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September 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

Tendril by tendril the plants pull themselves sun-ward. Leaves bob on light currents of air, hiding fragile white blossoms. The plants thicken to the point of hiding the slender iron trellis they cling to. They’ve grown so equally green, I can’t distinguish one plant from another. Nor can I tell when the white blossoms have fruited. This is not a patch of raspberries or sun-gold tomatoes. I await a harvest of peas.

The late summer day when the plants drooped, pulling the trellis out of alignment, I knew. I recognized the heaviness of harvest.Ever since that transition from growing, climbing green to drooping, gifting green I have haunted the pea patch. It’s not easy to spot the first pea, but once you train your eye to see, you see the full magnitude of pea harvest glory. It’s a bit like practicing flash fiction.

When I first began writing various short forms, I did so because it sparked my creativity. After that, I began requiring my team to write a specific creative form of 25 words before our meetings. We didn’t have time to linger over creative writing so most meeting days, I announced to the department that we would meet at the Round Table in ten minutes. I reminded each person to bring their project updates, meeting agenda and their cinquain. Often, team members scribbled their 25 words in the final five minutes of preparation.

As a prompt, a flash fiction of 99 words doesn’t take long to write. When I was leading Wrangling Words at the Bonner County Library, I gave participants five minutes to write. Many wrote several hundred words! The first time I gave the prompt it was 10 minutes and the stories were much longer than I anticipated for our group activity. So I know it’s possible to write 99 words in five minutes. Is it ideal for those who gather here? Perhaps not.

But what does flash fiction have to do with spotting a hidden pea harvest?

Draw the similarity between learning to spot green peas and learning to write tight prose. I view it as training. When I first spot a hanging pea pod, suddenly I see more. My brain understands the cue. When you practice flash fiction, you train your brain to tell a story in 99 words. You might still write 200 and cut, or only write 70 and add, but your brain gets better at recognizing its target.

I used to joke that writing creative constrains was magic because my marketing team responded by solving project problems with improved innovation. But I know science supports the power of constraints in forcing the brain to go into problem-solving mode. Thus two factors occur when we regularly write flash fiction — our brains think more creatively quicker and we train our brains to adapt to a pattern.

If you are concerned that you’ll pick up the 99-word pattern, fear not. It isn’t as if you can only write in that mode, it’s more like you can use that mode to solve clarity or literary issues with other forms of writing. I’ve marveled over our writers who add in verse, and now I realize that as poets they have other forms their brains use. These patterns are of benefit to a writer and it legitimizes writing short forms as a tool.

Of course, if you are like me in a pea patch, you probably care more about the pleasure the taste of fresh pea pods bring over the idea that you trained your brain to find what is easily hidden. You might enjoy the challenge of word-smithing among others, the fun of creating stories and reading what others create, and the weekly activity. And that’s good! I’m not in the pea patch munching on pods because I read that peas are high in magnesium. I simply like peas. And the fun I have, knowing I get to them before others in my household!

Ah, the competitive nature. It’s not that strong in me unless I know everyone is having a good time. That’s why I want you all to have a great pea-picking time at the upcoming Rodeo. It is a contest and it will bring out the competitiveness in some, the intimidation or perfection in others. Let’s admit that’s all possible. We’ll likely have many writers show up whom we’ve not met before or who aren’t interested in hanging out by the campfire. So let me be clear about goals.

Number one: Carrot Ranch is a fun and welcoming place to practice literary art. Don’t be put off by the word “practice.” In no way do I want to demean anyone’s writing as scribbles of art. When I say practice, I mean it according to my personal philosophy that literary art is something writers master over a lifetime. How do you know you’ve mastered it? You’re dead. Shakespeare mastered all he was capable of mastering by the day he died. It’s not about comparing our work to others. It’s about never stopping to push into what we can create with words. The process is the hallmark of a literary artist, not the finished product. Therefore, let’s have fun while we figure out what is possible with words and how to sharpen our stories. The Rodeo is intended to bring you something different and exciting from our weekly writing.

