June 20: 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.

June 20, 2023

It’s sand season in the Keweenaw. Eons, glaciers, and Lake Superior have eroded tiny granules of granite, quartz, and a plethora of minerals. The pulverized ancient bits fill our beaches, shoes, and homes once the weather invites us to the shores.

I prefer to walk the pebble beaches but Mause is a holy terror wave chaser. As a tiny representative of the breed of German Shorthaired Pointers, she’s intense. Thus, we’ve introduced her to the sandy side of the Keweenaw where beaches like the Bete Grise stretch for miles.

You might think, eventually, that Mause would tire of running. But not in sand. She loves the grainy beach and can chase waves and her favorite Bark Box ball which is a double-sided scoop of rubberized “ice cream.” Bonus — the ball of buoyant.

Shivering with her tongue nearly dragging, I have to coax her into her thick beach towel, otherwise, she will not stop. If I don’t throw the ball, she digs in the singing sand. Yes, the sands of Bete Grise sing. According to some, the grains bark.

Alexis Dahl explains why in her experiment to see if the sands sing, and if they stop singing if removed from the beach. I also appreciate her telling viewers that the singing sand is best left on the beach because it’s an important part of the ecosystem. Her videos are fun and quirky:

Mause may not understand or care to know why the sand sings at the Bete Grise, but the same qualities also explain how this sand easily rolls into crevices, sandals, and swim shorts. Sand season means we have grit everywhere. In the truck. In my kayak. In my kitchen. In my bedsheets. Even with my new vacuum stick, I can’t eradicate the sand.

And that’s okay. After all, sand means it’s summertime. And sand can polish or transform into pearls. Grains of sand, while annoying with their cloying, hold meaning, too, such as counting the grains of time in eons.

As writers, when we think about a story prompt, we can take a page from the dream tenders’ book. Depth psychologists are fascinated with dreams because they offer insights into the deep psyche individually or collectively. Ever think about what makes a story memorable or a classic? It’s details that conjure images to speak to the collective unconscious over time. This is why details matter when you write stories. And this is why you might find that “dream-tending a prompt” can deepen your stories.

I like to think of this process as story-tending because it follows the same steps as the depth psychologists who teach clients how to tend to their dreams. First, write down the image. It might be the word or words of the prompt or it might be the image a prompt gave you (an image can be a feeling or sensory beyond visual). It’s okay if the prompt does not give you an image. The next steps will help you find your inspiration.

Second, write down all associations you can make to the prompt without rules or judgment. It’s okay if you associate sand with summer, summer with lemonade, and you write a story about a lemonade stand. When I arrange the 99-word story collections, I look for understated connections as well as connections that progress. I also look for contrast in genre, tone, style, and ideation. Sometimes I arrange the collection stories according to my own associations.

Next, expand the image you get. If but one association sparks a story image, grab it. Ponder that image and begin to expand it — what about the girl at the lemonade stand. Is she homeless, a memory, or a vampire? Ask yourself questions to expand the image until you feel you have something substantive. Often, I start writing the image and have no idea where I’m going until I arrive at the end.

Creative writers will understand this last step of dream (story) tending. Have you ever said (or heard), “My characters talk in my head”? A conversation is an auditory image. Have you seen a picture in your mind’s eye of a character or setting? That’s an image. When you interact with that image — listen for further dialog or watch for action — you are animating an image. This is the work of dream tenders. It’s not “making up” a story, it’s letting the story grow and bring you along.

Creative writers understand the difference between imagining and meeting creativity in the imaginal, the dream world, the center of language for the heart. Literary artists love their images. They are like gifts. But if you associate, expand, and animate the prompt, you will learn where to find these gifts any time.

It is sand season. I invite you to listen to the singing sands, brush the grains from your hair, and practice story tending with the prompt.

June 20, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about grains of sand. Where are these grains and what importance do they hold? How many ways can you think of to use sand? Who interacts with the sand and why? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by June 26, 2023. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Thursday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. 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.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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  1. Liz H

    Not sure I understood your instructions for indicating formatting of line breaks, italicizing, bold. I’ve copied and pasted the poem into the box; we’ll see what comes out on your end. And here’s the link, just in case: https://valleyofthetrolls.blog/2023/06/20/time-to-replant/

    • Charli Mills

      I see, Liz! I think your poem structure is more advanced than my instructions for bold and italics. Yes, copying your story with line breaks worked; but not the indentations. Having a visual helps and I’ll get it aligned. You can always just leave a note in the submission too, even if it’s to direct me where to look! Thanks!

      • Liz H

        Cool, thank you!

  2. Jules

    I’ve got a BoTS waiting in the wings, but I also am still helping out at the Saddle up with;

    A Transformative Transcription of Harry
    (At the Saddle Up Saloon)

    Harry felt like he was sinking in gritty quicksand. The Sarsaparilla went down smoothly and cooled him off. Kid ducked under the counter and pulled out the box of lost and found items. Pal knew just what Kid was thinking and said; “You might be more comfy iffin’ you found some clothes from the box. We wash the stuff we find here in the saloon, under the Poetree and around the grounds. Its been there awhile so I’m guessin’ it’s’ safe for you to keep whatever you’d like.”

    “Getting out of this Tux would be good. Thanks,” said Harry.

    Harry picked out a yellow Hawaiian shirt with green palm trees, a pair of jeans, and a pair of knee high socks that had dolphins jumping up and down them. He even found a leather necklace that had a small clear bottle with some sand in it. The sand reminded him of something but he still couldn’t quite put a finger on how he ended up at the Saddle Up.

    Harry looked himself over in the bathroom mirror. Not half bad he thought as words started to form and fade;

    an hourglass
    has sand, time flows, want
    more, flip it

    Harry brought the box back to the bar. Pal and Kid looked at Harry and back at each other. Pal voiced, “Well I reckon you must like beachy things. What’s yer shoe size we got a few pair of water type shoes that might fit cha.”

    “We generally don’t keep footwear, but water shoes we hose down and dry in the sun. You’d be surprised at the stuff folks leave ‘round the poetry. They come here ta chillax and enjoy the calm,” said Kid. “Also got a box of photographs and postcards. Looky here, maybe somethin’ll trigger your memory.”

    © JP/dh

  3. Pete

    The sand outlasted us, sifting through our days like an hourglass. It coated the floormats of the car, gritty in sandals I’d worn as we’d traipsed along the boardwalk, basking in the tangerine sky of our honeymoon glow.

    Back home it rained. Suburbia blotted the sunsets with hills and vinyl siding. The bottle of sand mocked us from the mantel, stained and tangled, surrounded by picture frames.

    We tried again. We sold the car, the house. We donated the honeymoon suitcase that still held pockets of sand. We flew west, to the mountains.

    Our new vows would involve candles.

  4. Norah

    Singing sands. I’ve experienced squeaky sand. I’m not sure if that’s the same thing. I find when the sand is deep, very fine and dry, that it squeaks when I walk on it. It can be fun to hear it squeak, squeak, squeak. I grew up near a beach that had coarse, grainy sand. It didn’t squeak. Sometimes it was painful to walk across if there were too many rocks or broken shells tossed up. But I do identify with sand being in everything! It was especially painful in bathers – not at all comfortable between the cheeks. ????Enjoy your sand. I hope every grain buys you a little more time!

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Singing, squeaky, or silent — grains between the cheeks is uncomfortable as it gets, Norah! I wonder if different beaches sing or squeak differently? How fun to create a world’s choir of singing sands!

      • Norah

        Now there’s an idea. I wonder if anyone’s done it. 🙂

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