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July 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionSummer sunlight blazes through the cracks between drawn curtains, creating bars of light across my dog as we all huddle inside the shadows to escape the heat. We have no air-conditioning because it’s rarely needed. Today, I can empathize with those hardy pioneers who settled on the prairie and endured summers without modern conveniences.

My office upstairs feels like a stuffy attic so I’m writing at my kitchen desk; books scatter across the dining-room table as I try to make sense of recent research. There are cracks in the stories that historians tell about Wild Bill Hickok. Cracks also in my loyalty to kin as I realize I’m becoming enamored with Hickok like some wild-west-junkie.

Researching Sarah, Cob & Hickok

Hickok biographer, Joseph G. Rosa, has both deepened the spell and broken it. Rosa himself fell in love with the idea of Hickok as hero when he watched Gary Cooper portray Hickok in the 1936 movie, The Plainsman. Called “highly fictional,” it nonetheless sent Rosa on a lifelong search for who Hickok really was as a man.

Rosa would discover that early Hickok historians were often highly fictional, too. While some based their stories on exaggerated newspaper accounts, including the one that launched the whole “M’Kandlas Gang” myth into existence, others nagged the Hickok family for facts, or made up their own. One even harassed a 93-year-old Sarah Shull until she confessed to historian, F. J. Wilstach, that David Colbert McCanles was a “horse-thief for the Confederacy.” Even Rosa says that Sarah most likely told Wilstach what he wanted to hear so he’d leave her in peace. Historian, Mark Dugan, goes deeper to surmise that Sarah would rather confess McCanles as a horse-thief than as her lover.

That Sarah was Cob’s lover is documented by my 4th-great grandfather, James McCanles who was Cob’s father. Sarah had a baby out of wedlock in 1856. A year later, the baby died but was memorialized in a poem that James wrote to his granddaughter. That shows the McCanles family accepted the girl as one of their own. Also, it is documented that Sarah’s father refused to grind corn for James after 1856, and it’s known locally that he shunned his own daughter. He did not accept the baby born out of wedlock and held the McCanles family accountable.

“Cob” was a familial nickname, probably derived from David’s middle name Colbert, phonetically making the “l” in “Colb” silent. In recognizing the phonetics, you can almost hear the deep southern drawl in how the name was pronounced, “Cawb.” It’s important to remember that his name was perceived as southern as we consider the misconception of historians, including Rosa, that because Cob was southern, he was a Confederate sympathizer. Absolutely not. I’ve extensively researched the duality of Civil War sides in my North Carolina kin, having ancestors that fought brother-against-brother. I have records that show the dividing lines, and the McCanles men were Unionists.

Where historians make their assumption is in the bloody scrimmages that marked the Kansas-Missouri territory as “bleeding Kansas.” Here, staunch abolitionists went toe-to-toe with diehard slavers over the issue of slave-states as America expanded west. The Hickok family came from Illinois and were abolitionists, even participating in the underground railroad. Thus, historians pit McCanles against Hickok as part of the border ruffian battles. While Cob wasn’t necessarily for or against slavery, he was staunchly opposed to succession. Ultimately, both men were pro-union but for different reasons. So nix the idea that Cob was doing anything on behalf of the Confederacy.

But what was he doing out west? Several historians in the 1920s dug up information that Cob had made off with tax-payer money as sheriff of Watauga County, NC. Court records substantiate this claim, although most historians, Rosa included, rely on the hearsay accounts of  historian, J. P. Arthur. And here’s another crack: if Arthur is correct, and court documents do show multiple parties involved in a scheme, then Cob was not the only one who benefited.

Consider this–your buddy says, “Hey, I know how we can scam the system.” If the scam includes only your buddy getting money with your help, you’d probably pass. But if the scam means that you get money too, then you’d be more likely to get involved. So, to say that Cob was helped by his brother Leroy, the deputy and his kin, the Coffey kin and several others, you have to wonder what was in it for them. Cob might have left North Carolina with his pockets lined, but who else lined their pockets, too?

This leads to an interesting, unexplored crack. While historians take sides regarding why and how Hickok shot Cob, and families ruffle feathers over the bad light old tales cast on dead ancestors, we have failed to consider Sarah’s role beyond that of mistress. Women are crafty, too. Consider what Arthur writes about Cob:

“McCanless was a strikingly handsome man and well-behaved, useful citizen till he became involved with a woman not his wife, after which he fell into evil courses.”

Add that thought to the skills that Dugan attributes to Sarah:

“As the children [Shull] grew to adulthood, they would help run the mill or work in the store. Following her arrival in Nebraska in 1859, Sarah reportedly kept books for McCanles and undoubtedly learned this while working in her father’s store.”

