February 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

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

February 18, 2016

February 17Pure gold bursts beneath the rainbow. Legends tell us the leprechaun hides his pot of it there. When the rainbow lights up after a storm on the Camas Prairie in Idaho, fields of canola-blooms illuminate like treasure. But one can never truly catch a rainbow, thus the leprechaun knows his hoard is safe. And sometimes we can’t predict what a rainbow will bring to light.

Whatever it is, we know it will be spectacular to behold.

That’s how I feel about the weekly compilations at Carrot Ranch. The rainbow, an apt symbol of diversity, represents all the writers who gather here to write stories of 99 words. The gold is what we produce as a whole each week. I don’t tire of the surprise week after week in witnessing how a diverse group of writers from around the globe can present so many different creative angles to a single prompt.

From different countries, different -isms of English language, different generations, different orientations, different gender perspectives,  different experiences, different genres, different writing goals, we gather on the common ground that is a flash fiction challenge. And each prompt delivers a new rainbow over a pot of gold.

However, we do not discuss our differences. Instead we express and create. We show each other respect and support in our expressions. There is no right or wrong way to respond to a flash fiction once the constraint (99 words) is met. This is why I often encourage those who feel they wandered away from the intention of the prompt. Actually, it’s only intention is to spark an idea and there’s no judgement on that idea. In the end, we embrace the differences as a whole each week.

Wouldn’t it truly be a magical world — a place beyond rainbows and unicorns — where we could come together, embracing our differences and expressing our stories?

Often, being different is dangerous. We’d like to think that in a modern society we are tolerant and accepting. And many of us are. Yet cultural norms can have invisible strongholds on us. There’s a popular saying, “No child is born a racist,” and it reflects the power of influence on young lives to hate what is perceived as different. As teens, many rebel only to find out how far their culture or family will allow.

What a difficult cultural cycle to break.

When do we start to see ourselves as other? Does it cause panic, an overwhelming need to conform? Or does it cause rebellion, a need to embrace the true self? When do we understand our identities or are we always evolving?

Recently I read an article about a man from South America who is an extraordinary theater director and he lives here in northern Idaho. His path to his art is fascinating, especially given his diversity (Hispanic immigrant). He stated how as a boy, he never saw MacGyver (a popular US television series and character in the ’80s) as white. He saw himself as MacGyver.

A local news station aired an interview with an articulate senior student from a nearby high school. Ava Sherifi, recently gave a Martin Luther King Day speech about acceptance. She spoke about that moment at age nine-years-old when a friend made her realize that she was somehow “other.” It was life-changing, and she’s an amazing young woman to use it as a catalyst to educate her peers and community.

Last March, I traveled to LA to attend BinderCon, a professional development conference for women and gender non-conforming writers. The diversity of women was firmly rooted in a determined approach to writing as a profession, tackling difficult gender issues, including sexual violence and unfair economic disparities. One of the most inspiring workshops I attended was called, “Writing the Other.” It was all about what we see here at Carrot Ranch — writing the beauty and complexities of the world. The panelists advised, “to write characters, not colors.” In other words, create a “who” and not a “what.”

Further, I believe in encouraging those marginalized to find voice through writing. It’s why I continue to support Out of the Binders as a volunteer in my region. We need #morediversebooks, which requires more diverse writers and diverse characters in writing. On March 19 and 20, I’ll be hosting a live-stream viewing event in Missoula, Montana. I won’t be going to LA this year; I’ll be bringing LA to my region. Missoula has a vibrant writing community through several fine organizations, including HALA, Montana Book Festival and Shakespeare & Co. The biggest boost in getting this going has come from writers who had spoke last year at BookFest on a panel, called Queer Women Write the West. We make a fabulous team!

How boring it would be not to connect with others who are different. We need rainbows. We need diversity.

