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With Coronavirus/Covid-19 currently raging across the globe, many people are looking to the past for comparisons. Since recurrent diseases such as yellow fever, smallpox, and others feel too far in the past to really compare with, many have chosen a deadly pandemic for inspiration:
The century-old outbreak of the Spanish Flu.
The Spanish Flu, like most strains of influenza, tended to attack the respiratory system and often made the body vulnerable to pneumonia which only further complicated a patient’s prognosis. With no ventilators (the first negative pressure ventilator used on humans – the “iron lung” – wasn’t tested until 1928), no antivirals such as Tamiflu (generic name oseltamivir phosphate; look for “vir” at the end of drugs to identify an antiviral), and widespread misinformation campaigns, those who lived in 1918 were facing a grimmer outlook than we can expect here in 2020. But, lo, did I mention above “misinformation campaigns”? How could this possibly be in the glorious past?!
The news industry in the 1910s was quickly learning from the skillbook of Nelly Bly, who pioneered investigative journalism. These new techniques, wherein journalists dove into the action, led to exposes on corrupt politicians, business owners, and social issues, but they were not the only types of journalists out there. Sensationalist journalism, perfected by Hearst and Pulitzer at the turn of the century, was about to be hijacked for clearly nationalistic causes. Benito Mussolini of World War II fame, for example, honed his political ideologies espousing extreme authoritarianism and an Italian ethno-state.
More broadly, however, nations found themselves in the need of propaganda when facing the meat grinder of World War I. If you were German, your newspapers needed to be pro-German, otherwise the kaiser wouldn’t be able to recruit enough fresh bodies to turn into corpses. If you’re English, the stories need to be pro-England, otherwise Parliament couldn’t shame enough boys into accepting destruction in the trenches.
And, in America, President Woodrow Wilson needed you to shut up about the flu.
Patient zero of the 1918 Flu Pandemic was a farmer in Kansas. The flu spread in the small town of Haskell and later, due to sons being called to the draft and going to large training camps, military installations such as Camp Funston in Kansas. The flu rampaged through the camp, but luckily the doctors realized something was afoot and did their best to quarantine the sick. Though they eventually calmed the virus in the camp using isolation measures, it wasn’t completely effective, and the sick were shipped off to fight in Europe where the virus spread.
At the same time, Wilson was apprised of the situation. He knew there was a virulent strain of flu – or something else just as devastating – destroying lives in Kansas. With his war efforts finally underway, he worried the risk of squelching American morale with news of a rapidly-spreading plague would dampen draft and training enthusiasm or compliance. The nation had been deeply divided about joining the war just a year ago, and now (Wilson believed) was not the time to make the populace back out of supporting the war efforts.
So he straight up banned reporting on the virus.
Once in Europe, the virus quickly spread among the ranks of both sides of the fight. Most European nations’ journalism was similarly stunted as America’s had been, what with the need to recruit more people to die. Despite the toll of the disease eventually matching or and eclipsing the number of deaths caused by the war itself, nations such as Britain, Germany, and France all refused to admit the virus was spreading in their ranks. They covered it up.
The only Western nation that didn’t inhibit coverage of the pandemic was Spain.
And boy, did American news latch the heck onto that. With the ability to point to Spanish newspapers as the first publications about the flu, and thus by calling it “Spanish Flu,” American newspapers were finally able to report as the second wave of the virus ravaged places like Camp Devens near Boston, followed soon after by east-coast metropolises. Politicians and military men still tried to downplay the fatality of the virus, which led to the mayor of Philadelphia allowing a massive parade that caused an enormous spread of death and destruction throughout the US, just as the virus – now permanently deemed “Spanish Flu” thanks to misinformation campaigns – continued to rage throughout Europe and Asia.
But misinformation didn’t stop those people who could be called the heroes of the Spanish Flu. In the effort to stop the flu, many doctors found difficulties in isolating the pathogen and, thus, determining a method to develop a vaccine against the disease. Because of the weakened immune systems of the sick, secondary illnesses such as bacterial pneumonia complicated this search. The haste to find a cure often led to sloppy lab work, and many worried that quarantine would be the only effective measure.
Though this did, sadly, end up being the case since the flu mutated into a less pathogenic form by the next year (as flu tends to do), some doctors did amazing work to discover the flu as a “filterable virus”. Anna Williams, one of the few women in the medical research field at the time, was the first to make this distinction while many others insisted the disease was a resurgence of the bubonic plague. Her efforts with the 1918 flu pandemic eventually led to better understanding and our ability to combat the flu and other viral diseases. Other doctors, especially military doctors at camps, were the first to prove the disease could be limited by quarantine.
All of them, however, were instrumental in establishing public health departments and efforts across the nation.
And, here in 2020, someone will be a new hero we should appreciate. Already, Chinese doctors (many of whom sadly fell to the disease) could be considered heroes for their efforts to sound the whistle and treat early patients. Smaller heroes, such as bloggers like us, can make sure to provide only accurate information while others (resisting… urge… to… start internet fights) may spread misinformation.
Into the Past Prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about people who tell the truth in the face of many lies. Don’t feel constricted to coronavirus or the 1918 flu pandemic, but feel free to use any of the information presented here.
There won’t be a roundup, but you are encouraged to share your work in the comments.
For more information on the Spanish Flu, I encourage you to read The Great Influenza by John M. Barry. You can find a quicker overview posted by the CDC. If you’re into podcasts, the American History Tellers episode “What We Learned from Fighting the Spanish Flu” can be found on Stitcher or on your favorite podcast app (I use Podcast Republic, available on Google Play).
About the Author: H.R.R. Gorman is a PhD chemical engineer with expertise in biotechnology and making drugs. Following science, H’s greatest passions are writing and history (especially the Age of Jackson). If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/.
As the farmer’s children gathered around, the youngest gripped his dad’s legs and peered up at me with big brown eyes. I was on assignment at a multi-generational farm in the driftless region of Minnesota where green grass grew on hillocks and flowers marched forth from spring, starting with purple blooms. While I probably misremember which spring flowers came first or which farmer pointed out the phenomenon, I recall the moment that shy boy took charge of the family’s piglets.
His brothers and sisters ran or rode bikes as the parents walked me through the farm that first earned its organic label in 1974. The couple had been kids themselves at the time. The boy’s mother grew up on this farm, and she recalled her father’s insistence to preserve their land for the future. That day I strode with them through the first spring flowers and greening pastures, I understood that I was witnessing that future when the youngest finally let go of his father’s hand and ran to the barn where the piglets snuffled the straw.
