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January 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

Technically speaking, enriched foods are those that manufacturers have fortified like adding calcium to orange juice. In the US, government programs support healthier foods for school children through programs that started during our Great Depression. Food enrichment progressed during WWII, finding ways to get nutritious C-rations and K-rations to soldiers. If you grew up fascinated by the developing space programs, you might recall “ice cream for astronauts” or used “dehydrated eggs” on a backpacking trip. All food enrichment.

But I like to think of enriching my lunch a different way. Instead of buying food from a laboratory, I prefer it as close to the farm as possible, or from artisan producers who source locally.

Artisan food producers might sound like a made-up word so grocery stores can charge more. A fad, a novelty, not real value. However, after sixteen years of writing profiles about farmers and producers, I understand the value of calling someone an artisan. At the invitation of the Wisconson Cheese Makers, I once toured the state for three days, meeting artisan cheese makers and masters.

So, yes, cheese features regularly on my lunch plate. Today, it was an aged cheddar (serve at room temperature, and you can crunch the tiny crystals that form). To further enrich my plate, I added artisan rosemary crackers made from whole ingredients (in other words, crackers from a bakery, not a factory). For health and taste, I included a crisp local apple, a sprinkling of raw pumpkin seeds, and a Greek gift to food artistry — dolmades.

It comes as no surprise that many of us seek to add value to what we do beyond eating — we go to school to learn more about a topic or trade, we gain experience to enrich our careers, and we blog to enhance our writing goals. Many authors resist blogging because they think it detracts from what they write (books), and other bloggers treat their blog like a business. Which writers are right? The ones who know why they do what they do.

Last month, I offered you the opportunity to work out a vision for your writing journey by ultimately setting your North Star. This gives you a clear picture of success and becomes the reason for why you do what you do.  Vision work can make you a more productive writer, and save you angst when you are trying to figure out what tasks to take on to further your writing goals.

So let’s compare some right/wrong ways to blog.

Authors who don’t blog because it detracts from their writing could be right or wrong. Authors who are resistant without a compelling reason beyond finding blogging a distraction, are likely to be behind on platform building once they publish their books. Blogging is not the platform, but it can build audience, community, brand awareness and credibility. So can many other tactics. If the authors know why they write, what success looks like and have set goals these authors can better decide if blogging is the right tactic. They can set goals for platform building and blog if it meets their needs, or not. Many successful authors do not blog, but they likely have a website, are active contributors to mainstream media, and have a brand presence.

Many bloggers treat their blogs like a business, which is smart. First of all, a blog is “owned” territory. That means it is a digitally accessible area that individuals own as opposed to corporate ownership (like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter). However, a good marketing plan includes a mix of these outlets. But some bloggers think a blog is going to make them rich and they use AdSense or spam techniques to boost traffic for pay.

Are any of these bloggers clearly right or wrong? Only the ones who don’t know why they do what they do. In other words, even the slinky scammer with a spam campaign is right if that person has a plan. Morally, and sometimes legally, they are wrong (these blog spammers), but they have a plan of enrichment.

Many of us probably have opinions about those who enrich themselves on the backs of others — in 1914, copper miners on the Keweenaw went on strike because they saw the mine owners getting richer, while miners struggled on their wages, faced deadly work situations, and had little respite from hard labor. Wal-Mart has a reputation for being a low-price retailer not because its stockholders suffer the cut in price but because their workers and manufacturers do. Recently, my stomach turned when I read an article about a certain wealthy leader who has enriched himself while in office.

Enrichment, in and of itself, is not bad. To find value, or add value to something is worthy. Dragons who burn villages to hoard gold are the villains of legend, while the heroes are myths like Robin Hood, the prince of thieves, who sought to take from the rich to enrich the poor. Like all things, perspective is a fractured lens.

Why do I blog? That’s a legitimate question to answer for those of you who regularly visit Carrot Ranch. My reason is summed up in my North Star — to make literary art accessible. Here, it’s to make it accessible 99-words at a time, meaning it is meant to be playful and inspirational.

You might find it puzzling, but I do not consider myself a blogger. It’s probably just semantics, and, of course, perspective. Obviously, I’m writing a blog post right now…but I consider myself a writer in every sense possible. I have aspirations, career, successes, and failures as a writer. More to the point, I’ve used my writing skills to make a living for more than 20 years. My portfolio of tear sheets fill two large plastic tubs, I’ve been published in seven books and more than 300 hundred magazines. I have no problem saying I’m a writer.

Blogging is part of my platform building and directly connects all my writing to my greatest aspiration of all — to write and publish successful historical novels. I’m in it for the long haul, the big journey. My North Star that guides me is a vision I have for why writing matters to me — because I want to be immersed in creative writing. I have craved this since I first realized I got as much joy from writing as I did reading.

The first book I ever wanted to write was about a girl named Silver Chalmers whose father was a mining investor who left California for his native England and never returned. It was based on a true incident. Local legend held that Mrs. Chalmers returned to the stage every day for word of her husband’s return. When he didn’t, she was sent away to the insane asylum in Carson City. Her mansion in Silver City (a ghost town where my father once logged when I was a kid) sat full of all her furnishings until someone broke in during the 1970s. My pinprick as a kid was, “what if they had a daughter.”

Ever since I was 12 years old, I’ve wanted to write historical novels. I’ve devoured them as a reader, studied them as a student, and crafted my first real attempted as an independent project in college under the tutelage of a professor I still hold in high esteem. I learned to research, find stories in cemeteries, and where to look for the women who tend to be invisible in the American wild west.

I’ve also encountered barriers to success — things like, not everyone who dreams of writing a novel gets to make a living as a novelist. The closest I got to overcome that hurdle was achieving an undergraduate degree in creative writing. My bitter pill in 1998 was a choice — pursue an MFA to continue my novel and publish, or take my writing skills to the workplace. I had three kids and a husband, so I became a writer instead of a novelist.

What I missed during my career writing years was that connectivity to literary art. I felt shut out from it. Over the years, I enjoyed pockets of connectivity and began to realize that literary art was not just an academic experience. But other than going on retreats or back to school, how did I access it? In small ways, I included literary art in my workplace. I used to make my staff write cinquains before weekly meetings, and I taught nature writing classes locally.

Carrot Ranch was selfish — I wanted to feel connected to that spark I defined internally as my inner literary artists. I wanted kindred spirits who felt it too. And I no longer believed I had to get an MFA to publish (than you, pioneering independent authors). Carrot Ranch makes literary art accessible 99 words at a time. That is my North Star for achieving my dream of writing historical novels.

So, I don’t consider myself a blogger. And that’s okay if we differ on perspective. What’s important to me is that we have this safe space to create as we all go about our long-haul goals. My first novel isn’t even going to be in the genre I dream of writing. Why? Because I don’t know how to write a successful novel — yet. Oh, I know what goes into one, and I know tons about craft, process and even editing. I know more than I did six years ago about the book industry. I’m an expert in story-telling and branding.

But that first novel, ah, the agony of writing it right. And I’m not saying that as a perfectionist. I’m saying that as an artisan — from the maker we become the master. Many authors publish their first or second drafts, some take time to edit. You can do it many ways and anyway you want! (Remember, your dream and your goals belong to you, just be aware of them and what it takes). And other authors don’t publish their first three books. No way is wrong or right — as long as you know why you choose one way over the others — but in the end, most authors will tell you that it’s by the ninth manuscript they feel they have it right.

