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March 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Metal on metal rings throughout the neighborhood. Mist rises from melting snow as rain softly drizzles. The weather has warmed enough that the air fuzzes like wet socks. Smells like them, too. Spring does not emerge fresh as the laundry commercials would make us believe. My neighbor — I’ll call him Chester because he shares traits with Molly Steven’s cantankerous yet affable character — chisels ice. Hammer strikes chisel, over and over and I pretend I’m living next door to Michelangelo.

My huge west-facing windows give me access to the first tremors of spring. Yesterday I watched  Chester, and other neighbors rake their roofs with extendable handles on devices to scrape snow. Many business owners hire crews to shovel snow from rooftops. A few have collapsed from the heavy loads. A few warm days above freezing loosens the snow. Others are in driveways chiseling ice with metal blades. Our bit of pavement slowly emerges, and earlier I attempted to shovel scoopfuls of dirty slushie.

The snow piles are not retreating as fast, though. It leaks like a punctured bag of milk with nowhere to go. Massive piles sink and slowly dry up like bleached corn husks. It’s also not over. On Sunday, I watched 47 North’s run-through for their upcoming performance at the Continental Fire Company March 29. Awakenings tells the story in dance how we go from darkness to light. The final dance melds both, shadow selves dancing in the spotlight. We left the studio to face a full-blown blizzard. Three dancers got their vehicles stuck. Days later and neighbors are raking roofs.

It’s hard work to chisel ice dams, but the reward is a roof free of snow, and the risk of leaks subsides.

Working underground in the copper mines was wet work at times. Chiseling copper while rivulets of water poured from ceilings and ran down the burly arms of miners had to be uncomfortable. Was standing in water cooling to feet bearing the weight of heavy work? They say the temperatures deep in the mines stay cool, not turning cold in winter or hot in summer. People adapt.

And I’m adapting to my new laptop — The Majik Runoff MacCanles Macaroo That Peterbilt. Macaroo didn’t give me as tough of a learning curve as I thought. Relief settled fully on Monday night when my Techie arrived with special equipment to read and transfer my data from its hard drive. Over the weekend I worked with several Apple Techs to resolve a few issues, including Macaroo’s refusal to let me into the world of Word Press. It extended from an earlier solution to a double ID.

For years, I’ve had an iPod Shuffle and amassed a collection of music. But when we traded in our phones for iPhone 7s, Verizon told us we had to establish an Apple ID. I didn’t realize I already had one because it wasn’t called an Apple ID. Add to the situation that I have two Gmail accounts, wires were getting crossed. One technician had me sign out of my new Apple Id and sign in with the new one — and that requires doing so in multiple places, not just on the devices.

My phone failed to adapt to the new old me and Macaroo no longer recognized mama, and when prompted to update software, my laptop with the pedigree of Carrot Ranch names dared to tell me I had to buy the software because I was not the person who purchased the device. Argh! I just wanted to listen to my Apple music on my Apple products!

Monday dawned with more Apple Tech calls and a melancholy matched by soggy skies after the Sunday blizzard. Basically, I had to choose — my devices recognizing me or listening to my music on my devices. But I’m more than adaptable. I’m a writer, and I can think through “what if” scenarios faster the latest Intel processor. This leads me to parental controls —  a feature that allows parents to manage the IDs of their brood with theirs. So, on Monday, I officially adopted myself. As my child, my elder ID can now be controlled on and by my younger devices. A bit backward maybe but it works.

Norah Colvin, the original Rough Writer at Carrot Ranch who arrived in March of 2014 when I launched the first 99-word challenge, invited me to be her first interview for a new series called School Days, Reminiscences. Norah asks stirring questions that made me think of stories I hadn’t thought of in a long time and helped me make connections I hadn’t realized. You can read our interview here. I was ready to jump in and join the conversation generated, but Macaroo refused to let me even like anything. I could sign into Word Press, but then I’d get locked out.

I thought the ID solution would resolve the Word Press one but alas it did not. By the time my daughter arrived home from work, I had that glazed-over-I’m-ready-to-take-a-hammer-to-technology look on my face. It would have been the perfect time to go for a walk but there is nowhere outdoors to walk, and snowshoes don’t work when snow turns to slush and husks. Water was starting to run but not deep enough to canoe. Radio Geek patted my shoulder and tapped a sequence that brought up my passwords where a caution sign showed at WP. Apple’s built-in security feature just needed me to adapt to its new environment.

Best of all was when Techie showed up later and spent almost four hours with me after having worked all day. He gets a lifetime supply of beer from me. Or babysitting. Or cat washing. Anything. He rescued all my data — everything! Even my latest Scrivener files which I faithfully, but erroneously, backed up to DropBox. I’m now taking a tutorial to make sure I don’t make that mistake again! When I opened the Scrivener project Miracle of Ducks, and it opened up intact (instead of the version from three years ago) I whooped and hollered. Flooded with relief, I could hardly stand, my knees wobbling.

Techie slid my old hard drive into a reader and transferred data as if it were a flash-drive. Macaroo grabbed all the files, and we only had a few quirks. I thought I’d be hours resetting up my folders. He backed up my DropBox and taught me how to use the Time Machine. Every day I backup the Time Machine onto an external hard drive. I transferred Microsoft Office to Macaroo’s OS, and now all my files are saved in One Cloud and iCloud. I’m going to get rid of DropBox and use Google Drive for sharing files. After all, I have two Gmails.

But that’s not all — I’m mouse free! After all, the bright and exciting stories last week about mice (and even grice), turns out Macaroo doesn’t need a Magic Mouse. The Apple Techs adviced me to learn gestures for the trackpad and Techie gave me driving tips. I’m all about the trackpad now. I’ve even learned a few shortcuts. Tuesday, I completed most of my internet files (another vast frontier of transference). But it is all set up, and I’m at the Ranch as me, not a lurker and not an Apple ID.

I’m ready to break out the hammer and chisel with Keweenaw Chester. Not to crumble the icy hold of winter but to harken the return of creativity unburdened by technical difficulties. Thanks for standing by with me!

March 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a chisel. Use chisel as a noun or a verb. Think about what might be chiseled, who is chiseling. Be the chisel. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 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.

 

First Day Volunteers (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“I found something, Dr. Gordon.” Danni followed the volunteer who grinned.

She noted the group was digging near the mystery foundation. She expected these greenhorn volunteers to soon lose interest. Ruby City held no treasure. Danni confirmed the woman had found the edge of a tool. She instructed the group to continue peeling back layers centimeters at a time.

To her surprise, they did. At the end of the day, the volunteers left what looked like a chisel in situ. Two days later they cheered its liberation. Danni realized her first day fear of volunteers was unfounded. She grinned.

 

 

Mouse Tales

A mouse in a house, a wardrobe, a Victor trap, rescued and orbited to outer space. Mice are everywhere, including our technology. Somehow the vehicle that takes us into the depths of the world wide web got dubbed a humble mouse.

This week, writers chased the tails of mice to produce mouse tales. They will take readers on a merry chase of imagination, tenderness and hard lines. Use your mouse to navigate through a collection arranged into 10-minute nibbles.

The following are based on the March 7, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a mouse.

PART I (10-minute read)

Meanings Change by Susan Sleggs

“My mouse isn’t here,” my son lamented

“He better not be running loose.”

“I’m talking about my computer mouse, not Whiskers.”

“That’s a relief. Where could it be?”

“Probably at school. I used my laptop to work on an assignment about archaic words. I had a lot of windows open looking for examples.”

“Windows used to let air in, not information. Come to think of it, RAM, byte, virus, web, boot, spam, and cookies have all taken on new meanings in this techie age.”

“You’re a genius. I’ll write my report on those words and easily get an A.”

🥕🥕🥕

My Mouse by Sally Cronin

I am extremely attached to my mouse, small and demanding at times, but I need a muse that is easy to maintain, and doesn’t demand three walks a day and half my dinner. It sits quietly by my side, observing my every move, and eager to be handled at every opportunity. I have owned several mice in my lifetime, but this one has a special place in my heart, as it has supported me thorough my latest book and editing process. But it is showing signs of burn out. Perhaps it will perk up if I change its battery.

🥕🥕🥕

Other Worldly by Frank Hubeny

I move my black mouse and click. I know I should be doing other things.

“Like what?” That silent voice inside me asks.

Well, like watching this orange sunset or bothering that white bird sitting for no good reason on the railing or contemplating the other worldly mysteries of this grand universe.

Knowing I have no clue, I hear. “Really, like what?”

So I let my inner squeaky wheel, my imaginary “friend”, guide me downward into the depths of another suspicious, weedy, mosquito-loving rabbit hole I have no business exploring. But what else, really, do I have to do?

🥕🥕🥕

Due Credit by Reena Saxena

You won’t be able to use all those fancy products, if they are not tested on me. I put my life and limb to out to help you. I’m an extension of your hand, when you navigate that space you can’t live without. I think you call it the internet. I don’t find it very useful though….

You give me food and sometimes – space to live, but I don’t think the equation is balanced.

You need to do a lot more to give me my due credit. Killer cats and dogs have been honoured for too long now.