If Cob didn’t go wayward until 1855 when he met Sarah, who was 21 and working in her father’s store, is it possible that she–as an experienced accountant–came up with the scheme to defraud tax-payer money. Her motive? To leave town where she had been shunned, buried a baby and master-minded a fraud to fund her new life out west. Because after the money changed hands, that’s exactly what she and Cob did. They left.

Other cracks that seem minor, discrepancies such as whether or not Sarah left after Cob’s death, or how Hickok was injured  before coming to Rock Creek are difficult to prove or disprove. So many historians rely on the accounts of others. Rosa discredits earlier Hickok biographers but then relies on their same work to show McCanles as a sadist horse-thieving Confederate bully. Rosa fully cites from Hickok’s great-nephew, but sneers at Cob’s son who shares his eye-witness account of the Rock Creek incident because it was published 50 years later.

My conclusion: historians are all cracked.

While I hope to one day write a fictional account of  Sarah, Cob and Hickok as a BOTS (based on a true story) it’s hard to sift out what is true. That I fell for the legend that is Hickok is partly because of letters Rosa published from him as a young man, first arrived in Kansas Territory. So full of enthusiasm, humor and adventure it’s hard not to love the boy he must have been. I hope to find that in Cob, too and certainly I feel sad for Sarah who lived long knowing the real reasons for what happened that hot summer day on the prairie in 1861.

Let’s Get On With It!

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m exploring cracks. We crack-up at jokes; we call the mentally-crazed “cracked”; we know it as slang for cocaine, a sharp retort, a split, a change in voice. There are cracks in times, cracks on her face, and worrisome cracks across thin-ice. What a wonderfully rich word is found in crack.

July 30, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a crack.  It’s a rich word, full of possibility. Do cracks reveal something to you, something beyond the surface? Take a crack at this prompt and respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, August 5 to be included in the compilation.

Calico Curtains by Charli Mills

Sarah stared at the crack between calico curtains. Cob had teased her when she hung the divide.

“Why the bed veil? I like watching you stir the fire from here, Rosebud.” He reclined on the trundle bed, leaning on an elbow. Thick black hair tousled. Blue eyes shining like summer sky on water. She remembered smiling, abandoning her task.

Her ears rung as acrid smoke drifted from parted calico. Cob had just come to the back door, asking for water, touching her fingers lightly as she passed the cup.

It was the perfect place to hide, behind those curtains.


Rules of Play:

New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
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.
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.
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.
Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
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.

Fresh Fruit Delivered

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionFrom the writers’ imaginations to yours, this week we deliver fresh fruit. Summer is the ripest season for fruit, though it is not summer everywhere.

Surprisingly, not everyone is attracted to the sweet gift of orchards. But fruit makes for a tasty topic. It even makes a plea for proper placement.

And, fruit kills.

Let these stories trickle down your chin if you dare take a bite out of reading.

The Lush Summer Fruit of Rush Springs by Paula Moyer

Jean had a strong opinion about tomatoes. “Vine-ripened,” by itself,
still left a lot of room for some pretty mediocre stuff. No, the best
were grown in Rush Springs, Oklahoma, and – but of course! –

Aah,: the dark, brick-red flesh, the pure satin texture. Not a grainy
molecule to be seen. Tomatoes and melons of all kinds from this part
of the world were absolutely the best.

The Rush Springs Watermelon Festival was unforgettable: the mid-August
heat and the band. The singer belted out “For the Good Times,” backed
up by a pedal steel guitar. Sixteen, Ferris wheel kiss.


Forgotten Fruit by Larry LaForge

“Hey kid. Right here’s good. Between the apples and oranges.”

The youthful grocery stock clerk laughed as he carried the crate of heirloom tomatoes. “Sorry Mr. Tomato, we’re headed to the vegetable section.”

The head tomato protested vehemently. “You can’t degrade us like that.”

“What’s the big deal?” asked the clerk.

The tomato fired back. “Most folks like fruit, but some barely tolerate vegetables. We demand our rightful fruit status. Did you sleep through Botany class?”

The clerk grinned mischievously as he deposited the tomato crate alongside the onions in the veggie section.

“This isn’t over!” yelled the tomato.

The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.


No, Thanks. I’m Not Hungry. by Sarah Brentyn

Kim pinched a grape with her painted nails. Her lips parted with a spastic twitch and she popped it in her mouth. She held her fingers there for a few seconds. Kim always left her fingers near her mouth a little too long after she ate a piece of food.

Her lips pushed out then sucked in then twisted up at the corners while she chewed. Her cheek bulged. She mumbled something about how good the grape tasted, a piece of gelatinous spit landing on my cheek. I gagged and watched Kim swallow the chewed-up fruit, her neck convulsing.


The Honey Locust by Charli Mills

“The fruit of honey locust is sweet,” Hickok said, breaking open a pod to show Sarah dark peas inside. He grinned as she nibbled, then nodded. “Makes great beer.”

