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February 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

White stretches all the way to nowhere. The apex kisses the horizon in secret and white cannot be separated from white like marble lips locked in eternity. Lady Lake is Michelangelo and sculpts her Superior domain into classical form. This is Keweenaw Bay.

Highway 2 curves around the bay and if I turn and look northeast I can glimpse this endless white where it’s impossible for me to discern the frozen lake from the cloudy sky.

Once beyond the bay, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan emerges a wintery forested wilderness. Lodgepole pines and slender, leafless birch cluster across rolling hills and open up to lakes and streams. The snowpack doesn’t measure up to a third of what the Keweenaw has and yet there’s plenty for snowmobilers.

Small towns come in and out of view as we drive through. We are headed to one of the largest rural VA hospitals in the nation — Oscar G. Johnson Medical Center. Everyone we’ve encountered in the medical system has been top-notch, but chasing down resolutions is like chasing unicorns.

Do the answers really exist?

Today, we had breakthroughs and more tests scheduled. Today, we gained a glimmer of hope.

Look, there she goes — the last unicorn. The maiden’s quest and protector, the unicorn has hidden since the rise of western civilization. Perhaps as women claim their bodies and voices, their lives and livelihoods, the unicorns will return.

But we have our own Carrot Ranch mythology when it comes to unicorns. When the literary community first began to solidify, we discovered that with safe space to explore we turned to dark writing. In retrospect, it signaled that we were willing to risk writing deeper into our truths and imagination. We trusted each other enough to present writing we wouldn’t typically pen or share.

It was a validating moment.

To lighten the mood I joked that we’d take on writing “unicorns and rainbows” next. The official prompt was “mythical creatures,” and it gave way to more dark writing and yet became one of the most profound collections we’ve assembled at Carrot Ranch. It is now Chapter 12 in The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1. And why we have a unicorn in our book trailer:

Work has begun on Vol. 2. In September, I put out a call for Rough Writers, and we added to the fold. From this group, 30 writers are participating in building a unique anthology that begins with 99 words first crafted here. It’s a process that will see fruition by the end of 2018.

Everyone who writes here has an essential identity from Welcomed Lurker to Constant Ranch-Hands to Ranch Ambassadors to Rough Writers to Friends to Patrons to Readers. We are all part of Buckaroo Nation — a status the community has bestowed upon those who write at Carrot Ranch. Our community is vibrant with creativity and diversity; our mission is simple — make literary art accessible.

To that goal, the Ranch is what you make of it. Bloggers can find their way through Carrot Ranch to a hub of important and exciting blogs. Fictioneers can participate in a prompt and discover other prompts within the greater community. Memoirists can find other like-minded writers. Same goes for most genres. Authors can find a platform that extends their own and newbies can learn from those with more experience.

Flash fiction is both a fun and worthy literary form, as well as a writing tool. You can learn more about my thoughts on the power of flash fiction here. You can also extend your writing reach as a guest essayist or taking on an advanced fiction challenge here. Raw Literature is a series that allows us all to discuss what we write, how, and why. You can join in every Tuesday.

Because the mission of Carrot Ranch Literary Community is accessibility, I want to make sure everyone here has a chance to participate in Vol. 2. I’m opening a section for “Friends” that will include responses to a new prompt. Because this is a published book, I will work with each writer to polish their submissions. You will get a bio along with our Rough Writers. It’s an excellent opportunity to build your writing portfolio.

If you are interested, please respond by March 14, 2018:

February 22, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a unicorn. It can be realistic or fantastical. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by February 27, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published February 28). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

NOTE: The following is from The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1.

The Secret Stall by Charli Mills

“I don’t wanna pick blackberries. They got too many thorns.” Libby stuck her throbbing thumb in her mouth.

“Look, Libby’s a baby.” Her brother Joe pointed, and their cousins laughed. Libby headed to the barn. The cat was nicer than these five boys.

“Here kitty…” She could hear boy-chatter across the yard. It was dark inside. A shuffle sounded from behind the farm tractor. Careful not to trip over tools, Libby made her way to the back where a glow in the stall revealed a shining horn.

It was attached to a unicorn sleeping on a pile of quilts.

###

February 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

Props whomp-whomp-whomp a steady rhythm like the heartbeat of the plane. Cold air seeps through my window, and I can’t help but stare beyond the plane’s beating blades. It’s the only hint of sun I’ve seen over Svalbard since arriving in January. Sherbert hues of lemon and raspberry will be the single spoonful of sunlight for one hour and 54 minutes. And then it sets.

You might be wondering if my snow enclave with Lady Lake Superior has morphed with the Norwegian Arctic, but I assure you I’m still trapped by her snowy tendrils and merely dreaming of staring out the window at the only bit of sun my middlest daughter sees these days.

Mine is a voyage of the imagination. My daughter is the one who experiences the moment in person.

Rock Climber (or perhaps her arctic name should be Ice Cave Empress) lives in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway. She recently posted this photo on her way to a remote job (as if Longyearbyen isn’t remote enough) in Svea. I’m along for an imaginary ride, hearing the endless whomp of the blades, feeling it connecting me to my daughter whose ice caverns are far away from my icy lakeshores.

