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October 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

October 28I keep a hammer in my kitchen drawer, among more common utensils like spatulas, tongs and a lemon zester. It might look misplaced, as if I hung a platter on the wall and stuck the hammer in the nearest drawer. Yet, it’s not. It serves a purpose in my kitchen — pounding peppercorns or nuts. Before I lost my apples, I made my favorite apple crisp recipe that calls for candied-ginger and macadamia nuts, well-pounded.

Tools are vital to any trade. Think of a writer and you’d likely think of pen and papers as trade tools. True, I love notebooks and writing pens of a certain ball size and blue ink, although my laptop is the workhorse. On my desk is an array tool-books — The Elements of Style, Webster’s New World College Dictionary, The Associated Press Stylebook, Writer’s Market, Mission-Based Marketing, A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business, The Publicity Handbook, Strengths Finder, The Craft of Revision, Revision & Self-Editing, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster Better, and a tower of historical books.

I’m as proud of my tool-books as the Hub is of his tool-chest full of aviation wrenches and other chrome. Tools are an investment in one’s craft.

This time of year, writers have before them one of the biggest and most gracious tools ever offered in the form of an event — National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo. It’s a nonprofit that believes your story matters:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. 

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

Many are preparing for this event, and others are eagerly waiting for the start. Grumblings ripple through the writing community with some curmudgeons thinking that “real” writers don’t NaNo. It’s a tool. It’s a choice. It’s like me using a hammer to crack nuts. You might use something different, but that separation of choice doesn’t make one tool superior to the other.

What makes NaNoWriMo an effective writing tool is in how you use it and why. Know your strategy before you decide or are persuaded by the opinions of fans or foes.

I’ll tell you straight up; I’m a fan. I love NaNoWriMo as a drafting tool. Here’s why it works for me:

  1. It’s the right fit for writing a first draft (strategy: finish that novel).
  2. It’s a process that focuses on creation (strategy: turn off the internal editor; turn on the story possibilities).
  3. It has an accountable deadline (strategy: stop procrastination).
  4. It doesn’t matter what the quality of the draft is (strategy: write that “shitty” first draft).
  5. It generates 50,000 +/- words (strategy: generate material to develop and revise).

As a drafting tool, NaNoWriMo can help you develop that story idea, build strong daily writing management skills and get new material in the pipeline. November has worked out for me and even had me thinking that I could do this every year to generate new material. Except…

My priority at this time is to revise my draft of Rock Creek by December 15. If I generate new material, I won’t meet my deadline. I could use the NaNoWriMo framework, but I’d be defeating the organization’s purpose to craft a new story. And revision is a different process than drafting.

What I’ve decided to do is rooted in a trio of inspiration. Last year, Anne Goodwin set course on a non-NaNo project and came up with a fast-draft. She set her own word count goal, which is exactly what one should do when considering any writing tool. Recently, Geoff Le Pard posted his thoughts on how best to use NaNoWriMo this year and dithered over several project ideas which led him to a brilliant NaNothology project. Writers who have participated in NaNoWriMo with encouragement to others on the blogosphere, along with faithful readers and cheerleaders who have waved me on in the past, I can’t help but feel buoyed by your enthusiasm. Check out Ula Humienik’s Ultimate NaNoWriMo Toolkit.

Recognizing that I can adjust the tool, come up with a creative concept to fit my situation and tap into the shared energy of writers and readers, I’m debuting my new tool: NaNoReViSo. Like NaNoWriMo, I’ll begin November 1, but continue up until December 15 when I send off my revised manuscript to beta readers, including my editor (who will assess the manuscript), a few specialized historians and readers of the genre. I’ll also take off a week, November 22-28. And, revision is a different beast from drafting, thus is more than word count, although some days will be dedicated to rewrites. Here’s how I’m seeing NaNoReViSo as my revision tool:

  • 35 days
  • 3 hours a day dedicated to revision
  • 2 hours a day dedicated to reading or reviewing research
  • Compare the story to the historical timeline
  • Complete the hero’s journey arc
  • Figure out what to cut, what to add
  • Post progress on Mondays

My goal is to revise this draft well enough to secure the interested publisher. That draft will follow beta reader feedback. Although I’ve fictionalized the story, I’m presenting a never-before considered theory. It’s plausible, but has a few holes. For now, imagination will have to be the putty. Who can truly prove a 150-year old murder?

With hammer in one hand and a rope in the other, I’ll also be wrangling that anthology project. I’m welcoming a few more writers to the Congress and putting together a project plan based on Rough Writer feedback. I will make an announcement through email once I’ve completed a private group list and heard back from all new invitees. Our project and new inductees will be announced here once all is set.

One tool a historian uses is a body of documents that pertain to an event or a person. Many historians also use first-hand accounts. The former is often incomplete and the latter incorrect. Such is the case with every history book written on the subject of the Rock Creek affair. Some call it a massacre, others a gunfight. Even preeminent historian, Joseph Rosa, relies on accounts that might not be more than opinion or myth. Yet he has been the most thorough researcher of documentation that pertains to Wild Bill Hickok’s role in the shooting at Rock Creek. He points out that the failings of earlier historians has to do with their attempt to appeal to their audiences and acknowledges that many of their accounts are more fiction than fact. I’d like my book to be fiction that is rooted in fact.

Thus at times I feel I need a weed-trimmer to wade through the historical accounts to discern the facts. Documents are dry and sometimes puzzling, but they present interesting considerations. For example, Nebraska State Historical Society has the original document calling for the arrest of those who killed Cobb. It reads:

Territory of Nebraska
County of Gage

The Complainant and informant, Leroy McCanles of the County of Johnson, Territory afforesaid Made before T. M. Coulter Esquire one of the Justices of the Peace in and for Gage County, on the 13th day of July 1861, who being duly sworn on his own oath says that the crime of Murder has been Committed in the County of Jones and that Dutch Bill, Dock and Wellman (thier other names not known) committed the same

Subscribed and
Sworn to before me (signature of) _ L. McCanles
This 13th day of July 1861
T. M. Coulter
Justice of the Peace

In my own family oral tradition, my Grandfather Sonny told me that Wild Bill Hickok shot our kin. He said his grandmother told him that Cobb teased Hickok for the shape of his nose and lip, calling him “Duck Bill.” I read this document and realize several points: Leroy (Cobb’s brother) filed the complaint in Beatrice (Gage County) on July 13 which validates the shooting timeline; a charge of Murder was sought; and Leroy only knew the men’s nicknames. It’s possible that Leory said “Duck Bill” and the Justice of the Peace thought he said “Dutch Bill” because it was common to distinguish men by their heritage (more so than a joke). It’s possible that our family story is true.

