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December 5: Flash Fiction Challenge

My walls are a color between lemon meringue and key lime pies. If you’ve ever eaten a Key Lime yogurt, you know the phosphorescent glow of the paint I slathered to bring cheer to my home. The Hub says he feels like he’s a frog, living on a lily pad. I like frogs, and I like key lime pie. Looking at my walls makes me simultaneously happy and hungry.

Painting was not on the plan. I’m plowing through grad studies eyebrows deep in plots. For a plantser (a writer who writes by the seat of her pants), plotting can feel awkward and frustrating. Yet it’s become apparent that plotting is my weak point, and if I want to get stronger as a writer, I have to work that muscle. Evidently, I needed to paint to plot. Last time I was in school, I had a clean house from baseboards to ceiling. Now, I’m destined to have a colorful one.

Recently, I wrote a 1000-word romance, which my professor critiqued after peer review. It’s interesting, how much harsher peers are with one another. Not that my professor goes easy on us, but she points out the strengths of a piece and makes suggestions for improvement. Peers, like me, are learning. It’s not easy to give productive criticism. It’s much easier to criticize through opinion. That’s a start, but incomplete. The difference, as an example, is that one of my peers flagged my heroine as a dumb country chick. That left me struggling — was it my ability to craft a character or a difference of opinion?

My professor, on the other hand, praised my ability to develop characters, although my heroine didn’t resonate as strongly with her because of a lack of detail in what the character was thinking. The praise gave me enough confidence not to think I went off the rails, and her criticism was specific. Instead of telling me my character was “dumb,” she said my character did not resonate with her, and she offered a fix. In fact, she flagged three places to show me exactly where and offered examples, so I knew what to do.

While I’m working on my MFA to publish, I’m also earning an additional certificate to teach creative writing online. I’m focused on mastering the ability to read novels with x-ray vision (to see the underpinnings of how authors construct books) and critiquing writers to help them improve their manuscripts without slaying their vulnerabilities. I want to tear apart books and build up writers. And I’m practicing as I go.

I’ve painted myself into a corner, though. The dining room is perfectly smooth and ready to eat. The living room needs a touch-up and curtains hung. But, alas, the kitchen has odd angles. I’ve painted the walls I can reach, but there are corners I cannot. That’s where I’m at with my writing. How to fix my corners and beyond my reach? It’s going to look amazing once I figure it out. The upper ledge above the cabinets will be a dark blue-purple, the backboards behind sink, counters, and stove will be dark green, and the remaining walls will be key lime pie. I can see it.

Just like I can see my finished novel. I know Danni’s journey, I know what’s at stake for her. But I’m at the point where I can’t reach all the spaces between draft and finished manuscript.

At times like these, it’s easy to freeze up as a writer. I feel like I have nothing more to type! But I also know that is not true. The brain shuts down with anxiety, but I have a tool for creativity. It’s called 99-words. All this play, practice, and craft we do at Carrot Ranch train our brains to respond to problems with 99-words. This week, I’m writing another 1000-word microburst, and this time, it is in a less familiar genre to me — speculative fiction. I have several ideas, so I’m taking them to 99-words to explore.

The idea I like best is based on a weird dream I had after painting. Maybe the new color induced the strangeness, and yet it was not a nightmare. It felt curious. In the dream, I found hand-made crafts left like gifts in my cleaning cupboard. Among the artistic and woven items were a pair of slippers or moccasins. I had seen a group of strange people of various heights walking confidently beneath the tall branches of a winter tree. One bald man in a full gray cloak turned to look at me, and his face was blurry. I thought it looked like a face seen through a rain-washed window; only the window was clear. It wasn’t scary. It was like seeing water take human form. But why the shoes?

I still do not know why, and I wrote a 99-word story! I’ll TUFF it out and see if there’s a heart or a kernel or a punch to be found. I’ll rewrite it and (surprise, surprise) I’ll plot it out, using a flow chart that I’m building in Canva. I appreciate visual aids, and they make more sense if I create them, thinking about their use. If you are interested in flowcharts, check out Flowchart or Venngage. You can use the flow charts to map your story arc, plot, or show a protagonist’s (former hero) journey. A great model for plotting a story is something you might have encountered, but this is the original Story Spine.

This Saturday, I’ll be at the Rozsa Center listening to a live performance of Selected Shorts. I led a couple of workshops locally to prepare local writers to enter a contest to have a local story read on stage. We don’t know who won, but all the entrants will have their stories displayed at the Rozsa. I’m going early to join other writers for this exciting literary event. I also submitted a story to a contest to win a writing scholarship. I did not get picked as a finalist, but I’ll be studying the stories that did, and I’ll have another chance to enter next year. I also submitted two pieces to a regional journal and wait to find out if my pieces were selected.

I find that I don’t fret after I enter. No, fretting, just forgetting!

One of our Ranchers has met with lit journal success. D. Avery submitted a story that’s now published with Enchanted Conversation, a bi-monthly webzine that publishes original stories using fairy tale, folktale, and mythic themes. It’s more than 99-words and is paired with gorgeous cover art. Check out Wolf at the Door.

Incubation is powerful. I used to read our flash fiction collections at a poetry night in Sandpoint. The Poet Laureate taught me the power of incubating works with a live audience. Poets do it all the time. Musicians jam and come up with new ideas for songs. And we fiction and memoir writers? We write 99 words at a time — exploring, creating, and incubating literary art. Think of all the seeds you plant here! A mighty oak grows from an acorn.

December 5, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes a key lime pie. How can you use it in a story? Is it about the pie? Or about characters making, eating, or otherwise engaging with one? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 10, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Curious Shoes by Charli Mills

Jena Warbeck found new shoes in the cupboard under the sink with her cleaning supplies – organic sage scents and purple dust-cloths. The shoes sat in a wreath of woven willow, soft brown leather and handstitched. She stood up and saw the beings with smeared features watching her from underneath the leaf-barren maple. They wavered like a wet mirage. Jena felt no fear. Only peace like when she relaxed with a cup of peppermint tea. Had they left the curious gift in exchange for nabbing her key lime pie? When they evaporated, a raven flew off with the pie tin.

Romance

The focus on two people in a relationship, the barriers they meet and overcome, and a happily ever after ending (HEA) characterize the genre of romance. We often think of covers that portray women trussed up in bodices in impossible positions to intertwine limbs and lips with bare-chested men that all seem to look like Fabio. It’s easy to poke fun at romance, yet it’s the number one selling genre. We all yearn for love stories.

This week, writers took the challenge to hone their writing skills, emphasizing emotional connection and relationship development. They wrote romance in miniature.

The following are based on the November 21, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a romance.