🥕🥕🥕

Chaircat Mao and Cheeser the Mouse by H.R.R. Gorman

“Chaircat Mao,” asked Cheeser the mouse, “Why don’t you ever chase me?”

Chaircat Mao rolled his rotund body over and readjusted his luxurious gray coat. “Well, have you ever chased me?”

“No, Chaircat Mao! That would be silly!”

Chaircat Mao closed his eyes as if the question were answered.

Distraught, Cheeser scurried onto Mao’s flesh. Without response, she balanced down to his nose and pulled on his whiskers. “It’s not right, Chaircat Mao! God made cats to chase mice!”

“Don’t be silly. God made cats to be worshipped. Now stop disturbing my nap.” So, at last, Chaircat Mao slept.

🥕🥕🥕

Wrong Mouse by Anita Dawes

Our cat Merlin loves to bring us gifts
I wish he would leave the mice outside
I told him the other day, it was the wrong kind
Jaye needs a new mouse for the computer
Of course, he didn’t take any notice of me
He loves to catch butterflies in his mouth
He lets them go unharmed
Maybe he likes the flavour of them
I have no clue, as I don’t speak cat too well.
After buying a new mouse, Merlin stopped
bringing his gifts for a while
was he trying to tell Jaye that
her mouse needed replacing?

🥕🥕🥕

The Mouse That Came in from the Cold by Di @ pensitivity101

I heard scratching and told partner we had a mouse in the bedroom.

He flicked on the light, looked around, then switched it off.

The scratching resumed. Another nudge, he got up to look.

‘Nothing!’

I saw a shadow and turning on the light saw a little mouse disappear behind the wardrobe.

Partner threw himself out of bed and whacked everything in close proximity.

With the bedding wrapped around me, I was in hysterics.

Not that I was afraid, but the ridiculousness of the situation as he’d been charging round the bedroom stark naked, in all his dangly glory.

🥕🥕🥕

A Mouse Backfires by Norah Colvin

“Eek!“ shrieked Granny, toppling back on the chair, arms and legs flailing.

“Thwunk!” Her head struck the wall, silencing the children’s sniggers.

Granny slumped motionless, eyes closed, tongue lolling from her slack jaw.

Barney gaped. “D’ya, d’ya think she’s dead?”

“Don’t be silly,” admonished Eliza, older and wiser. “She couldn’t be. Could she?”

The children tiptoed closer.

“What if she wakes up?”

“What if she doesn’t?”

“I’ll check her pulse,” mouthed Eliza.

Suddenly, Granny jolted upright, eyes staring blankly.

The children gasped.

“Gotcha!” laughed Granny. “But that is a clever mouse.”

“How did you —?”

Granny winked. “Granny knows.”

🥕🥕🥕

What Happened to the Mouse? by Miriam Hurdle

“What is that box?”

“That’s my infrared camera.”

“What’s that for?”

“Did you see the oranges fell from the tree? Something ate up the cores. I wanted to see what happened.”

“What did the camera catch?”

“Look for yourself.”

“OMG! A mouse! I thought all the mice were dead.”

“I guess not. This one escaped.”

“Did the camera take the pictures last night?”

“No, these were taken two nights ago.”

“Was the camera on last night?”

“It was.”

“Did the mouse come back?”

“No, something else did?

“What?”

“Look again.”

“Oh no, I know what happened to the mouse.”

🥕🥕🥕

My Life As a Mouse by Macy Brown

Quickly I scurry across the dilapidated, plywood floor, covered in dust, careful not to step on the wooden contraptions my brothers and sisters have succumbed to. Last week dad went in search of food, but he did not return. Now it’s up to me to find food to keep the last of my siblings alive. I come around the corner of an old, water damaged box, and that is when I smell it – salty peanut butter; but before I have time to react I hear that ear shattering CLAP as a metal hinge comes crashing down upon me.

🥕🥕🥕

That’s Mice — A Conversation for Musicologists by Bill Engleson

“Ah, Mick, do you ever ask yourself where we belong in the grand scheme?”

“Gee, Squeak. Not a lot. Why?”

“Well, I was thinking. Take music. Sometimes we just pop up in a song…its neat.”

“What songs?”

“Glad you asked. I’m thinking of that great Johnny Cash ditty, I Still Mice Someone. Sure brings a tear to my eye.”

“I do like Johnny Cash…but…”

“Or, Little Richard’s, Good Golly Mice Molly. That sure shakes the floorboards.”

“Squeak, don’t take this the wrong way but I think you oughta get your hearing checked.”

“I hear ya, Mick. I hear ya.”

🥕🥕🥕

Little Miss Mouse by Susan Zutautas

She was a tiny little woman with whiskery gray hair. At times she’d be talking to you and her little pink nose would rapidly twitch. Much like that of a rodent smelling something good to eat. Speaking of eating, sunflower seeds were always nearby but never an empty shell to be seen. Listening to her talk was quite annoying with her squeaky pitchy little voice. There were some days you would feel a swish of wind go briskly past you, only to find out it was Little Mouse. Yes, that’s what we had nicknamed her. It characterized her perfectly.

🥕🥕🥕

Mousetrap by Ritu Bhathal

The pain.

It sears through my body.

I know no one will find me.

They were all much more sensible, listening to Mummy. I had to be the one who had to go and look.

Curiosity killed the cat. That’s the saying. Not the mouse, the cat.

But it was just so tempting.

I could smell it.

That whiff of cheesiness.

I knew it was out there somewhere.

And I found it too.

Sat there, right in front of me, was a huge chunk of the best cheddar.

How was I to know it was on a state-of-the-art mousetrap?

🥕🥕🥕

The Night of Forgotten Chores (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Snow crunched beneath Ike’s boots. Danni hastily stepped into them with her slippers, throwing a jacket over flannel pajamas. She grimaced against the blast of cold air. How did she forget her chores? The animals relied on her, especially when the weather turned. She pushed open the barn door, flicking on lights. Three mournful dogs glanced up from the cocoon of their cedar houses. Blackjack nickered his discontent, and the chukar fluttered in their cage. Sluggish with guilt Danni slid her hand into the grain bag to find the scoop. She yelped when instead she grabbed a live mouse.

🥕🥕🥕

The Little Ones by Ann Edall-Robson

The tiny flecks of dust shimmered like specks of gold in the early morning sunlight streaming through the six-pane window. The building was old, but it was obvious someone was keeping it weatherproof, save for the tiny knothole in the corner, near the back door garden entrance.

The wooden bung had shrunk over time, slipping to one side, going unnoticed in the overgrown flower beds, and allowing those who knew of its whereabouts to come and go as they pleased through its odd shape.

Thanks to the friendly garden mouse, the Little Ones now had a new home.

🥕🥕🥕

Laurie’s Journal by Saifun Hassam

On a sunny cold February morning, Laurie walked gingerly over the snow and ice-covered grass and stone steps, to the rose and blackberry bushes, pine and oak trees. Fallen branches, twigs, pine needles and acorns poked through the snow.

In a tiny space among the maze of roots, some snow had melted. A bright-eyed mouse sat quietly on a root. Laurie sat quietly on the old scarred log. Last autumn, she had found tiny tunnels running along the blackberry bushes. In her mind’s nature journal, she was already drawing and making observations of these tiny settlers in the garden.

🥕🥕🥕

Mouse in House by Ruchira Khanna

“Oh God! We have a mouse in the house!” I shrieked as I announced to my family. My son sitting on the couch was quick to pull his legs and cross them over. “Where! Where!” he inquired in an equally high-pitched scream.

“It’s in the bedroom!”

I was now waiting restlessly for my husband to take some action. Instead, he continued to work on his laptop unperturbed of what I just announced!

I repeated it this time in a higher decibel.

He looked up with a sense of calm, “Relax! It’s the door. It needs oiling at the hinges!”

🥕🥕🥕

Peace Offering by D. Avery

It had to be done. *I won’t have them on my countertops.*

In the hardware section she reached for the wooden Victors. *Can’t improve on those.* Very effective, though she didn’t like setting them, flinched if they snapped, worried about her fingers. *At least it’s just my fingers*.

She moved on to the toy section. *There, little doll dishes, perfect.* She took her purchase home to do what had to be done.

She cleaned her counters. The doll dishes, filled with tasty morsels, she set on the floor. *We can share the food. But please stay off the counters*.

🥕🥕🥕

Mouse by Janice Golay

I am a mouse. I say this without pride or apology. It’s just “I am.” Perhaps in a previous life I was someone or something else, someone bigger, stronger, who could roar or soar. But here I am with this life, making the best of what I am. For example, this morning I checked my winter stash of corn, seeds and old apples. Looks OK. It’s sunny today, so I poked my head out of the barn, saw a flying creature’s slow shadow — wide wingspan — soaring, searching…..for me! Pulled my head back in fast. Next life, please.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Minnie and Me by Goldie

There it was again – an unexplained pit in her stomach. As if someone was watching her.

Following her.

There was no one in sight, but she couldn’t shake off the uneasiness.

She tried to run, but tripped and fell to her knees.

A tall shadow appeared in the puddle in front of her.

She raised her head hesitantly to assess the situation.

“There you are, sweetheart” – he said, and extended his hand, but Emma remained on the ground.