It’s the possibilities that gets my imagination revved. I write and turn to different tools as I go.

October 28, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include a tool in a story. How can it enhance the character, tension or meaning? It can also be a story about a tool or a character’s obsession for tools. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by November 3, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Future Prince by Charli Mills

Hickok scooped hay with the pitchfork, favoring his stiff shoulder. Sarah watched from the loft, wondering if he knew she and Cobb were above with Miss Boots and her litter. Cobb set aside a closed-eyed kitten and jumped from the rafters into the hay-pile.

Hickok wobbled, dropping the pitchfork.

“Hey, Duck Bill. Never gonna get those horses fed at that rate.” Cobb pretended to tackle Hickok, and then retrieved the pitchfork to finish the chore with speed and strength.

“One day, my arm’s going to heal.”

“Sure it will, Duck Bill. Then you’ll be prince of the pony dung.”

***

Author’s Note: Another name for Hickok in later years, and the title of Wilstach’s book was, Prince of Pistoleers.

###

Rest Your Weary Bones

RestA final resting place can have a grand view or be tucked beneath a traffic overpass. The departed are connected to the living through place; a place shared over time no matter how it has evolved, grown or become abandoned. In the end, we all find a place to rest our weary bones.

This week, writers explored these places and what can be learned or discovered. Some stories speak beyond place, others connect to it. A few stories even redefine what is a resting place; perhaps it’s not entirely for the dead.

The following stories are based on the October 21, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a final resting place.

***

The Shadow of the Rock by Ann Edall-Robson

In the shadow of the big rock, the clearing is surrounded by the scent of pine trees that have grown tall and protective. The old trail to the entrance has become a rain rutted road that takes it leave from the well travelled route below.

There are several visible markers. Only two are of importance. Each, a subtle reminder of life’s fragility. One not living beyond his birth, and nearby his grandfather watches over him. Their lives etched in the heart. Passed to the next generation of family story tellers who will visit in the shadow of the rock.

###

Boneyard by Jules Paige

The old township survey map doesn’t have a date. But the
old house in the neighborhood is over two hundred years old.
The map could be from the 1800’s or the mid-late 1700’s.
There are marks for cemeteries. Some of which you can’t
find anymore. But there is one in the median behind the
grocery story just where the highway divides. And it is
surrounded by a black wrought iron fence and is well kept.

Not usually a fan of graveyards. Once I bought a
bouquet . Most names were illegible. I left the flowers for
all of them…

###

Annie’s Letter Home: January 1853 by Kate Spencer

We have landed in Fort Victoria, Vancouver Island. Last night we were huddled into a dirty store house. John made us beds from boards that were lying around. I kept my spirits up til everyone was asleep and then quietly gave way with a flood of tears.

This morning John was taken away to work at the Craigflower farm. I am living at the fort with a Mrs. Edwards and will help her sew for the ladies here.

Be comforted my dearest sister. Tonight I feel a renewed determination to work hard and help John earn our promised land.

###

Ruthless by Sarah Brentyn

I could never wear white. Washes me out. But you pull it off. Probably your dark hair. Olive, that’s my daughter, changed my burial dress to this white thing. Can you believe it? Jealous little witch. Delicious scandal and I couldn’t gossip to anyone! Well, she got the last laugh. I’m stuck forever being photographed in white!

Get on with it then. I usually like to perch on the pillar but, in autumn, the leaves are a bit scratchy. How about I stand next to the grave? Hello?!

“Hello?”

Ooh! You’re one of those people! This should be fun…

###

Visitation by Sherri Matthews

Ethel threw the nightdress in the fire and glared at Fred.

“If them coppers find out you stole that old bag’s clothes you’ll get it!”

“Sod her, ‘er old man almost shot me!

“It’s your fault for pawing at Mave,” Ethel hissed, pushing the newspaper across the table. “It don’t look good.”

Fred scanned the headlines. Local woman missing, broken gravestones over at St John’s, a ‘ghostly white figure’ seen by a group of ‘harmless kids’.

“But we only went there to look at the moon, for a lark was all…”

Ethel sighed. “Oh Fred, what ‘ave you done now?”

###

EDstone by Larry LaForge

“This is totally creeping me out,” Ed muttered.

“Just a quick look,” Edna replied. She loved looking for historical Charleston figures in the old church cemetery.

Ed flinched at a crack of lightning as he wandered about. Suddenly he froze, face turning white as snow, and sweat pouring from his brow.

He stared at a simple headstone displaying only two large letters: ED.

With another crack of lightning, he bolted the scene.

Edna turned to see what spooked her husband. She chuckled as she read the small inscription at the very bottom of the stone:

Ervin Dowkins 1827 – 1883.

###

Bury Me by Irene Waters

The diagnosis hit like a sixty-pound sledge-hammer.

“We can’t tell you how long. The cancer’s very close to the artery. It’s a matter of when it erodes through. It could be a matter of days or a few months. Sorry but not long.”

Stanley made the phone calls. Friends rallied from near and far for a last weekend together.

“Bury me, don’t burn me.” Stanley said.

We headed to the cemetery and found a peaceful plot overlooking the sea. “I’ll be happy here. I always did feel comfortable underground.”

“Mining Engineer was a good career choice then.”

###

Lessons from the Dog by C. Jai Ferry

The dog sat, mimicking Nipper’s iconic RCA pose, albeit for something much more dog-worthy than a phonograph. His tail swished through freshly yellowed leaves.

