July 2: Flash Fiction

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.

July 2, 2020

A bee bobs over my stack of education — a Paperwhite Kindle in a tattered green case; a copy of Story Genius by Lisa Cron as worn as old summer flip-flops; a cheap plastic pencil box filled with colorful gel pens and peony-pink sticky notes; a folder full of plots and timeline notes. Despite the bounty contained there, the bee moves on to inspect the unfurling of French marigolds. The flowers are a deep cabernet, lined in dark gold. I grew them from seed and smile that the bee acknowledges my efforts to garden.

Will my thesis, one day, know such regard?

As artists, we require the interaction of readers, viewers, listeners the same way my courgettes requires the company of bumblebees. Otherwise, we labor without fruit. A writer writes, but there must be some sort of regard of the product. Even a private diary or feelings journal offers insights when reread. At the very least, reading our own output establishes literary art. We are the first to be transfixed or transformed by it.

Handing over our work to the gaze of unknown worker bees feels like exposure. We keep our blossoms close while we write, shading future fruit from direct sunlight with leaves broad as palms as if to say, hands-off. Yet, we must invite the bees in closely, open up tender petals of the page and allow for probing investigation. What does the reader see, we wonder, hoping they don’t see the parts we thought protected. But we put it all out there — our thoughts and feelings, our experiences and imaginings, our deliberations and unconscious biases — and call it fiction.

We call it many things, our literary art, our edible blossoms, our hopes of fruit and best sellers. We call it memoir or personal essay or environmental writing. We call it fantasy or romance or young adult. We call it prose or poetry. In the end, creative writing is fiction the way courgettes are zucchinis. Different names for something beautiful we grow to be consumed. The moment we push the seed into the soil is the same moment we press the keys. We start a story.

Some might argue the semantics or bristle at calling their output fiction. Am I writing fiction right now? Yes, I am. That doesn’t mean I’m deceiving you or making up stories, but I am reaching down into my heart with content from my head to place my philosophizing into a structure that connects with you. It doesn’t get more authentic than this. To me, I’m giving shape to my truth, hoping to link to yours. Wallace Stegner says we can’t invent without experience. Fiction is rooted in every essence of our lives, no matter what name we give it.

Stegner explains the importance of filling our containers the way we amend the soil of our gardens:

“What I meant was that experience sought for the sake of writing about it may produce reporting, or travel books, but it is not likely to produce literature. And experience is of many kinds, some of them so subtle and quiet it takes a good Geiger counter to detect them.

The way to gain experience is to live, but that does not mean one must go slumming for the exotic or outrageous or adventurous or sordid or, even, unusual. Any experience, looked at steadily, is likely to be strange enough for fiction or poetry.

By the same token, the individual who has lived deeply and widely—and I mean lived, not gone slumming or adventuring for literary purposes—has more to write about, and perhaps a better base for mature wisdom, than someone less privileged.

And yet, I don’t know. What did Thoreau know? He lived deeply in Walden, deeply in books, deeply in his mind. By occupation he was nothing spectacular, part-time surveyor and handyman.

The subject of fiction is not just what one did yesterday. It may borrow from the experience of others than the author.”

Stegner, Wallace. On Teaching and Writing Fiction (pp. 41-42). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Whether we write such experiences in our diaries or in stories constructed of craft elements, we dig first within. No wonder we can feel so exposed to the bees even though our relationships benefit what we write. Bees and readers want honey. We want to harvest what we planted.

So, it is a hot one. As I try to garden and write,  summer arrives relentlessly. I’m missing Vermont, the summer lands of Stegner and Slaytons. What drew my mentor from the West, also draws me — roots. We are a restless sort, Westerners. I am what Stegner describes as the displaced person, “Acquainted with many places, he is rooted in none.” Thus my attraction to a region of placed people, where family has lived for many generations. It is hallowed ground and a sanctuary to someone like me who can appreciate transplanting among the deep roots, even for a brief time each year.

I think writers are a mixture of placed and displaced people. Even rooted, we don’t always feel we belong. Unrooted, and we seek community. We explore externally and then write internally. Stegner calls us to learn to be quiet where we don’t own our writing but belong to it. He was talking about land and rootlessness, but I see it as a driver of all art. The artist doesn’t own the seed, nor does the bee own the blossom, but together they belong to the harvest.

Take a long drink of water this week and share what comes up from the well.

July 2, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the word blossom. You can use the word as a noun or a verb, or even as a name. How does it fit into your story? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by July 7, 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.

Doing Right by Charli Mills

“What’s wrong?” Cate snapped open the canvas covering the freight-wagon. Three pale faces from within stared back in wide-eyed silence.

“Zeb broke my blossom.” Abigail, the youngest, wailed.