PART I (10-minute read)

Romance Outline by Ann Edall-Robson

“Write a romance. Focus on a relationship.” She instructed.

“Not my genre!” I screamed back at the screen.

“Try writing what you know.” Came the silent words from the picture on the desk.

“I know the West and crusty old cowboys!” I countered to the voice in my head.

I could hear him laughing.

“Oh, what the hell, it won’t hurt to write an outline…”

Young hearts in love…Separated by fate…Reunited by a chance call…Devoted to each other…Ripped apart by life…

“Keep going hon. You got this.” ​

“I’m not ready yet,” I whispered through tears.

🥕🥕🥕

The Queen’s Secret by Nicole Horlings

The peace negotiations had just concluded for the evening when her court advisor entered the room. “The riders have returned. They cannot find a trace of your hus—the former king.”

“Continue the search. We must comply with the treaties and officially banish him. Even if his actions were for valid reasons,” she added bitterly.

“He must be hiding somewhere.”

“I’ve told you every place I can think of.”

The advisor looked suspicious, but left.

She pressed on a stone behind her throne, opening a secret passageway. “We’ll keep them fooled for as long as we can, my love.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Barriers To Love by Geoff Le Pard

Dorinda knew falling for someone rendered inert by illness made no sense. She sat and learned about his unremarkable life, loving him for it. Talking and singing, she attended his needs. She couldn’t explain her curious infatuation but it fulfilled her in ways beyond logic. She heard the prognosis, knew it hopeless but alongside his inevitable decline her love grew, albeit wrapped in an ineffable sadness and guilt that he couldn’t know how she felt about him.

Locked-in, Thomas didn’t know this angel who stroked his hand, wet his lips and cared but he loved her all the same.

🥕🥕🥕

The Proposal by Iain Kelly

They had been friends since the first day of school.

Archie knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

Tomorrow he left for University, leaving home and starting a new life in a new city.

He knew Agnes was staying at home with her parents. Would she wait for him to return?

She arrived late as he stood freezing outside the cinema.

The cheap ring burned a hole in his pocket. Flustered, he pulled it out and looked into her eyes with a pleading hope.

She smiled and took his arm in hers, ‘About time.’

🥕🥕🥕

Meg and Ian Flash Fiction by Susan Zutautas

Meg, in a daze, was reminiscing about the first time Ian said, “I love you,” She got butterflies, felt intoxicated, and for the first time in her life without a doubt knew he was the one.

Not being able to sleep Meg got up, put on coffee, and ran a hot bath for herself. In ten hours, her life was about to change. Passionate love filled her heart.

Getting dressed, Meg heard her father’s voice and then a light tap at the door. “Come on Hun, I need to get you to the church on time. Are you ready?”

🥕🥕🥕

Romance by Donna Matthews

Is romance a thing after 25 years of marriage? These and other critical thoughts haunted her as she perused Pinterest for anniversary dinner ideas. Candlelight, chocolate, diamonds, and whispers in the dark. But what if you’re not that kind of gal, she pondered and fretted? What if, instead of diamonds, your idea of rocks are those you climb over. Instead of the glow of candlelight, you prefer the twinkle of starlight — a roaring campfire over indoor heating. Tempted to make reservations at the swanky new restaurant in town she instead booked a flight. For two. A new adventure.

🥕🥕🥕

An Old Romance by Liz Husebye Hartmann

She rinsed the last dish and set it in the drainer. Days had again grown short, this season and over the years. The leaves, crisp from a day’s rain and evening’s temps, were barely visible out the window. Her silhouette softened in its reflection; the living room light glowed orange behind her.

They snuggled, one inside the other’s arms, enraptured by Melmed and LaMarche’s “The Rainbabies.” It had been a favorite of theirs and she remembered how they’d read to each other, before children, then after, and now again with this grandchild.

A wave of love washed over her.

🥕🥕🥕

Romantic Gestures by Sally Cronin

For sixty years red roses, hearts and grand gestures had been his way of showing how much he loved her. Now as he sat beside her hospital bed he was at a loss. He desperately wanted to make her last moments as love filled as possible; but grand gestures were of no use now. She stirred and turned her head to look at him, attempting to speak. He leant closer to her and heard the words ‘You are the love of my life.’ He smiled and nodded as he kissed her frail hand gently. ‘And you too my darling’.

🥕🥕🥕

My Fantasy by Tracey Robinson

“Your boyfriend and my wife, who would have thought it,” said Kris. “You really caught them in flagrante delicto?”

I nod.

“You don’t seem too upset. So what are you going to do now?”

I shrugged.

“What about Thanksgiving?”

Another shrug.

“How about coming home with me to Chicago?”

I looked at Kris quizzically.

Kris gazed at me as he lightly touched the back of my hand. “Are you seriously going to continue to ignore the spark between us?”

I blushed. No. No reason to now, I thought as I leaned over and softly kissed him on the lips.

🥕🥕🥕

Bringing Out The Best by Susan Sleggs

Newly divorced Tessa, visiting her sister, sat in their childhood church. When the choir started singing from the loft her face registered recognition. She whispered, “I can hear Michael’s voice. I’ve never stopped hearing it.”

Aggie rolled her eyes.

“Is he home for good?”

“Medical discharge. In a wheelchair, he can do without. Very different.”

“Same beautiful bass.”

Later in the day, Michael approached Aggie’s door. She watched. “I’ll be dipped, he’s walking. You always could bring out the best in him. You sure about this?”

“It’s just dinner.”

“Yeah, right.”

“It’ll be good to be wanted and needed.”

🥕🥕🥕

Romance #1 by Grace Davis

A garden. A girl. A lingering glance. He wakes from the dream, her face still more vivid than the shabby room which greets his eyes. All day she distracts him, so much so that he gets lost going home.

Across town a girl awakes, starts her day, the fragments of a dream about a handsome stranger still fogging her mind. Later she takes the long route home – often too hot and tired to bother but today the garden is calling her.

A garden. Two people. The glance. It’s not possible. It can’t be real. And yet somehow it is.

🥕🥕🥕

Romance by Anita Dawes

My parents are the stories of poets, romantics
Married fifty-six years, they still hold hands
I hope some of that love has rubbed off
That I hold my husband’s hand as long
I remember years ago, asking mum
How she knew dad was the one
He was persistent, for three weeks he sent flowers
With a handwritten poem
Until I agreed to our first date
The rest is history,
dad was the romantic one
I asked my dad the same question
His answer, She’s my star
Without her there’s no light in the world
What more can I say…

🥕🥕🥕

Inferno Love by Bill Engleson

“It’s like fire scorching my brain,” she says.

I look into her eyes, see the furious flames. The heat is irresistible.

