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May 23: Story Challenge in 99-words

It’s my birthday weekend and I’m far away, four miles down the road, camped at the edge of Lady Superior. The well’s gone dry as a bone. It’s time to replenish.

When I was a kid, my parents had an 8-track collection that included Mike Cross. It was among my favorites, a rollicking blue-grass style with deep pains and outrageous humor. My gift to you is a sample of that 8-track, including the song, Old Paint Peeling, with the line, “…well’s gone dry as a bone…” It’s time to get out of town, reconnect, and

The next song is western and has always lit my imagination. Who was the criminal in this story and who was the bounty hunter? We never learn what brought the two together but this story haunts my imagination even today.

This is one of my favorite “jokes” to tell. Have you ever made a joke out of a song?

This last one was a song I used to wish I could listen to in a full gallop (alas, pre-walkman days).

I hope you enjoy the little trot down memory lane and get inspired by the variety of styles found within a single musical artist. May we all fill our creative wells.

May 23, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the phrase “well’s gone dry.” Is it a real well or a metaphorical well? Why is it dry? What is the consequence and to whom? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by May 28, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

May 16: Story Challenge in 99-words

Spring unfolds like discordant popcorn. The daffodils did not wait their turn and flashed tones of yellow before the purples and pinks of hyacinth. Crocus raced the glories of the snow and they bloomed simultaneously. Stunted tulips gave up height for budding. It’s a disarray of ephemerals and I’m perplexed by the abnormal sequence. It’s a new and hasty song trapped bulbs made up in an extended snow prison.

Other signs of spring remain familiar and sequential. Shrinking piles of gritty snow continue to melt, and water plummets from the rocky spine of the Keweenaw. At night through the chill of open windows, I hear an amphibian invasion of spring peepers. It’s as if winter said, “Wait for it…wait for it…wait for it…” and then BOOM (or, BLOOM) and the frogs cheered. I’m struggling not to garden this year and hope that next spring I don’t pop inharmoniously because I waited.

I remind myself daily that the frogs and flowers will come again. It’s okay that someone else will love my gardens. I will make new ones.

This week, my focus turns inward as I prepare to take a four-day birthday retreat camping solo at my favorite state park (McLain’s). I’m looking to get my creative mojo back. It’s something all writers experience and I’ve allowed my own lapse after a difficult decade (I was going to write, “year” but it’s been a pile of years). Like the irregular bursting of flowers, I’m anticipating lots of creative explosions this coming weekend inspired by rocks, mergansers, campfire dinners with friends, a dance show, dinner in town for my free Geminani’s B-day meal, a day alone with my creative writing, and a cemetery field trip followed by a free day of nothing but research on what the gravesites revealed.

If that doesn’t jumpstart the creative juices, I’ll keep writing until they fire on all imaginative synapses. As Steven Pressfield reminds writers in his book, The War of Art:

“Start before you’re ready.”

Steven Pressfield

I’m going to hit the creative writing with all I’ve got no matter all that is going on. And much of what is going on is good, like diamonds emerging from all the pressure. This summer promises more excitement than I’ve felt in a long time, including work on a new anthology for Carrot Ranch. It’s all coming together even if I look like a mess of spring flowers out of tune. By summer, beauty will emerge from the transition.

This week, we are doing something different! Oh, of course, we are still doing it in 99-words, but the prompt is inspired and unusual. Marsha Ingrao graciously invited me to participate in her Story Chat. My genre is women’s fiction but I had this story idea that wouldn’t stick to any female characters so I thought Story Chat provided me an opportunity to write male characters for a change. Really, the idea was nothing more than a premise cobbled from several sources — a friend who used to lead a Puppies Behind Bars program for prisoners; disabled veterans I know; and the idea of what if they met through the dog.

What Story Chat provides is in-depth feedback. An author posts a short story and readers respond with questions, analysis, and critique. Not everyone agrees but responders gain understanding from reading each others’ feedback. The author gains insight for future revision. And I’m all about the revision process! Any insight is informative. When it comes to final revision, every author has to decide how to manage feedback and why. Later, I will revise according to feedback, and a potential home (I think it’s imperative that writers have an intended target audience or purpose for their published pieces).

