Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Home » Posts tagged 'challenge'

Tag Archives: challenge

October 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

An early memory is getting a pair of little white kid gloves to wear at San Benito County Rodeo. Maybe they were cotton. But in my memory, they linger as fine kid leather. Not from the hide of Kid or a young person, but from the hide of a young goat. Why were goats involved in buckaroo culture? I have no idea. I tackled them, hog-tied them, licked them (unintentionally, I swear), and apparently, I wore their hide on my hands. Well, we could pick that apart as perhaps an unusual childhood. But authentically buckaroo.

California is a region of assimilation. I can only imagine what a place it must have been under the stewardship of the many and varied tribes that lived there for thousands of years before the rest of the world finding out about gold in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Did you know that Indigenous people practiced fire management in California? I like to think of buckaroo traditions stemming from the rancho culture that arrived with the missionaries and their Spanish horses and cattle. People whose ancestors managed mountains and forests and coasts took to horses with a special kind of wisdom.

They say buckaroos evolved out of the vaquero culture, but they fail to say how much earlier influence came from the original Native Californians. With the Gold Rush, people from around the world flooded into California. Among them, two sets of Basque 3rd-great grandparents. They ranched a small place near Paicines and later ran the hotel in Tres Pinos. Through marriages and descendants, I can claim Basque, Scots, Welsh, Irish, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Brazilian, Flemish, and Dane. Talk about the Californian melting pot. Each one of those heritages came under the direct influence of the vaqueros.

And I had the kid gloves to prove it. Well, maybe not the gloves, but the early gear we used spoke of our heritage. My grandfather was a rawhider, and I learned the basics. I know how to make rawhide, string it, and braid it. We carried riatas (braided ropes) and rode with bosals to keep a horse from tossing its head. We had hefty horns on our beautifully tooled saddles because we roped cattle in a certain style. My grandfather was a figure-eight roping champion at this same rodeo grounds where I once won my own championship (okay, it was just a goat, but I won a trophy). This video gives you a glimpse of the style of roping and the land where I was born as a fifth-generation Californian

If you want to read an insightful essay about the buckaroo culture I come from, the Library of Congress recorded a bit of it here.

Our own Flash Fiction Rodeo is unfolding with a new event every Tuesday. Kerry E.B. Black is currently hosting Fables and Tall Tales. Colleen Chesebro is up next, and her contest is the equivalent of the figure-eight loop to syllabic poets. Kid and Pal hit the Dusty Trail last week, and I took over the Saddle Up Saloon to host TUFF, a progressive flash fiction contest. Part Two posts early Monday morning and offers the first twist to the sequence of word count reductions.

I’m going to do my best to keep up with all of you taking the weekly challenges, but I may be eyebrows deep in my thesis. The complete first draft is due by the end of the month, and then I’ll be using NaNoWriMo to revise it. That might sound like crazy-talk, but I do have a strategy in mind! My first draft is a mess. I want to use November to make it more cohesive and streamlined so that when I go into thesis revisions with my professor and peers, I have a better working manuscript. On a side note — Danni is the daughter of a Basque buckaroo from Nevada. Her life was much different from my own, but I wanted to use a culture I’m familiar with, and when writing about the West, I reached into my own back pocket. With kid gloves, of course.

October 8, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes kid gloves. A prop in the hands of a character should further the story. Why the gloves? Who is that in the photo, and did he steal Kids’ gloves (of the Kid and Pal duo)? Consider different uses of the phrase, too. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by October 6, 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Dressed and Ready by Charli Mills

Annabelle’s mother braided her hair so tight her eyes tugged at the corners. “Ma,” she wailed, “I won’t be able to see.”

“Get hair in your eyes, young lady, and you won’t see to throw your loop.” Ma was all business about rodeo events.

Already Annabelle had on her boots, jeans, frilled shirt, turquoise vest, and a hot-pink scarf with a concho slide. Ma zipped up the back leg on each side of her navy blue shotgun chaps and tightened the belt. Her brand-new kid gloves would protect her hands.

All this for a chance to rope a calf.

September 24: Flash Fiction Challenge

I’m in need of a munchy snack, so I stop at the Keweenaw Co-op. The drill is familiar — mask up in the car, cross the street, enter with an eye for proximity to others, wash hands, and shop the one-way aisles. I notice a woman fussing with her mask and she breezes past the sink without stopping. I stop and wash. She blows past me again, searching for some elusive item. An employee calls her attention and reminds her to wash her hands. A year ago, I would not have guessed that businesses would be policing hand-washing as if society had reverted back to kindergarten. But here we are and I want chips.

To access the chip aisle I have to go down one of two other aisles and back up the middle to find the Kettles. The Ranch-style stands out. Not only is it “ranch” but the bag is also turquoise. I accept the signs that this is my bag of chips. Next, I grab a fresh pear and cheese curds imported from Wisconsin. These days, that state is the wild west, complete with shootings in the street. My son and DIL live there and they assure me it’s tame where they are at.

Winter is coming and I’m about to be cloistered again.

Tossing my snacks into my backpack, I head to McLains. It’s McLain State Park, but locals call it McLains. I’m local, not sure I’m a local of anywhere, but like COVID, here I am. As a student, I have 2,666 words to write today so I take a seat on a metal picnic table at the edge of Lake Superior. It’s colder than in town 10 miles away on the Portage Canal that opens up past the breaker walls to my left. Birch, maple, and pines surround me, randomly dumping needles or leaves, reminding me why we call this season fall. I like to think that every time a maple drops a red leaf, somewhere in the southern hemisphere a blossom opens.

Chips are a snack for the anxious. Or so I read. Snacks that crunch are associated with stress-eating. I don’t feel stressed. Quite the opposite. My reward was to finish what needed doing with the wi-fi access so I could go out to the lake and write, away from digital and home distractions. I’m surrounded by trees and water. Fog is rolling in like mystical mists, and plovers are circling inches above the sloshing waves, piping as they fly. I think they could be snacking, too. Chips sounded good for the crunch but I think its excitement more than stress. I love the chance to office outside, to entwine nature’s outward beauty to my inner imaginings.

Turns out my pear is crunchy, too. Sweet as late summer, though. Pear and apple season is here. The fruit trees come to life on the Keweenaw with more varieties than a single store sells. My eldest and her husband have apple trees all over their 19-acre homestead, left-over from mining families. They harvested their squash — butternut and pumpkins. Mine is yet on the vine — two white mashed potato squash and a single butternut sheltered beneath a show of flashy cosmos. Further up the ridge, they’ve had numerous hard frosts. The temperature warmed but the fog I see indicates a clash with cold air.

Soon I’m past the chips and into the curds. My story is unfolding, solving a riddle of its own making. Despite the plotting and mapping, drafting still reveals surprises. I’m pulled into the flow and aware that it’s getting colder, windier, and that the waves are slapping instead of sloshing. The plovers are gone. It’s just me and the story. I’m cold, but keep writing until I get to the end. I’ve written over 3,000 words and now I realize it’s dark and I’m startled. The waves are crashing. Hastily, I gather my snacking remnants and computer, sling the bag on my back, and follow the path.

Though it’s dark, I can tell path from woods. My eyes adjust and I find my way. At the parking lot, I see only my car and it’s an eerie feeling to think I was so far into my story that the park closed without my knowing. I’m surprised a state park ranger didn’t boot me out of the day-use area. I’m glad for it, too or else I might not have made my discovery. Maybe it was the chips.