“Not-uh. Just made a pile of petals, teachin’ Joseph numbers like Ma did.” Zeb, the eldest, scowled. Joseph hid his face on his older brother’s shoulder.

Cate bit the stem of her pipe. She was a muleskinner not a childminder. With their parents buried three days back, none of the other families stepped up in charity. So, Cate found another blossom, wiped the tears, soothed the fear, and resumed her mules.

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  1. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    I like that Cate.
    Thanks Boss. (For seeds sown)
    I happen to have a concrete version of that cited Stegner book and knew right where it was having recently unpacked it. Cracked it just now to find that one of the many sticky notes I put in that book when I read it this winter is on page 41/42.
    Carrot seeds are mighty small. Such vibrant roots!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      This is 99 words but not my response.

      I will tell you that squash blossom is a winter squash. I just know; trust my true fiction.
      Kids’ll say, “I just know”. I was just with a kid who knows a lot! An artist, she decorated a birdhouse (for her grandma) and she danced, (for me), pirouetting while snapping a rainbow ribbon attached to a beaver stick. Retrieving her bubble wand out of the toy bin, she reminded me of the bubbles we had made earlier by stirring the pond bottom from our kayaks. She watches, listens, attends to words. Her name is Winter. Who doesn’t love Winter?

      • Charli Mills

        I love Winter!

    • Charli Mills

      Yeah, that Cate is good people.

      Good on you to have marked that page. Making bubbles and contemplating lunacy over bacon are all acts of writing. Live wide and deep in those roots. I will return.

  2. H.R.R. Gorman

    Beautifully written, Charli! I’m so impressed by your knowledge and ability to weave what you learn into life and, just as importantly, your life into what you learn.

    I’ve scheduled a response for Sunday – hoping that it just shows up as a pingback!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, H! I think that’s what Stegner imparted to his students. We all need time to watch bees and think about…well, just think.

      I’ll watch for your pingback!

  3. Jules

    Oh, Charli…

    You packed a punch in with your post and your piece. Thanks again for a wonderful prompt. I actually had a longer piece which you can find at my blog, but I was able to pare it down to 99 words for you!

    A Poesy Piece of Reflection

    Version 2 (pared down to 99 words)

    Many different things cross my mind. The distractions of the first summer monarch butterfly. Yet strawberry fields, or heather, blossoms are just temporary. Images that you might love to watch over and over like the way a sun sets on an ocean beach after you’ve picked your skin in the waves. But the clock ticks and time plays weirdly with your memory, making an off kilter kind of scene. One that you greedily wish you could repeat whenever you needed the calm balm of recovering from a mistake…

    Help me
    Sleep to dream
    Of pleasant and lovely


    The title is a play on Posey (noun) : the work or the art of poetic composition. Posy is a synonym for blossom.

    Note: Heather is a plant. The flower, leaf, and plant top are used to make medicine. People take heather as a tea for kidney and lower urinary tract conditions, prostate enlargement, fluid retention, gout, arthritis, sleep disorders, breathing problems, cough, and colds.

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, a new word to appreciate, Jules. I did not realize posy was another name for blossom. A fun play on the word in your title and a wonderfully summer-ful flash.

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, Ruchira, I hope we keep on seeking that light, continuing to return with new blossoms. Thank you!

    • suespitulnik

      Many different blossoms. Well done.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, joem!

  4. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    A timely prompt for National Meadows day here in the UK tomorrow and an excuse for garden and photos on my blog! I know it’s some lesser commemorative event in the US – can’t for the life of me thinking what it could be – hope you’re able to celebrate despite the guy at the helm.

    I’ve borrowed some of your words about creativity and those of Wallace Stegner. I love how this week’s post flows so naturally from last week’s. Yes, life is what they are writing and I like how you and he distinguish between authentic and manufactured experience. It’s amazing the extent to which capitalism extends even into the meaning of the word experience, which have become things to accumulate or gift to those already drowning in stuff.

    My post starts with the serious subject of lockdown hair before segueing into an exciting Fringe events you might just know about! My 99-word story is a BOTS

    Early morning walks in the age of covid


    • Charli Mills

      National Meadows day sounds like a beautiful event, but I must say I missed our 4th of July fireworks at the Fitz along the big lake. When I was a kid, the celebrations came during rodeo season, heightening the excitement. It was miserably hot but we avoided swimming due to a crazy influx of tourists, instead filling a kiddie pool at my daughter’s place with cold deep well water. We sat in the shade of her cherry tree while her husband grilled chicken. We kept our distances, except for kicking water at each other.

      Seeking authenticity is to find one’s voice, but yes, I’m also paying more attention to words and cultural influences. 1619 and Seeing White, the two podcasts I’m listening to weekly show how much capitalism has structured society and how connected it is between the UK and the US. It’s the imbalance of power, the hoarding of wealth and the dissemination of a lack mindset to control others that make systemic racism. I’m not ready to process, yet. Still seeking to understand.