If you have an interest in learning in-depth analysis and how to use it for revision, I invite you to read the comments (including my teaching points for the process of revision). For the purpose of this week’s challenge, you can read the short story “As Far as a Prisoner Can Go.” Your task is to tell the same story but differently. That may sound ambiguous, but it’s what we writers do. All the stories have already been told. Not all the storytellers have yet told them in their own style, voice, genre, tone, or perspective. Take all the liberties you want! Improve it. Wreck it. SciFi it. Romance it. Darken it. Tickle it. Make the story your own.

May 16, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about when a newly released prisoner meets the disabled veteran who adopted the puppy the prisoner trained behind bars. The prompt is based on the short story I wrote for Marsha Ingrao’s Story Chat. Yes, rewrite my story in your words, 99, no more, no less. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by May 21, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

May 9: Story Challenge in 99-words

Purple crocus and glories of the snow burst across the sodden mat of brown grass and maple leaves stretching from house to house on Roberts Street. Grit and fine dirt cover front lawns, curbs, and streets.

It’s a dirty transition.

Yet, spirits rise along with the sun. On the Keweenaw, we have missed our blazing star of daylight, oft-hidden beneath clouds or fog. Mause has rediscovered sleeping in sunbeams and I’ve opened my sun porch for the first time since September. I feel like I’m emerging from a time warp.

Mother’s Day in the US came early, the second Sunday in May falling on the 8th. Next weekend is my Svalbardian daughter’s birthday, and the following is mine. My son and DIL invited me to their home in Wisconsin to spend the weekend. May is rich beyond measure with sunshine, flowers, and the promise of cake.

Moms, as a topic, is complex. We all have one, and yet our relationships, proximity, and stories differ. How we craft moms in stories is endless. Who do we have in mind when we craft moms into our writing? Do we idealize, vilify, or seek to understand moms? What books have you read that feature a mom you adored, or one you abhorred?

Sometimes, moms remain like ghosts in the background of our main characters. I often think of the ghosts of my maternal line and wonder how DNA or generational experiences have shaped who my mom is, who I am, and who my daughters are. Do we regard maternal lines because history has little to say about women? Or do women pass down secret knowledge unbroken between generations?

In women’s circles, I’ve introduced myself as “Daughter of…” It feels empowering and yet maddening that I can only go back a short way. I’m Charli, daughter of Marie, daughter of Donna, daughter of Mayme, Daughter of Maria de Abreu. Maria, or Mary as she later anglicized her name, passed down her auburn hair and a warning to her descendants — don’t step foot in the church.

By the time the story reached me, the facts proved to be fiction. No matter the reason, I believe the warning is the point of the embellished tales. Recently, I began studying the DNA to suss out an explanation. Last week, I realized Ancestry had created a new DNA feature. Without samples, they can determine what percentage I receive from each parent of my ethnic heritage.

My eldest and I have tried to unravel the mystery of our red-headed Portuguese grandmother, Maria de Abreu Chado Ferreira. She married a Portuguese Brazilian on her home island of Madiera. She may have been born in a fishing village, Camara de Lobos (Chamber of Sea Wolves). But when she left, she had no more ties to family. Despite her distinct name, I’ve had trouble finding her in any records. Her daughter, Mayme Ferreira, married my Bumpa, Marcus Bundeson, the son of poor Danish immigrants.

Theoretically, the union made my Grandma Donna half Portuguese and half Danish. Yet, according to the new Ancestry DNA split view, I inherited one percent of my Portuguese DNA from my mother, who oddly enough, also contributed four percent Balkans. Balkans? I don’t even know how to process that. Nothing in my family tree hints at a Balkans heritage.

Or maybe, the hint is in the distrust of the church for the women of my lineage.

Trying to understand the Balkans connection I discovered that many Sephardic Jews persecuted in Spain and Portugal fled to the Balkans, and later immigrated to the Azores, where Madiera is among the Portuguese islands. Could Maria de Abreu be a descendant of crypto-Jews, those forced to convert during the Portuguese Inquisition? Searching her surname I discovered it is believed to be of Jewish origin. Was that why daughters were not to step foot in a church?

It’s disconcerting but I also found every Portuguese surname in my family tree to be among those recorded in the Portuguese Inquisition. What I don’t have is connecting evidence. Within a week, I inquired with an organization researching the hidden lineage of Sephardic Jews and they are looking for records on Maria’s past. Will it explain her auburn hair?