The boy could herd pigs. He climbed up and over the railing, hopping to the mass of bedding straw. These were the young weaned piglets of many colors and patterns. A few oinked, and several nuzzled the boy. He grinned broadly like a circus ring showman and got them all wheeling a huge circle around him. His shyness fled, and he took charge of the oinksters. His parents smiled and continued to tell me about their operation, but the boy had me mesmerized.
I don’t know why that memory came back to me on a day I’m confined to my house. Perhaps quarantine prods the mind to wander. The boy would be a young adult by now, and I wonder if he can use his skill in other capacities? Taking charge can be a leadership attribute. But it requires supporting traits, as well, including compassion. The boy had that, too, and you can see it in his face and the way the pigs ran, delighting in the game, ready to follow their little leader.
When you ride a horse, you have to take charge because the massive animal can easily frighten. I’ve nearly been thrown from the saddle when a horse spooked. It’s a jolting experience, almost comical the exaggerated stance a horse lunges into upon sighting something unusual. Often they’ll snort, flaring nostrils. You can’t relax too deeply on horseback, nor can you ride too rigid. A horse can feel your tension. A true buckaroo is someone who can be one with a horse. I once had a bay gelding, and we were one. I never did anything fancy or spectacular with him, but the rides we had taught me to be aware of him, me, and our surroundings. Maybe he made me the writer I am from the rider I was.
If you are looking for good movies to watch, I recommend both The Horse Whisperer with Robert Redford and a documentary on the man who inspired the story, Buck:
It’s a story about overcoming adversity and fear. If you get the chance to brush a horse or ride one, do it. It will be a life-changer. Ultimately, we can learn to take charge of ourselves. We can’t change the world or get it to wheel circles around us like a kid in a pigpen, but we can make our moments count for something. We can breathe deep until calm settles over. We can love and express it, letting others hear it. We can encourage and be encouraged.
At the end of the movie, Buck, the credits roll to Pearl Jam’s Just Breathe. Willie Nelson and his son Lucas covered the song as one between father and son. It can be between any relationship, and to me, it’s an artistic expression of the preciousness of life.
Stay with me, Ranchers, and let’s write our stories.
March 26, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story in which a character takes charge. Who is this character, and what situation calls for their action? It can be playful or serious, fantastical, or realistic. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by March 31, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Saving Lives by Charli Mills
Rhonda didn’t bother with her boots. She’d wait for calving season to end before cleaning the floor. When the National Guard recalled Jess, she took charge of their small spread. A neighbor came over to help. News of the virus dominated the stations, and Rhonda couldn’t get a weather report. She ate a bowl of Spagettios, then returned outside to relieve Tony. Around midnight the last calf arrived with a spring blizzard. While Jess saved lives as a medic in a makeshift hospital 300 miles away, Rhonda snuggled a calf all night in the kitchen with the wood-stove blazing.
First, the roof-bergs broke loose. Great hunks of condensed ice thicker than a doorstep slipped from the eaves, crashing onto the garage with such tremendous force that my neighbor ran to the side of my house. I happened to be coming down the stairs at the moment and saw a flash of sun on ice before I felt the shock of vibrations that accompanied the blow. Spring wears heavy boots in the Keweenaw.
Next, came the tapping, drip-drip-drapping of water seeping from beneath the remaining bergs, ice sculptures, and packed drifts of geological snow layered storm by storm. A rapping, louder than water tapping, sounded at my door — ’tis a neighbor, nothing more. Cranky (as in Sew Cranky, not So Cranky) smiled and informed me that the maples no longer slumbered. Sap was flowing. Her husband came over and tapped our tree.
Now, this is no ordinary tree. It is the biggest of four old sugar maples that line our backyard and alleyway. It shades our deck and provides a home to hummingbirds in summer. This grand maple shades the deck where I write, read, garden, and barbeque. I’ll miss my canine companion who loved sleeping on the deck in the maple’s shade on warm days. She grew too old to worry the chipmunks who like to gather fallen seeds from the birdfeeders. In my mind’s eye I can see summer and her lounging in it still.
Every week, D. Avery entertains Carrot Ranchers with the wit and antics of yarn characters, including Kid, who sometimes climbs up his Poet Tree. Seems how Carrot Ranch’s world headquarters has a grand old maple, I thought it fitting to call it the Poet Tree. This summer, I will hang laminated 99-word poems from colorful ribbons to adorn the tree. We’ll have a special call for Poet Tree poems in April, so keep that in mind, a seed to plant in your creative thoughts.
Sweet maple water must be the elixir of poets. I had no idea! Golden sap water only takes a few hours to boil and poured over a tea bag, it prods me to sing songs of eternal spring. The locals have let me in on a secret — when you see foggy kitchen windows, you know someone has tapped a tree and is making golden water for breakfast rice. I feel initiated into the foggy window club, knowing we are all eating sweet rice and scrambled eggs for breakfast. The eggs are because another neighbor has a friend who has a friend with productive hens.
This is my small microcosm of a world right now. Poised for spring. Tapping, tapping. Drip-drip-drapping. Squalls of snow, bouts of sunshine, ferocious winds, and that is a single day. Tomorrow is a special birthday, a newbie among us, displaced from Texas, in hospice care. A good friend who is a grief counselor recognized that we’d be kindreds. She’s become a ray of light in my life, an intensity for learning and living because she was supposed to be dead by now. She lives, making each day precious. We talk about everything, including all the conspiracies the Hub can muster.
Tomorrow a group of us are taking her to see the ice flows because that’s an impressive part of a Keweenaw spring. I had shown her the Fitz Restaurant on a brief trip up the peninsula last week, so we made reservations for her birthday. She can’t eat much more than soup, but she wants to be in the ambiance of the place that sits right on the lake. I told her about the Fourth of July Fireworks on the beach, and we plan to attend before I leave for Vermont.
Plans. It’s a strange time to plan, the world transitioning seasons, and caught in a pandemic. But if a dying friend can live each day meaningfully and plan to see fireworks on the 4th, then I think we all need to remember that hope comes with plans. Hope wants to see the next sunrise and trace its colors with fingers held to the horizon. None of us ever knows when we’ll see our last sun event. I don’t want to waste it on fear or worry or any other bully emotion that would dim the senses.