“You could make liquor from water, Mr. Hickok.” Before he could reply, he noticed distant riders on the prairie. One appeared naked on a galloping horse. The other was Cob.

“We’d better go.” He led Sarah through cottonwoods to their hobbled horses. He knew Cob was dragging another poor soul to the honey locust. The four-inch thorns twining the tree were agony to bare skin.

Torture was Cob’s favorite fruit.


A Fruitful Harvest by Norah Colvin

Little Tree stood alone at the edge of the orchard thinking, “What’s wrong with me?”

The other trees grew tall. Their branches, laden with bright green leaves and sweet-scented blossoms, seemed to whisper mockingly.

The sun shone. Rains watered the soil.

Their blossoms turned to fruit, a plentiful harvest.

Confused and dejected, Little Tree avoided the celebratory festival.

Then all grew quiet. The bigger trees rested, preparing for the next season.

Suddenly an insect orchestra and an unfamiliar fragrance startled Little Tree.

“What’s up?” it asked.

“You!” they buzzed relishing the richness of its golden blooms.


A Fine Line by Amber Prince

The grudge had thrived for decades. No one understood what fueled it. No one dared ask. Some whisper it was a girl from childhood, others murmured it was a parent’s favoritism. Fools they all were, for this bitter dispute was rooted within the ground.

A lonely apple tree perched high on a hill, dividing two property lines. The land left behind by a father to his two sons.

The brothers planted two seeds, only one of which grew tall. Each year they fought over whose tree the fruit fell from. Then, who would get the first crisp, juicy bite?


Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Standing guard at the entrance, the cherries on the welcome desk caught Wasp’s gaze. Luscious globes brimming over the cut-glass bowl, glistening as if someone’s mother had held them under a running tap to wash away the dust. Had they stormed the greengrocer’s by mistake?

Brock cocked his gun towards the queue. Fox passed the bags across the counter. Wasp reached for a cherry but his gloved hands failed him, and the mask cloaked his mouth.

Customers whimpered. Fox told the cashier to hurry up. Wasp was a boy again, scaling the orchard wall.

Grabbing the bowl, Wasp fled.


Flash Fiction by Robin L. Flanigan

Dabs of red nail polish line the tips of the old woman’s white sandals.

“Grandma, did you paint your toes with your shoes on?” Anna asks.

The grandmother turns her head, looking sheepish. “I guess I should take them off next time,” she answers. Her feet dangle off the edge of the examination table, her ankles creased and swollen below the hem of her dress, her toes curled into each other. She’s quiet as she waits for the doctor.

Anna can’t think of anything to talk about. She can’t stop staring at those feet, those heels like wrinkled peaches.


The Poor Mango!! by Ruchira Khanna

Julie is licking the sides of her hand while holding the seed that had its hair protruding indicating that all its juice has been sucked off.

“For God’s Sake! Give it up, Jules!” mom shouts from the kitchen window.

“Nah! I wanna retaliate by sucking all the liquid out of Bill via this mango, Momma!” she shouts back with spite and vengefulness as she stares at the seed with her red swollen eyes welling continuously with tears and her lips twisted from those darn memories with Bill, who left her drenched like a buffoon on a cold
winter night.


Fruit by Geoff Le Pard


‘I was passing, Mary.’ He put a foot in the door. ‘We need to talk. My mother’s not well…’


‘Uncle Rupert!’ Penny pushed past her mother. ‘Come in!’

Rupert handed Penny a bag. ‘Peaches.’

‘You remembered.’ She hugged him, before biting into a succulent fruit. Juice dribble down her chin.

‘Get a cloth.’ Once Penny had disappeared to the kitchen, Mary said, ‘You will not buy your way into our lives.’

Penny bounced back, her cheeks smeared with sticky juice.

‘He’s can’t stay.’ Mary shut the door.

Penny glared at her mother ‘What’s wrong with you, Mum?’


Flash Fiction by Irene Waters

The sweet, sickly scent of the over-ripe fruit invaded her nostrils as she entered the room. The case of juicy mangos she had been given that morning would not last long in this heat. The thought of throwing her beloved fruit away was too difficult to contemplate so Nelly sat, the case in front of her and proceeded to eat the yellow, dripping fruit one after the other until she devoured the entire twenty-four mangos. She sat with juice dribbling from her chin and a self-satisfied smile on her face which was swelling rapidly.

Mango allergy the coroners report read.


Family Time by Pete

We were out on the porch. Ant Silvia rocked in one chair, slobbering peach juice all over herself, and Mom in Dad’s chair, watching the evening sun melt away. It was quiet, minus Sylvia’s gross slurping that called the ants and scattered the lightning bugs. It was her third peach and I was seething, but Mom shot me a look.

When the chair finally stopped, I turned just as Ant Sylvia stood. “Well, I’m leaving in the morning, sweetie.” And before I knew it she planted a mess of a kiss on my cheek.

Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.