When I read about the near-genocide of Sephardic Jews in the Balkans region during WWII, I realized those could have been unknown cousins who had survived multiple inquisitions. I laid my head on my desk and cried. It might not be my mother’s story but it is the story of someone’s mom. Many moms. We are the survivors of moms who survived, and back and back and back.

May we go forward with new stories of moms.

This week, we are going to create mom selfies. Think of it as a 99-word image or impression. Take a story snapshot of a mom in repose, action, or study. Think of how you craft an image, allowing readers to slip into the character’s skin, or keep her at a distance. Use memory or real-time. Explore different genres. Use elements of imagery or flow of dialog. Challenge your craft skills this week and experiment.

May 9, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a mom selfie — a story that creates an image of a mom. No one mom looks alike or fits a maternal mold. Who is she? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by May 15, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

May 2: Story Challenge in 99-words

History is a series of extractions. We identify and take resources we value. Once, we pulled colors from plants to make pigments for cave paintings and early clothes. We found outcroppings of tin and copper to smelt bronze. We plucked the most docile animals from the wild and planted grains in captivity to farm our food. Yet, I’m not convinced we humans ever stopped hunting and gathering.

We merely improved our ability to extract.

It’s true that synthetic dyes have replaced most natural ones and processed foods fill our grocery shelves. But we continue to hunt for resources to use in labs and manufacturing, gathering the goods to sell, trade, or use. We are more extractive than ever, and yet our systems of production and commerce are primitive mindsets. We fail to understand the consequences of hunting and gathering oil, metals, and other modern resources. We fail to give back what we take from the environment.

Spring semester at Finlandia University ended on April 29th. Throughout my ENG 104 class, we listened to Suzanne Simard read her book, Finding the Mother Tree. Her research shows that trees are sentient, communicating within an underground network of mycorrhizal. Modern logging clear cuts forest for lumber, replacing harvested trees with seedlings. Yet, this plantation system fails because we don’t understand what the Indigenous have known all along — we are forests are interdependent. In fact, so are humans.

It’s easy to forget that mobile devices, batteries, and cars are not what we depend on for a thriving life. We all need nurturing, shelter, clean water, and food that feeds us. Simard’s research calls us to consider the ways we connect and cooperate, going against the idea of competition for survival. Her work proves that forests need diversity and that mother trees will nurture strangers among their seedlings. Has extraction cut off humans from what it means to live?

I’m pondering such thoughts at the closing of Simard’s book (which is actually an encouraging read about science told through storytelling) and because I met an author of a popular modern novel about a labor strike on the Keweenaw Peninsula in 1913. You might say, I have extraction on my mind.

The rocky spine where I live surrounded by Lake Superior contains copper. Lots of copper. Over 12 billion pounds of native metal mined primarily by immigrants. As usual, in the long history of extraction of wealth, the workers remained impoverished. How can mine bosses and owners justify their large elegant homes when those laboring for them suffered? Why do communities feel proud of such suffering? What did it take to ignite a labor strike in an area that offered mining homes to its workers and refuge to immigrants fleeing the unrest of their homelands?

People all across Michigan are discussing these and other questions in relation to Mary Doria Russell’s novel, Women of the Copper Country in what we call the Great Michigan Read. Since Calumet was the heart of the miner’s strike to unionize in 1913, Michigan Humanities included our remote thumb of the upper mitten and provided a grant to the Keweenaw Storytelling Center to have a live conversation with the author. I had the honor of serving as moderator.

But I also had a different extraction in mind. I was curious to peel back the layers of an author I greatly admire for her career in pointing the feminine lens at stories in history. Women’s fiction, especially stories from the fringes and frontiers, is my chosen genre, too. And it’s not often I get to meet an author who writes this sort of novels. When we met, I felt an instant appreciation for her.

Mary Doria Russell is witty, curious, and a keen historian. She also writes in a different style that is neither plot nor character-driven. How can that be, I thought as I worked on questions to ask her. Mary’s novel features Big Annie Clements, Mother Jones, and countless other characters based on real people from history. Definitely a lot of characters. But typically, character-driven novels slip beneath the skin of one or more characters. I described Mary’s narrative perspective as that of a butterfly that flits from shoulder to shoulder throughout the strike’s timeline while maintaining the thread of story.

