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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.

###

October 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

October 14I’m not sure what a photo of serendipity looks like, but I think this is a close match. The point is, serendipity really doesn’t have a look; it’s something that defies expectations, illuminates the darkness. It’s a vast vista of choices. You might set your sights on the Seven Sisters Peaks across the valley. Choose one peak. Set a course. Find the road turns, and adjust. Or you might stay right there on that slope of the Cabinet Mountains, admiring the next range but happy to stay put. Then a log rolls down the hill and knocks you off your feet. You must choose to stand up, go back or elsewhere.

It’s the nature of life that we make choices. Serendipity is the gift we find accidentally when we make a choice or life chooses a course of action for us.

If you set out for the Seven Sisters, it would be serendipitous to find an unexpected guide in a canyon, or the perfect photo opportunity of a bull moose who poses without threat and wins you a coveted photography award. If you stand still and get knocked off your feet, serendipity can still happen. Maybe you meet your future spouse among the rescue team or find a hidden cache of silver bullion at the end of your tumble. Take action; you’ll find the gifts.

But all too often we hold back as writers, afraid to take action.

Maybe because serendipity is no guarantee. And life is often like a journey with a bag of coins. Pull out one coin, and it’s lucky. Pull out another and you find the flip-side.  I’ve had lots of two-sided coins this year. I took my manuscript to a professional conference in LA; no one wanted my manuscript. I got to spend four weeks with my best friend; she died. I planted purple potatoes and nursed an old apple tree; others got the crops.

Yet, serendipity occurs between the flips of the coins. It’s not the good or the bad; it’s the unexpected that can come out of the flipping. I never knew that by going to LA I’d be one step closer to my dream of hosting writer’s retreats in beautiful northern Idaho. I let conference writers know that I have a guest room free for writers to stay and already, I’ve had two writers from NYC visit and even do a poetry reading at my kitchen table. The conference organizers know I live in a rural community and they’ve graciously offered to let me host a panel from the conference. Yesterday I set up my first panel in collaboration with my local library and a seasoned regional publisher. It opened unexpected doors.

Although I don’t recommend spending a portion of summer in a hospital room, I shared time with my best friend that death cannot rob from me. One of my most exciting pinch-me-moments occurred in that room when I received an email from a publisher expressing interest in my Rock Creek project. Sharing that with Kate was a gift. She knows best my long journey and even in her own situation she was truly a best friend and shared in the joy of that moment. No matter what comes of it, it was illumination in a dark place.

My apple tree harbored many gifts, just not the one I had expected. In May, I stood beneath the flowering branches and listened to the hum of life — bees and calliope hummingbirds that glittered gold and ruby. It was a sight to fuel my writing. The potato patch has become a bit of a family joke. What hasn’t violated my purple potatoes? First it was gophers, then turkeys and next deer. I dug up the remnants. Every large potato, every last one, was gopher-gnawed. The smaller ones were not chomped and I’ve enjoyed being the one to put the bite on them. Yet, in a moment of serendipity, when I thought the potato patch finished, a mama moose and her spring calf pounded the dirt with hooves the circumference of teacup saucers. Why, I don’t know, but to see moose in my garden made up for all other wildlife infractions.

But back to writers and serendipity.

Take action without holding tightly to outcome. Yes, have a goal, a plan of sorts, but keep an open eye to the unexpected. The agent who turns you down might buy you the time you needed to find a different path to publication. Or, in my situation with Miracle of Ducks, I knew something was off with the intro. My editor noted it but beta readers said it was fine. Because I’ve sat on it all summer, when I read the first chapter to my mother-in-law and her twin, it jumped out at me what was wrong. Truly a gift of sight! Sometimes we need to slow down and this process of writing invites us to do it, but we feel impatient. Fill the slow stretches with other projects. Learn to dance with your writing as if it were a life-long partner not some quickie date at the nightclub.

