January 31: Story Challenge in 99-words

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.

January 31, 2022

I grew up in the shadow of the ’49ers. Not the San Fransico American football franchise, but the remnants of miners. The global rush of gold-hungry humanity flocked to California in 1849. The year marked the estimated 90,000 people who arrived by land or sea from all around the world.

As a seventh-generation Californian, I’m a product of that inundation. A part of a rich vaquero history. A part of an extractive culture that yet remains. A witness to those who knew how to live with the environment. I grew up understanding the allure of shiny rocks, sturdy horses, and living as one with the land.

Even though I can trace my roots from California back to the Pyrenees, Azores, and Great Britain, I can’t find the cultures I know in history books or novels. Or the women from this time period who were neither a Mrs. His Name or a Soiled Dove. This drives me to write from the “fringes of the frontiers” where all people exist despite missing documentation or representation in popular culture. Because of this gap, I mine my own missing heritage and life experiences for stories. In my manuscript, Miracle of Ducks, I gave my protagonist a mixed lineage of Azorean Portuguese and French Basque. It was both unsettling and liberating to dig deep into my roots.

That’s one reason I recognize writers who dare. Writers are courageous because they commit their thoughts, ideas, feelings, stories, and fringe elements to the page. It’s one thing to imagine a story, and another to write it. We blunder as we go. We do the best we can with what we know. We learn. We dare. We grow. What feels daring to you in your writing or as a writer?

When we put ourselves out there to be read, we are exposed. People with different perspectives from ours will read and weigh our words against what they know. Experiences differ. Traditions and beliefs can clash. People with ideas about how writing is defined will judge our craft. Readers will form opinions. And sometimes, we will invite criticism to grow. Productive critique is insight and questioning shared to improve a piece of writing for its purpose, but it can feel uncomfortable and expose what we don’t yet know.

Brené Brown understands the act of vulnerability it takes when we put ourselves out there — when we dare to write or dare to write the thing that scares us to write or write before we know it’s exactly correct. We dare, we writers. She understands the critics will circle. However, she developed her own ideas about daring greatly from the words of an earlier American President who wrote:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the person who points out how the strong person stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends themselves in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910 (CMills made gender-nuetral changes)

And thus I continue to err my way forward through my Writer’s Life because it is my arena. The critic does not get my focus, but growth and learning do. Last week, after I posted changes, I created confusion. It’s understandable. Communication can be murky because each person has a different perspective. I definitely wrote about the changes to the Challenge from my perspective. But I also listened to each of you from your perspective, too. Some of you even summarized the changes into succinct instructions on your own websites.

Then, while I was at Finlandia University in the Teaching and Learning Center (aptly called the TLC), I read a wall cover in Brené Brown quotes. And one exposed my own error of last week’s announcements:

“Clarity is kindness.”

~ Brené Brown

This week, I’ll be kinder. This week, I’ve learned to communicate more clearly. Sometimes, less is more. All you need to know about participating in the 99-word Story Challenge is that you use the form below.

That’s it. Use the form.

I never meant to tell you when and how to post. I didn’t mean you couldn’t post your responses earlier. I didn’t think through your process when I asked you to link to the Collection instead of the Challenge. Please disregard that error from last week. You can post your story and link any time. However, I won’t link to the story until I publish the collection.

This challenge is for writers on the fringe, too. College students, writing clubs, readers, libraries, people who are afraid to write out loud but ready to take the plunge. Not every writer has a blog. All writers are welcome to participate and we do that through the form provided with every challenge. It’s access for all.

When the Collection publishes, take pride in having dared greatly! You went into the arena and risked your fears to write among others. Remember — the critics don’t count, only those in the arena do. Therefore, we celebrate our collaborative efforts together. We can post encouraging comments and visit the blogs or social media of those who have online writing lives. We can find new authors to read, new writing friends to share the journey and renewed inspiration.

In the background, I will visit every website or blog post linked in the form and respond via email to those without. After the first week, I feel relieved. I can connect with all writers through the form and comments. It’s a privilege for me to work with all your individual stories.

The Collection is where the magic happens.

The Challenge is the arena.

And you are all invited to come along on this ride at Carrot Ranch to practice a weekly craft that will continue to open doors of creativity and solutions to you. This week, we will expand the meaning of a historical moniker. What can a ’49er be? What grabs your imagination — learning about history or turning an old phrase into something new?

A little song to put you into the ’49er spirit.