“I said I would take care of you. I’d never let you fall” – he said, pulling her up by the hair.

🥕🥕🥕

Visitor by Abhijit Ray

Six months before, one night I woke up from my intermittent sleep. Something ran over my body. There he was eating my leftover meal. We have gotten used to each other.

He stares at me curiously. Sitting on his hind quarter he wipes his face and his moustache. I think he prepares himself for the dinner.

I wait for his arrival. He visits me everyday without fail. He does not need any permission or any pass. He is the only friend I have, as I count my days in death row for murdering my business partner and my wife.

🥕🥕🥕

Cosmopolitan Collapse by JulesPaige

The Fashionista thought she’d replace her dogs toy.
The only place she could find Mookies favorite
mouse squeaky toy was through the internet.

The Fashionista attempted to order the toy herself.
But there was a Troll waiting to capture
and sell her personal information.

The Fashionista used insecure protocols
allowing the nasty Troll to unleash a virus
that crashed and burned The Fashionista’s
personal site, the Pet Place and
several major operating systems.

The Troll thought it was hilarious
that his virus was called the Black Plague.
All because The Fashionista wanted
a squeaky rodent toy for her dog.

🥕🥕🥕

My Life As A Mouse by Joanne Fisher

Ever since a company began briefly downloading consciousness’s into other species the holiday industry has been transformed. Last year I spent two weeks swimming around the Pacific Ocean as a fish. When I returned to my usual body it felt strange for a while to have arms and legs again. This year I decided to be a mouse. I got some strange looks, but they’re quite cute. Though I did spend most of my time trying to find food. One time I saw some peanuts on the floor, as I scurried to them I didn’t even see the cat…

🥕🥕🥕

Experiments by The Dark Netizen

Mark my words, this novel research is going to put us right into all the books out there: journals, encyclopaedias, history books; maybe even novels and comics.

We are going to become celebrities not only in the science community, but even in the outside world.

Now, we only need to hope that this experiment works during the trials.

The serum should have the same effect as it had on mice.

If it gives the mice intelligence in comparison to humans, imagine what it would do for human subjects.

Aren’t you in agreement about starting human trials early, Dr. Mouse?

🥕🥕🥕

I’d Like to Mouse Wheel a Motion by Chelsea Owens

“Now, now, Mrs. Snigglewhiff; that’s hardly mouseylike. Would you please consider using the shavings over-

“MISTER Cheesebiter, if you wouldn’t mind-

“I say; what are you doing at that drink station? Refreshments are for after our-

“What is it, now, Whiskershins? …The Society for Capybara Welfare wishes to be heard? They’ll just have to submit their request in shavings like the rest of us!-

“My word! Will the ringtailed children kindly refrain from using the wheel till after our meeting has adjourned?-”

*SQUEAKHEM*

“I now call to order The Semi-Regular Meeting of Tame Rodentia. First item of business: queuing.”

🥕🥕🥕

Mouse by Robbie Cheadle

Yesterday morning I saw a mouse dash across the kitchen floor and slip under the dishwasher. We live near a bird sanctuary so we do get the odd furry visitor. My husband catches mice using a method involving rat glue smeared on a piece of cardboard. I hate it but we cannot have mice taking up permanent residence in our home.

The gluey cardboard worked and this morning I found the mouse stuck to the cardboard. It was still alive and had to be drowned in water. That is the down side of rat glue – it doesn’t kill quickly.

🥕🥕🥕

I Hate Those Meeces to Peeces by Geoff Le Pard

‘Why the long face, Morgan?’

‘Aunt Annette is coming.’

‘Is she a tyrant?’

‘No. We have mice; she hates mice. She’ll flip if I say or if she sees one.’

‘Get a trap.’

‘Can’t. She’ll see it and know.’

‘You’re screwed then.’

‘Could she stay with you? She’s as quiet as a mouse.’

‘What if I’m phobic, too?’

‘Of mice?’

‘I’m not murophobic…’

‘… get you with the long words…’

‘… but I am syngenesophobic.’

‘Fear of aunts?’

‘Yep.’

‘Great, I’ll bring her round then.’

‘But I just said I’m sygenes…’

‘Sure, but she’s not your aunt, is she?’

🥕🥕🥕

Friends by Kay Kingsley

“Charles, help!” A shrill voice shouted from the living room.

Fearing the worst, he dropped the plate he was washing in the sink and came running. “What is it Ida?!” he said, panicked.

Standing on a chair Ida swore it was the biggest mouse she had ever seen. HUGE. GIGANTIC even.

“Sweetie. Come down off the chair. It’s not that big.” he chuckled.

“What? You knew it was in the house and didn’t get rid of it?!”

What he hadn’t told her yet was that since the accident, the mouse was the only friend he had to talk to.

🥕🥕🥕

Silent as a Mouse by Kerry E.B. Black

Make-a-Wish interviewed my daughter, Bear, and she wanted to be a princess. Her consultant clapped. “No better place to be a princess than WDW!”

However, costumed characters terrified Bear. I read the promotional materials and discovered what I hoped would calm her. “They don’t talk.”

Consoled, she reluctantly approached her favorite cartoon, Minnie Mouse.

Minnie moved.

Bear screamed.

We turned to leave when the dear costumed actress forgot her training and reassured, “It’s okay, honey!” She covered her perpetually smiling mouth with white-mittens, but the damage was done.

I wondered if little Bear would ever trust me again.

🥕🥕🥕

Little One by Sarah Whiley

The shadow of the moon danced on the lake. A light breeze whispered gently through the tress and the air was filled with a symphony of insects, clamoring to be heard.

Lucy trod carefully in the filtered light, glancing behind her guiltily. Her mum and dad would be furious but since the trap hadn’t killed it, Lucy figured it was a sign.

Kneeling at the fence line of their property, she reached into her pocket and tenderly scooped out the mouse.

With a grateful “chit” of thanks, it promptly ran into the darkness.

“Take care little one,” she whispered.

🥕🥕🥕

Of Mice and Girls by Nancy Brady

Mighty Mouse was Julie’s favorite cartoon; she sat enthralled on the living room floor every Saturday morning. When the mice got into trouble, he would fly to their rescue, saving them from the mean old cat. She thought him handsome in his tights and cape as he sang, “Here I come to save the day, Mighty Mouse is on the way!”

He was Julie’s hero, and she had a crush on him.

Julie had a little doll with a brown ponytail, just like her. When Julie played with her doll, she pretended she was Mighty Mouse’s girlfriend, his love.

🥕🥕🥕

Tasha’s Gift by Nobbinmaug

“Aaaahaaha! A mouse!”

“You’re such a woman.”

“Sexist.”

“Women can’t be sexist.”

“I think that’s also sexist.”

“Men don’t get to decide what’s sexist.”

“That is definitely sexist.”

“Will you just get the mouse, please?”

“Why? Because I’m the man?”

“Because your cat brought it in, and it’s your apartment.”

“You wanna move in?”

“Hell no! You have mice.”

“Tasha and her gifts. They’re usually dead.”

“Gross.”

“Yeah, it’s gross, but they’re easier to catch when they’re dead.”

“I am not staying here tonight if that mouse is here.”

“I’ll get it. I’ll get it. I will find it.”

🥕🥕🥕

Bed Fellows by Annette Aben

A little girl needed a room of her own, especially when her siblings closest in age, were all boys. She was given the space off the bathroom. A space normally used for storage. Besides, she could lock the door. She could find privacy there.
She didn’t mind sleeping on an old mattress, covered in quilts. There was a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling, so she could read. She gladly traded the feel of the mice that ran across her legs at night over her father’s demands. She chose sleeping in mouse turds rather than her own blood.

🥕🥕🥕

Lionhearted by Nan MykelI

I smell a cat in the house. That means my time on earth is limited.Hmmn. What can I contribute to the world during my shortened lifespan? I know! The stepfather who sneaks into his stepson’s room at night silently, on tiptoes to molest him!There he is, stealthily approaching the sleeping boy. Now on his knees, pulling back the covers. Strike now! Nails extended, I rush up his feet, up his legs and high on his head. I dive triumphantly onto the boy, whose screams are echoed by the perpetrator. Lights throughout the house. Goodbye mouselife, hello glory.

🥕🥕🥕

Mighty Mouse by Jo Hawk

I stumble to my desk. The coffee sloshing in my cup slips over the edge trickles down the side and drips onto my freshly printed manuscript.

I blot the drop, but the damage is done. Adding insult to injury I mark the draft with a giant coffee ring. I have no fear. Mighty Mouse will save the day. The laptop purrs, Mighty Mouse chases clicks across the laptop’s screen while I sip my coffee.

The printer springs to life, spitting out pages as the Mouse commands.

The pristine draft restored, it awaits the torture session of the red pen.

🥕🥕🥕

Moondarby the Mouse and the Mischievous Macaroni Penguin by K. J. Watson

My pet mouse, Ellroy, is by my keyboard, twitching his nose at the computer screen.

“You dislike the title of my latest children’s story, don’t you?” I ask him.

He twitches more vigorously.

“Is it the alliteration? Or the name of the mouse? Or is it the macaroni penguin?”

In response, Ellroy darts across the keyboard: ]’pl[;ijokyguhrdtfwaesq.

