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August 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionSummer’s heat has dissipated. Windows are wide open and a soft breeze flutters at the screens as gently as a silent butterfly. Logging trucks and late summer campers whir past the house like a rushing stream over rocks. Northbound trains clank to a halt to let the southbound ones trundle by on steel wheels. The windows are usually closed during the heat of the day,  so these usually distant noises seem amplified.

Then nothing. Silence. A chickadee calls bright and clear. It sounds like he’s whistling, “Here, kitty…here, kitty.” In between highway traffic and trains natural sounds carry. In the distance I can hear horses stomping as they mow grass and a crow caws from a tall pine. Occasionally geese honk overhead.

This morning, I saw the first flock of geese headed south. Change is coming.

We get into these rhythms and somehow we think the dance of life is always the same two-step. Change is hard for people. I remember what a huge deal it was to introduce changes in the workplace. Some employees would panic; some customers would grumble; everyone groaned in one way or another just because we changed a process that would make improvements. People liked the improvements. They didn’t like having to go through the change.

Life has taught me that change is required to get to the next step of the journey. I think of pioneers and how they had to overcome that fear of change in order to take the journey that led to new places, adventures, opportunities and even hardships. Some learned that the vibrancy of life existed on the cusp of change and sought to journey more than most.

Those would be your Wild Bill Hickoks of the world. The one I’m studying left home early to drive mules; drove freight wagons across the frontier; scouted for the Union Army; led wagon trains and cavalry. Rarely did Hickok stay long in one place. And maybe that’s what draws us to such people–we are fascinated that they can go through such changes that would send most of us to hide under the bed just so we could stay home.

In my own life I’ve felt like a trailblazer, willing to journey. In some ways it paid off like finding a gold nugget and in other ways it led to disaster like losing a crop to locust. But that’s life and like it or not, the changes come and find us even if we don’t seek them out.

You can hear change coming. A harbinger–a messenger announcing the change like a honking Canada goose winging south in the evening sky. Even the open windows right now have me tingling for changes to come–I need to gather wood and prepare for the shortening of days. It’s time to pick huckleberries and put up the last of the summer peaches. Deep within I’m both excited and unsettled for the change.

Sound is often overlooked in writing. We can create images from any and all senses, but of course, we  find visual images most natural when writing. This week we are going to explore sound in our flash fiction. Specifically, the sound of a harbinger; something that announces what is to come. It could be expected–the pounding of horse hooves upon hard sod announces the arrival of the next Pony Express rider. Or it could be unexpected–a strange hooting that is heard before a band of Pawnee arrive at the cabin door.

My examples are western, but you can write any ol’ genre you wish. I took a dive into this “idea” of Wild Bill Hickok, Cob McCandless and Sarah Shull. While exploring for stories through flash fiction, they hog-tied me, threw over the back of a horse and now I have to write my way out of this adventure. I’ve decided to accept the challenge. Writing weekly flash has become an interesting way for me to digest the research I’m doing. In October I’m visiting the Hub’s sister (she’s more like my sister) and she only lives a few hours away from Rock Creek.

It’s as if that chickadee is calling to me. A new adventure is just beyond the horizon if I dare step out to meet it. Hickok, Cob and Sarah–I will meet you at Rock Creek this autumn!

August 27, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) use sound to announce some sort of change. It could be at the beginning of the story–a lonely bar keep on a quiet road hears the rumble of motorcycles and anticipates customers. That could be good news or bad…Or you could tell a story that unfolds as expected until a character hears something–like a bride getting ready upstairs at the church who hears a shattering below followed by the shouts of her groom, “I’m outta here!” Sound can trumpet, clang or whisper. It can foreshadow or be the twist.

Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, September 2 to be included in the compilation.

Flight From North Carolina by Charli Mills

Coins clinked in Cob’s burly hand as he jingled the liberty dollars Dryer paid for the two horses. Sarah couldn’t see how many. What mattered was boarding the Johnson City train before any Wataugans tracked their midnight ride. Waiting in line at the busy depot, Cob leaned against the wall watching folks like he was at a Sunday picnic.

“You keep fussing your bonnet, Rosebud, everyone on this platform’s going to think you’re fugitive.”

Sarah put her hands down and glared at the black locomotive. The whistle screeched and Sarah grabbed Cob’s arm. “We’ve gotta get on that train.”

###

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.

Back to School

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionThis week writers unpacked their book bags and delved into school. From slates to bullies, kindergarten to college, boys and girls feature in this week’s flash fiction. Grab an apple and read the stories that made the grade.

Stories are based on the August 20, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about school.