“You can see it, can’t you? The furnace?”

I have to look away. As I do, she reaches for me, says in a sweet nothings voice, “Keep looking at me. Never stop. Your love is so cool to the touch.”

I need her warmth. She needs my frosty ways. I touch her brow with my fingers, trace the shape of face.

“You are a river flowing down from the snow-capped mountains,” she sings. “I have been waiting forever.”

🥕🥕🥕

Safe from Unsuitable Men or Miss Fluart’s Romance by Gordon Le Pard

The weeping girl was handed into the carriage, her father looked at the black veiled woman.

“I am counting on you to keep her safe from unsuitable men.”

Miss Fluart nodded, “My house in Devon is very secluded, she will be safe from men there.”

As they drove off Charlotte smiled at her friend,

“I think that went very well, but you said nothing about unsuitable woman?”

“I don’t know what you mean, my dear.” Replied Miss Fluart squeezing Charlotte’s hand.

Charlotte settled back, “But Maria, what am I to do in wildest Devon?”

“Have adventures, my dear, adventures.”

🥕🥕🥕

The Talk by Joanne Fisher

“Cindy we need to talk.” Jess said. Cindy followed her outside fearing the worst.

She’s going to dump me! Cindy fretted. Jess stopped and faced her.

“I know you think I’m going crazy, but please don’t leave me!” Cindy pleaded. Jess looked at her confused.

“What are talking about? I’m not worried about that.” She replied. She then got down on one knee, produced a small jewelry box revealing a ring. “Cynthia, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?” Cindy gasped and fell to her knees.

“Yes of course! Nothing would make me happier!” They hugged.

🥕🥕🥕

A Blind Date with a Difference by Anne Goodwin

She didn’t smile all evening. He didn’t look her in the eye. But they both saw the funny side of their blind date.

Their wedding photos were unusual. Authentic: his white stick and her downturned lips ruled out fairytale illusions. They didn’t bother dressing up.

They’d both been rejected. Pitied. Defined by what they lacked. For her, facial muscles. For him, one sense out of five. Now she had a spouse who only saw beneath the surface. Now he had a lover who thought looking overhyped. They ditched diagnoses – Moebius syndrome, blindness – for honesty and humour. A perfect match.

🥕🥕🥕

Starship Romance by Joanne Fisher

I worked on a starship freighter, often feeling alone.

Another woman began working on the same shift. Her name was Brigid and we quickly became friends and often hit the bar after work ended. One night we kissed and shared a bunk together. All was good, but suddenly she announced she’d been offered another position that paid more money. And then she was gone, and I was alone again.

To my surprise, one day she reappeared.

“I thought you were working on another ship.”

“It wasn’t the same without you Emma.” she replied taking my hands and kissing me.

🥕🥕🥕

Celestial Consorts by Annette Rochelle Aben

He was a golden Adonis. Warm and friendly with energy to spare. He hung around most days, filling the world with light.
She was his biggest fan. Always waking from a good night’s sleep, hoping he’d be there. It made her day to have him with her wherever she was.

One day, his arch-enemy appeared and tried to rain on their parade. She was frightened for it seemed she had lost her golden love. But he sent a rainbow of protection to show her he was close by. And as soon as the clouds parted, the lovers were reunited.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

True Love by Norah Colvin

Although he’d written love notes and brought flowers nearly every day, he’d caught her unawares when, one morning, he whispered, “Will you marry me?”

His eyes glistened with hope, but she hesitated. She’d not encouraged him, not that way. How could she have anticipated this?

Crouching to look him in the eyes, she said, “Thank you for the compliment, Josh. You’re very sweet, but I can’t. I’m sorry.”

His lips quivered as he asked, “Why not, Miss Ruby?”

“Josh, I’m already married,” she said, showing her rings.

He was downcast momentarily, then suddenly brightened. “You could get a divorce?”

🥕🥕🥕

Not a Good Day to Become an Outlaw by TN Kerr

Kid Kevin rode into town ‘bout high noon. He tied Ole Paint to the rail at the bank, drew his pearl-handled revolvers, and kicked open the door. The new schoolmarm, Hermione Perkins, was inside.

“Oh Kevin,” she swooned, “Thank God you’re here, Grizzly Hank just emptied the vault.” She gathered her skirts and ran to the door. “He went thataway,” she pointed. “If you hurry you can most likely still catch him.”

Thinking quickly Kevin decided not to become an outlaw today. He mounted up and took off in hot pursuit of the robber.

Miss Perkins might be grateful.

🥕🥕🥕

Max and Mouse by Nancy Brady

Max and Mouse met the day he moved next door, and they became best friends. Max said, “I am going to marry you, Mouse.”

Years of school changed his affections; while he was always dating someone, he and Mouse remained close.

After college graduation, Micha found herself in her new apartment when Max called about the class reunion. “No, I’m not going, Max,” she said.

“You are,” he replied. “Because I’ll bug until you do.”

Weeks later, Micha found herself at the reunion. Max was astounded by the changes in his Mouse. Would she still marry him, he wondered.

🥕🥕🥕

The Pitch by Bill Engleson

Dear Kate, you may not remember me, but I was a year ahead of you in High School.

Scratch that. Different tact.

Katie, old bud, Howdy. Have you ever received a letter from someone you once knew…?

Right. I can see her scrunching it up and tossing it into the wastebasket. She played Varsity Basketball…it would be instinctive.

My Dearest Katherine, Hear me out. I know its been a few years, but we went to school together and I have this need.

Need?

Sounds so pathetic.

Kate, time is such a tease. Could we meet for coffee?

Coffee?

Maybe?

🥕🥕🥕

Romance by Joanne Ashley

“Black coffee,” I mutter to the waitress. Eyeing the door, I add three sugars and inhale the aroma, sweet and bitter.

The clock’s hands leap ahead. How late is late? How many possible explanations is too many? How hollow can a life feel when your love refuses to push open the swing door and allow your heart to fill? I picture the earth, scooped out by a cosmic drum maker, skin of a sun stretched taut against it’s sides, being hammered on by a god’s hand. The rhythm mimicking my beating heart.

The door swings open, and Venus laughs.

🥕🥕🥕

As Romantic as It Gets by Reena Saxena

“Anamika and Arun have decided to separate. Another fairytale wedding ends.”

“I’m not surprised. There’s a difference between knowing, understanding and loving.”

“One leads to another.”

“No. We don’t like everything we understand.”

“And what do you prefer?”

“Being understood correctly, rather than being loved for the wrong reason….”

It’s time to leave for work after the morning coffee we have together at Starbucks.

I foresee myself as single in the near future. His expressions speak a lot, though he tactfully remains silent. I’d like to remain friends though, meeting for a coffee and then leading your own life.