“I assume that means you’re averse to it all?”

Ellroy stares at me.

“Okay. How about ‘Ellroy the Magnificent and the Naughty Cat’?”

Ellroy curls up on my notebook.

I begin typing and wonder: Who else has a mouse as a muse?

🥕🥕🥕

Focus by Tracey

“Guys listen up. This is the pre-mission briefing for flight 7044.”

She went quickly but thoroughly over the slides. Tanker crews liked fast and funny. No jokes today though, this was a new mission and she needed to keep their focus.

To the great surprise of the pilots she suddenly stopped in mid-sentence and jumped onto a chair. The entire room silently watched a mouse scamper across the floor and under the canvas wall.

The Lieutenant climbed down and resumed briefing the astonished pilots, picking right back up in the middle of her sentence. She had their full attention.

🥕🥕🥕

Mus Musings by D. Avery

“Rats, this is a tough prompt Pal.”

“You also complained when Shorty said cats. No pleasin’ some folk.”

“Jist sayin’, Pal. Ya know, Pal, there’s all kinds a mice.”

“So? The Ranch is a diverse place.”

“Reckon Aussie’ll write ‘bout kangaroo mice.”

“Sure, an’ D. Avery’ll write about deer mice.”

“Moose mus?”

“Punny, Kid. *Mus musculus* is the house mouse. Deer mice and kangaroo mice are actually a different family. But yer not outta order, rodent’cha know.”

“Now who’s punny? Pal, how come it’s mice and not mouses?”

“Jist is thet way.”

“Hmmph.”

“Mebbe all your grouses are grice.”

🥕🥕🥕

March 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

Franklin Township Hall sits on Quincy hill among extensive ruins of an abandoned Keweenaw Copper mine. The No. 2 Shaft Hoist House built in 1916 still stands with its engineering marvel intact — the largest mine hoist in the world. An entire company town with houses, feedlots, and gardens once sat above shafts dug to over a mile deep. Today, it’s a historic tourist attraction, and the town hall still functions as it always has.

Concerned citizens from across the Keweenaw have crashed the multi-township fire department meeting.

First, let me explain the geography and geology of the landscape pocked with copper. My fellow Michigander and writer, Annette Rochelle Aben, gives a great visual of Michigan split into two land masses by the Great Lakes: picture two mittens. I like to add that the mittens are backward (kinda like some of us Michiganders, eh). If you flip the right mitten backward, the thumb points outward toward NYC. Set the second mitten top and perpendicular to the first and flip it back so the thumb points to Canada.

Here’s a visual from Michigan Mittens (great hand warmers, by the way):

So, when I say I live on the thumb of land that juts up into the belly of Lake Superior, I’m talking about the Upper Mitten (or the UP as downstaters call it). Lake Michigan separates the two landmasses, which is connected by the Mackinac (or Mighty Mac) Bridge at St. Ignace. Yoopers (UP-ers) like to joke that the bottom mitten is below the bridge and therefore all downstaters are trolls. Further, the Mighty Mac exists so trolls can get to heaven (the UP), too. Michigan is its own kind of special! I suppose we can grin and say that about the idiosyncrasies of any place.

And before I forget (again!), I had a blast connecting the mittens with Annette Rochelle Aben on her standout podcast, “Tell Me a Story.” We share more in common than living in the same state, but you’ll have to listen to find out: The Magic Happens Magazine. She lists her guests’ stories alphabetically scroll down to my name (and check out other familiar names, too).

Water surrounds this thumb called the Keweenaw Peninsula — Lake Superior and the Keweenaw Waterway which is a dredged portage canal linking the greatest of the Great Lakes. Early settlers, among them Finns and French Canadians, called this geographical region Kuparisaari. Copper Island. I  like the name Copper Island, but I’ve yet to hear anyone use it. Often, this region is called Copper Country, but locals prefer the Keweenaw. It’s only taken me 18 months to sort out where I live.

As the winter raven flies, Franklin Township Hall is less than two miles from my Roberts Street home (among the “Swiss Alps” of snow piles). I’m close to ruins of old mining communities, and when spring arrives, I plan to hike up to Swedetown to watch the progression of flowers from long-gone homes emerge. If I looped around from Swedetown, I’d walk past the millhouse ruins of Quincy Mine, cross the road and arrive at the town hall. If I passed the meeting place, I’d go down a steep slope and end up in Ripley, which is a remnant of a village where the stamp mill workers and their families lived along the portage canal.

Basically, this thumb has a bone made of copper-infused basalt and little flesh. Soil on the peninsula is sandy and shallow. We might experience deep snows, but we don’t typically get heavy rains. Last June, a 1,000-year flood struck our ridge, washing away the sand from basalt and the land and trees slid. My friend Cynthia who has a retreat where I’ll be working with local authors lives below Franklin Township Hall, Ripley Falls, and Michigan Tech’s ski hill. Part of the ski hill slammed into her home, burying her yard and first floor in mud and rubble.

An old dump from a ravine higher up also purged its treasures in Cynthia’s back yard. Among the kale that reseeded itself on the heap, we picked up old machinery bits, broken glass and pipe stems. Before the snow fell, we managed to get a meeting of all the agencies and citizens — stakeholders — to discuss mitigation. Within a week, equipment dug out more of the rubble, built a barrier of sorts in the back yard and stretched silt netting at the site of the landslide. Then winter came.

Like a little mouse with sensitive ears, we heard through the grapevine that an emergency planning meeting was to be held at the Franklin Township Hall. So, we concerned citizens gathered. The topic was spring thaw. To the dismay of the county emergency planner, we packed the hall like Keweenaw snow. He announced that the meeting was intended for township fire departments. No one moved. He then said it wasn’t really public and he didn’t have enough handouts. No one moved. It’s a civic meeting at a public place and citizens have the right to sit in on these meetings. We exercised our civic power and stayed.

Everyone knows all this snow is going to melt. It always does.

At the town hall, I can’t see out the windows. Curving layers of snow pack up against the window pains blocking the last of the early evening light. I hold the moment in memory and store it for later recall. We listen to fire chiefs respond in grunts and jokes. One details his station’s emergency plan as “high boots.” Yes, the snow will create water runoff. The question is, how do we know if it’s too high?

You see, snow melts from underneath. Even if we employ Civil Air Patrol or enlist volunteers with drones to check on vulnerable water flows, the snow will block the view. Another problem could be ice jams. As larger chunks break away, they can also congregate in bottlenecks and back up water. Following an unprecedented event last summer we enter new territory this spring. Snow sits above average and has an equivalent of 6-8 inches of water. That actually sounds small compared to 300 plus inches of snow over the winter. But that’s what the meteorologists are reporting. And the rest of us wait.

After the meeting, Cynthia and I approached the emergency planner with an idea we concocted — instead of getting frustrated with us concerned citizens, why not put us to good use and appoint a Citizen Advisory Board? He liked the idea and encouraged us to present a proposal to the townships and get the county supervisors to appoint us. We can even count our work toward matching funds needed to secure grants to clean up last year’s landslides and floods. This is how democracy works.

And it began here in the town hall where miners gathered to discuss how to take care of their villages and families. It seems they were better than we are at civic duty. Many of their efforts are now abandoned like the mines. I think of families like Jules’ and others who still volunteer as firefighters or serve in the public sector. How did we stray from that in America? Busy modern lives? Less connectivity? Maybe it is a key to unification. Maybe if we find common ground, we’ll stop bickering over politics and roll up our sleeves and make our towns the kind of places that are welcoming to all.

I like living on this mitten thumb.

This week, I’m wrapping up on my loaner just because I finally figured out where all my settings are and need more time to get my new laptop ready to work. Kind of like getting a new horse settled into the herd. Takes patience. I’m loving my new Mac Air 13, though. I plan to have this laptop for a long time. On Saturday, I get a session with the Apple Techs, and over the weekend my techie friend will transfer my dead laptop’s data. May Acer rest in peace. I need a name for my Mac. Any suggestions? Especially from you punsters out there.

MacApple came with a Magic Mouse. Oo-la-la! It’s sleek and shiny and feels good beneath my palm. So we are going to chitter stories like mice this week.

March 7, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a mouse. It can be real, imagined, electronic or whiskered. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 12, 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.

 

The Night of Forgotten Chores (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Snow crunched beneath Ike’s boots. Danni hastily stepped into them with her slippers, throwing a jacket over flannel pajamas. She grimaced against the blast of cold air. How did she forget her chores? The animals relied on her, especially when the weather turned. She pushed open the barn door, flicking on lights. Three mournful dogs glanced up from the cocoon of their cedar houses. Blackjack nickered his discontent, and the chukar fluttered in their cage. Sluggish with guilt Danni slid her hand into the grain bag to find the scoop. She yelped when instead she grabbed a live mouse.

February 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

February 28 Flash Fiction ChallengeBut for the kindness of others, my car is unburied, and my accessibility to Carrot Ranch improved. The storms have not entirely passed.

Last year, we received almost 60 more inches of snow before we called it good for flowers to burst forth from receding drifts in yards and woods. And officially, my computer is dead. Her memory broken, unable to function.

Not a way any of us want to go.

