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To Cultivate a Book

Come join a tribe of local writers and dreamers who are making space for a creative life!

Do you have a dream to write a book? This is the time and place to have tea with your dream. Squeeze a lime, pour some San Pelligrino Water in a glass and gather with a group of others called to write and declare a book.

This is a retreat where your seed of an idea is planted, nourished and encouraged to grow. Practice creative courage and share the words you have written, the plans you are devising to bring a book into the world.

Like soil, water, and sun, every book requires a writer to nurture its growth: creation, platform, and publication. Many writers tackle each set of tasks in a linear fashion. But to grow a garden we understand we need to combine the efforts of sun, soil, and water. Same with writing a book. Learn to develop a personal strategy that feels actionable and joyful to work. All attendees will get space to share, reflect and the tools to make progress.

This retreat is also about hygge, about finding a comfortable place to access when the work of writing gets frustrating. And it will. Art, like life, is a tug and pull between distractions and emotions. It takes perseverance to push through. We must weed before we harvest. We need to honor the feeling of getting cozy with a book when it is our own book.

Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” And that is what your book is. It’s a story you need to tell. This retreat will create a safe space of hygge for you to start telling it. To craft and draft. To strategically plan for platforms and publication. You will have a guide at this retreat, the next, and for what time it takes to grow your book from seed to harvest.

Join Charli Mills June 23 from 10 am to 4 pm for the next To Cultivate a Book Writing Retreat. Open to all dreamers, writers, and authors who have books in their heads or manuscripts in process. Three retreats a year are open to previous attendees and new exploring book writers. A vegan lunch is provided, and Cynthia Drake of Openings Life Coaching will host in her beautiful home and retreat center below Ripley Falls.

Bring a notebook or laptop, a five-minute reading from your idea, notes, or manuscript, and prepare to give space to your book.

AGENDA JUNE 23 from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

10:00-12:00 Partner updates and shared readings from works in progress
Noon-1:00 Lunch discussion: serendipity
1:00-3:00 Constructing Storyboards (and putting them to use with variations)
3:00-4:00 Platform Bricks (collecting the right ones for your author platform)

Every writer who attends gets a follow-up consultation on their personalized Author Action Plan. If this is your first retreat, we’ll work together to create your AAC. Returning writers will get advice on what next and how. If the weather is pleasant and you are so inclined, we can hike to Ripley Falls after the retreat.

Bring your computer or journal, a print out of up to 8 pages to read, and any writing implements (unless you like colored pens). Storyboard construction materials provided. Updates to your Book Toolkit provided (or starter toolkit if this is your first book cultivation retreat).

$75 payable at PayPal.me/CarrotRanch or bring check or cash to retreat.

RSVP at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

An expert in brand management, Charli draws upon 20 years of marketing for publications and cooperative businesses. She understands the strategies required to fulfill the individual visions authors have for their books. To Cultivate a Book combines personal and professional development for authors. Open to all dreamers, writers, and authors have books in their heads or manuscripts in process. Published authors can benefit, too. Come to one or all book cultivation retreats.

 

December 26: Flash Fiction

The day after Christmas and some might be elated, some might be feeling battle-weary, and some might not recognize the day as any different. Across Roberts Street, the Christmas tree in my neighbor’s window went dark. No more dazzling LED  lights to keep me company into the long dark nights I write at my desk next to the window that gave me an unobstructed view of his. Some neighbors up the street still illuminate their old mining homes and likely will into the New Year.

On social media, I’ve witnessed Christmas joy, angst, and meh.

Joy goes to many who had sorrows last year. One close veteran friend battled agent orange-derived cancer, which shadowed the past two years, holidays included. This year, with surgeries and chemo complete, he showered his wife with thoughtful gifts, the kind that will be remembered — years ago she shattered an heirloom casserole from Poland. He finally found a replacement and surprised her with it. It’s understandable that this couple has savored every celebration in December this year from making cookies with the grandkids to the quiet after Christmas Day. Joy returned to them.

Another family I know from those long-ago days in Montana celebrated Christmas with purpose too — that family matters. They sprinkled gothic Halloween humor into traditional Christmas themes because one daughter created that infusion. Families often invent their own traditions, renewing those passed down. I remember this daughter as a girl who was best buddies with my eldest daughter. She and her sister were children, I loved dearly, and when I think about them, I think back to when my kids were little. It’s hard for me to fathom that she took her own life this year.

Grief comes at Christmastime.

Festive lights and remembered carols remind us of loss — death, divorce, and other unexpected changes. We humans like to pretend that change doesn’t happen. Maybe it’s a protective mechanism, a way to avoid contemplating our own mortality. Looks, circumstances, and vitality inevitably change. When I consider those dark Christmas tree lights across the street, I wonder how my neighbor is doing. He lost his wife this summer. Did he honor her memory by putting up the tree? Was he trying to maintain connectivity with their grown kids? Was it a relief to pull the plug on the lights? Let go?

So many of us try to hold onto what we think was the perfect Christmas memories. Others try to break free of the Christmas past. It’s easy to envy those who look like they have it all with gifts piled under a perfectly decorated tree, family in attendance, and intact traditions. The Mormon missionaries who visit talk about the Christmases back home where family was the focal point and Jesus the celebration.

This year, I tried Yule. It didn’t go as planned with my daughter’s friends feeling shy to celebrate a pagan holiday with others. In no way am I looking to replace one religion with another, I just want to cook and hold an open house. My ideal would be to have my children at home, playing games, eating mama’s cooking, and watching Lord of the Rings. But they have work, homes, and lives away from me. It’s unfair to tug them to my wishes.

It’s hard for married couples to navigate the traditions of their blended families. One mom wants this tradition honored, a step-mom wants to be with her kids alone, another mom just wants daughter time. Often, Christmas is the only time of year that families get extended work holidays. How do you decide where to spend that precious time? And it’s right smack in the middle of cold and flu season. It’s enough to make young couples implode.

My daughter and SIL have declared stay-at-home healing time. My son went with his fiance to spend the holiday with her small but close-knit family. And my other daughter encountered a polar bear that got into town on Svalbard Christmas Day. She was indoors, he was outside. How I long for our own close-knit days but honor the fledging of my children.

This is the most wonderful (complex) time of the year. Just scan your social media feed, and you’ll witness the full spectrum of joy, grief, and frustration. You’ll see faith renewed and lost. You’ll see cookies, jokes, and lashing out. What we all need, no matter our circumstances, state of mind, or expectations, is loving-kindness. Stand firm in your own truth, but don’t rob another of theirs. Find common ground, and don’t be afraid of change.

So why all the human commotion this time of year?

How can we not be impacted by the rhythms of our world? In the north, we celebrate the return of light. In the south, we look forward to relief from the peak of the sun. These transitions have occurred without fail for all our history. I think it is no coincidence that the world’s greatest concentration of annual celebrations lands this time of year.

For our modern calendar, no matter where we are in the world, this is year-end. And it carries an energy of closure and renewal. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe in the power of planning. Every great plan starts with a clear vision, and this is a good time to renew or articulate yours.

On January 8, 2020, at 9 pm EST, you can join me on Twitter at #BookMarketingChat for a full discussion of how to use vision questing as a book author. Even if you have not yet published a book, it’s never too early to build an author platform. Use the search feature to find the chat and follow along, selecting the Latest tab. If you respond or ask a question, be sure to use the hashtag #BookMarketingChat.

2020 will mark my second year of a workshop series I teach called, To Cultivate a Book. This year, I will be experimenting with online classroom components. But first, I’m taking time to create a plan and to renew my vision. Last year, I focused all my efforts and energies on gaining stability. Now that the Hub, Carrot Ranch, and I all have a home, this will be a building up year, laying down the next level on the stable foundation. The prior two years were sheer survival. However, through it all, I never lost sight of my North Star. That’s the power of having a vision.

Life by design.

Whether it is recreating holiday traditions to align with changes, self-care, and compassion or embracing the joy of the traditions you have and share, be the creator of your life’s story. I don’t mean go write a memoir or imagine a better life. Know what you want to do or how you want to be, and create that life one step at a time. Acknowledge where you are and what your circumstances are but then look for ways to invite what you want to be part of your life.

December 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the phrase by design. It can be used in any manner — a label, a mantra, a story. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 31, 2019. 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.

 

By Design by Charli Mills

By design, my garden impressed. Every steppingstone measured, every bulb, seed, and root planted for maximum impact. In life, I did as I was expected. Good grades, college, spouse, suburban split-level, and two sons. On Sundays, I went to church.

Then my husband left me. My sons chose to live with him and his new wife, one without dirt under her nails. I moved into an apartment alone. Devastated. This wasn’t part of the plan. Where was God in this? Then I remembered the mustard seed. By design, I started over with a single planter and found my joy.

April 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

On March 29, Northern Lights flamed orange and gold over the Keweenaw. The sky colors raged like solar flares. These were no gentle green and blue sheets of shimmering arctic lights, but full expressions of Copper Country fusion. It came as no coincidence that 47 North raised the roof of the Continental Fire Company earlier that night.

Awakening began at 8 p.m. to a full house. The dance performances have grown in popularity, and the management had to open the upstairs bar and create a theater in the round perspective from above. My son-in-law opens every show as a theatric MC, grabbing attention with his voice and humor. The dancers opened with a remix of Wicked Game, a slow smoldering beat-heavy song that begins, “The world is on fire, and no one can save me but you.”