Precaution, another p-word. It’s a responsible action. It feels alarmist, but it is containment. It feels surreal as our universities shut down, and all public events cancel, including the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Water Day. I was prepared to sing the Water Song as a Water Walker, wear a skirt and boots to show the earth that I’m a woman who can step as heavily as spring.
Life continues to surge, the sap flows, and I’m tapping.
March 12, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tapping. You can play with the sound, make it an action, or create something unexpected. Tap a story and go where the prompt leads!
Respond by March 17, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.
A Spring Alliance Forms by Charli Mills
Using the blunt end of an ax, Viv tapped the last steel spile into an old sugar maple thick with lichen. She stood on squishy snow in borrowed snowshoes, hanging the last bucket. Sap pinged the steel. From a distance, Clarice yodeled, the sound echoing across the thawing expanse of Misery Bay. Snow clouds generated by the vast water flowed toward land like thick fog. Viv gave a shrill whistle in return. Safe as she was with her cross-dressing chicken-herding friend, mapling weather could turn treacherous. Viv plodded toward the cabin to sew Clarice a new skirt.
It’s white and dismal, the never-ending feeling of a winter that lingers too long. Squalls bloom snow like algae, spreading across hardened mats of layered ice. It does not feel fresh when February rolls into March, and grocery store adverts tease me with lucky green shamrocks and early promotions for spring. One day I’m gazing with hope at an azure sky, and the next, the gray dome of my snow globe snaps shut. Relentless is the winter on the lee side of Lady Lake Superior.
I confess that I’m daydreaming of the open road. The Hub took a fall on the snow-covered ice that is our driveway and stormed into the house growling about leaving for the desert. I almost said, okay. If winter is relentless, then those of us with cabin fever feel restless. It’s an itch beneath the skin, a need to move the body more than measured steps in snowboots. Wheels on the pavement promise liberation from snow.
But our car is grounded to short trips. A bearing grinds in one wheel, and the automatic brake system is out on all four. No road trips for now.
When the brain feels itchy, it’s hard to focus. Sometimes I wonder if this is how the Hub feels all the time. Part of his condition leaves him profoundly impatient and agitated. He does good to manage it, but it’s always there like ants marching. My distraction is seasonal and will soon pass as days elongate. I imagine sunlight stretching toward its own downward dog of summer.
Have you ever looked up how many hours of daylight your area gets? Recently, I learned about the three levels of twilight when researching the sunrise in Elmira, Idaho. I remembered 3 am birdsong, and it turns out that summer twilight begins at 3:18 am. In Hancock — World Headquarters for Carrot Ranch — is begins at 5:18 during the peak of daylight hours. And it fades late into the night by 10:30 pm, which makes for long evenings on the rocky shores, watching a copper globe sink into the lake. Sometimes, I can catch a flash of green on the watery horizon.
It’s a blur of black and the call of “caw, caw, caw” that catches my attention now. A lone raven flies through breaks in the snow to retrieve food stashed on rooftops. I’ve watched this raven before. He cries raucously as if to say, “Hey — look what I got!” He buries his stash with beak and claws on the steeply pitched roofs of my neighbors. We all have a tundra over our heads and buried raven treasure. Once he has a mouthful of whatever has marinated in a series of snowstorms, he flies off, satisfied.
Wanting to find something snowy to share with you, I have a clip from Yooper Steve:
Wanting to find humor in the snow, I’ll now turn southwest to our neighbors in Wisconsin. Every time we visit our son and future DIL, we catch up on the Manitowoc Minute, a Wisconsinite who pokes fun at his state. He got to include the UP in his show because we are often omitted or given over to Wisconsin on maps.
Somewhere between distraction and deadlines, snow and sun-hope, I’m meandering my way through another week, cracking at the MFA, my plot outline exposed to its bones. I’ve often said the bones of writing must be strong. The structure faces its first test and a twist this week. My cohort has been tasked with writing our opening chapters. But here’s the twist — after all the plot outlining we did, our prof issued a specific opening with inciting incident first.
Well, that messes with my outline. Which is the lesson — it’s not enough to sew, we have to rip out the seams and make something new from the same material. It’s learning all the bones and reconstructing the framework. Sometimes we have to get around what we think to what we create, what we hear, what we discover. And we have to be comfortable with this work because there’s no time to get shaken by it.
So I watch snow and ravens and listen to music in random order, learning to write like the sun might never shine again. Time to get a move on. Ready to hit the open road? We have our imaginations to take us there.
February 27, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes the open road. Where will the trip lead? Who is going, and why? Follow the open road wherever it may lead!
Respond by March 3, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.
Viv’s Open Road Hair-Do by Charli Mills
Viv tossed the letter to where her long ginger locks scattered across the kitchen floor. “Goodbye, Hal. Fix your own damned dinner,” she wrote. She left the broken plate he’d flung at her when she served his scrambled eggs too dry. After he went to the copper mine, she bundled her clothes and sheared her curls without benefit of a mirror. Her scalped stung less without the weight of hair he could yank to get her attention. Irish whore no more. She was hitting the open road and taking his 1956 Ford Victoria, the only thing he ever loved.
Clickety-clacking rings across the house as guest-dog, Monte, prances on the hardwood floor. It’s been silent and I welcome the sound of canine life. His humans have left for an extended weekend out of state, and we get to enjoy the company of this nine-year-old Dautchund. He curls up on the couch next to the Hub, who rubs his head and calls him, “Big dog.” It’s hard to adjust to not having the big dogs around.
We also have a visiting tabby cat — a prowler caught on NOAA’s satellite. From 23,000 miles up in space, the weather image captured fuzzy plumes of lake-effect snow across Lake Superior, and it looks like a hunkered tabby cat. If you check out the NPR story here, scroll down to see the plumes in action. That tabby has been a frequent visitor, only it looks more like fluffy white kittens from our perspective.
Domestic animals aside, I’ve also conquered a wild beast. Last Sunday, I turned in the first draft of a plot outline to my proposed novel thesis. Last term, I completed a plot following Snyder’s Beat Sheet. In case you are wondering, a plot and a plot outline are not the same. One is telling the story of the plot, and the other maps what happens when. Turns out, I have seven plots and subplots — who knew? Well, that’s the problem. You don’t know until you are forced through the sieve of mapping a plot.