Before I go, I want to tell you that the Rodeo is coming. It’s a grouping of writing contests held throughout October with each one created and led by a different writer at the ranch. Our Rodeo Leaders this year are Colleen Chesebro, Sam “Goldie” Kirk, Kerry E.B. Black, and Marsha Ingrao. They have exciting plans to challenge writers. The Rodeo is a chance to do something different with the 99-word format and to stretch craft skills. I’ll also be hosting a four-part contest at the Saddle Up Saloon throughout October called TUFF. Next Thursday, we’ll release more details and kick off the season.

Kid and Pal plan to interview me at the Saddle Up Saloon next Monday (I hope they have hard cider on tap). Bill Engleson will post a Film Noir column on Tuesday, and after that our Carrot Ranch Columnists will take a rodeo break through November. Contests will launch every Tuesday in October, and we’ll announce winners week by week every Tuesday in November. TUFF will take place on Mondays in October and the winner announced November 30. I’d like to thank our columnists for the excellent posts they have shared here every Tuesday, offering a variety of topics. We will resume columns in December. Kid and Pal will be back to entertain and gather us in November. D. Avery has created a fun outlet for characters and writers alike. There’s nothing quite like her Ranch Yarns. I’m grateful to D., Bill, Anne, H., Ann, Sue, Norah, Sherri, and Ruchira for sharing their fine writing with all of us.

The Ranch is meant to be a community. A place where writers can gather and throw loops without any judgment on what kind of horse you ride. All genres, styles, experiences, and writers are welcome to craft a 99-word story each week. For me, its become literary anthropology. Our collections arrange different perspectives on a single topic to gather different voices for a collaborative expression. Every week, the collection surprises me and I realize creativity has no limits. That encourages me and I hope it encourages you, too. I want literary art to be something accessible so that we can read and write and discuss creative expression outside of formal settings and closed circles.

Writers who join in at Carrot Ranch are not under any obligations. You don’t have to show up weekly, although I enjoy the return visits and the consistency of a core group. If you blog, you can share links or pingbacks. If you just want to write for the collection you need only to submit through the form. You are welcome to read at your pleasure. We delight when you read and comment on the collection. But I am going to ask a favor of all of you in the community.

I’d like to create more inter-community engagement this Rodeo season. I’ve decided to keep the challenges and collections going weekly as I’ve noticed that many who enjoy the weekly challenges do not participate in the Rodeo. I will try both simultaneously. October is also going to be a tough month for me, keeping up with my thesis requirements. I will read everyone’s submission as I collect and arrange them, but I may fall behind on keeping up with comments. Would each of you who submit a story be willing to engage three other writers? Mostly, I don’t want anyone overlooked in the challenges, especially new writers. If some of our leaders — or lariats — would be willing to scan the comments for any missed writers, that would ease my mind, too. Thank you for being in community with me and making literary art a part of your life!

September 24, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about snacking. It can feature crunchy snacks or creamy one. Who is snacking on what and why? How can you make this a story? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 29, 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Busted at Midnight by Charli mills

The crumple of a candy-bar wrapper woke the house. The cat stretched and hopped over to the couch. The dog laid her head on the armrest, silently begging. Martha heard Steve plod down the hall. She quickly shoved the wrapper with the rest down the side of the couch cushions, picking up her geology textbook and hot pink highlighter.

“Still up?” he asked, stifling a yawn.

“Mmm,” she replied, reading tectonics.

The twins and their older sister ran past Steve. Clara, hands on her hips, asked, “Mama, did you get into our Halloween buckets again?”

Martha sighed and swallowed.

September 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

Ranch radio interrupted its regular programming schedule to deal with mice. First, it was the stripey mouse (aka The Camp Chipmunk), and then the mice squatting in my tea cupboard. Please accept my squealing apology for the lateness of the collection. I’ll offer you a story of mice.

Really, I should have gone camping over break, not the first two days of school. I even had two weeks, which I can hardly believe was that long. How did those days get compressed and shifted so quickly? My calendar bears the marks of numerous scribbles where camping had to be delayed for weather or other pressing issues. I covered my squash and tomatoes, winning an extension for my garden. At last clear blue skies, extra courgettes, and a date emerged.

I reasoned that I could “catch up” at school, and earnestly completed all my tasks from the last term and worked on my thesis plot, planning when I’d schedule my next submissions with my prof. Typically the first week back is a light load. I researched the properties belonging to Northwoods Nature Conservancy and made a date with my COVID buddy (we do outdoor activities together). Sunday night, I even set up my weekly schedule and planned my posts, of which this is not the one I planned. That’s when I realized I double-booked camping with 5 at the Mic.

As I stared at my calendar, I couldn’t understand how this was already the third Tuesday in September. Next, I realized I had a Zoom meeting with my spectacular Rodeo Leaders and that I was the one who asked to move it from Thursday to Tuesday! Groaning, I decided to delay 5 at the Mic and cancel Tuesday night by the Lake but stay as long as I could. Which I did, arriving home seven minutes late only to realize one leader forgot, two thought it was Wednesday, and the fourth had waited 15 minutes for me to show up, leaving as I got on. (I still think they are spectacular and patient with my scattered brain). We all connected off-Zoom and agreed to meet next week. Wait until they reveal their contests! You are all in for a wild ride in October with five contests.

And the mice? Well, first, it was the Northwoods mouse. He was stripey and adorable. As I set up my kitchen camp, he grew excited and galloped over everything I set out from tablecloth to bottle of garden flowers, hopping into my washtubs. I’m careful not to leave out food, so he was soon disappointed. He tried to get into our tents, urging me to be diligent about zipping. Later he ran over my camp buddy’s foot. This was a mouse underfoot! Ah…but we built a rock campfire ring and lit a beach fire right on Lake Superior. It was glorious. The stars hid behind high clouds, and the sun dipped into the smoky haze of the west, turning red. That night I slept with the mouse nearby as waves lulled us all to sleep.

The next day I had coffee, sitting at the shore in agate cobbles. I found ten while tending to my caffeine. The wind shifted, and soon, the waves rose, eventually cresting the high watermark on the beach. I watched rock pickers comb, and soon my camp mouse returned, this time begging. He’d stand on his hind legs, clasp his tiny front paws, and quiver. I told him it was not good that he knew to beg. I didn’t think pistachios, tangerines, or chocolate courgette cake were part of a natural way of eating for woodland critters so wee. It didn’t stop him from bravely checking out my empty bowl. What a sight — a mouse in a bowl!

That should have prepared me for later events in the week.

Back home, I washed, laundered, and repacked my camp gear. I was so tired from my refreshment, I went to bed early, thinking I was ready to hit the books Wednesday morning. Instead, I took care of other business with the Hub. Then I called the Northwoods Nature Conservancy to clarify which sites were “designated” where we camped. The No Camping signs confused us. The mouse didn’t explain. We scanned the website, and under rules for this property, it said camping only in designated sites. We did our best to comply. Again, no complaint from Stripey. A county worker pulled in early, and I was in my jammies and slippers, all bed-headed and sleepy-eyed, smiling and drinking coffee. I said, “Hi,” and he said, “Hi,” and I figured we were in the right spot.

Turns out, No Camping means No Camping. I’m a recent member of the Conservancy and called tp clarify for next time and was embarrassed to admit I camped with the Northwoods mouse (no wonder he was excited — finally — people food). Turns out, they have not been the Northwoods Nature Conservancy for two years. I had carried their brochure for three years until I finally joined, paying monthly to help with their mortgages on these natural places meant for the public and protection from development. We sleuthed the situation and discovered that their old website was still live. They have changed their name to Keweenaw Natural Areas. And there’s no camping at Gratiot River Beach.