As inhospitable as ice might be, my daughter writes that the movie, Frozen, has nothing on the ice caverns above Sveagruva (which means Swedish Mine, Svea to the locals). Sculpted frozen flows open like crystal orchids. My daughter explored inside with the small mining town lit up in the valley of snow below. She watched the Northern Lights pool and spray over a glacier, not bothering to take pictures because she said a camera could never catch the dance.

For now, her greatest danger comes from avalanches. A third of housing in Longyearbyen is under avalanche watch, so Rock Climber and her partner, Chef, are working in Svea where they can find rooms. Workers are only allowed 10 days rotation. They don’t seem to mind the dislocation, flying over partial sunrises and endless glaciers. They relish their life on ice.

I’ve come to welcome mine, too.

Last week, Winter Carnival unfolded across Michigan Tech University. Engineering students from nations around the world pulled the traditional over-nighter to finish building ice castles and sculptures. This year, Camelot rose just a few blocks from where I write. Frozen in ice, King Arthur kneels at the sword. Ah, I knew Superior was the Lady of the Lake! Here are the winning sculptures:

Ice ages. I don’t refer to “the” ice ages — I mean, ice grows old. It gets heavy and lined, pocked and dirty. It melts and turns crystalline until grabbing on to more layers of snow. It reminds me of aged cheese. But don’t worry, I’m not going to spread it on a cracker and eat it. I know what the critters do on ice!

Outside my front window, I watch five squirrels run the same tree branch trail around and around. As they bounce from bough to bough, snow plops to the aged ice below. I watch as my daughter flies over glaciers. If the snow extends from here through Canada, across to Greenland and over to Svalbard, are we standing on the same continent of ice?

Where does a mother go when the birds have fledged? I’ve watched male mergansers inflate their heads during their mating season, then shrivel up and fly away. The female mergansers remain, hiding nests from sky-prowlers like eagles and owls. Tufts of feathers emerge as baby mergansers. They grow bold and take to deeper waters and diving. I’ve seen the pond full of mergansers on the verge of flight and within days find only the emptiness.

A few mothers linger about. Neatening up the nest? Taking up grass knitting or reading the stars at night like books, no longer worried about death raining down as eagle claws? The babes made it. The mothers are on their own.

Rock Climber lands in Svea and already morning has turned to dark of night. The whomping blades shudder to stop, and she walks away from the window to new sights and adventures. I tidy up my ice and think of her laugh. My daughter is only an ice flow away. The polar bears slumber and the sun is making a return. She’s the Ice Cavern Empress, and I’m a writing merganser dreaming of sherbert on ice.

February 15, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story on ice. It can be an event on ice, a game on ice or a drink on ice. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by February 20, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published February 21). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Pups on Ice (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Garan blew past Danni, kicking up clumps of powder from the recent snowstorm. When he hit the ice, all four paws skittered, and he crashed to his chest, sliding across the smooth expanse.

Danni let out a hoot, and the herd of German Short-haired puppies slowed their bumbling approach to the ice. They pestered their mother, Det and yipped at their father who scrambled to gain traction on the pond. The runt took a bold step, then slipped on the glazed surface.

One bumped another, and then the chase-slipping began. Danni laughed, the only audience to Pups on Ice.

###

February 1: Flash Fiction Challenge

My winter habit is not flattering. The drab-green wool coat is oversized to fit layers of bulky clothes over a bulky body. Dry air makes static of my hair which I braid and stuff into a fur-lined mad-bomber found at the thrift store. My face beams pale as a winter full moon. Dressed against Lady Lake’s constant onslaught, I feel captive to my winter clothes.

I’m going to a dance class once a week and I disrobe before entering — unwrap the scarf, unbutton the coat, kick off each boot and pull my thick socks back up. Next, I remove the hat and my hair has enough electricity to form a halo I haven’t earned yet.

Every fiber cries out to flee but my body disobeys instinct and lumbers into the room with the black floor. My daughter teaches here. She’s spent a year coping with deep injuries and adjusting to an autoimmune disorder. And yet still she dances. The class she has convinced me to try is Feldenkrais. I know it has helped her through her injuries and pain, but I’m no dancer.

In fact, I tend to be a walking head. Body awareness is something I gave up incrementally as pain drove me from the body into the greater and less painful expanse of the mind. I used to ride horses, leaping over irrigation ditches and riding the heights of the Pacific Crest Trail. I’ve skied Black Diamond trails in the Tahoe Basin; I’ve rodeoed and ranched; hauled hay and worked road construction. I didn’t dance but my body was strong.

Now I write strong. I live in my head and ride the currents of Lake Superior and race my characters over trails on horses from the Pony Express. I era-hop and gender-morph. There’s nothing I can’t write and I choose the stories I want to bring to light. I’m in control.

Of my legs, I’m not in control. There I was lying reluctantly on the floor scuffed by jazz shoes. Yes, yes, I was supposed to be on the provided yoga mat but I couldn’t even control that matter. During the last class I agonized over the tight band of rocks that had solidified my hips, and yet by the end of class, I felt soft, shaky and strangely not pained. This class I’m crushing my rib cage, flopping like a trout when the command was “gently flex your ankle…back…and…forth.”