Number two: Carrot Ranch wants individuals within the community to succeed. Those who regularly gather and are willing to do collaborative projects like the anthologies are part of a smaller group that helps spur on the Ranch. They are the Rough Writers. In return, they get expanded visibility for their own writing. Those who gather for fun, who share our posts and read regularly are the Friends. It’s up to writers to decide. Either way, there are no obligations. However, Carrot Ranch is a place where writers can step out of their comfort zones. A contest is an example. If it becomes achievable here, it can become achievable elsewhere. Success is what you interpret it to be, and the Ranch believes in the value of literary art and your contribution to it.

Number three: Carrot Ranch is growing and we want to celebrate. The growth comes in more ways to support access to literary art — the creation of anthologies, public readings of flash fiction, free adult education classes that use flash fiction as a tool to build a local literary community, inspiring retreats, and innovative workshops. We will be launching our first The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol. 1 late in November with pre-sales in October. A Rodeo is one way to generate excitement about what we do at Carrot Ranch.

Enjoy the Rodeo, use the contests to try different prompts and don’t let intimidation hold you back. Every writer feels doubt. Don’t let it stop you from the joy of what it is to create literary art. Join in, saddle up and write! Remember, the Rodeo replaces the weekly prompt with two weekly contests Oct. 5-31. Stop by the Ranch for a progressive kick-off party on Tuesday, Oct. 3. You might win a random drawing prize so leave a comment on the Oct. 3 blog post. CR FB page will have drawings and live readings from Vol. 1.

Last call for Rough Writers for the next anthology: the one criteria is willingness to participate. We use material from the compilations to build upon, and some of our writers create new work. If you’ve been writing here weekly (even occasionally) send me a quick note. Find out if it’s something you want to pursue. I’ll introduce new Rough Writers at the Rodeo Fest (kick-off party on Oct. 3).

One last note: I’m not perfect. Seriously, it’s worth saying! We all make mistakes and I tend to bring in a bumper crop. So, I fudged my hastags. I’m not a hashtag genius to begin with and I forgot that I had created #FFRODEO for the Rodeo — Flash Fiction Rodeo. When I created the Rodeo Fest promotion I inadvertently created a second hashtag of #CRRODEO as in Carrot Ranch Rodeo. Better editors than my Inner Editor, pointed out the blunder, but by then both hashtags had been shared widely. I’m a flash fiction writer, so having trained my brain for solutions I will simply use #CRRODEO on October 3 for the Rodeo Fest and pretend that’s what I meant.

Be sure to follow along the Rodeo on Twitter at #FFRODEO. May it bring you all a bumper crop of fun!

And if you missed the post on Tuesday, check out the new Flash Fiction page at Carrot Ranch. It includes recipes for preparing flash fiction and introduces something I’ve been working on for a while — The Ultimate Flash Fiction (TUFF), which is a challenge, the final contest in the Rodeo, and the foundation for a new workshop I’ve developed using flash fiction as a tool to teach an integrative writing/editing approach to book revision.

Thank you for your patience as the sawdust clears on all these new barns and events at the Ranch! I’m a week behind on compilations, but whipping and spurring to get caught up in the next few days. I’ll let you know as new pages go up, too! This is the final prompt until weeklies resume November 2. I’m delighted to have you all here!

September 21, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest. You can use the phrase or show what it means without using the words. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 26, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published September 27). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Harvests Aren’t Gathered for All (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Sarah gobbled picked peas from her gnarled hands.

“Get out of there!”

Sarah blushed, gathered threadbare skirts and fled fast as a 91-year-old could muster. She held her head despite the curvature of her back and walked past the angry gardener as if she were on a Sunday stroll. In fact, Sarah realized, it was Sunday.

“You stay out you tramp!”

So much for Christian charity, she thought. Wandering without a destination she passed other gardens in full harvest. At the end of the street named after her father in the town bearing her surname, Sarah turned away, hungry.