New prompt on Wednesday.  All writers welcome!

Levels of Editing: When & Why

Tips for WritersWriters, like it or not, you can’t multitask.

Like many who push a pen, I’ve had to find work to pay for the ink. Eons ago, I waited tables in a ridiculously short pink polyester dress. On Wednesday nights at the casino restaurant where I worked, it was regionally famous for beer and steak. Nevada buckaroos brought their wives to town; Navy (yes, there is a Navy base in Nevada) fly-boys arrived to eat, drink and play 21; and miners cleaned up to make it a date night.

What I had to do felt like multitasking at its most demanding–seat tables, bring beer, fetch water, take orders, prep salads, bring extra rolls, laugh at bad jokes, pick up hot plates, remember steak knives, refill beer, find steak sauce, clear plates, scoop sherbert, tally tab and earn a good tip. Times that by ten because it was how many tables we each had in our sections and on a Wednesday night we were packed from 5 to 10 p.m.

Later, as a manager I learned that multitasking is a myth. This NPR article on the topic even cites a restaurant line cook as an example–of not multitasking. Instead, we humans are expedient at changing from one task to the other, but we cannot do multiple tasks at once. It’s why you need to break down your tasks into chunks with breaks in between.

We break down writing into scenes, and we break down editing into levels. It’s how we make it manageable.

Before I launch into editing as a separate task from writing, let me offer you some ideas for time management. It’s getting to be that time of year when everyone is feeling pressed about time, uncertain which tasks to prioritize and overwhelmed by trying to do it all.

Tips for Efficiency in Time Management:

  1. Use a calendar to enter all important dates: deadlines, blog schedule, writing goals, personal time and appointments. Hint: your calendar should not be “full.” You need blank days.
  2. Make a to-do list weekly and prioritize tasks according to importance: A, B or C. Work your As off first. Studies show that we tend to do the easiest tasks first and often those are Cs.
  3. Organize tasks. I have outdoor chores, downstairs duties and office expectations. I take time for each “place,” giving it my full attention.
  4. Set a timer. Especially if you work for a client or have identified a distraction, you need to monitor your time.
  5. Embrace a distraction. When migrating birds kept me at the window with binoculars, I started a blog. It gave me an outlet for the distraction, and a way to practice my voice in writing. If you like a game, play it for 20 minutes as a reward for finishing an important task for the day. Use it; don’t let it use you.
  6. Take breaks after ending one task and starting another. You can learn more about the Pomodoro Technique, but suffice to say that you need to include regular breaks.
  7. Go easy on yourself. If you are scrambling for time, all the time, lighten up your load. It’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to post fewer times on your blog. It’s okay to cut your writing time back to 30 minutes a day if it means you’ll better be able to write every day.

So on to editing and why writers can’t multitask. When you write, write. Turn off the Grammar Tyrant in your head with the promise of, “we’ll edit later.” When you edit, break it down into manageable chunks. Don’t try to write and edit simultaneously. You’ll either frustrate your creativity or flow of ideas; or you’ll miss big mistakes and little ones, too.

For a client, I edit their bi-monthly newsletter. It’s a project management role that goes beyond editing–I plan, hire contractors, organize the layout, assign submissions, write copy, edit, monitor distribution and increase readership. Truly, editing is only part of that project. And I edit, when it’s time to edit.

Here’s how I break down editing a project:

  1. Content. For my client, I make sure each article supports the organization’s mission and messages and meets word count.
  2. Clarity. Next, I read as a reader. Does it flow, make sense, is clear? Are the facts substantiated? If it needs major revision it’s returned to the writer; minor changes I make without altering the voice of the writer or the approved content of the client.
  3. Correctness. Finally, the Grammar Tyrant can come out and go to work. It’s the last task of editing. Often, this is called proofing, although I do a final proof not for incorrect grammar, but for missed typos.

How does that equate to editing a book? Consider these same levels:

  1. Content. Enlist beta-readers, volunteer editors or writing peers for feedback on early drafts. Use caution and go with your gut. You don’t want divergent opinions, but you want to know if the story in your head is coming out on the page. Is the message coming through?
  2. Clarity. Depending upon your genre, clarity could include fact-checking or deepening a character. You want a professional who knows the business of books. You can hire an editor to assess your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Correctness. By the time you’ve revised your draft to sharpen the story, you’ll need to edit again for correctness. Mistakes happen in re-writing. If your revision was major, consider copy edits. If you are just in need of polishing, then proofreading should suffice. If this is your first book, consider content editing which is a deeper service, but worth the extra cost if you want to go the traditional publishing route.

Not only is multitasking a myth, but I also believe that writers can be their worst own editors. We worry; we over-think; we over-correct; we under-correct; we get attached; we delude ourselves into thinking the story is clear; we delude ourselves into thinking the story is crap. There’s nothing objective in that scenario.