Serendipity will show you how those flip sides and lucky tosses come together eventually. By nature it’s accidental. But I also have a strong faith in God and am “confident of this, that he who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (based on Philippians 1:6). Now I know that we all have free will and unfettered minds to make choices. For me serendipity is a God-moment; a reminder that he doesn’t direct the good and bad that occurs in life, but he directs the good in me, thus giving me a purpose in existing. I don’t think God cares one way or the other that I publish books. But I do know he calls me into relationship. I pray hard when times are rough; I rejoice over good days; and I’m humbled by the gifts that only God would know I’d appreciate.

What is serendipity to you? Have you experienced it in your writing? Do you hold back, hold on to expectations or set out for yonder peaks, knowing something good will happen, even if by pure accident? Things to ponder as you write or consider the motives of your characters.

I’ve often wondered about Cobb McCanles and the bitterness he had to have felt at Rock Creek. He set out from North Carolina in February of 1859, when his family all relocated to eastern Tennessee where their views and values were more aligned with others. Like many Unionists, Cobb believed in the economic development of individuals. In a time when political tensions were mounting between the industrial interests of the north and the slave-based agrarian system of the south, individuals were seeking life-improvement out west. Fame and fortune is a stereotype, but one that describes the impulse to leave a known community and move to the frontier.

Historians claim that Cobb set out for the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1859. If he did, he might have had early information from the northern Georgians who were seeking gold in Colorado, unsuccessfully at first. Residents of western North Carolina traveled annually to northern Georgia to buy supplies like coffee and sugar. Otherwise, families like the Greens from which Cobb’s wife Mary came from, were completely sustained by their own means — they grew crops, distilled whiskey, raised hogs, milked cows, spun flax and wool, built barns and furniture and made their own iron tools and nails. Outsiders called them poor, but they had all their needs met, including a fierce independence. It was men like Cobb and his family that also valued literature, music and education. These men didn’t want the gaudy wealth of planters but neither did they want mere subsistence in the woods. I imagine that after the economic crash of 1857, Cobb listened more closely to stories of the Georgia gold seekers. He was sheriff which gave him access to news through journals, county officials and local gossip.

Whether or not Cobb set out for the Pike’s Peak gold fields, he stopped at the Rock Creek Station. Think of it as an 1850s truck stop — a place for travelers to rest, buy food, take a bath, repair wagons, trade horses and hear the latest news of the trails. Serendipity occurred when Cobb and Sarah stopped at Rock Creek Station; Cobb asked if the owner would sell and he said yes. I don’t believe that Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory was Cobb’s expected goal, but he found a wonderful opportunity. The man was a builder, likely having learned carpentry from his father who was known as a cabinetmaker. The first thing he built was a toll bridge across the dangerous and steep crossing at Rock Creek. All in all, Cobb built a second ranch on the other side of the creek, a third a mile a way and he made improvements to the original, thus attracting the attention of the Overland Stage Company, the precursor to the Pony Express.

So why bitter? After his serendipitous gain of Rock Creek Station, every business dealing he made resulted in default. He sold and reclaimed the toll bridge several times because buyers never paid up; he reclaimed a wagon from a farmer who bought his hay and never paid; he became partner to the Pony Express with Rock Creek Station only to be pushed out by the company claim that it had to “own” its stations; the Pony Express never paid Cobb for his station.

Now you are seeing more of what I see in Cobb — a self-appointed adjudicator of the law, an ambitious and industrious man, temperamental and passionate, educated and brilliant orator, unfortunate businessman. He was also a dedicated family man. He was complex, that’s for certain. But truly, so are we all. Rock Creek was his moment of serendipity. It was also the place of his untimely death. Serendipity holds no guarantees, but we can take the gifts it offers.

October 14, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that reveals or explores a moment of serendipity. How did it come about? What did it lead to? You can express a character’s view of the moment or on serendipity in general. Use the element of surprise or show how it is unexpected or accidentally good.

For those of you who recognize, serendipity has been a prompt before. What can I say, but I like its magic! And it is never the same gift.

Respond by October 20, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

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?”

###

Thieves!

