May 16: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

May 16, 2022

Spring unfolds like discordant popcorn. The daffodils did not wait their turn and flashed tones of yellow before the purples and pinks of hyacinth. Crocus raced the glories of the snow and they bloomed simultaneously. Stunted tulips gave up height for budding. It’s a disarray of ephemerals and I’m perplexed by the abnormal sequence. It’s a new and hasty song trapped bulbs made up in an extended snow prison.

Other signs of spring remain familiar and sequential. Shrinking piles of gritty snow continue to melt, and water plummets from the rocky spine of the Keweenaw. At night through the chill of open windows, I hear an amphibian invasion of spring peepers. It’s as if winter said, “Wait for it…wait for it…wait for it…” and then BOOM (or, BLOOM) and the frogs cheered. I’m struggling not to garden this year and hope that next spring I don’t pop inharmoniously because I waited.

I remind myself daily that the frogs and flowers will come again. It’s okay that someone else will love my gardens. I will make new ones.

This week, my focus turns inward as I prepare to take a four-day birthday retreat camping solo at my favorite state park (McLain’s). I’m looking to get my creative mojo back. It’s something all writers experience and I’ve allowed my own lapse after a difficult decade (I was going to write, “year” but it’s been a pile of years). Like the irregular bursting of flowers, I’m anticipating lots of creative explosions this coming weekend inspired by rocks, mergansers, campfire dinners with friends, a dance show, dinner in town for my free Geminani’s B-day meal, a day alone with my creative writing, and a cemetery field trip followed by a free day of nothing but research on what the gravesites revealed.

If that doesn’t jumpstart the creative juices, I’ll keep writing until they fire on all imaginative synapses. As Steven Pressfield reminds writers in his book, The War of Art:

“Start before you’re ready.”

Steven Pressfield

I’m going to hit the creative writing with all I’ve got no matter all that is going on. And much of what is going on is good, like diamonds emerging from all the pressure. This summer promises more excitement than I’ve felt in a long time, including work on a new anthology for Carrot Ranch. It’s all coming together even if I look like a mess of spring flowers out of tune. By summer, beauty will emerge from the transition.

This week, we are doing something different! Oh, of course, we are still doing it in 99-words, but the prompt is inspired and unusual. Marsha Ingrao graciously invited me to participate in her Story Chat. My genre is women’s fiction but I had this story idea that wouldn’t stick to any female characters so I thought Story Chat provided me an opportunity to write male characters for a change. Really, the idea was nothing more than a premise cobbled from several sources — a friend who used to lead a Puppies Behind Bars program for prisoners; disabled veterans I know; and the idea of what if they met through the dog.

What Story Chat provides is in-depth feedback. An author posts a short story and readers respond with questions, analysis, and critique. Not everyone agrees but responders gain understanding from reading each others’ feedback. The author gains insight for future revision. And I’m all about the revision process! Any insight is informative. When it comes to final revision, every author has to decide how to manage feedback and why. Later, I will revise according to feedback, and a potential home (I think it’s imperative that writers have an intended target audience or purpose for their published pieces).

If you have an interest in learning in-depth analysis and how to use it for revision, I invite you to read the comments (including my teaching points for the process of revision). For the purpose of this week’s challenge, you can read the short story “As Far as a Prisoner Can Go.” Your task is to tell the same story but differently. That may sound ambiguous, but it’s what we writers do. All the stories have already been told. Not all the storytellers have yet told them in their own style, voice, genre, tone, or perspective. Take all the liberties you want! Improve it. Wreck it. SciFi it. Romance it. Darken it. Tickle it. Make the story your own.

May 16, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about when a newly released prisoner meets the disabled veteran who adopted the puppy the prisoner trained behind bars. The prompt is based on the short story I wrote for Marsha Ingrao’s Story Chat. Yes, rewrite my story in your words, 99, no more, no less. Go where the prompt leads!

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

  1. Submit by May 21, 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.

You May Also Like…


  1. Marsha

    Hi Charli, I posted your invitation on the Story Chat post. I’m excited to see how this goes! I will repost the link to all the stories in the Story Chat Summary.

    • Charli Mills

      This is a fun way to involve other writers and hopefully they will see that feedback is nothing to fear — it’s part of the writing process and can be fun to figure out. Story Chat is a great opportunity! I’ll also revise my short story based on feedback, too.