      But covid hair? Oh, I get that! And it ain’t pretty! Totally out of control.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        National Meadows Day has a long way to go before it’s as big as even your watered down Independence Day – most people are blissfully unaware and continue scalping their lawns. Glad you were able to connect with family – actually, as I remember, I think we had your fireworks! Definitely heard some going off on that rainy evening as people flocked back to pubs as if released from jail!

  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    I took the long way to get to this 99 word piece. Feel free to view the process and see other versions here: https://shiftnshake.wordpress.com/2020/07/03/a-blossoming-scene-crlc-sixsentencestories/
    Though not mentioned by name in this version, yep, that’s Hope and her mom.

    As if moved by a gentle breeze, the purple blossoms nodded and swayed under working honeybees.

    “They buzz like sunshine, Mommy.”

    “We’ll follow when they take off with their pollen.”

    Mother and daughter set across the meadow towards the hardwoods. Though they used no compass or bee box he wouldn’t be surprised if they found the hive. He saw his wife and daughter crouched at what must be another patch of clover. Well out of hearing range, he felt their laughter, a buzzing hum like sunshine. Even if they didn’t locate the hive, none of them would be disappointed.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s all in living the experience. I would have recognized these characters, D. I also liked that you are willing to share your versions and process, being of a curious sort. I like watching the buzz of writers.

  6. Jim Borden

    Best of luck with your thesis!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jim!

  7. denmaniacs4

    So I’m thinking…Blossom? First thought, a great old film, sad, social workie, Blossoms in the Dust. Start to watch it on Vimeo. Get distracted. Think about the day. Those kids. That damn ant. Anyways, I borrow 3/4 of the films title and fire away…

    In the Dust

    I get there early. I’m always early. I sit in my Van, full of recyclables, cans, cardboard, plastic, lots of plastic.

    Listening to a little blues, reading my book. The Plaque. Camus. Cheery stuff.
    Traffic goes by. COVID carrying caravans of holiday makers. Each their own blossoming bubblehead.

    I’m not feeling charitable.

    I’ll switch to the news.

    Three tykes crushed by tractor wheels back east.

    A Canada Day country bucket ride.

    I spot the ant.

    Big sucker.

    Crossing the road.

    At an angle.

    Foolish ant.

    Go straight.

    It’ll be shorter.

    Doesn’t listen.

    Ants never do.

    Might make it.



    • Charli Mills

      I like that you started to watch the movie the prompt reminded you of, Bill. The heavy pessimism in your story is a weight I think many are feeling. To take it to the plight of the ant is a great metaphor. Well done.

  8. nightlake

    Hi Charli, Hope you are well. Enjoyed your post a lot this week. Indeed, all of us carve the fruits of labor. In the absence of these coveted fruits, we have to accept failures as our learning experience:) Hope every hardworking writer gets his/her reward.

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Padmini! Good to see you. We don’t harvest all our fruits but it is a feast when we do. In the meantime, we live and write and grow. I hope for fruitioin for all the hard work of writers.

      • nightlake

        True..btw, it should have been ‘crave’. Sorry:)

      • Charli Mills

        we carve the path we crave. 😉

    • Charli Mills


  9. suespitulnik

    Hi Charli,
    Thank you for another thought-provoking essay and prompt.
    Stegner’s line, “By the same token, the individual who has lived deeply and widely has more to write about,” was another cue to me to drop the pen name. I have done the living, Susan Sleggs doesn’t exist but each one of my characters is a part of me. At one time that frightened me. Not any more. Thanks in part to you. On to the prompt…

    The Baby’s Nickname

    A month after Lexi and Adam, Tessa’s daughter and son-in-law, were settled in their new house, Emma got baptized with families present. Michael’s youth choir sang two children’s dedication songs and Adam’s parents were thrilled to see how he was accepted into the close-knit group. At the luncheon, Lexi tolerated her grandmother’s proprietorship over the baby just so long then retrieved her so Adam’s family could cuddle her too. Adam’s grandfather beamed at her and said, “So this is the new blossom that made our family grow.” And that’s how the pink-cheeked infant came to be called Emma Blossom.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Well done, Sue Spitulnik. Your characters grow on!

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Sue,

      Wow, what a brave decision you have made! Yes, yes, yes! We can be vulnerable as those tender seedlings, but just today, I was marveling at how robust my whispy little plants have grown. May Susan Spitulnik write like zucchini blossoms!

      Aw, what a sweet nickname and a beautiful bonding moment of family.