Each beat, the dancers popped in unison.

Pops are an under-appreciated element of belly dance. When most people hear the style, they think Mediterranean restaurants and women in sheer costumes swiveling hips and smiling for men. Not this troupe. 47 North Belly Dance is raq sharqi, Egyptian-style cabaret, ballet, hip-hop, and modern. They are fusion. And pops come from the ability to isolate muscles and control movement. They include the shape-shifting choreography of modern dance where dancers meld in and out of shapes with contrast and flow. Balletic grace infuses fiery strength. 47 North is a warrior tribe of strong female dancers.

After Wicked Game, I stepped onto the stage and read:

Welcome to the dark side: The black loamy soil from which crocus bulbs must break the surface. Before there can be spring, there must be winter. Life germinates in the dark, undulating to a restless energy, the manifestation of what comes next, a stirring felt by birds and bees and rising maple sap. On the stage dancers cast long shadows in the bright lights. They embrace the ancient rhythms, become the crocus spears beneath the surface. This too is part of life. The dance with darkness, the dance within shadows, the pre-emergence, incubation, propagation of winter absorbed by spring.

Two stories of bar chatter, clanking glasses and shaking ice creates a buzz I project over the top of like some Beat Generation poet, hustling literary art on the crowd. It’s not a typical reading venue, nor is it friendly. People don’t listen politely. It’s Friday night, and the party is underway. But I love this fusion of art, this opportunity to attend dance rehearsals, discuss meanings with choreographers and share a bit of their stage to read 99-word stories. I retreat to the shadows in the wings and two succubi, one short, one tall, dominates the stage, filling the space between their differences with an energy of seductive strength. This is not come-hither-boys seduction; it’s the dance of women owning their own sexuality.

The crowd roars and the fires are lit.

Throughout the evening the troupe dances from dark, sultry pieces that include bats to the in between stage we know so well on the Keweenaw  — before there is the daffodil spring we must endure the long melt of grit and snow-husks. We must crack the thinning ice. In Between, I read:

They chiseled their way into deep shafts, miners drilling through the basalt of a peninsula rich in copper. Men searching for copper. Women carve deep into the pits of their own souls to discover treasure within – the power to create, the power to renew. Spring awakens the miners. Tommy Knockers never stop searching in between dark and light. Fortune glistens in the returning light of spring to illuminate hidden veins held in the dark. Smell the musty earth and search for copper in your own blood. Plant a seed, pluck a stone. Spring has returned to Copper Country.

As MC, Solar Man entertains the crowd. He makes jokes: “Why did the belly dancer cross the road? She heard there were costumes on the other side.” We all laugh, but I’m not sure the crowd fully understands the troupe’s obsession with costumes which, like their dance style, is an eclectic mix to create vibrant visuals on stage. Hip belts are often the product of ripped leather coats resewn with cheap baubles and dime-store rhinestones. Tops are enhanced bras studded with costume jewelry, satin, and lace. Skirts are often scarves. Dancers use fans, veils, swords and golden canes to accent their costumes.

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The light dawns. The dances and costumes become more golden and glittery, the dances more joyous. This performance has been a full awakening. Before the finale, I have a point to make. One I want every artist to understand. We can strive to do our best, but no one is ever “the best” at art. You can tell the dancers, like my daughter in her high-and-tight buzz cut, that have trained for years in ballet. Grace imbues the way they hold their arms and necks. You can spot the dancers that flow with the music. You can compare ages, heights, and other numbers that hold no real meaning but are easy descriptors.

But you ‘d be hard pressed to agree on who is best.

I bring this up because writers often compare themselves to perceptions of best. Discipline doesn’t shape art, but play does. You can’t draft from the editor’s chair. You have to write first. After you write you can certainly improve. The trick is, you have to keep writing.  When you’ve amassed, then you can take a scalpel and practice precision. But keep writing. It becomes a dance. Pay too much attention to the other birds, and you can lose your will to chirp. Sing alongside the birds and add your unique voice, practicing the best you can do, not concerned about being the best bird.

Before the dancers took to the stage where they would  flow and  merge as small groups into one big group  with each dancer creating different movements, I read:

The Greatest Show on Earth returns in spring with birdsong. It has been said by ornithologists wiser than me that if only the best birds sang, the woods would be silent. How can we possibly define the best bird song anyhow? How can we say that the golden-wing warblers out-sing the piping plovers?  How can we deny the soul-stirring refrains of our favorite songs on the radio though yours and mine will differ? How can we not leave a live performance unchanged? The light has returned, and the birds have brought you out of the dark. Own your transformation.

47 North took to the stage and owned the transformation. The first time I saw them rehearse The Greatest Show, I cried. This troupe expressed how each dancer was different, but together they were stronger in their expression of art. They danced the way I feel when I arrange the collection of 99-word stories each week. I say this over an over, but it is true — art requires interaction. I might feel awesome writing my best, but it’s nothing if I don’t connect with others who read or hear it. Connecting when I’ve not written my best still feels more awesome than unacknowledged work. Unread, that’s what it is — my work. Shared, it becomes art.

The Continental Fire Company likes flash fiction. It’s because of my small readings they sponsored our Rodeo. The club manager always comes over to my chair in the shadows and explains how he likes the dances better with my stories, he feels drawn in to better understand what the performance means. Several people listen. Most talk. I don’t mind because the few who plug in, connect like a spark to fuel the flames.

But that night — March 29, 2019, those dancers took to the stage knowing one of their members was retiring to take a job out of town, and they all danced for her, with her, and for the mutual love of their shared art. The fire roared! The crowd caught it, ignited, and they roared back, feet pounding, hands clapping, hoots and hollers, whistles and trills. When the audience gave back the energy to the dancers, it was like a vortex opened up. It was a  rock-star moment, and the performance ended with a thundering standing ovation.

I don’t want to be “the best” writer. I just want to write the way those women danced!

Sunday followed the performance, and I had my first To Cultivate a Book retreat at the Ripley Falls Home of Hygge (or Healing). It’s a safe space to explore the creative life. I’m not here to tell someone the magic way to get published, the traditional way, the indie way. I’m here to listen. I meet writers where they are at, and I help them see what the terrain looks like. I help them plant and grow the book they envision. That’s the retreat part. Interspersed, I offered practical knowledge. Each attendee is working on an Author Action Plan that is cultivated to fit their book on their terms, knowing their options in the greater industry.

This is something I’ve felt called to do for a long time. Like all writers who face doubt, I wondered if it would be of value. Sunday I had my answer. Six women came together. Three had previously unshared works. Three felt called but had not figured out what their books were. I listened. I let my story-catcher out, and I caught nuggets to reveal as gems to each person. Seeing the fire light up in their eyes made my day!

Three of the women have serious books that each blew me away. I couldn’t believe they had not shared them, but then I understood. Our seedlings are fragile, and we must share with care lest someone stomp out the flames too soon. I felt like a book farmer, helping people grow the books they want, not necessarily the books they “should” write (unless of course, what they want is a book dictated by markets and readership).

Literary art is meant to be accessible, not put on a top  shelf for “the best.” Literary art has the power to move people just as dance can.

Keep your flame burning.

April 4, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fire. It can be a flame that burns or a light that inspires. Follow the flames and go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 9, 2019. 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.

 

Hard to Take a Break (from Miracle  of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Fire spun a halo in the night sky. Danni’s stomach churned. Nothing more she could do tonight. She leaned against her Forest Service truck, away from the camp chatter. Some recruits buzzed from the adrenaline, fighting wildland fires for the first time. Nearby, the Canadian Bombardier pilot regaled his earlier flight to the crew of Australians newly arrived. Danni scanned the distant flames, feeling impatient. In 1910 they didn’t luxuriate in rest and strategy in shifts. Is this what Ike felt before he left –restless while others fought a war he had to watch burn from the sidelines?

March 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

Wolfric III has terrorized me all day. It began while soaping the breakfast dishes, rinsing a cup and spying a slight eminence below the drying rack in the second sink. A small hump of gray darker than the stainless steel about the size of a cast-off peel of avocado caught my eye. When I focused, I realized it was a massive wolf spider. Wolfric denotes the name we give the eight-legged beasts of the basement, adding the suffix for annual lineage. In other words, this is the third wolf spider I’ve seen since relocating to the Keweenaw. Well, third one in this house on Roberts Street.

Last October, while sequestered away with my friend and seafarer historian at a lightkeeper’s cottage on Eagle Harbor, I stirred up a resident wolf spider in the bathroom. When they move, they hustle like arachnid lightning. Without my glasses, the world blurs. Nothing is distinct, but I can catch movement. I was about to step into the shower when I thought a mouse was scurrying toward me. I screamed, scrambled backward, hitting the bathroom door which obliged my force of contact and opened, launching me naked into the dining room. My friend, around the corner in the kitchen, asked, “What’s that you say, Charli?”

Mumbling all was well, I bravely, and vulnerably stepped back into the bathroom, grabbed my glasses and faced the biggest wolf spider I had ever seen. They are poisonous, though hardly aggressive. Living up to their name, wolf spiders are hunters. I’m actually curious about them because they often seem calculating and keen. Reputedly they have far better eyesight than I do. My shower was quick that day, and later my friend and I laughed about her missing Charli Verses Spider Show.

