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May 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

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Fog thick as chainmail hides the Quincy No. 2 Shaft-Rockhouse from view. Earlier, temperatures rose to summer peak levels, and I planted most of my seedlings, sweating and swatting mosquitos. Lady Lake Superior must have fussed in some way because now I’m in a cloak of moisture I need a sword to cut through. Too hot, too fast, I’m thinking, and the Lake’s cold waters rebelled. It’s both disconcerting and fascinating to think that the lake controls the weather, not the other way around.

As a writer, I seek contradictions.

Driving past the Quincy Mine, I lose all concept of time and season. My radio says it’s “top of the hour, 3 p.m.” My head thinks nightfall. I’m dressed for summer but have a chill. I begin to play a word association game as I drive out to Boston Location where my daughter lives (because I also seek more seedlings). The game goes like this — pair two things that don’t go together. Champagne and hard-rock. Rosemary and sewage. Duck down and firecrackers. Sleep and square-dancing.

Contradictions make us pause. In writing, they can lead somewhere. Where, well, I don’t know, you have to follow. That’s the fun of exploring opposition — it’s new territory you get to make up. You can create sensory contradictions based on touch, taste, smell, or sound. It’s like clashing colors. What can you make of the awful pairing lavender and sewage? Maybe a story begins with receding sewage after a flood, and an old woman recovers her prized lavender bush. Or maybe a street chef introduces a new rosemary delight on the streets of NYC and sales rise despite the wafting smell of city sewage below.

Or you can mix it up — pair something hard to something that tastes sweet like a two-by-four and cotton candy, concrete, and peppermint ice cream, or a steel door and licorice. You can pair actions — waltzing and milking cows, yachting and digging ditches, or weaving and kite-running. Do you notice your mind pondering the differences, trying to find connections? That’s the key. Your mind might say these things don’t go together,, but it will also try to figure out how they could. Your task as a writer is to find a story to tell who did what somewhere. Contrast gives you clues.

This word game I play started out as a cliche buster. Back in the ’90s, I set up the challenge to eradicate cliches in my writing. The idea was to rethink a cliche. For example, if a character was as excited as a kid in a candy shop, how could I deconstruct the cliche and rebuild a fresh analogy? That’s when I began to take notice that I could come up with clever ideas by finding contrasts rather than comparisons. What contrasts with kid? A hummingbird, a hermit crab, a gangster. What would excite each? Like a hummingbird in a petunia; a hermit crab in a bronze shell; a gangster in a Coupé de Ville.

You can do the reverse finding something that doesn’t go with a candy shop. A mall, a mineshaft, a root cellar. Who would be excited to be in such places? Like a shoe addict in a mall; a spelunker in a mineshaft; a raccoon in a root cellar. Playing the contrast word game gives you an endless supply of possibilities.

Go ahead and write cliches when you draft because they point to emotions. Later, read through and flag them for revision, clarifying the purpose of each cliche (to show excitement, for example). Think about the situation your character is in and fit the tone. A kid in a candy shop is lighthearted. A raccoon in a root cellar might be destructive. A spelunker in a mineshaft might signal an adrenaline rush. Better yet, try to fit your setting. A raccoon in a root cellar would fit a country setting, but it could also produce humor in a cityscape. A spelunker in a mineshaft fits particular regions.

Cliches came up this week in my studies. We are going into finals already, and my thesis submission of 15,000 words is due in two weeks. I have to get my current Contemporary Fiction course professor to sign off on my readiness. He’s been rapid-firing different craft elements at us for eight weeks, along with a few extra optional lessons. He’s tough (and determined I learn perfect past tense and). Nothing slides past him. When he gave the optional cliche assignment, I thought of my cliche buster trick.

That’s how I came to be driving to Boston Location pairing words that don’t match up. Like fog thick as chainmail. What else could be thick (other than the cliched pea soup)? Poor-rock, cowboy coffee, cast-iron, a Harry Potter Book. Some of those words don’t feel right. Pea soup has a murkiness too it. A Harry Potter Book creates no connection. Interestingly, cast iron and chain mail fit the metallic feel I wanted to impart to the fog.

Wordsmithing is part of what we do. This week we are going to create our own prompts by pairing two contradictions. I’ve held similar challenges in the past, and it’s one we will do again.