The next Collection (The Wish I Made) publishes Wednesday, February 2. I appreciate all of you who dared to enter and make sense of the changes to our weekly literary activity. Thank you to all our readers, too!

January 31, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about “the ’49ers.” Who or what are they? What is the significance of the number? Do you follow the Gold Rush history or venture into new territory? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 5, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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  1. Doug Jacquier

    Hi, Charli. I was fascinated by your reference to ‘the women from this time period who were neither a Mrs. His Name or a Soiled Dove’. One of the most successful books in Australian history was (and is) ‘Damned Whores and God’s Police’ by Anne Summers’ (published 1975 and since updated), which postulated the two main stereotypes of women in Australia’s history. Sounds like some parallels there.

    • Charli Mills

      My kind of book, Doug! As a researcher, it’s challenging to find women in the historical record and usually, period books only refer to women as Mrs. His Name unless she had a well-known father. Flip over to the fiction side of writing and women are only seen in those two roles. Yet, they did many more interesting things. We share that parallel stereotype.

  2. Norah

    Brene is certainly an inspiration, as are you, Charli.
    You’ve touched on some interesting history in this post. The gold rushes over there were similar time frame as here. I wonder why. I’ll have to do a bit of panning to find a nugget in this prompt. I wonder what I’ll find.
    Thanks for the clarity on responding and posting.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Pan away, Norah. I wonder if the timing has to do with the colonization of our two continents following the “discovery” of the “New World” with the gold the Spanish extracted? But I’ve never thought about that shared experience between Australia and the American West.

      Clarity takes practice, as does kindness, too.

      • Norah

        It’s interesting – the shared history.
        I’ve just finished listening to a book that made me think of you and your historical writing. The book is called The Good Wife of Bath and was written by Australian author Karen Brooks. In the author’s note at the conclusion of the book, she shares a lot about her research and why she wanted to give the often ‘invisible’ women of history a voice. I thought I was listening to you. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Thank you for sharing that gem of a book, Norah! I love Chaucer’s era and his writing. Many of his contemporary storytellers were women. Medieval women had greater freedoms in many ways than pre- and post-Victorian eras. It’s good to read what is published in my genre. <3

      • Norah

        I enjoyed the history. Dates and kings were still included, but lots of people and their stories. ????

    • Gary A Wilson

      Hi Norah, I think a shared sense of both mobility and newish freedom to pursue new opportunities likely played a part. For the California version, this state was already seeing a growing immigration from our east despite the huge challenge in getting here presented by the desert and mountains that separate us from the middle US almost fully from north to south. The draw to come here was huge well before the hint of gold got out and when that happened, the news traveled fast and estimates went as high as for every 1 immigrant from the pre-49er rush, we saw 50 during it – a crushing increase.

      • Norah

        Thanks for that additional clarification, Gary. What an increase in population – 50 times. What infrastructure (including supply lines) would have been needed. I did a bit of research on the clipper ships a few years ago (tiny bit). (I think I read) the completion of the railroad about that time making a quicker journey put the end to the clipper ships.

      • Charli Mills

        Actually, Norah, it would be decades later that the railroads west were completed. I really appreciate the historical perspectives you and Gary explored! D. adds to it with her discovery of connections between the east and west coast during the Gold Rush. Fascinating how people migrate (and why). Yet, ironic that a hundred years later, the same nation built of immigrants would try to wall immigrants out.

      • Norah

        I probably should have checked my notes before commenting. You’re right (of course). The railroad wasn’t completed until 1869.

  3. Anne Goodwin is bringing Matilda Windsor home

    I love how you’ve woven your words into greater clarity. Then this line made me laugh:

    That’s it. Use the form.

    It reminds me of when I was out on ranger patrol yesterday and met a couple who asked me about the role. They laughed too when I said I just go out for a walk and see what happens. Yes, there’s a little bit more to it (like responding to what happens) but I was pleased with what I came up with.

    Enjoying the music as I type.

    • Charli Mills

      What a splendid response, Anne! Yep. Write a 99-word story. Submit through the form. See what happens. That song has a nostalgic twang to it. Glad you are enjoying it.

      • Gary A Wilson

        Hi Charli.

        I hope I’ve not mangled the process or hit you with 3 forms for the same story. My system burped during the first attempt and I may have forgotten to hit submit the 2nd time. Ugh. I was trying to not be “that submitter”.

      • Charli Mills

        No worries, Gary! I always go with the second submission. Often, writers correct the first, or…burps happen!