Early in my contemplation of Rock Creek, a historical novel from the perspective of women history diminished, I wondered if Sarah and Nancy Jane had a deeper relationship. As the story and characters blossomed like canola in my imagination, it didn’t fit. Nor did it fit any existing historical information on either woman. They were both unconventional in different ways — Sarah was a bookkeeper and a daydreamer, whereas all we know of Nancy Jane was that she was the daughter of a carpenter who lived among the freighters, buffalo hunters and traders of the wild prairies. Mary McCanles was more traditional, upholding her expected role as wife and mother, yet she was brave enough to stay in Nebraska Territory after tragedy struck.

Another character who has captivated my imagination (thanks to Sacha Black’s Writinspirations), is a physically strong German-American woman who works as a logger in the early 1920s Inland Pacific Northwest). Jen is doing a man’s job in an era when women have barely achieved the right to vote. I expect much backlash against her but she’s had a friend of sorts show up, another German-American. Wolfric has recently returned from WWI and has a private life. Both are on the fringe of society. Through these characters, I’m exploring my own gender beliefs and pondering. Growing up, I saw that boys and men got to do all the things I wanted to do. What does that mean to me now?

But enough cheating on my WIP.

Like women around the world, Sarah, Nancy Jane, Mary and Jen are each a “who” and diverse in subtle ways. Truly, we all are other. Some embrace it and some fear it. Regardless, we all have a voice by which we can explore what it means.

February 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story of a character who is diverse. Who is this person? Does this character know, accept or reject being perceived as different? As writers, consider how we break stereotypes. Tell you own story of “otherness” if you feel compelled. Or, select a story of diversity, such as rainbows revealing gold. How is diversity needed? How is your character needed?

Respond by February 23, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Not All Women Cook by Charli Mills

Sarah stood, attending a pot of hearth stew. Mary rocked baby Charles in her arms, content not to help. Cobb leaned in the doorframe, watching his kids pick wildflowers. Sarah acknowledged it would be a happy gathering if it weren’t for the irony of her cooking. Her, the former mistress. Cobb wanted peace between Mary and Sarah to end rumors of marital dissent. Thus he declared each woman would host dinner once a week. Except he failed to recall Sarah didn’t cook. Mary remembered and smirked while Sarah stirred.

Later, Sarah would thank her new friend for providing dinner.

###

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73 Comments

  1. denmaniacs4

    Aggie Runacre

    Dobbs swallowed the boiled coffee.

    Company, slow as a Gila monster, was approaching from downwind.

    The way he would.

    He caught a squint of sun.

    “Morning,” a voice said, thick, weary. “Smelled sumthin’ good. Got any ta spare?”

    Not a threat, Dobbs reckoned.

    “Tastes like rotting buffalo hide.”

    “Just about right, then. May I approach?”

    “With due caution,” Dobbs advised.

    The stranger was the size of a small grizzly, broad of shoulder,
    weather-worn face, draped in a black greatcoat.

    “Aggie Runacre,” she offered her hand. “First human I’ve touched in three months.”

    “Never been called human before,” Dobbs allowed.

    • Charli Mills

      Fabulous, Bill! This has a great old-school wild west vibe with a modern edge. Love that the broad-shouldered small grizzly is a woman. Great take on expectations and what it’s like to be on the fringe of society.

    • ruchira

      In your 99 words you could draw in the emotions, the clear background and the story…awesome!

  2. Norah

    Great post as always, Charli, so rich with much to think about. Interesting that you raise the topic of diversity again. Just this morning I started listening to a book that Anne Goodwin reviewed recently “The Social Brain, How Diversity Made the Modern Mind” by Richard Crisp. In the small section I listened to he discussed the role of diversity in fostering creativity. I have read many other posts about diversity that provide much to ponder as well, and recently read “Ugly” by Robert Hoge, a fellow Brisbanite who was born with great physical challenges but a wonderful intellect. Inspiring stuff. Sometimes I think this topic of diversity is so huge, I don’t know where to start, but when you offer up your flash with the differences between cooking ability I realise that diversity occurs not just in the big things, but in the small things as well. We are all different, all strange in our own ways, but we share the basics of humanity as well. What tolerant women Sarah and Mary were. What a man Cobb must have been for them to have been so, to share rather than leave.
    How exciting to have BinderCon come to you, in essence. You have much to offer. Thank you for being so generous. Is your generosity part of your difference? I wish it were more commonplace.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m enamored with diversity, especially since I get to see it in action week after week in the varying perspectives of our flash fiction. See the anthology come together has made me more aware of the “magic” of creativity rooted in diversity. And yes, it is in the small things, not just the big. Ultimately, I believe Cobb loved his wife yet felt responsible for Sarah and wanted her business attributes. Nancy Jane was the one to disturb the triangulated relationship. Thank you for thinking I’m generous. It would be nice common ground to simply help out where each of us can. 🙂