But it was one of those serendipitous moments. I have found a place for a rustic Writer in Residence and with my monthly donation, I can reserve the Conglomerate Falls Cabin for a week. I will certainly make this an annual retreat and open it to others once we get to do such things again. It’s a way-off thing, but it is what I’ve wanted to find in our area! Does it have mice? Likely. Mice are natural. This would be in addition to Vermont. And an exchange of residencies with the Vermont Folks. Kid and Pal, Frankie, Stinky, and all.

Once my excited brain subsided, I focused on downloading my coursework. To my horror, I realized this was no typical MOD One. Instead of the light week I anticipated, I had three assignments due Thursday. Here’s the thing with the first week. If a student is late the first week, they are administratively dropped from the course. That’s why instructors go easy and send lots of reminders. With my heart pounding, I raced over to my Thesis II cohort, knowing I had to submit my schedule, and I didn’t want to forget while panicking over three assignments due in 24 hours. To my dismay, I was one of only two grad students who hadn’t yet submitted, and both my preferred slots were taken. I had to choose one of the two left, and both will make my next two weeks nearly impossible. I’m going to have my own two-week mini-NaNoWriMo.

Working into the night, I went to bed before 4 a.m. with two assignments completed and edited. The third, I saved to finish in the morning. I had also promised the Hub that I’d help him move our RV and get it clean to show a potential buyer on Saturday. We have tried to give our rig to one of several veteran organizations, and none were interested. We tried to set it up for a couple who lost their home in a house fire, but COVID broke out, and we never heard back after that. The people who have stored it on their property needed us to move it. We have nowhere to move it to. Land and storage in winter on the Keweenaw are difficult to come by. I’ve tried to sell it, but it’s too big for this area. We can’t move it to a different market because our truck has an engine problem. It’s become an albatross and holds no good memories for me other than the kindness of those who helped us get through difficult times.

Now it’s a hot commodity. But no one can move it. I field at least ten inquiries a day, and that drives me crazy. Hopefully, the couple driving all the way from downstate will haul it home. We attempted to move it, renting an RV spot at the Baraga Casino ten miles from where we had it. I laughed as the veteran who owns the property told my husband we could bring it back if it doesn’t sell. I laughed because I know his wife. I’ve assured my friend we will not bring it back. These vets can’t say no to each other, so we spouses have to mark the boundaries. We both expelled our breath when we safely arrived at the casino without losing it or blowing an engine.

Then we found the mouse nest in my tea cupboard.

It could have been worse. We went through the whole trailer, and it was only one nest but a rank one. Field mice must have thought they found Valhalla. Masses of flies emerged on the outside of the slides. It disturbed me. At least it was outside, not inside. But it is so dirty and so disheartening. We cleared out most of the random remaining items, and the Hub took care of the mice palace. Still, I came home and showered and smudged with sage. We have to return tomorrow with Clorox and the shop vac. Many minor repairs like missing screws and a cabinet door we broke, forgetting how to open the slides properly. I feel like our fate hangs in the balance on Saturday, which is entirely untrue. It just feels ominous. Of mice.

Saturday is also our 33rd anniversary, and iron is the traditional gift. Cast iron? Certainly not an iron for the ironing board or a branding iron. I’ll go with a Dutch Ove made of ceramic sealing iron. I’ll go for selling the trailer to get enough money to one day retrieve our belongings from Idaho. The Hub is now convinced I’ve changed, and he’s always been wonky. Well… The way my brain is lately, maybe it’s me with the CTE and not him. We’ll make a great dementia couple — him with no filters, and me with no recollection between fact and fiction. Anyways, I told him he was right, I’m certain I’ve changed. That’s part of growth. But there’s still that old me who doesn’t really like mice.

September 17, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story of mice. It can feature any variety of the little critters in any situation. Are the character or the inciting incident? Use any genre, including BOTS (based on a true story). Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 22, 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Of Mice, No Men by Charli Mills

In the end, the packrat was her only companion. Clara rode into Vaquero Camp after her diagnosis. What do big city bone-setters know of a woman’s breasts, anyhow? She was born with ‘em and would die with ‘em. Jake said she was foolish. After all, girl babies aren’t actually born with breasts. He’d heard that Flatfoot Bob’s wife had hers reconstructed into perky 20-year-old versions. Clara wanted no men with her. Not the son who left for Portland. Not the dead-beat cowboy who fathered him. Not even Jake, her best friend. Solitude with a packrat set her soul free.

September 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

The radio plays back-up to my primary sources of music. Wherever I have lived, the radio not only has provided background noise, but it has also connected me to place. If you’ve ever taken a long road trip,, you know how stations can fade in and out, imparting a distinct sound to towns, cities, and regions. Like Donny and Marie Osmond, some stations are a little bit country, and some are a little bit rock and roll. Born in 1967, I’ve known the radio as a life-long companion. A constant I rarely think about but would miss like a left kidney.

Cruising up the Keweenaw Peninsula, something I rarely do these days of COVID, I turned on the radio instead of listening to my digital playlists. Ads annoy me, and I flip to another station. We have five, including NPR and a station Michigan Tech University broadcasts. Actually, I think we have six, but I can’t listen to modern country. Ironic, given that I grew up on Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, Dolly Parton, Eddie Arnold, Charlie Pride, Hank Williams, and Loretta Lynn. My parents had a massive 8-track collection. The country classics came from my father’s family influence, but my mom’s family meant I also listened to Bobby Vinton, Frank Sinatra, some weird precursor to elevator music. My dad found more country music, collecting gunslinger ballads. My DNA carries the imprint of the entire Ennio Morricone soundtrack to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. My mom collected the Beatles and the Fifth Dimension.

Once, when I was 12, I requested the Greatest Hits from the 1700s from the Columbia House 8-track catalog that would arrive by post. I also wanted the latest Kiss 8-track. I can’t even begin to unpack my tastes in music. But the radio had its influence, too.

Occasionally I’d sneak the dial to KKBC, a rock station broadcasting seventy miles away from Reno, Nevada. That where I heard songs like Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult. Columbia House didn’t carry such 8-tracks, or I didn’t know what they were. It was a new sound, but one my parents did not appreciate. Some nights, I leave the radio playing on low. One morning I woke up to, “KKBC’s gone country!” My parents delighted in that switch, and as a family, it introduced us to modern country that would dominate the ’80s  — Hank Williams, Jr., Roseanne Cash, Mickey Gilley, Charlie Daniels, Alabama, and Reba McEntire. I missed Godzilla but fell into a pre-teen crush with Bosephius.

One hundred miles northwest of where I grew up on the eastern slope of the Sierras, a teenaged boy, milking the family herd before he drove to high school, also caught the same radio broadcast I did. Five a.m. and he flipped on the radio and dialed in the rock music he loved, practicing his “Dead Fred” DJ voice, talking to the cows as he set up the morning milking. At six a,.m., we both heard, “KKBC’s gone country!” He flipped out, yelling obscenities at the radio. He’s never forgiven the station, and to this ,day can recite some of the best DJ moments and recalls more songs than my remembered Godzilla. Years before we’d ever meet, the Hub and I shared a moment on the radio.

Many states and radio stations later, we have a set of six stations tuned to our car radio. I can’t even tell you their call numbers. I’ve lost interest. It seems that part of moving on meant leaving behind favorite radio stations, and after Idaho, it became too hard. I carried my CD collection with me and had invested a fair amount in iTunes to play on a tiny shuffle smaller than a pack of gum. My CD player remains beyond my reach, and my computer upgrades don’t play CDs. I relied heavily on my iTunes but went I went Apple all the way, I messed up my music access.