🥕🥕🥕

For Now D. Avery

He strode through Westerns, then paused long at Historical Fiction. Not knowing what adventures might lie ahead, I followed in suspense, wondering what shelves he’d search next. I secretly thrilled when he turned the corner and browsed gentle reads and women’s novels. Was this a man in touch with his emotions? My own emotions ran high. Hiding behind an open book, a Fantasy Romance Suspense Adventure that was surely too good to be true, I followed through Literary Fiction. He brought (italics)my book(italics) to the counter.

Bells jangled.

I looked down the street but he’d disappeared in this Flash.

🥕🥕🥕

That Awkward First Date by Chelsea Owens

“So, whaddya like to do?” *Dumb! Why did you ask that?*

“Um, well, I like reading.” *Crap! Now he’s going to think I sit at home and knit.*

“Oh. Reading.” *And probably knitting.*

*Say something; say something.* “So, what do you like to do?”

“Me?” *Think of something impressive.* “Uh; not much. Mostly I …” *Impressive!* “I …like movies.”

“Oh.”

*She’s not impressed.*

“I …I like movies, too.” *Like everybody does… * “What’s a favorite?”

*Say it. You’ve bombed the date anyway.* “Actually; Big Trouble in Little China.”

*What??* “No way. Me, too!”

“No way!”

“Way.”

“So… wanna go get Chinese?”

🥕🥕🥕

Second Date by Vinci Lam

Her name is Rosalie. She lives seven blocks from the train station two towns over. She likes mochas, stray white cats, and a man who holds the door.

She walks backwards when she talks—like girls in romantic comedies—and sometimes she jaywalks just to watch street performers.

Rosalie dislikes popcorn and the new Spiderman movie. She reveals her predictions of the night, her lacking faith in surprises.

Sitting in the dark, in silence. Disappointment glues me to my seat, my sweaty hands gripping the armrests.

In the pitch black, Rosalie places her hand on mine and gently squeezes.

🥕🥕🥕

Romance #2 by Grace Davis

She had donated the wrong book. The community book table allowed you to leave and take books. Emma was its biggest benefactor but this was a mistake: Persuasion, creased with love, filled with her own annotations and thoughts. She ran back but it had gone.

Days later, glancing through the new offerings, something caught her eye. Heart pounding, Emma picked up her beloved book. Thumbing through, she noticed a change: brand new annotations. She read every one and fell in love there and then.

She left the book again, with just one note added. That night the phone rang…

🥕🥕🥕

Cupid’s Call on the Range by Charli Mills

A cow caused it all. Maria Sanchez lived on the backside of Hope Valley, watching her father’s herd of Angus, selling steaks to silver miners. Garett Meadows owned the mine. He spotted Maria one day, lifting her skirts to chase a cow, exposing curvy brown calves. A range cow charged the encroaching horse, and Garret struck his head in the fall. Worried that her father would be blamed, Maria hid the injured man in a trapper’s cabin to tend to him alone. Garett was only playing injured. A month later, at their wedding, he blamed love on the cow.

🥕🥕🥕

Veronica’s Gift by Saifun Hassam

Lisa, an archeologist, met Nick when she donated Aunt Veronica’s renowned botanical art to the University. Nick, Curator and Archivist immediately suggested digital archiving of the gorgeous irreplaceable paintings and illustrations.

Working through the collection, Nick read Veronica’s extensive annotations and notes about the worldwide locations that inspired her art. Lisa loved his suggestion of bringing together art, botany, and travel in a book. They decided to start with a trip to Crater Lakes, a biohabitat vibrant with natural history, archeology, and very significant resource for Veronica’s art.

Their personal relationship deepened. Veronica’s gift had enriched both their lives.

🥕🥕🥕

Emotional Reconciliation by JulesPaige

(1)

I wondered if Marilyn’s parents ever thought “These kids today!” – One moment they are remembering a time when they could still hear happy children exclaim “Are we there yet?”
when taken out of town to some special surprise place.

What kind of relationship did Marisol and Jack Seedsmen have? From my own uncovered evidence I knew he loved his daughter. Could his wife had wished for teenagers to just scram like her half sister Margoth? I couldn’t believe that, especially with the care that Marisol had taken to replicate her family in the carefully preserved scarecrows that awaited me…

(2)

In Marilyn’s Vent Diary I had read that her parents put on a solid front. They supported each other. They displayed affection and seemed to be romantic. Well in the eyes of a teenage girl anyway. Whenever her mother had to travel with her sister Margoth, Jack missed Marisol. He became just a tad sullen and moody as if no one else in the world could understand him.

When Marisol returned Jack was over the moon. He couldn’t seem to do enough for her. Jack would get her some new art supply and read her poetry while she created.

See next page

(3)

I had found the yellow cup in the top back corner of the pantry. Marilyn had described her mother’s attempt at pottery – the class was a gift upon one of her returns from out of town. Yellow was Jack’s favorite color. On the yellow cup was Marisol’s first attempt at painting a sunflower with glaze.

Mr. and Mrs. Seedsmen would sit on the enclosed porch and watch the sunset. Marisol would brew Chamomile tea. Mother’s cup was one that Marilyn had made in an art class, but Jack always had his yellow cup that Marisol had made for him.

🥕🥕🥕

Deep Sheep by D. Avery

“’Ello, Buckaroo. Love ees in da air, no?”

“Pepe LeGume. Something’s in the air alright. J. Geils sang that love stinks. Might be right. Seen Pal or Kid?”

“You ask, I tell. Day did not like da prompt. One rode east, da odder west. I teenk day odd ta’ve gone nort an’ south, as day are one an’ da same bipolar.”

“Didn’t like the prompt?”

“Genre-ly speaking, no. Day rode off. But not eento da sunset.”

“So no whining from Kid?”

“No, but whine cood be romantic, no?”

“You’re just passing through, right?”

“Like a sheep in da night.”

🥕🥕🥕

November 21: Flash Fiction Challenge

It was outrageous — Erienne Fleming’s father had no regard for his daughter and married her off to the highest bidder. She had flirted with the Yank who’d come to her father’s village, but it was the mysterious and disfigured Lord Saxton who won the prize. He wasn’t the monster Erienne feared he’d be, and soon, her heart was torn between the husband she married and the dashing young man who pursued her. The climax to this tale is fraught with danger, unmaskings, and end — of course — with true love conquering all. Why? Because this is the story of a romance novel.