I’ve learned so much working on Miracle of Ducks. I had really believed it would be easier because I wasn’t adding that extra burden of historical research. But I’m pleased with what the experience is teaching me. And I’m pleased knowing that working it is working my dream.

Thank you all for joining me on this journey! We are like Chaucer’s pilgrims. Each of us has wild stories and varied reasons for taking the writing path, but what compels us inside is a shared joy in the creative endeavor we call literary art. No matter where you are, keep your North Star sharp, set goals that fit you like good hiking boots and keep on the trail.

January 10, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the idea of enrichment. Use many of its different manifestations or explore reasons why it matters to the character. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by January 15, 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.

 

Life Experience (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Sitting with Ramona, Danni sniffled. The older woman said, “We all look to enrich our lives, Dear. You might say each experience is like putting dimes in a slot machine. We hope one gives us the jackpot, but before you know it, we’re out of dimes.”

“That’s not hopeful,” Danni said, wiping her nose with a paper towel. She hated crying. Saline didn’t solve anything.

Ramona continued to smile. “Enjoy the gamble, Danni! In the end, we all lose our dimes. You’ll be disappointed if you wait for one jackpot experience and miss the fun in all the others.”

January 3: Flash Fiction Challenge

Like a groggy giant who has slumbered a thousand years, I feel stiff as stone as I try to re-enter my days. What is normal anyhow but the false idea that we can control our days? It truly is a gift each morning we rise to a new dawn. Well, maybe not at the crack of dawn. But you know — a new day. So I stretch back into routine, to build a sense of normalcy for what comes after a long slumber. Not a thousand years, but it has been since last year.

My computer sat closed and silent at my desk since before Christmas. I feel like a stranger to her keys, but quickly the tappity-tap-tap returns like muscle memory. This is the first day I’ve returned to my desk, following a minor accident that has my right leg healing — and throbbing. Sitting has been hardest to do, that and walking, or standing. Even lying down has challenged me.

Then I discovered myofascial release therapy, and it is aiding my healing. The therapist I’m seeing was able to unlock my foot and ankle, giving me back more mobility. It’s still painful, but healing with arnica rubs, immobility, and rest. I thought of all the things I could accomplish on the couch, and all I have to report is that I completed an epic novel by Brandon Sanderson (Way of the Kings).

However, I did use the front window often. For staring. Writers need to stare out of windows, and I stared which meant I processed. It’s what we do when we go for a walk or seek anything that relaxes the mind to ponder plots and develop character backstories. It’s what we do when the giants within us wake and ask questions. When we write stories, it’s not enough to explore “what if;” we also need to answer why.

What I’m referring to is the inner story which relates to the outer one. The outer story is all the action. It’s the plot. The inner story wants to know more than why is the protagonist on this journey; the inner story asks why it matters to her.

From the time that I fell down the basement stairs to gathering my laptop on the couch, huddled with an ice pack, not yet knowing if I had a sprain or a break, all I could think about is why Danni felt safe with a former Army Ranger. I could articulate the answer because of how my husband reacted, reminding me how willing he is to charge into danger on my behalf. Not that I endangered him, or imagine Danni endangering Ike, but as my teeth chattered in shock, the “what if” Danni got hurt question arose.

And that’s a great for action. But I wanted to explore it because I have been long struggling to answer why Danni and Ike are together. What finally emerged was a series of why questions regarding the “what if” exploration. Once I had opened this vulnerable terrain for my characters, I needed time to stare out of windows, to let the images in my mind come forward so I could better write them as words and convey the emotions I could feel to the reader who would need to slip into Danni’s skin and care about what the protagonist desired and feared.

As it was also the changing of the years. I spent time working on my vision which also required looking back. Windows are great for that purpose, too. A character in the Way of Kings is a special kind of historian who looks to the past to interpret the present. Like that character, I summed up past events to understand the crossroads where I now stand.

Crossroads equate to choices on the journey. This year, I did vision work that included three different scenarios. In each one, Carrot Ranch flourished as a place to encourage writers to create literary art 99 words at a time. This place is not a destination, it’s a traveling companion, a ranch on wheels. It’s satisfying to know that Carrot Ranch is here for the long haul. Try as we might, writers can’t escape the call of words. No matter what choices I make next in life, I’m still on the writer’s journey, and it’s like a pilgrimage — better to share the road.

Did you explore your own vision over the end of the year break? Did you try to follow or adapt the vision process from the last post? Have you taken time to look back so you can better understand where you are at and where you are going?

Regardless, here we are at the beginning of 2019. I hope you get to follow your calling and do what it is that makes writing meaningful to you. I encourage you to set goals and check in quarterly on your progress. Please share your goals or vision in the comments if you feel moved. You can share them privately, too if you want someone to bear witness outside the public eye (just contact me).

Carrot Ranch is ready to roll, and we have our first challenge of the year —

January 3, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who looks back. It can be a metaphorical reflection or a glance in the rear-view mirror. Who is looking back, and why? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by January 8, 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.

 

Nothing Stays Perfect Forever (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Looking back, Danni understood that she gained more than Ike in a marriage. She said yes to the man she fell in love with and the ranch-home he offered with garden, barn, history, and horses. She said yes to his family, getting the grandmother she always longed to have. She said yes to North Idaho, a balm to a harsh childhood. She said yes to finally concluding her studies and working her hard-earned degrees. Looking back, Danni saw all she stood to lose. Would she have said yes that spring day had she known Ike would leave for Iraq?

December 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

Cora Kingston lived alone in Cat Harbor. When the storms turned violent in November, she’d add more wood to the parlor stove and bake a batch of corn muffins. That way she felt less lonely, listening to the wind moan through weathered chinks in her small frame house that her friend John built. Cora–

No, Cora Kingston never lived in Cat Harbor. But it sounds good and what sounds good to a writer with imagination becomes the plaster used when crafting a historical story. Names, dates, events, and places leave gaps. Historical fiction tries to fill them with believable details — colorful but plausible ones.

Cora and Cat Harbor are two mysteries that my mind often puzzle. The Keweenaw Peninsula dots the map with names left over from 150 years of copper mining. Yet Cat Harbor is an unusual name not linked to a mine or historic figure.

They say…

….when all the trees were logged the curve of land resembed the paw of a feline.
…long ago wildcats roamed this inlet.
…when the Ralph Budd wrecked on the rocks of this small harbor in 1929, cats from the boat swam to shore.
…when the Ralph Budd wrecked, carrying butter and cream, it attracted all the felines in the area for miles.

Whatever they say about the name of Cat Harbor, they say less about Cora Kingston. As a writer who researches the lost stories of women, I can tell you this is a common problem. Often the stories of women are not passed down, and names are easily lost through marriage.

Passing through Cat Harbor during a wild October storm with my friend and local maritime historian, Barb, we paused to watch the massive waves hit a reef of exposed basalt. The force of the water on rocks sent spray 40 feet into the air like geysers. The waves crashed to shore with such force, they sprayed across the road.

It’s easy to imagine the energy of such storms instilling awe in those who first settled this remote region along the shores of Lake Superior. We certainly felt it, standing there, shivering in the cold wind, mesmerized by the force. And that’s when I thought about Cora Kingston.

My friend is a cemetery lurker like me. Barb hunts down the final resting spots of former light-keepers and surfman — the men who rescued stranded and wrecked ships. She writes their biographies and gives presentations to honor their service. Maybe she could help me figure out who Cora Kingston was, I thought.