Mona, my daughter and son-in-law’s cat, is tiny but mighty. She’s the most loving critter on our block, possibly in the whole universe. She greets every person who comes to our home on Roberts Street with purrs and snuggles. Mona cuddles the dogs, runs to greet the kids at night, and brushes against Sgt Mills to gain affection. Sometimes, her love runs over. Like when I’m trying to write, and she decides it’s the loving hour. Often she escapes to the basement to hunt the hunter. But being the lovable Mona she is, she’s never hurt Wolfric I, II, or III. I’ve found her with all four paws tucked beneath her, staring at Wolfric staring at her as if she’s keeping the beast company.

It’s not Wolfric’s fault he’s terrorized me. I’m not adverse to spiders, and I understand that his emergence is a cheerful omen of spring on the Keweenaw. I’d prefer he stay in the basement, however. My issue with wolf spiders, in particular, is their size and speed. It triggers one dandy of a panic attack deep in my amygdala. I took caution with WIII and finished loading the dishwasher. Any I washed by hand I carefully avoided dripping water over him. Throughout the day, as I drank water, sliced cheese for an afternoon snack, rotated our baby flower seedlings to sunny spots, and prepped dinner, my mind never released the presence of the spider trapped in the sink.

At last, Radio Geek and Solar Man arrived home. Sgt Mills has a long day of therapies on Thursdays, so he won’t be back until later. And he’d only tease me, calling me his “Cowardly Cowgirl” so I’d prefer asking our kids to help rescue Wolfric.

We’re in the kitchen, Radio Geek and me. I’m tentatively searching for Wolfric as she’s making a snack of popcorn. She has dance rehearsal for the big show at The Continental Fire Company on Friday, and my dinner of roast chicken and cauliflower won’t be done until after. She’s feeling peckish for a snack, and we are chatting. I’m getting nervous because I can’t see Wolfric and I don’t want him to startle me. He’s had me on edge all day. It’s hard to polish my flash fiction for the dance show with spiders on the brain.

Bravely, I bend over the sink, searching. I hear my daughter say in cautious tones, “Mom…Mom…”

All hell breaks loose in my mind. I think she’s spotted the spider and is trying to calmly warn me. This does not calm my heart which is now ready to burst from my sternum. The next instant slams me with unexpected pain. I distinctly feel a whump to my back, claws in my neck. My logical mind goes on instant hiatus. It’s wonderful to be an imaginative person except in instances like this. Without the backup of logic, I interpret that I’m under attack. The hunter has me, and I scream, and scream, and scream.

Through the fog of sheer terror, I hear my daughter howling in laughter. This grounds me, and I realize  I’m bucking and pitching around the kitchen, screaming my lungs out with Mona dug into my back. She figured since I was bent over the sink, it might be a good time to jump from the kitchen table to my shoulders,  She does this sometimes when I do dishes or cook. My feline parrot who nestles into my shoulders and purrs in my ear.

Mona is a cowgirl. That cat can ride.

When I realized what was happening, I slumped across the counter, the cat dropped to the floor, and I joined my daughter’s mirth, and we both laughed until we cried. When she had seen Mona perched, wobbling on her toes to make the leap, Radio Geek tried to warn me. I thought the spider had me. Wolfric had actually crawled into Solar Man’s coffee mug, and my daughter rescued him, releasing him on the kitchen floor.

I thought we agreed to set him outside. There’s only five feet of crumbling snow left. Ah, well, I step firmly into spring. If something emergent doesn’t frighten the life in me, it doesn’t seem like a transition. Spring roars in like a wolf spider or a bronc-riding cat.

Last Friday I coaxed Sgt Mills to go with me up the peninsula. We drove along the shoreline of Lake Superior, looking for signs.  No open water, but the ice is changing color, promising ice-off soon.

An artist couple who live on the lake announced the passage of three freighters, meaning the Coast Guard has cut the ice from the shipping lanes. A small group of friends celebrated Ostara, and we planted seeds together. Last Sunday, I attended the local Iranian community’s Norooz celebration and next month I’ll celebrate Easter. I feel like my candy basket is full of special treats. Hopefully, not spiders.

Once again, I’ll be adding 99-word literary art to a 47 North Dance Show (Awakening). That’s this Friday. Tomorrow! It’s about the transition from dark to light and the fusion of accepting both within ourselves.

On Sunday, I’m leading a writing retreat called To Cultivate a Book. It’s based on other workshops I’ve developed, but allows for continual growth both personally and professionally.

We have room for four more writers at the Carrot Ranch Writer’s Refuge in Vermont at D. Avery’s A-frame cabin in the woods near the Northeastern Kingdom. I’m excited to be living a life-long dream of working with writers in natural settings, experiencing literary art and nature as one. I’ll be adding more details and photos to the Refuge tab.

Let this encourage you to plant, grow, nurture, weed and harvest. No matter if your world is upside down because you live in the southern hemisphere or life sends you unexpected spiders, you can always plant what it is you want to grow.

Here are some photos I wanted to share  with you from last  Friday’s jaunt up the peninsula. Pressure ridges from freezing  waves and erupting sand have formed what look like ice-encased dunes, eminences that will crumble with warmer days, and persistent waves. It’s stunning, gritty and transformative:

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March 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that uses the word eminence. It’s a rich word full of different meanings. Explore how it sounds or how you might play with it. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 2, 2019. 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.

Find What Glints  (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Eminence of sand rolled across flats, forming dunes. Danni recalled following an old pioneer trail across the Forty Mile Desert of Nevada in her dad’s Jeep, top down, spring sun beating warmly. What was that he said? Turn around and look for the glints among the dunes. Every time he pulled over, Danni scrambled among the hollows of sand, sun to her back. She trotted toward the glints – a purple glass nob from a dresser, a marble, an obsidian arrowhead. Even today, trained as an archeologist, she heard her dad’s voice coaxing her to find the discards of history.

Events

LOCAL EVENTS (Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan)

WRANGLING WORDS

(Every Second Saturday 12:00-1:00 p.m. at the Portage Lake District Library, Michigan Room, Houghton, MI)

April 13 • May 11 • June 8 • July 13 (guest host) • August 10 • September 14

Local writers (and those curious about writing) gather at the library to learn and play with 99 words as a literary art form. Each writer will get to read one of their stories. It’s a way to meet other writers, appreciate literary art, and learn flash fiction as a writing tool.

Free and open to all.

 

TO CULTIVATE A BOOK

March 31 • June 23 • September 22

Ripley Falls Home of Healing, Hancock, MI

Writing a  book? Give your dream space to grow. This retreat welcomes writers of all stages of book writing from dreaming to planning to seeking publication. Strategize with other writers interested in book publishing, learn professional development for authors, and give nurturing space to your book. Cost of $75 includes a vegan lunch. Use paypal.me/CarrotRanch or bring check or cash to retreat. RSVP at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

 

2019 UPPAA CONFERENCE: Pure Michigan Lit!

Saturday, June 1 at the Peter White Public Library, Marquette, MI

Marketing Magic Roundtable

In this panel discussion, we’ll touch on the three legs your book needs to stand on to be successful: Amazon keywords, an author platform with a media kit, and breaking into the burgeoning eBook marketplace.

  • Victor Volkman is the CEO of LHP and MHP with more than 100 authors and illustrators under contract. He has published more than 200 books since 2003. In his segment, you’ll look at a selection of tools using live demonstrations of products, keywords, and reports. You’ll find out how a $10,000 investment over two years turned into $60,000 in gross sales on Amazon.
  • Charli Mills is a born buckaroo who managed company brands for twenty years. In 2014, she founded an imaginary place at CarrotRanch.com where real people from around the world gather to write 99-word stories. She teaches authors professional development skills and writes stories about the veteran experience and forgotten history.
  • Naomi Rawlings is the author of eleven historical novels, including the Amazon bestselling Eagle Harbor Series. She has been nominated for three different publishing awards, and her books include four traditionally published novels and seven self-published novels. She lives with her husband and three children in the Copper Country.

 

2019 OUTBACK ART FAIR

July 27-28

Shiras Park Picnic Rocks at Marquette, MI

 

TRAVELING EVENTS

2019 Vermont Writers Refuge (June or July TBA)

This nature writing retreat will focus on craft, development, and key marketing strategies for authors. Setting provides ample opportunity to experience nature. Bring current work and goals for one-on-one consultations with Charli Mills as well as group learning, sharing and inspiration. Lodging, meals, and nature included.

Limited to three writers per 3-day session. Multiple sessions will be offered.

 

 

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Saddle Up Saloon; Carrot Cartin’ Characters Ain’t No Caricatures

Saddle Up Saloon

“Well Howdy. Welcome ta the Saddle Up Saloon. This here’s Kid, I’m Pal.”

“Hello. Jess.”

“Cindy.”

“Jess. Cindy. Yer lookin’ a might lost. Ya’ll on walkabout, from last week?”

“Walkabout? No, we’re not from Australia, we’re from New Zealand. We’re looking for Carrot Ranch.”

“Ya ranchers, are ya?”

“Not exactly. Our writer ranches, you know, responds regularly. We’re farmers.”

“Oh. What d’ya grow?”

“Corn mostly, but we’re interested in diversifying, heard the ranch was open to that.”

“Corn’s all ya need ta be growin’!”

“Shush, Ernie, yer jist thinkin’ a yer corn liquor. Farmers an’ folks should cultivate an’ celebrate diversity.”

“Dees ees true, Keed. I suggest a legume to fortify de soil after de corn.”

“Figgers, Pepe LeGume. Yer always advercatin’ fer beans.”