Cue the orchestra to play something woeful. Sometimes, the hoops we jump through for technology sucks. Sometimes, our human brains glitch. When we got our other iProducts I forgot that I already had an iAccount for my shuffle, and I registered New iStuff with a different Apple ID. I kid you not, the magnificent empire of Apple with all its capabilities, and all the engineers who make the things work can’t connect my iTunes music to my iPhone or iMac because the IDs differ. But I have resiliency, so I found a way. I bought a Google Play membership and rebuilt my iTunes collection. Then I began to rebuild the CDs I missed the most. Then I built lists with Hank Williams, Jr and Blue Oyster Cult just because I could!

Do you remember cassette tapes? I thought they were THE THING! I had a player with a recorder and would sit in front of the radio to catch some of my favorite songs. You didn’t live the ’80s unless you had big bangs and cassette mixes with chopped off songs or a chatty DJ you wished would shut up and let the song fade. But you made do because you caught the song. These were my walking mixes, and you better believe — I had a walkman! Then came CDs. We bought a CD player in Montana that you could load six at a time. Magic! I had Yanni, Enya, Enigma, and Windam Hill New Age collections that I’d load to play in the evenings to cook, settle the kids, light candles, and read or write late at night. The memory brings such peace.

Digital playlists are a miracle to me. When I’d work out in the gym pre-back surgeries, I had my fem singers to fire me up — Tori Amos, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Dido, and Paula Cole. I had all the CDs and carried a case to switch out CDs, longing for a way to play three songs of one, two of another, and so on. I yearned for the mixing ability of cassettes with the quality of the CD sound (and not having to use a pencil). Yes, I waited a long time for playlists and was satisfied with iTunes. But Google Play leveled up. Then came the email last month — they closed up shop. With so many other options, they decided not to offer such services. They offered to transfer all my albums from Journey and Bruce Springsteen to Chakra Dance and Guided Meditations and all the rest in between to YouTube Music.

YouTube. That’s the Hub’s music miracle. He loves to research the musicians and listen to interviews and variations of songs. He’s found new music like Mean Mary and can tell you who does the best covers of Stevie Ray Vaughn. I consented and agreed to transfer my music, feeling that desolation of a move again. Then came the glitches. On Google Play, I had order. I intentionally named my playlists in such a way that I categorized them by type but also alphabetically. YTM squished the lists together out of sequence and added the Hub’s listening playlists from when he’s on my computer. Then, the playlists cut out on shuffle, so my background music shuts down randomly. I spent too much time trying to figure out a fix and drew the line at having to download an app.

That’s how I came to Amazon Music. It’s half the price of Google Play. The Hub can still do his thing on YouTube. I can, too, and no need to pay for YouTube Music. But I’m not advertising. Actually, I’m a bit disgruntled with all this wasted effort when I had the solution three technology advances ago. But what eased my troubles was finding a CD replacement that Google Play and YouTube did not have. Clannad. It was always first in my CD player. It heralded the moment I took a deep breath and felt the peace of home no matter where I was. Tonight, I set up a playlist of albums as if I were back in Montana…or Minnesota…or Idaho. I heard home play in my home…in Michigan for the first time. And I settled inside.

There is a radio station I still listen to regularly, though, and it’s not in my vehicle, but on my computer. WUMB. It has the kind of music the Current played in Minneapolis, and another station in Idaho. Out of Boston, I think of it as the music of the Northeast. I think of Vermont, the most rooted place and people I’ve experienced. Rooted music. And that is still the magic of radio. Despite all these technologies and arrangements, radio still connects people and place.

With great anticipation, I introduce ya’ll to the 2020 Flash Fiction Rodeo Playlist (on YouTube). I had lots of music memories and creative ideas swirling as I built this list. The first song is a masterpiece written for a Clint Eastwood movie by an Italian composer and artfully played by the Danish National Symphony. It vibrates with global imagination. The list includes classics, a few KKBC tunes, western movie songs, and some interesting modern manifestations in western music. Cowboy music has roots in many other nations and has a vibe shared by those venturing to frontiers. Maybe one day, someone will yodel a cattle call on Mars. Much of the music tells a story; other songs inspire stories. It’s the essence of our Rodeo contest season quickly approaching.

We have a great line up of Rodeo Leaders to host contests this year — Colleen Chesebro, Marsha Ingrao, Kerry E.B. Black, and the one and only Goldie. We all decided to stay with a western theme this year, yet you will be surprised, delighted, and challenged by what these Leaders have to offer in their contests. TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction) returns this year, too, and will take over the stage at Saddle Up Saloon on Mondays. Contests will start every Tuesday in October, each ending before the next one launches. These contests allow writers to apply their skills and stretch their writing. The weekly challenges will continue on Thursday, with collections published on Wednesdays. Winners will be revealed on consecutive Tuesdays in November. One winner in each contest will win $25 and a digital trophy.

September 10, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes something heard on the radio. It can be from any station or era. What is heard? A song, announcement, ad? Think of how radion connects people and places. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 15, 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Lost Daughter by Charli Mills

Clementine heard her mother over the Stockton radio. She’d entered the small house at the edge of farm fields, picking up fallen produce in the road. Harvest trucks left a trail, speeding to city markets. Her landlady called the rental the Road Garden. Clem thought she meant “rose” and was disappointed to find weeds and a weeping willow. Her mother played Rambler on the banjo and Clem recognized the Tennessee picking popular among California cowboys. She recognized her mother’s name but not her voice. One day, maybe she’d meet the woman who abandoned her for a life of music.

September 3: Flash Fiction Challenge

Seed pods of Queen Ann’s Lace form fists and pummel the sides of the paved road in high winds. Summer tourists have finally ebbed, leaving our region to witness fall’s rampant approach in peace. It’s hard not to face the winds without seeing a promise of snow flurries. But first, the leaves will deepen and reveal true colors — orange, burgundy, and gold. This is a time to still the mind. It is a process, not a completion.

We drive past the sparring roadside flowers of late summer on the Keweenaw. Ever since we took a boat ride up and down the Portage Canal and experienced the magnitude of the deep waters, the Hub has called our peninsula an island. From the water, it is so completely surrounded by the depths of Lake Superior with only one bridge on and off. Today he’s asking me if I think the winds will blow our island away. I tell him I don’t think so. Then we crest the ridge and see the waves of Lady Lake marching in full force to shore three miles ahead. He says the Lake will take this island. I say nothing, silently agreeing. She will cleave this peninsula one day, the way a miner’s pickax slices ore along the grain.

Today we watch homebound tourists.

Birch trees scream in leafy breaths at Calumet Waterworks beach, treetops bent and pointing north with all branches in unison. The surf and winds are so loud I can’t hear anything else. Freight trains roar quieter than Lady Lake in a gale. Below, she’s strewn trees and limbs and driftwood like a child throwing a temper tantrum. This is no day to cross her, not to step a toe in her waters. She’s buried her own beach cobbles beneath sand and wood rubble. I feel this is unfair because I clearly marked Friday as “Lake Day!” on my calendar with the intention of rock picking. I have no idea what beaches will have rocks after this mess.

The Hub bought me a coffee at Cafe Rosetta, wearing his Vikings mask. Coffee used to be a treat, and now, after COVID, it feels decadent; a guilty pleasure. We hold our cups and gawk. The Hub talks to everyone he meets, and we bottleneck on the stairs going to the beach. Not the best pandemic protocol, and I wonder if the high winds will kill the virus or carry it to the arctic. A local at the viewing deck explains to us that the unusually hot summer has warmed the lake, and with cold fronts, she blows up. Ah. I understand. Menopause. Lake Superior is having a hot flash. I tried to film the experience but don’t plan to pick up filmmaking anytime soon. I did start a Carrot Ranch YouTube Channel, and you can listen to the audio howl of wind and surf at Calumet.