Several years ago, on my first visit to the Keweenaw, my daughter took me to the cemetery near Eagle River where white-washed stones stood among ephemeral flowers and chattering squirrels. It was at the beginning of my “wandering time,” and yet I was filled with the passion I have for cemetery stories and wrote about it in the May 18, 2016, prompt. Cora Kingston was the woman I mentioned who left a memorial for her dearest friend.

I thought the friend was John Vendow. Turns out I misread the marker (as have others who’ve recorded names from the cemetery). I showed the memorial grave to Barb. She recognized the surname Kingston as one of the “old families” of the area. She later corrected me on John’s name — it’s Yendow. Further research shows he was the son of a French-Canadian carpenter and the surname was originally Gendeau.

In 1870, 1880 and 1894 the Gendau/Yendow family lived in Keweenaw County, which is a broad area full of copper mines, harbors, and towns. The 1880 Federal Census revealed that at the age of 13 John Yendow found employment at a stamp mill. Likely that was the one in Gay. Remember the raven graffiti photo I used last week with the challenge? That’s from the remaining smokestack where John Yendow once labored as a teen in the 1880s.

He died in 1892 at the age of 25. According to a family member that Barb tracked down, John and two siblings succumbed in 1892 to typhoid. Their parents passed on in 1916 and 1918. All are said to be buried in the same cemetery near Eagle River and yet none have grave markers. The Kingstons are all buried in the cemetery near Eagle Harbor, about six miles away. Cora Kingston erected a marker the Yendow family could not afford, and it leaves her name etched in stone:

Erected
by
Cora Kingston
In
Loving remembrance
of
her dearest friend
John Yendow
Born May 31, 1867
Died October 5, 1892

The beautiful white marker joining her name with his stands among an ornate wrought-iron fence with an old tin pot that once held planted flowers. It begs so many questions, but the primary one is who was Cora Kingston?

The Yendow descendant says the family has no idea. He thinks they were to be married. Barb found records for three Cora Kingstons. The most likely Cora was born in 1871, four years John’s junior. Her parents were from England — Charley and Hanna Kingston, who came to the copper mining region. Here’s a small biography of Cora’s father:

“CHARLES KINGSTON, contractor of the Central Mine, has been connected with this company for more than twenty years. He was born in Hampshire, England, May 22, 1824; was brought up a farmer, and emigrated to America in 1851. He came direct to Lake Superior; landed at Eagle Harbor, and engaged in wood chopping. He was next a miner three years. About 1862, he located at the Central Mine, and engaged in contract work for this company, getting out wood and timber and doing their teaming. He also has had charge of the road work for the township of Sherman, as Road Commissioner, some seventeen years. In 1874, he made a visit to his native country, spending about four months abroad. Mr. Kingston is one of the old pioneers of this region, and is widely and favorably known.”

~Keweenaw County History, 1883

John Yendow’s mother, Elizabeth (Nankervis) Yendow was the daughter of a Cornish miner who worked the Cliff Mine. She married Fabien Yendow in October of 1860. John was one of 11 children. By the time the couple celebrated 50 years of marriage, they had six remaining daughters, all married. Thus no trace of the Yendow/Gendeau/Yeandeau name remains. The women slip into other families.

And Cora? It seems she married another John — John Blackwell Holman who was three years younger than her and another English immigrant son of a miner. They moved to Seattle, Washington where her second John worked as a mail carrier, and she took in lodgers.

The story fades. The questions linger.

Did Cora and John Yendow grow up together? Were they sweethearts? If they were going to marry, why weren’t they married by the time they were 25 and 21? How did Cora come up with the money for so elaborate of a gravestone for John? And why leave her name etched with his?

When the records can’t tell the story, that’s when we gather around the campfire and make them up.

December 13, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Cora Kingston. You can answer any of the questions history obscures or completely make up a Cora Kingston story. Go where the prompt (and the name) leads you.

Respond by December 18, 2018. 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.

Cora’s Scrapbook (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni stood up, stretching stiff muscles after hours of sitting on the hardwood floor of Ramona’s bedroom. It was one thing to scour historical records for work, another to snoop through a box stashed under her husband’s grandmother’s bed. But Danni couldn’t pull herself away from the scrapbooks she found. One belonged to Ramona, another to Ramona’s mother, and a third to Cora Kinston Holman. Each documented events, recipes, photos and newspaper clippings. Was Cora Ramona’s maternal grandmother? The name was unfamiliar to Danni. Yet Cora’s scrapbook brimmed with poetry and sketches similar to Ramona’s stories and fairy drawings.

December 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

If winter on the Keweenaw Peninsula of upper Michigan were a masterpiece, then the sky works in collaboration with Lake Superior. Together they manipulate air temperatures to create color and texture. You might be surprised to learn that Lady Lake prowls on land during the winter. I don’t mean waves that batter her shores — she’s an artist hovering in the air, twisting her waters into a scattering of icy snowflakes, mist, or battleship-gray clouds.

Today’s collaboration features patchy blue sky milky as glacial till. After a furious night of banshee-snow, Lady Lake has calmed and sorts her art into glowing pink remnants of moisture that look like clouds made of shell. Soon the sun will dip, but it won’t grow as dark as you might expect. That’s the gift of living in a snow globe — all that white from below to above captures light.

Colorful Christmas lights make the neighborhood festive. We humans add our own imprint upon the natural winter art of the region, expanding the collaboration. I’m surrounded by an ever-changing canvas.

Is the nature of art collaborative?

It’s like the philosophical question — if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound? Sure, it might reverberate, but if the vibrations don’t hit an eardrum, the sound is not heard. Art requires one to produce and another to receive. I suppose an artist can appreciate his or her own work, but the sharing creates a dynamic. In such a way, artist and reader/viewer/listener/beholder work in collaboration.

As a writer who’s share work, you’ve probably experienced comments that observe something in your story you did not intend. And yet the reader points it out. To some, this interaction can feel disconcerting. But we don’t have to own (or defend) the alternate perspectives. We can embrace it as an expansion. As a collaboration of sorts.

Like another philosophical question — which came first, the chicken or the egg? — I also wonder which came first — art or the inspiration?

When did you first become inspired to craft stories or imagine the lives of characters? Likely you read or were read to. I remember Mrs. Couch reading to us every day in first, second and third grade. In fourth, fifth and sixth grade, Mr. Smith read us YA sci-fi. In seventh and eighth grade, Mr. Price required us to write weekly spelling stories.

Growing up in a buckaroo culture, I heard stories swapped with regularity and recognized that the tellers had a rhythm and often delayed an element of surprise for humorous effect.  I read comic books, Laura Ingalls Wilder, classics, Ian Flemming, Louis L’Amour, and discovered romance novels.

And everywhere I stepped I was acutely aware that others had passed this way before me from the Washo people to the likes of Kit Carson and nameless pioneers. History told it’s own stories if you knew how to read a cemetery or discarded artifacts of another era.

Somewhere in the mixture of all those influences, I found inspiration to write stories I imagined. Mostly, I get strong impressions about people who lived where I do now because I’m curious as to why they came to some of the remote regions I’ve known.

When does inspiration become art?

Often, these near-winter days, I watch the dense gray bank of moisture that rises up from Lake Superior. I get a better view when I cross the Portage Canal and look back toward where the Lake nestles below the ridge of Keweenaw hills with start white birch and leafless maples. I image Lady Lake “soaking up” before she creates a storm across the sky. As writers, artists, we do that too — we soak up.