However, as a writer, you do need to learn how to self-edit, but we’ll talk more about that next time. Consider self-editing to be the clean up you do in between the revisions when working with an editor. We’ll also talk more about beta-readers which serve a different role from professional editors.

And do correct those mistakes! If you don’t, and the reader is the next set of eyes, they might not be kind. Angering a reader’s inner Grammar Tyrant is not what you want to do.

Bite Size Memoir “Holiday Reads”

Bite Size Memoir for Carrot RanchHoliday consists of me cooking. What kind of holidays do I take? Camping trips mostly. I’ve traveled a fair amount for speaking engagements and always seemed to buy books while traveling to new places. And books are always stuffed into my travel bags, even my day bag for fishing.

These days it’s the Kindle that goes everywhere with me, even to the grocery store. Tomorrow morning the Hub will take me out to Stacy’s for breakfast because we do that every time he comes home from working out of town. He’ll pick up the nickle ads and I’ll pull out the Kindle.

To some people this might appear rude or send the wrong message that we aren’t able to tolerate each others’ company. But it’s the opposite. We’re comfortable enough to read together. And that was one of the first things that drew me to the Hub when we met.

This week, Lisa Reiter of Sharing the Story has challenged bite-size memorists to share their holiday reads. What keeps coming to mind is that first dinner the Hub ever cooked for me. It’s not a holiday so I’m stretching the prompt.

Books After Dinner by Charli Mills–USA

We were set up by well-intentioned friends.

We liked each other enough to go duck hunting the next day, and two days later he invited me to his small house for duck dinner. He’d been working so let me in and said he needed to shower. I could smell roasting duck as I settled into the only chair in his living-room/kitchen. I always had a book with me and I sat down to read, “Daughters of Cameron,” an historical romance novel.

His bedroom door didn’t sit right in the frame so I remember looking up to catch a glimpse of his nude body as he passed by after his shower. Back then, he was a rugby-god-army-ranger-farm-boy. I almost bolted from the house; romance better left to books. I stayed. We ate dinner, he noticed my book, grabbed his hardcover classic and for the rest of the evening we read together.

The Hub & Charli 1987

The Hub & Charli 1987

July 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Tips for WritersBuried beneath brambles, weeds and brush, the Colburn Cemetery eludes me. The general description is that about 30 stones, mostly toppled,  crest a knoll overlooking Highway 95 at mile marker 483. That’s exactly seven miles south of my home at Elmira Pond. It used to be the milling town of Colburn, but like Elmira it no longer exists unless you look for remnants.

Twice now, I’ve tromped through underbrush only to find two abandoned orchards. Out west, cemeteries are often called “bone orchards,” but instead of marble markers, I’ve only found gnarled apple trees. Fruit keeps turning up and I even bemoaned that I’m becoming a reluctant orchardist.

I’d rather dig into history than graft trees. I don’t even own pruners. Am I supposed to water the trees? I have no idea. But alas, I’m surrounded by fruit that calls to me like orphaned children seeking a mother.

Orchardists, hay merchants, turkey farmers, loggers and buckaroos linger like a cocktail in my DNA. I’ve preferred to sip from the buckaroo line, relishing the horse-culture best, but maybe fruit is attracted to something in me that I’ve denied.

My great-grandfather Marcus grew up in the shade of apricot trees in California. His father, a Danish immigrant, planted the orchard before an early death when Marcus was only 8-years-old. Born in 1884, Marcus lived long enough to tell me stories as a young girl about working the orchards. What made a huge impression upon me was the fact that he drove horse-drawn wagons. Fruit didn’t matter; wagons did. Old things fire the flames of my imagination.

Yet, a recent book I’ve picked up is a debut novel by Amanda Coplin. It’s titled, “The Orchardist.” It fits my historical interests, set in this Pacific Northwest region at the turn of the 20th century. The writing is clear and crisp as I hope the apples will be, yet varied and lyrical as the mysterious quince that appeared by my pond. Here is a taste of her writing:

“And so she began to tend her own orchard, and think of many things she had not thought of before, such as if she had a choice, which kinds of trees would she plant, and what would thrive there, and how far apart she should plant the trees, and where she would get the trees. Talmadge observed her struggles, answered her questions when she asked him. He bought her a small notebook like his own to fit into her front overall pocket while she worked. She began to be interested in the tools at the hardware store, the prices of different seed. She had a rough understanding, despite her age, of what was expensive, what was overpriced, what was a bargain. She and Talmadge discussed these things on the long wagon rides to and from town.

Mostly she learned from watching him. She watched him in everything he did; she was his shadow in the trees.”

And this gets me thinking about Sarah Shull and Bill Hickok. Did she watch him? Did she observe that he was a different man from Cob McCandless? More history books have arrived from Amazon via the big brown UPS truck that the dogs bark at with relish, sending me downstairs in an excited flurry to tear through the cardboard wrapping to get to my latest book. Some women go on shoe buying sprees; I’m buying books and photos of Hickok.