The earth behind the shed was nicely softened. The shed’s faded red walls marked the edge of the withered field and the start of no man’s land. The blade of the shovel struck deep.

Three more shovel thrusts and the squirrel was laid to rest between last week’s opossum and the woodchuck family. The dog watched, patient as the hole disappeared.

He blinked twice, then raced out into the field. A new toy was waiting.

###

Mask: Passion that Rises From the Ashes by Dave Madden

When locked in a cage opposite your dreams, you can survive any fight-long after you’re laid to rest.

The documentary entitled Mask unearthed Charles “Mask” Lewis (1963-2009), immortalizing his message over the course of eighty-three minutes.

As the face behind MMA’s leading apparel at its founding (1997), “Mask,” along with “Punkass” (Dan Caldwell) and “Skyskrape” (Timothy Katz), brandished a logo synonymous with mixed martial arts. Deeper than any stitches embroidering the iconic symmetrical symbol, Lewis arduously pressed to credit his message rather than his pocketbooks: potential above performance.

Using MMA as a medium, Lewis’ passion infinitely integrates all lifeforms.

###

The Day of the Dead by Luccia Gray

“Eve, You’ve been chosen to read the Sacred Words this year on the Day of the Dead.”

“I don’t want to rest without you!”

“If we take turns and rest for a year, we’ll all live much longer.”

“There are fewer of us now. They’ve stopped returning.”

“Those who find their final resting place stay.”

“What if I find mine?”

“Then you will remain within the Words.”

“I can’t leave you, Adam!”

“If you refuse, you’ll be outcast with the Wordless Tribes, who roam throughout their short lives searching for a place to rest.”

“Come! Let’s join them now!”

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

I couldn’t ignore his calls forever, but I could have a damn good try. Friends said I should get over it, move on to the next. But until I heard him say those words, the dream lived on in my mind.
I understood his reasons: the spark had gone, every avenue pursued to a dead end. Gathering dust, redundant, we had to make space for the new. I poured myself a brandy and called him. It wouldn’t hurt so much if I took control. Just don’t send my unsold books to landfill, I pleaded. Grant me that, at least.

###

Birth and Death by Ruchira Khanna

“There! you see that patch near that big oak tree.” I pointed to a place at a distance surrounded by mountains.

“Yes, I see it.” came a confirmed response, “But what’s so special about it?” he inquired in a puzzled tone.

“Place me there once I am done with the worldly pleasures of life” I added solemnly.

Quickly a hand was placed on my shoulder followed by a warm hug, “Oh! I am sorry. Did not know you were dying.”

Taken aback I asked in a quizzed tone, “”Aren’t we all since the day we are born?”

###

At Last. At Rest. by Geoff Le Pard

Jerry stopped the cab. ‘Don’t be shocked.’

‘Shocked?’

‘About Katherine. She’s different.’

Rupert gripped Mary’s hand, whether for his or her comfort she didn’t know.

‘She’s had a hard time. Fostered several times, adopted twice.’

Rupert sounded angry. ‘Why?’

Jerry pulled a face. ‘No one’s fault, she was born like it. It was long ago, across the sea.’ He shrugged.

Mary stared at the rain on the windscreen, her father’s words echoing down the years. ‘My perfect angel.’ Was that why they kept her, not Katherine?

‘She found a final resting place with my grandparents.’

###

Graveside by Norah Colvin

She wasn’t sure why she was here. Miss R., Annette, had suggested she come. So she did. What struck her most, as she read the grave markers, was their ages. She’d never thought of them as young but their life spans were short; both a mere 49 years, going within a year of each other. She worked it out. They were younger than she was now when she’d left home. Who’d have thought? She felt a strange sadness, a familiar hollowness, not for the loss of their lives but for the absence of love, love which had never been.

###

Monticello by Pete Fanning

I close my eyes and breathe. A musky scent of autumn and prestige. Swirling history that surrounds the great house on the little mountain. The neoclassical architecture, the great columns and breathtaking views. The mysteries under Mulberry row.

Intellectual. Architect. Governor. Master. His marker is a little ways down, past the gardens. A lineal descent to the obelisk that marks my sixth great grandfather. No mention of his presidency. Only his famous declaration. Religious freedoms. His university.

A woodpecker rattles overhead. Otherwise it’s just us, alone among the falling leaves. The whispers of pride and shame and shared DNA.

###

?? The Unspoken ?? by Roger Shipp

You call him racist, yet you never met the man.

You call him slaver, not taking into account the times.

You try to see a past world through the rose-colored glasses of the 21st century- instead of walking a mile in the shoes of the men and women in our household.

****

I hold you to account.

****

You have taken the time- and the monies- to study our lives…

Our deaths…

Even our final resting places…

Yet you fail to grant us the respect you claim he lacked.

You leave our graves unmarked.

To you… we are a tourist attraction?

###

An American at Menin Gate by Paula Moyer

Jean had loved studying World War I since her teens.

Now 49. Finally in Ypres. Sundown, facing Menin Gate with the rest of the crowd. She had walked through the marble arch, glazed over at the names – over 54,000 soldiers whose final resting place was not known, men who had died in battles of Ypres.

Futile, Jean thought. Those poor men – they didn’t pick the battles or the cause.

The bugle corps filed in. Veterans snapped to attention. A bugler read from “For the Fallen.”

“We will remember them.”

Jean whispered along. Then she added her own postscript: “Yes.”

###

Lunch with Wilstach by Charli Mills

“Call me, Sarah, Mr. Wilsatch.” Her stomach rumbled at the sight of steaming soup served to their table.

“All right, Sarah.” Frank Wilstach dabbed his lips after each spoon of broth.

“A right fine lunch companion you are, Sir. A fair price for an interview.”

He smiled. “Sarah, did you know only you and Mr. Monroe McCanles are left ?”

“What of Mary?”

Wilstach shuffled notes. “Ah. She went to her final rest in 1907. Buried next to her husband.”

“At Rock Creek?”

“No, Fairbury.”

Why did it matter they had moved Cobb? He was never one to rest.