Chocolate Balls by Norah Colvin

The final school bell tolled and the students erupted from the building like a burst box of chocolate balls, scattering in every direction and at varying speeds. Some stuck together along pathways safe and sure. Others crashed and bumped over roads less traveled seeking excitement, new discoveries and secrets to explore. Others stopped abruptly, their journeys foiled by stubborn obstacles. Still others, rolling upwards, failed to maintain the momentum to carry them over and beyond with those more adventurous others.

Who would know?

Inside the box, they were identical, centers hidden. Outside, their uniqueness was on show.

###

Kindergarten Days by Sarah Unsicker

It was the first week of Kindergarten, and Chelsea was already tired of sitting in her chair. She had spent most of the long summer outside. The transition from summer to the school day had been torture.

Mrs. Smith handed out worksheets. Was expected to copy some strange doodle.

Chelsea didn’t understand why she had to learn to write numbers. She wondered how anyone could differentiate the squiggles. Chelsea stared at the paper for a minute before the bell rang. It was time for recess! She would gladly take this work home if she could go outside to play.

###

Academic Advice by Larry LaForge

Coach Bruno Culberston counseled his football team the day before school started.

“Sit in the front row,” he told his troops. “Make frequent eye contact with the professor.”

He asked an assistant coach to demonstrate proper sitting posture.

Coach Culbertson continued. “Always look interested. Write stuff down in your notebook. Nod your head in agreement when the prof makes a point.”

The players took it all in.

“Remember, always call your teachers Doctor, even if they’re not.”

After several more imperatives, a kid in the back raised his hand. “Coach, what about studying?”

“Oh.” replied the coach. “That too.”

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

###

School Flash by Irene Waters

“Come on. We’ll be late.” Billy urged.

“I don’t wanna go.” said Harry.

“But it’s fun. Readin’, Ritin ‘n Rithmetic. Hurry up.”

“I should be helping at home with the milking.”

“You wanna do that for ever.”

“Too right I wanna. What else would I do? Soon as I’m fourteen I’m out of here.”

“Not me. My kids are gonna wear shoes.”

 

“Help me Harry. All these blasted forms. Never thought I’d need the three R’s. Blast this government. Blast this GST.”

“Lucrative business accountancy these days Bill. I’m sure glad I put my head down and studied hard.”

###

A Father’s Pain by Charli Mills

Deputy Coffey left the McCandles house after informing Cob’s father of his son’s disappearance. And of the charges.

James stood in the parlor, staring at the framed tintype of his son in military uniform. He was never meant to be a soldier, but a scholar. His son–David Colbert. Cob to family and friends. He grabbed the frame, ready to smash it on the plank-wood floor. Instead, he hugged it to his chest and sagged to the floor, careful not to make a sound. He didn’t want to distress his wife.

“Oh, my son. That woman wasted your schooling.”

###

School Flash by Anne Goodwin

Twin stone staircases led to a wooden door, the numbers 1873 embossed above, grand as the entrance to a castle. At school I’d learn to read, and never have to go without a story. I’d mount those steps like a fairytale princess, entering one day by the left side, the next the right.

I didn’t realise the letters above the stairs spelt BOYS on one side and GIRLS on the other. That my mother would laugh, plead, then slap me on the legs and hoist me up like a sack of coal when I raced towards the wrong one.

###

Nervously Waiting For the Strap to Come Out by Susan Zutautas

Nervously I waited for the door to the principal’s office to open. What was I thinking kissing Josh at the assembly this morning?

“Miss Varden please come in,” summoned Principal Green. “Have a seat. Since we both know why you are here today, I would like to know if you have read the student handbook that you received upon registering here at Bishop Allen Catholic Academy.”

“Yes sir I have.”

“Did you read the rules relating to student conduct?”

“Yes.”

“What does it say about public displays of affection Miss Varden?”

“That it is not allowed here at school.”

###

Stalked by Paula Moyer

When looking back on sixth grade, Jean knew something was amiss, but
what? If she simply said “I had trouble connecting with Mrs. O’Brien,”
what was she leaving out?

It was the eyes, watching her as they watched no other student. What
was it about her eyes?

Years later, as a grown woman, Jean was walking her dog. As she left
the house, she saw the neighborhood feral cat scrutinizing a bird.
When she came back: no cat, no bird. Just a pile of feathers.

Then she knew. The cat had Mrs. O’Brien’s look. Jean was her teacher’s prey.

###

Back to School by Ruchira Khanna

Pedro ran through the checklist once again the night before the big day; making sure he does not forget anything.

Slept on time with the excitement to meet his friends the next day, and describe all his summer adventures. The idea of studies and homework was just a thought, yet!

Dawn arrives, and he was quick to get ready without any reminders.

Reached school, and was devastated to learn that he and his friends were in different classes.
He was sitting in a class with new faces.

However, his temperament and desire made him new friends in no time.