“Dere are other legumes. You could geev peas a chance.”

“Yes! I like the sounds of that! What do you think Cindy?”

“I think you won’t want to hear this, Jess, but I’m seeing faeries scampering along the bar.”

“Cindy. Not here.”

“Umm, them’s our chapfaeries. We got kinda a infestation ya might say. They mostly hang out out back by the Poet-tree.”

“Is that where the portal is?”

“Ya could say so, Cindy. It’s a portal ta poetry, buckaroo-ku an’ the like. Don’t mind ‘em, they’s harmless.”

“Oh, I know. Jess, this seems like a good place. Ask them what they think of your carrot crop.”

“Ya got a crop a carrots do ya?”

“Well, yes, like I said, we want to diversify at our farm.”

“Shorty’s the expert on carrots aroun’ here, but seems ta me ya gotta think ‘bout marketin’.”

“Shorty’s the expert on thet too. Kid’s right though, an’ they sure is plenny a carrots aroun’ these parts. But ya’ve come a long way. Whyn’t ya show us what ya got.”

“Whoaaaa! Look’t ‘em Pal! Why them carrots is ever’ color a the rainbow!”

roasting-carrots2.jpg

“By gosh, ya’ll got diverse carrots! Bet yer husbands is mighty impressed with yer farmin’ abilities.”

“Ha! Husbands?”

“I see ya each gotta band on yer ring finger.”

“And you assumed. Not all carrots are orange, Pal.”

“And not all marriages are either.”

“Reckon yer right, both a ya. Sorry ‘bout my ‘sumptions.”

“Hey, mebbe we kin git Shorty ta feature more’n the typical orange carrot ‘roun the ranch.”

“Good idea, Kid. Jess, what other ideas ya got fer diversifyin’ yer farm?”

“I’d really like to raise alpaca.”

“I’ll pack a cooler!”

“Shush Ernie! You were sayin’?”

“Alpaca. A herd of them.”

“I’ve heard a them. Little llama like things.”

“Woolly? That’s be anuther fine addition ta the ranch! Reckon Shorty’d ‘dentify more with alpaca than llamas, too, ‘cause they’re, you know… shorter.”

“Jess, Cindy, don’t you sell yersefs short. Seems like yer already doin’ right by thet farm a yers. Ya do an’ it’ll do right by you. D’versifyin’ yer crops an’ sech will make yer farm more resourceful an’ resilient. Agri-Culture— culture of the field. Wish folks could see thet cultivatin’ d’versity an’ weedin’ out intolerance is good fer ever’one.”

“Thank you Pal, well said. Right Cindy? Cindy? Pal, where’d Cindy and Kid go off to?”

“There they are, out back at the Poet-tree, with them chapfaeries flittin’ about. It’s been real good gittin’ ta know both you an’ yer wife better, Jess. Yer colorful carrots has given me somethin’ ta chomp on.”

Carrots_of_many_colors_cutout

prompt-chomp.png

 

“Yep, folks, if’n yer lookin’ fer a extra prompt, write some verse ’bout d’versity. Any kinda verse’ll do, jist leave it or a link in the comments. Oh, here’s Kid back from the Poet-tree.”

 

Communities should be like ecosystems

Knit together to carry weights might be shiftin’

When one has ta set back

another picks up the slack

All pullin t’gether, never jist one does the liftin’.

 

It ain’t a weakness or wrong

Ta see d’frences as d’frent ways ta be strong

We’re each part of a Whole

The breath of Earth’s Soul

Each singin’ a verse in a single shared Song

 

So don’t matter d’ya ‘dentify farmer or rancher

Or ‘dentify as plodder or prancer

Jist be yer best you

Good things will ensue

Sometimes we’re all both question and answer.

 

Jess and Cindy hang out in Joanne the Geek’s blog: https://jedigirlblog.wordpress.com/ which is run by Joanne Fisher who lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. She writes fiction, flash fiction, poetry, and the occasional article. Last year she completed writing two novels, and is currently looking for a publisher. In the past she had a collection of poetry published under a slightly different name. She tries to make her blog a fun creative space where she can experiment with different styles and formats. Her Facebook page for her blog is https://www.facebook.com/Joanne-the-Geek-137136437008772.

 

If asked, Pal & Kid will deny that they spill from the pen of D. Avery. They claim to be free ranging characters who live and work at Carrot Ranch and now serve up something fresh every Monday at the Saddle Up Saloon. If you or your characters are interested in saddling up for a wild ride as a saloon guest, contact them via averydede.1@gmail.com.

November 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

For those who rode in last month’s 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo, this is the date you’ve anxiously awaited. I use the adverb with understanding. This past month, I’ve entered my writing in two contests and submitted it to two literary journals. Waiting for notification can induce anxiety, angst, and doubt. Know that every writer experiences the rollercoaster ride of doubt. Artists combat resistance. Maybe you didn’t participate in the Rodeo because the word contest unnerved you. This is Carrot Ranch, a safe place to write, a fun literary community where you can find kindred spirits, a weekly challenge that displays 99-word stories. A contest invites danger; it sparks resistance.

If you haven’t yet read Stephen Pressfield’s War of Art, it’s worth the read. Some of it will make you cringe. Some of it will make you determined. He’s an author who understands the artistic battlefield. He writes:

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance…Resistance by definition is self-sabatoge.”

(Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art. Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.)

It is not easy to overcome resistance. Each and every one of you who finds your way to the Ranch to read, write, or join a discussion is participating in the three pillars of literary art. It matters not that you are here every week, but as the host, I can attest to the growth of those who are regular participants. When writers are new to the weekly challenges, I hope they stick around long enough to experience the magic of writing to a constraint within the bounds of a safe space. The Rodeo is a series of contests meant to challenge you to overcome your resistance.

My hat is off to each contestant. Take a moment to congratulate yourself for overcoming, for resisting, for showing up, and for delaying gratification. The challenges are fun — we get to see our work in concert with others. However, contests select and eliminate. We may not be gratified this time. Even if we win, doubt will still try to whisper in our ear. Winning or losing never offers comfort. So why seek out contests and selective submissions? To overcome the impulses of resistance and to learn. Growth requires an awareness of how our writing compares to others.

Comparison can be the ultimate discomfort for any artist. It produces a host of nagging emotions that range from inferiority to full-blown jealousy. A winner can feel like an imposter. In fact, in the first term of my MFA, we discussed the imposter syndrome as a common affliction of graduate students. Understand that this mindset shows up for contests, too. However, comparison can be productive. Let’s discuss how because it’s important to growth as a writer.

First, acknowledge any negative emotions. Practice kindness. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, tells us that fear will come along for the ride of everything creative we attempt. Consider her mega-success (she wrote Eat, Pray Love), and yet she still feels fear. Resistance. Her advice is to invite fear along for the ride but never allow fear to take the driver’s seat. You can practice this every time you enter a contest, submit to a journal, or seek an agent or publisher. Invite fear along, recognize its emotional presence, but do the driving yourself.

From this frame of mind, accept any bludgeoning thoughts that tell you, “Hers is much better than mine,” or “His sucked; how could the judges be so blind?” Accept them as signals for comparison. Pause. Compare in a productive (and kind) way. Take a deep breath and ask, “How does her story differ from mine?” This exercise will teach you to learn how to compare and contrast in such a way that you begin to notice how craft skills are used. There is no right or wrong between your writing and someone else’s. The better you can get at identifying craft skills in other writing, the better you can adapt those skills to your own toolkit as a writer. Try to go a step farther and see what the judges selected. Instead of feeling hurt, set that real emotion aside and go deeper to identify one new writing attribute to try.

Originality will always be your ace card. No one has experienced the life you have. How can you express your sensations, experiences, concepts, and observations in your writing? That’s your voice. Cultivate your voice and you will cultivate originality. I see this truth played out week after week at Carrot Ranch. You go where the prompt leads because it will lead you to your voice. That intuition is what you learn to follow. You can always revise, but let originality lead the way.

The most original stories are not always the most sensational. I think mainstream media tricks us into believing that hooks have to be startling. What surprised me most about the entries to the 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo was how prompts lead to greater originality. One of our contests was unprompted (Three-Act Stories) and instead of broadening originality, many writers resorted to sensational ideas for stories. Funny thing is, this diminished the impact because what was meant to be shocking risked becoming cliche. Let that sink in a moment. Writing about a hard social issue or injustice is not necessarily brave; writing about it from your own point of vulnerability is.

Your voice matters. Dare to follow that sensational (or common) lead into your own swath of experiences, blow past the tropes with something only you could write. If you take on a shocking topic, use it in an original way or say something new about humanity.

The most fun we all seemed to have with the Rodeo (judges and contestants combined) was with the Pro-Bull Mashup. Using three words from the source of pro-rodeo bull names and two niche genres (pirates and game shows) created a tight constraint and yet yielded much playfulness. In opposition to no prompt, multiple prompts pushed creativity. That’s an interesting consideration. Currently, I’m working with a 94-year-old WWII veteran in a writing group and he told me that as a child he read the entire dictionary. If he gets stuck writing, he turns to a page in his dictionary and uses a word to prompt an idea.

A standing ovation to ALL of you who entered TUFF Beans.

TUFF does its job and that is to force a writer to revise. I’ve known that my greatest weakness as a writer is revision. One of my best professors from undergrad days used to say, “Your manuscript doesn’t begin to sing until the thirteenth time.” Reality as a career writer was that I wrote to deadlines. I had to learn to write and edit simultaneously, gather momentum from interview transcripts, find original ways to include research with relatable analogies and write to my audiences for specific publications. As a marketing communicator and a freelance profilist, I got good at my work.