Then we let it out. Lady Lake can change wind directions so swiftly that I can see the snow shift out one window and yet still blow the opposite direction out another window. To me, that’s a master who can blow all those details and craft their shapes in multiple ways at once. Drafting is often like spewing snow.

Yet, the masterpiece is not complete until after the snow. Wind can reshape drifts, temperature can crystalize snow and suspend icycles, sun can sparkle, and sunsets can add color. Writers return to the storm upon the page make it into something different, something new.

Inspiration also comes to me from those who create in different mediums.

Growing up, Greek mythology, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones inspired me (hence my fascination with the hero’s journey). I could recognize artistry and felt drawn to it — I once spent my entire month’s earnings on a hide painting a traveling artist painted when I was 14. Music moved me. I played the radio, records, 8-tracks, and cassettes all the time, and thought the greatest invention in the world was the boombox.

Johnny Cash, Regina Gigli (the print artist I cleaned house for), John Beata (the cowboy foreman I rode for who trained horses like an artist), and Bob Parker who hand tooled a leather scene of my horse were my go-to’s for inspiration. But I never dared to think I could collaborate with any of them. Not that I had a chance to work with Johnny Cash, but I knew plenty of dancers, musicians, poets, crafters, and artists.

Somehow I thought I had to do my art on my own. My guilty pleasure was to “feel” a song and let it color a story I wrote, or admire a painting and imagine it’s likeness in a character. One writer would post a story and ignite a spark of an idea. Last year, one Carrot Ranch writer invited others to add to her Boots flash fiction in what emerged as a collaborative murder-mystery.

I think it’s natural for creative impulses to rise and feed others as much as it feeds our intended interest. Like Lady Lake, we soak up. And we share.

Last night I was listening to an interview with Hozier, an Irish musician. He was influenced by the 1960s civil rights movement in America, and its impact on his own country. His latest song is not only one that honors those who influenced him but also features the voice of an American blues singer who knew the very protestors in his song. What a collaboration!

“It’s not the song, it’s the singing!” What that makes me think is that it isn’t the art but the making of it. It isn’t the story so much as it is the catching of it. Art in action and the more people involved, the more powerful. I don’t mean in its creation but in it’s sharing and influencing and making new.

Consider Hozier’s first song. It moved a young Ukraine ballet dancer, and this video of collaborative art went viral:

And when I say collaborative, I’m talking more about the natural space of artistic influences. Hozier didn’t know about this dance project. I think the record label got snippy about it at one point, but in the interview, Hozier was humbled by the interpretation and use of his song. So much that he did collaborate with Sergei Polunin on a new song.

We are like Lady Lake and the sky. Every week we soak up, share and form a collective voice on a single topic. Creativity knows no bounds.

There’s something open and uplifting about art expressed without boundaries, taking influence from other artists and mediums. This week, we are going to turn toward graffiti, an expression of art on the street. How can we take it to a story in 99 words?

December 6, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about graffiti. It can be an artist, art or the medium itself. Get out your can of spray paint and go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by December 11, 2018. 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.

A Sign (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni traced graffiti on the grain-car. What did it mean? A message? A name? Traffic stalled on both sides of the tracks where it crossed the highway. She didn’t want to think about Ike who had been ahead of them. Better to study the graffiti and let Ronnie find out what happened. She wasn’t in a hurry to know.

“Danni?”

She stiffened and asked, “Who got hit?”

“An elk.”

Danni blew out the air she’d been holding in. “Ah, damn elk.” Ike had made it across then. Maybe the graffiti was a symbol of gratitude to live another day.

November 29: Flash Fiction Challenge

The last of the turkey and wild rice soup is gone. Officially, Thanksgiving has ended, and the break at Carrot Ranch is over. The barn doors open, the campfire is stoked, and we are ready to share stories.

My mind wanders like a sailor on the inland seas of the Great Lakes. From wooden craft to steel ones, many a ship scatters across the floor of Lake Superior. Writing something big is like navigating dangerous waters — it can be sink or swim, and when the gales of November come early, well, we ride out the storm. We write into the dark of night.

I have a confession to make: I’ve felt frozen since March of 2016. If I looked at a calendar, I could probably name the exact date. Just weeks before, I had led a successful BinderCon live event in Missoula, Montana. I was flowing between two manuscripts, developing sketches for another, writing a weekly history column for a regional magazine, and writing a quarterly publication for a client.

Every morning I rose to more migrators on Elmira Pond. Mergansers, buffalo-heads, widgeons. A research room flanked my large office where I dreamed that one day I’d have a custom table for small workshops in North Idaho. Already I had a writer’s room where guests could stay to write and experience my “peace of Idaho.”

I froze that March day when our landlord sent me an email informing us our lease was up and the owners were planning to sell. All along I had wanted to buy the place, but they weren’t interested in selling. The long-term lease was fine with us. We had no intention to move. Now what? That uncertainty seeped into my bones the way I imagine the sound of the final bell ringing on the Edmond’s Fitzgerald.

Of course, the journey that unraveled was so far from anything I thought would happen. Early on I knew I could succumb to bitterness.

“This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow
The wise hands opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow”

~from Natalie Grant’s “Held.”

In the midst of losing our rental, it was apparent something was not right with my husband. What had been easy to dismiss could no longer be ignored. I never thought we’d actually be homeless long, but it’s been two years and five months. Of course, we finally made it to our daughter and her husband after wandering the west, and we finally got the Hub the medical help he needs.

My North Idaho has given way to my Keweenaw. And I’ve rediscovered wander and peace. My Carrot Ranch community never faltered, and like wandering bards we continued to flash. Many circled the wagons when I needed it and have become cherished friends.

But my confession that I froze is an essential lesson in tenacity. I’ve said before that writing is more about tenacity than talent. You know I’ve hung in there, but I also lost my writing mojo — that magic I felt when I chased stories and worked with my characters. I lost my joy.

Last year I signed up for NaNoWriMo to jump start my missing spark. And I couldn’t get past 17,000 words. I experienced a great freeze when I tried to get the flow of my WIP moving. Several months later I asked for help from a few close alpha-readers (these are readers you know and trust and differ from beta-readers who are less familiar with you as a writer and more familiar with the genre you are writing).

Even with their honest feedback, I still couldn’t thaw. Frustrated, I turned to work on other projects. More recently, I asked a few more alpha-readers to look at my original manuscript. Maybe I should go with the original story and setting. With feedback and indecision for a setting, I signed up for NaNoWriMo again.

TUFF was my tool. Flash fiction is not part of my deep freeze, so I used that to flash my way into writing 1,800 words a day. Then something magical happened. Oh, the joy, the writing mojo returned, and I cranked out 91,000 words. Not that they are great words or even a cohesive draft, but from their depths, I salvaged a new perspective, a new character to carry a burden that wasn’t working on my protagonist.

The world of Dr. Danni Gordon, archeologist and reluctant wife of a warrior who doesn’t know it’s time to quit, came to life.

It’s important that I retain and share two important lessons — first, just because you can’t feel the creative magic doesn’t mean you quit writing. Second, community is everything. We cannot be writers in isolation. When I went into the dark of night, I never felt alone. I was like a ship that could send and receive signals.

Don’t quit and don’t quarantine yourself from your tribe.

How amazing our technology is and how it can connect us! I’m choosing to celebrate technology because it’s so easy for us to curse it and wonder if it’s complicating our lives. We, humans, are complicated. Technology is not going to simplify anything for us. But it opens doors of wonder for the creative and curious – right now, I’m communicating with Carrot Ranchers all around the world from a remote shore with waves and ships we can all monitor while listening to a favorite station from our resident yarnist in New England and reading a book that arrived from (old) England by an author and friend who reminds us all that we write because we are in the process of “becoming someone.”