  1. Frank Hubeny says:

    Nice story about Sarah.

  2. C. Jai Ferry says:

    You are an amazing and inspiring woman. Your harvests are awesome!!!

  3. Bullshift Kid

    “Dang straight.”
    “Shorty heard you were back.”
    “Shorty herds words. Course I’m back. Wouldn’t miss the rodeo for nuthin’.”
    Well, come on. Let’s saddle up, Kid, do some ropin’ an’ wranglin’.”
    “Cain’t. Busy.”
    “But I got too much to do now I’m back. I gotta corral the bulls and check the chute for the Buckin’ Bull Go-Roun’.”
    “Aw, come on, Kid, that’s a ways away.”
    “An’ I gotta help harvest carrots, make sure theys harvested for the rodeo crowd. You go on without me.”
    “Nah. Reckon I’ll have ta look after you.”
    “Write on, Pal, write on.”


    Well Maybe

    “You enterin’ any a the contests, Kid?”
    “Nope, gonna jest enjoy the spectacle.”
    “But ain’tcha jest itchin’ to git in the saddle?”
    “Well, yeah. But I done told you, I’m busy. Jest gonna watch.”
    “You know Kid, seems like yer pretty good about doin’ what ya say you’ll do. But it also seems like ya ain’t very good about not doin’ what ya say ya ain’t gonna do.”
    “Ain’t ridin’ this one.”
    “Uh huh. Then let’s go harvest us a drink.”
    “Ain’t drinkin’.”
    “Uh huh.”
    “Well, maybe jest one.”
    “Jest one, Kid, while we check out the rodeo events.”

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s always starts with just one…just one drink…just one bull…just one flash! Can’t wait to see the bulls you’ve corralled for the Rodeo, D.!

    • julespaige says:

      Some of them Rodeo events just dang scare my breeches off…
      OK that ain’t a purty sight. But Heck – I agreed to host one of ’em.
      Some I just ain’t prepared for – Ain’t harvestin’ stuff that’s too complex or on Social Media. Some ole dogs just can’t do new tricks no more.

    • Norah says:

      These are great. Sounds like the Bullshi*t Kid has got the bull by the – horns? (I didn’t see the ‘f’ when I read it first. I thought “What the _? The Kids gone dang crazy”. I wonder if you’ll be able to sit on your pencil for the contests. Surely you won’t have that much to do until your contest goes live. I’m not sure if I’ll enter or not, and not sure how I’ll go with some of the “Live” sessions with the time difference. It might be tough keeping up with it all. Just as well my prompt goes first – gives more time for roping and judging. Whatever you decide to do, it sure feels good to have you around.

  4. A lovely piece of flash fiction, Charli, but so sad! It all sounds very exciting and I would love to write for the anthology. I have undertaken a local exercise of this nature and it will be my first one. I am learning a lot from it.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you, Robbie. Sarah’s life calls me to use the magnifying glass of flash fiction to consider all she endured. As a Rough Writer, you’ll certainly have the opportunity to be part of the process for Vol. 2. I am learning a lot, too!

  5. […] Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch […]

  6. […] September 21: Flash Fiction Challenge September 21, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest. You can use the phrase or show what it means without using the words. Go where the prompt leads. […]

  7. julespaige says:

    Charli and Community –

    I’ve got a little visitor today – but I managed to get this written and posted.
    I’ll be back to glean the fields here later… enjoy:

    Harvesting Humor

    They know what hard work is. Though for them work is life,
    That isn’t really that hard. They might bend some of their
    own rules for the ‘English’ – but generally they are a very
    peaceful people. One business, one of many of buggy rides
    for the tourists – the Amish driver of the team, explained that
    most of what this group was seeing, the feed corn and alfalfa
    would be harvested for the animals.

    A bit of humor was harvested this trip. The team of draft
    horses had the same name of a couple visiting from England.
    Dick and Debbie.


    Note: This is not a BoTS this is more Memoir…. Since it actually happened this month! 🙂 Our driver said in all his years giving tours this was the first time this had ever happened for him!