###

Book Review: My Father and Other Liars

Geoff Le PardOne thing you can’t fake as a writer is voice. To some it’s a mystery to develop. It sounds a lot like the adage adults might have offered you as a teen — be yourself. Yet, to others, the pursuit of self and understanding who you are in the context of the greater world, is why we write. Awareness leads to voice. Knowing what captivates us, angers us, motivates us are all topics for our voice.

As a reader, I enjoy books by authors who have a strong voice — something meaningful to say in a way unique to that person.

From the first time I read Geoff LePard’s blog, Tangental, I knew this was a writer with voice. Intelligent, quirky, compassionate, edgy and witty, I felt I struck gold getting to read posts about his father’s military service in Palestine, his growing up in the UK, his love for London and travel, Dog, poetry and fiction. Better yet, Geoff began to write regular flash fiction at Carrot Ranch despite his belief that I said something about his poop (I clearly wrote popped).

The English language can be strange cousins between the US and UK.

Yet, Geoff has tackled bringing the cousins together in his latest novel, My Father and Other Liars. It is a story that extends from England to San Francisco to Oklahoma to Nicaragua and connects global characters through personal and political twists.

Before reading this second novel by Geoff, I began to understand through his short stories and debut novel, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, that he is consistent in developing dialog and characters. In fact, his fiction comes to life through dialog. And his characters are complex, yet approachable in their humanness.

However, I found myself uncertain about the protagonist of My Father and Other Liars. Mo can bristle. He can be sarcastic and unkind. Yet we get insights that he has goodness and valor among his flaws. It’s something I’ve begun to notice, reading two other works that Geoff is writing (Mary’s Saga and Buster and Moo). No one is the good guy or the bad guy. Clearly there are those roles in My Father and Other Liars, but even the most sinister character is given the light of humanity. It’s that perspective that makes Geoff’s characters interesting and worth reading. The ending will stun you and reveal that Mo is better than he makes himself out to be.

Another ability Geoff has as a writer is to twist plots like a rope-maker. Once I got into the story, I kept wanting to read another chapter and another. The science and the creation of a theology and government organization behind My Father and Other Liars, each creates its own strand along with the tension between the characters of Mo and Lori-Ann Beaumont. Yet Geoff unravels the knots in an unexpected but satisfying ending.

Ultimately, My Father and Other Liars made me think about how modern science and religion intersects and how connected the world is through politics, media, business and shared heartaches regarding fathers and what it is like to identify as an adult orphan.

Now available: Amazon UK and Amazon US. my-father-and-other-liars-final-for-kindle

Cemetery Day: Boulder City Cemetery

1023151545Half way up the narrow strip of road that winds in and out of carved gullies, I realize what determination miners have. Already we’ve forged access into a deep draw in the Cabinet Mountains of northern Idaho, following tens of thousands of years behind the wake of a massive glacier that gouged the bedrock and littered the canyon with boulders like giant gravel. The creek we cross is aptly named Boulder Creek. It’s difficult terrain and we have a 5-liter engine and 4WD. Yet miners came up here with horses, mules and oxen pulling wagons. What they lacked in trucks they made up for in guts.

The Hub shouts out loud, startled by the drop to his left. I cringe in response because he’s rarely rattled by a road.

“It’s not up here,” he tells me. Already we’ve found the town site of Boulder City. Ironic that in a region of nothing larger than a town the one place on the map that boldly states “city” is nothing more than rock-lined cellars and board rubble. What might have been a mine is now simply a large cement foundation that provides shelter for a rock campfire ring. If it was ever a city, it’s now a ghost town, and a faint apparition at best.

“It could be like Elkhorn. The cemetery was beyond the town and mines.” Elkhorn was my second stab at a historical novel and is also a silver mining ghost town. I worked on it as an independent project in college and wandered the buildings that still stand and the cemetery, wondering and imaging the life of a woman stranded in that town as a recent widow to an ill-fated miner. How would such a woman survive? I shelved the project after graduation when I went to work.

We continue to climb through a dark forest of cedar, larch and pine. It’s hard to discern boards of buildings from dead-fall of trees and amazing that anything can cling to these incredibly steep mountain slopes. Determination. Miners had to be to find silver in this place. The road opens up to a point on the ridge that overlooks the Kootenai River far below in the valley where Bonners Ferry is located.

To our left is a huge log from an old pine. The Hub perks up. We have our chainsaw and firewood permit and that 2-foot diameter log is fair game. I look around for some sign of a cemetery — fence, stones, crosses. Nothing but that log, a campfire ring and the road turning east toward Montana, paralleling the river from this mountaintop. I admit defeat and say he might be right. We could have missed the cemetery below, closer to the rubble and creek.

All the way down I look, hopeful. No headstones but a million boulders the size of giant pumpkins. At the creek we let the dogs run and swim in the crystalline water that reflects the blue of minerals, almost as if it were liquid silver. Maybe just my imagination. I poke around at a rock or two and Todd reads the forest service map where I saw the Boulder City Cemetery marked.

“You know, maybe it was by that log.”

I know the real reason he wants to go back up is to stick his Husquavarna in the wood of that huge pine. But looking at the map and where Boulder Creek meets the Kootenai, it is where the cemetery is marked. How likely is it to be 2,000 feet higher than this ore-bearing, glacial-scarred creek bottom?

Likely enough that I should have gotten out of the truck the first time. We find it — 4 marked graves, one anonymous and several indentations that hint at more. Only, the fence and markers are of the same gray wood of the fallen buildings and dead-fall of the forest. It blends in unlike cemeteries with wrought iron fences and granite markers.

Now I’m going to show you how a historical novelist makes the best use of a Cemetery Day.

  1. Take photos of markers to collect names and dates.
  2. Notice the age and gender.
  3. Look for any clues or anomalies.

What I notice is that the anonymous grave has several gifts from visitors — a couple of  weathered animal figurines of modern make, a tarnished penny and faded plastic flowers. I leave a blue shard of glass that I found, sharing my treasure of the day. The names of the four marked graves read Last, First which is unusual and the Hub points out that it’s “military.” Those buried are not, but is it possible that this tiny resting place was preserved by the Civilian Conservation Corps? After all, it is on national forest service land.