Kathleen Woodiwiss wrote A Rose in Winter the year I entered high school. By then, her career as a novelist neared a decade. Agents and publishers rejected her first novel, The Flame and the Flower, because it was too long. But it was detailed, building a historical world with accuracy and creating strong-willed characters. When her book published in 1972, it paved the way for what we recognize as the modern romance novel, and her book was the first to follow the protagonist and love interest into the bedroom.

My sister-in-law loaned me a copy of A Rose in Winter, promising me it would be the best love story I had ever read. It was. And it remains the number one romance novel in my heart. “Serious” writing cured me of my crush on romance novels. By the time I graduated with an undergrad degree, I was burned out on reading heavy literature — medieval books, Chaucer, literature with social justice themes, and thick historical novels. I slipped back into reading a romance novel, but the genre had changed. The bodice-rippers had grown up, and contemporary romances had taken their place. Two of my favorite authors had quit romance and were penning modern crime thrillers. I found old copies of Janet Dailey and re-read the Calder series about the Montana family of cowboys over five generations.

Then I quit romance for good.

It’s not so much that the genre changed, but that I had. My heart wanted a good read, and so did my brain. I wanted to feel connected to characters, their relationships, and their world. Oddly enough, fantasy filled the void. After I plowed through my kids’ Harry Potter books, I discovered the works of Robert Jordan and read the entire Wheel of Time series. This led me to read the hefty tomes of Brandon Sanderson, and I eagerly await his next 1,000-page Stormlight series installment. But you see, Kathleen Woodiwiss started my interest in long novels.

Tony Hillerman is my brain candy. His Navajo police stories go as fast as a bag of red licorice. I love his books for the authentic Navajo world-building and for a series that returns familiar characters. But they go fast. To slow down, I’ll read a contemporary work of fiction. Anne Goodwin over at Annectdotal has been my book pusher for recent scores of literary fiction. If you don’t follow her reviews, I suggest you do so as a writer. I’m shifting my own reading practices to read more books as a writer. That means reading books I might not connect with or find entertaining.

Why do we read?

What a massive and complex question. If we had an inkling, book marketers would hustle us off to better understand the reading habits of modern readers. Some like to stimulate their intellect, others their emotions. I like a good book that draws me into a sense of place — it’s why I read Brandon Sanderson, Tony Hillerman, and Janet Daley. Book marketers struggle to make sense of that because I read across such divergent genres. And to mess up the matter more, I write women’s and historical fiction with a commercial style. What is going on?

Librarians better understand that most of their patrons are like me — a hot mess when it comes to “what I like to read.” Book marketers are so hung up on genre that they think I’d only read one genre. Tony Hillerman is the only crime books I read. Outside the Navajo reservation, I’m not interested in mysteries. I don’t like thrillers. Oh, but wait, I read all of Ian Fleming, and I like some of Ken Follette and Clive Cussler. I read everything Kathleen Woodiwiss ever wrote, but I can’t stand anything Nora Roberts writes. I dislike fantasy, but I love Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. YA is not my thing except for Harry Potter. I read lots of western writers like Louis L’Amour, Edward Abbey, Jim Harrison, Ivan Doig, Wallace Stegner, and non-fiction by Terry Tempest Williams and important cultural literature by Sherman Alexie and Tony Morrison.

The Reader’s Advisory group that helps librarians understand readers like me look at genre to recognize the factors that influence readers and have published a powerfully informative book, The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. If you are serious about publishing (independently, small press, or traditionally), this is the book that will help you understand readers better. And why do you want to do that as a writer? Because readers buy books. Libraries and book stores buy books for readers. The better you can understand who is your target reader, the better you will be at marketability. Publishers want a well-crafted book, yes, but they also want one they think they can sell.

According to the Reader’s Advisory, genres can be arranged according to four factors:

  1. Adrenaline Genres (Adventure, Romance Suspense, Suspense, Thrillers)
  2. Emotion Genres (Gentle Reads, Horror, Romance, Women’s Lives & Relationships)
  3. Intellect Genres (Literary Fiction, Mysteries, Psychological Suspense, Science Fiction)
  4. Landscape Genres (Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Westerns)

This blew my mind for a couple of reasons. First, who would have thought that horror and romance had anything in common? Second, what I like to read (fantasy) is compatible with what I want to write (historical fiction). I’ve been saying, I love a book that draws me into a sense of place. Well, that would be landscape! This rearranging of genre by factors helped me better understand my target audience, too. Miracle of Ducks has perplexed me as to where it fits. It’s contemporary, but what is it from there? I had dismissed women’s literature and thought it fit more into literary fiction. But I was wrong! My story is about relationships and women’s voices that go unheard from within the veteran community. It’s emotional, not intellectual. My target audience reads books to feel.

The book breaks down each of these genre groups and delves into deeper factors. It’s intended audience is librarians, but one of my professors introduced me to the guide (buy used because this is a pricey reference book). My other professor has me writing romance this week. They are both teaching me that as a writer, I have something to learn from all the genres.

So, what can we learn from the romance genre? Romance places priority on the relationship between two people — romance, bromance, girl meets girl; the story is all about them. I learned that the genre has niche’s I never knew about (yes, werewolves and women are a thing!). It’s a rich genre, often focusing on details of place like the historical romances Woodiwiss wrote. Just because it has a recognizable framework of they meet they, they come into conflict, more conflict, and near disaster, they reunite and live HEA. HEA meaning, happily ever after. Although modern romance allows for more ambiguity — happy for now. It must end on an upswing.

Romances vary as much as our weekly stories. We are all writing to the same prompt within the same constraint, and yet our stories each week remain creative, original, and unexpected. Romance novels can be just as varied. For me, the take-away is to study relationships and the emotional tension that builds conflict. Whereas romance solves the tension with sex, I’m aiming for an elixir of growth. I’m more interested in personal development and social justice.

Yes, we are going to get our love groove going this week. First, a little mood music. Robert Mirabal is one of my favorite Native American musicians. He introduces why he wrote the song, Medicine Man. It doesn’t have an HEA ending, but it is a story of a man who overcame his unrequited love by marrying his people. What a deep concept — he could not have the romantic love he yearned for, so instead, he loved everyone, serving them as a holy man. That is a relationship story with, personal growth.

November 21, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a romance. Focus on the relationship between two people. Build tension and end on a happy(ish) note. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by November 26, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests during the 2019 Rodeo will be announced on November 28, 2019.

Challenge submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.

Cupid’s Call on the Range by Charli Mills

A cow caused it all. Maria Sanchez lived on the backside of Hope Valley, watching her father’s herd of Angus, selling steaks to silver miners. Garett Meadows owned the mine. He spotted Maria one day, lifting her skirts to chase a cow, exposing curvy brown calves. A range cow charged the encroaching horse, and Garret struck his head in the fall. Worried that her father would be blamed, Maria hid the injured man in a trapper’s cabin to tend to him alone. Garett was only playing injured. A month later, at their wedding, he blamed love on the cow.