When we switched to the right leg after a series of neck contortions and a “rest” on our backs as my left leg twitched, I prepared for more flopping. But my left side obeyed. I could connect to the movement. Okay, I thought, I’ll use my imagination and pretend to do it on my right because that’s what the instructor had advised us. Everyone else was using their bodies and while we worked both legs, I flopped and seized and pretended like nobody’s business.

After surviving dance class — and mind you, I will insist it’s a dance class. The dancers all think it’s a rest for their bodies, although my daughter has attributed much of her healing to Feldenkrais and is close to achieving her goal of dancing ballet again. My goal is to survive class, pretend my way through it and get to a point where I don’t look like the dying trout on the floor.

After class, I remain shy and don’t speak up about my experience. But I tell my daughter. The instructor politely turns her head to hear and I realize she needs the feedback. So I explain how my leg muscles on one side refused to obey. The first day of physical therapy after a back surgery went wrong, I was dismayed to learn my muscles were not “firing.” They still were not firing seven years later.

However, I could feel it so strongly on my right side that I pretend I felt it on my left. I acknowledged that I didn’t look like I was doing it but in my mind, I was a dancer working her legs. I felt foolish. To my surprise, the instructor smiled and said, “You have good Feldenkrais instinct; that’s exactly what you are to do.” Feldenkrais uses the mind to heal the neuropathy in the body.

Walking up the hill to Milly’s to write while my daughter subs for a jazz class, I feel as if someone just told me I can ride a horse again.

Do nuns feel this way?

Maybe that’s an odd thought but I’ve had nuns on the mind since they came up with a story that Norah Colvin wrote for wet ink. She expressed a story familiar to those with a Catholic education during an era when even public schools used corporal punishment. Her story sparked a discussion about nuns, and I’ve had them on my mind ever since.

The first nun I can recall has no name. It was kindergarten and my mother dropped me off at a baby-sitter’s house before school. She had a town job off the family ranch. I walked five blocks to Sacred Heart Parish School. My family was Catholic; I was not. That’s what happens when teenagers procreate. To say I was an outsider despite my plaid skirt and red sweater was an understatement. Yet, I recall no cruelty from nuns; only family members.

My teacher was not the knuckle-wrapper my father told me he had in school. Instead, she was concerned. I think they were all concerned — unbaptized, rebellious and imaginative. My mind got me busted at age 5. The pet frog was the first to go. My grandfather took care of that one, sharing the imagined moment, asking to hold my frog which I gave him. He then threw it on the ground, squashed it with the heel of his cowboy boot and declared that pet gone.

I tried to explain that the girl I drew on the tree branch was not another imaginary friend, but it caused an emergency parent-teacher conference. I still recall the nun explaining the lesson to my parents — I was to circle the greater amount of birds either below or above the tree branch. Duh. I knew it was the flock of birds above. That’s why I drew the girl flying with them. She wasn’t imaginary. She was me. And I flew with the greater birds.

If my early experiences with nuns disappointed my imagination, my later experiences fed it. After a wonderful, restorative and mind-opening experience at a liberal arts Catholic college in Montana where I learned of the contributions of nuns and anchoresses throughout history (Hildegarde of Bingham, Heloise, Julian of Norwich) I met two former nuns in Minneapolis. That’s where I learned an intriguing concept — nuns who drive.

My friends openly spoke of their convent days and why they joined and why they left. One had been the only nun in her convent with the ability to drive. It was not often a skill a nun needed. She spoke philosophically about nuns who drive in that they are often the ones more apt to try new skills or ideas. They often led. And they often left. Nuns who drive drove away.

I’ve thought of this throughout my creative writing and even wrote a short story about a nun from the 1850s who knew how to drive a wagon. She flees a convent in Hawaii and becomes a mule-skinner in the California gold fields. Her imagined story intrigues me and maybe one day. I’ll rework it and dig deeper into that tale. I’m also inspired by this nun who drives:

After my walk up the snowy streets of Hancock, I wondered if nuns also lived on the Keweenaw. Turns out a parish only 17 miles away in Lake Linden had a large Canadian-French population, cutting timbers for the copper mines. Nuns from Quebec were dispatched to teach parish school in 1886 and continued until the school closed in 1971.

With the tunic-lifting winds and biting snow, I wondered what nuns wore beneath. According to anecdotes and an interesting book about what nuns wear, they would have worn pantaloons or even long-underwear. And thick socks.

I also questioned whether or not nuns would be an appropriate prompt.

My hesitation is that nuns are people, too. I know what it is to be pointed out as “other” and that’s not my intent. On the first day of Black History Month in the US, I think we all need to be mindful of how history has developed in this country. The blunt way to say it is that America was founded on the backs of slaves and indentured female servants, taking lands from indigenous tribes. It’s a history of dehumanization that will nip at our heels until we find a way to reconcile our shared humanity.

And a part of that harsh history is the religious persecution of “other” faiths. Catholics were often despised and persecuted in American history. My ancestors were Catholic Scots deposed from their homeland in the mid-1700s because of their faith. They relocated to the colonies, fought in the Revolutionary War, settled in Missouri and pushed a herd of cattle to California during the gold rush. They built the parish church where I was born and kept their faith throughout all those generations.