A few ranching updates — on Mondays, D. Avery’s Ranch Yarns have come to life at the Saddle Up Saloon. It’s like one of those places where everyone knows your name with a western flair. It’s also a place where characters get to have their say. If you want Kid and Pal to converse with you in a skit, or interact with one of your characters, send her an email: averydede.1@gmail.com. It’s meant to be a fun gathering place for writers.

On Tuesdays, we have a line up of eight columnists who have varying topics of interest. Follow H.R.R. Gorman for history, Anne Goodwin for what to read, Bill Engleson for what old films to watch, Ann Edall-Robson for recalling the pioneers of the past, Susan Sleggs for veteran stories, Norah Colvin for activities to do with young children, Sherri Matthews for a memoirist’s look at those who help others, and Ruchira Khanna for healing through writing.

If you want to hang out with other Carrot Ranchers from the virtual community and from World Headquarters in Hancock, Michigan, join me on Facebook in a private group. I’ve been excited (as a blue heron in frog pond) to connect writers from the Keweenaw to writers from around the world. You can participate as little or as much as you’d like. On Mondays, we set goals; Tuesdays we share anything of interest to the group; Wednesdays we open up to questions and answers; Thursdays have been intermittent video readings; Fridays is game day. Because it’s a private group, you do need to ask to join and answer one question (so I know you are affiliated with Carrot Ranch as a writer, reader or lurker). Join up at Carrot Ranchers.

The idea for these new features and a FB group at Carrot Ranch came from a need to keep the writing community engaged during the uncertainties of a global pandemic. I hope you will interact with the columnists and reach out to D. to be counted at the Saloon. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know we will be writing into it. Stay connected, stay creative, and stay safe!

May 28, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using two words that contradict. Examples include champagne and hard-rock; rosemary and sewage; duck down and firecrackers; sleep and square-dancing. Use one of these or make up your own. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 2, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

Moon Dust and Boat Wood by Charli Mills

Two young star-gazers giggle, floating on boat wood lashed into a stationary raft. Papa salvaged the lumber from a shipwreck on the beach, tethered it to the edge of the pond. On his one night off, he’d settle with them, tracing stars in the sky. A full lunar light beams overhead, dimming the Milky Way and illuminating the rock house that towers above the miners’ homes and woods. The girls wait for Papa to emerge from the trail to the mines, repeating constellations he taught them. They open their mouths to moon dust floating downward. It tastes like copper.


106 Comments

  1. An amazing story, Charli! I did not read your story before I wrote my own, so I was surprised to discover we both own stargazers. Is the taste of copper from the mines? So much depth in a deceptively simple flash.

    Here is the link to mine: https://saschadarlington.me/2020/05/29/opposites-attract/

    Liked by 6 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Yes! I’m so glad that detail came through to make you wonder. In my imagination, I see the air around the rock house communities as dusty with all the ore crushing. Maybe Papa told them the dust was from the moon. Maybe they thought it up. Thanks!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. […] If you want to participate, here’s the link:  CARROT RANCH […]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. floridaborne says:

    Did you know that deep in the woods live everyone from former Nasa employees to brilliant mechanics — and former soldiers?

    Respect your neighbors. You don’t know what they’ve been.

    https://rantingalong.blog/2020/05/29/99-word-prompt-contradictions/

    Liked by 7 people

  4. Oh My Darlin’

    *It was a dark an’ stormy night. A Rancher sought shelter in the old mine
    shaft only ta find Buggs M. Lotts already holed up there. They got along
    like oil an’ water.*
    “Kinda cliché ain’t it, Kid?”
    “S’posed ta be, Pal. I wanna show how these two don’t git along, ‘cept I’m gonna switch out oil an’ water fer… bacon, yeah! An’… brussel sprouts! No, that’s purty good. Bacon an’… maple ice cream! Wait that sounds tasty.”
    “Kid, ever’thin’ goes good with bacon. Ya’ll have ta git rid a it.”
    *A. Rancher was glad ta see Asa O’Buddy…*

    Liked by 10 people

  5. […] This was written with the prompt to write a story with two words that contradict provided by the Carrot Ranch May 28 Flash Fiction Challenge. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This was the first though that popped into my head. I hope it’s okay: https://jedigirlblog.wordpress.com/2020/05/29/love-and-destruction-flash-fiction/

    Liked by 7 people

  7. […] May 28: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love how your mind works while driving, Charli. Is it like that most of the time, or just when doing specific tasks? For me, my creative mind comes to life when performing particular tasks, one being when I’m doing the ironing. It’d always been a task I disliked, but since discovering blogging which reignited my passion for writing, it’s now a task I’ve grown to enjoy.