Keeping connected to creative expression is one of the tenets of Carrot Ranch. It has helped me, and I hope it helps you. Now, we are going to write about what it is to go into the dark night.

November 29, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the phrase “into the dark.” What must a character face? Write about an encounter, journey, relationship, or quest. Follow the ship’s lights on gloomy seas. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by December 4, 2018. 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.

 

Rescue in the Dark of Night (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Shivering, Danni danced with both her hands flash-frozen to the chukar cage. They ignored her. Danni breathed deeply, wiggling each foot, swaying. Blackjack stomped in his stall, lowered his head and nickered. Danni cocked her head, listening for a vehicle. She told her horse, “Wishful thinking, boy.” In the dark of night, Danni marched, thought about hot chocolate, and imagined a noon-day sun overhead. Blackjack’s head rose, ears perked and alert. Danni strained to hear soft crunching in the snow. She crouched, helplessly stuck to the cage when the barrel of a rifle opened the barn door. Ramona arrived.

November 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

The urge to craft a story surpasses available material. Sometimes I forget my sketchbook and resort to what I have at hand — the blank side of the insurance card in the car, a discarded grocery list at the bottom of my purse, a recycled envelop.

When I was nineteen, I waited tables at a casino dinner house.  Between serving meals and refilling ketchup bottles I wrote bits of stories on napkins. More often than not, I tossed the words in the garbage along with food scraps at the end of my shift. Back then, I was practicing stories. I had no desire to share them.

It’s not until the story develops into an emotional being that takes on a life of its own that the need grows into one of sharing. But what if all you have are scraps?

I’m sitting at an oak library table, casting my eyes between the bank of windows overlooking Portage Canal and the magazine I’ve opened to read. Outside, snow falls like drifting down feathers. Seagulls still circle low over the water that has yet to freeze but looks dark gray as if it were slowly morphing into steel.

This space that envelops me in books and snow-scape is called the Michigan Room. It’s where I lead a small writing activity called Wrangling Words once a month. It’s just like our weekly flash fiction challenges but in person. The snow has returned without ceasing, and likely everybody has stayed home to hunker down. But I love this space I’m in, outside my desk, filling my mind and imagination. Wood grain, pages, snowflakes — scraps of the moment.

The book review I’m reading of Retablos by Octavio Solis has introduced me to a folk art that I’ve seen in the southwest but did not know by name. It’s as old as the Spanish Conquest, based on the religious decorative panels found in Catholic Churches. As a storytelling medium, a retablo often uses scraps of metal to commemorate a near-disaster by those who survived.

The book reviewer, Deborah Mason, writes:

“By commemorating the event, the retablo can transform that story of salvation into myth. But memory is slippery, and retelling a story, even on a buckled sheet of metal, results in embellishments and refinements.”

I’m staring at snow, realizing no one is coming today, and I’m relieved for the moment to grab a scrap of paper from by box and start scrawling ideas. It’s an old woman’s story. It’s a story about me embellishing the natural wonders of a humble bog pond. It’s a story I’m trying not to kill beneath the hammer blows of revision. I feel surreal, writing in this strange and yet wonderous space.

None of it makes sense to read. I’ve been writing every day on Miracle of Ducks, pushing aside my inner critic who has rolled eyes so much I think I’ve blinded the annoyer. What I’m writing feels like a train wreck. I was almost ready to give up, to concede that one’s first novel is indeed practice. It’s not saying what I want it to say. I keep TUFFing my drafts and overhauling chunks to fit a new scene.

But it is this idea of myth of slippery memory that brings me back to a character who once emerged in my flash fiction. She actually fits into Danni’s story like a missing puzzle piece. Ramona is now Ike’s grandma who helps carry the story and solidify my decision to relocate it in Idaho.

It took 30,0294 words, a scrap of paper, and a book review about Retablos to figure out my blueprint, the underlying motivations of my protagonist.

I never stop writing. I write every day. But that doesn’t make me productive. Often, it’s exploration and communicating the stories of now. It’s about creating and connecting. I’m hardly accurate in my goals, but my vision, my north star shine brightly, and so I write my way through it all.

Deborah Mason continues in her review:

“Yet despite its imprecision, the retablo expreses a profound  truth not only about its maker but also in the world he or she lives in. The retablo itself becomes part of the myth as well.”

Fiction or non-fiction, we write into the truth. We feel the story and layer the details onto the page. We rework the scraps until they bloom — the quilter, the painter, the metal worker, the writer — we all work in scraps until we have captured the story that speaks our truth.

And speaking of table scraps, I hope to be enjoying left-overs next week. It is Thanksgiving. I’ve decided to take that week off, something I don’t often do at the Ranch. After posting this collection, I’ll be on turkey duty and savoring leftovers until the next challenge on November 29.

November 15, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that uses scraps. It can be scraps of dried flowers, paper, metal, fabric, food — any kind of scraps you can think of. Then write a story about those scraps and why they matter or what they make. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by November 20, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.

Scraps of Imagination (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Cleaning out Ramona’s dresser felt wrong, but Danni could no longer sulk over coffee at the kitchen table. She heard Ike tell his Uncle Logan, “At least she wasn’t a hoarder.”

True, Danni thought. Ramona was frugal but wrapped in her sock-drawer were rolls of dollar bills. She thought about showing the men and making a Grandma-was-a-stripper joke. Ramona would have chuckled. Danni spied a scrapbook beneath. Curious, she opened up pages to fairy drawings and cursive writing. Scraps of dried flowers mingled with Ramona’s fertile imagination before dementia robbed them all of who she was.

November 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

While up north on the Keweenaw Peninsula, I overheard one elderly local tell a monk that an early October snow was no indication that we’d have a long winter. At the time, I was returning from a brief retreat at a lighthouse keeper’s cottage, and the monks were closing up shop for the winter and selling the rest of their jams while fat fluffy flakes covered the ground. I bought six jars. Who could resist blackberries jammed in rum?

It was like overhearing a riddle, though. My mind pondered how early snow could be anything but a long winter on a peninsula fiercely guarded by Lady Lake Superior who has the power and desire to create her own snow globe? It’s different from out West where a late August blizzard in the Rockies reminds us to prepare, but that long cool, even warm, autumns could follow.

Here, the snow means snow. It didn’t stick, but it didn’t return to blue skies, either. The gray mist and soggy cold rain feel dreary. The snow falls brightly and white-washes the world, removing the dinginess of constant cloud cover. Snow illuminates the globe Lady Lake keeps on the mantle of her ice-water mansion. Snow has returned.

And with flair. Of course — it’s Lady Lake. Why not be a drama queen on the fourth day of the 41 North Film Festival at Michigan Tech University? I walked out of the Rosza Center, following a film on the WWI Hello Girls, and into the lobby with 30-foot glass windows facing east. Snow fleeced the view. The next film up was a work in progress called Copper Dogs about female dog-mushers in our region. Well played, Lady Lake.

Culture and snow fill our winters, so I don’t mind. Travel, for me at least, shuts down. After my terrifying drive in a true Copper Country blizzard at the start of last winter, I vowed to be a winter home-body. Students return to our universities and with them come cultural events. So it’s a good time to hunker down. The film festival filled my well.

Tuesday night, I returned to the Rosza Center to listen to Welby Altidor speak on creativity and collaboration.