Today, I’m gratefully tapping away on a loaner laptop. I’m adjusting to not having the speeds I’ve grown accustomed to, or having all my files arranged just so. I spent the last week feeling lost, following an unfortunate computer crash. Each failed fix left me brooding.

The blizzard that shut down our town (even snowmobiles got stuck) delayed the response from the only tech store we have. By then, a friend who works in IT offered to help, running diagnostics to pinpoint the actual problem. A rep who called me back said they probably couldn’t fix it or retrieve data, and they wouldn’t have new computers in stock until March 15 because of some Intel processing glitch.

Let’s pause a moment and discuss backup strategies.

Early on, I learned to back up my work as a professional. Not only did I write content for businesses, but I was also responsible for archiving it. As technology grew into the Information Age, archives grew into fierce beasts to manage. By 2010, we had servers to back up all our computers nightly. In 2012, I purchased an external hard drive for all my personal and professional work.

Today we have a myriad of choices to backup our writing files from hardware to digital clouds. However, nothing is failproof. In 2016, I carefully boxed up my physical portfolio into three large plastic tubs. In my previous move, I lost all my earlier writing to a nesting mouse, learning the value of plastic. I also lost my college writing because floppy disks became obsolete.

Thus we each need a Backup Strategy that fits our needs and resources.

WANTS & NEEDS

First, determine what is essential to preserve. Flag these files as needs. For me, it’s a single folder marked as NOVELS. Each individual novel has its own folder within the main one. Each revision has its own folder. And, each novel has its own research file filled with photos, links, articles, and notes. Finally, I backup each novel project from Scrivener (where I write and save every scrap of writing and revision in a “project” as well as arranging my research, character and setting notes on board).

That way, I have a single NEED TO SAVE folder called NOVELS. I have one folder to backup, which I did two days before my laptop crashed.

The rest of my files I want to save, but I won’t die if something catastrophic happens. Most of these are unessential archives. Some also exist in hard copy files (such as my editorial calendar, budget, and workshop materials). Other writing and genealogy research exists on other platforms. Photos are backed up automatically to Google, and now my new iPhone comes with iCloud storage for which I expanded for a nominal monthly fee.

HARD COPIES 

Photos, books, magazines, printouts or tearsheets (as we used to call evidence of publication back in the printing days) comprise most hard copies. These are the documents we often scan or have backed up digitally. I’m old school and keep way too many hard copies. In 2016, when I knew I had to pack up my office, I used the NEED vs. WANT system to prioritize what got scanned, placed in a plastic tub, or filed into a carrying case which I kept throughout my wandering adventures.

Don’t keep everything.

Think about who has to sort your stuff after you die. Seriously. I’m not trying to be morbid, but after helping my best friend sort her parents’ hoard after they died, I can tell you there is no joy in going through stuff they found sentimentally worthy. Then my best friend died, leaving the sorting unfinished along with her own items. Watching her grown children muck through an entire storage unit and cry over the burden of decisions, I decided I’d not do that to my own kids.

Hard as it may be, I use moves to confront the reality — what if I lost this document or item forever? Remember, NEEDS vs. WANTS. Sometimes you have to separate from things you want to keep but if they do not serve a purpose, toss. Question:

  1. Does it keep your portfolio relevant to next big goal?
  2. Does it serve a future purpose?
  3. Is it an heirloom someone else will appreciate?
  4. Is it essential to your writing?
  5. Is it valuable?

DIGITAL BACKUP

Having organized files is the first step toward a good backup plan. Every year, I make it a practice to archive files so I can minimize the number of documents I have to scroll through. At work, I used to sort data by quarters. It makes document sorting and relocation easier. Annual archiving works well. But what happens if your software or hardware fails?

You have many choices for backup:

  1. USB (or USB-c) drives, also known as “memory sticks”
  2. External hard drives for data (especially if you need large storage for high-resolution photos, videos or graphic design of book covers, advertising, etc.)
  3. Multiple computers (home, work, and laptop)
  4. Time Machine (an Apple product)
  5. Server used for networks (something not readily affordable for the home user)

Keep in mind these backups can fail, or technology can advance. Somehow I damaged my external hard drive storing it in a fireproof lockbox (it got damp). It is possible to retrieve the data, however but requires an expert technician. My floppy discs from college are obsolete, but again, an expert with the right equipment can retrieve the data if it felt like a need. My honors thesis was published at Carroll College and may be digitally scanned, something I never dreamed could happen 20 years ago!

Technology changes and technology fails. Keep your backups backed up.

THE CLOUD

Cloud service might seem practical, especially to younger generations who don’t recall life without the internet. It might feel suspicious to those of us who grew up reading about Big Brother. Certainly, it is convenient, much of it is free, and many reputable services offer extra storage. Here are links to learn more:

  1. Google Drive
  2. DropBox
  3. iCloud
  4. Microsoft One Drive
  5. Amazon (and you’re unlikely to use it, but know it exists because it might make a great plot twist in that thriller you’re writing).

The cloud can fail, too. Security and solvency remain two major issues.

Facing the vulnerability of our backups is like facing our mortality. Our writing, our art, our work won’t live forever. But while we yet breathe, we make art and we back it up best we can. Have a plan that fits your needs and assess it regularly.

My future computer is unknown. It kills me to think my Acer is gone. Her memory sits in a clunky piece of hardware on my desk marked with my name on a strip of blue tape. Her body rests on my printer, paining me each time I look at her. How it became her in death, I’m not sure, but she served me well. Until she up and quit on me. Bah…!

Meanwhile, I have a hardy little Dell to help see me through to what next. I’m considering going over to the dark apple.

Something to think about (me, and others considering a new laptop) — when my component failed, I learned it is soldered onto the mainboard. My tech friend explained this new practice to me, and Acer confirmed it. To replace the faulty piece, I’d have to buy an $875 board which is $25 less than the cost of my laptop.

If you are in the market for a laptop, ask if the model you are considering has a soldered board. If so, you might want to reconsider. Single components are easier and cheaper to replace. However, you would be best guided by a trusted IT person. Chromebooks are inexpensive, and MacBook Airs are dependable. I feel like a widow having to pick a new mate one week after the funeral. I just want my old love back.

Moving onto snow, we are still digging out but have had sunshine. Today, Mrs. H called in the serious snow removal equipment to deal with her blocked garage. Each time the loader backed up, a loud beep echoed throughout the neighborhood. The sound of progress. The sound of moving onward.

Up to a challenge? After you back up your writing, eh.

February 28, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the term backup. You can back up or have a backup, just go where the prompt leads!

Respond by March 5, 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.

 

Backup Work (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Mars sparkled overhead. Could Ike see their favorite constellations from his post in Iraq? Danni lit a lantern at the kitchen table. With the power out from the wind storm, she couldn’t access her computer files. Good thing her work included books and items found in the dirt. She poked at the latest sorting of glass globs. A fire, which locals claimed was the burning of the Rose Bud Inn during Prohibition. If so, Danni might have found its location. Tonight, she couldn’t back up her reports, but she could sift the remains of another era. Stories always surface.

February 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

It’s February 14, and I find much to love today. I can imagine that the invisible warm winds lapping at the coast of snow outside my stoop conform to aerodynamic heart-shapes. Why not? The wind is unseen so I can pick how to see it in my mind. Hearts float by and surround me in such an imaginative construct.

Today, I met a Nigerian Prince, and I loved so much about our encounter. He didn’t say he was a prince, but by his demeanor and broad smile I couldn’t help but think he was. The local Rotary Chapter invited me to speak at their weekly luncheon. Not one to miss an opportunity to read and tell stories, I accepted the invitation to be their guest. That’s where I met the Prince.

He wore cloth not from the US — it looked thicker, and held a linen-like weave. It was dark blue, almost like a midnight sky when a full moon casts enough light to give color. Small dots of cream decorated the Prince’s matching shirt and pants. He dressed handsomely and spoke eloquently. Suddenly, I loved Nigerian language. It occurs to me in afterthought that I should have asked him to speak his native tongue.

The Prince spoke clear English, but I noticed he rounded his sounds as if his mouth were an instrument. It made me think how sacred oral communication is, how as people, we take great care to shape sounds into words to give meaning to what we feel inside. And what is that exactly? What is this tug to love so many things — people, ideas, stories, exchanges? Literary art feeds on this impulse of expression.

Mostly, I loved the Prince because he appreciated my stories. Isn’t that the simplest of love stories? He approached with great care and asked if I had my words down in something he could carry. A book. But think about that a minute, because that’s where I’ve been languishing all day, believing heart-shaped wind caresses my snow into melting. He asked to carry my stories back with him. Back to Nigeria.

How could I refuse such a request? Yes, I gave him a copy of Vol. 1, and he requested I write something in it just for him. I’ve not felt so revered as I did with the Prince. Of course, that’s why I thought he had to be royalty. He was magnificent. Further, he told me a story about how he and his friends collect books and how hard it is to take all the volumes back to his country because of weight limits. Image that Nigeria is a place where literacy is so valued that when you return, you try to haul back as many books as you can!

Although I’m less enamored with children, I did love the ones who came with their parents today (something about a half school day). They all wanted to listen to the writer. One listened intently. I could see her listening with her eyes, creating images of the stories her grandmother told at my lunch table. That woman was one to love — a natural-born storyteller who announced to me as she left that she was going to declare herself a buckaroo, too!