###

Back to School by Sarah Brentyn

Susan sat in class as obscene rumors about her were whispered near her ear. Nasty notes always seemed to show up on her desk. She was shoved in the hallways and tripped in gym.

School looked different to Susan than it did to other students.

Bathrooms weren’t places to pee or fix makeup, they were hiding spots to catch her breath and cover up bruises. Lockers weren’t spaces to keep her books, they were instruments of torture and confinement.

But Susan didn’t run from misery, she gathered strength from it. And she looked forward to her high school reunion

###

Mighty by Pete

Clutching my bag I take a deep breath, comforted by the fact that I’ve already read the entire English book and Mom’s tutored me with the math all summer. She’s a good teacher, but still, I missed over 100 days last year.

I hear the nerves in her voice. She tells me to pace myself, to remember what Dr. P said. I hate the fact that I have to choose. I’m tired just thinking about it. School is the last chance I have at being a normal kid, and I’m not ready to surrender that to some stupid disease.

###

Accidental Kidnap by Geoff Le Pard

‘Mrs North? This is Penny’s form teacher, Miss Marks.’

‘Yes?’ Mary turned away so not as to be overheard.

‘Penny says her uncle is collecting her from school today. As we have never met him we like to check…’

‘What? Now, listen to me…’

Mary wished the solicitor wasn’t listening. When she finished, he asked, ‘Sorted?’

‘Far from it.’

‘Were you talking about Rupert?’

‘Yes, my bloody half-brother. I have to go.’ She stood and said, ‘He said Penny had asked to see his mother. Can you believe that?’

To Mary’s surprise he said, ‘Yes, I think I can.’

###

Remembering School in Elmira by Charli Mills

Mama washed my hair the night before, braiding it tight the next morning. I had a slate board and chalk—expensive luxuries. Papa had already left to pound spikes so he missed seeing my gleaming black braids with yellow ribbons. Mama watched me cross the tracks to the new schoolhouse before she returned to doing the rail-men’s laundry.

“Addio, mia cara,” she called as I walked away. To school. I cannot tell you how much it meant to Mama and Papa that their only child would get to go to school. “L’America è buono,” they’d say despite cracked hands.

###

New prompt on Wednesday. All writers welcome!

Back to School (1)

Back to School Bargains

Tips for WritersMonday Tips for Writers was on a roll with a series about how to use a storyboard. Here’s a recap of the series:

The last two topics are on hold. My goal was to share my experience with process and open doors for discussion. However, I’m in the thick of completing my revisions and my map is in use, thus it seems premature to say how well the map did or didn’t work. I’d like to reflect on the process afterwards.

The annual progression of projects which was so clear to me six months ago has become murky waters. I’m still progressing as planned (turning out one project a year to work on) but now I have project confusion. What started out as a flash fiction has turned into project and I didn’t mean for that to happen. The problem is that it’s not in my declared genre of commercial fiction. Am I shooting myself in the foot (with a pearl-handled Colt pistol like Wild Bill Hickok carried)? Or does it not matter? Commercial lit? Cli-fi? Westerns? Oh, my!

So in my uncertainty, I’m taking you all shopping today.

Seriously, this is a great time of year to shop as a writer. As a marketer, I understand how retailers economize their sale seasons. It’s a formula based on volume. The greater the potential volume, the greater the offered sales. It’s the banana formula. Ask any produce manager what their top-selling product is and most likely it will be bananas. Thus produce departments will keep the price low on this product because it is a consistent seller.

Then there are seasons. Retailers are at the height of the back-to-school season. That means they are going to attract shoppers by offering sale prices on items typically purchased by students. Often these are items writers use. Here are a few examples of items handy for the writing life:

  • Notebooks. If you journal, research, outline or draft by hand, you can never own too many notebooks. Right now, you can get four to five simple notebooks for a buck.
  • Highlighters. Oh, how I love thee, with ink so glowing yellow! I read with a highlighter when I’m researching or studying a master’s work. Four-pen packets of Sharpies are two bucks right now. Be still my beating heart.
  • Pens & Pencils. Somehow I seem to think every room in my house must have a cache of pens and at least a few pencils. Red pens are for editing, blue pens are for original copies and why I have black I cannot say. So cheap right now a kid can buy a year’s supply.