My W-storyboard is getting a workout. Just because I have a plot outline does not mean it is the novel’s final structure. Index cards and sticky notes rearranged on the board will provide the blueprint as I write. My inciting incident is due in another week. Having an outline forced me to contain my ideas, which is similar to what happens when I write a story in 99 words. It’s made me rethink my beginning.
I’m not even going to say how many times I’ve written the beginning to Miracle of Ducks. If my outline holds, this novel will be nothing like the first draft I wrote. However, my original opening was closer to a proper inciting incident than any subsequent one I wrote. What is proper? Something that gets the reader reading — a character who compels, action that excites, a mystery that begs resolution.
My professor made an astute observation. He told my cohort that we are also competing against technology for readers’ attention — Netflix, YouTube, streaming, social media, video games. Not only do we need to stand out among books, but we also have to get readers away from different screens. It’s daunting to think about in those terms. That’s a lot of pressure to place on an inciting incident.
Another consideration is that I’ve mapped my inciting incident deeper into my book. It does not occur on page one. I’ve designed a trap for my protagonist called “Danni in a box with a knot.” The box includes four different plotlines that emerge to squeeze down on her. The knot is the fragility of her need to belong. She thinks life is good and she has what she has longed. Except, it comes with a cost, and she’s about to get delivered the bill.
What excited me in mapping out the plot outline is that I realized the inciting incident. The box traps Danni, but it is one particular incident that moves the story toward its trajectory of growth, specifically, Danni’s growth. If I hadn’t (been forced) to complete a plot outline, I would have missed this incident. While painful for a pantser to knuckle under and learn, I feel more confident as a writer. Instead of committing to XX number of words a day, I’m now setting specific goals for what to write.
We can debate when, how much, and why we should plot. The most important point to keep in mind is that each one of us must find the process that works. I signed up for two-year writing boot camp, so I have to execute processes that are not my first (or fiftieth) choice. I’m finding out that the pain is worth the gain. At some point, a pantser has to plot, and a plotter has to write into the draft. If you think you can get away with not plotting, you’ll learn differently by the time you get to writing a synopsis.
You’ll be faced with defining your structure at the beginning, middle, or end.
On Twitter, Sherri Matthews posted an interesting article, When ‘Situational’ Writing Works Better Than Plotting. The author quotes Stephen King in regards to being a situation writer, coming up with a situation that is the story. The advice is to keep the momentum going by writing, what next? And then, what next? He also says that writers can be hybrids. I think what we call a hybrid is a plantser!
With snowcats and situations in mind, I thought it would be a fun and informative exercise to write 99-word stories based on a situation. You’ll start with the situation and add what next, what next, what next until you arrive at “until finally.” In 99 words, of course.
February 20, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a library cat named Rainbow who escapes. Use this situation to write what happens next. Where does this e=situation take place, and who else might be involved? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by February 25, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.
Rainbow Makes Her Move by Charli Mills
Rainbow faked a yawn, stretched a declawed mitt toward a shelf of new releases in fiction, and calculated the distance to the door. She had made several tests runs the day before and knew how long the door opened before shutting. Preening her calico fur, Rainbow waited to blow this boring book joint. When a group of homeschoolers entered the library, she made her move on the open door. Swerving in and out of gangly legs like a feline slalom racer, she won the race and made it outside. Shivering beneath plumes of lake-effect snow, Rainbow calculated her reentry.
Coursework on plot scatters across my dining room table as if I were translating old Medieval letters, seeking the alchemy of novels. How do I turn base pages into golden books? I’m overwhelmed with formulas so I draw pictures in the margins. My stick-figure protagonist ends up with a knot in a box with wheels, and I have the slightest shift in understanding. I can visualize what I’ve been trying to do with my W-storyboard for years.
Of course, it helps that with each a-ha of chemical compounds to create a novel in a lab, I have fellow mad-scientists to work with and Dr. Frankenstein to guide in our critique. The hard work of my MFA has arrived and I didn’t know my writing could be pushed to such depths where heat and pressure crystalizes material. Will strands of gold emerge? Time will tell.
Needing to relieve some of that pressure, I suggest to the Hub that we go to the cheap-seats night at the movie theater and catch 1917. One of the plot techniques I’ve studied is the Blake Snyder Beats. Save the Cat! is a website of diverse writer resources based on Blake Snyder’s series of books for developing screenplays and novels. His genres include Dude with a Problem, and that’s what 1917 is — a movie about a soldier with a problem. I justify going to the movie because after I can read the Beat Sheet and learn more about novel alchemy.
The movie rolled on from opening image to closing image with a single blackout break. Otherwise, the viewing experience remained intense. If you have not seen the movie, know that the 1917 Beat Sheet reveals spoilers. If you have, it’s worth comparing what you viewed to how the beats apply to the screenplay. In order for my thesis to be accepted, I have to complete a detailed plan including plot and character development. At this point, I’m reading books and watching movies to study the plans beneath.
That doesn’t mean my mind has avoided windows or playtime. In fact, I feel my imagination is heightened. I worried that if I gave in to plotting I might lose the fun of discovery in pantsing, but I’m finding that discovery exists in plotting, too. I’m starting to see stories emerge more quickly, which is a huge relief given my propensity to stare. I still get to window-gaze. The flow comes faster.
This week, Mental Floss posted a list of antiquated words or phrases associated with Valentine’s Day. One is sugar report, which is what soldiers in WWII often called mail from wives and girlfriends. This made me think of the character, Schofield, in 1917, and his reluctance to see his family on leave because he’d have to leave them again. It made me wonder how the sugar report was received in WWI. It’s a phrase that can be applied to modern sweethearts, too.
I’m not full of insights this week, adjusting to the absence in our home and working toward that thesis plan. If you were here, I’d invite you to the Parade of Confections tomorrow at the Finnish Heritage Center. I’m a newly appointed Board Director for the Copper Country Community Arts Council and this is one of our big fundraising events. I’ll be pouring wine and helping to keep the appetizer trays full. In the future, I look forward to bringing literary and other artists together for learning and collaboration.
Somewhere in all of this, I’ll find transformation. I hope we all will. In the meantime, let’s write love letters to the frontlines, no matter where a sugar report might turn up.
February 13, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes a sugar report. Use its original meaning of a letter from a sweetheart to a soldier, or invent a new use for it. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by February 18, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.