How about that? I found a kindred-buckaroo-spirit in the Keweenaw. She and her granddaughter would have understood if I had whispered to them that the winds were blowing hearts today.

During my talk, I read. I love the privilege of working at Carrot Ranch among such talented, tenacious, and courageous writers. Fellow literary artists. I read a few stories from Vol. 1. I read a trio of Copper Country stories for Vol. 2. The audience marveled at the power of 99-word flash and the scope of where writers come from around the world. I love watching people connect with the stories. There’s nothing quite like reading aloud literary art and watching it grab ahold of listeners.

When I talk to audiences, I make sure I know who they are — business or civic-minded, students, or casual listeners looking to be entertained. I select stories to stir their hearts and prod their minds. I have my own 99-word stories I read, and a few I share from my storytelling tradition. Today, I asked for a volunteer to join me up front to hold my hand. I swear I don’t gnash my teeth at people, but you’d think I went feral at the uncomfortable silence that ensued.

I love that uncomfortable silence.

That’s the space where humanity happens. If we are comfortable, then we are walled up, everyone happily co-existing in boundaries. I want to break down walls. I want to risk discomfort, which is the point of my request. The man from the back who braved stepping forward let me hold his hand. It’s not the story I tell that alters the audience. It’s the understanding that shifts their hearts.

Holding the man’s hand, I relate a story once gifted to me by a Kentucky storyteller who once spoke at Carroll College when I was a student. She had asked for my hand and told me about the time her grandfather died. Before he passed, he asked for her hand. She was eight-years-old, and he told her that when he was that age, he met a man who fought in the Civil War. He held a rifle in his hands and battled cousin against cousin. He was old, but held the boy’s hand and said: “Don’t forget — you once held the hand of a man who fought in the Civil War.”

The boy grew up, raised a family, and as an old man on his deathbed, he passed down the story to his granddaughter, holding her hand. He said, “You’ve now held the hand of a man who held the hand of one who fought in the Civil War.”

And yes, I passed this down to a man in the Keweenaw Rotary Club today. I told him, “You held the hand of a woman who held the hand of the granddaughter of the man who held the hand of one who fought in the Civil War.” It gets long-winded, lots of hand-holding as the story grows, but they all got it. And I loved that moment of recognition. That moment when stories express the humanity of one to the humanity of others. That’s literary art. And that’s why we practice and put our stories out there.

We talked about collecting stories, about being story-catchers for the Rotary, their businesses, families, and life. I gave them my Lego bucket analogy for gathering 99-word stories. The kids all knew what we do with Legos — we build. One member asked if Carrot Ranch was my business. No, I told her. It’s my author platform, and I share it with a community. I explained how authors need to work simultaneously on three strategies — writing (drafting, revising, editing), platform building, and publishing. I told her that I also loved the interaction with other writers and the chance to create literary art as I work on longer projects.

I closed with this 99-word story I wrote for one of the Rodeo contests in 2017. I think. Sometimes, I realize I’m not a good curator of my own writing as I wildly sow seeds and then try to gather them up in some sort of organization. I don’t always pick the same stories to share, but I love this one so I will share it now (perhaps, again):

When I Grow Up, I Just Want to Be Happy by Charli Mills

I’m six-years-old and have told a lie. “Mom said I could go home with Mitch.” I leave school early with my cousin and our grandfather.

Mitch is Underdog to my Polly Purebread fears. He’s my hero. My pulse doesn’t flutter like a swallowed bird in my throat when we’re together. We pedal bikes through the apricot orchards, watch cartoons, roam turkey barns, climb baled haystacks.

Our grandfather catches me in the lie when my mother panics, not finding me at school. “Always tell the truth,” he chastises us.

My cousin does. He becomes a cop.

Me; I write fiction.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m happy. In Finland, they greet, “Hyvää Ystävänpaivää!” Don’t ask me how to say it; I can hardly understand the English of Yoopers who shape their mouths and perform tongue gymnastics differently from my Nigerian Prince and me. But it means, “Happy Friendship Day!” And I love that. Love among friends, palentines for pals, love for life, humanity and art is so much broader than steak-and-lobster-for-two kind of love. Although, I do love steak and lobster.

A few household details — remember to include your story on the form, not just a link to your story. A link makes me work differently, kind of like I have to get off my horse to go take care of a chore that I asked a rancher to do. If you were my kids, I’d give you that “look.” And kudos to all of you who are getting into the mash-up vibe (combining constraints). I love that creative energy! But remember that this challenge is more than a prompt — it’s 99-words, no more, no less. Otherwise, you know the deal — go where the prompt lead!

Go spread love. Write. Make art.

February 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about valentines. It can be Valentine’s Day, the exchange, love for another, romance, or friendship. Have a heart and go where the prompt leads!

Respond by February 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.

 

Be Mine (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

No Valentine’s Day card greeted Danni in the mailbox. Only an official Veterans Affairs mailer. She flipped on houselights, contemplating cold leftovers. She’d rather be wining and dining Ike, but he was in Iraq. Her landline rang.

“Hey, Michael.”

“What’s up? Hear from Ike?”

“No. just something from the VA.” Danni opened the envelop as Michael told her the latest from the Canadian border – nothing. “Oh, wow. This letter rates Ike for PTSD.”

Silence.

“Michael?”

“Are you going to leave him?” Michael asked.

“Are you going to dump your friend?”

“Hell no!”

“That’s my answer. He’ll always be mine.”

February 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

My front window buzzes with thousands of white bees dropping from the heavy skies in search of clover in the grass. Except, there is no grass. There’s no clover. And the swarm outside is yet another snow storm. All signs point to winter in the Northern Hemisphere even if we did celebrate Imbolc last week, noting that the days are getting longer.

The Hub just popped in to grab his workout shoes. His red and black checkered flannel jacket is dusted white. He’s off to the local Crossfit Gym where he works out with one of his counselors and another veteran. It’s a pilot program to see if the Crossfit program can adapt to veterans with disabilities. The idea is to get these former soldiers to reconnect to their warrior mentality in healthy ways.

So far, all signs indicate Crossfit is working. It’s part of the bigger plan to integrate the Hub’s care so that every day he has something that helps with pain management (chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy), cognitive strategies (CBT, speech therapy, group), and health (medical care, fitness, and nutrition). Basically, with the guidance of our Vet Center therapist, we’ve built our own Poly Trauma program that addresses the Hub’s needs holistically.

Personally, I’ve been looking for signs, too. Not necessarily the tealeaf reading kind, but some sort of sign from the universe as to which direction to take. What next? I knew I had come to a fork in the road. At times like this, I thank my North Star for its guiding light. I know where I want to go, but the path has led to unfamiliar terrain, and I have choices.

Some decisions I’ve made and stand solid — I landed in the Keweenaw, and I intend to stay in the Keweenaw. Here, I have my Warrior Sisters, the Hub’s home-spun Poly Trauma program, a beautiful and remote outdoor setting, and proximity to two of my three children. Runner and his lovely bride-to-be, Runner2 live near Madison, five hours away. We live with Radio Geek and her Solar Man, and if our world-traveler, Climber and her Chef visit the States (they live on Svalbard in Norway), they’ll come here.

Place is settled.

Last June, I decided to end my 16 years of writing for Valley Natural Foods. I penned my final member profiles. After I left as marketing communications manager in 2012,  I stayed on as managing editor and writer for two of their key publications. Before I left Idaho in 2016, I decided to wind down all my freelancing. Last year I decided to pursue the workshops and retreats I wanted to do. My first one got canceled because the Father’s Day flood wiped out the retreat center and turned my new community upside down.

In July, Finlandia University hired me as an adjunct instructor to teach a Career and Technical Education (CTE) Marketing course. I read it as the strongest sign to let go all my freelancing and business consulting. I knew it would be tight between July and September, but I had a couple of local gigs. Then my class got canceled the first week of school and caught me off guard. I was gutted. It was at the same time that we were still trying to get help for the Hub and understand what he was facing.

Timing-wise, you can see that all this upheaval aligned with the Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. I can’t say enough good about Norah Colvin, Irene Waters, D. Avery, Sherri Matthews, Geoff Le Pard, and all our judges who led superbly. We carried on and had a good run and a few recording hiccups when I had to go to Minneapolis to accompany the Hubb into the VA Poly Trauma program. It was terrifying for me. I grieved for the husband I no longer had.

But as you know, through my writing and sharing, I pulled through that dark place and came to an understanding — I still have my husband. My family recommitted ourselves to loving-kindness, no matter what the future was going to bring. We have now. We have him. When I saw Welby Altidor, he connected the pursuit of creativity to caring, and to carving out safe space to take risks. Carrot Ranch always has been “safe space” for literary artists to explore their craft, stories, and characters. I just needed to adapt that model to my life and how to live with a veteran who has an altered brain.

Are any of you familiar with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way? It’s because of her that I identify as a literary “artist.” Her book influenced me during my 20s when I dreamed of being a writer and wrote in lined journals. She dared me to be bold, to go to college at age 27 when I had three young children. I got my undergrad degree in creative writing. I wanted my MFA but chose to follow the Hub to the Midwest where I built a freelancing and marketing communications career. Julia Cameron (through her book) helped me when I dreamed up Carrot Ranch.