So far, historians disagree on many points regarding the entire shoot-out that led to Cob’s death. It annoys me when an historian calls Sarah Shull, “Kate Shell.” Somehow, the latter name became the dimestore character. I’ve researched enough primary documents–and many historians agree with my findings–that Sarah Shull left North Carolina with Cob McCandless. The 1860 Federal Census even lists her as part of Cob’s household (as a servant) along with his wife and children.

Most historians agree that Cob was a bully. He was a man who demanded he get his own way; held others up to strict standards despite his own flaws; and used his powerful physique to dish out punishment upon those he felt deserving of his fists. Hickok was also a fighter, tall and athletic, but not massive like McCandless. He was recuperating from serious injuries which was why he was at Rock Creek to feed horses. According to letters Hickok wrote to family, he saw the violence and lawlessness of the Kansas-Nebraska Territory and worried for women and children.

This makes me think that Hickok was sympathetic to Sarah. Cob did not pay society’s price for his affair with her; plucking from the tree of forbidden fruit as a married man. But Sarah was shunned and that might be why she left North Carolina in the first place. Some say it was Hickok that tasted of the forbidden fruit, but maybe his feelings toward her were more of empathy than attraction.

Fruit is the oldest story we have. It features in many creation myths and was the downfall of Adam and Eve. Fruit tempts us, taunts us–“Do I dare eat a peach,” worries J. Alfred Prufrock. It is sweet, ripe and the result of our labors. It’s brutal, as in the southern trees that once bore the “strange fruit” of men hung for nothing more than the color of skin. Lust is regarded as forbidden fruit. Yet it is good. Fruit is abundance and fertility.

July 23, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes fruit.  It can be mythological, metaphorical or realistic. Think of fruit as a way to create tension, add a twist or something unexpected to your story. Use it to define a character or make it her obsession. Is it abundant, absent or desired? Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, July 29 to be included in the compilation.

My unexpected fruit–quince by the pond.

Dry Fruit (10)

The Honey Locust by Charli Mills

“The fruit of honey locust is sweet,” Hickok said, breaking open a pod to show Sarah dark peas inside. He grinned as she nibbled, then nodded. “Makes great beer.”

“You could make liquor from water, Mr. Hickok.” Before he could reply, he noticed distant riders on the prairie. One appeared naked on a galloping horse. The other was Cob.

“We’d better go.” He led Sarah through cottonwoods to their hobbled horses. He knew Cob was dragging another poor soul to the honey locust. The four-inch thorns twining the tree were agony to bare skin.

Torture was Cob’s favorite fruit.


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.



The Muse of Music

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionMusic inspires writers. Sometimes, it’s deep at the soul level and other times it’s about technique like pacing. Music can set a tone, express a setting or color the shade of a character.

This week, writers have included the music that pairs with their writing like a fine red wine with an aged cheese. From Foo Fighters to Chopin, sit back, turn on the volume and read what the muse of music wrought.

Muse: In the Hall of the Mountain King (Peer Gynt) by Edvard Grieg

Flash Fiction by Irene Waters

The town woke as normal. The early workers slowly dribbled onto the streets, joined by more as the morning aged. By rush hour the numbers had built to ant-like proportions.

They didn’t hear an explosion. Caught by surprise they stared in alarm at the volcano the town sat in the shadow of as a plume of gas raced towards them from above whilst a river of red-hot lava snaked its way in their direction.


The crowds panicked and bolted in terror. They heard the next eruption, followed by several more. They dropped where once they stood.


Muse: Mark Knopfler – Wild theme (Local Hero) 

Dust by Geoff Le Pard

Rupert, her half-brother, sounded desperate. ‘Please Mary. Come with me.’

‘Yes I know.’ Damn him, she thought; even after death her father controlled her.

Later as Rupert fiddled with the hire car, she thought of her dad. Just the same. Efficient but a bit of a prat. Her eyes stung; she swallowed. She wouldn’t give either of them the satisfaction.

They walked miles, in the shadow of the Cuillins. ‘Here.’ Rupert took out the urn. ‘You first.’

She scattered ash and heard music. Rupert’s ipod. Wild Theme. Dad’s favourite. Tears coursed her cheeks. She no longer cared who saw.


Muse: Saloon Music

Oh My Darling by Pete

We sat on the steps, giggling as bridesmaids arrived, clutching phones and bags. One stopped, smiling at Amelia. “Isn’t she cute?”

Amelia scoffed, seized by the mob of blondes. I got back to work as guests arrived. A red-faced man played saloon music on the piano in the foyer.

I strolled along the grounds of my dad’s farm house, peddling slimy appetizers when Amelia stepped out on the porch and smiled. The glasses were gone and her hair was up. I spilled my tray and the music jilted to a stop.