I have no nuns — that I know of — in my family, but I do have a priest for a great-great-grandfather. Nothing in life is simple, but our stories are rich, complex and varied. I’m going to expand the prompt to include anything that is black and white from a nun’s habit to a B-stripe juggling ball and chickadee to rigid black and white thinking. To get you creatively motivated, here’s a wonderful video from the KC Bonkers tribe in Hancock. And yes — for those of you with astute eyes who know about my wandering days, that’s my RV stored at the Bonkers family homestead.

I believe art (and the imagination to expres it) is similar to Feldenkrais. We might feel a bit like a flopping trout trying to create it, but if we keep pretending we will build a bridge from what we imagine to the page we write upon.

February 1, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features something black and white. It could be a nun in a zebra monster truck, a rigid way of thinking, a bird in a tuxedo — be imaginative and go where the prompt leads.

Respond by February 6 , 2018, to be included in the compilation (published February 7). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

New in Angels Camp by Charli Mills

Sister Maria D’Abreau soaked the hide, tamping it down with a wooden pole. Her black dress felt softer than her habit packed away.

Henry watched, leaning against the corral. “You got laundry skills, I’ll say that much.”

Maria kept silent. What Mother Superior failed to teach her, living rough in mining camps had. She wouldn’t provoke a prickly miner down on his gold dust.

She stopped to test the hide, smiling when the hair slicked beneath her fingers. It would make the chore easier.

Father Kincaid approached. “The lass knows rawhide as well as mules.”

Henry spat. “We’ll see.”

###

January 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

Earth has an edge and I’m standing on its fault line. Snow sweeps out in front of me, wind-sculpted and hiding the brown bones of autumn battles. I’m alone on the beach, on the edge of the earth, tempted to walk on water, but knowing better than to give into the urge. Some curiosities the cat never returns from and I want to return if only to tell the tale.

Before my solo journey, I interrupted a party of parka-clad tourists. Like Sir Ernest Shackleton, I’m the hero on pause, answering questions before I can continue. The tourists, notably excited by rare winter wonders, have a single burning question: “Do you live here?”

“Yes.” Not here as in on the frozen beach of Lake Superior, but here as on the Keweenaw.

They understand, whistle through their breath, and shake their heads. Here is impressive to visit, worth the drive from downstate or out of state. Then the next question: “But why…?”

How do I tell them I’m captive to the Snow Queen, Lady Lake, that I’m a snared wanderer and a minstrel of sand and snow? Do they even understand the battlefield they stomp over in high tech snow boots unaware that Superior undulates unforgivingly below them?

That’s not a snow drift but her hip bone and she’s going to knock you to her watery depths if you don’t take care. Look, her ribs fly exposed overhead, she’s circling, circling. Do you belong to her? Don’t wait to find out. Flee! The battles renew, surge when you least expect.

But I give the less complex answer: “Rocks. I like rocks.”

“Oh.” They sound disappointed and inwardly I chuckle. No, these won’t draw her attention. She like admirers. One lingers, though.

“What kind of rocks?”

I look at this man before me and his eyes show a snap of curiosity. I can tell he feels Lady Lake’s presence but doesn’t know what it is. Asking about rocks is like asking for a sip of whiskey when you really don’t understand what the pub is all about.

Looking down, I see my cruel mistress has erupted stones for me as if she knew I’d take this chance to glimpse her. Okay, so I’ll give the nice man a taste of firewater. “Oh, agates,” I say.

“Ah, agates.” He turns and walks away.

So I say something more intriguing, wondering if Lady Lake has me doing her bidding now. “Prehnite is my favorite though, especially copper inclusions.”

“Copper inclusions?” This man has too much curiosity to be on this beach safely.

“Um, yes. Prehnite is milky white, sometimes yellow like old peas, but sometimes it has copper and radiates hot pink and kale green bursts of inner crystallization.”

“Oh! Are you a geologist?”

I want to tell him the truth — I belong to Lake Superior, I’m her siren’s call. But I say, “No but I raised one.” My smile is meant to look innocent, motherly.

“Let’s go!” His friends are already safely up top the hill over this battlefield. I can hear movement trickling beneath. I say no more and turn to walk away. Wisely, he retreats to his friends but stumbles across another eruption.

“Hey! Hey–I found something. A rock! It’s green!”

Overhead I see Lady Lake floating as clearly as the Lady of Shallot in her watery grave. I turn back and the man approaches, holding out a rock in his now ungloved hand. It’s the size of a tomato, steely gray, pocked with vesicles, filled with glittering pistachio green crystals. Oh, Lady Lake, you are toying with him. “Ah, that’s basalt filled in with a secondary mineralization of epidote. Anything the color of pistachios is epidote.”

“Cool!” He has no idea what epidote is or how common. But it is spectacular, especially when the crystals aren’t beach-pummeled smooth. He grins and pockets his find. “I see why you like living here.”