  8. denmaniacs4 says:

    Last Harvest

    When she saw the wasps come, when they swarmed the orchard, she knew she had, once again, failed to gather the golden plums.

    He had been her gleaner, ever ready with a basket, his wobbly wooden ladder that he kept under the porch, the strain of the short walk along the slight incline of the path that had always been there, three generations old, and the climb, the climb, and that sudden deadly fall two years ago, crashing to the earth, resting there amongst the dropped plums, the waiting wasps.

    She missed him so.

    And those lovely golden plums.

  9. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (09/21/2017): In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest. You can use the phrase or show what it means without using the words. Go where the prompt leads. […]

  10. Okay, this happened because I was searching for the right term for harvesting peas… :-O

    Kaiju Harvest

    Godzilla and King Kong sat at the edge of the airfield, munching happily in the sunshine. Fighting was hard work, and they were grateful the film crew had broken for the day.

    Kong brushed at a hawk circling his head, “I know that we shuck corn.” Turning the slender capsule in his hands, he licked its bottom.

    Godzilla grabbed another capsule and snapped off its wings. “And we snap beans.” He bit the end, and pried it open.

    “So what are we doing here?”

    “I believe it’s like shelling peas.” He deftly scooped out screaming people with one claw.

  11. WaltPage says:

    Please delete this comment 🙁

  12. Pete says:

    Tina in HR is about to fire us both for unethical behavior when Kurt lolls back his head and sobs. It works, his bit about how since Sue left him he’s an empty vessel—the man says empty vessel—until Tina relents.

    Kurt keeps sniffling until the elevator, where we start our descent. Then he brags about how he said, “empty vessel” three times without a crack.

    But I’m done. With Kurt. With pranks and games. The bar. Harvesting nighttime hops and barley for a Friday morning hangover. Maybe Kurt is an empty vessel.

    Damn, Maybe I am too.

  13. Alexis Donkin says:

    Harvest was my word for 2017 so I had to FINALLY jump in.


    Wandering through tall grass, my hands brush the tips. The breeze blows through my hair. In the distance children laugh, playing as adults prepare to celebrate.

    The wheat is cut and gathered. The berries picked. Lambs are slaughtered – a wether roasting on the spit.

    I mosey to the long table, groaning under its abundant spread. I stop across from the single full seat.

    “It’s not what you expected, is it?” he asks quietly.

    Blinking, I sit down across from him. In that moment, I see the trees fade, overtaken by white sage and saltbush.

    “No. It’s not. It’s better.”

    Thanks for doing this. It was a joy to write. 😀

  14. […] Carrot Ranch; September 21, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest. You can use the […]

  15. Harvest Tours

    “At Harvest Farms, we believe in recycling and reusing, and we compost year round.”
    He appraised the gaits of the elderly tour group as they went ahead into the facility. There were sure to be titanium joints, probably pacemakers, definitely hearing aids. The door closed.
    The next tour, a busload of young recidivists, would be harder. It always was but even without the hardware, it’s where the profits were. Their organs and tissues brought twice the price as those of these old people.
    After work he drank heavily, with the full knowledge that he was devaluing his own liver.

  16. Saving all my stories for the #CRRODEO. Now im really extra-cidered.. =] Bday party. Football. Family. Green River. WOTF. Heres what i got this week for the Ranch.

    GO BLUE. God Bless

    Give us Harvest by Elliott

    Give us the body. The one with palms read. Stigamta. Stalactites. Give us souls the holy trophy. We are under a tree writing the victory while the rest are still racing. Well, then give us hearth and home. At least. And we’ll continue our story of angst and feast. What was buried in the forests? Underneath our skins? Give us blood. What cures the itch of black plague? Sun shines low and north winds return us, lumineers, in knee high socks because they give to us – harvest. We manifest as artists and the new renaissance. We eat. We dance.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Elliott! I feel like I misnamed the hobbits. I want you party (extra-cidered!) with #CRRODEO and flash all October with #FFRODEO. It all would have been much simpler if I had stuck to one hashtag, but alas, my wandering (not lost) mind!