However, as a literary artist, I have had a tough time breaking those habits of simultaneously editing and drafting. I can write fast, and come up with original angles. But the more I pushed into my literary art and the more I grappled with manuscript revision, I felt like I had gaps in knowledge. Part of going back to get my MFA is to identify what it is I don’t know. What am I supposed to do each subsequent revision? Thirteen — how do I get to a singing manuscript when I can’t get past five revisions? I’ve developed tools like my storyboard. And I came up with TUFF to help me identify my blind spots in revision. I admit that I fear to make changes — what if I screw up the original thrust of creativity? How do I plot when my stories are character-driven and landscape-oriented?

TUFF and 99-word stories are tools as much as they are works of art. Many in my community use TUFF to craft business statements, explore narrative therapy, or generate manuscript revisions. Other organizations use it in ways I hadn’t considered. Offering it as a Rodeo contest is bringing it home to where it all began. When I see writers use the constraints to shift their stories and revise their original drafts, I feel giddy with excitement. TUFF provides its own lessons through the process. Our TUFF judge is a local life coach who loves using the tool with clients and business teams.

This year, I worked locally with our team of judges as I build up our Carrot Ranch literary presence in the Keweenaw. Here’s a bit about me and my home crew.

Charli Mills came to the Keweenaw from everywhere out West. As lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, she makes literary art accessible 99 words at a time and writes stories about the veteran experience and those marginalized by history. The Rodeo is a chance for her to encourage writers to push through creativity with courage.

Cynthia May Drake lives at the Ripley Falls Home of Healing, having lived in the UP for 30 years. She creates retreats and coaches clients to reach their spectacular potential. She regularly practices the 99-word and TUFF formats to resolve life conundrums, which has her fired up to be a literary judge for the Rodeo’s TUFF contest.

Marie Bertineau, born amidst the copper mining ruins of northern Michigan, is the daughter of an Ojibwe mother and a French Canadian and Cornish father. Her memoir, The Mason House, is set for release in September 2020 by Lanternfish Press of Philadelphia. She enjoyed the opportunity to work with Carrot Ranch on the Rodeo contest.

Tammy Toj Gajewski is an educated artist who recently retired from 24 years in prison where her nickname was Sgt. Carebear. She has written poetry and stories her whole life and is working on her book. She moved to the UP over 25 years ago and loves rock hunting, foster parenting, and dogs.

Bonnie Brandt came to the UP for MTU education and never left. As the daughter of a math teacher, she reads voraciously and belongs to a book club. She lives for the pun. She loves kayaking and cooking. She often will be reading even in summer!

Paula Sahin visited Carrot Ranch Headquarters during judging and joined in a session at the Continental Fire Company. She is a leadership development consultant trained by Brené Brown and manages Inner Wisdom Coaching and Consulting. She has a serious passion for learning and development.

Donna Armistead is a native of Florida and has taught dance and theatre in the Copper Country for over 30 years. Finally emerging from research mode to write a novel inspired by the lives of her Georgia ancestors, she is honored to have been invited to assist as a judge for the Rodeo.

Word Press allowed me to capture each entry and save according to IP address so that I could initially judge blind. I screened entries according to the rules and selected ten finalists in each category. I was looking for entries that met the criteria according to my perspective. I then shared criteria with my judges and let them use their own perspectives. None of the contests were purely technical. A few were more technical than others, but there remains an area of subjectivity. Judges do not all initially agree but everyone is allowed to voice their reasoning. Consensus was reached and three top places were awarded in each contest.

Each of the ten finalists will receive a submission critique. When I used to work with Paula Sahin, she coached me in ways to build strong teams. Together, we worked in senior management and helped our organization develop feedback loops that contributed to the productive growth of employees. As Carrot Ranch has grown, I’ve applied much of my previous career to our literary community, focusing on writers’ strengths and appreciating their use of originality and craft skills. With entry to my MFA program, I wondered if I could meld my positive feedback preferences with that of writing workshop critique.

One of my professors told me after a workshop exercise that I was one of the best line editors he had encountered. Editing is not my natural inclination (remember, I said my weakness is revision). What I realized is that by mindfully practicing positive feedback every week at Carrot Ranch, I had grown my skills. And yes, I’m working toward a brand of productive critique techniques to teach and use with others. I’m in my baby-steps phase, but by offering critique on contest entries where criteria are stated, I get to practice. Those receiving feedback get useful insights.

Be patient with me, though! Today is Thanksgiving in the US and it’s my second dinner, meaning I went to Wisconsin last weekend to fix Thanksgiving for my son at his request (Mama Bear can’t refuse an offer to feed people), then returned to the Keweenaw to fix dinner for my daughter, SIL, Hub, and friends. When on terms with an MFA, there is no such thing as a break. And somehow I thought it was a good idea (back in September) to announce winners today! I will not be immediately responsive, but I’ll be back at it on Friday when I’ll send email winner announcements.

Over the next four weeks, I will email a batch of critiques according to the order of contests. By the end of December, all 40 critiques will be delivered, just in time for my term finals.

I’d like to thank the Patrons of Carrot Ranch — your contributions maintain a dynamic community making literary art accessible. I have no staff. I have a small team of Ranchers who contribute as patrons. The work behind the scenes is my privilege. I’m grateful for all of you at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. It’s my life’s work to encourage others to write, read, and heartily discuss creative writing. It helps us all overcome resistance to our art and pursuit of it. I love what I do.

Thank you for your support of the Flash Fiction Rodeo. I hope you found it scary, fun, enlightening, and anything else you need to keep you on your writing path. Please take the time to read the 2019 Winners Page where all contest finalists, their entries and awarded top three places are displayed. Last year’s Rodeo Pages are all compiled into one 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo. To celebrate or commiserate winning, our prompt challenge follows.

November 28, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about winners. Who are they, what’s the mood, and what did they win? Express emotion or subdue it. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 3, 2019. 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.

NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests are located at 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo.

Challenge submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.

Keep Trying Until You Win by Charli Mills

Martha posed her best winning grin to the reporter, spitting dirt as she smiled. The bulb flashed so brightly it turned everything to white blotches. Blinking, and wiping at the mouthful of arena dirt she received after the goat clocked her a second time, she looked for Auntie Bess. The old woman was leaning against the railing beyond the chatter of family and fans. Ducking the swipe of a hankie, Martha joined her Aunt.

“Why’d ya win kiddo?”

“Cause no one else would go after that stinkin’ goat three times. Figured, I keep trying ‘til I got him tied!”

November 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Storm windows form an extra layer against the cold like thermal underwear in winter. It’s that time of year when my global positioning triggers EOSO — early-onset-snow-obsession. I recently entered a short story contest dedicated to the theme of snow. I wrote, “I live in a snow globe where a dome of clouds hunkers…” Storm windows buffer my watch over the ever-falling snow glitter.

And they went up this morning with whacks and thunks. When your house has lived through 120 years of storm window seasons, a rubber mallet helps to pound the frames into place. My son-in-law popped by this morning to finish up a few before-winter-hits house projects because winter already hit.

Already, I feel less of a draft with the extra panes. I wonder, when were storm windows invented? We have the original 120-year-old windows with glass imperfections that can warp the view outside. Who were the people who lived here before, and were they window-gazers? As writers, as creatives, as dreamers, we stare out of windows.

“Give me a window and I’ll stare out it.”

~ Alan Rickman

“In the old days, writers used to sit in front of a typewriter and stare out of the window. Nowadays, because of the marvels of convergent technology, the thing you type on and the window you stare out of are now the same thing.”

~ Douglas Adams

“My favorite journey is looking out the window.”

~ Edward Gorey

“Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.”

~ Edith Wharton

“If you want the people to understand you, invite them to your life and let them see the world from your window!”

~ Mehmet Murat ildan

“I was just sitting on the train, just staring out the window at some cows. It was not the most inspiring subject. When all of a sudden the idea of Harry just appeared in my mind’s eye.”

~ J. K. Rowling

My friend, Paula, drove six hours from Minneapolis to stay with me this week while drafts of cold wafted through the windows before the second layers went up. She came to stare out windows, winterized or not. My vision for home and Carrot Ranch converges — this house at World Headquarters is the Roberts Street Writery. A place to stare out of windows.

Paula calculated that we’ve seen each other three times in seven years. Before that, we saw each other daily, working on a management team together. Paula is a leader of leaders. Specifically, she is an independent certified Dare to Lead™ facilitator trained by Brené Brown.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

~ Brené Brown

As writers, to own our stories is to cultivate our authentic voices, the one distinction that will define our writing and keep our output original. We know all about vulnerability. To write is to be courageous.

My friend dares to step out to the frontlines of a VUCA world, to train leaders for uncertain times. When I first read the definition for VUCA, I thought perhaps it was a bit harsh, but then, look at the state of American politics this week and how much has shifted and polarized over the past two years. Look at crises around the world and our connectivity to it all. VUCA is a dim prospect to consider.

In a way, my friend installs storm windows, teaching leadership skills for a turbulent world.

Entrepreneurs are like artists. Or artists are like entrepreneurs.

“When I say artist I mean the one who is building things … some with a brush – some with a shovel – some choose a pen.”