We decide to drive over to the breakers at McLain State Park. When the wind howls from the west, the waves crest the breaker walls at the mouth of Portage Canal, where a lighthouse still stands as a beacon of safety. When we went on our boat ride, I discovered how unstable the water feels at the opening of the canal as if it constantly struggles against its constraints, writhing. From the beach, I think the water has escaped. Families line the beach, and locals sit on sand dunes above the flow of water. There is no beach as I know it — water and sand flow over all that was familiar. Long-haired athletes in wetsuits battle the wind and surge to walk the treacherous breaker far out enough that they jump into the rolling waves with surfboards leashed to their ankles. we watch them bob like seals in the swells.

One by one, each surfer rises to stand on their boards to surf Lake Superior. It’s mutual entertainment, those of us in the audience enjoying the ride as much as those taking the risk. We all feel the sand pelting us, the water spray, and adrenaline. It’s a glorious way to spend an afternoon. Invigorating. The tourists who left with the summer heat are missing out on the best season when the Lake shows us all who is boss. She rules the surf, sand, and sky. No doubt it is Lady Lake who rises on mists to freeze the air and gather her moisture in clouds to bury us in snow. More on that later in the year.

We wind our way back home, following the bends and bays in the canal. The water is not choppy but looks as though it has a river current from the wind pushing hard in one direction. No one is at Hancock City Beach. That’s right, everyone was out wave-watching. We top the hill to Roberts Street and spot a city truck, one used in snow removal. This time a crew is clearing the roads of fallen trees and broken branches. We wave. They wave. And then I see my Lemon Queens. Three have snapped in the wind, and I mourn. Gently, I cradle a sapling with a dozen wilting sunny heads, feeling the heft of life yet present. I’ve never understood vegetarians who can’t eat meat. Don’t they know plants die, too?

Death is inevitable. Our island will be no more one day. Today, Lemon Queens died. I realize, what matters most is dignity. It’s not that we avoid death; we die with dignity and grant it to others who are passing. I hold my queens, snip a vase full of flowers to take inside, remove each toppled stalk, and lay them to rest. I speak a few words, giving praise and thanks. Stretched out along the creeping butternut squash, I leave them to dry. Seeds will feed birds and squirrels. Some seeds will grow to be next year’s Lemon Queens. They dim beneath a full moon. So I weed and harvest more seeds from marigolds and monarda. I pick yet more courgettes.

And the wind continues to blow.

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

September 3, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about high winds. It can be on land, sea or in outer space. Who is facing the wind or protected from it? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 8, 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.

Last Pass by Charli Mills

In the Sierras, high winds herald snow. A wagon train of weary souls had hoisted beasts and conveyances to the top of Kit Carson’s pass to reach California’s goldfields below. They looped their way around bulging batholiths and high-altitude lakes glimmering like cut emeralds. The air thinned and the wind rose. The wagon master bellowed, and oxen trundled faster, sensing danger. They didn’t stop at night to rest. By the light of lanterns, they battled banshee winds, tarps snapping like sails. Sunrise opened with peaceful silence followed by splats of rain. Behind them, snow closed the pass until spring.

August 27: Flash Fiction Challenge

So it has begun. Neighbors slink in the shadows of my house, transgressing both front and back doors with summer bounty. The forager has left puff balls and cut petunias on my back deck. The gardener’s wife next door tried sneaking a bowlful of tomatoes on my front steps. A friend offered to share beans and another found me camping and brought lavender. Even my daughter is peddling chard and arugula, offering trades of patty-pans for courgettes. This season of shifting excess from the garden makes me grin. I feel whole and home, surrounded by community and yard-grown food.

The biggest surprise in my potager towers over all the neighbors leaving offerings. My gentle giants with prolific and cheerful heads will make migrating birds a feast. I stand outside looking upward of eight feet to bask in the presence of the Lemon Queens. A single staff holds as many as twenty sunflower heads and I planted five. They hold court, these reigning sisters of Roberts Street. Each petal is slender, forming a pale yellow fringe around each dark center rich with pollen. The honey bees buzz from high above, dropping closer to earth with legs fully loaded for feeding the hive.

When my heart feels as heavy as a ladened bee, I stand beneath the Lemon Queens and look up. White clouds pull across the blue sky like spun sugar, the kind county fairs would be serving if it not for a pandemic. I watch as the oldest sunflowers begin to brown and form seeds. For such hardy stalks and large heads, the petals flutter ephemeral. They don’t last long enough for the seeds to mature. Such could be said about many life events — life itself — passes so quickly. The beauty and joy we once celebrated have left a legacy of seeds for more, and yet a darkness stretches between memory and hope. The royals pass too soon.

And so it came to be that I needed to check out of my home, neighbors and shared abundance. I needed to abandon the studies, thesis, and literary community. I needed to step back from all that is good and appreciated to just simply be. The emotions of travel, wedding, funeral, and school needed a reset. My inner introvert demanded a fresh air cacoon. When a friend who also needed downtime suggested a camping trip to Big Traverse Bay on the sandy side of the Keweenaw, I was all for it. We each had our own small tents and we physically distanced around a campfire beneath the stars.

I met the Lemon Queens of the universe, standing on the beach of Lake Superior at 3 am. Already the coyotes had yipped and howled three times from the direction we heard the late-summer gathering of sandhill cranes in the wild blueberry marshes. An American toad hunkered by my tent, his shape evident in the light from the campfire. The fish flies, midges, and mosquitos had finally tired of blood draws. The lake spread flat and silent like ice, yet the air remained warm enough to feel comfortable in a flannel shirt. I had kicked off my Keens and walked over the small sand bluff to see the stars over the lake. I looked up.

Regal and twinkling, the brightest stars hung like Lemon Queens, reflecting light on the water. The lake ran an occasional wave across the sand to let me know she was awake and star-gazing, too. Mars, a bright orange bulb had risen earlier from the horizon and I swore it must be the lamp of a ghost ship. By 3 am, the planet had risen in an arc. The Milky Way frothed with light and the Perseids shot meteorites across the black sky. When I stood, bare feet in the cool, wet sand, I felt the universe so close it tickled my nose. The soft silence wrapped me up in the night’s blanket. Lemon Queens live.

The next morning I rose early — for me — to see a long-legged spider hanging out on the mesh screen overhead. I supposed she was eating the last of the waiting mosquitos. The air felt thick and warm and the lake barely lapped. I brewed coffee in my French press and drug my chair into the shade of a pine, savoring the first cup of the day. By the time I lit my single-burner butane stove, a stiff wind challenged my efforts. Blue flames fluttered and the bacon fried in the cast iron pan. I poured seeds and nuts and blueberries over Brown Cow maple yogurt and topped both bowls with fresh nasturtium from my garden. We dined at a distance in our camp chairs, adding a second pot of coffee and chocolate zucchini cake to the meal. The wind increased.

We didn’t have much time before checking out but the camp hostess offered that we could day use any of the open campsites (Schoolcraft only has eight sites and the hostess A-frame, a familiar feel). Ours was reserved for new campers that day. We packed up the kitchen and most of our stuff and carried our tents to a new spot to rest or read later. Waves began to roar, the sound I love best from Lady Lake. We walked the beach and with no rocks to pick I collected anything plastic and unnatural. Mostly the beach was clean but the debris of humanity nests everywhere like an invasive species. We scoped out other campsites and watched a young couple take over ours from the night before. A young Finnish mother with six blond children all under the age of ten showed up and I delighted in watching the three eldest ride the waves like fearless pros.