      Whoa! What a harvest party! It’s poignant and delicious all at once, like the labor and fruits of life. Beautiful writing.

    • Oh, this sounds poetic. Love it.

    • jeanne229 says:

      Powerful flash Elliot, one that poetically delivers its truth not line by line but in the sum of all its parts. The religious symbolism, the echoes of fantasy and myth: it’s achingly beautiful. And my god, “lumineers”–what a beautiful and perfect word. Reading your work is like receiving images and information on a different wavelength. I bow before you.

      • Please rise my friend. Lol. So I can bow to your comment. =] thank you so much. And i love the Lumineers, but failed to realize it is not an actual word. Its just the name of a band; or dental whiteners… but it felt right. Im definitely on a dufferent frequency Jeanne. But you just made my day. I appreciate you taking a moment for such a deep reflection.

  17. Poor Sarah. My heart aches for her.

    Here’s mine. It offers traditional and esoteric harvests.

    Gentle Harvest
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    Death walked the hospital halls like shadow until she found Jane’s glowing soul. She listened to her life whispered in rattles and gasps before Death assumed a comforting form. For this soul, she became Jane’s beloved Grandmother. She stroked the patient’s sweaty hair from her forehead until her twitching calmed. Her voice reverberated with love. “Jane?” The patient’s eyelids fluttered. Pain and fever stole vision. Death hummed a childhood song, one Jane had sung with her Grandmother when they had brought in crops and sipped iced tea after. By holding hands, Death made her harvest and guided Jane home.

  18. […] This week Charli Mills over at Carrot Ranch Literary Community has given us the topic of harvest for the 99-word challenge. You can join in the fun here: […]

  19. I managed to find my sense of humour again this week, Charli. Harvest is a great topic.

  20. […] I’ve written this story for the Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot […]

  21. […] Here’s my story for Charli’s Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot […]

  22. […] September 21: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  23. cadencerage says:

    Hi! I’ve just ‘discovered’ your website, and I must say I’m loving the sense of community here.

    Here’s my piece:

    Please forgive the unconventional approach, this is just how my brain works. Thanks for the great prompt!

  24. Stephen Marsh says:

    Love the story about Sarah. Touching.

  25. […] This is my first participation in the ‘Flash Fiction Challenge’ from the Carrot Ranch  […]

  26. Solveig says:

    Today, or last night I decided that it’s now or never. So I wrote this little story just now 🙂

  27. Chris Mills says:

    Ripe for the Harvest

    Charli, sorry about what I’ve done to your prompt, but my muse stopped by, and I made the mistake of letting him in.

  28. […] week at Carrot Ranch Literary Community, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about what it is to […]

  29. Deborah Lee says:

    My heart breaks for Sarah. It takes a village, but villages don’t always take care of their own.

    But the peas! It takes me back to being a kid, when I was supposed to be weeding the garden. My dad would catch me sitting between the rows, munching on raw peas. He’d start to get mad, but would always sit down and join me.

  30. rogershipp says:

    Providence Is in My Hands

    Slowly and steadily Steven maneuvered the one-wheeled cultivator through the freshly tilled earth. After each carefully calculated pass, he methodically removed every stone and pebble the tines had exposed. For this year’s harvest there could be no impediments.

    Picking up the malodorous bucket and his father’s haversack from the top of the preceding row, Steven continued to mimic the planting ritual he had seen his father do in years’ past.

    Systematically pacing off ten-foot increments, Steven knelt, laid the head of a sun perch, and encircled it with the three sisters.

    As new head-of-family, providence was his to command.