  4. joanne the geek

    Mentioning the gold rush has set off a few thoughts. New Zealand had its own gold rush down in Otago. Because of that, Dunedin became New Zealand’s first city as the miners used it as a base of operations. There’s a very good, but hard to find, New Zealand movie called Illustrious Energy which is set during that time. It follows a Chinese gold miner who’s out to seek his fortune. It has a sad ending though.

    • Charli Mills

      Ooh, I looked up that film, Joanne. First, I had no idea about New Zealand’s gold rush. And rarely do we see a Chinese protagonist in gold rush history, so that makes it even more interesting. Have you ever heard of the author, C Pam Zhang? She writes about the Chinese experience in California history. Often, these stories are tragic. Yet somehow brave and overcoming too.

  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Pal, I reckon Charli Mills an our writer’s maginations got stirred by the same stick.”
    “What are ya talkin bout Kid?”
    “When Charli Mills was a young’un she knew vestiges of the old West an the California goldrush. Our writer spent some a her childhood in a boardwalked town that sprung up durin the Yukon goldrush. Thinkin they both soaked up some stories an images neither one will ever fergit.”
    “Reckon thet’s so Kid. Figger thet stirrin stick’s turned inta a pencil fer them two. But we best stop gossipin. Thar’s gold on this here Ranch.”
    “99 carrot gold!”

    • Charli Mills

      99 carrot gold! Perfectly crafted Kid and Pal’s D. Yes, this is true. We have shared a western childhood among those remnants of gold rushes.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Sorry Charli, these two got away from me again. Telling tales of sticks and carrots… I’ll get them reined in. Maybe. (Kid’s harder to manage now that bacon can’t be used as a carrot.)

      • Charli Mills

        These two got a way with words and they stand in for the Ranch. Let ’em loose!

    • Jules

      Very enjoyable. Words are indeed 99 carrot gold. I stuck in another poem down yonder. As for a story… I’m still chewin’ on that one. 🙂

    • Gary A Wilson

      Hi DA, I wanted to make the “99 carrot gold!” quip, but thought for sure someone has already beat me to it – and there you were.
      It came off better in your hands I think.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Kid kind a lifted thet from Liz H, who is somewheres aroun this Ranch. Or mebbe it’s jist great minds think alike. That one’s sech easy pickins we kin all share it.

      • Charli Mills

        Creative lifting, aka inspiration!

  6. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    Well, those changes are no changes for me. Hahah. I used to post through the form only and didn’t really read submissions until the collection was published.

    I’m glad you quickly clarified that you did not mean the football team when you mentioned the 49ers because I was beginning to wonder how I would combine the image of Charli I had in my head with the one that is a football fan. We’re all very sophisticated people with different interests but something things ‘fit’ better than others.

    I look forward to Wednesday!

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, good, Goldie! No changes! What it allows me to do, though, is respond to all submitters through blogs or emails and I can find those updates every night from the form feed. I feel better about it because I can communicate with everyone who submits. It worked well for me last week despite the ruckus I caused trying to sort through the linking. I’m looking forward to Wednesday, too!

      • Sam "Goldie" Kirk

        Then it’s a win-win. Awesome!

      • Charli Mills

        Win-wins are great!

  7. denmaniacs4

    Excellent post, Charli and I loved the Dan Fogelberg song. And in my 99-word tale, I went somewhere I had been meaning to go but couldn’t quite find the muse…until your post.

    • Charli Mills

      Bill, that is one of my favorite Dan Fogelberg songs. It captures all the joys, sorrows and folly of the gold rush while recognizing the humans who made the journey. Happy to help you find your muse!

  8. Jennie

    You are never unkind, Charli. You are on a new roller coaster of learning. That’s a reason for every emotion. Isn’t it just wonderful?

    • Charli Mills

      I like that Jennie — a new rollercoaster of learning. It does cover all the emotions and can be a thrill to ride.

      • Jennie

        Well said, and thank you!

  9. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Love the song Charli. I agree – don’t beat up on yourself. It is a good example of how we all read differently and I think that is where the bravery in writing lies – you know what you are saying but the interpretation by the reader could be quite different and cause a reaction to which you had no intention. Your clarification I don’t think can be misinterpreted but time will tell. As for the prompt – I think Clementina and perhaps one other book – Dare to Dream by Katherine Sinclair – are the extent of my experience of the gold rush in California. Perhaps as Norah suggests our gold rushes were similar – piqued my interest as most things differ between our countries but perhaps this doesn’t. I’ll see where it takes me.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Irene. Wise words. I hope you find some comparisons between Australia’s gold mining and California’s. I’ll have to check into those two books you mention.