~ Jackson Pollock

The Roberts Street Writery is a place where my friend could unplug from her busy uncertain world and slow down to dream about building her leadership consulting business. She arrived at the Keweenaw snow globe on Monday, Veteran’s Day. She joined a group of us from the Vet Center for dinner at the Pilgrim Steakhouse (they generously offered free meals to veterans that day). She joined one of my local writer friends, Donna, at the Continental Fire Company to co-judge a Rodeo contest and met my friend Cynthia at the Ripley Falls Home of Healing. We toured Finlandia’s facilities for workshops, shopped Copper World in Calumet, and had coffee at Cafe Rosetta. She told me it felt like there is more air here.

Carrot Ranch Headquarters is a place where artists and entrepreneurs can collect their thoughts, breathe, and find respite. It’s also a place to find an intact community. Paula writes about her visit in Good Times and Perfect Strangers. The benefits are reciprocal. The Keweenaw experiences new ideas, art, and exchanges. Roberts Street Writery guests experience what they need for rejuvenation. My friend is my fourth guest (our very own D. Avery was my first).

We have much yet to do to get the house the way I envision it for guests, but it is fully functioning and everyone enjoys its character. We have a queen bed in the Rodeo Room and a twin air mattress for the Unicorn Reading Room. After the first of the year, I’ll be hosting Silent Reading Parties and Write-ins. They will be live literary events simultaneously at the Roberts Street Writery and online. More details to come mid-January.

If any Carrot Rancher wants to get away to the Keweenaw, the Rodeo Room is open to you for up to three nights at no cost to stay. In the future, I hope to establish an actual Artist in Residency and seek travel support locally or through grants. But that’s likely a few years out. Like with everything we do, this is a simple first step.

If you are interested in coming to stay at the world headquarters for Carrot Ranch, shoot me a message. It’s an exchange: you get respite and a place to write, my community gets to meet a writer. I can set up readings from private to public, take you on a media tour, and let you experience all the Keweenaw has to offer or space for staring out windows.

This term, I’m studying plot and continuing to master x-ray reading. I’m plowing through I novel I detest, which is good. I’m reading carefully to understand how the author constructed it, what rubs me the wrong way, and why critics highly regard it. I’ll withhold final judgment until completed, but it has ruined my I’m-so-excited-to-read-every-day vibe. It’s work.

The other two novels offer more story, although one has horrible characters. Mind you, they are well-crafted characters, but shallow, racist, sexist, selfish characters. The third book has a great narrative drive and a protagonist (a book conservator). But the point of my opinion is that not all readers are a book’s target market. As an MFA student, I don’t get to read my pleasure. I’m reading as an author, and each book is teaching me something about the craft and industry marketing.

I’ve talked before about plotters and pantsers (writing by the seat of your pants). I firmly believe a book writer must be both, but how and when is a matter of learning to work to one’s strength. I identify as a pantser, but professionally, I’m striving for plantser, an intentional combination. I’m excited to be learning more about how to plot.

This week, I learned a way to craft a chapter like it were carpentry. Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez described in an interview (Writing Craftsmanship, Films on Demand) how the writer is to hook the reader by revealing the what but not the how. He gives an example of an opening that makes a reader wonder if the character gets killed. Our curiosity often breaks the spell to flip to the last page. Instead, Marquez advises, state right away that the character gets killed and then hook the reader line by line with the story of how.

One of my professors also linked to Kurt Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories! We already know that one. But it is a useful technique to think of every story you are familiar with (from fairy tales to books read) and name their shapes. This exercise teaches you to identify plot. You can also answer these questions in brief when you read:

  1. How is the plot introduced?
  2. How does the plot develop?
  3. How does the plot climax?
  4. What is the plot’s resolution?

Know the difference between premise and plot. Think of a premise as that the what-if setup — what if an orphaned boy was capable of magic and had to go to a secret school to master his skills? How Harry Potter does that and all the things that happen next are elements of plot.

My professor pointed out that often, early in writing, we have a great premise but no plot. Premise is not plot. It gave me an a-ha moment. I love to write for discovery. But that doesn’t mean I discover the plot. Therefore, it’s good to master quick plot-mapping skills (through learning to summarize book plots) so that you can plot while you pants. Plantsing.

And if you are the opposite, carefully plotting, make sure you also take time to write without the framework to see what you might discover. You can pants in between plotting. Plantsing.

I know we have stared out windows before, but let’s have some fun with storm windows as a phrase or device in our stories this week.

November 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using storm windows. It can be literal on a house, but also consider other portals, even spaceships or submarines. Can you make it into something new or build a story around something historical? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by November 19, 2019. 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.

NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests during the 2019 Rodeo will be announced on November 28, 2019.

Snow is the Mother of Invention by Charli Mills
Trudging snowy streets in blizzard conditions, Regis arrived home. He flipped a spring-loaded mechanism at the side of each lens of improvised goggles. In place, the outer lenses prevented moisture from coating the inner ones. Tiny nozzles spayed an anti-freezing gel that kept the outer frost-free without harming his eyes. “Eureka,” he shouted, startling the crows in his bare maples. He hopped, skipped and slid, crashing through the basement door, grasping for any handhold. Empty-handed he sprawled across the floor. Regis pushed himself up and whistled cheerily. Storm windows for the nearsighted might be his best invention to date.

The Greatest Gift

If you asked people what the greatest gift is, you might be surprised at how varied our answers can be. This prompt initiated a conversation that explored the shadows of life. The sun doesn’t always shine, and happiness can feel fleeting. The longer we live, or the more direct experiences we have outside normal expectations, the answer shifts.

So, of course, the greatest gift makes an interesting exploration among writers. Ultimately, we can say the greatest gift is life — but we have many ways to express what that means, why it is so, and how we can manage such a precious and uncertain gift.

The following is based on the September 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift.

PART I (10-minute read)

A Better Way to Serve (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Freya returned from Iraq, friendless. Mark Bastia didn’t survive the IED blast. His dog tags hung with hers. Despite combat, she was never counted as their brother. She pulled a long drag from her last cigarette, eyed the perfect branch from which to hang herself, and decided the greatest gift to the world would be to remove herself from its spinning. She touched the branch and recoiled. 22 a day, and she would not become another nameless statistic. Instead, she enrolled in college to battle veteran suicide and opened the first satellite Vet Center in North Idaho. She survived.

🥕🥕🥕

The Greatest Gift by Jo Hawk

As the day approaches, my anticipation increases. Doubt wrings conviction from my heart while my head constructs lists designed to weigh each decision’s consequences.

My worry consumes me, and my mother sends me to visit the shrine. The Omikuji will predict my future she says.

Thousands of paper strips tied to pine rods dominate the temple grounds. I fear the multitude of curses and bad fortunes others have tried to leave behind.

Still, I make my donation and follow ancient customs. Trembling hands clutch the paper. I read my destiny and press the god’s great blessing into my soul.

🥕🥕🥕

Let There Be Light! by Anne Goodwin

When I was small, the chores all done, I’d rest my head in my mother’s lap and watch the fireflies dancing, Grandfather’s stories music to my mind. But as I grew, the village shrank, the daylight hours too short for all I longed to learn. My teachers praised my intellect; they scolded me for homework half-done. Until I got the greatest gift: a lamp that caught the daytime sun and gave it back at night-time. Now I’m off to study in the city where neon never stops burning. When I’m trained, I’ll return as teacher to my classmates’ kids.

🥕🥕🥕

The Greatest Gift by Norah Colvin

The class was aflame with a mix of sadness and excitement.

“She’s is leaving.”

“She’s gunna have a baby.”

“I’m gunna bring her a gift.”

“I am too.”

On her final day, the children jostled to give first, hopeful she’d love their gift the best.

“Mine’s bigger than yours.”

“Mine’s better.”

“Mine’s the greatest.”

The children gloated and nudged each other as the teacher opened the gifts.

“How perfect.”

“This is great.”

“Thank you, everyone.”

Finally, Tommy edged forward. His hands were empty. He looked shyly into his teacher’s eyes and whispered, “I’ll miss you, Miss. You’re the best.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Greatest Gift by Donna Armistead

Daisy, my grandmother, comes to the living room arch to watch me practice pirouettes on the sculptured carpet. The soft slippery loops help my turns a lot. Unless I lose my balance.

I stop. She knows I hate it when people watch me practice. Though slightly annoyed, I love her and her faith in me. Even when every muscle hurts and Vicki gets cast in all the best roles.

Ten years later, she writes me in Boston. “Keep dancing,” she always signs her letters.

Fifty years later, and I’m still teaching kids. Trying to get them to “Keep dancing.”

🥕🥕🥕

Time Traveler by Donna Matthews

My mother told me I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. I could be anything from an astronaut to an astrophysicist. But all I ever wanted to be was a time traveler. I mean, come on! Who doesn’t want to roam through the dusty pages of history? Tiptoe silently into the unknown future? But alas, as it turns out, my sheer will and determination can’t quite transverse the time-space continuum…yet. I desperately hold out hope that the smart people of NASA will figure it out before it’s too late to make my mama proud.

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The Guardian by Bill Engleson

It was such a little thing.

He’d always lived in the house, worked in the mill. Ruth taught grades 1-3 for twenty-five years, interrupting her work twice to have their children.

She loved teaching almost as much as their life together.

After she was gone, he went too far inside himself.

Finally, he came up for air.

After that revelation, he’d sit on his porch in the fall, the spring if it got even a tad warm, the early part of the summer, and watch the kids go by, wave, smile, just be.