Storm Windows

Something brews beyond our portal of vision. In a northern climate, storm windows add an extra layer of insulation to the glass that allows vision from an interior world to the exterior. By definition, storm windows protect in bad weather.

What can a writer do with that concept? This week’s challenge encouraged writers to interpret storm windows in new ways or write a story that involves the physical object.

The following is based on the November 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using storm windows.

PART I (10-minute read)

Stormy Windows by Nobbinmaug

My windows fogged up as she talked. An illness, a preexisting condition cost them their home. A burden on family and friends, they were left to the streets.

Child protective services took their children. They couldn’t know how they were fairing in the system. It had to be better than the streets, right? Right?

She prayed for God to bless me for the dollar I gave her. It was the least I could do but more generous than most.

At my warm, cozy home, rain fell from the windows to my soul as I wished I could do more.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Aweni

Onye rolled in dirty gritty slime. She locked herself in this dark space, devoid of air, every time she remembered his hands on her body.

She peered through the thick storm windows at the other Onye, as she let her hands linger on the frame. Unable to reach her, she could only wish she was her as she watched herself run through the storm, bright and happy, air blowing through her hair with abandon. She could almost smell the fragrance from newly bloomed flowers and the spring tinkling where she was headed. Almost. Alas, she was locked in here.

🥕🥕🥕

Grandma’s Grateful for the View by Anne Goodwin

“Is Grandma sick? She’s been in there for hours.”

“She likes solitude. Peace and quiet from you.”

“She’s remembering the bad old days.”

“She’s enjoying the view.”

“Grey skies and rain-lashed wall?”

Grandma’s told us how it used to be, before drainage and latrines. How the water in the streets rose above her kneecaps but nature couldn’t wait for the floodwaters to subside. No other option than to squat in the field outside amid the neighbours’ floating turds. No wonder she’s happy when in the rainy season, enthroned in her small cubicle, behind the storm window, relishing the view.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by tracey

Gray clouds scurried across the sky as the wind knocked the last of the red maple leaves off the tree. I stepped back and looked up at the house. “Only two storm windows left, I’ll go get them,” I said.

“Nope. That was the last one,” Grandma replied.

“What about the window on the landing and your south bedroom window?” I asked.

“I don’t like to shut up the house completely. A body needs to be able to breath fresh air year round. The house likes a little air too.

I grinned, “hot cocoa and cookies it is then.”

🥕🥕🥕

Winter Fun by Susan Zutautas

Winds were horrendous, snow squalls blinded my vision and I was cold to the bone. Couldn’t get the furnace relit and I was afraid the pipes would soon freeze. I had to get outside to turn the handle for the water. Why it was outside was puzzling.

Bundling in my winter outerwear I made it around the corner of the house, wet, heavy snow sticking to my toque and eyelashes.

Underfoot I felt something slippery and looked down trying to see what it was. Then I heard a crack. So, here’s where that storm window went. Dammit, always something.

🥕🥕🥕

I’ll Take the View by Susan Sleggs

The couple stood staring at the upper floor southeast corner of their unfinished house.

Lizzy’s face turned red. “Isn’t that where my sewing studio is going? Why the hell are there such large windows? I asked for small ones.”

Her husband answered. “We’re building here for the view. I changed the plans as a surprise.”

The builder hearing the commotion came to intervene. “We will be using Indow Museum grade indoor storm windows that block 98% UV rays. I promise anything inside will not be harmed.”

“Will you put that in writing?” she challenged.

“I will, with a guarantee.”

🥕🥕🥕

Safety Glass by Annette Rochelle Aben

Ear-splitting thunder followed by spectacular lightning; she loved storms. She didn’t like being out in them. No sir, if she was planning to drive someplace and heard about a storm brewing, plans had to be changed. She didn’t even want to be a passenger during a storm.

Wrapped up in her flannel robe with a cup of golden milk to sip, she cocked her head to look beyond the trees. BOOM! The thunder sounded another battle cry followed by the brilliant light seeming to split the sky. Thank goodness for the triple pane windows between her and the storm.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Anita Dawes

In England we don’t have storm windows
We have triple double glazing
Which distorts the view outside something terrible
They’re only good for keeping out the cold and sound
Looking at the moon at night, you will see three
I can’t imagine needing them for the kind of winds
That sound like an angry animal
Trying to take the house brick by brick
Tornados, snowstorms the size of mountains
Whiting out the familiar, trapping families
In their homes, enforced imprisonment
By the local weather
I watch Chasing Tornados on TV
Wondering how it would feel to be up close…

🥕🥕🥕

Idea of Fantastic by Donna Matthews

I used to lie. I’d tell lies when the truth was just as acceptable. I’m not sure where or why the habit started, but, it was troublesome enough that one Saturday morning, mama had had enough, grabbing me by the back of the head, shoving Dove soap inside my mouth, and holding me under running water. As her rage dissipated, she let me up, my eyes darting to the kitchen storm window, where I knew Kevin from next door was waiting. My mouth foaming, his mouth agape. Our family no longer his idea of fantastic; he turned to run.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Sally Cronin

She looked out through the slightly distorting storm windows that protected the house from the harsh winds that swept onto the coast from America. This part of Ireland was notorious for its harsh winters, but also its outstanding coastal views and warmhearted people. She had moved here to escape her past, and preferred the natural violence of the weather to that she had endured for many years. She sighed as she turned to face the man in the room. Another more dangerous storm had breached the defences and windows could not protect her. It was time to be brave.

🥕🥕🥕

Weekend Plans by Nicole Horlings

The storm had been bad. There were branches strewn across the road along with garbage from a knocked over bin. He had to park along the side of the road and walk the rest of the way to the property.

It was worse than he had hoped. A piece of siding was banging against the lee side of the cottage. The barbecue was upside down in the middle of the yard. One of the storm windows had been left partially open, and he could see that the water inside hadn’t dried up yet.

So much for a relaxing weekend.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Pete Fanning

I held the plywood while Dad drilled in the screws. The board shook against my hand and I slammed my shoulder into it.
Dad gave me a look.

I’d begged to stay in New Jersey, little good it did. Dad was sick of the harsh winters. No shoveling snow for the Harris family. No Sir. We were going to the beach.

Now look at us.

A gust of wind at my back. Two windows left, then we could get in the car and get up the road. The drill stopped. Dad looked down and laughed.

“Sure beats shoveling, huh?”

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by FloridaBorne

“Where’r you from Marcy?”  Mary Jo asked.

“Well, Mary, I’m from Joisey,” she snickered.