Altidor believes that each of us possess creative genius, but it must be cultivated and developed through practice. Creative courage is more than practical tools and strategy, it’s a way life for Altidor and those who dare to embrace it.

Yes, yes, yes! You betcha I was going to drive across snow-paved roads to listen to Welby. He was speaking my love-language — make (literary) art accessible!

Welby was the creative director for Cirque du Soliel, and as a dancer and choreographer, he understands the universal power of telling a story. Art is the great communicator wrapped in many mediums from movement to written words. He began by telling us that every good story includes three elements.

Welby teaches that every good story includes love, power, and transformation. You could compare this to the classical teaching of the Greeks, who perfected the three-act story: pity –> fear — > catharsis. Love seems more universal to me than pity, although I understand the Greeks intended for an audience to love the protagonist enough to pity his or her plight. Power is what we might call tension and leads to the Greek ideal of the audience fearing for the well-being of the protagonist. Catharsis is an emotional release (from the fear) and transforms the audience.

Note that in the hero’s journey, the three acts still apply. Of course, I started thinking, what would Anne Goodwin say… After much discussion on the model of the hero’s journey failing to capture the protagonists who don’t change or return with an elixir, I had an a-ha moment. We change. Not the protagonist, but we — the writer, the reader, the creator changes.

That’s the universality of the hero’s journey. Even if the hero falls flat, the creator of the story needs to provide a transformation for the reader — a greater awareness of self, others, or the world around us. And Welby was speaking directly about creatives and how to build creative teams. We must love our art enough to give it power and transform ourselves and audiences.

Welby’s book (and presentation) center on creative courage. To create transformative work we must start from a place of caring. Like at Carrot Ranch — we gather because we care about literary art. We care about writing. We care about stories and words and what we can do with them. We care about our stories. We care about the stories of others. This is the beginning of creative courage.

What comes next wouldn’t surprise anybody who understands Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it might surprise you to think it applies to art. We need to secure safety. Yes, creativity needs a safe place to plant the seeds. That is also the purpose of Carrot Ranch — to create safe space to practice, explore and discover our literary art. I felt like Welby was looking at our community!

For collaboration, Welby says we next need to foster trust. Our literary community builds trust through positive feedback and consistency. We also learn to trust the 99-word constraint as a creative process. Our weekly collections are creative collaborations.

So what happens next? This is where we get to play with danger!  Welby explains that art pushes limits and takes calculated risks. Writing dangerously is to push deeply into an idea that you might think is on the fringe. It’s breaking the rules to create something different. It’s risking creative failure, submitting to a contest or writing outside your comfort zone. It’s earning the “runs with scissors” badge.

Once we start writing dangerously, we dream! We experience breakthroughs! We grow!

Welby went on to say that many of us are disconnected from our superpowers. Part of our mission in life is to discover them, accept them, and share them with the rest of the world. He asked us to tell the person seated next to us what our superpower is. If you can identify your superpower, you will better understand your voice as a writer.

And don’t think any of this creative business is easy. It isn’t. Welby also points out that there is a war on imagination. He said it hit him hard when he had the opportunity to go to North Korea, and he recognized constrained people the way his father was. It’s rooted in fear of failure. Methods might be taught and learned, but what we really need is creative courage.

A significant shift occurred the night I listened to Welby, and it didn’t have to do with my creative art. I wondered as I took notes, how can my family create fertile soil for the Hub. No matter his condition, our circumstances, or unknown future we need creative courage. I looked again at the seven dimensions of creative collaboration and realized the answers were there.

My daughter went with me to listen to Welby speak. We stepped out into the snow, and I told her that the seven dimensions could apply to her dad. She went home and sketched the concentric circles around each one and posted this statement with her photo on Instagram:

Great talk tonight with @welbyaltidor@rozsacenter. Here’s the mental model he presented; good insight into how to rebuild relationships and goals with Sgt. Mills. Walking the tightrope of late effect traumatic brain injury (LE-TBI) starts with taking care, raising safety nets, and building trust.
#creativecourage #love #veteranfamily #braininjuryawareness #tbiawareness #onestepatatime”

And Welby Altidor replied:

“Great stuff! I love your reinterpretation! Honoured it provided inspiration. Never give up!”

On that fine note, let’s move on to mashed potatoes. In the US we near the festival of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy — Thanksgiving. I’m working on my menu and my novel which seems like opposing creative efforts. But Welby told us that fitting two things that don’t go together is how the troupe creates such memorable choreography and art in Cirque du Soliel. His examples: drones and lampshades; clowns and robots; treadmill and hoop-diving.

So we are going to write mash-ups that pair an unusual superpower with mashed potatoes.

November 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs mashed potatoes with a superpower. It can be in any circumstance, funny or poignant. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by November 13, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.

Fast Hands (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane flung the bowl of mashed potatoes at Horace. The bowl bounced off his shoulder and Hickok caught it midair. Horace hadn’t even moved except, Sarah noted, his eyes had widened the way a cow might look when protesting a lead rope to the milking barn. No one spoke as glops of white, buttery mashed potatoes slid down Horace’s shirt. Nancy Jane growled and slammed the heavy oak door when she stomped outside. Sarah understood her friend’s upset with how poorly Horace had handled Cobb’s interference at the station. More than that, she marveled at Hickock’s super speed.

Flash Fiction Challenge: November 1

Rain clouds the color and weight of lake-tankers hang over the neighborhood. These days, I don’t know if the moisture is pelting rain or sloppy snow — it’s the season of transition all around the world.

No matter the hemisphere, change is happening. The sun slants, the weather patterns shift, and we feel uneasy. We crave the light.

After managing the leads of three dogs, I unbuckle the collars and let the beasts pound across the hardwood floors, nails clicking as they all head for the dog water. My pea-coat harbors husky fur and I pretend it’s trendy wool. Bidding the dogs farewell for the evening, I head back out into a spit of rain and behold a sight —

The setting sun, momentarily free from its captor of steely clouds, diffuses light across the neighborhood of three-story mining house all with the steeply pitched roofs of snow-country. Like a laser beam, the sun illuminates the thinning orange maple across the road, and it glows like amber. One of my hearty, hale, and elderly neighbor’s steps outside across the street from me with an old film camera. He takes a photo.

“Never seen the likes before,” he tells me.

A moment is all it takes to change our world. Light can alter us, uplift us, convince us that “a new dawn, a new day” is all the hope we need to face more gray clouds and uncertainty. I’ll take it as a good omen. After all, I’m on my way to a Diwali feast — a celebration of light over darkness.

I imagine Michigan Tech’s international students feeling far from home. The engineering and technological university prides itself on a diverse global student body. But Houghton (on the south side of the portage canal) and Hancock (on the north side) remain remote. They only exist because of the 125-year-old copper mining industry. The industry’s legacies are two universities and a peninsula full of poor rock ore and ghost towns. What a strange place this must seem.

Yet, they bring their culture with them, sharing it with the community. Like Diwali when the Indian Cultural Club spends three days cooking a meal and weeks preparing a show full of romantic matchmaking, dancing, and music. I head out, aiming for the light.

Last we gathered at the Ranch for a weekly challenge, we watched stories of a Prade of Nations unfold. After month-long Rodeo, we return to a festival of lights. It seems the hopeful side of transformation.

The Hub spent the month in Minneapolis at the Poly Trauma Center. We are learning to focus on what he can do — a light. He’s learning to let go of his worry over cognition and focus on loving-kindness. Think about that a minute. When faced with the changes of an altered brain, when faced with any transition or uncertainty, what a light to focus on — loving kindness.

