The Rodeo has ended, although writers have until 11:59 pm EST November 6 to complete TUFF: The Ultimate Flash Fiction Contest #8. All other flash fiction writing contests have closed and now the hard work of the judges begins. You can check in at each contest you entered to see when winners are announced at Carrot Ranch and across other platforms.

Our regular weekly 99-word flash fiction challenges resume November 2. If you discovered the joy of writing flash fiction, I hope you join us weekly. Our Rough Writers will be publishing an anthology soon, pending final printer proofs. And we begin a second anthology in January.

Good thing we all have our creative juices flowing!

The creativity leaders and participants demonstrated throughout the Flash Fiction Rodeo was invigorating! Which brings us to another kind of challenge: November means NaNoWriMo. Just what is National Novel Writing Month? Organizers describe it as:

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.

If you are not familiar with the process, it’s easy to sign up and explore. Go to How It Works. If you are on the site and a participant this year, tell me how I can connect with you on NaNoWriMo’s website. You’ll find me listed as “Charli Mills.” Whether or not you have a novel in the works, now is a good time to put your creative energy to use. Keep writing!

This year, I’m a self-declared NaNo Rebel, which is why I’m calling the 2017 event a rebellion. According to the rules, I’m a rule-breaker. And that’s cool (I even get a badge with sun-glasses that makes my NaNoWriMo dashboard look hip). As a NaNo Rebel, “You believe rules are meant to be broken. On November 1, you’ll start writing anything but a brand new novel.”

That’s exactly what I’m doing this November — I’m not working on anything brand new. It’s time for me to arrange all the new material I wrote for Miracle of Ducks this past year, relocating the setting from Wisconsin to Idaho, and giving my protagonist new hardships. My two goals are to revise at least 2,000 words a day and to take four hours once a week to focus on editing sections. Overall, I want to have a complete final draft for beta readers by December 30.

Using Canva, a layout design program, I whipped up a mock cover and posted my synopsis, which in all honesty needs the TUFF application! But that’s what I’ll be doing all month: using flash fiction as a tool to revise and sharpen my synopses. Here’s a taste of Take 10 on Miracle of Ducks, my Rebel NaNoWriMo project:


Archeologist Dr. Danni Gordon hides in her research to avoid the tourist bustle of Sandpoint, Idaho. Despite their differences, Danni has a comfortable marriage to Ike Gordon, former U.S. Army Ranger. She believes in science; he believes in miracles. She likes solitude; he’s loud.  She wears high heels to cook at home; he gossips over coffee at the Elmira Store.

Although past his Ranger prime, Ike returns from the funeral of a fallen friend ready to re-enlist. While she’s in the mud of a public archeology dig, Danni becomes a reluctant soldier’s wife when Ike leaves for Iraq. She’s left in charge of Ike’s exuberant trio of hunting dogs, which leads to trouble with neighbors and the law. To make matters worse, Ike asks his best friend Homeland Security Officer, Michael Robineaux, to look after his wife. Michael hates archeologists.

Chaos also brings new beginnings, including an unlikely pup born in Danni’s kitchen. He becomes a celebrity to local schoolchildren as Bubbie the Archaeology Dog. It’s a new path in Danni’s life to come out of the research basement and get to know the townspeople she has avoided. She even musters the courage to go to the Sandpoint 4th of July Parade where she loses Bubbie and learns something of his nature. Bubbie might be what the Kootenai call a changeling.

Just when Danni begins to connect with her community and anticipate Ike’s homecoming, she receives devastating news from Iraq. Ike is missing. The bank is also threatening to foreclose. Faced with despair that reminds her of why she doesn’t get attached to people and why she’s never liked dogs, Danni undergoes a life transformation. What she thinks she has lost comes back to her in unexpected ways.

In a hopeless situation, Danni is about to experience the biggest miracle of her life. It’s the miracle of ducks that Ike always believed, but this time Danni must believe it, too.


Danni sloshed her peach spirits margarita the night they set off the M-80s.

Before the first explosion echoed up the river canyon, bouncing off steep forested walls of metamorphosed sandstone, Ike rose from his sportsman’s chair. Unlike Danni, who had jerked the drink in her hand, Ike never physically startled. Like a counterbalance, he set down his full margarita and stood poised for the battle to come. This was why he disliked lighting a bonfire. He relied on his night vision and Danni’s desire for charcoaled marshmallows could never persuade Ike to go night blind for one evening.

When the AR-15s blasted a volley into the darkness, Ike ordered Danni to the tent before he dashed down the rutted dirt road, favoring his wounded knee. She complied only to wipe off her hand and restore the splash of peach spirits over the top of her iced limeade, tequila and triple sec. It was the best part of the drink and she wasn’t going to let the idiots on the far end of USDA Forest Service primitive campground rob her of the only peace she had.