ThievesAs a victim of theft, one feels violated. Yet, often the thief is vulnerable. Nonetheless, thievery has proven to be a rich topic for writers who have explored motives and related subjects. We discover time is a thief and so are adorable dogs.

Steal a few moments to read this arrangement of flash fictions based on the October 7, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a thief or a theft.

***

All in the Name of Hunger! by Ruchira Khanna

A rattled and guilty Samira was sitting under a bridge while nibbling at the crust with eyes wandering 360 degrees.

He was chewing ruthlessly to swallow the crushed contents in his mouth. Hunger made him steal a loaf from a bakery. Now he feared the consequences, but with no pennies to spare he did not think twice over again.
While dusting off the crumbs from his bare chest, and adjusting his hair, “Life is not fair, but I have to own up” he mumbled as he walked towards the pastry shop to own up his crime and face the ramifications.

###

Werewolf’s Clothing by Sherri Matthews

Fred peeped out from behind the hedge as soon as the upstairs light went out.

Starkers and desperate, he ran for it, grabbing the first thing he felt hanging on the washing line.

A dog barked and the bedroom light snapped back on.

“Oy…’oose there?” Old Mr Cooper called out.

“Look, there it goes!” screamed Old Mrs Cooper.

“Bleedin’ peepin’ Tom, I’ll ‘ave ‘im!”

A shot rang out.

Rumours abounded of a creepy man wearing Old Mrs Cooper’s white nighty terrorising the neighbourhood.

Ethel cackled, relieved that the next full moon was still a full month away.

###

Thieving Words by Pat Cummings

Wanting love, I steal your heart.
Loving life, I steal your time.
Tiptoe-quiet, I steal inside:
Silent movement is no crime.

I take the spotlight on the stage.
Gesturing, I steal the show.
Time is a thief and so am I:
I steal away, and thus I go.

I take the cake, and eat it too.
Needing some help, I take advice.
Shopping, I do a double-take:
Daylight robbery, that price!

Passing a window, I steal a peek,
And stolen kisses meet my eyes.
I take a risk, I take a shot:
My photo’d kiss, it took first prize!

###

Thief! He’s Lucky He’s Cute…by Christina Rose

A nightly battle. At the end of a long day, I collapse in a pile of fleece and synthetics, my ever chilled body warming instantly in my heavenly cocoon of carefully purchased coverings.

I get up, for a glass of wine, a trip to the loo. 2 minutes, that’s all it takes.

He stares at me, his dark chocolate eyes glistening in the soft glow of the lamplight. He knows…

Curled up in the blanket, my blanket. As I lower myself next to him, glaring at his thieving cuddly cuteness, I try not to smile.

I cave. Every time.

###

The Benefit of the Doubt by Geoff LePard

‘Hey, what are you doing?’

Mary turned at her daughter’s voice. Immediately her maternal instincts rose alongside her hackles. ‘Let her go!’

A shop assistant pulled Penny away from the fruit section.

‘Are you her mother?’

‘I most certainly am. What…?’

‘She was stealing the grapes.’

‘Penny?’

‘I was just trying one, Mum. It…’

‘Penny! How could you? I’m terribly sorry.’

‘This time, madam….’

‘Yes of course.’

*

In the car, ‘Penny you know that was wrong…’

‘Grandpa always tasted the grapes to make sure they were sweet. No one stopped him. It’s not fair.’

‘No, Penny, it isn’t.’

###

Theft by Udosdottir

“I came into your shop every Thursday, looking at the magazines, casting hidden glances at you, purchasing nothing. And on the way out, I took a lollipop, sat down on this very bench and licked it. I dreamed of you coming out one day, sitting down beside me, and saying that, as you loved me, I could take as many as I wanted.” She laughed, the way you do when you just told a heartfelt secret.

“Huh,” he answered, distractedly, “I used to offer the lollies to small kids that came in with their mothers, I never even noticed.”

###

Motives by Norah Colvin

The morning started badly; nothing unusual in that. He’d been woken in the night by shouting, slamming doors, and screeching car tyres. Nothing unusual there either.