  10. Ann Edall Robson

    By Ann Edall-Robson

    Quiet and unassuming, but don’t get her riled. Dedicated to everything she does from raising her children to providing for others. Not many are as capable of mastering their lives the way she does. She is happy with her life, her surroundings, and doesn’t ask much in return. She enjoys a wander across the field when the urge takes her and is glad for the options of shelter and a roof over her head when the weather turns ugly. She’s always been part of the extended family living at the ranch. There isn’t a better milk cow than Blossom.


    • Charli Mills

      Ann, I know some folks as fine as that milk cow.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Next time you’re at my fire Anne, I’ll tell you about a hen named Blossom.

  11. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Yer outta yer bedroll early Pal. Sunrise coffee?”
    “Yep. Set an’ injoy it. Tell ya, sure is good ta be out ridin’ the range. Don’t git me wrong, Kid. I’m right proud an’ pleased Shorty’s got us runnin’ thet saloon. But it’s a lotta time indoors. Umm. Lookit dawn, jist beginnin’ down in thet east runnin’ valley.”
    “I’m lookin’, Pal. Now shush, so’s I kin see it better.”
    “I hear ya.”
    *Swollen budded dawn
    Sun’s gold-rayed petals unfold
    This new day blossoms*. ”

    “Promises ta be a bloomin’ beautiful day, Kid. Time ta ride out.”
    “Write on Pal.”

    • Charli Mills

      That is bloomin’ beautiful. I also like dawn’s other end. Colorful, harkens the night owls.

  12. Marsha

    I hear our philosophical conversation coming through this post. How exciting. I feel myself blossom as a writer, experimenter as we walk together in the fields of writing. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Marsha, we both got to blossom during that conversation! Thank you for the interview, and for sharing philosophical values as writers.

      • Marsha

        Yes! I hope we continue to have great conversations. Colleen had a great idea for an anthology.

    • Liz H

      Lovely tribute to someone who was surely a bright-shining soul!

      • Paula Light

        Thanks so much ????

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Paula! What a beautiful tribute you wrote.

      • Paula Light

        Thank you for the inspiration ????

  13. Liz H

    Here’s my run at the prompt today. Hope you all enjoy!

    After Midnight

    Ella arrived back home just before midnight. The golden carriage’d been delayed—unexpected maintenance—so she’d had to find her own way. Skirts rain-soaked, glass slippers…well, slippery…she shucked the gown and ran home in her chemise, dropping one slipper in the mud…
    [Continue ]</a

    • Charli Mills

      Very enjoyable, Liz! I never thought about how slippery glass shoes would be in the rain. It makes for an interesting fairy tale twist.

  14. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    We are all vulnerable Charli and any writing puts its author at risk. It is nice to have community to share the risks, the hurts and the successes when writing itself is a self-isolating pursuit. It is easy to get lost in the aloneness. Fiction and non-fiction – there we may differ a little in our views as I believe one is owned and the other fabricated despite having its deep roots in truth. Nevertheless both have the same end outcome on the author. I’ll never forget how depressed I became when I gave over my manuscript for publication. I don’t know how much was fear and how much was that I had given my baby away and it was no longer mine but open to the interpretation and scrutiny of others.
    Such a tender flash Charli. You have demonstrated that skill of putting the opposite that I found impossible to write to your prompt a couple of weeks back. Muleskinner and childminder, blossoms and skins. You are great craftsman Charli. Those word pictures will stay with me now.

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, Irene, I think community helps with the more isolating and vulnerable acts of writing. Fiction and non-fiction both seek truth but one is fabricated, the other reconstructed. I would enjoy sharing our perspectives. It is hard to turn over that book baby. I do with mine in increments and it has helped get me used to the idea. But we’ll see.

      Thank you for your kind summation of my crafting. <3

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        I’ll be interested to find how you find it. I too turned mine over in increments but that was somehow safe – like community is. I’m sure we’ll share our views Charli.

    • Charli Mills

      That is special, Robert!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks Joanne!

  15. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Eleven, I schedule my summer odd jobs to coincide with Senior Meals day in a nearby village. My clients don’t seem to mind me joining them for homemade chicken dumplings in Charlotte J’s kitchen. I’m there for dessert. That’s when the old timers jam old time music, including a lively rendition of Orange Blossom Special. These locals cut a record they call Spirit at 76 in honor of the bicentennial year and because 76 is their average age.
    54, I’m led down a YouTube rabbit hole checking out the myriad recordings of the “fiddlers’ anthem”. Here’s a fun one:

    • Charli Mills

      Behold the mighty orange blossom special! Mighty fine flash (and a good side gig).

  16. Andika Juu

    sharing stories and creative ideas is part of how humans have communicated since the very beginning! 🙂

  17. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Geoff!

  18. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Padre!

  19. Charli Mills

    Thanks, H.!

  20. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Kerry!

  21. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Dave!


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