An immature eagle flew overhead as if to say he had this flight thing down. I sat in the sand, feet buried, hair blowing away from my face, head nodding in droopy peace. I felt refreshed and ready to return to garden exchanges and revitalize the rhythm of life. Time to catch up with ripe tomatoes, the last of my term coursework, and comments and stories from the community. The Lemon Queens have come and will go. The stars will continue to dance barely out of reach. We will remember those who have gone on to those who remain. And we will be witness to milestones and castles in the sky until we forget and someone else remembers.

August 27, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features Lemon Queens. Maybe it’s an ancient fairy tale or a modern brand name. What ideas seep into your imagination? Is there a character or place involved? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by September 1, 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Lemon Queens of Nevada by Charli Mills

Lara, Eugenie, and Jess scrambled up the wooden slats of the corral to watch Big Bones Janey sort the dinks from the keepers. Roundup always smelled of warm sage and fresh horse apples. Wispy sun-bleached hair escaped the matching braids on the young cousins and in the afternoon breeze, their fringe formed halos. Janey trotted past the wide-eyed girls, winking. She called them Lemon Queens and taught them how to settle a stallion without breaking his spirit. Fifteen years later, riding stunt horses for Hollywood westerns, the Lemon Queens owed their skills to the maverick horse trainer of Winnemucca.

August 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

My desk faces a wall, and two large picture windows to my right dominate the living room. I can’t help but peek out the windows and watch the red squirrel nibble the suet upsidedown or catch the raspberry sherbert glow of sunset over the rooftops on a partially cloudy evening. Last week I glimpsed fluttering in the branches of a tall pine across the street. Squeals and squawks alerted me to a nest of fledglings. With movement, I tried to get a closer look. That’s how I came to be writing at my desk with binoculars.

It was worth adding the lenses to my piles of paper, reference books (including The Sibley Field Guide to Birds), and a  hoard of colored gel pens (purple, turquoise, pink, carrot-top green, and functional black). The shrill cries belonged to a family of American Kestrels. According to Sibley, they are “…screaming killy, killy, killy.” No less than five juveniles hopped and beat their wings in the tree outside my window. Two parents dutifully supplied insects to the noisy brood.

Earlier, the robins fledged two batches of babies. The hummingbirds nested in secret, and the starlings returned to a successful nest in our neighborhood. It seems to me that birds of prey fledge later than the songbirds. A few streets up the hill from the co-op, Merlins nest. They feed almost entirely on birds, although they will eat a dragonfly. Alaska, the Keweenaw, and New England are the few US areas where Merlins nest. They prefer to rear young in Canada. Eagles prefer to nest near water, and we have a large lake nearby.

With the Merlins and Kestrels busy in town, we happened to find a juvenile eagle along the red sandstone cliffs of Lake Superior past the breakers where the canal spills into the Lake. We were boating the canal with our double bubble double date. In times of COVID, we have made a pact to connect with another couple to share outdoor activities. In a season of isolation, it’s a gift to boat with friends (an even greater gift to have friends who own a boat). Weather and timing were perfect for a Sunday cruise out to the red cliffs. The canal is large enough for the lakers, and sometimes they seek shelter from gales before winter shuts down the shipping lanes on Superior. The water grows choppy at the mouth of the canal, and it opens up to the inland sea that is our lake.

Cruising down the shoreline, we heard the distinct chirp of an eagle. Overhead, an adult glided as we anchored near a spectacular waterfall. At the time, I was more interested in — you guessed it — the rocks. I was ogling the variety beneath the boat, eager to examine them. We slid into the water from the swimming deck and went to shore. I was thrilled at the prospect of rocks inaccessible to casual beachcombers. The eagle circled, and soon, we realized she had a young one. Like the Kestrels and Merlins, he was noisy, demanding mother to feed him. The Hub got a laugh out of the young eagle watching me. I think the bird hoped I’d catch a fish.

Later, with “garden” rocks loaded in the boat, we ate lunch beneath the youngster who was still expressing his interest in a meal. Maybe inspired or tired of us non-fishing types, he fled the coop, so to speak. It startled me to see the baby eagle clumsily descend toward the lake, and soon, we were all shouting for him to “Pull up! Pull up!” Maybe our human advice worked. Maybe it was his own instinct, but he haltingly glided and beached himself. We worried that he’d have a harder time lifting up from the ground. And he did. Eventually, he made his way back to the tree.

And then, he flew!

It’s a marvelous event to witness the first flight of any bird, but one so big as an eagle was a rare sight. We cheered his effort and wished him well. It was like graduation day. The eagle made me think of my own baby eaglet. When my son was two-years-old, he had wispy blond hair that he liked to run his fingers through. At that age, he perched on my back, often in a backpack designed to tote toddlers. With one hand, he’d lift his hai, and with the other, he’d play with mine. I remember looking forward to the day he’d “fly” and no longer be in my hair. With bittersweetness, I watched the juvenile eagle fledge and fly off as they do.

This weekend, my eaglet marries his bride. We leave in the morning for Wisconsin, our wedding clothes carefully secured in a garment bag. My toenails are painted a deep cabernet, and my eyebrows are tame. My COVID hair is cut and shaped, and I do not miss having to pull it back. It seems like yesterday, my son had his fingers in my hair. I know he will fly this weekend, and I’ll probably smile and cry all at one time. I’ll be home on Monday, in time for my finals, and then I get a small break. It seems like it’s going too fast already, and I just want the moment to slow so I can savor it.

August 13, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a first flight. It can be anything or anyone that flies. What is significant about the first? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by August 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

CALL FOR RODEO LEADERS: The Rodeo 99-word Stories Contest will return in October with a first-place cash prize sponsored by Carrot Ranch. As indicated, each contest is 99-words. However, the type of story, format, subject, or added prompts is wide open to creative direction. Carrot Ranch will host the TUFF (99-59-9-99) contest at the Saddle Up Saloon every Monday in October. The ranch buckaroo is looking for three more leaders who have blogs and would like to create, host, and work with judges of their choosing to host a Rodeo contest at their blog on an October Tuesday. This is different from previous contests so that the regular challenges can continue simultaneously. It will help regulate ranch traffic and can increase traffic for partner blogs. If you are interested, contact Charli at wordsforpeople(at)gmail(dot)com. There will be a Zoom meeting in late August for Rodeo leaders. Thank you, Goldie and Marsha, for signing on! We have two openings left! I’d love to have some diversity to offer broader opportunities.

First Flight by Charli Mills

The phoenix spent a lifetime reinventing herself. Each experience stabilized the bits, girding future wings. Her thoughts solidified. From dusty ashes, elegance rose. Sometimes her development caused an imbalance—she’d gain strength in one wing, leaving a talon incorporeal, a sooty ghost foot. Failure created more ashes, but ashes packed form like down in a pillow. Soft, at first, the padding transformed to muscle and bone. Fully engineered, the phoenix’s original vision improved with age and wisdom gained. A fire of kindness flamed her fully actualized self and she burned, a sacrifice to the ashes of her next life.

August 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

I’m sitting on a pile of beach pebbles like a dragon on its hoard, sand gnats swarming me every time the breeze stalls. It’s perfect weather — 74 degrees F, sunny, gentle wind, blue sky, no humidity, and frolicking Lady Lake Superior waves of sun-soaked surface water. Off to my left, a pair of common mergansers fish. A crow glides overhead and cries, “Caa-caa,” casting a shadow across the rocks in flight. The insects of early August are not the biting ones of mid-June, and I don’t mind their dance around my legs as I pick through the mineral treasure before me. Already, I’ve found seven agates and three large basalts with agates still in situ. I needed a perfect day to remember my magic.