If you are familiar with The Artist’s Way, then you know she advises daily morning pages and weekly artist dates. The idea to write 99 words a week was a reduction of the morning pages. If we write every day, I figured we needed to share something of our writing, too. Alone, we are writers. Together, we experience the dynamic that is literary art — writing meant to be read. Collectively, writers and readers give meaning to literary art. When I arrange the writings of participants into a collection, well, that’s my weekly artist’s date.

So, no matter what I decided to do next, I knew that Carrot Ranch, with its torch to keep literary art alive and available, would be a part. An important part.

Finlandia University has employed me to develop the CTE course and help recruit for next fall. They intend for me to be the instructor. But next fall is a lot of meals away. I’m not paid to be an instructor-in-waiting. Back in October, when my world was all about flash fiction Rodeos and stressing over a husband in the hospital, a once-in-a-great-while kind of job came up at Michigan Technological University. It was a public relations position, responsible for curating and distilling the stories of the research university as it prepares to lead the world into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

I was intrigued. I took the bait. I applied.

No job can ever replace my North Star with its glowing dreams to encourage world-wide literary art, publish historical novels, and build community. I had to think long and hard how a fulltime job would fit into my plans. What excited me beyond the work, was the opportunity to invest in Carrot Ranch monetarily. Oh, the thought of buying those turquoise cowgirl boots and a new wardrobe to replace the one I left behind in Idaho.

After I sprained my ankle, I sat on the couch and came up with a plan. I was at a crossroads and would have important decisions to make. One path was MTU, the second was FU; the third was to revitalize my freelancing, workshops, and retreat; and the fourth was if the world imploded, I’d leave and go find an MFA program to start anew. In January, I went on retreat to polish my vision and plan the first three paths. The fourth was like a Hail Mary football pass.

The reason I’m telling you all this now is to process and understand which path the Universe finally set a go-sign to. MTU selected one other candidate and me to go through final interviews (mind you, this was a three-month process, including writing assignments). After an all-day interview on campus, I felt proud I made it that far. I also felt awed and scared that my world was once again about to change drastically. The result? MTU rescinded the job. It no longer exists. There is no public relations position.

If that wasn’t one helluva sign…

Disappointed, I wasted no time in setting up a freelancing platform and will wait and see what happens with recruitment after the CTE open house last week. I also realized I felt hugely relieved. My writing time is sacred and I almost gave to an organization in exchange for shiny new clothes.

Then my world shifted yet again when a letter arrived yesterday from the VA. For once, a good shift. And the sign that appeared blew me away. The Hub’s benefits finally, finally, finally came through. Blessedly he can stop pulling his own teeth with pliers and get dental care. He will get his knee replaced. We can even get into a place of our own. But the unexpected — my name in the official document with the words, “education benefit.”

I still feel all atwitter. My stomach is still somersaulting. Education benefits. For me! Suddenly, the fourth path isn’t far-fetched. I can get my MFA! You betcha, I wasted no time in contacting an advisor, finding out what the benefit was and when I could use it and — it’s no longer 1998. Ha! It’s no longer 1998. There is an INTERNET. And I looked up online MFAs and found one! I applied, yes, I already applied. There’s more to the application (writing). Get this — my master’s thesis could be Miracle of Ducks. AND, I can earn an additional teaching certificate.

Do I need an MFA? No, I don’t. I still believe that writers live in a time of incredible publishing opportunity. But the question that I answered immediately before my brain could ask it was do I want an MFA. And yes, I still do.

Sometimes, we have to wait for our Sign to come in. I’ve waited 20 years for that one!

My daughter took me out last night. We both cried and laughed. She remembers me giving up my chance to get an MFA. She remembers me writing away to programs at different points in my life. She knew I never gave up the ghost of that dream. And it fits Carrot Ranch like a custom glove! I’ll get to learn how to teach craft, not just encouragement and marketing. I’ll also get to use Carrot Ranch as my platform for coursework.

For now, I’ll continue the application process, open up some freelancing gigs, and plan to start coursework August 12. I’m setting up some local workshops, and of course, we have the first Carrot Ranch Nature Retreat this July. I’ll continue working on MOD, and I’ll set a deadline to finish Vol. 2 before school starts. At last, a path.

And, be sure to check back on Monday because I finally met with the folks at The Continental to close out our Bonus Rodeo contest. We have three winners to announce (and pay). The radio spot won’t be developed until later. Some issues came up but had nothing to do with us or the contest. Thank you all for your patience, especially those who entered.

Thank you, also, for being my weekly artist’s date! Your writing of 99-word stories inspires the blazes within my writer’s soul. Must be a sign.

February 7, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a sign. It can be a posted sign, a universal sign, a wonder. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by February 12, 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.

 

A Drive Back in Time (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Ramona looked for the sign, the one that read Elmira. Snow pelted her windshield with a mesmerizing kaleidoscope that Vic called whiteout fever. She ignored it the way her husband said to, and instead followed the tracks in the snow. Ramona startled when her headlights caught the township sign. Why were the mill lights out? So dark! She slowed and pulled into her driveway where someone was plowing the easement. Vic, her husband. The power must be out. She waved and blew him a kiss. Silly man. What was he up to, calling a young thing like her, “Grandma”?

January 31: Flash Fiction Challenge

George C. Bailey Photography 2019

Water sustains life. We thirst for droplets pure and cool, hydrating brain cells and skin. Cool blue. Azure coasts. Caribean surf. Water calls us to buoyancy in its waves. Floating, bobbing beneath warm sunshine. But that image is from the travel blog for a warmer destination. I’m bundled up on the thumb of land that juts into Lake Superior. Keweenaw, which must mean “hell hath froze over.”

My water mistress runs with the frozen devils. They touched down earlier this week, a hoard of them called Polar Vortex. It would be like a tale of Jack Frost if George R. R. Martin were to pen it — no survivors. I thought my Lady Lake would freeze solid, go quiet, turn white. Instead, she surges and hurls her powers across our peninsula gripped in the clutches of the Polar Vortex gang. We get the worst of both phenomena.

Lady Lake Superior undulates 10-foot swells like curvaceous hips, slow, sensuous, semi-frozen. Sea mist rises as heat against the sub-zero touch of the frozen devils. They hover above her open water, crystallizing her shores. The layers in between turn to slush the color of icebergs. The shore looks as deadly as the final view of the Titanic.

Further out, the shipping lanes freeze. The US Coast Guard ice cutter, Katmai Bay is churning ice at 12 knots tonight. A curious pastime, when I can no longer get to my favorite rocky beaches along Lake Superior, is to check in with the marine vessels on the Great Lakes.  Traffic is but a trickle on Superior. The Lady has opened her ice water mansions, and no sailor wants to go.

The Hub met a sailor in town. He’s crew on a ship that goes down to Toledo and other interior ports. For Christmas, he gave the Hub a package of sausages from a butcher shop made famous by the character of Klinger on the tv series MASH. The Hub was proud of his gift. He enjoys talking to anyone who can connect with him on an intellectual level. Intellect remains intact and creates an avenue for communication. I’m grateful for the people who choose to notice the Hub’s attributes and ignore the oddities of his condition.

The brain will have its way, but for those of us who care, we stand beside him to preserve dignity and as much of his individualism as we can. In the meantime, he scoops snow and reminds us all how much better the desert is to this tundra.

With the ridiculously cold temperatures, Lady Lake didn’t forget to gift us more snow. We’ve had 60 inches of snow in January and will likely see another 100 inches before it all ends. February is typically the snowiest month, and storms continue through March and into April although days begin to lengthen, and the sun returns its melting warmth.

But what if it didn’t?

What if the sea mist rose no more and the Greatest of the Great Lakes did freeze bone-white solid? Ice heaves upon ice heaves would build just as they do no, but with even greater strength and height. Soon, rivers of ice would rip apart rocks and grind cities. One theory of climate change is that the Gulf Stream can collapse and cause an ice age. What we see with the spread of the polar vortex is the result of the ice melting at the poles. It’s terrifying to think about. But so are all the weather extremes.

The US Midwest freezes and part of Australia are baking, flooding and on fire. All around the world we see climate change in extreme weather events.

Can we yet find the natural beauty, and find a way to give the earth her dignity.

This week, a good friend of ours, a veteran and husband to one of my Warrior Sisters, attempted suicide. He has similar brain issues to the Hub, which gives us worry. However, what gives us hope are the individuals through the VA system who have stepped in to help. A surprise, a good one, to us all. The civilian hospital reminds me of climate change deniers. They don’t want to look, listen, or maintain dignity for another. We are relieved that as of today, he’s in a VA facility with good care.

What’s with denying human dignity to other or even to our environment. Even if a person doesn’t believe in the science of climate change — and understandably, there are many theories and arguments — we can still do what is right and best for protecting our precious planet. What I don’t understand is the denial only so that resources can be stripped and robbed at the price of stability, wonder, and beauty.