“I see you tore down the 100 year old oaks, two foot thick pines…”

“They’ll make good firewood,” Marcy said. “And I don’t like raking leaves.”

“This is Florida. You might need a fireplace in January. You shoulda put your money into double pane storm windows and storm shutters.”

Why, Mary?”

“My name is Mary Jo.”

“Well, where I come from, only hillbillies have two names.”

There was a cat 4 hurricane on approach. Some people had to learn the hard way, if they survived.

🥕🥕🥕

The Husband’s IQ by Ruchira

Carl was sitting at ease with a cigar while his daughter was by his semi-conscious wife’s bedside.

Farah was sobbing uncontrollably, “Get well soon, Mom.”

Hearing his daughter’s sobs, the Dad gave out a chortle.

Sarah was quick to ask him the reason for his behavior.

“She can’t go anywhere. Her soul, even when it leaves the body, has no choice but to go back into the body.”

“How so?”

“I have storm windows installed, and nothing can escape them.”

The partially conscious Mom came back to her senses upon hearing the above and laughed over her husband’s IQ.

🥕🥕🥕

# 33 Account Holder? by JulesPaige

…While reading a love ode I become homesick for simpler childish times.

The storm windows of my farm house keep out the cold, yet my heart feels chilled.

Put the kettle on, we’ll all have tea; just me, my Dawg, Byrd and Lucky.

Was the diamond bracelet was bought or stolen; are they even real?

Could Sam Marshall look at documents of recording missing items?

At the very least I could ask; a good excuse to see him again.
***
…snowflakes create crystals on the windows.
***
lost and found, trinkets
of love; words of longing reach
what are they saying

🥕🥕🥕

The Secret Life of Your Hammer by H.R.R. Gorman

Usually the hammer lived happily in a drawer next to the tape measure and a molten pack of gum, but sometimes the humans would attack. Someone would be abducted, sometimes for days, and abused mercilessly at their hands.

Today storm clouds whirled above, and the humans had innocent sheets of plywood to serve as storm windows. They withdrew a nail from a sack on their belts.

“Ow! Ow!” screeched the hammer.

But the human didn’t care. He beat the hammer senseless, imprisoned the poor nails in the plywood and siding, then left them precariously outside as the hurricane blew…

🥕🥕🥕

Nothing Left by Ann Edall-Robson

There is nothing left
The soul is gone
Standing stoic
Though aged and tattered
Drab and lifeless
Dressed in brown and grey
A welcome hearth, frozen
Expecting no one
Laughter long since vanished
Life drained from within
There is no remorse
With no appetite to return
Broken, shattered
Solitary and waiting
Darkness is everywhere
Lanterns hang, unlit
Lifeless forms peer out
Past craggy glistening shards
Edging traumatised storm windows
Wooden shutters hang lifeless
Snow swirls around collapsed beams
Mournful, piercing, wailing sounds
Challenging the lifeless rooms
The storm, it rages on
Outraged and unforgiving
The homestead lives no more

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Tipping the Beaufort Scale by Nancy Brady

Serafina loved wind, from warm southern breezes to biting northern squalls; she loved rain especially thunderstorms; she loved snow, blizzards as well as all the feathery, drifting flakes; but hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, and cyclones may have been her favorite meteorological events.

Serafina controlled them all from her tower room, which had four windows, one to the east, one to the west, one to the north, and one to the south. With the touch of her hand on the panes of the storm windows, she sent out tempests to wreak havoc on the land and the humans, who wanted sunshine.

🥕🥕🥕

Rescue Mission by Joanne Fisher

“Take us in.” ordered the Captain.

Once our starship dropped into the violent Crimson Nebula, we were buffeted by strong winds. We saw through the storm windows of our bridge thousands of lightning flashes before us. I knew the storm windows were built for conditions like this, but I secretly wondered if they were strong enough…

The huge manta-shaped Ecraw, who lived in nebulae like this, flew around our ship unaffected by the conditions around them.

Then I finally located the signal that we’d been unable to find due to the electromagnetic radiation. We had found the missing ship.

🥕🥕🥕

Size Matters by Geoff Le Pard

Storm Windows’ fame was legendry. Her ‘they shall not pass’ attitude protected the Empire from the evils winds that swirled around the Universe. She pacified Arturo V, negotiated a truce with the Phrngg, despite mistakenly calling their leader a shriveled turd throughout their discussions and battled countless animal vegetable and mineral enemies across a multitude of galaxies. First to enter a black hole, she redirected comets for fun and spent a sabbatical cleaning an event horizon. But nothing defined her like her death. Exiting hyperdrive, she mis-scaled the return to reality and splattered the Starfleet across a badly-hung fly-screen.

🥕🥕🥕

Yandeau Observatory by Saifun Hassam

Daniel loved his work at the Yandeau Observatory on a high plateau facing the Sea. It connected two worlds for him: Earth and Space.

Immense storm windows gave him a panoramic view of valleys and hills. He tracked sea storms through powerful Weather Telescopes. The Astronomy Telescopes gave him a spectacular window into constellations and planets. He imagined himself aboard a spaceship with storm windows as he downloaded satellite images of the outer planets.

Under a rising moon snow glistened on the mountains, high plateaus and ridges. The night sky was ablaze with magnetic storms of the Aurora Borealis.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Reena Saxena

“Nothing will happen till you learn networking and promoting yourself,” my business mentor shuts his laptop with a vengeance before leaving.

A solution is needed without overhauling the entire structure. It needs to be something like an overbridge or subway or bypass road. And then, I need a plan to divert traffic. I trained as a civil engineer, and do not lack in soft skills. It is just about the mode of expression.

You see, I’m an introvert and install storm windows outside every exit or entry. The structures I build are strong and secure – to a fault.

🥕🥕🥕

A Skeptical View by Jo Hawk

I know it exists to protect me, that invisible, visible layer. Glass over glass, engineered to exacting standards, safeguards designed to stand between me and… I pause. From what does it save me? Certain death? Or the thrill of living on the edge?

Engineers have created car airbags, helmets for a bicycle ride, handrails, guardrails, safety instructions, protective eyewear, ear protection, and countless other safety buffers. I experience my life as a boy in a bubble. Germ-free. Sterile.

I long to defy their rules, stretch past the double pane, storm window, touch the beautiful chaos and dare to live.