By the time she returned to her unlit campfire ring of river rocks, Danni could hear Ike’s voice boom from the campsite to their right. She settled in to her oversized canvas sportsman’s chair and listened to mention of guns by make and model, some laughter and the cadence of men swapping stories. She smiled and looked up at the constellations in the black sky. Mars shone bright and orange just over the horizon of treetops. Jupiter shone as bright and maybe later Ike would get out one of his rifle scopes to show her its moons. For now, at least she wouldn’t have to be the one to explain to Ike that the war down the road was only fireworks.

Startling, annoying and illegal if you read the “no fireworks” sign posted at the campground entrance, but Ike reacted to the blasts like they were acts of war. To him roman candles were M-80s and firecrackers were M-16A1s, although the past few years he’d taken to calling them AR-15s, the citizen version of the multi-purpose firearm. Danni knew all the names of weapons she’d never held, and had a good idea that they sounded like fireworks. Gun powder and freedom were common denominators. Just like the t-shirt she saw earlier at the fly shop in Enaville, “It’s the land of the free because of the brave.”

It was the 4th of July weekend on the North Fork of the Coeur D’Alene River and the land of the free celebrated with sounds of war and the brave who served ducked or dashed. Ike ran toward danger. If sounds startled Danni, Ike assessed them for battle. No battles, then the sounds were harmless, never mind it might be the snort of a bull moose or the grunt of a grizzly. Animals didn’t pack weapons or lob grenades, therefore they posed no threat. Danni had more caution than that and kept an ear tuned to the wilderness. However, with all the raucous noise humans could muster, most wildlife would turn and tuck tail the opposite direction. She wanted to take her margarita and run away from the humans, too.

“Before they light those things off, they ought to shout ‘fire in the hole.’” Ike walked up to Danni and sat in his chair next to her.

“What does that even mean?”

“It’s an old blasting term, but the Army took it.”

“Interesting.” Danni loved Ike’s knowledge of how things connected to history. Not only did he know modern weapons of war, he knew how each piece evolved and what improvements were made to gun actions, barrels or ballistics. He was a history buff when it came to weapons and planes. She was an historical archaeologist. A match made in the archives of heaven.

Whereas Danni liked solitude, Ike craved people. He’d talk to anyone, like the camp neighbors. “Josh says he thought it was a .22 they were shooting but I explained the rapid fire was too quick.”

“Josh?” Danni slurped an ice cube into her mouth, her drink now gone.

“Dan’s dad. He came up today to set up the second trailer and brought their rafts.”

“Oh. That camp next door is growing like a mushroom. I knew it would get crazy up here with 4th of July and all, but I’m surprised how people camp tighter than they live in those suburbs or apartment complexes.”

“It’s a miracle you came.”

Danni could feel Ike’s grin even if she couldn’t see it. “It’s not a miracle, Ike. It’s simply a chance to transcribe a rare document and unfortunately, they’ll only let me have access these two weeks.” Danni and Ike had set up camp several days before the summer revelers headed to the river. She wondered how many even knew or cared about its rich mining history.

By the next day, Danni wondered how many cared about the wilderness at all. People acted like children with grown up toys.

Danni’s camp was deliberate. She used the same style of canvas wall tent many of the miners had used before they erected log cabins or frame buildings. Ike had built her a portable desk, similar to ones surveyors packed with them. She had a wooden chest that opened up to reveal her research books, papers and pens. Each morning, she’d set coffee to boil over the campfire; daytime was okay for fire by Ike’s standards and he liked the Dutch oven scramble she’d make, too. While potatoes and mushrooms were simmering in butter, coffee coming to a boil, Danni shook out their bedding and swept. She set up her desk outside to supervise cooking and watch for hummingbirds.

Ike laughed every time Danni packed her cast iron shepherd’s hook and bottle feeder for camping trips. He claimed he only needed a rucksack. In addition to coffee and breakfast, Danni made hummingbird syrup – one part sugar to one part water, boil until sugar melts and cool. She enjoyed her office in nature and although she refused to break US Forest Service rules, like feeding chipmunks or deer, Danni loved putting out nectar for hummers. In Idaho, she could watch at least four varieties and her favorite was the gold and red calliope.

The first hoard of river rafters showed up as she was serving Ike breakfast. They pulled right in to Danni and Ike’s campsite and unloaded ten round river rafts and several inflatable kayaks. “Sorry,” one man said every time he walked past, kicking up dust as Ike and Danni ate. The rest of the people just looked straight ahead.

To the final apology, Ike said, “You know, there’s wide open public access two miles up river at the bridge.” The man nodded and mumbled.

If Danni thought dealing with 4th of July revelers was crazy, she was in for a rude awakening with her next contract job: a public archeology dig of a suspected British trading post from the early 1750s. Some people thought of hell as hot and sulfuric; Danni thought of it as populated by people. It would be the first time she thought of a dig as hell.



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