot the words. Love that last line!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Ah! Love the ending. That he knew his work was below the class standard but he didn’t care because getting through this was more important.

  9. Sherri

    Hi Charli! What a great idea for your new upcoming page! It’s wonderful how you are building a literary community here, I really hope to be a part of it. I had hoped to be able to take part in your weekly flash fiction challenges by now but I haven’t been able to get it together…yet! I’m pushing it now trying to keep up with!! I’ve discovered a love for writing flash fiction since blogging as I write memoir, poetry and what I call creative non-fiction, so these ff’s as I call them give me great practice! I’m not sure if you received my comment a while ago as it was when I was having WP problems with my comments not going through, so here I am trying again! Thank you for your visits to my site through Lisa’s challenge which I’ve only recently joined as you know, and having so much fun with those! I met you all through Irene 🙂
    I’ll do my best to get something here by tomorrow noon, your time (in on UK time).
    Thanks again for this great challenge – Sherri 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, I did get your first message. WP holds the message hostage the first time anyone comments. After that, you can post without the pause. It’s the spam filter. Would be very happy to have you join us as we enjoy the benefits of literary pursuits. I’m thrilled that Lisa has introduced some of us fiction writers to memoir and that memoir writers are trying fiction. It broadens the discussion! noon UK time is fine–I’ll probably be snoozing with the dogs! Thank you for joining in!

      • Sherri

        Hopefully I’m squeezing in on time with my first entry for this week’s challenge. Thanks so much Charli for welcoming me into your writing community, I’m looking forward very much to taking part 🙂

        Here is my Flash:

        The Warning

        It didn’t take long for the rumours to spread like wildfire around the office.

        “Did you hear the news?” gushed Christie as she ran over to Jan’s desk. “Mr. Chapman is leaving! He got the sack!”

        Jan stopped typing and kept her gaze steady as she looked up at her. “Really? That’s a shocker!”

        Christie dashed off to spread the news, leaving Jan stunned in thought. No more Mr. Chapman, no more grabbing behind closed doors. She had warned him enough times but he hadn’t believed her.

        Turning back to her keyboard, Jan smiled broadly as she began typing.

      • Charli Mills

        Woot woot! Thanks for participating, Sherri! Great flash and another terrific example of inner strength paying off. You expressed an entire work history in just 99 words and even set the office culture with Christie’s character buzzing through, running the rumor mill. Great flash! And welcome to Carrot Ranch!

      • Sherri

        Thank you so much Charli and for your lovely welcome! You’ve really encouraged me! I was so hoping that I could tell a story in 99 words! I’m honoured to be part of Carrot Ranch and look forward to many more of your wonderful challenges 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        At first it seems unlikely that 99 word stories are possible, but once you discover that the constraint actually fosters creativity, it becomes a fun challenge. Then you can start playing with language, tightening words or creating a big image in just a small sentence. I used to have my team of marketers write a cinquain (a five-line, 22-syllable poem) before our weekly meeting to open up creativity and to practice writing tight copy (a must in marketing). It was amazing how that weekly practice improved our press releases, ad copy and creative thinking. I hope this benefits your longer works or gives you material for short story submissions (contests and magazines). Of course, the company is terrific here, too! Thanks for joining in when you can!

      • Sherri

        This is all great stuff Charli. I have come to learn the value of writing tight copy and I can see how writing flash fiction really does foster creativity by the very constraints it imposes. I love that about it. I like the sound of writing a cinquain, might give that a try, so thanks for that idea too! Wonderful to be onboard. Thanks again 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Cinquains are like simple math, if you think of poetry in those terms. It’s the one formula I can do, like I can add 2 + 2. 🙂 But even at its most simplistic, it proved to be effective in opening up to creativity. So I though 99 word stories could do the same. And seeing the heaps of creativity from writers, it’s working! Thanks for jumping on board the wagon train!

      • Sherri

        Yes, I can see that and I love it! I’m honoured to be on board the wagon train… 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Wagons, ho!

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! I enjoyed your post and surprising flash. Maybe you thought I said I was smoking mushrooms, not marshmallows…:-) You really made me think about the connection of land to food, yet in your flash the connection is more of an “escape.”

    • Charli Mills (@Charli_Mills)

      Thanks, Ruchira! Your flash is filled with emotion and a great victory in taking a step. Thanks for joining in this week!

  10. Jeanne Lombardo

    Late comment here but love your idea of a new page as well, and having fun getting to know Sarah and Bill. Way back when, my aunt gave me an old book of cowboy poems written in the 1920s (must go find it now) and I spent many hours lost in the world of wide open spaces, campfires, and cowpokes. Of course riding horses and going on hayrides was a part of my childhood here in Arizona. Love your writing, too, Charli, and what you are doing with this community. When I find myself scrabbling in the dirt for a nickel of time, these fiction prompts are a small treasure glinting there.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, I love cowboy poetry. I used to check out a book of poems by a woman who lived in Arizona and wrote about her pony and the desert. I can’t recall her name but seems she wrote in the 1920s. Todd has two uncles who are Nevada cowboy poets and I love their humor–like the Ballad of Two Fingered Tom which is about a cowboy roping a buck and loosing his other three fingers! There is something so captivating about those wide open places. Sometimes we lament that Idaho has too many tall trees! Love that phrase, Jeanne–“scrabbling in the dirt for a nickel of time.” Thanks for playing in the dirt at Carrot Ranch! 🙂


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  2. 99 Word Flash Fiction: Getting Stronger | Reflections and Nightmares- Irene A Waters (writer and memoirist) - […] http://carrotranch.com/2014/06/19/june-18-flash-fiction-challenge/ […]

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