My feet ache from the walking I did earlier. Every year I try a new pair of water shoes. Keens have the best soles, but no mesh to keep out small pebbles and sand. Various water shoes that have lightweight mesh also have thin soles. Like the pair, I’m wearing now. Walking on the rocky shore leaves my feet feeling bruised. Long gone is the barefoot kid who used to hop rocks in mountain creeks and run around on all surfaces. Now, I’m an overgrown tenderfoot, yet I can’t resist rock-picking.

My favorite finds today include the agate in situ, meaning the host rock of dark gray basalt still holds the agate formation. It’s the size of a small grape and banded in the colors of fawn and cream and milk chocolate. When the basalt had formed, lava first geysered as molten fountains that flooded and hardened into the bedrock of this region. I’m sitting on once fiery rocks as old as 2.7 billion years. Gas bubbles formed when the lava cooled, causing holes called vesicles, which was crucial for the secondary formation of agates, amygdaloid microcrystals, and Patricianite. Silica-rich water led to a mass of secondary mineralization, and further metamorphosis leached copper into the largest raw masses found in the world. In the Keweenaw, copper infuses basalts and silicas. Copper Country.

I have a hand lens that opens up a minute world of veins and vesicles to me. With enough finds in my satchel, I plop down like I am now and examine the structures and colors. Some contact metamorphic granites create yin-yang rocks of two different makeups where different liquid rocks pressed together. Purplish garnets appear in milky-white quartz. Feldspar — white plagioclase or pink k-spar — can result in large crystals in granite. Pink k-spar with veins of pistachio-green epidote is called unakite. The pink and green combination stuns visitors to the area. But it’s what formed in basalt that intrigues me most. Often I discard my finds after a thorough examination, leaving the treasure for a curious beachcomber to find. On other days, I set up beneath a birch tree and build flat sandstone cairns topped with microcrystalline gems caught in basalt. Sometimes, I return to find someone who has added their own picks.

Before COVID, I loved talking to others on the beach, learning and teaching what we know, or don’t know about Great Lakes rocks. I avoided my favorite beaches after my birthday in May, disturbed by how many tourists were coming to our shores on the Keweenaw. Yet, oddly enough, despite McLains (it’s F. J. McLain S. P. but locals add the “s” and drop the initials) campground at full capacity with license plates from all over the US, no one goes to my favorite beach. Relieved I don’t have to actively avoid people, I come here whenever I need fresh air, cool water, and hot rocks.

My MFA program is heating up. My professor is line-editing our manuscripts to callout patterns of bad habits. Things like misplaced commas. Evidently, she doesn’t appreciate my theory that commas go into a jar to be sprinkled liberally over a set of writing. I don’t know why commas are punctuation I struggle with, but I’m not alone. If you want to join me in improving comma use, here’s a basic guide from Grammarly. If you are serious about the publishing industry as an editor or writer, you should invest in a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. According to that source, “Effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with the goal being ease of reading.”

Another bad writing habit my professor flagged surprised me, and yet now I can’t stop seeing it (which is a good thing). She told me to reduce my use of prepositions following a verb. For example, instead of writing that “she picked up rocks,” write “she collected rocks,” or “she scooped rocks,” or “she grabbed all the rocks.” Her list of my bad habits stunned me the way unakite startles newbie rock pickers. Wow, we think, I had no idea that existed. Our inclinations do exist — syntax is part of our distinct voice — yet some can weaken our writing. It might sound depressing to read page after page of such feedback, yet it is also liberating to know that as an MFA student this is the greatest attention our writing will ever receive. I’m taking in all of it — I’m absorbing it all. See? I can reduce prepositions and learn commas, and…

My prof left me with this quote and I’ll leave it with you:

“You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.” ~ Juno Diaz

August 6, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about molten lava. It can be real-time, such as a volcanic event or the result of one in the geologic timeline. Or, think about making the prompt into a metaphor of heat. What is so hot? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by August 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.

CALL FOR RODEO LEADERS: The Rodeo 99-word Stories Contest will return in October with a first-place cash prize sponsored by Carrot Ranch. As indicated, each contest is 99-words. However, the type of story, format, subject, or added prompts is wide open to creative direction. Carrot Ranch will host the TUFF (99-59-9-99) contest at the Saddle Up Saloon every Monday in October. The ranch buckaroo is looking for three more leaders who have blogs and would like to create, host, and work with judges of their choosing to host a Rodeo contest at their blog on an October Tuesday. This is different from previous contests so that the regular challenges can continue simultaneously. It will help regulate ranch traffic and can increase traffic for partner blogs. If you are interested, contact Charli at wordsforpeople(at)gmail(dot)com. There will be a Zoom meeting in late August for Rodeo leaders.

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

Summer Geology by Charli Mills

At what temperature do people melt like molten lava? It’s 110 degrees F for the third day, and the swimming pool glistens like blue silica. Doris slathers more sunscreen on her brown wrinkled skin, rubbing the cream in circles as if softening an ostrich leather purse. It’s so hot she could burst, but the swimming beckons, promising a cooldown. Two weeks quarantined at her daughter’s place is better than self-combusting in her Airstream back at the seniors only RV park. She sinks her body and becomes a secondary metamorphic process, a volcano abating. Her bones crystalize in the pool.

July 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

Her crowning glory was to be the purple climbing clematis, but something went awry in the potager garden. What was once such joyful possibility is a tangle of disproportions. The balance and symmetry I envisioned grew up wild children with ideas of their own. The Lemon Queen sunflowers once to wispy and whimsical have stalks thick as birch saplings and heads ready to flower a foot over mine. Having planted six, I believe I now have a sunflower woods. At their base, the delphiniums have bloomed twice despite the strangulation of the purple podded peas that the rabbit bit off at the stalks, leaving the tendrils to be dry and brown, still wrapped tightly. The cosmos and bee balm are exquisite, and the snapdragons are starting to get their blooms, and here comes the overreach of the butternut squash with tendrils like those of the Kraken. And who knew courgette plants could grow four feet tall?

But alas, that clematis has not grown into the potager’s greatest centerpiece.

I’m looking at my neighbor’s neat rows and thinking maybe I did it wrong. My thesis is feeling the same way. Her crowning glory was to be a strong protagonist, a deep setting, a hero’s journey. In the middle of things, it’s a grander mess than anything I’ve ever written. My professor provided line edits the way a horticulturist would critique my gardens. I’m just going to say it — writing hurts sometimes. Being creative and visionary feels fraudulent when the results fall far from expectations. It’s my pity party, and I’ll sit in my overgrown garden and cry if I want to. Except I can’t indulge in my bemoaning long.

I’ve got work to do. Courgettes to harvest, seeds to save, flowers to arrange in vases, and the most delicious golden globes of lemon cucumbers to eat. Maybe the crown was not the point. I have writing to submit 15,000 more words by August 10. First drafts and middles are meant to be messy. At the direction of both profs, my peers and I are charged with self-care this week. One shared an article: Why Self Compassion Trumps Self Esteem. Garden and novels are hard work. It does no good to compare ourselves to the finished works of others when ours are still in progress.

Mostly, I’m tired. Most of my son’s guests are canceling, including close friends. My heart hurts for him because many have been reluctant to say they can’t come. It triggered grief in me and guilt. My best friend was known as Aunt Kate to my kids. Wild unicorns wouldn’t have kept her from reaching out to him if she couldn’t be there. The guilt is for abandoning her kids, not keeping in touch with them, after all our wandering. Grief is such an unwelcomed guest, like smoke it permeates. It is never too late to reach out. Never too late to plan next year’s gardens with this year’s lessons in mind. Never too late to resist the paralysis of the writer’s inner critic.