She smiled and thanked me for noticing. Then Mary explained how she writes at truth in the center of her story and she never knows until she’s researching and drafting whose perspective she will need to best view that truth. For example, she struggled to tell the horrific conclusion to the strike that left 73 people, mostly children, dead. The story didn’t capture the feeling she wanted to convey until she realized she needed an outside perspective and wrote the aftermath through the eyes of the investigating coroner. When she read in her research that he could never look at his own children’s bare feet again after placing so many toe tags on the young bodies, she knew that was the view of truth.

What encouraged me most about meeting Mary was learning of her dedication to how she processes history in her novels. Even though she is a New York Times bestselling author, twenty-two publishers passed on her manuscript to Women of the Copper Country. I’m glad I extracted that little nugget because it is important to lift each other up in our writing journies.

Yet, the idea of extraction itself and why we do it is less heartwarming. I want spring to hasten the time I get to spend kayaking among trees. Maybe extraction is haste. Maybe the difference between living in a joyful interdependency and living in a discordant social-economic hierarchy is mindfulness. Like Suzanne Simard’s mother trees, we can grow tall and prosper when we pay attention to all life (and death) where we live.

May 2, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about extraction. What is being extracted and from where? Is it an idea? How does genre change the perspective (sci-fi versus romance)? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by May 7, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

April 25: Story Challenge in 99-words

It finally happened. The melt of spring has arrived.

The heady feeling of seeing water gushing over clumps of live grass makes my body want to float up and away. There’s nothing quite like that definitive transition between one state of being into another. A new job, a new relationship, a long-awaited moment rests on the cusp between wanting and having. For me, it is the moment of spring.

After a long winter and impossible piles of gritty snow, I stand with yellow rain boots in a six-inch deep stream rippling where last week I still had to climb snowbanks to get to my daughter’s house. A thunderstorm with heavy rain and warmer temperatures hit the Keweenaw and tipped the landscape into days of release. The water lets go. In the flow, I splash with glee.

Ghost House Farm finally got a break in the weather between the rain, snowand wind to put up the massive plastic skin of their greenhouse. It’s the first day the chickens experienced outside after a winter cooped up in the coop. Chickadees and robins fly recklessly from the cherry tree to cedars, an ariel display of feathered joy. A red squirrel scampers near the crew who heave plastic like sails up a mast. Pups romp in their own creek flowing across the dog yard.

It’s mushy, gooshy, and everyone’s emotions are elatated. One farm hand laughed that his body was twitching as he finally felt the sun deliver vitamin D. The farm receives spring at last!

The night before this magnificent melt and roof-raising at the farm, I had attended a performance of Carmina Burana at the Rozsa Center on the campus of Michighan Tech University. The theater was packed with families in town for events and graduation the following weekend (Finlandia families, too). In perfect timing, the entire theater welcomed spring. This is what spring melt feels like on the Keweena Peninsula:

Carl Orff is beloved on our peninsula. We have many here who regard his musical teachings and others his beats for dance. I love that his cantana is about wine, women, and poetry from the Medieval period, reminding me how much I enjoyed translating literature from Middle English.

It’s a week of transitions for me, combining farm work (I’m the cook and chief bottle washer), last-minute tutoring for finals, setting up literary events locally for summer, and indulging in some much needed body healing sessions. In a burst of vitality, this is an uplifting time.

Let’s take off and explore our beautiful earth no matter which hemisphere we each reside. Let spring feel eternal in our hearts!

April 25, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the phrase, “up and away.” You can imagine a story from the photo of hot air balloons, a flying superhero, a natural wonder, or any other direction your inspiration goes. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by April 30, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

April 18: Story Challenge in 99-words

Caught in a Fibonacci sequence of never-ending snow, flakes spiral from the sky. The sound of rain earlier in the week promised a break, but soon the water droplets froze. After two days of snow, a blizzard struck. On Saturday, I drove further up the rocky spine of the Keweenaw Peninsula to play board games with my daughter, SIL, and his father at Ghost House Farm.

The snow was nearly white-out conditions. Somewhere, I told myself, the sun is shining.

I had to plow through a snowdrift to park in front of the farm garage. Newly arrived and already stuck. I waded through the snow until I hit the wall. The wall of never-ending snowdrifts that blow across the yard from the direction of Lake Superior and the hopeful frame of a greenhouse. What grows in the snow?

Laughing at my predicament — the wall was impassable and the snowshoe trail to the house too high up for me to clamber — I began to woohoo.