      • Marsha

        I’m starting to get comments on my story as well. Not the strong analytic feedback that you got but more the feel good kind. Some readers, just a few are also sharing their links here. I hope we can chat this summer about some of the ideas you have generated here.

      • Charli Mills

        That’s great, Marsha!

  2. pedometergeek

    Did someone say fan-fic? That’s what this feels like, but I will try to give it a go after I think on it a bit.

    • Charli Mills

      Hmm, I don’t think I’d call it fan-fic, Nan — that implies writers who love an author’s story, characters, or series so much they want to continue it or tell the story differently. Yes, same principle (make it your own) but I’m not going to say we are doing this because you all *love* my writing, lol. You just got roped into revisionist possibilities!

      • pedometergeek

        Well, Charli, I certainly totally ‘wrecked it’ and made it my own. I think I mentioned prison, but after that…well, in a sense, it is your story, but that’s I went off the rails. By the way, I loved your story as it was and couldn’t imagine how to change it without screwing it up (which is why I hate fan-fic; it’s like kidnapping a child to take them to the zoo and figuring the parents won’t mind…it’s only the zoo which is a great place to go.).

  3. Doug Jacquier

    Hi, Charli. Great to see you featured on Story Chat (as I have been and can attest to the value of the feedback received.) Having said my piece there and having almost zero knowledge of the subject matter you’ve raised, it’s going to be a real challenge to do a re-write from my perspective as a writer. You’ll know if I was up for it later. 😉

    • Charli Mills

      I hope an idea barks at you soon, Doug! Yes, the feedback loop at Story Chat is valuable.

  4. Scott Bailey

    I’m not sure if it’s bad manners or maybe not allowed but I posted my story (this weeks 99er) in the Story Chat comments section as a response to Marsha asking me what I would do with the questions I had about Charlis’ story. If that kind of thing is not allowed, please feel free to delete it. Thank you.

    • Scott Bailey

      I already posted my submission for this weeks 99 challenge but it has kind of a sad ending, so thinking about “know your audience”, The Carrot Ranch seems to prefer happy endings so I would like to test out this updated version.

      Dog Days v2
      Scott Bailey

      Beautiful in her tight orange jumpsuit, Ramona introduced me to Buster. For the next three days at the prison, the two year old Yellow Lab listened intently as Ramona taught me the commands she’d spent two years teaching Buster in the Puppies and Prisoners program.

      When the training was over, we said our goodbyes and I headed home with Buster at my side.

      Probably five years later, there was a knock at my door. So I opened it and there stood Ramona. Busters’ tail nearly fell off from wagging it so hard. We all hugged and laughed out loud.

    • Charli Mills

      This is an unusual prompt, Scott and I realize we are also interacting with the premise at Story Chat, too. I won’t say it’s wrong, but I will remind everyone to make sure stories are submitted in the form above if you want to be published in the collection. You asked great questions and I believe they can all be answered with a single clarifying rewrite regarding the timeline of events. And oh, no — sad, horrific, realistic, unsettling, unfortunate, hilarious, absurd, and more endings are welcome at Carrot Ranch! The intent of the Collection is to showcase a variety of stories, genres, and happy/anti-happy endings. And that’s why we wait to share so no one feels pressured to go with the tone of other writers. Go for it! Go where the prompt leads you! I love what you did, by the way, to make the premise your own and to clarify all those questions you had. Brilliant rewrite and you showed me how easily it could have used female characters, lol.

  5. Gloria

    Oh that’s a good idea Charli!
    Looking forward to reading your story later. ????

    • Charli Mills

      I hope you will find this a fun excursion, a bit of a detour this week, but I can’t help but want to invite a sense of play with revision, too. Thanks, Gloria!

  6. Norah

    Have a wonderful time celebrating your birthday, Charli. It’s sounds like a perfect celebration for you. I hope it has the desired effect of getting those creative juices flowing again. The second anthology is exciting. I’m looking forward to reading it already. I’m not sure about rewriting your story. I’m short on writing time this week, but I’ll give it a go if I can.
    Happy, happy birthday, and many many even happier returns!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for the birthday wishes, Norah! I’ve been saving a certain rocky road for my weekend. 😉 Write if you can, but no obligation! Cheers to Gemini Season! <3

      • Norah

        I didn’t get to write but instead celebrated Bob’s milestone birthday, belated due to covid. (He’s Taurus). Tis Gemini season indeed. I’m feeling it. 🙂

  7. Liz H

    Sounds like a fun challenge, and an opportunity for everyone participating to learn a lot. I’m pretty committed to this serial I’ve been doing for last 2 months, and have to get back to the critique group and novella, and moving forward on my (2nd/3rd/4th?) edit of my novel. I shall bow out this week…
    Did I get a sense from your blog that you are moving? Away from your garden?