He knew she would love that.

🥕🥕🥕

The Gift of Courage (from “Lynn Valley”) by Saifun Hassam

Teresa was a nurse physician. Her excellent skills in the care of surgery and chemotherapy patients were a great asset. Some of her patients were children.

Her rapport with the children was remarkable. They would often talk to her about their fears and worries. She would ask them perceptive questions about what had happened. It was never easy but somehow that helped the children to focus more on their recovery, and going home, a fresh start. She would read from their favorite story books. They loved her. She gave them the greatest gift they needed in those moments: courage.

🥕🥕🥕

Greatest Gift by FloridaBorne

I’ve been asked the question before and the answer changes according to my age.

“What is the greatest gift you’ve received?”

Age 5: The doll I wanted
Age 15: GoGo Boots.
Age 25: Son
Age 27: Daughter
Age 36: A bachelor’s degree.
Age 46: Enlightenment
Age 54: The perfect part-time job.
Age 63: Holding my first published book in my hands.
Age 67: My first office with a window.
Age 69: Doing a yoga headstand and carrying a gallon of milk with my pinkie finger.

Health, it seems, is the greatest gift. For without it nothing else is possible.

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The Greatest Gift by Jim “Quincy” Borden

“I think I’ll make up a story about how for Christmas I wrapped everyone’s present in gray wrapping paper. Each box was a different size and weight, and everyone could pass the boxes back and forth until they all agreed on which box they wanted to claim as their own. I’ll then write about everyone’s immediate reaction.”

Tommy was explaining to his sister about the latest Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge.

Suzie looked at him quizzically and asked, “How are you going to relate that to ‘the greatest gift’?”

“Greatest gift? I thought it was the gray gift test…”

🥕🥕🥕

Edward Bear Has A Good Day by Joanne Fisher

Edward Bear wandered the forest looking for honey. His love hadn’t woken yet from her winter sleep and she would be hungry when she did, just like he had been. During his search for a beehive, he encountered two humans. They took one look at him and screamed as they ran off leaving behind a large basket. Edward rummaged though it finding all sorts of foods, including a jar of honey. He took the basket to where his love still slept. There would be all sorts of food for her when she woke. It would be the greatest gift.

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The Stupidity of the Sexes by Chelsea Owens

“What, Isla? What did I do?” Peter stared into her eyes; if his were not close to tears themselves, they at least reflected hers.

Isla sniffed. She felt the lines of wet on her face, the dryness of her lips, the misery of her soul. ‘Surely,’ she thought bitterly, ‘He knows what he did.’

Peter felt clueless. ‘All I said was that people never forget their first girlfriend,’ he mused, ‘Just because Stella said, “Hi…”’ He looked at Isla’s splotchy face. Maybe a comforting smile would help.

Isla burst into fresh tears. “I -I -I -gave you my heart!”

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Time, Heart and Head by tracey

She was 83, too old to be living alone said her grandchildren. Her house was worth a fortune they said.

“It’s my home, not a house,” she groused. “Fine, when the Cubs win the World Series I’ll move.”

She spent her 92nd summer as always, listening to the Cubs on the radio. She was tired, worn out; it had been a hard year. In her head she knew it was time to move.

Finally, game seven of the World Series. Tie score. Rain delay ends at last. Her heart races, knows: it is time for the Cubs to win.

🥕🥕🥕

The Greatest Gift by Anita Dawes

Being here in the first place
The friendships we make
The lovers we take
Fighting through the storms
While an angry mother
Tries to rearrange the world we live on
The beauty of a coral reef
The sunsets, the full moon
So many gifts
The hand of a stranger offering help
The sound of a new-born baby’s cry
Life continuing
Someone will always be here
While others leave
A reminder of our immortality
Art made by a stranger’s hand
That we like to look upon
Most of all to be loved
To love in return, to live, to prosper…

🥕🥕🥕

Given, Not Gone by D. Avery

The gift of creation, with free will, was given long ago. Somehow this planet came into being in this solar system; over time each one of us also had a beginning. In our beginnings was wonder, was potential, power, and promise.

That was then, this is now.

Now we might dwell on our flaws and misspent potential, might despair at our human failings, might mourn the state of our planet.

Or, right now, we might acquire humility and gratitude for the Gift. Every Now is a beginning. We could choose to cultivate and nurture potential and promise, right Now.

🥕🥕🥕

Reciprocation (Rerun! first published for the April 6, 2017 Carrot Ranch prompt) by D. Avery

Do not forget Turtle who brought the earth up from the watery depths. Do not forget Tree, whose roots hold and cradle the earth, whose branches hold up Sky. These ones, Turtle, Water, Tree, Sky, are sacred.

Long ago these ones spoke together, and together thought to provide and to sustain; they thought us into existence that we might use their gifts.

Be humble. Our creations are mere imitations, expressing gratitude, expressing wonder. Be mindful. Give thanks to Turtle, to Water, to Sky, to Tree. We are their thoughts that receive their gifts, and they think us most sacred.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

The Greatest Gift by Faith A. Colburn

My son and his father don’t get along and that means Ben is losing half of himself. My former husband gave us scary times and he wanted to make up for it, so when he got his life under control, he gave Ben the greatest gift he knew how to give—a horse. That’s because when he was going through the worst of his own adolescence, his horse provided him solace. During summers Ben spent in Colorado with him, they rode horses and took packing trips. Those were good times for Ben, but somehow he’s lost whatever they had.

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Properly Prioritizing by JulesPaige

Jackie was never just one of the girls. Life, if it’s too perfect, move along. Because you are dreaming. Once you wake up you’ll see that the greatest gift is to be present in the moment. And you don’t have to have any cards to carry to say you belong to this group or another.

One day you are thinking of making wedding anniversary plans and the next you learn your husband has cancer. A small slow growth removable by surgery. Which might not even require lifelong meds or radiation. Take each day as a gift, learn to live.

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Time to Heal by Chris Hewitt

“I don’t understand, why can’t you just bring her back?” he sobbed, “You could just bring her back!”

“I can’t,” said Death, “I don’t choose who lives and who dies.”

“You’re Death!” he spat, “If you don’t choose, who does?”

Death shrugged and pointed up, “Someone upstairs.”

He shook his head, “I don’t want to live without her, I can’t!”

Death looked down and played with his hourglass.

“Please!” he pleaded, staring into empty sockets.

“I can give you something that will help,” said Death.

“What?”

“The only gift I have,” said Death, handing over the full hourglass, “Time!”

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The Greatest Gift by Ritu Bhathal

“What would be the greatest gift you could give me? Honestly?” Maggie looked at her husband, who was trying his hardest to make her looming 40th birthday one to remember.

“Of course, honestly Love. It’s your big day. The kids and I want to make sure it’s a day to remember for you. Don’t be shy.”

“Alright then, the greatest gift you could give me is time.”

“What, like a new watch or something?”

“Not a watch, John, no. Time. Every day. Help me out a bit. Act like their dad, not their babysitter. That’d be the greatest gift.”

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The Gift of Life by Susan Zutautas

The gift of life

Was given to me

Not once, not twice, but three times

Cancer can be a killer

I’ve escaped it

I am forever grateful

I’ve fought hard over the years

To survive and the fighting paid off

I will never give in to this horrible disease

That takes far too many lives every day

Remission does not mean it won’t come back

If it does, I will do battle again

Miracles happen

I’m proof of that

Live each day as if it were your last

Whether you’re battling or not

Life is truly the greatest gift

🥕🥕🥕

A.C.V.M.M.B. by Nobbinmaug

Don went to the same coffee shop and sat at the same table. He sipped his coffee and played with his phone. No calls. No texts. He saw the same people, but no one spoke to him.

When his drink was gone, he returned to his empty apartment.

He went back the next day. This time, he was greeted by a wave and a smile.

“Hi, Don. Apple cinnamon vanilla matcha macchiato blend?”

He looked up, smiled shyly, and said, “Yes, please. Thanks, Alice.”

She gave him the greatest gift of all, an apple cinnamon vanilla matcha macchiato blend.

🥕🥕🥕

Fire Within by Reena Saxena

She quit the family business to start something of her own. It’s not an easy task. She had always worked in a well-defined structure. The absolute freedom she has now, excites as well as unnerves her.

“I saw the angel in the marble, and carved till I set him free,” famously said Michelangelo of his epic statue of David.

There are not just miles, but light years to go, before she reaches her destination. The greatest gift she is born with, is her hunger for perfection and the ability to see that angel in the marble – her fiery soul.

🥕🥕🥕

The Greatest Gift by Miriam Hurdle

“It’s easier for me to give than to receive.”

“I know, Martha. When you receive, you feel weak.”

“You’re right, I feel helpless and vulnerable and admit other people are stronger.”

“Being able to receive gifts is a gift. When we receive gifts from others, we give them a gift of giving.”

“I never thought of it. When I receive a gift, I feel obligated to precipitate and feel guilty when the chances to return the favors become impossible.”

“The movie Pay It Forward comforts me and changed my understanding of giving.”

“I can tell it’s a great concept.”

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Make Mine Music by Di @ pensitivity101

Mine is something I was born with, courtesy of my father.

As a young child, it was fun playing duets with my Dad on Mum’s old piano, then I started to play both parts. Dad always encouraged me, and my gift from him was the gift of music without music, a good ear to pick out a melody and transform it to suit my own style.