    It sounds as if winter turned into summer pretty quickly in your part of the world. Something I enjoy about living by the sea is the refreshing sea breezes we get during hot and humid summer days.

    I like inventing cliches. I wonder if they’ll become as famous as ‘a kid in a sweet shop’ or ‘as happy in pigs in muck’?

    Have a lovely weekend.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. […] The following flash fiction was written for this week’s challenge over atCarrot Ranch. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My two words that contradict are in the title of my flash. I hope. this is okay.
    http://susansplace.blog/2020/05/29/snowy-summers-day-flash-fiction/

    Liked by 5 people

  11. denmaniacs4 says:

    I felt a carte blanche, a freedom to choose where to go…so, I took one of your words, Charli, the coyly hyphenated square dancing…and quillotine to sharpen my opposites skills. Where would that go I wondered? No idea. Not even now.

    Square Head in a Round Roll

    Here, in the darkness, in the sleepiness, night sweats cascade.

    The blade, glistening in the mid-October sun, slams down.

    SWOOSH!

    “Heads will roll! Lemonade; Square that circle; Make the Grade!”

    “Hey. Sweetie!”

    The sentinel roughly shoves me up the steps.

    I can’t be here. I must dance.

    I am a dancing fool.

    “Handyman left! Sashay slow; Slip your shod; Mousey nose!”

    “Darling! Wakey wakey!”

    Cake?

    What’s wrong with eating cake?

    Everyone likes cake.

    “Bend the curve! Step on toes; Circle the square; Go cat go!”

    “That’s it. Enough’s enough, lover. I’ve had it with your Covid-19 Marie Antoinette nutmares.”

    http://www.engleson.ca

    Liked by 8 people

    • This is wonderfully weird, and evokes memories of those confusing square dance calls that everyone else seemed to know. I think you have them all correct here, it’s helpful to see them in print. Thank you for this. We have had a guillotine at the Saloon, perhaps we should have a square dance too….

      Liked by 4 people

      • denmaniacs4 says:

        Thank you, D. Avery. Just following the creative prompt…and my cursory research led me to a fun factoid, Marie apologizing to her executioner to be for stepping on his foot…seemed a natural segue to plucking my memory of elementary school square dance classes…talking about weird…

        Liked by 5 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      So, are those weird COVID dreams global, Bill? I had a doozy last night. No square-dancing or guilitetines but I can see both as something to dread. That Marie Antoinette stepped on her executioner’s toes adds to the weird connectivity of these two divergent things. Your slipstream writing is a great way to display all this.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Norah says:

      This is excellent. It’s funny – to me – I thought you wrote ‘quillotine’ and I thought that must be a fairly sharp pen with a cutting edge. Whether you meant it or not, your piece has a sharpness to it. Well done.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. […] Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge May 28, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using two words that contradict. Examples include champagne and hard-rock; rosemary and sewage; duck down and firecrackers; sleep and square-dancing. Use one of these or make up your own. Go where the prompt leads! Respond by June 2, 2020. & Imprompt: Quickly 5.29‘where the story took her’ […]

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jules says:

    Dear Charli,

    I enjoyed your post and flash… I’m still a tad slow on revisits, but I will return… eventually. Your prompt mashed nicely with another for this bit of flash:

    A Crock Tale

    Lacey only heard bits and pieces of the guys telling tales at the bar. She was in a booth, eating dinner after a long day of working out of town. A guy ended his story with; “…And the sign said bait for catchin’ yer Jumbo Shrimp!”

    The men ‘round him guffawed and laughed. The smarty pants guy who told the story grinned like a crocodile that swallowed a whole double Devil’s Food chocolate cake with icing too boot.

    That’s where the story took her, seeing the mouse Dr. De Soto tending to the crocodile needing his rotten tooth pulled!

    ©JP/dh

    Doctor De Soto is a wonderful children’s book about a mouse who is a dentist. I’ve an illustration and Wiki link at my blog 🙂

    Liked by 7 people

  14. Your prompt today reminded me of my school days when our teacher would ask us to pen something on oxymorons.

    I wish you luck on your 15k manuscript that you are about to submit.