  10. Jules

    I’ll be back (I hope) with a story; but for now here’s a 99 word poem. I’ve just put the poem here – and there’s also info at my blog post. (The title is the link to both the poem and last weeks story):

    Outta Control (& Follow Through) 1p

    Outta Control

    In them thar hills was sum mighty sparkly stuff
    Gentle folk came a craized with ‘Git rich quick fluff’
    While them swell Forty-niners dun populated Cali
    Some sluiced mountains, others panned the valley

    Only the folks milkin’ miners, made out bandit like
    And those who depended on the land watched on in fright
    Eighteen forty-niners came from far and near
    Loosen’ sight of the true beauty that got lost to greed an’ fear

    Population boomed, statehood loomed
    Politicin’ ran amuck then, n’ presently ballooned
    All for the love of a mineral
    Makes a true blue heart become mighty cynical

    © JP/dh

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, if you want to comment on the Challenge with a poem that’s fine and fun! However, if you want to participate in the Challenge, use the form. Thank you!

      • Jules

        Yup, I did that… Not sure how long I’ll keep poems in the CR posts. As long as I’m having fun… You did say you only wanted stories in the collection. Has that changed?

  11. suespitulnik

    I think I missed something by not experiencing a western upbringing.
    I had no idea of how to connect Michael to this prompt until listening to the song. Thank you. I do like your taste in music.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! My music taste is eclectic and weird. But I’m pleased the song could offer you a western experience. After all, what would the West be without its people from the East?

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Gary, yes I received your entry from the form. I’m doing my best to respond as timely as possible but I have only small pockets of time throughout my week. But if you don’t hear back from me within a few days, shoot me an email. Spam sometimes eats submissions, but I do check the spam before I publish. We aren’t posting links in the Challenge, but your blog will be linked in the Collection. Thanks!

      • Gary A Wilson

        Thanks Charli. Happy wrangling. Know that you are appreciated.

  12. Hugh W. Roberts

    I do like what you say in ‘daring’ writers to participate and to take pride as they stand in the writing arena and share their story with other participants, Charli. It’s something every writer should be proud of doing – when they write something – even that first draft. It’s better than giving up and feeling frustrated or bad about it.

    For me, the magic begins when I read the prompt word. Sometimes, my creative cogs take a long time to start turning, but the thought of daring to write anything that comes to mind will now ensure those cogs start turning sooner rather than later.

    Just think of all those 49ers who dared to change their lives.

    • Charli Mills

      Hugh, I’m getting an image of that arena as a multitude of dusty, bloodied humans standing up, speaking out, and lifting each other up. The noise of the crowd, of the critics, of those who do not dare to dirty their hands even to help a fellow human succeed, that noise can fall away and not matter. It’s the arena, the work, the struggles of those who dared before us so we can dare that makes the difference. Those are the 49ers.

      I love prompt magic! Sometimes it is slow and other times it flows like a flood.

  13. reading journeys

    Hi Charli

    Thanks for this great blog – particularly for Dan Fogelberg’s “Sutter’s Mill” and its lyrics rich with the history of the American West.

    I thought of the poetry of the West, thinking of it as a source of ideas for the 99-word story.
    And what a surprise! Almost immediately came across the poem “John Sutter” by Yvor Winters!
    The poem has a fantastic combination of the physical and moral impact of the gold rush; and Sutter’s ultimate impoverishment. Quoting just a few lines :

    Valley and river ruined and reviled;

    Reviled and ruined me, …

    I was a cursing beggar, stripped and sore.

    What calm catastrophe will yet assuage
    This final drouth of penitential tears?”

    The entire poem is
    at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47782/john-sutter

    from the Collected Poems of Yvor Wintes (1960)

    Always learning something new when I come to Carrot Ranch!
    Still mulling over ideas for the 99-word story.
    Thanks a lot!


    • Charli Mills

      What a literary gem this poem of Yvor Wintes. Thank you for sharing, Saifun. I love how history and literature weave the human experience. We continue to learn and grow, stretch and dare.

  14. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    This was a difficult one for me, but I managed to submit! Woohoo! Catching up on Wednesday’s collection tomorrow. Yay for Friday!