1917 Sugar Report by Charli Mills
In 1916 it wasn’t clear if America would send troops overseas, but if they did, John Kellerman was enlisted and ready. His mother refused to say goodbye the day he left their Midwest farm. She was a widow against the war. His kid sister ran after his bus, waving proudly. She sent him letters scented with pink roses from her victory garden. Kellerman let his squad believe he had a sugar report from home, enjoying the minor deception. When he was killed on the frontline, they buried him and his sister’s letters beneath a white cross. Nothing sweet remained.
One night, two great horned owls hooted outside our flimsy camp trailer that leaked in the rain and scorched in the sun. It was during a time I was homeless with my veteran spouse and our two dogs, showering in public restrooms and buying bottled drinking water. We had landed on Mars, which is how the southern Utah desert felt to me after living on Elmira Pond in North Idaho for four years. It’s hard to believe this is our fourth year since leaving Elmira, Idaho. Like the broad wings of night owls, life seeks balance.
I remember the unease of hearing the owls that night. Harbingers of death. I didn’t really believe that, but it’s an ingrained thought from the western culture I grew up in, and a line from one of my favorite songs,
“There’s been a hoot owl outside my window now/ for six days in a row/ she’s coming for me I know/, and on Wildfire we’re both gonna go…” Michael Martin Murphy, Wildfire
If ever I was going to pass from this walk to the next, I wouldn’t mind riding out on a horse named Wildfire, all the dogs I’ve loved before running at my heels.
And if a hoot owl called me to the next journey, I suppose I wouldn’t mind such an escort.
That night back in Utah, I pushed aside my unease because I lived in a constant state of unease. The Hub and I stepped outside the camp trailer to see if we could spot the winged duo. We ended up chasing after them from tree to tree, catching glimpses of their massive wingspan as they flew low. Finding a new perch in the cottonwoods along the Virgin River, they’d pause and hoot.
I remarked how much they reminded me of our two dogs, brother, and sister, and the way they loped together, her with a limp and him with cocky stride, but both in unison the way connected spirits can be. The next day, Grenny fell violently ill and was gone by the second day after the owls visited. Worse, his sister Bobo, not understanding where her brother went, sought him everywhere and stopped eating. She wasn’t well — the vet said her kidneys were failing on top of an old spinal injury that decreased her mobility, sporadic seizures, and a congestive heart. We had been surprised by Grenny’s undetected prostate tumor that shut down his organs because we thought he was the healthy dog of the pair.
Somehow, the two owls made me think that Bobo would soon follow Grenny. She didn’t. She pulled through with her joyful determination.
There has always been something amazing about that dog. She was born the day after Christmas in 2006, into our hands. We all watched the miracle of birth that day, me, my husband and our three kids. She was the runt with the bow-marking on her head. Her brother was the only male and a big brute of a pup. We all fell in love with her that moment and although the Hub intended to keep the male, we all insisted we keep Bo(w)detta Bosephine — Bobo. Yet she enamored him, too. She would become his “snort,” his beloved dog.
No matter what life dished out to her, Bobo overcame with little fuss. At age five, a rough but accidental tumble from two of her pack on a hot summer day left her back legs paralyzed. We did what we could at the time, and our vet said she’d get better or not. We walked the dogs every morning, and she was pined to go. So, we lifted her into the car, propped her up in the back seat, and she learned that rides were much better than walks. Despite the odds, she did get better and walked with the drive of a wounded warrior (she had much in common with the Hub).
When we moved to Idaho, the seizures came next. They remained intermittent enough that we never had to medicate her but they left us all shakey after she’d have one. Her needs challenged both my strengths and my weaknesses. Yet, no matter what, she grabbed life with joy. I wrote about how writers could learn from her joyful determination and I still live by those teachings. She died exactly six years to the date that I wrote that post. Yes, our amazing Bobo, our sweet girl has walked on.
Bobo did not succumb to the call of an owl, but when we rushed her to the vet on Tuesday afternoon, I saw a lone pigeon sitting on the eave of the office, with markings like the ones we helped fledge. Always looking for meaningful connections, it’s part of what drives me as a fiction writer and gives me purpose as a human. Connections make us not feel alone. Our eldest left work and met us at the vet’s office, and our Arctic daughter called us and stayed with us while we sat and cried and told Bobo what a good dog she was. Our son called later that night. The pup that was born into our family’s hands passed in our arms.
In the end, I realized that she was determined to have joy. Another lesson. Joy is something we cultivate, persevere to grab hold of and choose. Not all the time. Not every moment. But we get up and notice the beauty, the preciousness of life, the good that exists, the purpose we can find. I grieve, but I’m determined to keep joy in my life.
That’s about all I can muster for now. What I’d really like is for us to tell stories about the “dog in the daisies.” It’s my absolute favorite photo of Bobo and it captures her essence. She was poised in a field of daisies as if looking right at that joy she chased. Maybe it was deer, but whatever she saw filled her being with mindful purpose. In that moment she was a happy critter in a mountain meadow. For those astute regulars, this is a repeat photo (White Flowers, December 28, 2017) but with a different prompt.
I might not be real social over the next week as I draw inward and plug away at school and ranch and writing. Not doing anything unsettles me, but doing anything makes feels thick and sluggish. It’s a muddy emotional time. I’m glad I’m a writer and have a way to process. I’m grateful for a compassionate community of literary artists. Thank you to those helping to keep the community connected. I appreciate you all taking extra care this week to notice any newcomers and welcome them and to keep each other encouraged.
We don’t have our pets for the duration of our lifetimes, but we are better off for the time we do have them. I am content that a dog named Bodetta Bosephine had me from her first until her last breath. One day, I’ll hear a hoot owl calling for me, and on Wildfire I’m going to ride, Bobo greeting me with a woof — there you are!
February 6, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to the theme “a dog in the daisies.” It can be any dog, real or imagined. Push into the setting and as always, go where the prompt leads!
Respond by February 11, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
Dog in the Daisies by Charli Mills
I yearn to see you twitch your nose one more time to sniff the wind. To hear you woof a greeting to me, making sure I trail your winding path. To see you poised, a dog in the daisies, ears perked. Happy. I am happy for you. I am content to have had you in my life. You look away from me, toward something I can’t yet see or trust is there. This I know — daisies die and life goes on. Nothing ever breaks down so completely as to disappear. Joy fizzes the smallest particles. So, I follow.