There was no milk to moisten his cereal, only a slap to the head for daring to ask. He grabbed his bag and disappeared before she used him as an ashtray, again.

Looking for a fight, he couldn’t believe she was just sitting there clutching her stupid unicorn. He snatched it; danced a jig to her wails, then threw it onto the roof.

“I’m telling,” said a witness.

“Who cares?” was his response.

###

The Dress Thief by Luccia Gray

Cristina held her father’s wasted hand as he limped along, head bent and soul shattered.

He glimpsed at a woman across the street, squeezed his eyelids to hold back the tears, and pulled his daughter’s hand firmly.

‘Don’t look,’ he pleaded, but the child hurled his hand, jumped on the woman, scratched her face and spit, ‘Thief!’

Cristina tore the buttons of her dress like a wild cat. ‘It was my mother’s!’

‘She doesn’t need it in the graveyard!’

‘Take it off!’

‘Your family left when the soldiers came!’

‘We’re back now and it’s mine!’

‘Nothing is yours anymore!’

###

Highway Robbery by Larry La Forge

Ed and Edna made their way into the cavernous stadium for the big game. As they passed a condiment stand near the hot dog concession window, Edna innocently reached over to the stack of napkins.

“Stop, thief!” the vendor screamed from behind the window. “Those napkins are for customers. That is stealing!”

Edna froze, not knowing what to say.

Ed stepped in, looking at Edna holding two skimpy napkins. He turned to the irate vendor and then read the menu board updated in chalk: Regular Hot Dog $9.75.

Ed glared at the vendor. “The only thief here is YOU.”

###

No Replacement by Ann Edall-Robson

There is no replacement. Machinery and technology could not make it better.

Fourteen steps is all it took for a life altering experience. Steps used often. Had complacency set in? Perhaps destiny was making a statement to see how much strength was left in the soul.

That moment, the time when a simple step downwards changed everything forever. Normalcy shattered in a heartbeat. The hearing loss, balance marred, memories tainted all in the split second it took to fall from the highest spot on the stairs.

So much was stolen on that day. The gift of life was not.

###

Lost Trust by Jules Paige

It wasn’t enough that he stole memories by not sharing what
he knew. Pop said he forged the checks due Mae, (because
of her mother’s death,) to bring his baby back home. Mae was
expecting to use that money for college tuition. She’d left
home but forgot about forwarding mail. Mae thought he’d be
honest about that.

But he wasn’t honest with the charity money Mae had collected
that one autumn either. Took that for bills, so she thought, but
never did know what happened to it. Ill gotten gains…parents
aren’t supposed to cheat and lie.

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

She recognised the hole by the rough edges that scraped against her soul when the sky was overcast. They mocked her at the clinic, said it was impossible for a nothing to make her sick. Refusing her an x-ray, they accused her of malingering, but the hole grew bigger so she went to the mall.

Miles of shiny new things to plug a heart-shaped hole: she stuffed them in her pockets, in her handbag, up her jumper, but the hole remained.

Prison gave her solace. If she couldn’t close the gap within her, she could fill a cell-shaped hole.

###

Prairie Justice by Charli Mills

Joe’s body crumpled to the ground. Sarah held back Nancy Jane who trembled while they watched Cobb punish Nancy Jane’s father.

“Thieves get the third degree, Joe Holmes. You were caught with stolen goods.” Cobb hauled the old man to the thorny locust tree.

“No!” Nancy Jane screamed and Sarah lost her grip on the woman. She flung herself between her father and Cobb. Sarah flinched.

“This is interesting.” Hickok walked up to Sarah from the barn, arms folded, revolvers resting on both hips.

“Do something,” Sarah pleaded.

“A thief deserves a noose,” he drawled. “Joe’s getting off easy.”

###

Stolen Moments by Pete Fanning

A generous thief, it steals by giving. Answers. Phone numbers. Directions.
It’s slick. Shiny and without strings attached. It steals imagination. It steals anticipation. It promises connection yet divides our attention.