In an hour she would be my stepsister.


Muse: Anand (Bliss) by Snatum Kaur

Flight by Robin L. Flanigan

Terra presses the wet cloth to her skin, the color of spoiled milk, and closes her eyes, thinking about what it would be like to leave, to sweep herself off the porch and up the hill toward the clouds. Her mother did it. Her grandmother didn’t and look where that got her. She carefully doubles the washcloth and drapes it over the edge of the tub. She couldn’t care less if he will miss her. She can picture only the weightlessness, the smooth waves of her limbs as she dances through the hemlocks on her way to the next.


Muse: S.Prokofiev. Suite from The Love for Three Oranges. 03. March

Flash Fiction #1 by Anne Goodwin

She thought she’d found her soulmate: a handsome man who shared her passion for surfing, sushi and Shakespeare. In and out of bed, he made her feel whole. When he brandished the concert tickets, she prepared herself for a treat.

The music was by some Russian guy. Thump thump thump and plinketty plonk. As soon as she caught the rhythm it would flip to something else. The thrum of a headache in her temples, she turned his way. Yet, instead of the anticipated shrug of apology, he appeared enraptured, his expression the one he usually wore straight after sex.


Muse: Foo Fighters – These Days 

Last Train Home by Sherri Matthews

Settling in for the train journey, Jamie plugged in, metal guitar riffs screaming. An hour in, he turned and saw her.

Dark eyes met his, frozen in disbelief. Turning to her new man, she giggled as they sat down in the seats in front of Jamie.

“That’s Jamie sitting behind us!” They swapped tongues.

Jamie exploded out of his seat, leaping off at the next stop. He caught a glimpse of her staring blankly out of the train window, chewing her nails, looking ugly. Jamie turned away and kept walking. He smiled then. Poor bastard, it’ll be him next.


Muse: Loreena McKennitt – The Lady of Shalott

Flash Fiction by Tally Pendragon

At the first terrifying scream, Vanda ran. The image of the flaming phoenix was still bright in her eyes. She ran through tunnels that had not felt the touch of any foot for centuries. Behind her madness was unleashing more jealous screams, its rage obliterating all sense. She felt Them as they handed her along, the cool breeze of their faith rushing her to freedom. As she crashed into an unyielding door some power beyond her bade it give. Behind her it closed and once again stuck fast.

“Thank you, sweet brethren,” she breathed, and sucked in the sunlight.


Muse: In Paradisum – Requiem – Faure 

Flash Fiction #2 by Anne Goodwin

The pain dissolved in an instant, his agonised frown flipping to a smile. His smile grew wider as gentle hands attached helium balloons to his wrists, his waist, his ankles and his shoulders and he felt himself lifted up, up and up, until he was floating just below the ceiling, looking down in triumph on the narrow hospital bed. Angelic voices sang of how they’d make him whole again, or help him shed his battered body and live among the clouds. And he believed them, oh how much he believed them, until the morphine stopped coursing through his veins.


Muse: Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky – Romeo & Juliet Love Theme

Meet-Up by Paula Moyer

1980 – Jean and Sarah plotted the meet-up before they left the US: Innsbruck, Austria, at 4 a.m., October 4. No cell phones, no Internet. Just a train table and hope. Jean coming from Florence, Sarah from elsewhere-in-Europe, sending a confirmatory telegram to Florence’s American Express.

Jean got the telegram, boarded the train. Looking at the Alps through the window, she felt transported. She couldn’t sleep.

Then the Innsbruck signs. 4 a.m. She donned her backpack; stepped off.

The strains of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture filled her head before she saw her: Sarah, in slow motion, running. Reunion. Success.


Muse: Moby – 18

See Emily Play by Sarah Brentyn

Emily’s hand touched sheer, silky curtains as warm breezes blew in from the forest. She giggled, running along the hallway, bare feet landing with soft thuds on the plush carpet. Her brown eyes lit up as she watched the squirrels scurry up trees.

“She’s no better,” Emily’s mother studied her little girl. “I want her back. Please. Bring her back to me.”

The doctor glanced at the tiles, “I’m not sure she wants to come back.”
They looked over at the girl in the hospital gown.

Emily’s hand twitched. She grimaced, staring with dead eyes at the playful squirrels.


Muse: Frédéric Chopin – Prelude in E-Minor (op.28 no. 4) 

Circus Act by Amber Prince

Her family sat there in silence. The only sounds emitted were the muffled sobs and quiet shuffling of feet behind them as her friends and family (and a few strangers) found seats.

This hadn’t been what she wanted. She had clearly stated that this was to be a celebration, a joyful event; with music, cocktails, dancing. But not this. No, this was a depressing circus act and she was the main attraction. By God, she was made up like a damn clown.

She would kill her husband. Well… at least haunt him for all eternity.
Her funeral was dreadful.