I hollered, “Hellooooooo in the house!” The snow blew my words back at my face.

Inhaling slow and deep, I belted a cattle call that could be heard for miles. “Oooweee!”

Changing reflecting, raising the pitch higher, I used the Indigenous call, “Ooowah!”

Not even the snowbound rooster answered.

I considered crawling up the snow embankment but worried I’d punch through when trying to get to my feet. If no one was answering my calls, I’d be doomed stuck in a snowdrift.

“Aaarooh!” I howled like a wolf and made several “Ar, ar, ar” noises before howling louder.

No goats bleated. No chickens squawked. No one came to the door beyond my reach.

You might wonder why I didn’t call. After all, this is the age of cellular service, even in remote places such as this Great Lakes tundra. Well, in my excitement to go play board games, I left my phone.

I resorted to “Woo-hoo,” which my Granny used to call us into the ranch house for supper. Nothing. Then I played, testing shout, belly-dancing trills, yodels, and the le-le-le-le I learned as an honoring cry from my Anishinaabekwe friends.

No response.

Like a lonely wolf, I felt the need to gather with my group. I returned to assessing the snowbank and kicked a foothold followed by a second higher one. Carefully I climbed the snowbank and felt for the panked snowshoe trail. I didn’t have snowshoes but if I walked slowly and lightly, I could stay above the compressed crust. Within a few minutes, I made it to the point where I had to hop down to the deck.

Inside, the warmth of a woodfire and cooking split pea soup steamed my glasses. The two farm pups greeted me enthusiastically. I’m going to have to teach them to listen for my arrival calls. My daughter hugged me and my SIL raised his eyebrows and said he’d better go snow-blow a path for me. He wasn’t taking the chance his mother-in-law would be snowed in with them.

Peppers and my SIL chopping down the drifted snow.

The kids have been swamped by their plants that were supposed to be in the greenhouse by now. My SIL and his dad have worked all week in snow, on snow, digging out snow, and falling through snow to build out the rest of the greenhouse. They’ve been innovative and captured the challenges in videos. If you follow Ghost House Farm for the stories, they plan to post the latest snow farming adventures.

Every room in the house bursts with potted plants. The snapdragons are two feet tall and budding. The lettuce is perfect for fresh greens and my daughter’s rosemary plants look great. But they will all need to get outside. At least it’s good news for the bees — they will find flowers when the snow ends.

If not, I’m going to take a snow shovel to hunt rocks this summer.

April 18, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about never ending. You can hyphenate never-ending or write an example of a story that never ends. What is endless and why? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by April 23, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

April 11: Story Challenge in 99-words

Water falls. Maybe it looks suspiciously like snow, but it is water and it is falling from the buried sky. I stand outside and let it collect on the blue and white plaid of my flannel shirt. Water falls. Tiny snowflakes carved too perfectly to be believed cling to my raised sleeve. I’m mesmerized. Water falls and I let go.

It feels like I’m at the precipice with nothing left to do but go over the edge. It’s peaceful here, falling with the water. I’m a crystalized snowflake, a soaring mist, a droplet that once quenched the thirst of my ancestors. I’m part of a cascading waterfall on the ridge of the Keweenaw, wondering how long it will take for me to experience this fall again, trying to remember the last plunge.

Despite winter’s hold and the never-shrinking snow piles, signs of spring emerge. I can see black soil at the edge of my front pile of snow. I hear the robins whistling. I can smell an earthiness in the air, wet, saturated, and promising a change.

Driving into Hancock, someone has left an emerald green recliner by the curb. A freebie for anyone. A motorist stops, and in my rearview mirror, I watch the person test the mechanism. At the farm, I worry for the plants that are too big too early with no way to remove the mounds of snow in the greenhouse.

Water falls and I practice patience.

I remember thinking as a kid how much fun it would have been to ride the log chutes down the mountains to plunge into Lake Tahoe. I’m older and feel satisfied with a slower descent. Falling doesn’t have to be fast or wild. It can be dreamy.

Work snaps me out of my reverie and demands attention.

Some of my students will graduate soon. Most will return next August. All are preparing for final papers, projects, and exams. We are droplets joined and coursing in a single direction. They will flow and I will pool. None of us will be the same drop of water twice, but we will repeat some of these patterns. Water falls.

Where I can see a pool of rest, I plan to go deep. My writing time has suffered greatly and I feel the creative damn ready to burst. So much is ready to unfold. Maybe that’s the feeling the crocus have buried deep, yet but knowing the release is coming.

The Saloon returned with a game on Friday — the Cowsino. It’s just for fun, a way to practice the form of a story at its most basic. Yet, like all forms, it has complexity if you let it challenge you. Or not. You could relax and see what comes from your imagination. Next Friday, Colleen Chesebro and I have an announcement to make and I’ll be at the Saloon for it. No school next Friday, although snow is predicted and I have veteran spouses to be with. Coffee. Conversation. Tears.

Time to let go. Allow life to be this week. Surrender to whatever needs surrendering. It’s okay. Water falls like forgiveness.

April 11, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the phrase, water falls. Where is the water coming from? How does it shape a story? Who does it involve? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by April 16, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

April 4 Story Challenge in 99-words

Somewhere beneath five feet of snow, my crocus is stirring. Poor rock gravel spans the exposed pavement of Roberts Street and my car skids worse than when it was grit on packed ice. As impatient as I feel for the mounds of grit and snow to go away, a slow thaw allows the shallow soil of the Keweenaw to absorb water better.

It’s duck season and mallards have arrived at Keweenaw Bay, along with Canada geese and massive white swans. Yet, Anishinaabe continue to ice fish, avoiding the exposed water at the southern, more shallow tip of the bay. I’ve watched them as I travel around the curve of Lake Superior to and from VA appointments. Perhaps my last season for such trips.

At Ghost House Farm further up the ridge of the Keweenaw Peninsula, it’s fuzzy chick season. The newest generation of egg-layers has arrived. I have fuzzy ducks on my mind, though, thinking of the next round of revisions I have to complete on my manuscript. There’s a feeling of fresh starts and renewed life in the air despite the stubborn snow and heavy circumstances around the globe.

My students have three weeks to complete their research paper revisions, and every day is a countdown to finals week. As a prof, the workload is easing. I’m switching gears from teaching to guiding to editing. I plan to end with reflection and I hope — in the not-so-distant future — to be known for giving final exams worth appreciating. I’m refining what I started last semester to coax my students to discover the role of process in writing and the discovery in research.

On Saturday, I drove to Marquette with one of the Assistant Professors and a vanload of our English students. What I love about driving any great distance with people who read are the conversations about books, writing, and life. In Marquette, we found more books that opened up further conversations for the drive home.

The purpose of our trip was an exhibit displayed at Northern Michigan University called Seventh Fire. It explores decolonization, and the self-determination of the Anishinaabe to heal and reclaim sovereignty, giving voice to the land and water and all the nations of beings. As a People of the Heart Water Walker, I’m familiar with the Seventh Fire, but I didn’t fully appreciate how the Anishinaabe were the people who chose to go west to where the wild rice grows near the Great Lakes to protect the fire.

I’ve mentioned Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley before as it is an Indigenous YA novel I teach in my English I classes. And yes, it is that same fire that protects ceremony, community, and relations. If you read the novel you learn the mythology of who the Fire Keeper’s Daughter is, but you also see how it relates to the contemporary struggle mentioned in the prophecies through the eyes of a mixed-race teenage girl.

I’ll let another favorite Indigenous author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, explain the Seventh Fire:

We as writers and poets and story carriers are the ones to process the past and the future, the paradigm shifts, the alternative viewpoints. We are the ones to imagine what it was like and what it will be like. We help others to see, framing ideas and ideals. We carry the stories of humanity like an unbroken chain from the first storytellers.

Today, I listened to three storytellers, one from York in the UK, another from upstate New York, and another from Northern Wisconsin tell the story of the Handless Maiden as a group. It begins simply with one line, “The mill was broken.” It’s from a tale collected by the Grimm Brothers and yet it remains relevant today, instructing us to seek healing when the world we know breaks down.

As I finish teaching this month and switch gears into my own storytelling, I accept the task of story carrier — one who shares the stories of others. Never doubt that you are part of an important lineage of those who tell stories. History is written with bias. But fiction seeks the truth of what it is to be human.

In the meantime, join me in the wait for the to crocus rise. Let’s find something lighthearted to capture in 99 words. We can all use a good dose of hope.