    My take: http://abracabadra.blogspot.com/2020/05/graduation-party.html

    Liked by 5 people

  15. […] To participate click and follow the link Carrot Ranch […]

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Norah says:

    Contraditions. There are so many contradictions in life at the moment. It’s like gravity in outer space. We don’t know where our next step will land. It’s certainly an interesting tool for creativity, helping the thoughts break out while in lockdown. Perhaps that’s the key that’s required.
    I enjoyed your story of moondust and boat wood. What a wonderful dad, keeping imaginations alive.
    Stay safe.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      So many contradictions to what we think of as normalcy right now. But so much that has been normal has also been harmful. I’d like to think of ways to foster better outcomes from all of this.

      I liked this dad, willing to foster imagination and hope in his children.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Norah says:

      Hi Charli, I’m back with a story more about confusion than contradiction, but perhaps that’s because it’s where I am right now. I hope it fits somehow.

      Upstairs or Downstairs https://wp.me/p3O5Jj-1Cv

      Granny scratched her head. “I don’t know if I’m Arthur or Martha.”

      “Whad’ya mean, Granny? I’m Arthur,” Arthur laughed.

      “It’s just an old saying. Means I don’t know if I’m coming or going.”

      “But you’re not coming or going. You’re staying here. With us.”

      “I know,” laughed Granny. “I’m just a bit confused is all.”

      “What’re you confused about?”

      “I just came all the way down here for something, and I can’t remember what.”

      “But this is upstairs, Granny. Not downstairs.”

      “Silly me. There’s not much in my upstairs anymore.”

      Now it was Arthur’s turn to scratch his head.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. jgard3 says:

    Mellissa plays this song every time we’re in the car.

    “The music is beautiful, but I hate its message.”

    Her taffy moods confound me. She wants to make out. She wants to take it slow. She thinks one day we’ll get married. She wonders if we should see other people. I wrap myself around her cutlery limbs, arms like butter knives, ribs like shrimp forks.

    “This is nice.”

    I lean in for the kiss, and she escapes. Fireflies infest a nearby field, throbbing like canker sores in twilight’s mouth. She runs after them like a puppy discovering grass.

    https://jeffgardfiction.wordpress.com/2020/05/30/99-word-challenge-contradiction/

    Liked by 6 people

  18. […] was written for the May 28th Carrot Ranch prompt, opposites. I chose Cadillacs and Crocodiles which, beyond starting with C, can come together as […]

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Good luck as you roar on in to finals! Hopefully they’ll be over and you can move on to your next set of classes and just destroy their tests, too!

    I loved this week’s prompt. Paradoxes are something I just love, though perhaps it’s because I like understatement and idioms, too.

    Well, if anyone wants to read something silly, I thought I’d leave the story link here. 🙂

    https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/2020/05/30/cadillacs-and-crocodiles/

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, H.! I just closed my first one, my head spinning. But as I delay getting at it, I’m starting to see a way through. The next phase is the thesis work! And a class on teaching. I’m excited to be here. First, finish the finals.

      I’m glad you like the full family of contradictions. I think it allows for much play and creativity, yet it can be serious business, too. I appreciate silly! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  20. Hi Charli
    Another great challenging prompt!

    Ended up writing two FF.
    Thanks to D. Avery and A. Kidd for helping me to think thru my ideas!

    Pal and Kid – always a lot of fun to read.

    Thanks.
    Saifun

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Saifun! You are full of creativity this week. Good to go with the flow. And yes, Pal and Kid are always in great form. Did you catch them over at the Saddle Up Saloon? They’re rusting recipes this week.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Wow… I’d forgotten how fun these 99 words can be. Thanks for the fun prompt, Charli. I’ll pop in and out until the new book is finished. ❤

    “Shhhhh… don’t tell anyone what I’ve told you.”

    Marnie shook her head. “You’re missing the point, Susan. Jim’s been cheating on Janet for months. This is an open secret, and the entire town knows what’s going on.”

    “What? Mrs. Parker only told me the details today when I ran into her at the market.”

    “That’s because you’re new in town. She probably told you not to tell anyone because it makes her feel important.”

    Susan looked crestfallen as she waved goodbye to her neighbor.

    Marnie grinned. Besides, she knew the truth. She and Jim had been lovers for years.