A wisp of tarragon grows from a small pot in my windowsill, a gentle summer monk on a cold winter path to enlightenment. Or maybe not. Maybe, a frail twig of indoor tarragon dreams that one day it might be a hardy spear outside rooted in real dirt. How about — the emergence of tarragon in winter was unexpected as a pregnancy at age 50. Even — the tarragon leaned like a colt on spindly legs toward the window, seeking sunnier pastures.
What am I doing here, you might be pondering? I’m characterizing the upstart of growth in my kitchen herb box, surprised by the frail determination of tarragon I thought dormant. You see, this term of my MFA focuses on character development. Not only do I get to be Dr. Frankenstein to Danni Gordon, but I’m also tasked to bring life to her novel-mates. Thus, I’m practicing on a personified herb.
Character traits come in two forms — external and internal. Which do you dive into first? For me, character development is internal, considering who the character is and why. How did they get to be that way? What personality traits do I use to share the sense of this person with a reader? External traits help, and some are necessary if it matters to the story or character’s growth.
Take gender, for example. It’s an important external trait, typically. We want to know if Harry Potter is a boy or girl. Little Women would be silly if the characters turned out to be male (or perhaps profound with a deliberate framing). I recently read The Whale in the Wolf by Jordanna Max Brodsky. It’s the story of Omat, a small clan’s next shaman. The character is born to a young widow following a tragic accident on the ice that claimed all the young hunters (there were four, which conveys how small and vulnerable this group of people are). The baby is limp, the mother has expired, and the midwife abandons the newborn to the elements. The next day, a wolf appears over the baby who has survived the night, heralding the child as the new guide to a people whose hunting skills also rely on pleasing the spirits.
As a reader, we follow the child’s upbringing through his own story. We know he is small, has two freckles on his cheek from his mother’s final tears at birth, and is male. Omat was the name of his uncle. It’s believed that the spirit of the wolf and Omat reside in this young apprentice to the spirit realm. Those are the external traits. Internally, we learn that Omat is fiercely loyal to his family, determined to succeed as a shaman and a hunter, learning at every chance. A serious and studious person. He recognizes the jealousy of his older brother, who is bigger and stronger but envies Omat’s abilities. As characters, they are a striking contrast in personality. This deepens our understanding of who the Inuit are — individuals, and yet dependant upon group dynamics for survival.
Internal characteristics enrichen a story. They are the traits we can slip into. When we feel like Harry Potter or Omat, we don’t become boys. Instead, we become the personalities having experiences we relate to through the characters. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what shade of green a character’s eyes; it matters that we can see through her eyes and experience a new culture, past event, or future predicament. Internal traits embody the emotion of a novel, which is where character growth resides. Note: character growth is not a mandate, but it is an element crucial to some genres. For example, both characters must grow in romance to experience the happily ever after (or good enough for now) ending. Contemporary character-driven novels often hang a satisfying conclusion upon that growth.
Yet external traits come into play with that growth (or character arc), too. Those freckles, dark hair and coloring, and size add up to Omat’s unattractiveness to a blond, strapping Viking he’s rescued when later trying to find his brother. Brodsky manages to develop a natural unfolding of two people from different cultures through a process of friendship. Both find their external traits initially repulsive, but as they become friends and build trust to survive the harsh climate and rescue of Omat’s brother. In a way, this phenomenon shows that looks matter less than intention and action.
What is surprising is that one physical trait becomes the cornerstone of character growth for Omat. He was actually born a female biologically. The reader learns of this early on and comes to understand that Inuit have three genders because of their belief in ancestor souls returning to the newborn of their clan. It’s a complicated system where one’s son might also be a grandfather. And, in the case of Omat, the male spirit inhabited the baby girl. The book is Omat’s identity struggle physically, spiritually, and between cultures. It’s intricately written and well-plotted to be concerned for Omat on many levels.
According to one of my professors and the books I’m currently plowing through, every character has a core trait. For example, Omat’s concern for clan survival formed the core of a person who learned to accept both a woman’s body and a male spirit. Every plot point that emerged, Omat responded from failure or success to integrate self with survival. Another way to look at core personality is to examine psychology or personality tests. I once did numerology on the birthdates for the historical characters in Rock Creek and gained valuable insight.
Do you have to go take the Meyers Briggs for your character as I did for Danni Gordon? No. But you do need to have a core internal trait that guides your character’s actions and growth. As authors, we run the risk of developing characters who are flat, false, or familiar (to ourselves). If you want as deep of a dive as I’m currently submerged in, here are some reading materials:
- Plot Versus Character by Jeff Gerke
- Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey (recommended by Jeff Gerke)
- The Psychology Workbook for Writers by Darian Smith (I’d buy one from Anne Goodwin)
- Writer’s Guide to Characterization by Victoria Lynn Schmidt (and yes, it includes the Hero’s Journey)
I’m also reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and recognizing why this book won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s a portrait of one woman’s life through the multiple perspectives of those who know her. It spans numerous decades but is not linear, with each chapter reading like a short story from different periods of her life. Some chapters aren’t even about her but have something to reveal who she is. It’s a remarkable contemporary novel and has saved me from the despair after having clawed my way through Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies.
It’s important to read as a writer.
Read your genre. Read yesterday’s classics and today’s big prize winners. Read independents and small presses. Read what you like and define why. Study what succeeds even if you are not the target reader. Build your apprenticeship that not only takes you where you want to go but also gives you a fabulous journey along the way. Write daily. Plot fairy tales in the shower for practice. Talk about what you read or wrote and why either moved you.
Like a single sprig of tarragon, we grow our gardens from the faintest ideas to the strongest cores.
With winter piled upon the Keweenaw and garden season far away, I wondered what it must like to be a mail carrier in extreme conditions or unusual locations. How does the character’s core trait interact with such environments? What conditions can happen on the job to create a conflict, tension, or a plot twist?
January 30, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a postal carrier in an extreme situation. Even if you base your story on a true one, focus on the core trait of this postal carrier. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by February 4, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
Tough-Minded to the Core by Charli Mills
Poking at her glass eye with a felted mitten, Frankie yelled over the storm, “Ain’t no use, Burt. Can’t get through this detestable blizzard.”
Burt relied on her to find shelter. With one eye, she followed flagged Ponderosa pines back to the ridge where she stored supplies in a cavern. “This is why we scouted last summer, Burt.”
Prepared to ride out the storm, Frankie secured the US mailsack, unsaddled Burt, and cleaned her glass eye while beans bubbled in a tin over a crackling fire. Burt nickered for more oats. Just another day delivering mail to mining camps.