I also note that the four died between 1918 and 1922. Here’s where imagination and history collide. I start thinking about what was going on in the greater world at that time — WWI, flu epidemic, women gain the right to vote. So what was life like in this steep canyon with homes barely wide enough to straddle land along mining claims? One grave is that of a baby, another a young woman with an interesting name — Mathilda Fatland. None of those buried are related. The other two are men, one aged 70 and the other 36.

Now I research. Some might research first before the outing, but I prefer the element of surprise. I want to discover connections or curiosities I might miss if I think I already “know” about the place or people. For research, I use local history websites, census records, Find A Grave and vital records. I subscribe to Ancestry.com to research their vast database of archives. For example, I can go there and search “Boulder City, Idaho, 1920 Census.” I search 1920 because of the death dates. I know the “city” was active in that enumeration year.

I discover that between January 2-6, 1920 Harold Askevald took census in Boulder “precinct” as is is listed (not “city”). He is also the first person listed on the census record, thus he lived there and I read that he is 52 years old, divorced and a native of Norway. He is a carpenter for the railroad. Could he have built some of the town? I note that his script is good penmanship, but that his printing is precise and square. Interesting. Maybe as a carpenter, he likes to square up things? Look! I already have the beginnings of a character profile.

Next, I want to know the population of Boulder. The census record is only three pages long. Counting what Harold did, there were 127 residents of Boulder in 1920.

Now I jump to Find A Grave. I want to see if they have recorded Boulder Cemetery (it’s a volunteer organization). I find Boulder Creek Cemetery listed! They claim that 12 people are interred on that point above the creek and Kootnai River. Of the 12, ten are men. That has me curious about the gender breakdown so I go back to the census record. Of 127 residents, 31 were women. What catches my eye is a 33-year-old widow who is making her way as a cook. This is similar to what I imagined of a character in Elkhorn. Her name is Margaret Buffmuen and she was born in Australia to a German father and an American mother. How did that happen, I wonder. She’s living in the household of Fred Schmidt who is a German immigrant and a lumber manufacturer. He must have the largest home in town because 12 men are boarding there. No wonder he needs Margaret to cook!

Yet, I see something interesting in the census record — the industry listed for occupations of the residents is predominantly “logging.” This was no mining town; it was a logging camp! Yet a mine is listed on the map. I’m fairly certain we saw the remains of Fred Schmidt’s boarding house and what I thought was a concrete mine feature, the Hub now thinks it was a foundation for a mill or even hooking logs down those steep slopes. As he points out, “You can use gravity to get those high mountain logs to the lumber mill in the valley below.”

So what about our cemetery and those who rest there? The first person buried is presumably John Gorman because he died in 1898. All I know of him is that he was “killed in an accident” in Leonia. What I’ve read locally about Boulder City is that it was founded in 1910 by J.M. Schnatterly, who owned Idaho Gold and Ruby Mine. He would bring investors to Bonners Ferry by train, up the Kootenai River by boat to Leonia, and up a private road by horse and buggy (buggy? on that road?). Yet someone from the river town below is buried on this mountaintop 12 years prior to its “founding” and 10 years after that, it’s a logging camp.

Back to the census records. Boulder existed in 1900 before it was “founded” by J.M. Schnatterly. It only had 52 residents and most worked for the railroad; three were miners; none were J.M. Schnatterly. Who is this guy, I wonder. I go to the 1910 census. He’s not there, nor are all the railroad workers. 60 residents and they are all “general farmers.” This is an evolving place! It reflects what we call the boom and bust cycle of the west — railroad provides good jobs and moves on; a mine opens up and closes; farms are bought and lost; logging camps cut until they move to another camp. And as to our founding father, I can’t locate him in the census record. I can follow up at the history center in Bonners Ferry and go over their collection of document archives.

Before I leave this town, I want to find out how long it survived. In 1930, the census shows a mix of farming, mining and logging with 160 residents. Maybe that’s maximum capacity for the canyon! In 1940 there’s 120 residents, mostly farming and logging. I’m not sure how anyone farmed that steep, rocky terrain. I see a few working for the CCC or forest service. Perhaps they are the ones who kept up the cemetery.

And of the four graves that remain marked and fenced?

Mathilda Fatland was born in 1898 in Washington state to Norwegian immigrants. In the 1920 census, the only Fatland living in Boulder is Annie Flatland and she’s 30 years old, single, living as a boarder and working as a laborer in the logging camp. Were they sisters, cousins? Mathilda’s parents lived for 30 years in Kitsap, Washington. How did these two Fatland women come to a place like Boulder? Why? How did Mathilda die at the age of 20?

Nothing else is revealed on those buried in the Boulder Creek Cemetery. This was just an initial look; a fun excursion to fill the well for ideas and local history. I’ll let it all stew and perhaps do some flash fiction and see what develops. Here’s a slide show of the day.

Yes, the Hub tackled that pine and we went home with 1/2 a cord. I counted tree rings on that pine and it was over 250 years old. That means, it was witness to the city of Boulder in all its manifestations and stood sentinel over the cemetery until it died and blew over in a big wind. Now it will be firewood. I’m sure those who are buried by this tree will understand. After all, they were most likely loggers or lovers of such men. Determination lives on in this basin.

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BinderCon Live in Sandpoint Idaho!

unnamedFor the first time ever, thanks to the generosity of sponsors at The Harnisch Foundation, BinderCon will be livestreaming select panels from BinderCon NYC. Tune in at home, or join organizers at one of several meet up parties around the world. You can RSVP today for the parties in San Francisco, Portland, OR, and Sandpoint, ID, and be sure to follow BinderCon on Facebook for more details in the coming days about parties in DC, Madrid, Melbourne, Israel, Seattle, and Los Angeles! If you want to organize a meetup in your own town or city, or have questions about a BinderCon event,  send Leigh an email!

***

EVENT IN SANDPOINT, IDAHO

Saturday, November 7 at 4:00pm – 7:30pm

East Bonner County Library District • 1407 Cedar St, Sandpoint, Idaho 83864

Meetup with other women writers and writing fans, watch inspiring videos of women writing motherhood and navigating complex journalistic beats, and learn more about BinderCon, the conference for women and gender non-conforming writers! Admission is free. This event is organized by Charli Mills and made possible with the generous support of the East Bonner County Library, Lost Horse Press, and Carrot Ranch Communications.

