Murderous Musings:

When Good Folk Turn Bad At The Rodeo

By Sherri Matthews

Saddle up, tighten your reins and pull on your riding boots. And while you’re about it, watch your back, because wicked wranglings are afoot at the Rodeo. Western or English? Doesn’t matter. Thrown off a few times? Never mind. Devious, deadly or just plain dangerous, it’s time for some murderous musings.

Long fascinated with the dark side of the human heart, I read a lot of True Crime. Not for the gory details, neither for the whodunit: I want to understand the why.

As a memoir writer, I need to explore the true motives driving the story. I wonder how many of us ask ourselves, if truly honest, what might we be capable of if pushed too far? What would be our not so perfect storm?

But it never occurred to me that I could explore this through fiction. This memoir writer doesn’t write fiction, of any kind.  I can’t; I shan’t; and I won’t. But Charli Mills had other ideas. “Oh yes you can,” she said with a knowing look in her eyes. We’ve never physically met, but I’d know that look anywhere.

So I gave it a go, playing it safe at first with a touch of fiction based on a true story – a BOTS, I came to learn. Bashing out 300 plus words was the easy part; telling the same story in 99 was not.

But with practice it got easier and soon I was hooked.  And then the unthinkable happened: characters appeared from nowhere with ideas of their own and there I was, writing flash actual fiction.

Today, I continue to relish the delicious freedom I get from writing these bite-sized bursts. Coming up for air from my memoir, my fictional characters lead me away from the confines of memoir’s truth, allowing me to freely explore their world of darkest revenge, immorality and twisted justice.

This, I now understand, is why most of my flashes contain murderous undertones. What better way to blow off writing steam? I can’t remember what I was dealing with in my memoir when I wrote ‘Homemade Cider’, but I have told my husband he has no need to worry:

Homemade Cider by Sherri Matthews

They had shared their hopes and fears; heck, they had even shared husbands.  Now, as the two elderly women sat on the porch swing, a faded, hand-made quilt stretched across their bony knees, they said nothing. Only the crickets strummed their twilight song.

“I wish I had known,” sighed Mave at long last, shifting beneath the quilt.

Ellen rubbed her eyes and yawned.

“I didn’t want you to worry.”

“But you needed my help…”

“You were busy.  Anyway, Bob helped me bury him under the apple tree.”

Mave grinned. “Well at least he’ll make great compost…nothing beats homemade cider.”

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I asked Charli to share her flash fiction process and how it’s helped her explore the ‘why’ in the murder of Wild Bill Hickok, the subject of her work in progress historical fiction novel Rock Creek:

‘London historian and biographer of Wild Bill Hickok, Joseph Rosa, claimed that the Rock Creek incident of 1861 remains among the most debated gunfights in the American West. At the heart of the debate are two questions writers often ponder — who is the villain and why?

My family handed me a myth growing up. The story goes that the first man Wild Bill Hickok ever shot was my third great-grandmother’s brother; my Uncle Cobb McCanles. Talk to any Hatley, Green, Paullus or McCandless and they’ll curse the villainy of Hickok, tearing the man down as a coward, shorter than history makes of him.

Talk to the descendants of Hickok and they’ll tell you what a fine and upright man Bill was. It’s understandable for families to cheer for their own kin and clearly see the murderous intent in the other. But add historians to the mix and you get more myth and romanticism. Hickok, one historian from Kansas wrote, was a chivalrous knight. A Nebraskan historian responded that Cobb McCanless was a family man cut down in front of his 10-year old son.

No one can definitely answer why. Why did these men clash in a deadly way?

Flash fiction became instrumental to my historical investigations. Writing tight snippets, I considered what it was like before and after Cobb’s untimely murder. These flash fictions became a way for me to explore emotion, reaction, pain and consider who was truly the villain. You’d be surprised by who has murder in mind, and readers like surprises. It’s all in the ‘why’.

The Day After by Charli Mills

“I’m not ready for this.” Sarah had spent the long night alone at the sod house, scrubbing congealed blood from her hair. The stained dress she burned in the woodstove. Several Pony Express riders came by to convince her leave on the morning stage to Denver. Hickok was not one of them.

Leroy settled a trunk with her belongings in the back of the buckboard. “It’s best you come with me, Sarah. Emotions are running hot.”

“Cobb?”

“He’s dead.”

“I know. But…a funeral?”

“He’s already in the ground.”

Sarah’s scalp itched. Triggers pulled in haste left no mourning time.

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Now to the contest! Write a flash fiction in 109 words, no more, no less and weave a murderous vibe through an every-day setting, either in thought or deed.

Submission Guidelines:

  1. Submit your entry using the Contact Form below.
  2. 109 words, no more, no less, will be counted exactly. Title excluded.
  3. Weave a murderous vibe through an every-day setting, either in thought or deed.
  4. Add your name and email address, but please note, judging will be blind.
  5. Deadline for submission is 11:59 EST Tuesday, 31 October. Any entries received after this date will be disqualified.

CONTEST NOW CLOSED. WINNER ANNOUNCED DECEMBER 19.

CHALLENGE OPTION: If you don’t feel up to entering a contest, please feel free to respond to this in the comments as a prompt challenge. Weekly Flash Fiction Challenges resume November 2.

Judging

Go where the flow takes you, with bonus points for a twist that shocks the judges:

Mike Matthews, sound-boarder, proof-reader and husband extraordinaire; Hugh Roberts, friend, author and blogger with a deliciously dark flair for short stories; and me, Sherri Matthews.

We can’t wait to read your entries.  Have fun but don’t forget to watch your back: you never know who might be lurking in the shadows at the Rodeo.

NB: As providence would have it, I am in the throes of our house move this week. Huge apologies for my lateness in replying to comments, but I will return before the 31 October deadline.  Many thanks to Charli and Hugh for holding down the fort in the meantime.  

Next up: The Ultimate Flash Fiction (TUFF) by Charli Mills on Tuesday, October 31.

Announcement of Winner

Winner will be announced at Summerhouse and  Carrot Ranch on December 19.

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