      • Norah

        That’s a common ground to cultivate! I’m looking forward to seeing the anthology. You have many projects simmering away. I was a bit intrigued to read in the roundup about a golden egg you will be handing back. It is important to get priorities right. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Yes, I was offered a position by a publisher, but recognized that it would compete for my time. Although hard to hand back a golden egg when I need a bit of gold dust, I’m committed to producing several of my own. I’m committed to Carrot Ranch, our community and what good works we can do. I want this to be a writing platform for many writers, not just for my own projects. Yes, I feel like the stove is simmering away like preparations for a feast day. 🙂

  3. Rachel

    Great piece, Charli. And this is a nice idea for a prompt! Here’s mine:

    His ears were smaller, his tongue was enlarged always sticking out of his mouth. He had just figured out how to jump with two feet and remain standing while the other kids were long past that.

    He would be five-years-old soon and was beginning to realize how different he was from his classmates. He realized his speech wasn’t as clear as them, often not bothering to talk at all.

    “Come play with us!” a girl prompted him. Then she whispered to her friends, “He can’t talk yet, but that’s okay.”

    The boy smiled, eager to play with his friends.

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome, Rachel! I’m thrilled to see your flash fiction! I can see both the big heart of the boy and that of his new friend and it gives me such hope that all we need in this world a bit of understanding and kindness.

      • Rachel

        Thank you!
        Yes, we all need people like them in the world. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Diversity is rich ground to plant literary seeds. 🙂 I’m picturing a soapbox at the end of a rainbow, now!

      • Jane Dougherty

        I think we have to leave the soap box this side of the rainbow, Charli. Strictly peace and love on the other side 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Good idea! Ah, a world beyond where no soap boxes are needed… a nice vision to ponder.

  4. Kerry E.B. Black

    I danced last night in a pool of golden light. My bouquet smelled of Eden when rested in my arms as I bowed, tiara reflecting the glow of success. I woke, still trapped. No longer lithe or spry, I pull myself to a hated wheeled chair where I strap dead appendages in place.

    I propel through the market, catch a whiff of roses from a corner booth, and duck my chin. The chair mires in a street crevice. Tears reflect the sallow sunlight spotlighting my affliction. Strangers help. I nod thanks, gracious, delicate as the ballerina who once inhabited me.

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch, Kerry! What a stunner of a flash fiction! From the opening dream to the stark reality, you’ve put a lifetime into 99 words. The help of strangers, the compassion and graciousness of that interaction. The detail with the roses, it tore me up. Great writing.

  5. Annecdotist

    Charli, you are a true champion of diversity and I’m looking forward to hearing about how things go with the live streaming of the conference. And it’s important, as you say, to recognise that we are all Other in some ways. There’s an interesting exercise I’ve done as part of racism awareness training in which one is asked to examine the concept of “being white”– often something delegates have never had to consider.
    I was interested in what you said about Nancy and Sarah Jane – sometimes we want our characters to do things but we have to discover what will or won’t work. I think it’s a fascinating construct – after all, if they’re our invention you’d think we could jolly well get them to do whatever we want, but we know it doesn’t work like that. And as a nurturer and cooker, I’m glad you championed a non-cooker in your flash. Interesting how Cobb thought he could organise the women but it’s looks like they’re working it out between themselves.
    Incidentally, regarding language and different uses of English, I had to look up canola as we still call it rapeseed over here. It’s a very pretty flower brightening up the fields in the summer, although the early for it yet.
    As you know, I think reading is a great way of tackling our fears of diversity. For my flash, I’m still partly in the wilds with the boy and his dog – catch it here:
    http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/-held-captive-by-neurodiversity-truestory-by-catherine-simpson