She’s snared another. He’ll always want to come back to this beach. At work, likely an office job, maybe even as a CEO, he’ll be in the middle of a meeting, taking notes or giving direction, and he’ll think of that rock and how many others might be waiting on that beach. When the wind teases his hair, he’ll look the direction of Lake Superior and not know why.

Father Baraga, black robe to the Ottawa and Ojibwe, ministered to the tribes of the Upper Peninsula, becoming a grammarian of their languages. For thirty years he crossed these peninsulas, often on snowshoes, and dared to take on the Lady Lake. No one knows why he dedicated his service on her shores, and no stories speak of his interest in rocks. But he did tend to the immigrant copper miners, too.

It’s true that he never left the Lake once he arrived. From 1830 until his death in 1868 he lived here. One dark and stormy night he set out in his little canoe after hearing about an epidemic outbreak in the village of Grand Portage. Whether he intended to cross Lake Superior, only the Lady knows. She blew up into fierce seas, tossing about the priest and his guide in the birch-bark canoe. Whatever happened that day between Lady Lake and Father Baraga, he never forgot the feeling of salvation when she dumped him safely on a sandy shore at the mouth of Cross River. The cross, the father erected and it stands in stone.

She likes stone.

It may seem a minor miracle for a canoe to survive her battle-fraught waves but consider the Edmonds Fitzgerald. Fully loaded with iron ore, she kept that booty for herself.

Now alone and having walked as far as I can down the beach, I look back and take stock like human recorder. She uses many of us, I’m certain. Today, she called me to the Lake to see what she had wrought. I’ve enjoyed her home-visits, her playful flurries of snow, her blinding, whirling blizzards. I’ve missed her on the days when she recedes, but can always glimpse her denseness hanging gray over the distant shore.

Today, she is atmospheric. Layer upon layer of gray lifts into the blue sky edged with white feather tips — her rib cage hovers over me. Lady Lake gently blows, wind reverberates through the birch above on the hill. Somehow, I felt her call. It was a blue sky day, so why not?

Like Father Baraga must have felt at some point in his journey, I drove out of Calumet and caught my first winter glimpse of Lake Superior. Where blue horizon meets blue water, I only saw white, and white and gray. Terror frizzed across my nerves and I heard the words of the black-robe echo across time, What the hell was I thinking?

It was too late to turn back. Literally, there was no place to turn around. I nearly missed the cut-off to Calumet Waterworks beach. I turned sharply and my car slid. Missing the snowbank, I slowed down, heart pounding like the ghost of stamp mills. I reasoned that I was only going to look. After all, with 132 inches of snow in less than three months, I was not getting near the beach. The parking lot was plowed so I pulled in. Just to see.

Lady Lake had Superior locked in a violent freeze.

Birch trees on the hill remained buried to their lowest saddle. Picnic tables emerged like slates in the snow. Park slides and swings froze in time and snowbanks. The snow, compact, formed a bridge to the stairs that now drifted snow like shutes to the beach below. And yet the clever wench had blown a small trail, exposing enough steps for daring feet. And by now you know I can’t resist seeing what the rocks might be like below.

That is how I came to stand on the edge of the world, staring down the remains of a battlefield. Trees like soldiers dropped from their banks in October and November. Violently the waves spewed their denuded trunks against the cuts into the hillside. Like brown broken bones, they protrude through the snow and litter the beach. Another line of driftwood. A smaller and less forcibly tangled line of littered driftwood forms a secondary barrier. Between the two Lady Lake has sculpted ice and snow like finger painting in Elmer’s Glue.

I stand on the edge. It’s so quiet I hear the constant trickle of the Lake as if the water has been pruned back like roses and it can only ooze between grains of buried sand. In a display of force, piles of sand and beach rocks erupt like mini volcanoes through the crust of snow. Lady Lake has sculpted these along the edge into frozen pedestals. Memory recalls this is where the waves lapped to shore. No lapping now.

More fearsome yet is the battle yet raging between water. Like brothers at war, ice versus liquid rips the lake bed. What might look like dunes or drifts of snow made by a runaway bulldozer I know to be waves, sand, and rock transcending space. The lake ice scatters with foot-thick sheets upended and perpendicular to the shoreline. Lady Lake circles overhead, a war rages in slow motion below — behold the power of Lake Superior in winter.

Welcome to the edge. Dare you pick up a rock and never forget her call?

January 25, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that goes to the edge. Consider what the edge might be and how it informs the story. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by January 30, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published January 31). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Grounding (From Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls

Too late for planting tomatoes, Danni seeded more radishes. Ike complained they bit back, but if he left for Iraq what did it matter? She’d eat spicy radishes alone.

She kneeled along the row, tamping each seed. The earth felt solid beneath her hands. With no more seeds to cover, Danni dug into the ground that remained unplanted. Sifting loamy earth through her fingers she found a marble. She rolled the green glass in her palm.

If it was Ike’s decision and she was to stay home, why did she feel pitched over the edge into an unknown future?

###

 

January 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

Just call me Wrong-Way Charli.

I might have boots but they don’t always go the beaten path. You might find me calculating the drop on a rock face or attempting to access a naturally secluded beach. The faintest hint of a trail through forest duff speaks louder to me than the exposed dirt of the worn path.