Same window, different image. Downtown Houghton gathers Tech grad students, professors, locals, sledders, and window apparitions. I settled into my Wednesday spot and wondered if I’d see my three Italian sisters in mourning across the street. I didn’t. I saw a row of miners as if sitting on a bench, wearing blue overalls. I never really thought about what copper miners wore. They could have been futuristic astronauts or ancient argonauts. I can’t say I was prepared to see a different image from the one I saw last time I peered across the nighttime street into the darkened window of a closed business.
I thought about ignoring it. We do that with what disturbs us — put the blinders on and pay it no heed. It’s how the chronic homeless on the streets slip into oblivion before our eyes. They become the unseen. It’s not our pain we fear but the reminder of our own vulnerability. And, thoughts go straight to my favorite researcher storyteller, Brene Brown, who expands the idea of embracing our vulnerability:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”~ Brene Brown
So I explored the darkness. I looked at what was disturbing me about the image I could see of miners created by the reflection of lights and my imagination — they had black hoods on their heads as if they were condemned. Was my mind feeling the pressure of my first week back to school? Regardless, I opened my Word Doc and spun a story in 99-words.
Gerard’s Tale by Charli Mills
Rumbling, the tram lumbers nineteen levels below to the copper veins. Sun, snow — the weather fails to influence the deep. I inhale pulverized basalt, hack black snot. Time slips away, my hands numb [hold the drill, young Geri]. I dream of sweet Maggie’s warmth in our bed, our mewling babe between us [hold the drill, young Geri]. Rock cracks, steel sings, the widow-maker hammers above my head [hold the drill, young Geri]. The tram rumbles like a beast upward, toward my wife and child. My body exits, wrapped in canvas. My soul trapped below, black dust to black dust.
When I realized I only caught one miner, I cut them off. After all, I had work to do. Maybe I’ll continue to press into the songs of condemned copper miners. The brackets reminded me of a chorus as if the group was singing of the individual’s cause of demise. Actually, it’s an influence from a contemporary novel I’m loving to loathe. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is a beautifully written novel about a seemingly perfect couple (with brackets to denote narrative interruptions from the characterization of their marriage). They are not. And I’m having difficulty with pretention parading as suffering. But I’m pushing myself to dig deeper past my dislike to unravel the workings of the novel.
The Business of Writing class had a reading assignment that amused me because I like to go on about visions and vision-based goals. The article, How to Set Goals for the Life You Actually Want, echoes the Twitter chat I did in December about setting joyful goals. But I’m hoping to learn what I don’t know.
Today’s challenge is going to be something different. Susan Sleggs shared a gif that shows the daily cycle of a park bench, and it is full of different human stories in each timeframe. An option will be to watch the gif play out and write one of the scenes in a story. If the gif is inaccessible for some reason (technology), the prompt will remain “park bench.”
January 23, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a park bench. Use this gif to choose a timeframe and write the story behind that particular scene. Use the time as your title. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by January 28, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
9:30 by Charli Mills
Gina sat and talked about auras. Maizie chalked vivid colors on the sidewalk, capturing the world’s energy field. She said my daughter was an inquisitive “indigo” and that I was a wise “violet.” I leaned back on the bench, hand in hair, wanting to believe my aura held meaningful hues like she said. But as we walked back to our apartment, all I could think about were the lonely shadows waiting inside. I wonder what color his aura was when my husband died in a botched training? In return, Maizie and I received a flag – red, white, and blue.
A black raven lands on my neighbor’s sloped roof to dig in the snow. Always one for a good bird show, I pause in rinsing dishes to watch. With a long thick beak, the raven scoops snow like those of us below with steel shovels and scoops. Finally, he retrieves something frozen the size of a cracker and lifts his wings, chomping his hoard. The raven must have stashed food on the roof, and I witnessed his mid-day snack.
It’s the days of messy middles. With winter half over in the northern hemisphere, we impatiently endure more snow and wait for the sun to return. Half a world away, Australia suffers a hot mess, waiting for the sun to subside, the heat to relent, the fires to burn out. Writer and educator, Norah Colvin, is safe where she lives in Australia but witnesses the daily impact of her nation burning. Last week, she left a link in the comments to an article that lists genuine organizations to help.
Several years ago, Norah created a S.M.A.G. Badge to spread goodness in the world across our literary, writing, educator, and blogging networks. She called the recognition the Society of Mutual Admiration and Gratitude. It calls to mind what 99-year-old Sirkka said about the anecdote to hate in the world. In her documentary, she calls for us to come together for humanity. S.M.A.G. is such a call. If you look to the right-hand column, you’ll see a graphic and a link to Bushfire Recovery Relief.
Please consider copying the graphic and posting it on your own site, blog, or social media. After all, we are communicators with reader traffic, and together, we can share links to legitimate organizations that have boots on the ground in the areas devastated. Norah also shared an op-ed by Jackie French, who writes, “Focus on what you can do. Don’t cry for what you can’t.” It’s easy to get overwhelmed in the face of tragedy, in life’s unexpected twists, in the persistence required to write novels. So, we focus on what we can do.
Sirkka’s mother protested. It was dangerous to stand up for injustice or call out for rights denied. History is filled with tales of violence against those who protest. When Sirkka’s mother protested, she took her daughter with her. The miners were demanding safer work conditions and fair wages. Their wives and daughters took to the picket lines to deliver these messages and make the world aware of the situations. In return, thugs were hired to beat the women and told to aim for the kidneys. Sirkka recalls standing up to a thug ready to strike her mother but shamed by looking into the eyes of a determined little girl.
On Christmas Eve, 107 years ago in Calumet just north of Carrot Ranch World Headquarters 19 miles, a large group of women and children were celebrating the festivities at the Italian Hall. For six long months, copper miners struck, led by a woman, some call the Joan of Arc of the Copper Country. (You can read about her and others in the new novel, Women of the Copper Country.) It was a time of great tension, and the holiday should have provided a respite. Instead, the greatest mining-related disaster on record in this region occurred that night, and 73 women and children died.
Witnesses claimed that someone yelled, “Fire!” from below. The reception hall was upstairs, and some argue that anti-union thugs held the doors. It remains, to this day, a wound upon the Copper Country community. No one yet agrees to the specific events or intentions, and no one was ever charged for a crime. But when families tried to flee, many slipped down the steep stairs, and inexplicably, the doors failed to open, suffocating those on the stairs.