    • Charli Mills

      I’m loving the way the Montana writers have pulled together to help me with the live-streaming conference. Part of me thought it might be nice to move to an area with a vibrant writing community, and then I realized I have them as a model for what can be done here. Last month I read flash fiction at the poetry open mic night and this month they openly announced their event for “poets and flash fiction writers.” I was over the moon! It’s the same with tackling fears of diversity. We have to put ourselves into uncomfortable positions to find a path to accepting and acceptance. As for characters doing as they will, I find they end up informing me more than the other way around! Ah–rapeseed. I have heard it called that but the name has negative connotations by a group professing it is bad for one’s health. It’s still early for blooms here, too although I can see bare green grass. I’m glad you remained in the wilds a bit!

      • Annecdotist

        It’s great that your skill at flash fiction has so smoothly extended the focus of the open mike night, and there will be a place for you among the poets from now on.
        I guess rapeseed has enough negative connotations in the name already – I wonder if it will be Americanised over here.

    • Norah

      It’s canola oil here. 🙂

  6. Pete

    What a great post Charli. And flash too. It’s funny because to hear the news, we’re on the brink of a race war. Sure there’s racism all over–structured, fabricated, obvious, subtle, but I gotta say it’s never on the basketball court, so maybe this old man will just keep playing ball.

    Anyway, my flash, which, once again became a bigger story, which might become bigger still as I hash it out. Thanks for the inspiration, I hope it comes through in the flash.

    Skin

    Dad and Samir argued through dinner. Again about beliefs and laws, neither listening, neither eating.

    “Look, you’re in college, you come from a middle class background—”

    “I come from Uganda. Isn’t that obvious? It was to those security guards, right Emma?”

    My eyes burned. I wanted to go back. To the blindness of summer sun. When he was Sam, in the pool, his smile so wide I thought I could jump into it. My big brother, not black brother. Before he opened my eyes to the stares when we were together. Before mall security.

    Before beliefs and laws.

    Full version here: https://lunchbreakfiction.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/skin/

    • Charli Mills

      Keep playing ball, Pete! I think the basketball court is symbolic of that idea of common ground. When we come together on the court we are sharing a common experience and what makes us different becomes superficial to the game at hand. I’m so glad to see your inspiration growing into longer stories! I’m intrigued by how you also manage to reduce it to the nugget of the constraint. Incredible story and flash, both.

    • Annecdotist

      This is a great flash, Sarrah, and a topic I’m also extremely interested in. I had a look around your blog and wanted to leave a comment on your about page but it disappeared – is that part of the “let’s check this person out first” process or is it not taking comments right now?

      • Sarrah J. Woods

        Thanks, Anne! But I can’t figure out what you mean about my “About” page…it shows up for me, and there’s a comment box at the bottom—? Would you mind to check again? If there’s a problem with it, I definitely want to try to fix it!

      • Charli Mills

        I don’t mind at all, Anne! Your reviews are always enriching and I know the relevancy broadens the discussion and thinking.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s such an important theme and something to support, especially among writers exploring our own unique voices. Thank you for a powerful BOTS flash this week!

  7. paulamoyer

    Thanks, Charli! Here’s mine:

    Choosing a Different Path

    By Paula Moyer

    1974

    Jean knew she didn’t fit in at Fort Sill. 22 years old, 3rd in her college class. Typing was just a summer job before graduate school.

    The other secretaries in her unit had a special giggle in their voices for captains. The flirt in the giggle increased with the rank. Jean treated them all the same and didn’t giggle at all.

    One afternoon Jean heard them.