    • Charli Mills

      Hang in there, Liz. About the 13th revision and your draft will begin to sing! Not that I’m trying to twist your arm, but at least go read my comment about layers over at Story Chat because that’s where you are at and having a revision plan and critique group is excellent for moving forward. Sigh…yes. Movement is afoot. My world unravels with his brain. 🙁

      • Liz H

        As long as you’re safe…and maybe you look to your children and friends to check the temperature? Cuz frog in a pot of slowly-heating water….

      • Charli Mills

        Frog in a pot doesn’t feel the temps rising, yes. I have fortified friends and family at my six. The caregiver program has been the greatest support because now those jerks at the VA who dismiss me can’t. Believe it or not, after nearly four years I am still fighting to get him diagnosed. It’s almost comical except when I’m sobbing in frustration to get a neuropsychology appointment. It’s moment by moment. I hope to get out in ne piece and on my own by July. But this frog is exhausted.

  8. denmaniacs4

    Fun challenge…and great story of yours, Charli…

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Bill. I’m glad you appreciate the challenge, too!

  9. Jules


    Rest up – be creative and move forward. (((Hugs)))

    Hopefully my story only showed up once. The first link timed-out.
    I’ve put the link at Story Chat too.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Jules. I’ll accept that prescription for moving forward! Yep! Your story came through the backend. Hugs, back!

  10. Michael B. Fishman

    Story Chat sounds interesting. Critique and feedback is difficult, both the giving and the receiving, and it requires special skill for both. Doing it in person can be quite intimidating for some and the ability to do it in a moderated online forum is interesting (although still a little intimidating!) I think this is maybe the most interesting and challenging prompt I’ve experienced since kicking dust around the Ranch.

    Happy pre-Birthday week!

    • Charli Mills

      Michael, my gut would feel punched every time we went into peer critique back in the ’90s. Yet, went I graduated with my BA in writing, I realized that what I missed most about the college experience was the feedback! I wondered if I’d ever feel not-nervous about it. Fast forward to my MFA and my gut tightened again., knowing that the hallmark of any MFA program is peer critique. I figured I was more mature and I had already adopted a practice of positive reinforcement. Then…I had an entire class on what makes critique productive. I swooned. That was the framework I needed (and every writer needs whether they know it or not). I developed a methodology around productive peer critique and I’ve taught it in both ENG I and ENG II classes and watch how it builds good reporter among my students as well as give them useful feedback. I now know that if I focus on productivity, I relish the feedback. I hope you get the chance to read my comment at Story Chat about how to use the feedback that way. Try it out in safe spaces first!

      • Michael B. Fishman

        I didn’t see the feedback comment. Is it on the thread for your story?

  11. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Hey Charli and the whole Carrot Ranch Crew! I’m back! Well, sort of, I may not have a response to this challenge, but I will share this earworm the prompt led me to:

    I enjoyed your story at Story Chat, Charli, but was too busy to comment, plus was reading from phone, I don’t like using phone for this stuff and didn’t have anything new to add. I suspect you are very busy too, but how cool you found time to mix it up at Marsha’s place.
    It is good to be home on the ranch. And Kid and Pal have been found, so all’s well that end’s well.

  12. KL Caley

    What a fun challenge. Entry submitted. Thank you so much for the opportunity. KL <3

  13. Marsha

    I loved reading all these comments, Charli. I am posting the links of all the people who put them in my comment section for Story Chat because I always include a link to a post of each commenter. I’ll also include the link for your post that has all the stories printed out. I can’t wait to read all the ones I’ve missed. I’m listening to Diane’s link as I write. Your raw and vulnerable comment to Michael reminds me of how I feel about criticism. We do have to be careful. Some things don’t bother me at all. Other criticisms stop me in my tracks. I think I need to do a post about that for one of my Story Chat columns – or maybe compose one using the comments on SC. (When I have time). LOL

Discover more from Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading