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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.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

March 14: Story Challenge in 99-words

Today, Finlandia University is giving away free pie. No, it’s not yet another regional snow festival. It’s not a fundraiser for the local fire department or a student hall community builder. It’s Pi Day.

We can do the math at Carrot Ranch. After all, we count to 99 every week.

Pi Day occurs on March 14 (3/14) every year and is based on the Greek letter pi (representing the ongoing number, 3.14). It has to do with circles and infinity. Pi is a number that sounds like it could be on an epic story in any mathematician’s journey.

And that brings me to a fun observation — colleges like to be both studious and hilarious. So, why not celebrate Pi Day with Free Pie? Students need the cheer. The snow continues despite the evenings extending daylight. Covid protocols lessen but continue. Midterm grades are posted and studies grow intense. Free Pie will add some smiles.

If I made pie this time of year, likely it’d be raspberry or peach because those are the summer fruits I freeze. I’d make great big pies the size of wagon wheels and share them with all of you to celebrate the way math and stories come full circle. Cheer to cherries in pastry and the continuation of Pi.

Plans are still under development at Carrot Ranch. What I can tell you today, is that the Saddle Up Saloon will return on April 1 as Carrot Ranch’s stage for stories, instruction, and games. I’m currently working on the editorial calendar and designing a Cowsino (don’t worry Pal, we are only installing a single one-armed bandit in the Saloon).

For today, let’s be grateful for even the smallest joy and share pie.

March 14, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about free pie. What kind of pie and freedom? Who is involved with pies? How is it free? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. March 19, 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.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

March 7: Story Challenge in 99-words

It’s my last day on the farm and I survived the robotic appliances. Namely DJ Roomba — the vacuum shaped like a giant gray cough drop.

DJ comes to life at precisely 11:00 p.m. EST with a pulsing green light, three whirs, and an announcement that sounds like robotic balderdash. After the first night, I learned to be upstairs with the dogs by 11 (after the dogs woke me at 5 a.m. every morning, going to bed early was less of an issue).

Having a robot clean the floors nightly feels like the cartoon Meet the Jetsons has come to life. The quick sequence of thumps and bumps downstairs was unnerving to me, at first. It sounded like someone was in the house. Well, yes, someone — DJ — was in the house. The banging sounded endless.

The next morning, I discovered DJ Roomba had locked me out of the (only) bathroom in the house. Fortunately, the door wasn’t locked, it was blocked with a bamboo floor mat. Once I pushed inside, I found the round vacuum guarding the toilet. What sounded like low growls was a dying battery. I picked up DJ like rescuing a turtle on the road and set the cleaner on the recharge station.

Sometimes, DJ would suddenly spin to life and nip at my heels while I tried to work at the dining room table before redocking. One morning, I heard the Roomba speaking gibberish with a plaintive, “Help,” spoken last. It’s unnerving to hunt for a lost robot. I found DJ on the porch, trying to devour my snowboot. I had to pull the lace out of the vacuum’s maw.

This morning, while talking to one of the goat milkers, I heard the gibberish followed by a cry for help and we were both startled. “It’s the robotic vacuum,” I said. As if that would put anyone at ease. I found DJ lurking under a kitchen cabinet, and I yelled, “Roomba, go home!” A green eye flashed at me and I could see DJ was stuck. Or it was a trap. Again, I pulled out the cleaner and held it like a snapping turtle.

I’m not keen on appliances that talk to me. I prefer people. Is that bias? Am I an electronicist? Is it my fear of the unknown or unfamiliar? I grew up watching Rosie clean for the Jetsons and sass the family she worked for. You’d think I’d be prepared to open my heart and mind to robots.

But I’m not there, yet.

People. I have a great appreciation for the people in my life. And animals. And trees, water, birds, nature. I even feel a kinship with rocks. So what is hard to accept about a robot who cleans my daughter’s floors every night without a paid wage or protest? I will extend a bit of gratitude to DJ Roomba. At least I didn’t have to sleep.

Now, I’d like to offer a huge wave of gratitude to the writers at Carrot Ranch who pulled together to offer our community encouragement and entertainment during the lockdowns of the pandemic.

When we went into our first lockdown globally, we all felt the unease of the times and the uncertainty of what next. I reached out to writers in our community who I thought would be open to writing columns from their areas of interest and knowledge. Kid and Pal (the beloved Carrot Ranchers who remind us that characters are people, too) inspired their writer to create an imaginary watering hole at an imaginary ranch for all the characters we writers imagine. The Saddle Up Saloon was born and took on a life of its own with the help of other writing hands.

I’m so grateful to write among so many talented people who also agreed to engage our community further in difficult times. Much has changed in the past few years for all of us. You’d have to be a Roomba on Mars to not notice. But what hasn’t changed is our need to encourage one another in this writer’s journey we share. I want to thank the writers who took on columns and a Saloon during a pandemic.

H.R.R. Gorman (US) not only delves into the past and what relevancy it maintains for us, but H. is also unafraid to broach difficult situations within our greater writing community. H. led us in a moving living tribute to a dying friend with a special Rodeo Contest and Fundraiser for Sue Vincent who crossed the veil in 2021.

Anne Goodwin (UK) is an expert book reviewer and if you want to stay current on contemporary literature, follow her reviews. She kept us informed on reading choices while also drafting a pandemic sequel to her latest novel, Matilda Windsor is Coming Home.

Bill Engleson (CA) knows film noir and how to relate it to modern times. Known for his tight storytelling in short fiction, which has garnered him numerous literary wins, Bill can also weave a thorough review of films many of us may not know existed.

Ann Edall-Robson (CA) writes to preserve a way of life that honors the quiet spirits of her pioneering ancestors and the Canadian ranching community she calls home. Ann knows cattle, horses, and when to say, “Whoa. Stop. Back up,” to catch stories in photographs. Her work inspires other writers to listen within.

Susan Spitulnik (UK) knows the veteran experience from multiple perspectives. Not only is she currently working on a series about a wounded veteran and his refound love, but Sue also participates in a veteran writing group. She shares her stories with compassion, realism, and authenticity.

Norah Colvin (AU) is an early childhood educator who uses her knowledge to build educational materials at readilearn. She also uses her experience to craft stories with relatable characters, often from a child’s perspective. Norah is The One who showed up at Carrot Ranch in its earliest beginnings to form a global community.

Sherri Matthews (UK) writes compelling memoir as someone who has lived on both sides of the pond in the UK and the US. She understands language and cultural differences and bridges the gaps with profound insight. Throughout the years, Sherri has been an encouraging writing partner, sharing the ups and downs of the writer’s life with me.

Ruchira Khanna (US) is a Reiki Masters as well as a novelist who crafts stories about the choices people make and how it impacts their lives. Often, her characters form a diverse cast of friends and family, seeking to grow. Ruchira fortifies her beliefs in healing through writing. She has also been a writer who stretches her own growth.

Anna Rodriguez (US)was part of my MFA cohort at SNHU and when we partnered on a project through school, I knew I wanted to do more collaborations with her. We share a home-state and similar philosophies about making creative writing more accessible. Anna writes about family and its importance and crafts novels with a diverse cast of characters from her Mexican American roots.

Image showing some straight lines drawn by different coloured pens on a white background

Hugh Roberts (UK) writes openly about his journey as a writer with dyslexia and being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Anyone familiar with Hugh’s writing knows that he masters plot twists. He shares his experiences, talents, and tips with the greater writing community.

T. Marie Bertineau (US) writes from the Keweenaw, home of World Headquarters for Carrot Ranch. She’s a celebrated Indigenous author whose book The Mason House has won several notable awards. She writes about life in the UP of Michigan, sharing memories of her grandmothers.

D. Avery (US) would prefer the spotlight on Kid and Pal, but no matter how much Kid protests, she is their author. D.’s lively Vermont wit found a home with her creation of a saloon on the edge of Carrot Ranch. Her characters have interviewed the characters of other writers, they’ve invited artists and writers to showcase their creativity, and they’ve created interim prompts and a handy stage for other programming.

Chelsea Owens (US) has a ten-gallon hat and hung her shingle at the Saddle Up Saloon to encourage all writers to try their hand at poetry with the Anyone Can Poem challenge. Her explanations and explorations of poetry in creative writing prompted non-poets and poets alike.

Colleen M. Chesebro (US) writes and teaches syllabic poetry, crafting magic through prose and poems. As a Rodeo leader at Carrot Ranch, she invented a form based on the ennead but counting 99 syllables. She hosted a challenge at the Saddle Up Saloon and will join me next week in announcing some exciting news.

As you can see in this line-up, Carrot Ranch is rich in talent and literary citizenship. I’m so grateful to each of these writers for their time to encourage others during a difficult episode in modern history. They provided insight, encouragement, and inspiration. And we will move into the future — yet uncertain with world events continuing to unravel — as writers moved to make a difference through the stories we tell whether for entertainment or exploration. Next week, I’ll reveal what’s next at Carrot Ranch.

Thankfully, none of these writers have to dock to charge their batteries. But it leads to a thought-provoking what if…

March 7, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a robotic writer. Is it an analogy or a battery-operated i-writer? Is it possible? What will happen if robots write? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by March 12, 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.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

February 28: Story Challenge in 99-words

Ah, the farm life. Not much downtime on a farm although the seasons dictate chores. You have to be a planner, a strategizer, a fiction writer to see how a farm frows from a single bell pepper seed. Farmers imagine futures the way novelists picture the perfect ending from word one.

With a healthy dose of trepidation, I took over Ghost House Farm for ten days while the resident farmers, my eldest and her partner, fled the snow to Costa Rica. My SIL had spent hours removing the snowpack between the garage, making it wide so the sides didn’t feel so claustrophobic. It lasted two days before the wind found a place to blow snow.

Did I say I looked forward to being a snowed-in farmer/writer for the week? That must have been before I had to shovel three-foot drifts, re-pank new snowshoe trails to the chicken coop, and cut “steps” in the drifts to get off of them. I found out that you can fall in snowshoes and that a 5-gallon water bucket with a lid can be a great device for regaining verticality.

The chickens have a cozy sauna repurposed into a sealed coop. Not even snow can get in. But it does require shoveling. Every outbuilding on the farm has its own shovel. The drift outside the bowl to the door protects it from blowing snow, but the drift built up high enough for me to need three steps. And they worked.

By the time I got back inside from the outside chores, another round of inside chores began. I’m to carefully monitor three flats of seedlings. In the dining room, an entire wall is shelved with grow lights and heat mats. My job is to monitor sprouts and moisture. I also water the potted herbs and house plants. I water the dogs and cat, feed and snuggle them, too.

This is a group effort. I’m staying at the farm but several others are lined up to carry the big water buckets and move bales and snow (on storm days, not windy ones). Everyone wants to take care of the goats. No one wants chicken chores. It’s interesting how quickly we all fell into a rhythm. Even the dogs.

My desk is set up on the dining room table near the woodstove. It’s a sunny spot with a south-facing window to my left. At night, it’s pitch black outside. It’s a great spot for writing. I’ve been inspired, bringing with me my vision and notes, and planful tools. I brought books and I have had a delicious time researching for an article I’m writing about a local 88-year-old woman.

Farming is like creative writing. Not only can we imagine future harvests from blank pages, but our work is multi-layered. At Ghost House farm, animal husbandry is like a character arc to a plot. You can farm without animals, just like you can write a book that is all plot and no character arc. It’s important to know what you want to farm or write. And everything you do — from cultivating soil to layering craft elements — has a big impact that requires your focus. Farmers and writers are creative problem-solvers.

This week, I’m inviting you to get into the farm life no matter the season, location, or farmers.

And, in case you were wondering…yes, I did.

February 28, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write about the farm life. Where is the farm and who are the farmers? What are they farming and why? How is the farm life? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by March 5, 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.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

February 21: Story Challenge in 99-words

I’d rather be kayaking than driving in yet (again) another snowstorm. The longing of spring sparkles in the extended daylight hours. I wonder if kangaroos and koalas notice the days getting shorter? Ah, I’d rather be traveling than stuck in a snowbank.

When I was a kid, the phrase, “I’d rather be fishing” became a popular saying on bumper stickers and dad t-shirts. It was meant to be a humorous slant on an activity considered leisure and thus the opposite of work. It’s become a fill-in-the-blank prospect nowadays.

I know my students would rather be on spring break. It’s not this week but next. A seemingly max exodus of the UP is underway as yoopers would rather be where there is less snow. We’ve had 224 inches so far and it’s so deep, we have nowhere to put it. Scooping now means pushing snow up huge hills so it is easier to use a snowblower.

I’d rather be on spring break, too. Almost there.

For a week, I will be the sole caretaker of Ghost House Farm. This is my daughter’s and SIL’s place populated with my grandkids (goats, two 6-month-old puppies, and Mona kitty). I get to be a snowed-in writer/farmer for a week, feeding chickens, caring for the very first seedlings for the next planting, minding the woodstove, snuggling puppies, and…milking Peggy. A goat.

Yes, I agreed to milk a goat.

Some of you might remember that I have a history with goats. I’ve ridden them, roped them, and, apparently, licked them. I can’t drink goat’s milk or eat goat dairy cheese. The taste gives me the shudders. I don’t have a specific memory, but the byproduct tastes like licking the critter. Yet, there I’ll be next week, milking a goat.

I’d rather be…

It’s a great phrase for writers to consider. “What if…” gets us thinking forward. It’s a plot question that creates cause and effect. What if goats were aliens? What happens next because of that. “What if…” begins a story and gets the log rolling downhill.

On the other hand, “I’d rather be…” is introspective and requires a perspective — a character. “I’d rather be turned on,” said the lamp in the dark parlor. Even an object takes on a personality by answering the question. Knowing what one character would rather be doing compared to another creates a story of differentiation. We begin to wonder why these characters would rather be doing something else. The question is one of character development.

While I’m standing in as farm-mom next week over spring break (no classes or learning labs), I will finish my vision planning for Carrot Ranch. On March six, I will be honoring the work of Carrot Ranchers who, over the course of the pandemic, kept Carrot Ranch encouraging and inspiring with yarns, columns, poetry, and discussions. It was important to see so many among our community shine the way forward during dark times. On March 13, I will be sharing news about Carrot Ranch.

As long as the goats don’t eat my plans in progress while I’m on the farm. Oh, and yes, I will be penning some of those ghost stories along with my daughter.

February 21, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the phrase, “I’d rather be…” You fill in what comes next. What would a character(s) rather be doing and why? How can you use the phrase as a literary device? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 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.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

February 14: Story Challenge in 99-words

This semester has me running all over campus. I only have one class that meets three times a week, but I also took on 15 learning labs as a professional tutor. Each lab is only an hour-long but calls for me to sprint from hall to hall. One zipper was not going to work.

What I mean, is that my fancy leather computer bag with a single zipper was not hefty enough to carry my learning lab binder, books for tutoring, lesson plan binder, and books for class. If you are curious, I have my students reading Suzanne Simard’s In Search of the Mother Tree, Joy Harjo’s An American Sunrise, and the all-encompassing academic style guide, Rules for Writers.

I needed more zippers. This semester called for a serious backpack.

My Osprey backpack includes a padded pocket to protect my laptop from all those books, binders, and pens. It has a main compartment big enough for my learning lab binder and four books. Another compartment expands to hold my lesson plan binder, pens, an emergency battery pack, and a Firestick. Not a firestick for starting campfires; the kind for pre-loading videos, documentaries, or streaming services to enhance my teaching toolkit. Another pocket holds my spare masks, phone, and small Big Boss wallet.

As you can imagine, my backpack, teal as Lake Superior beneath a summer squall, has lots of zippers.

I’ve yet to learn all my zippers. Sometimes, I think it would be easier to manage one zipper (or one class!) but I need the multifunctionality of my backpack. At the end of the day, I appreciate all my zippers and the adjustable shoulder straps. When I have to go up three flights of stairs, I pretend I’m practicing for summer hikes. Then I set down my backpack and listen to the compliments — pretty color, sturdy, nice pack — and I think, Nah, it’s too pretty to take kayak-camping-hiking. Besides, it has too many zippers!

My students are researching. Every Friday we listen to Finding the Mother Tree on audible in class. It not only ensures they stay up with the required reading, but it also provides practice in notetaking. The book is creative non-fiction and an excellent example of how researchers can use stories to share their findings with a broader audience beyond peer reviewers. It’s meant to be inspirational to budding academic researchers.

Sometimes, I alternate Simard’s book with poems by Joy Harjo. If you are not familiar with the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, let me introduce you to this surprising Indigenous jazzed poet. You can catch her music-infused poetry on Spotify. We also listen to Harjo read from her Audible book sans her saxophone. The point of listening to poetry as we read a book about how trees communicate is to make connections. Both Simard and Harjo explore themes of displacement.

Because Michigan Tech University has invited Joy Harjo (and the Keweenaw Peninsula public) to a reading and presentation at the university’s Rosza Center, everyone is reading An American Sunrise. Everyone, as in five regional colleges, local libraries, high schools, and the general public. It’s a “big read” and exciting to be a part of. You can join us!

Harjo’s theme of displacement is our focus. Helsinki Slang is the name of Finlandia University’s writing club, and this year, in conjunction with the Campus Read, we are hosting a writing contest. It’s only open to our university students, but Carrot Ranch will publish a special collection that Carrot Ranchers can also submit 99-word stories to. Our uni-winner will be a longer essay or fictional account.

Also, a writer familiar to all of us here at Carrot Ranch, T. Marie Bertineau, serves at the university contest’s judge. It’s this sort of connectivity that I enjoy building between our online and headquarters communities. Carrot Ranch has exciting collaborations in the works as we continue to write 99-word stories weekly. In March, I promise to reveal more when I also take time to honor those who kept the Saloon and columns running during the difficult pandemic years.

Remember to post your stories in the form. I’m trying to find efficient ways to acknowledge all submitters, whether you have blogs, social media, or an email. I appreciate the shift to reading the stories as a Collection and visiting any associated blogs. If you like any stories individually, it’s helpful to say why. You can say how it made you feel, think, or appreciate a specific writing element. As we write and submit, we are all daring!

Now, let’s zip up this post and start writing!

February 14, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about zippers. What are the zippers for? What challenges do they present to the story? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 19, 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.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.