For more on Lost Horse Press visit: http://www.losthorsepress.org/

And check out Carrot Ranch, well, here, you are at Carrot Ranch!

SCHEDULE:
4:00pm – Introducing BinderCon

4:15pm – Viewing of panel discussion “Moms Who Write; Writers Who Mom”

Francesca Beauman (writer, How to Wear White, and television host, Show Me the Funny), Julie Schwietert Collazo (journalist), Sara Lamm (documentary filmmaker, Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox), Shelley Meals (writer and producer, Witches of East End), Jordan Rosenfeld (novelist, Forged in Grace and Night Oracle), and Monona Wali (author, My Blue Skin Lover, and documentary filmmaker, Maria’s Story)

Will I still be able to write if I have kids? Can I still do hard-hitting, high-stakes journalism with children in tow? How do I manage my time now that little people are in the picture? How can I support three kids on a writer’s income if I’m the sole or main breadwinner? Is there such a thing as balance? What does it mean to have it all? Is that even possible? The participants on this panel have confronted–and resolved–all of these questions, negotiating (and renegotiating) both their personal and professional identities so that work and family are equally important parts of a full, rich life. We’ll talk about our personal decisions and stories, with a focus on the day-to-day “How do I do all of this (especially now that I’m persistently sleep-deprived)?” nuts and bolts practicalities of being a mom who writes and a writer who moms

5:30pm – Q&A

6:00pm – Viewing of panel discussion “Cultivating–and Owning–a Complex Beat”

Amy DePaul (award-winning health journalist), Erika Hayasaki (author, The Death Class: A True Story About Life), Alyson Martin (co-author of A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition), Nushin Rashidian (journalist, author, Co-founder, Cannabis Wire)

Journalists who cover complex and often controversial topics such as cannabis, death, and public health in disadvantaged communities speak candidly about how they tell stories through different mediums, some familiar–article, book, photo–and others involving newer technologies, such as interactive projects and games.

7:15 – Q&A

BinderCon Flyer

October 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

October 21Some spouses want to look at mattresses. Space age foam, coils and springs, firm tops, pillow tops. Mattress makers have even cleverly devised ways to please more than one mattress occupant with dual sleep number settings. Finding a resting spot is vital.

But my spouse is asked to search for different resting spots. I’m not interested in mattresses; I want to find old cemeteries. On our forest service map, the one we use to navigate where to cut firewood in the Kaniksu National Forest, I discovered listings for known graveyards.

I say, “known” because Idaho has a creepy law. Home burials are legal in most counties within certain zoning restrictions. Back in the 1900s when Elmira was a thriving town for railroad workers, backyard burials were common. For a history buff like me, I dig hanging out in cemeteries where history reads in the names and dates carved in stone. So I was puzzled when I discovered that Elmira had no old cemetery. A local explained why.

After all these years, the Elmira Schoolhouse stands, but we no longer know where anyone buried loved ones in backyards or family plots. We’ve forgotten these final resting places.

This makes me curious to discover the ones I see listed on our map. The Hub is less curious, but has promised me a cemetery day after I pitched a fit in Bonner’s Ferry this afternoon. For some unknown political or economic reason, gas in Bonners is way cheaper than it is in Sandpoint. Our normal route to the firewood stand is up a two-track called Twenty Mile Road. From there we take a logging trail numbered 2260A on our map. Because the Hub wanted to fuel up in Bonners, I thought we’d take the back way in and look for the Boulder Cemetery.

No. That’s all he said when he jumped back in the truck, put it gear and turned south toward Twenty Mile. I wailed like a spouse told, no we aren’t going to get that mattress. Don’t mess with my resting place curiosity! I gave up an afternoon of blogging to get firewood, all I wanted was to go past a cemetery. With a heavy sigh, the Hub pulled over and looked at the map. He pointed out the distance, and he was right.

But wait. I saw a cemetery listed on the map just east of Bonners and not too far. This time, I got my way. It’s called Grand View and it is a resting place with a fabulous view of the Cabinet Mountains. The very mountains the Hub would prefer to be in with his chainsaw. He let me snap a few shots and then agreed to taking a cemetery day on Friday. We continued to the forest and tipped several trees (he, not we) and skidded several logs (me, too).

Here’s a bit of our day (the Hub skidding a log from a dead tree he fell):

And I got to skid one, too:

You can tell from how giddy I get that I had fun even though I was thwarted from viewing more cemeteries until later. Believe me, we both are going to enjoy our resting place tonight.

When working on historical fiction, I begin with the non-fictional parts — the facts that detail the story like trim on a hot-rod car. Cemeteries can reveal much more than dates and names. Last year, when I visited the Fairbury Cemetery outside the remains of Rock Creek Station in Nebraska, I noticed an oddity about Mary McCanles’s headstone — it bore no last name. That was really the starting point for me to get into this woman as a character. The stone did claim her role as “wife of D.C. McCanles” but revealed nothing of her maiden name nor her brief marriage years after Cobb’s death. I felt she had a sense of identity loss, having given up her Green family to follow her husband she chose the side of the Union over the Confederacy. Even after the Civil War and after Cobb’s death she never returned home.

Another telling point from the Fairbury Cemetery is the fact that D.C. McCanles and James Woods are listed on a single headstone. If you didn’t know the story, you might puzzle greatly over that one. The day Cobb was shot, his two ranch hands were also killed. James Woods was not only a ranch hand, but was Cobb’s young cousin from North Carolina. The reason they were buried together, according to witness statements who did the burying, is because the neighbors built one large pine box and interred the two bodies in one grave on a knoll behind the station. The third body was a quarter mile away, thus had its on final resting place.