Tomorrow I shall cut my hair. Better yet, I’ll make a hair appointment and mask up for the event. My own crowning glory will not be COVID-hair. I might even trim up the eyebrows that are transforming into caterpillars. Paint the toenails for the open-toe shoes. I’ll hop online in the morning with my fellow veteran spouses, and we’ll listen to one another and encourage resiliency. Later, I’ll go back out to Lady Lake. It’s cooled off this week after a blazing hot weekend. The water will be cold, but I’ll still get in and try to float again. Look for rocks again. Call for the loons. Reset. Then I’ll get back at it. Write.

Another good article to read is The 10 Types of Writers’ Block (and How to overcome Them). Each type calls for a different solution. The first is when you can’t come up with an idea. It happens with the challenges — the prompt fails to spark a story fire. One solution is to do writing exercises. The author gives these suggestions:

“Try imagining what it would be like if a major incident in your life had turned out way differently. Try writing some fanfic, just to use existing characters as “training wheels.” Try writing a scene where someone dies and someone else falls in love, even if it doesn’t turn into a story. Think of something or someone that pisses you off, and write a totally mean satire or character assassination. (You’ll revise it later, so don’t worry about writing something libelous at this stage.)” Charlie Jane Anders

I’d add to that: write the opposite of your first idea. Give your character a quirk. Reset the story someplace exotic, in the loo, or underground. Add a secondary character who is mean, or funny, or clueless. Add a sensory detail like something prickly, a whining sound, the taste of saffron. Collect details and turn them into story ideas or props. If all else fails, add a unicorn. Humor me.

July 30, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that uses the phrase “her crowning glory.” (Thanks to Anne Goodwin for the prompt idea.) It can be in the traditional sense of a woman’s hair or applied to any idea of a best attribute. What happens if you play with the meaning or gender? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by August 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 are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.

Hiding Her Crown by Charli Mills

When Thomas fell down the main shaft and died, the mining company told his widow to send one of the boys or leave the company house. Jack was ten and frail from illness. Robbie was eight, and Brad six. Lizzie was fourteen and fit. She sheared her crowning glory of long red curls. No one likes a ginger, Mrs. Lewis next door would say, her mouth pinched perpetually. Wearing her father’s clothes tied and tucked into her brother’s boots Lizzie settled the miner’s helmet on her bald head. No one ever paid the poor Irish kids much mind, anyhow.

July 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

When I was a kid, maybe eight or nine, I remember plucking reed-like horsetail plants and dismembering each section. I was left with an imaginary pack of green cigarettes. I never lit them on fire, but I did “smoke” them. Gratefully, pretend smoking never led to an actual habit (unless you count the marshmallows I like to light on fire to eat their crunchy, gooey, charred remains). I suppose I was fascinated by the way the plant came apart like a natural erector set and by the positions smokers took when lit up. I never liked the actual smoke my aunts blew my way, not wanting to foul their air with the exhalations, but I did notice how they seemed to take a different body stance during the act. That smoker’s poise was my intent with imitation.

I also didn’t know that when I grew up, I’d be hunting for wild horsetail to make a bone-strengthening brew as a mid-menopausal woman. I’m yet a teeny-bopper in crone years, but I understand that the transitions my body is experiencing require a different medicine cabinet than the mothering years. No longer do I need raspberry leaf or yarrow. I’m incrementally adding more Motherwort to my daily intake, and I can’t seem to get enough nourishing nettles these days. No longer do I believe cigarettes make women look cool. I’m okay with looking like an oddball at any age, wearing expandable waistbands, and returning to the flannel shirts of my youth.

For my son’s wedding, though, I’m being aiming for classy. I bought three new pairs of sandals — a fancy copper-toned heel, strappy white flats, and open-toed black leather wedges. We have rehearsal dinner, the wedding and reception, and time to visit. My excuse for watering in these heels is that I want to make sure they fit properly, that I can walk in them safely, and, well, I feel extra pretty in my PJs and flannel overshirt with heels on. I don’t need a cigarette, real or fake, between my fingers to strike a cool pose with my garden hose. Despite the heels’ few inches of extra height, my MOG gown is about 8-inches too long. My necklace is two inches too short. And I’m running out of time to order any online fixes.

Don’t get me started on my hair. It’s starting to escape clips and binders, emerging a wild thing. It’s curling in weird ways, and I’m starting to think I should shave it all off. However, my future DIL arranged for a hairdresser for the mothers and wedding party. Technically, I’m still in lockdown per Michigan orders until August 11. They get married on August 15. I’m also in quarantine, waiting to hear back on the COVID test the Hub had to take after being exposed. I’m lost in limbo with a shaggy, uncooperative mop with no access to beauty parlor visits.

Nature is wide open, however, and I go to places where I can avoid people, pick rocks, and tie a scarf around my roaming hair.

Last week I returned to my favorite McLeans beach and encountered seven loons, one a month-old chick. They sat at the edge of gentle waves and shoved off the rocks into the water as soon as I started fumbling in my daypack for my phone. Later, one loon returned to the beach and I swam-crawled (my way of crabbing among the rocks to stay cool in the water and not get rolled over by the waves) for a closer examination. He either found me not-threatening (I doubt I look threatening to anyone when swim-crawling) or thought I looked loony enough to be close kin. He preened his feathers and sunbathed until other beachgoers emerged from the wooded trail, and he was out of there, zipping into the water in such a way that he shoved off from the rocks with back legs not built for waddling but for swiftly swimming.

Among the rocks, I also picked up litter. Some old, like sea glass, some new, like plastic. Evelyn Ravindran, Natural Resources Director for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), says, “This is what it means to be human. You have to take care of the world you live in. You have a responsibility to do that.” It’s not enough to trample across beauty. We need to slow down, appreciate it, and truly experience its wonder. It’s important that we have wild spaces where all the nations can be. I mean, the plant and animal nations. We need to protect nature around us.

While we’ve been in a pandemic, the indigenous tribes of America have not slowed down in their protection of the natural world. The Water Walkers of KBIC have been fortifying their medicine cabinets with the plant nation and upholding their first treaty as stewards. They are preparing for their annual 17-mile walk around the bay to honor Nibi — water. I’ve been singing to Nibi as I was taught and hope to join the Water Walkers once again on their three-day walk across all the ceded territories of the Keweenaw.

My wise Water Walker mentor, Kathleen Smith, says, “What matters is that we advocate and give a voice to the things that cannot speak.” That fits in with what we do as writers. We explore ideas, culture, relationships, and the recesses of our own hearts and minds. We seek our voices, as well as give voice to the voiceless. Creative writing does much to instill empathy in both readers and writers.

This video is one example of how people all around the world are working to protect nature. What is happening in your part of the world, in your neighborhood? The opening song is the one I learned to sing to Nibi.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

July 23, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to show what it is to protect nature around us. It can be set in any era or told in any genre. You can fictionalize a true story or completely make it up. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by July 28, 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.

 

To Protect and to Serve by Charli Mills

Reba pointed her kayak east and sprinkled a pinch of asemaa into the breeze when the sun’s first light touched the water. Her grandson had grown the tobacco last summer that she dried over winter to fill her pouch. It became an offering to the spirits, a promise. She paddled to shore, singing to Nibi her gratitude and respect. Driving to work at the tribe’s fish hatchery, Reba passed the community gardens and the inlet where rice grew on the water – manoomin. Everywhere she looked, she saw the First Treaty upheld – to protect and to serve the precious gifts.