If you have a home office, now might be the time to stock up on ink toner, folders and file boxes. If you are looking to make a big purchase, now is a good time to find a deep discount. Here’s some big purchase ideas:

  • Office Chair. That’s what I bought today at Staples in Sandpoint. My old chair sunk and no longer rises to the occasion so I’ve had some awkward writing, sitting like a little kid at a big desk. I’ve been shopping prices and today was day-two of a two day sale. I also found a coupon online that was also applied and I bought a $200 chair for $50. I’m sitting in it now and am quite happy with my purchase.
  • Desk Top Hard Drive. I back up everything–early drafts, recent drafts, photos and files to my hard drive. It’s much bigger than a jump drive and I keep it in a fireproof safety-box. For extra measure, I back up my novel projects to Drop Box, too. I like having the hard drive and its storage capacity. These were deeply discounted today.
  • Computer, Laptop, Printer. I’m not looking forward to the day that I need to replace my laptop, but I seriously need a desk top. Between now and the Christmas shopping season these big ticket items will continue to be discounted. Unless you have specific preferences, look for close-out deals or ask for showroom models. My laptop was a showroom model and it cost me half the normal price.

So there you have it–back to school is big savings for writers! Have you made a bargain buy for your writing?

August 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionIn front of the old Elmira Schoolhouse a yellow bus stops for the smattering of school children in Elmira. The bus is not dropping off students, but taking them 15 miles away to a bigger school district. One-room schoolhouses such as the one next to my house are obsolete.

Despite several signs on the road, Elmira is a ghost town. The houses that spread out along this valley are rural homes. The original town-houses that  once contained families of the Italian immigrants who worked on the railroads are long gone. But evidently they believed in education.

All that remains of Elmira are her two original schoolhouses.

Places are like that. Function wanes; populations fluctuate and purposes change. Writer, Geoff Le Pard tells of a strange, abandoned place in England called Orford Ness. Another such abandoned place–yet not as bonkers as Orford Ness–is Rock Creek, Nebraska.

Here was a way station on the Oregon Trail. So many pioneers passed through Rock Creek that wagon-wheel ruts where grass doesn’t grow still exit. This was the station that a North Carolinian man bought while fleeing a money swindle as his former position of sheriff. He was headed to the goldfields of Colorado but met so many returning miners with empty pockets that he invested his money (or the money of others, perhaps) in Rock Creek.

Cob McCandles promptly built a toll bridge and started making money by charging the pioneer wagon trains that passed through. He built up the place, settled his mistress, Sarah Shull, built another station on the west side and sent his brother Leroy to fetch his family. One can only imagine the tensions that must have existed in Rock Creek.

Often, among the first structures built by pioneers was the schoolhouse. These one-room structures dotted the prairie and like the two in Elmira, stand as silent sentinels to the belief in education. All that exists of Rock Creek today are the reconstructed buildings of the east station (that housed the ill-fated Pony Express where Hickok shot McCandles) and a schoolhouse.

Despite Cob’s initial construction for prosperity, he too, had been influenced by schooling. In fact, Cob’s father was a school teacher as well as a cabinet-maker and a fiddler. Some early historians claim that Cob was given great advantages of schooling beyond what was normal for his region during his era. We do know that he went to military school, and my focus this week is to identify which school he went to and to request any records on Cob that might exist.

So, you might say we are joining the back-to-school movement this week. This week’s prompt is based on a theme, that of schooling. What is so important about schooling that it travels with us through migrations and wars, good times and bad? Yesterday’s schooling was so important that communities pooled resources to build a structure and hire a teacher. Think of the impact schooling–or a lack of it–might have on a character.

August 20, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about school. The setting can be a school, involve students and teachers or can be about schooling in general. How has school influenced a place or a character? Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, August 26 to be included in the compilation.

This week, I’ve written two pieces–one to continue the story of Cob McCandless, and one to honor the Elmira Schoolhouse.

Back to School (1)

Remembering School in Elmira by Charli Mills

Mama washed my hair the night before, braiding it tight the next morning. I had a slate board and chalk—expensive luxuries. Papa had already left to pound spikes so he missed seeing my gleaming black braids with yellow ribbons. Mama watched me cross the tracks to the new schoolhouse before she returned to doing the rail-men’s laundry.

“Addio, mia cara,” she called as I walked away. To school. I cannot tell you how much it meant to Mama and Papa that their only child would get to go to school. “L’America è buono,” they’d say despite cracked hands.

###

A Father’s Pain by Charli Mills

Deputy Coffey left the McCandles house after informing Cob’s father of his son’s disappearance. And of the charges.

James stood in the parlor, staring at the framed tintype of his son in military uniform. He was never meant to be a soldier, but a scholar. His son–David Colbert. Cob to family and friends. He grabbed the frame, ready to smash it on the plank-wood floor. Instead, he hugged it to his chest and sagged to the floor, careful not to make a sound. He didn’t want to distress his wife.

“Oh, my son. That woman wasted your schooling.”

###

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.

 

 

Characters, Get Your Engines Started

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionWhat motivates a character? Internal or external motivation can be a central theme to story development big or small. In the case of flash fiction, we are looking at the motivations of characters in 99 words and finding that it is a vital factor to getting the story started.

Motivation, you might say, is movement. The following stories show what moves characters and even writers and readers. Settle in for some flash reading.