Muse: Epic western music – The Lone Wanderer by Antti Martikainen

McCandless Rides by Charli Mills

Hooves pounded in the distance, hollow like ancient kettle drums. Sarah heard Cob riding his leggy blood red bay with main as black as his owner’s thick hair. Only Cob rode so recklessly down the mountain. No one was about the store this time of evening. She was only there to tally the books. Sarah set her ink quill aside, shuffled the accounting notes for her father’s business and smoothed her long hair that was artfully coiled at the back of her head. Hers was lighter than his; ‘chestnut’ he called it, when he had stroked her uncoiled locks.


Muse: Johannes Brahms – Lullaby

Lullaby Lecture by Larry LaForge

Blink. I have to blink. I can’t be caught napping in class again.

What was I thinking? Quality Assurance at 8 AM. Who cares about cause-effect analysis at this hour?

C’mon prof. Can we get a little voice inflection please? I’m dying here.

Thirty minutes left. Not gonna make it.

I know the prof is watching me. The sudden jolt when I caught myself nodding off gave me away.

LaLa Land here I come.

Oh no. He’s looking my way again.

“Significant cause and effect, Mr. Jones?”

I didn’t answer. It was better to be asleep than openly disrespectful.

The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.


Muse: The Most Beautiful Waltz Music 

Final Act by Norah Colvin

A collective gasp interrupted the music mid-beat.

All eyes turned synchronously, as if worked by unseen strings, towards the French doors, burst open and revealing a silhouetted figure framed by billowing gossamer-like curtains.

Out of the darkness the figure emerged: clothed in black with coat tails flapping, a top hat in one hand and a white-tipped cane held aloft in the other.

The conductor revived the orchestra as the figure glided across the floor, seized the heroine decisively and whirled her around and around.

The spell now broken, the cast joined in the dance to tumultuous applause.


New challenge posted every Wednesday on Carrot Ranch Communications. All writers welcome!

When Is It a Book?

Tips for WritersAsking, when is it a book is a lot like asking when is your pile of logs going to be a structure. Last week we examined NaNoWriMo as a tool: your ax to chop down material. If you meet the challenge, you’ll have 50,000 words by the end of 30 days.

Some writers use the term WIP, as in a work-in-progress. I prefer the term project because it resonates with my experience with project management. I’ve learned to let go and write during NaNoWriMo, and I’m learning how to manage the result. It seems doable if I call it a project; daunting if I call it a book.

Yet some writers get to the end of their book and call it thus. First draft, and they publish. Why? Because they can. You don’t even need money to publish a book these days because you can forgo print, design your own cover, transfer your text into a template and hit publish as easy as tapping enter your keyboard.

Why do it? Well, people do have reasons. It is an accomplishment to craft 50,000 words into a story and the fundamental premise of NaNoWriMo is that everyone has a story. Some just want to share it among friends or family. I’ve met some WriMos in my region who only write in November and they love the activity as an annual hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Other writers mistakenly think that publishing a book is a quick way to make money. It’s less about what is shared or the story told and more about sales potential. I met such a writer. She drafted about 30,000 words, designed a cover and published it digitally. She didn’t want to create a writer’s platform (too much work) or work with an editor (too expensive). She said she’d “hire” those people after her book sold. It didn’t.

Then there are writers who dare. They dare to finish it. Dare to call it a book. They do the best they know how with the resources available. They revise according to feedback from beta readers. They find someone to edit. They publish the book both in print and digital and promote it along the platform they have built and continue to work. Reader reviews are mixed. But you know what? A writer has to start somewhere, and often those in this group learn from newbie mistakes, hire a better editor and write a stronger second book.

On the other end of the publishing rainbow is not necessarily a pot of gold, but a possible contract. Publishing houses range in size and benefits. One benefit is professional editing. It’s kind of like winning a game show where you get to select your prize behind one of three doors. It’s a mystery as to what you really have won.

But reputation and quality are a big deal to those writers who are career-minded, who want to publish books traditionally. It may take years to call a book a book. Revisions with an editor. Revisions with an agent. Revisions with a publishing house. Not to mention rejection letters in between.

Some writers try to fast-track the traditional route by investing in an MFA. It’s paramount to networking and puts in to question, are the best books truly from college educated writers or do they simply have the better connections? Often there’s a pretentiousness that is discouraging to writers outside the ivory towers.

With so many possibilities it is hard to answer, when is it a book. All I can offer are opinions. All I can say is that I have career goals. I’m not in an MFA program, but I feel like I’m apprenticing, trying to figure it out via workshops, blogs and writing mentors in a book. It’s an unpaid apprenticeship with no guarantee I’ll become a journeyman or ever a master.

So, we write. It is the best we can do. We have nothing without writing. Call it a book when you feel ready to put it out into the world. Do it justice. And we’ll talk about editing next week.