  31. Norah says:

    Hi Charli, I’d love to be in that patch of peas with you and Sarah, shelling and eating to our hearts’ (and bellies’) content. Actually, I guess I am in a way, reaping the rewards of belonging to the Carrot Ranch Literary Community and engaging in weekly flash fiction practice. There’s a lot going on at the Ranch. You are sowing some pretty fine seeds that will grow into amazing things. I am very happy to be a part of it, though I have to admit things are a bit hectic for me at the moment and I’m miles behind in my reading and commenting. I am looking forward to the contests which begin next week and am pleased to be leading the troupe into the ring. What fun! So much to look forward to. Thank you for the wonderful support you offer to we writers, and congratulations on seeing your efforts begin to bear fruit. Well done!

  32. A. E. Robson says:

    The prompt, write about what it is to gather a harvest, immediately took me to the place that I am passionate about, writing about and sharing – our western heritage, the farmers, and the ranchers.

    But alas, 99 words were just not enough for me to work with. The result was many more words; however, 99 of them became very important.

    The Farmer, The Rancher
    by Ann Edall-Robson

    “The outsider sees it as a glamorous life until they take the time to do some digging and find out we spend most days racing Mother Nature. Sometimes it’s to get the crops planted and sometimes it’s to get them harvested. Calving doesn’t wait for sunny days and neither does fall round up when an early snow can blizzard its way across the range. We are not immune to floods, wildfires, and droughts, so why do we do this ritual year after year? It’s simple, it’s what we do. It’s part of us. It’s our life. It’s our livelihood.”

  33. Annecdotist says:

    Interesting musings about harvesting, Charli. I so agree that our brains quickly develop a template for the crop – so much so that, after I’ve been reading all harvesting, it’s hard to resist taking that frame of mind onto other people’s land. So I really feel for Sarah in your flash. So cruel her neighbours will let her go hungry and they have food to spare.
    I hope I don’t miss the rodeo next week but I’m assuming that your October 3rd will be 4th here – which easily confuses me!
    My brain having settled into composing the weekly 99-word story, I hope it will adapt. Here’s the link to the latest:
    Two novels and a memoir about caring for babies

  34. […] Charli Mills’s 99-word Flash Fiction challenge with the theme of ‘Harvest.’ Click here for full […]

  35. […] hope you enjoyed my take on this week’s flash fiction challenge over at Carrot Ranch: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest. You can use the […]

  36. I’m glad you RT’d my tweet about this because I almost forgot!

  37. […] Response to Carrot Ranch’s September 21 Flash Fiction Challenge: Gather a Harvest […]

    • Wonderful Flash here. I was thinking this is amazing how choice/select words can ‘fill in’ the unwritten details. I have a perfect sense of the service and the gathering. This ‘old matriarch’ must have impacted many.

  38. […] September 21: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

  39. I’ve done it! Just have to remember how to ping back correctly, otherwise,

    I can’t believe how much the Ranch has grown, wow Charli. My heart swells for you xo

  40. […] The words resonate with me at any time, but especially this week when writing my response to the flash fiction prompt at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community. Charli Mills challenges writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest. […]

  41. Looking forward to the party Charli and all the other planned events. Normally I would say I was going to miss the weekly prompts but with two competitions each week I don’t think there will be time.
    Lovely to see Sarah again and still being treated abysmally. Lets hope we can all share the harvest easier than she could. I have just planted out a veggie garden and looking forward to my first harvest in my new home in 8 – 10 weeks. My flash harvest this week

  42. […] post submitted to the September 21 Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch […]

  43. I love this week’s prompt, Charli. Here’s my offering…

  44. […] wrote this in response to Charli Mills’ September 21, 2017 Flash Fiction Challenge. In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest. You can use […]

  45. Kate says:

    I’m huffing and puffing tonight, rushing and late in getting this story out. This is what happens when we spend the weekend celebrating my husband’s birthday. Back in the early 20th century, Nora Bays and Jack Norworth wrote a song ‘Shine on, shine on harvest moon,’ that was all about romance. And that is where my mind jumped this week’s prompt.

  46. […] meant to write about a harvest, which was my prompt from Carrot Ranch. Unfortunately, I got side-tracked. When I think harvest, the first thing that comes to mind is the […]

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