Adventurous? Mostly by accident. More like curious. As in curiosity-killed-the-cat. I’m Shirley temple chasing the bluebird of happiness. I’m Hayduke weeping at the beautiful places of solitude. I want to know what’s over the rise, if the loons will give chase, and take time to look for just one more agate. I want to be there when the hawk flies past unscheduled.

Snow condenses in layers now. The merengue grows stale. Lady Lake keeps a fresh coat of white paint over it all but cut into the layers and it’s turning grey. The county recently bladed our street and I can see snow in geological layers. Have we been buried for eons? It feels like it.

I press each foot into my boots and tighten the laces. My red cap and scarf keep me warm and I look like a plump elf in my dark green wool coat that flares like a dress. I grab a tote bag, my wallet, and my headphones. These snow boots are made for walking and I head out the door to shop the co-op on the hill.

Passing by the fresh cut of snowbank I can no longer read the Fire Lane street sign. It’s buried. The snow slides like grease with each step and I struggle to stomp my way up the hill. Beneath is a compact layer of ice more solid than concrete. Snow sits in the saddles of trees, taking up permanent residence. Ever-present flakes kiss my cheeks. Lady Lake is loving today.

The heater in our car stopped blowing. Without the fan, the windows ice over making it impossible to drive. Thus I’m experimenting with being car-less. I’m walking to buy my dried mango slices and Wisconsin cheese. I overfill my tote with vegetables to make bone-broth soup. The flu is raging through Hancock and across the canal in Houghton. Fresh snow, fresh veggies — my plan to stay well.

Magnificent Mondays rolled around and car-less, I put out a call for a ride. It’s a twice-monthly gathering of local creatives at the Ripley House of Healing where I will debut my TUFF workshop. Through a few missteps in communication, I got a ride (next time I’ll know to go outside and wait). It was lovely riding in a warm vehicle that I didn’t have to brush off the snow to ride in.

Liking this car-lessness, I let my cake baker know that I wasn’t able to meet up with her downtown, could she swing by the house? This time I put on my boots and elven winter-gear and waited outside. She’s a homesteader and makes gorgeous cakes from whole ingredients. She even bakes vegan. But this first cake will be German chocolate with the sides and middle frosted with traditional pecan and coconut.

Later that evening, I had a meeting for local entrepreneuers. I asked for another ride and was delighted when a local poet and book designer answered the call. We laughed all the way down Quincy Hill and over the canal bridge to the meeting. She lets her inner child run wild with the sharp wit of an adult. I find her fun and fascinating.

We laughed at her car, which was leaking gas. She had recently replaced her rear windshield after it shattered in the cold. This poet lives 16 miles up the Keweenaw Peninsula, so she had to drive to Houghton without a rear windshield in the snow. She said now she can claim she’s a Yooper. After fixing the glass, the mechanic told her about the leak. She asked, “Will my car explode?” After he replied no, she was relieved because things seem to be exploding in her car. It made my heater problem sound better.

About the time I thought I would fully embrace car-lessness, the Hub looked at YouTube videos and figured out how to fix it. He does have his moments. That’s how I came to be Wrong-Way Charli. I got my car back.

Today has been a flurry of preparation and blowing off nervous energy for my presentation and book signing tomorrow. I have felt the rainbow of emotions from over the moon excited to down in the dumps depressed. I feel moody as a teenager, not a time I wish to recreate in my life. I breathe. Following the breath in…following the breath out…and carry on.

When I found out the Vet Center has no projector, I researched buying one. Surprisingly they aren’t too expensive but it wasn’t in my budget, like cake and local advertising. The Vet Center and my lovely group of veteran spouses helped me track down a rental at Finlandia University which is on the Hancock side of the canal. I talked with the librarian who explained to me how to find the campus library.

First, let me explain Quincy Hill. It’s so steep that the Quincy Copper Mine on top of the hill built a special tram to deliver ore to the smelters and docks below. It’s so steep it’s now a ski resort. Mind you, it’s a hill, not a mountain, but its verticle climb is impressive. In snowstorms, some streets are blocked.

And that’s what I drove up today, a blocked-for-one’s-own-safety Quincy Hill Steet. It was one of those mistakes a person makes and realizes it’s the wrong way, but stopping would be worse. So upward I drove, willing those snow tires to work. The car slipped and careened, the dashboard flashing the light to tell me I had lost traction. I know, I know! Two young boys with shovels watch me, probably hoping to see a backward Yooper left turn.

At the crest of the hill were three choices: another hill to the right, a sharp dip downhill to the left or straight into a cavernous parking lot. I say cavernous because the snow banks were so tall and tight at the entrance it looked like driving into a snow cave. I opted for the cave, after all, I am presenting on the hero’s journey tomorrow.

My elixir turned out to be that I found the Maki Library. The door looked rather industrial and I thought maybe it had to do with being a university library. No other cars were parked in my cavern, so I approached the door and walked down the hall. Five people turned around and stared at me. That’s when I read the sign that said staff only. I had entered the wrong way and could see the front lobby beyond. There was no escaping my error.

A man with a ponytail and glasses halfway down his nose asked, “Can I help you?”

Awkward situations bring out my inner comedian and I pointed to the staff sign and said, “I’m looking for a job.”