The minutes add up. Five hundred. Seven hundred. Unlimited. Bundled. Rolled over. Stolen. One glance at a time. It dings and rings. It steals sleep in the night.

It snaps pictures. It is the keeper of data. Of memories. It steals whole languages, shortening words and correcting mistakes. Each thief is sleeker. Upgraded. Capable of stealing our breaths with its flawless design.

Look down, a thief is calling.

###

Self-entitled: A 99-word Story by Sarrah J. Woods

Whenever Kaitlin volunteered at the local poverty relief charity, she had to tolerate Bernelle, the full-time secretary, who barked commands and wore heavy perfume, as if to mask the smelliness of everyone around her.

Once, after Kaitlin had finished assembling nutrition baskets, she saw Bernelle open a basket, take out a package of almonds, and slip it in her pocket.

When Bernelle began loudly crunching the almonds later, Kaitlin couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Aren’t those for the baskets?” she asked.

“I’ve worked here for twenty years,” Bernelle replied, rolling her eyes. “I think I’ve at least earned some almonds.”

###

Retail Theft by Paula Moyer

Annie couldn’t believe her eyes. Until now, employee theft was a vignette on a training video. But Jessica – what was she doing?

Hunched over the register with no customer in sight. Punching in numbers, scanning a gift card. Then going to the customer side and signing. What was up?

“Whatcha doin?” Annie demanded.

“Oh …” Jessica stalled. “Nothin’.”

Jessica had bought stuff with a gift card, processed her own return – but kept the stuff. Plugged the UPC’s in from the receipt.

Annie stepped around the corner, called security. “Check the video on register 35,” she whispered. “Something’s wrong.”

###

Dinner for Two by Sarah Brentyn

“I dare you.”

“Whatever.”

“It’s just lipgloss, not a car. Anyway, you won’t get caught.”

“How do you know?” Cindy glared.

“It’ll be hidden in that oversized backpack you always carry.” She patted Cindy’s bag.

“I don’t need it,” Cindy slapped her friend’s hand away.

“You know you want it,” she taunted. “C’mon. It’s pretty and you don’t have any money.”

Two buses later, Cindy stood at the end of her street. She kicked rocks along her path, ran up the dirt drive, and pushed the door open. “Mama? I’m home!” Unzipping her backpack, she shouted, “I brought dinner!”

###

And if thieves ever had an epic musical score, it would be the “Ecstasy of Gold” that accompanied one of the most intense shoot-outs between thieves of the old west in The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. The amazing orchestra version by composer, Ennio Morricone:

October 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

October 7The way he bounds across the fading green grass of my lawn says he’s still a puppy. Yet, he’s well over 100 pounds with long white fur wet with morning frost. His tri-colored face looks like that of a St. Bernard. I just caught him and a chunky Dobernam Pincher lifting legs over my snap dragons.

I’ve never seen these dogs before, but here they are.

Dobie has a collar and I call. A sleepy voice acknowledges the one dog, but not the other. Thirty minutes later and the owner collects her dog. She lives across the highway and train tracks from us, on the hill. I cringe at the thought that these two crossed those deadly paths. Hunk stays behind and sprawls at my feet on the porch as I dial dispatch for the county sheriff.

Someone had reported a missing St. Bernard. Male. The dispatcher asks if my new dog is that gender. If she could see the long hair she might better understand my dilemma in answering! Maybe, I say. Then I remember he lifted his leg on my flowers. Yes! The missing dog was reported to be male, too so she gives me a phone number to call, but no one answers. For Hunk’s safety we house him in the garage with Bootsy. Somehow, the Hub knew he wouldn’t harm the cat. He doesn’t but eats all her morning kibble, then pokes his nose out the cat door.

About the time we — as in the Hub, his brother Gee, sister-in-law the Italian Cowgirl and me — wonder what to do, a truck pulls into our driveway. A small woman climbs out and in a worried tone, asks if we’ve seen a St. Bernard. Hunk’s real name is Doug and he’s only eight months old. He grins like a kid when we let him out and he sees his mama. She was worried he’d been stolen like her last dog. It broke her heart.