Stories based on the August 13, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) show the underlying motivation of a character.

Motivating Mary by Geoff Le Pard

‘Rupert’s contesting the Will?’

‘Yes Mary. He says he and his mother were dependant on your father so should inherit something.’

Mary, her face neutral, seethed inside. Her bloody father and his affair. She couldn’t blame Rupert. He was just feeble.

The lawyer was waiting.

‘We fight.’

The lawyer looked surprised then smiled. Mary glared at him. He only cared about his fee.

She called her husband, Paul, and explained.

‘Well, if you’re sure. I didn’t realise you had it in you. Your Mum would be proud of you.’

Mary said nothing. She wasn’t doing this for her mother.

###

Daylight Robbery by Sherri Matthews

Placing one hand on the bench’s armrest, the old man heaved himself up on to unsteady legs.

Shivering against the bitter wind, he pulled his shabby coat around his thin frame and walked slowly towards the Post Office.

Relieved that he was alone he approached the clerk, snarling:

“I’ve got a gun! Give me your money now!”

The police found the old man stumbling along the street, necking back his newly purchased whiskey.

Sleet fell as he was bundled into the back of the warm police car and he smiled at the thought of the jail bed awaiting him.

###

The Job by Pete

Julie took a yoga-like breath, reigning in her emotions. Her eyes opened to the debris of post-it notes vying for her attention. Her whole life was about finding money.

She studied the matted carpet, the empty desks. The rancor from a young mother’s tirade was still drowning in her ears. Why again—her father liked to ask—had she become a social worker?

The gleam. The boy’s innocence as he looked over his mother’s shoulder, his bouncing eyes so bright and hopeful. His smile not yet lost. Everyday her faith in humanity was tested. And every morning she returned.

###

More Than Numbers by Norah Colvin

The more he stared at the numbers the less sense they made.

They swirled and blurred. He just didn’t get it.

“Numbers don’t lie,” they’d admonished.

“But they don’t tell either,” he’d thought.

The hollowness left when all he knew had been extracted could not be filled with the smorgasbord of numbers loaded on the page.

The richness of lives reduced to mere squiggles.

“This is what’s important,” they’d said, fingers drumming tables of data.

With heaviness of heart he closed the book and walked away.

“They are not even numbers,” he thought. “If they were numbers, they’d count!”

###

Motivus Merlinus by Tally Pendragon

Why did I manipulate time and place, influencing the outcome of events only I could see? They sent me to Rome! Me, half druid, half prince, yet all wizard. Come back and save us all, they adjured.

I met a wise friar who unveiled mine eyes to a synthesis so sweet, of old and new, of love and fellowship beyond all religions’ pain, free from exploitative gain. Not discarding old for new, but the dawning of a simple way, of acceptance, love, and compassion for all as if for thine own self. I knew how to make it so.

###

First Date by Sarah Unsicker

Kate examined the lines forming around her eyes. The harsh light in her tiny bathroom amplified every little wrinkle.

Last night was another serial first date. Charlie had been gentle and handsome, with a good sense of humor. He had chosen her favorite restaurant, and they had danced after dinner. She sighed as she remembered moving in unison with the music. But there would be no second date.

“You’re not getting any younger,” her friends told her. “It’s time to settle down!” They couldn’t believe she wasn’t interested. But Kate refused to invite the pain that came from family.

###

Shelter by Paula Moyer

Jean couldn’t explain why she loved selling towels. When pressed, she would say, “I love playing with colors.” It sounded lame.

Yet every Tuesday – “towel folding day” on the department clean-up
calendar – her mind drifted as she lined up the edges. Drifted to
sixth grade, the year she was her teacher’s scapegoat.

The year she got the 64-color box of crayons. She picked pale pastel crayons, drew cave after cave. Their walls floated and rippled. Jean let them pull her in. She floated in the caves. Safe.

Selling towels – a job. Finding perfect colors for every customer – her calling.

###

More Than Words by Norah Colvin

“More!” they implored.

She surveyed their eager faces then glanced at the clock.

“Just one more?”

“Okay. Just one more.”

Before she could choose, a book landed in her lap.

“This one,” he said.

“Yes,” they chorused. “It’s a good one!”

She smiled agreement, then started to read.

They joined in, remembering, anticipating.

She turned the page.

“Wait!” he said. “Go back.”

“Did you see that?” He pointed to the page.

“But look what he’s doing,” someone else chimed in.

They all laughed.

The shared joy of a beloved book. Each time the same. Each time a little more.

###

Character Development by Irene Waters

Janet wanted children but time was ticking. George good father material. Her joy soared as George dropped to his knee holding the ring case. He knew which order she wanted.

He opened the case exposing the huge diamond encrusted ring and proposed.