He smiled, so I told him I was the person picking up the projector. He then escorted me out of the staff area into the lobby. Without further complication, I became a public member of the Finlandia University Maki Library, and I successfully rented a projector, cords, and speakers for free. Then I had to ask how I was supposed to get to my car. “Best go the way you came, Wrong-Way Charli.”

And that’s how I got my Yooper name.

January 18, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes boots. Whose boots are they, where do they go and what is their significance? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by January 23, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published January 24). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Easing Frustrations (From Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Between public affairs and citizen scientists on her archeology dig, Danni wasn’t surprised to see Ike show up with his dogs.

Now she had someone familiar to lash out at. She stomped her boots down the gravelly trail toward Ike and the pointers at his side. Danni trudged past the silent volunteers. She marched right up to Ike and he swung her up into his arms, planting a lingering kiss on her angry lips.

Danni sagged against him. He growled in her ear, “I missed you, Babe.”

“Damn it, Ike. I missed you, too.” She refrained from kicking him.

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Art is the Active Expression of Our Creative Skills

Raw Literature by Kate Spencer

Photo Credit: http://www.pablo-ruiz-picasso.net/work-9.php“So, who do you think painted this piece of work?”

Our European Art History instructor leaned against the rugged steel table at the front of the classroom.   I stared at the image on the screen.  The painting was of a solemn moment in time, a woman all decked in bright white kneeing before an altar.

“Rembrandt?” someone called out hesitantly.

“No.  Anyone else want to try?”

“El Greco?” said the woman beside me.

“No.” The instructor glanced around the classroom and with no further guesses forthcoming he gave us the answer. “It was Pablo Picasso.”

There was silence as we all digested this bit of information.  A lone voice echoed our thoughts from the back of the room.

“Picasso’s paintings were abstract with distorted figures. This doesn’t look like his work at all.”

“True,” replied our instructor. “Those were his later works. Like all great artists, Picasso learned and mastered the fundamentals of painting first.  He was 15 when he finished this large-scale oil painting of his sister taking First Communion.”

By the end of the class, I learned that there was a symbiotic relationship between art and creativity.

Creativity is allowing yourself freedom to explore beyond established rules; art is knowing which of the conventions to apply and keep while creating something unique.

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. ~ Maya Angelou

When I was little, I remember waking up one morning to a world where the entire front lawn and even the streets were covered with a massive ice crusted white blanket.  My brother and I rushed outside. The snow was too crusty to make a snowman, so my ten-year-old brother suggested we build an igloo.  As the little sister, I got to cut out blocks of snow while he carefully stacked the slabs like house bricks around a circular perimeter.  We worked on it for hours, never quite getting the dome to close properly.  My brother still has the picture our dad took of us that day – two snowmen standing proudly beside our shoulder-high creation.

As children we freely engage with our universe in creative ways. I know I did. At some point I started comparing myself to others and in so doing convinced myself that creativity and artistry were gifts I did not share with others.

The truth is that we are all creative.  Besides artistry, creativity allows us to work through situations in life and find solutions.   It allows us to find unique connections between different ideas and objects.  It influences us when we are stuck in traffic and decide to explore an alternate route home or when we tell a story to a friend.  It plays a role in the words and images we post on Facebook and the outfits we pick out to wear each day.

The greatest thing about creativity is that once we open ourselves up to being more creative, it flows into other parts of our lives.  It’s like the secret spice that adds an additional layer of joy and fulfilment into our everyday lives.

 “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” ~ Pablo Picasso.

I view myself as a literary artist.  The words that make up my articles, stories, poems and blog posts are my paintings. Creativity allows me to explore different structures and concepts in my work. The artist in me decides which elements to apply and which of the many drafts I write becomes my final work of art.

But what about those who are not artists in the traditional sense? I believe Picasso was telling us to look beyond the convention and recognize the artist in all of us.

There is an art to how we run a business, raise our kids, cook our meals and repair antique cars.  There is art in how we decorate our homes, plant our gardens and go for walks. Art comes from the heart and understands that we create who we are and who we want to be.

In the end, our life is the masterpiece we leave behind.

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Kate Spencer is a freelance lifestyle writer. She invites readers to come and dance through the daisies, sit by the fireplace and reflect upon life and simple pleasures.  A few years ago she published a commemorative book exclusively for her family filled with short stories from her father’s life.

Kate is a Rough Writer at Carrot. Follow her on Twitter @EloquentlyKate

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Blogging at:  ‘Eloquently Kate’

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Raw Literature returns as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

 

December 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Plaiting rawhide strands into romal reins is not all that difficult, and yet it is an uncommon skill. Beyond learning the 12 and 16-strand plaits, a rawhide braider spends a lifetime crafting a signature look. Art. It’s like writing, of course (you saw that coming, didn’t you?).

Writers strip ideas into strands and plait them into stories. Just like rein construction, the story structure might be common — take a 99 word format. It implies that all the stories will be the same, just as one might think all 12-strand romal reins are the same.

But we know they aren’t.