    • Charli Mills

      Always ‘yay’ for Friday…even when it’s Tuesday! You are churning out the gold. 😉

  15. Jules


    Sometimes I have trouble submitting. The first time ‘your link has expired’ showed up. But I did it again and hopefully it took.

    Keep warm or stay cool where ever y’all ranchers are!

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, that can happen when the submission form is open too long. Sometimes it is a browser setting. Resubmit if you get that error message. I always select the second submission, in case it’s a glitch or a writer’s correction to the first submission. I’m trying to make timely responses but I think your submission was part of an email of submissions I misplaced. I verify the submissions in the feedback form before posting and I’ll be late(r) responding to those of you in that lost batch of emails. I’m still sorting this out too!

      • Jules

        I always refresh CR when I go to post and have everything ready for the copy and pasting. Sometimes after I get the name, email, link and post in (less than 30 seconds) it says the link was open too long??? I almost thought about asking if you got it because the first time you sent a comfirmation, which didn’t happen the second time. Thanks…

  16. Ann Edall-Robson

    By Ann Edall-Robson

    “Miss Ann says she’s a 49er.”

    “She’s older than that!”

    “Norman! Watch what you say.”

    “Well, isn’t she, Buttons?”

    “I’m not asking her.”

    “Not asking me what, Buttons?”

    “Oh, um, Norman wants to know what a 49er is.”

    “No, I said you had to be older than 49.”

    Laughing, she patted the Hereford calf.

    “Buttons is right, I am a 49er, but it has nothing to do with my age and everything to do with where we live — north of the 49th parallel, in Canada.”


    “And Norman, you’re right, I am older than 49.”

    “I told you, Buttons!”

    • Charli Mills

      Hi Ann, North of the 49th parallel! I gotta catch you up on some changes here at the 47th parallel (Ranch Headquarters). We are no longer submitting stories or links to posts in the comments to the Challenge post. Just submit your story in the form up above (which came through). When I post the Collection, I will share the link to your post in the title.

      • Ann Edall-Robson

        Thanks Charli. I did know that. Old habits sometimes die hard she says with a grin. By the way, I’m liking the direction you are headed in with the Carrot Ranch.

  17. Michael B. Fishman

    I’ve loved Dan Fogelberg since the ‘Home Free’ album. I can’t tell you how I got turned on to the album because I don’t remember, but here was a guy who was banging his head to Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad, Allman Brothers, Edgar and Johnny Winter, etc., and suddenly I’m connecting to these beautiful, emotional, lyrics. The song you shared is from one of my favorite albums of his (a pioneer in the ‘new’ Bluegrass movement). Anyway, thanks for the song!

    You asked: “What feels daring to you in your writing or as a writer?” and you answered the question for me in the next sentence: “When we put ourselves out there to be read, we are exposed.”

    I don’t like being exposed. A lot of the things I write are personal, but they’re not always about me. Some of the feedback I receive from people suggest the story was about me and I’m not sure how to deal with that. I’d like to write horror, but if I write something horrific are people going to think those are the real thoughts running through my head or will they recognize an imagination at play?

    Your blogs and questions make me think and make me question. Thank you for that!

    I missed the deadline for this week, but I was going to write about 49er pancakes.

    • Charli Mills

      The world needs 49er pancakes, Michael. There’s a place in Missoula, Montana that serves tart sourdough pancakes reputed to be from the original starter that came west to the Montana goldfields.

      Sometimes, I think my music choices are too revealing about me, and I can hide within my fiction. How we experience and express art is vulnerable space but worth the connections and insights we can gain for daring.

      And, every reader has a default. Either they believe stories are about writers or they believe everything writers publish is fiction. Some readers fall between, trying to guess. Many writers try to screen the guesses!

      Personally, I craft fictional stories around real emotion. Maybe I try to capture nostalgia or understand loss or pinpoint the transition where resiliency occurs. Art is complex. So are humans. I find that when we dare exposure, even one connection or one point of understanding makes it worthwhile.

      Thanks for being willing to answer the questions! The human experience is worth our curiosity and witnessing.

  18. ellenbest24

    I hesitated but dropped mine, only on your form. Late and rough not sure if it will fit.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for dropping your story on the form only, Ellen! We will practice until it starts to feel rhythmic to us as a group. The beauty of the Collection is that even stories we don’t think “fit” have a place to give readers pause or contrast or an unexpected angle.

      • ellenbest24

        Thank you. X

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