Janet turned away. She’d have to say ‘no’ despite having waited years for this moment. She couldn’t wear that. She mustn’t love him if she couldn’t wear it but then he mustn’t love her to buy her such a gaudy ring. What would she do now?

“No I can’t.” Tears fell as she ran from the room.

###

All That She Buried by Charli Mills

Sarah stood straight, wearing her crisp black skirts with matching mutton-sleeve blouse. Cob and Leroy paid for the hole in the ground and their father crafted the pine box that looked more like a diminutive traveling trunk than a baby’s coffin. Yet none showed for the burial. No prayers. No solace. No tears.

A shovelful of dirt buried Sarah’s pride. Another shovelful buried any love she’d ever felt for her parents. By the time the hired gravedigger finished his task without even stealing a glance at her pale face, Sarah was ready to make a crook out of Cob.

###

Motivation Flash by Laura Burke

The room was dimly lit. Quiet. The air was punctuated by his breathing. Marvin flexed his fingers like a maestro before a recital. He stretched his neck, stretching. Even his bladder was empty. Like his apartment.

“Sir.” The accent was working class. Jersey? “Some questions.” Across the room, officers tinkered with Danny. He was quiet too. Marvin focused on the unshaven chin, avoiding the bloodstained temple.

“Marvin?” She insisted. “Can you tell me why you killed your roommate?”

Peace and quiet. Why wasn’t it obvious? He focused on his bloody fingers.

She looked smart. Let her figure it out.

###

No Remorse by Susan Zutautas

Amy sat staring out the window, not looking at anything in particular. She felt a numbness she’d never felt before. That’s all she felt. No remorse for what she’d done, no regrets whatsoever.

People have rights and she was bound and determined she’d cash in on hers. Maybe she’d taken it a bit far but that was yet to be determined.

In some eyes what Amy had done was understandable but for some it would be considered in despicable.

The bus came to a stop in front of the courthouse. The guards put the shackle’s back on the prisoners.

###

A Scratchy Competition by Amber Prince

Glancing around, I screwed the lid shut on my neighbors powder compact and placed it back on her vanity. Then I did a final check of my own make-up before she finished up in the bathroom.

I knew that she would make a final mirror check where she would powder her forehead, for fear of unwanted shininess while on stage.

A bathroom break would have been a relief, but time hadn’t permitted. Instead, I disregarded the empty baggy of itching powder at the bottom of the trash before heading back for curtain call.

This year’s crown would be mine.

###

A Mind Over Body Event by Ruchira Khanna

Rosie stares at the path that is well lit and has signs all over.

She takes a deep breath and walks gingerly towards the starting line while mumbling to herself, “I have to do this for myself to make a better tomorrow, and moreover, it is just a mind over body thing.”

In a few minutes, the ribbon is cut, and the flag is waved.

The crowd cheers.

Rosie waits up patiently for her turn to cross the offset point and open a new chapter by abandoning all her fears and apprehensions of being disabled for over a year.

###

Speedy Simpkins by Larry LaForge

He often feels isolated, unprepared. While other students find it easy, he struggles mightily. He wonders how he got into this elite university.

Speedy Simpkins knows his name holds the answer. No one runs faster on the football field.

The pretty coed sitting to his right makes brief eye contact, smiles seductively, and positions her exam paper in his view. His teammates say it’s expected — a little help for those who bring glory to the school. Everyone does it.

But Speedy Simpkins looks straight ahead, focusing squarely on his own work.

His dignity is more important than a grade.

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

###

Santa and the Siren by Sarah Brentyn

Everyone at the holiday ball noticed Rhonda. While most women drank champagne in elegant, black gowns or shimmied to Jingle Bell Rock in red velvet, Rhonda wore yellow.

Hair color was not mentioned, but they talked. Her face was not seen, but they stared. No one left the party that night without having glimpsed the girl in yellow. Yellow and nothing else.

One kind-hearted woman said the dress was “sheer”. Rhonda heard snippets of conversation, some crude, some accusatory. She smiled, thinking of her senior prom—ten years ago when she wore a yellow dress. Not a wallflower anymore.

###

Motivation Flash by Anne Goodwin

She wants cheesecake and a chocolate fountain but she can’t risk popping the button on her best black skirt. She wanted rosewood but her sister went for cardboard they could decorate themselves. She wants Abide With Me but her sister can’t abide it. She doesn’t want to argue, not here, with their mother at rest between them. Reluctantly, she takes a red felt tip and draws a heart, spells out MUM inside it in green.

She wants to be born again into a different family, a different species, even. She rather fancies coming back as a unicorn next time.

###

New prompt on Wednesday. All writers welcome!

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Why I Write

The Writer's LifeI write, therefore I am.

