Once, I lost a book my Grandpa Sonny showed me in Montana. He and Grandma Donna drove all the way from San Benito County, California to Helena, Montana when I was a junior in college. Sonny was a writer and often took deep dives into the historical stories that activated his imagination. He was influenced by authors he admired — Ivan Doig and James A Michener. Both wrote family sagas; Michener was famous for l-o-o-o-n-g family sagas. Sonny had a vision for such, beginning in Scotland with the defeat of the Jacobites when, according to mythology, seven McCanles brothers fled to seven different colonies.
The book he drove over a thousand miles to show me contained notes and research he did in North Carolina and eastern Washington with his niece. He enthralled me with his stories and idea for a saga. He was proud of the manly men in his tree. He was even proud that we had an ancestor shot by Wild Bill Hickock. I was intrigued. Before he left, we agreed to work together on his manuscript about an ’80s casino crime story. He died before we finished.
At his funeral, I discretely asked about the book he showed me of all his research. His secretary knew it but hadn’t seen it. She said he’d filled a box for me and maybe it was in there. It wasn’t. I asked my aunts. I asked my mom. No one knew what I was referring to. Sonny’s niece, my first cousin once removed, researched with him and had gone on numerous trips across the country, and could get me copies. But it wasn’t the book I lost. I wanted his notes.
Fast forward to Idaho and the early days of Carrot Ranch. I accidentally found the book when a small box of my children’s early schoolwork fell apart when I went to move it into a closet. It was one of those boxes you never really intend to open again like a living time capsule. I must have grabbed a stack of school papers off my desk in Montana when we moved and kept them all those years in Minnesota as a box of mementos. When the box tore, out spilled colored stories, math homework, and Sonny’s lost book. I was flabbergasted because it never occurred to me that he’d left it for me to find on my desk. Only, he’d put it in a pile I didn’t go through!
I’ve told this story before because it had a profound impact on my own dream to write a historical novel, if not the saga my grandfather had envisioned. Rock Creek was born of this lost book found. I began by exploring the characters in 99-word stories. I found that the story constraint is a great tool for digesting historical research and experimenting with character motives. The stories add up and I also cranked out a raw draft for NaNoWriMo in 2015. When Todd and I wandered, we stopped in Kansas and Nebraska to research primary documents. I brought Sonny’s book with me, not daring to leave it behind in storage.
And so, it has sat. This lost book. This found book.
On Sunday, the first time since Finlandia University closed, I did not have papers to grade or lesson plans to post by midnight. I pushed the Challenge post to Tuesdays to further free up Sundays. Research Sundays. I peeled open the book and the first handwritten note to fall out of the cover focused on relating our McCanles line to Cobb McCanles, shot and killed July 12, 186 at his Pony Express Station in Nebraska Territory. Shot by Wild Bill Hickock (or not). Sonny speaks to me through his notes, “I am his descendant as are you, through Julia.” I had not seen this note before, or maybe I glossed over it. It encourages me because my tough-as-nails, hard-gambling, hard-drinking, visionary grandfather acknowledges what I had already discovered — the real story of Rock Creek resides in the women.
Yes, I descend through Julia McCanles, my third-great-grandmother who likely knew the real reason the historians are wrong about who shot her brother, Cobb. For someone who is returning to writing women’s fiction, a lost book was a good place to find my purpose again.
June 6, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a lost book (or many). What is the book’s significance? Who lost it, or who found it? How does this element fit into a poem, memory, or a specific genre? Go where the prompt leads!
- Submit by June 12, 2023. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
- Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
- A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
- Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
- Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.