Creativity bends beyond the corners each of us alone can imagine. We see it every week with the responses to the flash fiction challenge. Even if stories follow a similar thread, other stories will add a new thread or a single story can act as a departure point. Each one is different in delivery, vibrancy, and use of craft elements, and yet all are 99 words.

I once knew how to braid romal reins. I trained horses with bosals my family made and I know the buckaroo knot demonstrated in the first few minutes:

Like many of us old enough to have moved beyond our roots, or experienced travel, migration or vagabond wandering, we recognize that differences do exist between hometowns, regions, and cultures. To me, these differences create a world of wonder. Still, we can recognize the traits typical to a place or group of people. And this plays into the writer’s adage — “write what you know.”

If I were to set a story in New Zealand, I would focus on what I know. I don’t know New Zealand terrain or people, so I’d be hard-pressed to write a story that could only take place there among those who call the country home. Instead, I’d write a story that could take place anywhere (a universal tale) and research some convincing details to set the illusion of the place.

It’s similar to writing historical fiction. I could spend a lifetime studying an era and still not get it right. As a writer of historical fiction, I write the universal tale first. I might start with historical facts, but I let the story unfold, then go back and color with historical detail. It’s a challenging craft to get the braid plaited from the present to the past and back again. It’s a challenge I relish. I also focus on places where I’ve experienced a deep connection.

When you’ve experienced a place or culture, a funny little phrase pops into mind, “Only in…” If you are scratching your head as to why I’d share a six-minute video with you about bosals and buckaroo knots, it’s because I wondered if buckaroo culture (particularly rein braiding) had accessed social media. When I saw  Guitron’s website I felt a tad giddy because my brain ignited with recognition of something culturally familiar that I hadn’t encountered in decades.

Only in buckaroo country would anyone deftly tie such a knot (or know why). Why? Because when that horse you are training decides to leap through a window in the sky and pulverize your body into corral dust, your knot won’t slip or bind up so tight you have to cut it away.

What got me thinking of “only in” was a post my middle daughter shared on Facebook. She’s my world traveler and for the moment is home in western Montana. Working in hospitality she knows all the restaurant and bar owners. So when three miscreants broke into a place late one night, she posted the story and the security footage to help the owners with identification. Social media acts like a small town — someone is going to recognize you!

How is the story unique to a region? Well, it’s in the details. The story begins with an Only in Montana hook: Two cowboys and a woman broke into a bar after closing. How do we know they were cowboys? Well, they had on cowboy hats like every other cowboy in the region wears. And they had a woman with them identified by her girlie cap with a blonde pony-tail hanging out.

The owners of the bar expressed anger because these three partyers didn’t go home to their ranch; instead, they helped themselves to more booze and beer, taking selfies and having a waffle fight.

I did not make that up: they had a waffle fight.

And here’s where things got weird on social media (only in Montana). Respondents asked questions and made comments in regards to the shame of it all. One question pertained to the selfies — the owner explained that on the security camera they could see the illegal revelers posing with flashes of light. Okay. Then another person brought up the waffles because he’s dismayed that this bar doesn’t make their own.

Grumbling begins. Only in Montana do rural folks care if one of their bars makes fresh waffles or not. Evidently, folks didn’t like hearing there were waffles pre-made. Perhaps the break-in was to expose the bar for its duplicity. Immediately the owner calmed the mob, assuring everyone on social media that their waffles are indeed fresh — the thieves brought their own to the break-in.

So, two drunk cowboys and a female companion break into a bar at 3 a.m., pop the tops of some beer, drink from the whiskey bottles and throw frozen waffles at each other while taking selfies. The town is more upset over the questionable freshness of the bar’s breakfast offering. Who says ranch life is boring out West? Only in Montana.

Here’s my favorite cowboy crooner singing a small piece about a cowboy’s thirst:

I’m thinking they were far into the rye whiskey that night as their antics revealed.

So now it’s your turn. You can think of a place or culture you know well, or you can tell a universal tale (like a break-in) with details that make it specific. The phrase “only in…” is often marked with wry humor like the tone of light-hearted jest.

You’ll often see humorous lists about a place such as my new location. Only in the Keweenaw…

  1. … do people lick rocks.
  2. …are parking lots full of snow machines in winter.
  3. …is a 7-course meal a pasty and a six-pack.

Of course, there are the features indicative of a place, too. Lake Superior, peninsula isolation, moose, wolves differ from North Idaho’s Lake Ponderay, panhandle isolation, moose. Keep in mind your story might be the same, or features might be like elsewhere, but what are the local details?

Think about how you can use this idea to craft a story.

December 14, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the phrase “only in…” It can be used to tell a story about a profession, a place or situation. Go were the prompt leads you.

Respond by December 19, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published December 20). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Only in a Snowstorm (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Rain splattered wet pavement when Danni walked to the truck. She paused, looking back at the airport doors. On impulse, her legs twitched, urging her to run after Ike, catch him at security and… And what? Demand he stays? Beg? Instead, Danni left and drove toward the snowline where misting Spokane rain gave way to North Idaho snow. She gripped the steering wheel and drove slow on the slick corners where snow accumulated. Only in a snowstorm would Danni drive without giving in to her churning emotions. If it weren’t for the conditions, she’d be risking a speeding ticket.

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