When Sirkka faced down the thug ready to beat her mother, it was 1925, twelve years after the Italian Hall tragedy. I think about how Sirkka stood up all her life for the “foreign-born” like her parents. Cultures came together to speak up for the reason they came to America in the first place — a better life. From my posts, you know that Finns populate the Keweenaw. So do the Italians. My neighbor’s house that holds the raven stash is Italian-American. In fact, my Roberts Street neighborhood is said to have been an Italian one with many markets. Today, the Keweenaw Co-op remains as our corner grocery store.
Maybe I had all these jumbled ideas in mind — influenced by Sirkka’s documentary and resonating words, by recent research to discover the roots of my Italian neighbor, by concern for climate change and how it is burning and flooding communities. It’s no wonder we feel called to protest, to take up from the long line of others who have confronted injustice. But I’m also a writer, and I let these ideas stew and simmer into something I can serve up in a story. The night after the raven’s visit, I was downtown and looked out the window across the street and saw three women in mourning attire. When I focused, I realized it was an optical illusion of night shows and reflected lights.
But I was curious about what my mind had momentarily witnessed.
If you have ever stared at cloud shapes or optical illusions and seen what is not there, that is the power of imagination. Often we feel the need to correct what we thought we saw. Or sometimes we innocently play like a child and describe great ships or rearing lions that float by in the sky on a summer’s day. I often like to indulge the illusion. If it is real, what do I see? If I look closely at the reflection in a closed business across the street, I see a yarn shop with round skeins for sale, tags bobbing. I can’t explain it. No such thing exists across the street, and I don’t know why my brain thought yarn. Fuzzy, right?
But I go with it. Go ahead, brain, play. I pretend what I’m seeing is real. Across the street is a yarn shop. What else? And there they are — three dark-haired women in long black dresses with corseted waists standing together in a tight huddle. Mourners come to mind. Sisters.
When the Hub comes over and asks if I want another beer (full disclosure: I only had half, and it had nothing to do with the optical illusion). I point out the window, asking if he sees anything in the window across the street. He explains what I’m seeing is a reflection of a reflection of KBC, the local brew-pub. Except he sees it differently. Different perspective. I explain what I see, and he grunts and says he’ll leave me alone to write. Not everyone appreciates imagination. So I write my illusion in a sentence:
Three sisters in black opened a yarn shop in Houghton, Michigan, 19 miles away from where their children died in a stairwell.
I’m surprised by what I write because I was not thinking about the Italian Hall tragedy, but it slipped in there – soft yarn, three dark-haired women in black, dead children. Such is my mind. Normally, this is where I would get excited about discovery and let loose. This time, I’m inviting a playmate over for imagination. As an MFA student, I’m studying the writing process. Imagination and discovery is part of that. How we shape it into a story is another part.
I’m figuring out – learning – what I don’t know about writing fiction. I know I’m a pantser who has easy access to imagination and a keen interest in people, history, and stories. But I’m also learning that my pantsing can lead to half-baked stories. Great ideas, emotive, sharply imagined characters, sometimes I even have a point. Sometimes I lack form, the structure of plotters. Intellectually, I know story arcs and plot points. But imagination doesn’t remember to play with intellect. Writing 99-words helps to bridge left-brain, right-brain. But I’m also learning to incorporate other tools. So, Story Spine gets invited to play.
It looks like this (by Kenn Adams, author and Artistic Director of Synergy Theater):
- Once upon a time…
- Every day…
- But one day…
- Because of that…
- Because of that…
- Because of that…
- Until finally…
- And, ever since then…
Like 99-words, Story Spine becomes a problem-solving tool. So, I used my intriguing first sentence to describe the optical illusion as “once upon a time.” Then I followed the rest of the script.
STORY SPINE DRAFT
Three sisters in black opened a yarn shop in Houghton, Michigan, 14 miles away from where their children died in a stairwell. They stood stiff as marble in the back corner like three dark muses, the waists of their dresses pinched as tight as the grief in their eyes. Heads held high to defy pity from the wives of wealthy mine captains, they sold colorful yarn soft as baby’s hair. Pity or fear, they induced a brisk business.
One day, another Italian family from Calumet crossed the Portage canal and planned a confectionary business. They would armor their building with steel ceilings to curb caramel fires that could start in the expansive kitchen filled with heat and sugar.
Because of the false fire at the Italian Hall on that fateful Christmas Eve, 57 children died in the greatest minie-related disaster of the Copper Country.
Because families lost children, safety and survival melded like chocolate and wove a community with skeins of cashmere.
Because grief poured into business, the next generations of Italian Americans prospered greater than the mine captains, owners and enforcers whose fortunes fizzled with the depth of copper and shallowness of the economy.
Therefore the Copper Country was built on the entrepreneurial spirit of widows, mourning mothers, and a desire for comfort and safety.
I’ll plan to use this draft to put it in place as my 99-word response. It’s interesting to follow the script because I didn’t feel as hemmed in creatively as I had expected. It’s also a good exercise to recognize the Story Spine of books or fairy tales you’ve read. This helps you develop as a writer with another tool to aid your curiosity and imagination.
This weekend, I have a choice — to retreat or protest. The Women’s March happens this Saturday with a protest scheduled for the Houghton Lift Bridge. That same day, my friend Cynthia is hosting a retreat for vision work. I’m thinking back to Jackie French’s words about doing what you can. And Sirkka’s about doing things together. Therefore, my form of protest will be to go on retreat and focus on what Carrot Ranch can do together with writers and poets and bloggers and teachers and readers and storytellers of the world.
Together, let’s make literary art our stand.
Submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
January 16, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a protest story. It can be about a protest, or you can investigate the word and expand the idea. Who is protesting, where, and why? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by January 21, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Legacy Survived by Charli Mills
Three sisters opened a yarn shop in Houghton 19 miles from where their children died in a stairwell. They stood stiff as marble in the back corner, the waists of their dresses pinched as tight as the grief in their eyes. Round skeins of yarn soft as a baby’s head inspired sales to knitters whose wealth they had once protested. Next door, another displaced Italian family opened a confectionary with fireproof ceiling tiles. In business, they dispensed softness and sweets, set codes for stairs, and prospered. Their surviving children’s grandchildren expanded family enterprises long after the copper mines closed.