So, if Cobb and James had a backyard burial, how did they get to the Fairbury Cemetery? A family story claims that when the railroad cut through that knoll, Cobb’s son, Clingman, met the workers with a rifle. He didn’t want to disturb the bones of his father. Finally, the railroad agreed to re-inter the bodies in a single grave in Fairbury. Mary is buried on one side, and Clingman on the other. Cobb’s only daughter, Lizzie, is also buried with her brother and parents. Cobb and Mary did a rare thing back in the 1850s — they let their baby, who was deprived of oxygen at birth, thrive. Most parents let such children die of natural causes in infancy. That Cobb and Mary cared enough to give Lizzie life, speaks of their compassion. Clingman never married and took care of Lizzie, his mother and the third ranch that Cobb built.

And I could read all this in a cemetery.

What will I find on my upcoming cemetery day? I don’t know! That’s part of the fun. Maybe a name or gravestone moves me to research Census records, and maybe I uncover new material for future historical fiction. And what will you discover, so close to Halloween and with a possibly ghoulish prompt?

October 21, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a final resting place. You can take any perspective that appeals to you from the historic to the horrific. Just don’t scare me too greatly. You can also choose to write about those buried before they came to their final rest. An extra challenge is to discover a story or character from a local cemetery. I double-dog dare you to join me with your own cemetery day!

Respond by October 27, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Lunch with Wilstach by Charli Mills

“Call me, Sarah, Mr. Wilsatch.” Her stomach rumbled at the sight of steaming soup served to their table.

“All right, Sarah.” Frank Wilstach dabbed his lips after each spoon of broth.

“A right fine lunch companion you are, Sir. A fair price for an interview.”

He smiled. “Sarah, did you know only you and Mr. Monroe McCanles are left ?”

“What of Mary?”

Wilstach shuffled notes. “Ah. She went to her final rest in 1907. Buried next to her husband.”

“At Rock Creek?”

“No, Fairbury.”

Why did it matter they had moved Cobb? He was never one to rest.

###

Serendipity Happens

SerendipitySerendipity plays out in happy accidents. It’s not something you plan for, but it can be an unexpected gift that evolves from your plans. Or no plans at all. Take action without holding tightly to outcomes and you might get the most pleasant ride of your life.

Writers thought up all ways to express serendipity unfolding. The right moment, the north star aligns and friends happen into our lives or we happen to gift another unintentionally. Wrap yourself up in this series of happy accidents and contemplate your own moments of serendipity as you read.

The following 99 word stories are based on the October 14, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that reveals or explores a moment of serendipity.

***

One of Those Days by Sarah Brentyn

After getting a flat tire, breaking the heel off my shoe, and cracking the screen on my phone, the heater went. I called the repairman and made it to the post office just after they closed. That’s when I noticed I dropped my ATM envelope full of cash.

We spotted it at the same time, the man and I.

I, in new shoes, he, in tattered socks, dashed toward the envelope. He picked it up, looked around, and asked, “Did anyone drop their money?”

He stood.

I waited.

He walked.

It was the first time I’d smiled all day.

###

Lucky Moon by Sherri Matthews

His beady eyes watched as the back door slowly opened and a woman appeared, shotgun in hand.

She’d seen him.

“Keep still yer little sod…that’s right…” Ethel had him in her sights, about to pull the trigger, when startled by footsteps.

She zoomed round to face Fred.

“Ethel, please let me in, I’m cold and hungry!”

“What the…is that a nightie? Get in yer moron, we need words. But first…”

She swung back around but her prey had gone.

Safe in his burrow, he thanked his lucky moon that he hadn’t ended up a rabbit pie that night.

###

The Wrong Place at the Right Time by Norah Colvin

Marnie was puzzled. The card definitely said 225; but there wasn’t any 225. There was 223, and 227, but no 225. She peered at the crack between the apartments as if willing 225 to materialise. Exhausted and confused, unsure of what to do next, she slumped on the step.

“Can I help you?”

The question interrupted her muddled thoughts. Seeing kindness in the eyes, Marnie explained her predicament.

The woman read the card.

“Street, not Avenue,” she said, pointing to the sign. “Are you Marnie? Lucky I got the wrong bus today. I’m Josephine. Come on. It’s not far.”

###

Serendipity Do-Dah by Ann Edall-Robson

“Serendipity do-dah, serendipity day, my oh my what a wonderful day.”

“That is not how the song goes.”

“Oh yes it does!”

“Noooooo it doesn’t”

“Remember when you moved here?”

“Easter, sixth grade.”

“Remember how everyone ignored you, the new girl, because we already had enough friends?”

“Yes.”

“Remember the school play where we were paired up to sing Zip A Dee Doo Dah?”

“Why would you remember something like that all these years later?”

“It’s what brought us together. It’s our song! So what if I change the words to my liking?”

“And you’re still a flirt!”

###

In the Cards byC. Jai Ferry

Madrid, New Mexico, was barely a blip on our map where we stopped to eat runny eggs and salty hash browns before stretching our legs downtown. We stepped into a mom-and-pop store with hand-painted silverware in the window. We picked through geckos carved into metal and chunks of turquoise until we found old black-and-white photographs turned into kitschy postcards for the tourists. We bought the one showing our seventeen-year-old mother wearing cheap lace. She was laughing with a man whose flattened boutonniere sagged from his lapel. Back on the road, we studied the first clue to finding our father.

###

Aha! Water…by Ruchira Khanna

Paula walked in a dainty fashion while skewing her eyes towards her parked car taking gulps that were becoming hard to swallow.

The blaring sun had scorched her body, and she had underestimated the weather by not carrying enough water with her. The walk that started off with enthusiasm was now a juggle between the mind and body that kept throwing weird messages across.

Not a single soul in sight.

Suddenly she heard loud thuds. She pulled away. Sprinters raced past her. Just then she felt a tap on her shoulder and a bottle of water was in sight.

###

Flash Fiction by Jeanne Lombardo

My phone again. A drowned alarm clock palpitating in my purse. No doubt Jill. The dean and her urgencies. Fuck this 24/7 access!

Driving back from lunch. Fumbling for the squawking little warden in my bag. I’ll die in my car some day, I think. Dammit! Missed it. No, the predictable whistle of a text message. Immediacy is Jill’s mantra.