It seems easy to answer when writing feels akin to drawing breath. But it’s as complicated as trying to explain how the lungs function. Writer, Robin Flanigan, invited me to ponder this question in a blog hop that considers the reasons why we write.

Today, I’m dogged by details. After last week’s post, When the Wolves Give Chase, I’m tempted to say, I’m wolfed. A project that I’ve been working on with a client since April has been tricky at best. Why? Because it’s greatly detailed, thus requires spot-on accuracy and involves multiple interested parties.

And not the kind of parties that are fun.

I’m talking about a financial manager, board directors, a general manager, a marketing manager and her team of communicators. Then there’s the contractors I work with–the designer, the writers, the printer, the digital team. The first thing I crafted for this project was the timeline: who–>does what–>by when.

The first thing that failed? Yes, the timeline. Interested parties began citing their vacations and I re-invented a new timeline, adapting it to who was going to be gone when. Second timeline has worked.

Today was the accumulation of all the details, ready to pass on to the designer. We had a few major glitches gracefully resolved by key parties (toot horns and toss confetti) and are on track as of 45 minutes ago. Whew…

So why do I mention this under the title of why I write? Because one answer is communication. I write to communicate. While projects are challenging and miscommunications frustrating, ultimately it is the challenge of communicating that is exciting, connecting and fulfilling.

But it’s not the reason I ever bought my first notebook and started to write about Silver Chalmers and why her English father returned to England after managing the Silver City mines in California from 1856 to 1864. That I started to write because I wanted to know why the real “Lord” Chalmers (as he was called in my home-county of Alpine) built such a fancy mansion way up in the granitic mountains of the Sierra Nevadas for a wife he left. The old-timers told me she rode to meet the stage every week, awaiting his return until she was committed to the insane asylum in Carson City, Nevada.

I write because I love history’s mysteries, I love a good story and I love to be a part of the unraveling. Later I discovered what many writers do–that if you write into a story it will push back into you with ideas you didn’t know you had. At a writer’s retreat at a Franciscan Center I learned that this was writing into truth. I write because it feels like a brave thing to do.

Yet, there are some things I don’t write about. Some truths are too dark, too painful and I decided long ago that they would not rule over me. I was brave in leaving, of getting out of a bad situation and I’m not going back there with my writing. My writing belongs to me, not them, and I will use it for my own purposes.

I write to communicate, to understand behavior through history, to tell stories, to push into the truth of who I am at the core. I am not my past. I am not my age, my reflection in a mirror; I am not my car, my clothes my stuff. I am a writer. And every day I write myself anew.

Tag–you are it: I’m passing the baton from Robin Flanigan on to Ruchira Khanna, Ellen Muholland and Lori Schafer. These three woman have boldly pressed into their own writing and have authored books. I hope that this blog hop is a chance for them to tell you why they write and also about why they wrote their books.

Carry on, writers!

***

Ruchira Khanna is just another soul trying to make a difference in this lifetime by juggling between my passion and responsibilities.

A Biochemist turned Writer who draws inspiration from various sources and tries to pen them down to create awareness within her and the society. Recently published a novel, which peeps into every one’s daily life named, “Choices”  She is working on a children’s book, which should be out this year.

A Reiki Master in her spare time where she passes out information about channeling universal energy and conducts sessions.

***

Ellen Plotkin Mulholland grew up in San Bernardino, California. After earning her degree in Journalism and English Literature at the University of Southern California, she moved to London. There she wrote her first novel, bagged beans, stood in the snow for a bus, and watched the trees change colors in fall. Today she teaches academic strategies to struggling adolescents while marveling in the exploits of her own kids. She is the author of “This Girl Climbs Trees,” a first person narrative following one teen’s quest for life’s answers, and “Birds on a Wire,” a coming out of age tale. She is nearly finished with her third YA that focusses on a young girl’s obsessions and her fight to find her place in this world.

“Why I Write” by Ellen Mulholland

***

Loris Schafer is a writer of serious prose and humorous erotica and romance. More than thirty of her short stories, flash fiction, and essays have appeared in a variety of print and online publications, and her first novel, a work of women’s fiction entitled My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged, will be released in 2015. Also forthcoming in 2015 is her second novel Just the Three of Us: An Erotic Romantic Comedy for the Commitment-Challenged. On the more serious side, her memoir, On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, will be published in October 2014.

***

August 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionMy eyes drink up layers of colors as if the valley were an exotic libation. I expect to see a cheap paper umbrella among the pinks, greens, blues, yellows and oranges.

If the humidity is up a tad, the sunset causes a riot of pink to streak the sky. The mountains darken to a dusky blue which sets off the brightness of the tall green grass with its late summer swatches of gold.

As usual, my mind wanders beyond the sip of beauty and the questions begin. How to describe that shade of pink? What is behind the mountain? When will I tire of the view? Who lived here before, drinking this same view? Why did they leave?

Sometimes I think fiction writers are simply impatient to understand. Along with asking, “what if…” we also ask, “why?” We want to understand motivations. Literature lingers over character development and takes the span of a novel to contemplate why people do the things they do.

Narrative-driven stories dig right into motivation as if the answer is the ending of the story. Now we know why! Based-on-true-stories (BOTS, thank you, Irene Waters) seeks to answer the “whys” unresolved by history or facts. And that is where my mind most often wanders as I sit outside at sunset, grilling my dinner and drinking my fill of scenic beauty.

Most obvious is, why did Hickok kill Cob McCanless? I also want to know why Cob left North Carolina with Sarah Shull but then sent for his family. And why did his wife follow the man who left her in the midst of a property swindle? Why did they all stay enmeshed in their relationships out west? Why did Sarah leave North Carolina? And why did she stay with Cob in Nebraska?

I want to have eyes for this history. I want to be like those wine tasters who can discern the individual notes. I once interviewed a Cherokee wine-maker who grew grapes in Minnesota. His wines started at the vine. He’d grasp a fistful of grapes and chomp them big and mouthy able to tell what the wine would be like. He didn’t use beakers and additives–he could taste the wine in the grapes. I want to taste this story like that.

It all comes down to motivation. What motivates people can be external–a desire to please, to be found attractive, to be accepted. History tells us that Sarah was shunned by her family and community, never to be forgiven even when she returned to North Carolina almost 50 years later. That’s a strong motivator.

Motivation can also be internal–a drive to succeed, a passion to experience adventure, a fear of failure. One fact about Sarah is that she was 22 -years-old when  she had an affair with Cob. That was unusual for her time period and all her elder siblings had married before reaching that age. Some say she was driven to better herself.

But why Cob? He was educated, a fine fiddler, dashing, powerful and a captivating orator. Maybe the two shared ambitions to have something bigger and better than the harsh mountain living of North Carolina. If my understanding of the clan-mentality is close then Cob would have had strong external motivations to stay married.

Ultimately, I think Sarah bribed Cob. He liked fine things, he desired to be wealthier than he was and she was an accountant trained in her father’s businesses. I imagine that Sarah was so desperate to leave after the shame of her daughter’s birth soon followed by the grief of the babe’s death a year later that Sarah concocted the scheme.

It required Cob’s position as sheriff and involved many others. The scheme itself is similar to the mortgage fraud pulled off by American banks where the note was re-sold so many times that it became difficult to trace the original fraud and by the time it was clear, the homeowner lost the house.

The court records in North Carolina indict many people who re-sold the debts of others after the sheriff collected them, but no one was ever convicted, not even Cob or his deputy. By that time he and Sarah were long fled to the Colorado gold fields presumably financed by others–unwittingly. And those who lost their payments were never reimbursed and were still in debt.

Maybe by then Sarah didn’t care if Cob sent for his family. If her motivation was to escape the shame of North Carolina, she succeeded. She even wrote out a business agreement with Cob for him to pay her as his business accountant. He set her up on the east ranch of Rock Creek, built a profitable toll-bridge, then built the west ranch for his wife and children.

But he sold the east ranch to the Pony Express. Sarah had to move into a one-room sod house similar to the one where Hickok lived. And he never paid Sarah. His brother Leroy paid the note after Cob’s death. Why?

You see, there’s so much to motivation. It can drive a narrative big or small. So that is our quest this week, to explore the motivation of a character in 99 words.

External motivation is called “extrinsic” and is typically behavior based on achieving a reward or avoiding a punishment. Internal motivation is called “intrinsic” and is more personal. Think of it as the difference between playing a game to please your fiancee or playing a game because you find it exciting.

And here’s a drink of my summer sunsets for extra inspiration (may it help you relax and start asking, why):

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August 13, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) show the underlying motivation of a character. He or she may not even understand the motivation fully, but let the reader grasp it. It can be an external or internal motivation (or both). Maybe it’s a decision, a revelation or the beginning of disaster. Maybe it shows fortitude or reveals fear. Let motivation drive your flash this week! Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, August 19 to be included in the compilation.

All That She Buried by Charli Mills

Sarah stood straight, wearing her crisp black skirts with matching mutton-sleeve blouse. Cob and Leroy paid for the hole in the ground and their father crafted the pine box that looked more like a diminutive traveling trunk than a baby’s coffin. Yet none showed for the burial. No prayers. No solace. No tears.

A shovelful of dirt buried Sarah’s pride. Another shovelful buried any love she’d ever felt for her parents. By the time the hired gravedigger finished his task without even stealing a glance at her pale face, Sarah was ready to make a crook out of Cob.

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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.