And isn’t that the essence of all the holidays that are about to descend?

Loving-kindness. Light over darkness. Good over evil. Hope.

Like the elderly neighbor, I want to snap a picture. I want to remember the warmth of food served to me by gracious college students facing exams and loneliness for home. I want to believe in the points of light we can all be when we spread kindness. It doesn’t remove the pain or gloss over the fear; it accepts that we have a choice in what we do next.

Light a candle.

Not giving up hope on my long-suffering novel and the mess I’ve made of it, I’ve backed up to an earlier, crappier version, but one that is complete. I already know I’m going to tank significant portions. I’ve mostly decided on where to locate the wandering characters who must feel as homeless as I do by now. And I’m going to listen — listen to their story instead of trying to force mine upon them. Writing is messy. But I’m going to light a candle every night and show myself that loving-kindness as I kick it into gear and rewrite it.

You know what that means — yes, I’m doing the NaNoWriMo event. And I’m going to TUFF my way through writing every day. I’m also committing daily time to Vol. 2 which is lagging behind the tight schedule I set. In a perfect world, I’d be, well, perfect! But I’m imperfect. I process slowly. I get tied up in knots and angst my way into woeful prose. I bleed across the keyboard and forget to compress the wounds. I’m ready to light my way home.

My storyboard for Miracle of Ducks hangs on the wall, stripped of all its notes. Bare bones. Today, I write those bare bones, I free-draft Danni’s story — 1,800 words. Then 99, 59, 9. Then I start to plot the storyboard, delete or TUFF chapters 1,800, 99, 59, 9 words each day until I hit 50,000 words. I trust the process to get me back on track. I seek my own elixir.

Tune in on Fridays to catch winner announcements for all the October Rodeo contests. With each announcement, I’ll publish the qualifying entries on a page under the Rodeo tab. We still have two live contests, and I encourage you to check them out. Both are free and have prizes:

Sound and Fury by D. Avery asks you to write a story that shows the sound and the fury of an intense and dangerous situation that the main character willingly chose. Closes Nov. 7 at 11:59 p.m. Top prize $25.

Old Time Radio by Charli Mills asks for 99-59-9 words for radio spots to capture the history of the Continental Fire Company. Closes Nov. 7. Three winners get $25 each and a chance to hear their story produced into an actual radio spot.

I want to thank all our leaders, judges, participants and sponsors (please take time to look at the sponsor ads along the right-hand column and click on those that interest you). The community effort and participation makes the Rodeo a fun way to stretch our writing skills. Thank you!

Now to shed some light on the season of transition! Welcome back to the weekly challenges.

November 1, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a festival of lights. It can be any holiday, event or moment. Express the hope of light over darkness. Or use it to highlight injustice. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by November 6, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.

 

Festival of Lights by Charli Mills

Glass shatter during dinner. Papa grabbed the boys and we sheltered beneath the table. Patterns of woodgrain forever etched my memory. Mama stood until Papa hastened her to hunker down with us in frightened silence.

We waited for boot thuds and forced entry. A truck engine revved. Guttural voices hurled invocations hard as the pick-ax that smashed our front window and toppled our Menorah – “Big-nosed Jews!” “Death to Hymies!”

My 10-year old mind probed why Papa’s features fated us to die. Friends at school said, the Holocaust wasn’t real, grow up, get over it, this is 2018 in America.

September 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

How quietly fall colors sneak up like Jack Frost has an airbrush. The colors subtly tint a leaf or two, then a cluster here and there. The color from the airbrush increases and soon the maple trees catch the brilliance of red and orange. No two trees turn simultaneously.

In our small neighborhood of a dozen old miners’ homes, I watch trees change hue in succession. My daughter tells me that their biggest maple is often the last to take on autumn’s hues. From the back deck where the Hub puffs a pipe, I lean back on the bench and watch the maple behind him.

At first, the giant maple appears vividly green. If I stare long enough I can catch the faint tracings of yellow across the leaves. Oranges burst like flowers. And the flowers are not yet to be outdone. Hibiscus unfolds daily in the front yard, each blossom unfurling like pleated burgundy satin.

A flash of gray flits from the trees and I watch a whiskey jack (Canada jay) flutter above the porch door jamb of our neighbor. He’s shoving a peanut behind a loose piece of trim with his beak, squawking and beating his wings. The whiskey jack has the right idea — winter is coming.

But not to the rest of the world. And that’s what is so fascinating about a global community. Somewhere, winter is not coming. Somewhere the flowers are a different color. Somewhere the trees are not maple. Somewhere the pipe is a different relaxant. Somewhere is a place so exotic to my own Keweenaw, I couldn’t imagine all the differences.

Yet for what variation might exist, we are all the greater tribe of humanity. Linguists know we all have words for mother/father. Humanitarians know we all suffer and yet strive for better lives. Culinary experts record our shared love of food, no matter how we spice it. Every culture has a flatbread. Caves and museums record our need to communicate stories in art. Fashion reveals our propensity for clothing that adorns.

And a single Ranch in Hancock, Michigan witnesses the power and creativity of storytelling around the world. Here we make literary art no matter how we experience this time of year.

With the coloring of the north-woods comes the return of almost 8,000 students to Finlandia University (600) and Michigan Tech (7,200). Over 1,000 of these students are international. Our peninsula shares Lake Superior with Canada and several tribal nations, including the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC). Thus, every September we celebrate a Parade of Nations.

KBIC lead us in the cultural activity, drumming blessings before and at its conclusion. Representatives of various nations line up alphabetically and march from Finlandia University in Hancock across the portage bridge to the Dee Center (aka the hockey rink) at Michigan Tech in Houghton. Beneath national flags, people proudly express their origins, often in colorful clothing. Children march with adults, KBIC members dance, and school mascots toss candy.

The parade tasted bittersweet to me this year. I had planned to wear my Finlandia blues to show my school colors, but the unexpected happened. The course I created for the CTE Marketing Program closed because the roster of students dropped out. This devastated me initially, but I remain in good graces with both Finlandia and the CTE division. They have asked my to come up with some solutions to problems we encountered and it may work out next year. I watched the Finlandia students march and accepted: next year will be different.

Another milestone of bitter-sweetness passed this week — 31 years with the Hub. If you’ve had the chance to listen to the Rodeo Playlist, maybe you caught Garth Brooks’ song, The Dance. The line, “I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to miss the dance” says so much. I would not have missed how right we used to be even knowing how this will go.

But we have some bright news — the Hub has finally received an admission date to the Poly Trauma Center at the Minneapolis VA. They almost denied his referral completely, citing that after review of his case, they believe he can not be rehabilitated. Yeah, we’ve already accepted that painful reality. However, I’ve not only advocated for my husband, I’ve also been driving the point that in order to help younger soldiers, the one’s we know have brain injuries from bomb blasts, we need to better understand “after brain injury.”

Already, I’ve made many aware of the plight. I’ve talked with younger wives who’ve told me their spouse is kind of like mine except…And I tell them that my spouse once had those exceptions, too. Instead of waiting between initial recovery and eventual degeneration, we need to do more than ignore the problem. That is why Mt. Sinai Hospital in NYC has a Brain Injury Research Center. Pending paperwork, the Hub will take part in an observational study he can contribute to through surveys (mostly the focus is on emotions). He also plans to sign documents to donate his brain for further study.