    “She’s strange,” Susie whispered.

    “She’s not like us,” Sherry responded.

    Her last day a private came over to thank her. “You don’t kiss up to the officers,” he beamed. “You’re our hero.”

    • Charli Mills

      Great insight to the workings of a cultural clique. I love this line, “The flirt in the giggle increased with the rank.” Heroes often are the strange ones!

  8. writersdream9

    You have struck a deep chord within me, Charli! The flourishing of diversity is one of my favorite themes and topics! I enjoyed your story too. I am off to write! Thank you.

  9. Sarah Brentyn

    I ?? this. “we do not discuss our differences. Instead we express and create.” We are a diverse group of writers who meet every week to create (and then share) stories.

    • Charli Mills

      And Sarah, I can’t thank you enough for rounding up the diversity here in such a meaningful way. Thank you for seeing its worth! <3

      • Charli Mills

        Wow! That’s a great story, Sarah. So happy to see you writing! Today you get to be a Writer! 😀

    • denmaniacs4

      Excellent, Larry. Just plain excellent.

    • Annecdotist

      Well said, Larry, and reminds me of my interactions with a man on one of my regular walks. Nothing obviously diverse about him, or me, except that he always avoided eye contact even though he must have recognised me and seen me many times. I might be completely wrong, but I decided he was shy and I’d make an effort, first smiling when we passed each other. What an achievement when we got as far as him returning my “good morning” however now I am respecting his quietness (and my own) and won’t try to go any deeper into a friendship – is more about acknowledging a fellow human being.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Larry! And thanks for showing a us a story of simple and authentic kindness. Leave it to Ed. 🙂

  10. A. E. Robson

    So often, we assume that people are who they are not. For some, it is important to let their identity fly under the radar. In some instances it makes good sense to not flaunt who you really are.

    Assume Nothing
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    Callused hands. Shirt tail hanging out of jeans. One pant leg resting precariously on the edge of his cowboy boot. The other settled at the top of his foot.

    She had seen this type before. Cowboys looking for a loan and no collateral to make payments other than a hand shake and a promise.

    She closed the door.

    “Take a seat. What is you want our bank to do for you?”

    “Transfer my accounts here.”

    He handed her his bank statement.

    She looked up, unable to immediately speak.

    So many zeros!
    “Of course sir. I’ll look after this myself. ”

    http://www.annedallrobson.com/99-words/assume-nothing

    • ruchira

      So well said in just these few words. Appearance alas! is accountable in many ways 🙁

      Loved your take 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Great description of a cowboy. I bet he left smiling, knowing all the well what that banker had been thinking! But this is so true — you can’t assume to know someone (or their numbers) by their clothes.

    • julespaige

      I can’t remember which the whole story however there was an elder couple, unpretentious – who went to a few universities to leave and endowment and… were looked down upon several times before being accepted.

      • Charli Mills

        Hopefully they left their endowment to a smarter university!

      • julespaige

        🙂

  11. ruchira

    I absolutely love your topic and am so proud that you are going places with regards to your writing and coaching, Charli.
    I am a big fan of diversity and thus love this country 🙂

    Attached is my take on this…

    http://abracabadra.blogspot.com/2016/02/a-mom.html

    • Charli Mills

      Diversity can enrich us all! Thank you, Ruchira! And I was so excited to receive your book in the mail over the weekend. The cove is gorgeous, and I already know what a great story exists in between. 🙂

  12. roweeee

    Thinking about cultural diversity, I started thinking about how many of us are a diversity of cultures ourselves, akll joined together in one body. Interesting thought. My flash looks at an Australian Aboringal woman looking at her diverse features in the mirror:
    https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/diversity-flash-fiction/
    xx Rowena

    • Charli Mills

      That is an interesting thought, Rowena! Being a history nut and watching genealogy shows, I like how individuals find out the cultural make up within their ancestry and how in ways it defines who they are. What a great take on the prompt!