April 4, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to explain “baby ducks ate my lunch.” How did that happen? Who is the protagonist? Where did the baby ducks come from? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by April 9, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

March 28: Story Challenge in 99-words

Maybe it’s all been a slow fade. Maybe there’s no such thing as normal (hint: there isn’t). But it’s been a long time since I’ve had words for how to describe the mundane of my life (hint: it hasn’t been mundane). I’ve felt more stalled than fulfilled.

And yet…

Between my homeland in the West (California/Nevada), Montana, Iowa, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Elmira Pond in Idaho, the Coeur D’Alene Wilderness, eastern Washington, Mars, New Mexico, Kansas, Wisconsin (yes, twice), and the rocky spine that is the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan, I disappeared.

Do tumbleweeds remember having roots or were they always poised to ramble? If someone had asked where I am from, I’d answer, “It’s complicated.” But I’m starting to feel less ephemeral. More permanent. Rooted? No, more like one who can move among the roots. Part of a network, community, forest. Connected.

What looks like disappearance is actually transformation. After all, the catepillar doesn’t disappear in the cacoon. It transforms and emerges a butterfly. Silica in the magma makes a variety of rocks when the lava cools and disappears. Crystals and copper later emerge in veins of silica-rich quartz. I’ve decided I’m more like a rock than a tumbleweed. I’m not aimless.

Of course not, I have a North Star. No matter where I’m at in my journey, I have guidance.

My North Star shines over many. It twinkles with imagination, aligns with intellect, embodies regions of stories, connects generations of women and Indigenous through unbroken oral traditions, provides paper and pens, and writes 99-word stories. My North Star calls me to write and be a pathfinder for other writers. Carrot Ranch is my North Star.

No matter where I’ve been (and I’ve been to Mars and beyond), I could navigate by the Ranch. When I went to school for my MFA, I navigated my studies beneath my Star. No matter the circumstance of my life as a veteran spouse and caregiver, Carrot Ranch has guided my steps.

North Stars evolve, too but like a butterfly, it still is the catepillar. Like the quartz rock, it’s still silica.

Why does Carrot Ranch exist? In the beginning, it was to make literary art accessible 99-words at a time. I wanted to connect writing to art and to state that anyone could have access to literary art. Breaking down barriers is vital. Encouraging writers to step up is needed.

I don’t think Carrot Ranch, the North Star, is transforming. I believe it’s shining brighter and clearer. 2022, and Carrot Ranch exists to make the craft of creative writing accessible to those who dare. “Craft of creative writing” is clunkier than its pretty counterpart, “literary art” but it clarifies a commitment to craft and includes fiction, poetry, memoir, essay, and storytelling/spoken word. “Those who dare” recognizes the journey of each individual who writes at Carrot Ranch.

All journeys are equipped for joy. Joy is like grief; once you’ve experienced it, it stays with you. You can’t appreciate the height or depth of each without knowing both. This past weekend, I got to experience a joy project that embraces collaboration and it made me feel solid and fixed beneath my North Star. People who come together to express joy through writing, dance, music, spoken work and visual output find their source.

The Movement of Joy reminds us that we can tap into our creative expression of joy moving with others. In this online workshop, we explored three questions:

  1. What is joy?
  2. When did you find joy?
  3. When did joy find you?

Spoken word artist, Marquis “Ten Thousand” Burton, led us through several prompts, such as “What does joy smell like?” Warm apples and cinnamon, horse and saddle leather, rain on rocks. I remembered that I found joy on the back of a horse. Joy found me when I realized I can write creatively with other writers, week after week. Carrot Ranch is a ranch because it expresses the joy of my buckaroo heritage, painful as it was. When you focus on joy, all else falls away.

Then the music starts. Time to dance! Here’s the Joy playlist made up of all the Movement of Joy participants over the past few years (yes, it’s a pandemic project). Song #174 is my contribution. When you dance to any song on this list, you are dancing to someone’s expression of joy. What song would you add to the list?

In October, the Movement of Joy will be at Michgan Tech, and I will work with the organizers to get Finlandia University involved and pitch adding 99-word writing to the workshop. Wouldn’t that be joyful? Between the end of April and October, there will be much going on at Carrot Ranch Headquarters.

Speaking of Headquarters, it’s important to note that Carrot Ranch thrives in the traditional and modern lands of the Ojibwe where Anishinaabe Water Walkers cross the rocky spine protecting water in ceremony. Its important that we start recognizing the indigenous lands beneath our feet. And remember the movement of joy in our own backyards.

This is my love song to, with, and from the land where I now live:

It might be rocky on the Keweenaw Peninsula, but the soil is rich. Beneath my North Star, summer awaits with its promise of sunshine, snow melt and black fly bites — and many opportunities for Carrot Ranch to spread the joy of creative writing. Right after finals at the end of April, I get the chance to interview author Mary Doria Russell live at the Keweenaw Storytelling Center. I’m working with the incredible women’s yogini and storyteller, Tracy Chipman, to bring her readingsand teachings to our region.

My intent is to connect local and online communities in innovative ways to share our writings. I have numerous collaborations in the works that will call for submissions to community projects. From collection readings to vending 99-word stories from a vintage cigarette machine to pairing art with stories to writing ghost stories to online improv, this is going to be an exiting summer. Fingers and toes crossed, we might even get our first Carrot Ranch Writer in Residence offered.

And like cheesy late night commercials on TV — that’s not all.

The Carrot Ranch rebrand is progressing and I’m over the moon to say I figured out the fonts. That might seem lame but fonts matter. Originally, I worked with a designer who had license to CR fonts but fonts come and go on programs. I’m no longer part of Adobe (I use the professional version of Canva) but never mind because the compatible fonts I was using on WordPress disappeared. Now that I’m building the website from scratch, I took time to resolve the fonts.

Now that I have a heading, subheading, and text font that can be used across platforms, I refreshened the palette for Carrot Ranch. I’m a brand nerd and this foundational branding is serious play for me. I’m keeping the iconic banner because it’s a work of art, but have new colors to make it pop.

Once I updated the brand kit, I created a logo for the Carrot Ranch LLC designation which will house all the programs from the community to coaching to publishing. More to come on what that means. Transformations are not overnight endeavors! For now, enjoy the brand elements unveiling (with one element hidden for another few weeks).

While I prepare for the renovation and innovations taking place at Carrot Ranch, you will see pages or elements or content disappear. It’s time for the catepillar to cacoon. Don’t be alarmed. All story collections will be archived and moved to the new site. The Congress of Rough Writers page will be simplified and open to all who write here. I’m also building pages that I hope you will find useful, such as a DIY Revision Plan.

Thank you for your patience as the cacoon liquified the catapillar to prepare for the butterfly. It coincides with my own transformation to find permanency where I have landed and fallen in love with the land and water. I’m reaching out for joy and fulfillment.

In other news from the Keweenaw, winter returned. It can disappear anytime soon!

March 28, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about disappearance. It can be an event, act, or subtle theme. Who or what disappears? Does it fade or explode? Can it be explained or experienced? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by April 2, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

March 21: Story Challenge in 99-words

It’s too hot. It’s too cold. The world stands in perfect balance and the southern hemisphere welcomes winter. The northern hemisphere readies for spring. And Finlandia University can’t regulate its boilers.

The pond outside my front step is four inches deep with a skim of ice. The hulking banks of what was snow wither into gravelly carcasses four feet tall, seeping water from beneath. It’s chilly enough to wear a coat but once inside the corridors of the university where I teach and tutor, I’m sweating.

Students are wearing sundresses and shorts. It’s a confusing time of year on the Keweenaw Peninsula because it can be any weather at any given time. The boilers kick out heat because of the cold mornings but soon feel like a sauna (pronounced sow-na, in the Finnish dialect) by noon. The snowbanks outside melt in unison with us humans inside.

The melt came on fast. Monday, I appreciated the hulking snow sculptures peeking over rooftops and by Tuesday I saw they were gone. Some witnessed moments of release. A colleague told me he pulled into his driveway after work just in time to see the packed snow on his roof let go with a whoosh and wallop. He couldn’t pull into his garage and the pile was too deep to shovel. He has to wait for it to melt further.

A friend had her entire vehicle buried in snow when the rooftop of her apartment complex dump all its snow. All the signs posted around town that read, “Beware of falling snow and ice” are intended for this time of year. The strangest thing that happened because of the swift melt was when two faculty cars collided — both vehicles had been parked when the ice beneath broke up like glaciers and one slab slid into the other.

The equinox has me ready for a change. I wonder what it will be?

March 21, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to reflect the theme, “ready for a change.” Who is ready and why? How does the change unfold? What happened to initiate the change? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by March 26, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.