My aunts and uncles never knew I could play until a wedding in 1970. My grandfather stood proud and nodded to everyone

‘That’s my grand daughter.’

Happy times, memorable songs, my gift still apparent.

🥕🥕🥕

Old Friends by TN Kerr

She was sixty-three years old that year, but age didn’t deter from her excitement about the gaily wrapped gifts staged beneath the tree. There was one though, that stood out. The wrapping was heavy brown paper. Once wrinkled, but now rubbed smooth, it was an old shopping bag from The Seventh Street Market. A store that had closed almost forty years ago. She’d saved this gift for last and cradled it in her hands turning it over and over. It was rather diminutive, not large.

Neatly lettered in the corner she could read: “Happy Christmas, Clarissa – With Love, Hayley.”

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Life’s Greatest Gift by Sally Cronin

Thomas prowled the corridors of the care home as its residents slept. During the day he would jump from lap to lap, rubbing gnarled hands with his head, accepting tender touches and morsels of food, hoarded and saved for his visit. For many he became the family they no longer knew, and was adored.

The cat slipped through a door left ajar, and approaching the bed, he leapt onto the pillow. Thomas purred gently into the old woman’s ear. She sighed and gave one last gentle breath, accepting the greatest gift in life of being loved until its end.

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Repeat by Kelley Farrell

Life can twist our minds and rip dreams away
But in some moments we find
The greatest gift is perhaps not physical
But a moment in time
When we no longer have to be held to the reality of who others believe we are.
That moment wrapped in a lovers arms, the true idea of home dancing through every sensation.
Or a moment alone with nothing more than a breath and a soft whisper for patience.
Libations given in sacrifice of every moment thereafter.
When we come under fire we close our eyes willing ourselves to aim higher.
Repeat.

🥕🥕🥕

Slingin’ Words Fer People  by D. Avery

“Pal, is’t true this Ranch’s a literary community?”

“Reckon so, Kid. Open ta one an’ all.”

“So is it a gated community?”

“Heck no. No gates, no borders. Free range writin’ fer anyone who wants ta play. Long’s they play nice a course.”

“Are there boundaries?”

“Jist in the word count, 99, no more, no less. Otherwise, it’s a place fer boundless imagination.”

“Why’s it always me gits imagined shovelin’ out the barn?”

“Shovelin’ shit’s yer special gift Kid. Yer real good at slingin’ it.”

“Yeah well, someone should imagine Shorty slingin’ bacon.”

“Tough shit, Kid. She’s slingin’ carrots.”

🥕🥕🥕

September 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

Lightning flashes as quickly as minnows in the shallows. It’s fall, cool, and a storm rumbles over the Keweenaw in the black of night. A few seconds after sharp silver pulses, thunder rattles the window panes. The radiators that sat silent throughout summer now diffuse a cozy heat that keeps the cold outside with the rain. Hot tea sits on my desk, and I ponder, what is the greatest gift?

Life. Liberty. Family. Art. Love. Home. A laundry list of answers comes to mind. It’s not my question but the suggestion of a prompt from my husband’s cousin. She and her mom sit on our couch in Hancock, the one they bought for us when we started to rebuild our household. It’s midnight, stormy, and conversation rolls around the room. The Hub is happy, sharing stories of the past. I wonder what my cousin means about the greatest gift when she says her story is dark.

I call J my cousin because she and the Hub’s sister, Silly the Kid (his nickname for her), were part of the greatest gift I got when I married him. Early on, I knew J was going to be one of my greatest friends. I loved her humor and intelligence and free-spirit. As a young couple, the Hub and I went weekly to her house to play board games with her and her husband, who was serving in the Navy. I marveled at their young three-year-old boy whose bedtime story was The Hobbit.

At the time, so long ago, J had a baby girl, a precious baby that made me anticipate the one I was expecting. Then a sheriff’s deputy showed up to our house one day with their son. We were the trusted people to watch over him the day tragedy struck. A few days later, we were burying that sweet baby girl over her great-grandfather’s grave. J’s husband was restationed out week, and J left.

I sit here now, 32 years later, thinking how heavy such an incident remains. J’s greatest gift, I suspect, was the second daughter she had years later. But as all mothers learn, daughters and sons are not our gifts to keep. They are their own people. We might give them life, but they make of it what they will. But it’s a pleasure to see J and Aunt M, her mom, travel the world together, staying in New Zealand January through March, visiting family across the US, visiting places like Poland or Alaska and taking world cruises.

Aunt M and Uncle R are my patron saints. Many, many years ago, Uncle R read something I wrote, and he told Aunt M that I was going to make something of my writing. She explained to me that he had vision and believed in my ability and dreams. He was subtle about it. He never complimented me directly but always showed interest, asked questions, and read my published work. When he lay dying, Aunt M read him my very first, and very raw draft of Miracle of Ducks. Whatever the book will be one day, it will be dedicated to them.

Perhaps the greatest gift one can give another is the support and encouragement to achieve potential. It’s a gift Aunt M, and Uncle R gave to me. I miss him. As any of us do when loved ones pass.

We are calling this trip, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. J and Aunt M flew from Phoenix to Chicago, boarded a train to the Wisconsin Dells, and hopped in my car last night. We stayed over in a motel after dark, so we weren’t on the road late. It was a five and a half-hour trip. The greatest gift can be the conversations on a road trip — the connections and deep sharing, the confessions and insights. Deep communication.

We arrived in time to meet up with the Hub, our daughter, her husband, and his dad and step-mom. We shared a meal at a new restaurant in Houghton called The Den. Family meals create some of the best moments, especially when the food and fellowship rank high. The gave me a bite of his scallop, and it was as near perfect as seeing my daughter so happy. I wish I could see all my three children framed in such happiness and enjoyed the moment, memorized its texture like the edges of a comforting quilt.

Tomorrow night is another dance performance where I get to perform four new flash fiction pieces. Having family in town for the show is a treat. Sharing art is another gift and a great one. The greatest gift this year came in Vermont, sharing scams and words, kayak trips and waterfalls, loons and laughs. Art is best shared. Art must be shared. For all the critics have to say or teach about art and define what it is, those who create it and experience understand art at such a deep level as to escape definition.

This week, both of my courses are focusing on the writing community and what it means to be a literary citizen. Well, my oh, my. I might have something to say on those topics! The greatest gift to my writing life is the ranchers of Carrot Ranch, their literary art, aspirations, and community. We might need solitude to write, the courage to go to lonely corners, and the solitary act of dragging words from the brain to the page to shape stories, but we also need companionship. If you are interested, one of the articles I’m reading is Do Writers Need to Be Alone to Thrive?

I want to take time to explain participation at Carrot Ranch. Ranchers can come and go as they please. The idea is that we play, remembering why we love the ride. You bring your own goals to the Ranch where it is safe for you to share, grow, and discover. The literary critics do not reside here. Personally, I feel that literary art involves three actions — reading, writing, and discourse. We discuss what strengths we see in writing and how a story moves us or leads us to recall or realize.  I believe in the 99-word art form as one that can open up creativity and be useful as a tool. I believe writers who regularly practice the constraint experience magic or breakthroughs in creativity.

But what does this means to the mechanics of participation in our literary community?

You can write to the prompt and share in different ways. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, submit your response in the form. One, it streamlines collecting. Two, it signals permission to publish your writing in the collection. You don’t have to do anything more if your goal is to publish at Carrot Ranch. If you submitted a response, but do not see it in the collection, shoot me an email at words for people(at)gmail(dot)com. Some weeks I get a storm of spam, WP can be glitchy, and I’m at risk for human error.

If you want to build up your blog traffic, you can share a link or your story (or both) in the comments. However, passive sharing might not garner more traffic. Community requires interaction. Think of it this way — if you went to a social event to network, you would introduce yourself, hand out business cards, and respond to the cards you collect, as well. In the comments, be social at the level you hope to cultivate. If you want blog traffic, visit the blogs of others, and make supportive and meaningful comments.

If you want kinship among writers, get to know people through the comments, stories, and blogs you encounter. You’ll find that many writers who come here are also on other social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Many host or participate in other prompts. Some also have blog opportunities such as indie book reviews or posting thematic blog archives. Get to know what is happening in the greater writing community.

As a rule of thumb, comment “high and low.” In other words, read the story before yours, and the story after. You are not obligated to read them all in the comments, although I highly recommend taking time to read each 10-minute part in the weekly collection. If you were moved by a particular 99-words, let that author know.

Next month, we will have a Rodeo of Flash Fiction Contests. I’ve been remiss all year in following up with my terrific leaders from the past two years. But the show will go on — instead of challenges, Carrot Ranch will host four weekly contests next month instead of challenges. Each contest will be juried and a top prize of $25 awarded. Each contest is meant to test the skills of a writer, and your best work is anticipated.

September 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift. Answer it as if it were a question, or show what it could be. Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by September 17, 2019. 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 FOR PUBLICATION CLOSED

A Better Way to Serve (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Freya returned from Iraq, friendless. Mark Bastia didn’t survive the IED blast. His dog tags hung with hers. Despite combat, she was never counted as their brother. She pulled a long drag from her last cigarette, eyed the perfect branch from which to hang herself, and decided the greatest gift to the world would be to remove herself from its spinning. She touched the branch and recoiled. 22 a day, and she would not become another nameless statistic. Instead, she enrolled in college to battle veteran suicide and opened the first satellite Vet Center in North Idaho. She survived.