I feel like our veteran friend was treated as if he were a criminal because civilian population doesn’t understand their points of fragility. An aging altered brain is frightening. In our family, we made the shift to stand on a foundation of caring, to approach all the discomforting issues that occur with loving kindness. Instead of rigid rules or treatment, like caring for the earth, we need to do what is best, to bring out the best in another. Not to strip and rob of dignity. Not to deny that veteran vulnerability is real and deserves our attention.

While Mother Earth can’t call for help, veterans in need can. This is the US Veteran Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1). You can also text 838255, or open access help for those hard of hearing (and most combat veterans suffer hearing loss) 1-800-799-4889. Share this number with FRIENDS AND FAMILY of veterans!

Most spouses and grown children probably unaware that they can call. Please keep in mind that isolation can lead to suicidal ideation. One of the reasons me and my family work so hard at keeping the Hub engaged and communication grounded in caring is so he does not feel isolated. One of the ideas behind suicide as a part of CTE (and PTSD for that matter) is due to the person losing connectivity with other people. As the brain deteriorates in CTE, a person feels trapped and disconnected. In PTSD, self-isolation is common.

So make sure family and friends know the Veteran Crisis Hotline number and that they can call. Our friend’s spouse called and likely saved her husband’s life. Just two weeks ago, one of our fellow Warrior Sisters gave her the number. She said she didn’t know she could call. We didn’t know she’d have to call so soon. We never really know the moment.

Like with the earth. We don’t know when the exact crisis will be. In the meantime, let’s be kind to one another and think of extending others and the environment a sense of dignity.

Take a look at the photo for the prompt. I asked permission of a local photographer to use it. George C. Bailey and his wife who is a renown Copper Country artist live high up on the peninsula right on the Lake. There’s something enlivening about Lake Superior in her layers of ice and sea mist. Remember, that there is always beauty around us. Do not lose hope to the frozen devils or fears of the future. Stay connected to one another and live life to the fullest.

Write to your greatest potential.

January 31, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about sea mist. How does it create an environment for a story? It can set the stage or take the stage. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by February 5, 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.

 

Mountain Passage (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls

At the top of the pass, Ike pulled over. Danni radioed the lead forester to verify any logging trucks. The Forest Service road tapered to one-way traffic. For the next five miles, loggers used the narrow switchbacks to haul loads from an active site. If they met a truck on the grade, there would be no way to pass. Danni surveyed the steep ravine, waiting for a reply. Morning fog obscured the forest and hid the road. Before an affirmative crackled over the radio, Danni heard grinding gears in the distance like a rumble of surf beneath sea mist.

January 17: Flash Fiction

Collonades of bare trees cluster like ruins jutting from the snow. For such a forceful start to early winter in the Keweenaw, I’m surprised at how little snowpack we have this year: only 70 inches compared to 137 inches by January last year. It seems a cruel jest to abruptly end a pleasant autumn in early October with fierce storms, plummeting temperatures, and blizzards only to fizzle.

Of course, as I type, snowflakes dance like tiny fairies outside my window, taunting me. Snow or blow away, I want to tell them. This middle ground of gray brings me no joy.  I want to see my colannades gleaming white as the engulfed snowscape I know my dome can be. Can they hear me, these frozen water crystals of endless form?

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.”

Nature’s genius imbues that inner space from where we write. If ever the Muses existed, they come to us on the wind, the wing, or leap into our walking boots from a sprig of moss. Imagine a Muse biting your ankle like a midge, a tiny irritant like sand to an oyster. You scratch at an idea, and before you know it, you write a pearl.

Thoreau knew this itch. Every observation he made about humanity flowed through a filter we classify as nature writing. Nature’s influence on literary art is ancient. The first storytellers who painted on rock walls from Sulawesi, Indonesia to Chauvet, France depicted animals. Nature features heavily in Hellenistic poetry, and the Greeks developed philosophies that explored humanity in nature.

Even Shakespeare’s writing felt the bite of nature’s midge. Charlotte Scott digs deeper into the impact nature had on the bard’s ability to use nature to reveal human psychology. She explains (a fascinating 2-minute video):

All my heroes write the spines of mountain ridges or the flows of Walden Ponds and Tinker Creeks. Even my favorite cultural icons like Sherman Alexie wield big stories built from vast landscapes. You can’t have a book set in the American West without it being influenced by the natural world that defines the West. From Edward Abby to Louis L’Amour, Annie Dillard to Terry Tempest Williams, Tony Hillerman to Laura Ingalls Wilder, my reading immerses me in a shared passion for nature.

Robert Jordan, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Brandon Sanderson all write fantastical places that capture otherworldly natural settings to convey epic stories. A lack of nature still influences us because we can’t help but notice its absence. I’ve long been captive to natural wonder, but understand not all writers or readers are.

Not everyone nature writes.

Probably my least favorite writing comes out of the American center for literature — NYC. Many novels, bestsellers, in fact, leave out nature’s influences in favor of intellect, as if wilderness was the human mind. I can’t help but feel such writing is empty. How can we explore the human experience outside the natural world in which we all live?

What does the nature writing Muse mean to us as writers if we don’t all dance beneath dappled tree limbs?

It’s important to understand what “sense of place” means. It doesn’t have to be about nature or influenced by a roaring sea or rushing waterfall. It can be a cityscape, a bunker, an underground world carved of steel, or a conversation. No matter the setting, it serves as the space we imagine the characters and story that unfolds. It roots the reader.

Beyond setting, writers also cultivate a sense of place from which our voice emits. Voice belongs to the writer. Voice is not of the narrator, protagonist, or characters. Voice is you. Voice is me. Voice captivates the reader on the page, giving recognition to those who follow an author because “of the writing.”

If you think you want to write and be read by those who appreciate your writing, then you want to cultivate your voice. The best way I know how to teach this is through nature writing. I know where my voice comes from — it’s gritty with red sand, deep as Lake Superior, and fits in my traveling bag, melding all the places I’ve trod, birds I’ve seen, and rocks I’ve collected.

I can’t say that’s where your voice comes from, but if I show you how nature influences me, then I can teach you to listen for morning dew, feel the nostalgia in an open campfire, and spot yourself among a moth in flight. From those experiences, you’ll understand what writing from a sense of place means. You’ll strengthen your voice.

This is the most exciting experience I could ever share with other writers, and why writing retreats factor into my vision for success in life lived immersed in literary art.

Back on Elmira Pond, I offered a free room and retreat to any writer who wanted. Six came. The first writer arrived from Seattle and stayed for 10 days. Her first experience of Elmira Pond was in winter. She wanted to walk on the ice, something I had not thought to do, which means I get to grow from encountering different perspectives, too.

Since that time, I’ve wandered and dreamed of retreats around the world, wanting to share Mars and New Mexico, Lake Pend Oreille and Lake Superior, England and New Zealand, the Keweenaw in winter and the Arctic in summer. My vision is vast. Where shall I begin?

Vermont. After all, that’s where the nature writers began, the ones who influenced the writing of the West. It’s like the motherland to my western roots, calling me home to a place that’s in my DNA. A place I am returning to this summer. I’m thrilled to announce the first Carrot Ranch Nature Writing Retreat held in Vermont for two different sessions: July 12-15, and July 17-20. What I have long dreamed of, is happening!

You all know Kid and Pal’s wrangler, D. Avery who writes weekly Carrot Ranch Yarns. She’ll be our host, providing her A-frame summer sanctuary, director for outdoor activities, and a nightly campfire. Writers will have access to trails, kayaks, and the best of New England nature.

And you know me, lead buckaroo of this outfit. I’ll be guiding three writers each session on a journey of discovery. More than an immersion in nature writing and voice, writers will explore the inspiration to create and the knowledge to craft and plan. Each session is four days (three nights) with lodging and meals included (except for one night out in town). That means, I’ll be cooking, which is a secondary art form of mine.

Space is limited to three writers each session. The full retreat, meals, three nights lodging, and a one-on-one consultation on your personal project (manuscript or marketing) will be $750. For any writers through this community, I’m offering a discount ($650) and the next month to sign up. After that, I start an ad campaign.

You are all the first to know that Carrot Ranch Nature Writing Retreats have begun! I want to thank D. for her place and patience (this took a year to set up, and I had to cancel an exploratory visit last summer). I’m thrilled to be sharing her campfire. D. and I share a special connection through our naturalist author-heroes, and we’ve both come to realize the West got its cool from Vermont.

And bonus points to any long-time Rough Writer who remembers what color my boots will be on retreat (I’ve been dreaming of this development for a long time).

Now let me invite you on a stroll through the colonnades of the three worlds — the built world, the world of humanity and society, and the wondrous natural world.

January 17, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes colonnades. It can be natural, architectural, or a metaphor. Take a stroll and go where the prompt leads.

Respond by January 22, 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.

 

Seeking a Moment of Silence (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni nudged Blackjacked and entered the long colonnade of aspen trees. The elk path cut straight through the grove as if it were an engineered road. White bark gleamed like a classical structure. Danni mused that her archeology career never ventured overseas. There was too much history in the West for her to explore. Overhead the leaves fluttered on long stems but held a reverent silence. What could be better than a ride to clear her mind? A sanctuary of nature to ease her anxiety over Ike’s choice to leave. Only here could she ride her horse into church.

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?