    Liked by 4 people

  22. […] Author’s Notes: The above story is inspired by true-life events…I’ve been out of signal since Friday and as I headed back into Houston, I was confronted by the rioting taking place here and around the country. It’s enough to want to turn around and leave for good.Carrot Ranch is a dynamic online literary community for those practicing their craft, reading stories and discussing the process. Charlie Mills hosts the weekly Flash Fiction challenge which limits stories to 99 words – no more, no less. This week’s challenge is to write a story using two words that contradict. […]

    Liked by 2 people

  23. […] was written as part of this week’s #carrotranch […]

    Liked by 2 people

  24. I love your ideas on playing with cliché, Charli. I’ve done that a bit, but not with as much panache as you describe here! And what a great idea to exercise your brain by creating narratives from random contradictions – how can that not build creative muscle? Something I hope to try, but there’s a conflict as I also love allowing my thoughts to wander where they will … which is how I came up with two 99-word stories to accompany my blog post on manic rescuing and burnout, which I think many of us risk right now.

    My first pairing is of Tories and compassion. For the second, I couldn’t resist your suggestion of lavender which has particular resonance for my character Matty, and a pairing with sewage exemplifies her inner turmoil and the shit that’s been dumped on her over the years:

    https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/1/post/2020/05/on-rescuing-and-burnout-are-you-trying-to-save-the-world.html

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Matty has resilience, all that sewage she had to swim through to get to her land of enchantment where she gets to rule. She’s a memorable character and I’m lamenting I have to wait 11 more months to visit her again so I appreciate that you let her out.

      Oh, Anne, I think burnout collided with one too many injustices, inflamed by extremists out of control. I have a cry date set up with a good friend. We both decided we needed to go to the lake and cry instead of protesting on Wednesday. We want to remain stable for all the transitions and crises happening around us.

      And yes, my mind wanders, too. I’m glad for that contradiction.

      Liked by 2 people

  25. susansleggs says:

    Hi Charli, I never thought of creating my own replacement for a cliche. What a great idea and a fun challenge. I will hold on to that nugget of information. Each time you mention a place near your home, I Google map it. How I long to explore the peninsula. One day soon, as the song goes. I am enjoying the new columns at Carrot Ranch. Thank you for giving us more chances to learn from others and share our writing and experiences. On to the prompt, another good one.

    Caskets Versus Baby Blanket

    Tessa caught the look on Michael’s face when he opened the package. She commented, “My son thought you would like a U.S. flag flying out front. Was he wrong?”
    “I’m sorry. The flag reminds me of the number of draped caskets I’ve escorted and the families who paid the price.” Tears formed. He let her see them. “Now that pink baby blanket you are knitting gives me hope and helps me focus on the future.”
    “I’ll explain to Brent and we’ll pass the flag to my parents. Theirs is quite faded.”
    “Thank you, for understanding and backing me up.”

    Liked by 4 people

  26. Finally! 99 words from Marlie, who now has her dog Daisy. Charlie, diid I tell you how much I like your magical moon dust flash?

    Spots, D. Avery

    Marlie held up a pebble-eyed, twig-lipped marshmallow. “He’s got hard-rock eyes set in a puffy white face.”

    “Who? Mr. Marshmallow?”

    “Tommy’s father.” Marlie thrust the skewered marshmallow into the flames. “He was at the fence with Tommy. He said Daisy was so ugly she was almost cute. Daisy wouldn’t go to them. Tommy called her stupid. His dad said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

    “And leopards can’t change their spots.”

    “Liz…”

    Marlie’s parents watched with her as the pebble-eyed marshmallow face browned, then blistered black, finally oozed onto the coals, flaring and spluttering before it disappeared.

    https://shiftnshake.wordpress.com/2020/06/02/spots-crlc-challenge/

    Liked by 4 people

  27. […] May 28, 2020, Carrot Ranch prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using two words that contradict. Examples include […]

    Liked by 1 person

  28. […] Over at the Carrot Ranch this week, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using two words that contradict. Examples include cham… […]

    Liked by 2 people

  29. I think this may be the first time you’ve stumped me Charli. Just can’t get any creative juices flowing although I loved the premise of using contrasting words. What a great way to deal with cliches. Write them in then contrast them out. I will be playing with this into the future.
    Loved your flash and its powerful end. Moon beams we think of as benign lovely mysticisms so different to a little bit of copper poisoning.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. […] Click here to join other writers participating in the challenge. […]

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