It’s been a boon to have insights from this cutting edge research on CTE because they can help us when the Hub goes to Minneapolis. They know what to look for, including biomarkers the VA has already missed. It was so validating to read that the signs I had been trying so hard to get the VA to read are exactly the ones they see in cases of CTE.

And don’t think I’ve missed the irony of my course and my husband’s suspected condition. Yes, they are both CTE. One is career technical education and the other is chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is causing strife but I’m fighting back with another set of letters — EMDR. I’ve recently, thanks to the help of a veteran spouse friend, started to see a therapist who uses EMDR as a tool to access traumatic memory and resolve the impact. It’s not an easy therapy, but it is powerful.

An interesting side-note to EMDR is that I’ve had such vivid visual memories that I realized why I don’t like writing memoir — my visual recall is normally not that sharp. I wonder if I’ll gain a new ability? I have plenty of fiction to attend to, though so I don’t plan on adding to my writing bucket list just yet.

With all that has been going on, the Parade of Nations was the balm I needed. To share some of the vibrancy with you, I have photos:

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As a reminder to regular or occasional Ranch Writers — this will be the last Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge until November 1. The Rodeo begins October 1 when we announce the five writers who will compete every Monday for the TUFFest Ride. Every Wednesday in October, a different Rodeo Leader will launch a flash fiction contest.

Any Minneapolis writers? Give a call out in the comments. I’ll actually be doing the first live read on October 1 from Minnesota! Not what I had planned, but that’s the first week of the Hub’s 4-week evaluation. I’ll return to Michigan October 4.

All contests are FREE to enter and offer a $25 first place prize. All five TUFF contestants will also each win a cash prize. We might have a sixth unadvertised advertising contest for a local sponsor and that will be announced October 5. There’s much to do in October during the Flash Fiction Rodeo! I hope you feel inspired to participate. It’s something different and more challenging.

If you want to sponsor the event, check out the different levels of sponsorship.

For now, let’s go out with a Parade of Nations.

September 20, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a parade of nations. It can be literal, or it can be a phrase that you use to describe a situation. Explore what it could be. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 25, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.

Flash Dance by Charli Mills

Jamie clacked his tap-shoes across the pavement. He’d found the kilt at the Keweenaw Consignment and paired it with his mother’s discarded turquoise blouse, the one that matched his sunglasses. He danced every day, preparing for his solo march in the Parade of Nations. Jamie was alone in his nation – an outcast. Many people treated him kindly and he managed to live on his own. Others said cruel things or pointed and laughed. He ignored them. A shout from the bystanders, “Dance, laddie, Dance!” inspired a spontaneous back-flip. Too late, he remembered what was worn beneath a kilt – nothing.

September 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

Center ice is dry concrete today, formed into a temporary roller rink with lime-green and hot-pink tape. It’s the final game for the Roller Derby at Dee Stadium, summer’s yin to winter’s coming yang of ice-hockey.

The wooden risers ascend steeply from the concrete below. Painted the color of tomato sauce mixed with cream, I realize I’m hungry for pasta. Spaghetti has been a constant in my marriage — soon to be 31 years next week. Like pasta in my life, much has changed. My daughter and SIL don’t eat pasta (no eggs or gluten), and the Hub’s spaghetti is not something he fixes anymore.

Thus I crave it. Our humanity craves the comfort zones it has known. Spaghetti calls stronger than kale chips.

At the make-shift roller rink, I settle for a vegetarian pasty and a cold Grizzly Pear cider. Suomi, the restaurant serving up their pasties, include a sugar cookie to look like a Finnish flag. Hockey, pasties, and Finns color the Keweenaw Peninsula. But so does pasta — as a mining mecca of copper for more than 150 years, Italians ranked among the many immigrants who settled here for work.

Before the roller derby game, I had been hiking around the hillside ruins of the Cliff Mine, erected in 1846. The hike, led by Keweenaw National Historical Park Rangers, included the abandoned Protestant cemetery in the land set aside for growing food and grazing. By 1852, the plot was required for burials. Wives and children succumbed to the dangers of motherhood and infancy; husbands and pre-teen boys fell to mining accidents.

Half-way up the ridge midway between Hancock and Copper Harbor, miners dug where copper once littered the ground in native form so pure, a person could forge it into tools and weapons. In fact, indigenous groups had surface mined copper as far back as 6,000 years ago. The Keweenaw is among the first places where humans mined metals.

More recent mining first attracted Cornish miners who brought skilled labor and technology to the Keweenaw. At Cliff Mine, evidence of their technology remains in the rock ruins, buildings shaped to house processes of stamping copper from ore. A rounded foundation hidden among the overgrowth of maple and birch hints at a whim. Many surnames on fading gravemarkers speak of Cornish heritage.

What boomed on the Keweenaw caused prices worldwide to slump. Mines in Cornwall faltered as those along the wild shores of Lake Superior flourished. Cornwall’s contribution to mining was more than technology — it was in skilled labor of men who spread around the globe with their knowledge. These were the “Cousin Jacks.”

One such Cousin Jack worked the Avery Shaft at Cliff Mine. It took miners 45 minutes to crawl up 900 feet of ladders, and the mine Captain asked this Jack if he could replicate a man engine — a Cornish devised platform built to remove miners from the hole. Although history did not record his name, it notes this man’s ability to improvise one, sparing the miners their long commute.

Often, I think of the hardships of these men deep in the rocks tunnels. Then, I gaze at the ore, unable to stop looking. They must have felt a similar pull, compelled to seek out the veins and follow them. Can you imagine finding copper pieces as large as 120 tons? Nowhere on earth is native copper found in such massive quantities. Elsewhere it must be extracted from other minerals.

For perspective, outside of the Keweenaw, the largest native copper nugget weighed in at five pounds.

Thus I live in a town called Hancock (a Cornish surname) where every restaurant serves a pasty. From outside the Dee Stadium windows that line the top of the wall facing Quincy Hill, I can see the outline of a mine, hoist, and railbed. Hancock also has two Italian restaurants and a smattering of Italian surnames.

Like dragonflies and poor-rock ore, Cousin Jacks and Guidos came together on a ridge that runs through us all in Copper Country. Together we gather to watch our sports and share our food.

September 13, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes pasta. It can be spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, or any variety. It can be a meal or a work of art. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 18, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.

NOTE: Flash Fiction Challenges go on hiatus September 27 and return November 1 to make way for our 2018 Flash Fiction Contest. It’s free to enter. Five unique contests led by five Rough Writers — Geoff Le Pard, Irene Waters, Sherri Matthews, Norah Colvin, and D. Avery — debut every Wednesday in October. Each contest remains open for a week and has its own take on flash fiction. It’s free to enter, and first place in each Rodeo contest is $25. Catch the 24-hour Free-writes, too (September 19 and 25) to qualify as one of five writers to compete in the TUFFest Ride

If you want to sponsor the event, check out the different levels of sponsorship.

September 13 Flash Fiction Challenge Entry Form

 

Fancy Food on the Prairie (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane slurped her plum. “True story, Sarah.”

Sarah bent over the creek, avoiding plum juice her friend didn’t seem to mind. “Why would someone hang dough from the rafters?”

“To dry it.” Nancy Jane tossed the fruit-stone, then rinsed her face.

“But why such long strands?”

Nancy Jane shrugged. “The ones he brought with him in his Conestoga were brittle as bark but cooked soft. We had fresh-churned butter and chives over them. I still think of trying my hand at dried rafter dough.”

“Is that what he called it?”

“No, he called it something silly, like ‘spag-hettie’”