Thievery is on the rise in Elmira.

We tell Hunk’s mama that while we were gone a week to Nevada someone stole every last apple from our tree. I was devastated when we came home. No more apple pannekoeken for breakfast; no apple crisp or apple pie; no apples to sauce, dry or cider. We had shared with the bucks who munched nightly on the dropped apples. We gathered up fallen apples before we left and never considered that anyone would steal the entire crop in the tree.

Hunk’s mama tells us that the blueberry farmer on the hill above Elmira lost half her harvest in a night to thieves. Another neighbor has lost all her eggs. Someone is stealing food.

Never would I turn down a hungry person. In fact, I feed people; it’s in my nature. With family who followed us 16 hours from Nevada, the first thing I did when I got home was ready the kitchen. I’d happily share my garden harvests. Most of my neighbors are the giving sort. And most of us work hard to plant, hoe and harvest food. To have that stolen is a deep insult. It’s time and effort none of us can easily get back. It was to save us money and provide a treat for us and visitors in winter. Food is to be shared, neither hoarded nor filched.

The thought of having a dog stolen is just as unsettling. It’s like a family abduction. Most of us wear that worried face we saw on Hunk’s mama when she pulled in to ask about her dog. Missing is hard to take; stolen is unconscionable. When I posted Hunk on Facebook with my phone number, many people said keep him; he’s beautiful. Yes, he is. But he’s no object. Had he been abandoned or abused we would have done something to protect him. Never would I steal another family’s beloved four-paw.

This, of course, takes me to pondering Rock Creek. Thievery is an underlying theme. Cobb McCanles historically was accused of stealing tax-payers’ money in North Carolina and robbing pioneers on the immigrant trail past his ranch. Cobb was sheriff in North Carolina and once he arrived in Nebraska Territory he formally applied to be adjudicator of local crimes. The territorial governor denied his request because the population was too sparse in his county, but like Elmira, his ranch had a major thoroughfare. You never know  who wanders these roads anonymously. In the end, Cobb’s that is, he was the victim of theft. The Pony Express bought his Rock Creek Station without ever paying him. Yet, Sarah Shull returned home to North Carolina as an old woman where family and neighbors believed her to be in possession of “gold and silver” that Cobb had stole earlier.

My research shows that these myths are unfounded, though historians continue to repeat them. During the Civil War, the Watauga County courthouse and all its records burned to the ground. Those who claim that Cobb stole tax-payers’ money also claim that the evidence went up in smoke. Yet, I discovered an interesting way to explore the legal proceedings without court documents. Because Cobb McCanles left the area, any lawsuits or pending crimes had to be published in the legal notices of a newspaper. The only legal notices that mention Cobb relate to the sale of his own property in an elusive manner that avoided a creditor. The creditor is actually the one who scammed locals out of their property by selling big lots with homes used as credit. As sheriff, Cobb had to collect money due or serve notice of default. He could have stolen money had the locals any to take. Instead, he sold his property in succession to several buyers to avoid his creditor’s claim. It’s complicated, and it worked. He defaulted but was not a thief.

Perhaps it is a fine line between needs and wants; earning and taking; survival and thievery.

October 7, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a thief or a theft. Consider motives and repercussions. Is the act a matter of perception? Is it a daring maneuver or a desperate bid for survival? Think about different instances of stealing.

Respond by October 13, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Prairie Justice by Charli Mills

Joe’s body crumpled to the ground. Sarah held back Nancy Jane who trembled while they watched Cobb punish Nancy Jane’s father.

“Thieves get the third degree, Joe Holmes. You were caught with stolen goods.” Cobb hauled the old man to the thorny locust tree.

“No!” Nancy Jane screamed and Sarah lost her grip on the woman. She flung herself between her father and Cobb. Sarah flinched.

“This is interesting.” Hickok walked up to Sarah from the barn, arms folded, revolvers resting on both hips.

“Do something,” Sarah pleaded.

“A thief deserves a noose,” he drawled. “Joe’s getting off easy.”

###