      • roweeee

        Thank you very much, Charli. What particularly intrigues me is people with genetics from conflicting countries. I had an Irish ancestor who survived the Irish famine but was sent out as a famine orphan to Australia and married an Englishman. Not uncommon.

      • Charli Mills

        Many Native American Tribes have the same conflicting ancestry, and I know others who feel strongly against one culture only to find out they had ancestors from it.

  13. Lisa Reiter

    Galloping in late with another train to catch. I’ve covered diversity of viewpoint – possibly! Not quite met the brief but out of time.

    I apologise everyone for failing to do the rounds this week 🙁

    Here it is – “Something Other” http://wp.me/p45xAV-zU

    • Sherri

      Hi Lisa, I’ve missed your recent posts but I will be there this week to catch up. I didn’t post until today, first time in 2 weeks. Looking forward to reading you 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      There’s much galloping going on this week, Lisa! A good topic to include under the prompt. I’m going to trot your way now. 🙂

      • Lisa Reiter

        Galloping, rushing.. Is that a prompt I hear?!

      • Charli Mills

        Hee, hee…yes, that’s a prompt you hear! Stay in the saddle, it’ll be galloping in soon!

  14. Norah

    Hi Charli,
    I’m dropping by with mine. http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-FA Will drop by to read other contributions another time. I’m looking forward to seeing what this week brings. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I think the tooth fairy is going to deliver shiny new stories this week! 😉

  15. julespaige

    Charli,
    Odd where we can make our friends. I like that the two woman actually get along.
    My piece:

    Jesse’s Jurisprudence

    Jesse raised her own children with respect for those who
    were different in race, creed or mental agility. Her own family’s
    limited vision caused friction. Jesse lived in the minority. Not
    getting encouragement from parents or siblings; especially
    when she chose a different faith than the majority of them.
    After all their policies were the one and only right way.

    When Jesse expressed opinions, writing words, sometimes
    those sentences made her family weep – they couldn’t stomach
    that. Contact was made only when they wanted something.
    She got tired of bending for them. She eventually encouraged
    distance; letting them go.

    ©JP/dh

    jurisprudence: noun: 2. a body or system of laws.

    Link to the post:
    Jesse’s Jurisprudence

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, like your flash often we can get along “in the minority” and find a wealth of friendships beyond family constraints.

    • julespaige

      I really liked this. I have to believe in hope – for everyone.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for adding your offering!

  16. Sherri

    Hi Charli! Well, it’s not far off midnight here and I was determined to get a flash done. I didn’t read your post until just now. Did things a bit differently this week, sharing my flash from last week in my post… And then, I was blown away when I read your post. Love this for so many reasons. Your flash too…reminds me of my mother in law who didn’t like cooking yet was so nurturing in other ways. I’m liking Cobb more and more. Is that weird? I wish I could throw my arms around you right now and give you such a big hug. Tears…thank you <3

    Mother’s Gold

    All she ever wanted was to be like her brothers. No dresses, no pretty, shiny clips in her hair.

    She wanted to fix things and roll up her sleeves and get dirty in the mud without her father chastising her for not ‘acting like a girl.’

    Years later, one cold day, she snapped. Sick to her stomach, terrified of being thrown out, she handed a letter to her mother.

    After the tears, her mother whispered, “I love you…”

    Now the girl could be the boy he was born to be and he wailed with relief in his mother’s arms.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m so touched by your flash and have thoughts racing through my mind. One I’m trying to catch is how a mother’s gold is spent or withheld from her children. As portrayed in your flash, this is almost a born again moment. I think of many who deny their children out of fear and yet this mother freely offers her gold. What a gift. Truly, what a gift. Beautifully expressed! And I think I’ve been on midnight paths too! <3

      • Sherri

        Thank you so much Charli…so beautiful and so close to my heart… <3 As for that midnight oil, it's burning in both our homes at the moment I think!

    • julespaige

      Truly inspired. Golden relief – so much more than some of us ever got…especially after offering up our words. We just had to …let go.

      • Sherri

        And in the letting go we breathe…thank you so much Jules…

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