But it’s not Jill. Dear one,” the text reads. “Poss opptnty! Doc needs help w/ book. 30K, maybe more. Talk? Sak

Ahh, sweet little communicator. Cellular herald of new possibilities! Sit in my lap while I ponder the what’s-ahead…

###

Serendipity by Irene Waters

Blast, I slept through the alarm again.

Josh sat in the stationary traffic. Thank heavens the alarm hadn’t woken him. I’d have been on that bridge if I was on time.

“You’re fired. This is the sixth day in a row you’ve been late. It just isn’t good enough. Pack your desk and leave now.”

“The bridge collapsed. Lots of casualties.”

“Too bad. Out!”

Josh couldn’t take his eyes off the slender blue-eyed blonde headed woman smiling at him in the lift. Thank heavens I was fired. Instead of a computer screen I’m staring into the eyes of my future.

###

The Luck of the Irish by Geoff Le Pard

Mary climbed into the cab, while Rupert went to the far side. She wondered if this whole trip to Dublin to try and find her twin was a mistake. At least being with Rupert had, so far, been easy. Fun even. Though leaving Charlotte and Penny hurt.

‘So what are you two planning?’ The cabbie sounded cheerful. ‘Bit of romance?’

Mary snorted a laugh and Rupert joined in. She said, ‘We’re siblings. Looking for a long lost relative.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes. Katherine Potts.’

The cabbie laughed. ‘Never. My aunt is Kate Potts. She’s English. Adopted…’

Mary shook her head. ‘Coincidence…’

###

The Offer by Charli Mills

Fiddle music faded, and Cobb wiped sweat from his brow despite the cool night. He set his instrument in its lined case and sat down.

“Woo boy! You play a mighty fine fiddle, Mister!” The short-legged man crouched by the crackling fire. Short legs, but he could dance a big jig.

Cobb looked up at the stars. “Mighty fine place you have.” He could imagine Mary’s face at seeing the rich sod. If this was his, he’d build a toll bridge across that confounded crossing, build a bigger barn, sell hay.

The man leaned over. “Wanna buy it, Mister?”

###

Touching History by Pat Cummings

Up ahead, the exit from highway 16 had two signs posted. “Tacoma Narrows Bridge” sat above the “Shake Shake Shake” restaurant sign advertising “Olallieberry Milkshakes.”

In line to buy our first olallieberry shake since we left Oregon, we chatted with the nice woman ahead of us, mentioning our purpose to visit Galloping Gertie next.

“You know the film of the bridge breakup? The guy running off, the last man off the bridge?”

Sure we did. It was iconic!

“Well, that man was my Dad,” she said. Solemnly, my spouse and I reached out to touch her shoulder, touching history.

###

North Star by Paula Moyer

Another day. Another eight hours of typing battle scenario. Jean logged her time at her summer job at the base while her mind drifted into her next-year’s move to Minnesota. The daydreams helped her muddle through the mindless work.

“What are your plans after the job ends?” an enlisted man, last of the draftees, grinned.

“I’m getting ready to move next year,” Jean replied with a blush.

“Me, too. I’ve got four more weeks. Then I’m going back home.”

“Where’s home?”

“Minnesota,” he said. His eyes looked faraway.

Jean stopped breathing. “Me, too.” It was all she could say.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Ned hadn’t told his mother he called into Kathie’s Kitchen every afternoon. She’d say he’d get better coffee, and cheaper, at home. But Ned lived for Kathie’s smile when she set down his mug. Today, on his three hundredth visit, he resolved to ask her out.

Red-faced, he mumbled his invitation to the countertop. Her response stunned him. How could she be married? Hadn’t he checked her fingers for a ring?

“But my sister might be interested.”

Another woman emerged from the back of the shop. Identical twins, but only Kathie had that smile. “I thought you’d never ask.”

###

The Treasure by Jules Paige

She had to walk the dogs before she left for work in the morning. Today was trash day. And there was a glint at the curb. A gold ring with a ruby stone and four little baguettes. And it fit where a pre-engagement ring once did. She didn’t mind letting the old boyfriend think that another beau had given it to her. She was content to toss that fishy man back into the sea.

He’d come to collect it when he was on home from leave from the Navy. They both must have known they weren’t soulmates.

###

Story Time by Pete Fanning

Mia snuggled deeper into her father’s arms. “Tell me again.”

“Okay, so I walked into Mommy’s classroom, to read Green Eggs and Ham.”

“The wrong classroom.”

“Mommy! Let Daddy tell it.”

“Yep,” Daddy grinned. “But one look at the teacher and I was tongue-tied.”

Mia beamed at Mommy, who narrowed her eyes. “He was supposed to be in Mrs. Ruth’s room.”

Mia squealed. Wiggled from Daddy to Mommy, nodding. “But you let him stay?”

A quick kiss over her head. Mommy sighed. “Well, what was one story going to hurt?”

“Yeah, but, Mrs. Ruth could have been my mommy?”

 ###

Planning My Lucky Break by Luccia Gray

‘You’ve bought five hundred copies of your novel and left them lying around London?’

‘Strategically placed.’

‘Where would that be?’

‘On the underground, buses, theatres, museums, coffee shops, wine bars…’

‘That’s your marketing campaign?’

‘It is.’

‘But will anyone read them?’

‘Everyone likes books, especially commuters, art lovers, and people who drink wine and coffee.’

‘The question is, will you ever sell your books?’

‘It just takes one influential person to read it, love it, and spread the word. Just one.’

‘And if that one influential person doesn’t find it?’

‘Then I’ll buy another 500 and do it again.’

###

Cable Outage by Larry LaForge

Ed plopped in his favorite chair, beverage in hand, and turned on the TV for yet another football Saturday. After a few minutes, the screen suddenly went dark. Severe storms had taken out the cable.

What now?

Without saying a word, Edna reached over and handed Ed a book. He looked at the cover, shrugged his shoulders, and started leafing through the pages. He then straightened his posture and turned up the lamp. Soon, he was totally engrossed.

Hours later, Ed waived Edna off when she noted the cable was back.

Since that day Ed has rarely been bookless.

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