🥕🥕🥕

Snow is the Mother of Invention by Charli Mills
Trudging snowy streets in blizzard conditions, Regis arrived home. He flipped a spring-loaded mechanism at the side of each lens of improvised goggles. In place, the outer lenses prevented moisture from coating the inner ones. Tiny nozzles spayed an anti-freezing gel that kept the outer frost-free without harming his eyes. “Eureka,” he shouted, startling the crows in his bare maples. He hopped, skipped and slid, crashing through the basement door, grasping for any handhold. Empty-handed he sprawled across the floor. Regis pushed himself up and whistled cheerily. Storm windows for the nearsighted might be his best invention to date.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Windows by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Jared leaned against the bar, one boot heel hooked on the rail. His spurs lay next to his whiskey, silent as the glass was empty. Time to decide.

He could ride south to his father’s oil refinery. That way lay fine suits, easy money, easier women. His father’d left his family, but he might want to know his son. The resemblance? Startling , if his mother Lula’s cameo locket was any indication.

Or he could ride north to the sweetest, most beautiful girl, with the meanest daddy.

A storm brewed outside the window. He walked out into it, anyway.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Window by Iain Kelly

The view was bleak, much like his future.

The waves rolled along, grey with white crests, unrelenting, unremitting. His stomach had finally settled down after two days of sickness.

What did he care about these countries over the ocean? They could bomb themselves into oblivion for all he cared.

The rain battered the window, but the bad weather would pass soon.

Underneath those foreboding waves they knew they were being hunted by the German U-boats.

He had heard stories from those who had come back. Those who had survived.

He knew the real storm lay in front of him.

🥕🥕🥕

Nightmare by Simon Prathap

11 year old Sara is a curious little girl, never listens to her parents.
Her Mom use to say to never play with storm shutters.
But she never listened.
That fateful day, Sara opens the storm shutter and jumped.
What she saw through the window was her worst nightmare.
A man with a big axe waved fast at her head.
Sara screamed.
Her mom came fast and hugged her and consoled.
Little Sara It was just a dream and asked what she dreamed?
I opened the storm shutter, I am sorry mom I won’t play with storm shutters again.

🥕🥕🥕

Storm Clouds by Bill Engleson

Like a chaotic cyclone, the trickster spins his webs,
A dervish of deceit, a gong of goose-steps,
A shallow man of no dimension,
Of mirror’d pleasure, of foul intention.

There in his bunker, his mind aflutter
With tortured tweets and callow clutter,
He grasps the world through his video shutter,
A portal seen from his POTUS gutter.

How are we to understand this mock-man kitsch,
His toxic assault on Marie Yovanovitch?
Slathered in his cholesterol tweets,
His cries descend to bulbous bleats.

Will there be a reprieve, a cleansing storm,
A clarity, a return to reason, to decent form?

🥕🥕🥕

A Confusing Session by Chelsea Owens

“Storm windows.”

“Sorry; what?”

“That’s it. That’s what I live behind!”

Matt Burdsall, PhD, moved from his leaning-forward mirrored-glasses scrutinization into a leaning-back mirrored-glasses scrutinization.

“Your glasses made me think of it.”

Dr. Burdsall attempted to keep his expression neutral. This new patient, Holly Runner, was a curious one. First, she’d explained Social Anxiety as, “Party Aversion,” then she’d said her Passive-Aggressive mother had, “Tangled Trauma.” He’d needed his daughter to explain that Tangled was a film…

Now storm windows. *Ahem* “How so?”

“Well!” Holly sounded excited. “Whenever bad things -storms- come up, I block them! Ta-da! Storm windows!”

🥕🥕🥕

Whatever happened to Rose and Storm? by Anne Goodwin

They buddied up at college, the way chalk buddies up to cheese. Each sharpening her own perspective on the whetstone of the other’s worldview. Zooming in on each other’s flaws and limitations, the better to eliminate their own.

Later, Rose made a decent living peddling soft-fringed portraits for high days and holidays; Storm tailed evil to the ends of the earth. Rose bought a house with double glazing; Storm spread her sleeping bag in foxholes or on dusty floors. The same degree, the same camera, different outcomes: one with pink-tinged lenses, the other opening a window on life’s storms.

🥕🥕🥕

Climate Storm v. Storm Windows by Tina Stewart Brakebill

She wondered whether the storm windows would hold. They were meant to keep out bad weather not … well whatever was falling from the sky. It was funny she used to think the end of the world would come later. After she was gone. Not when her dreams were finally within her grasp.
Climate Storm v. Storm Windows by Tina Stewart Brakebill

It wasn’t fair. She had done everything right. And now. Now the sky was literally falling.

Lost in thought, her mind barely registered the hissing as the bubbles burst through the window pane.

As the drops burned through her flesh, her mind screamed “It’s not fair!”

🥕🥕🥕

Where Mankind Can Weather the Storms of Life by Brenda Fluharty

There is said, to be a realm where one can go to weather the storms of life.  When the events of your life overburden you. You can call on the archangels.  And, if you are in touch with your higher-self and the energies of the Universe.  The archangels will open the storm windows for you.  You will find a place where all is known and the books of lives.  A realm where you will find all the answers you are looking for. It is a place where all mankind can weather the storms of life. The Storm Windows Realm.

🥕🥕🥕

The Plop Thickens by D. Avery

“Yer lookin’ grumpy, Kid. What’s the story?”

“Pal, there ain’t no story. Dang D.Avery jist plopped us onta the ranch where we jist plod along week after week. We’re jist a plotless premise. Thinkin’ we should git us a better writer.”

“So yer schemin’ ta git a plotter ‘stead of a plodder?”

“Yep. Nuthin’ ever happins ta us; we’re jist a collection a what’s with no why’s.”

“Ya wanna have problems? Go inta a cave?”

“Well…”

“Kid, ya might not think it’s enough action, but yer fittin’ the prompt.”

“How’s that?”

“Yer an extra pane in the glass.”

🥕🥕🥕

November 14: Flash Fiction Challenge

Storm windows form an extra layer against the cold like thermal underwear in winter. It’s that time of year when my global positioning triggers EOSO — early-onset-snow-obsession. I recently entered a short story contest dedicated to the theme of snow. I wrote, “I live in a snow globe where a dome of clouds hunkers…” Storm windows buffer my watch over the ever-falling snow glitter.

And they went up this morning with whacks and thunks. When your house has lived through 120 years of storm window seasons, a rubber mallet helps to pound the frames into place. My son-in-law popped by this morning to finish up a few before-winter-hits house projects because winter already hit.

Already, I feel less of a draft with the extra panes. I wonder, when were storm windows invented? We have the original 120-year-old windows with glass imperfections that can warp the view outside. Who were the people who lived here before, and were they window-gazers? As writers, as creatives, as dreamers, we stare out of windows.

“Give me a window and I’ll stare out it.”

~ Alan Rickman

“In the old days, writers used to sit in front of a typewriter and stare out of the window. Nowadays, because of the marvels of convergent technology, the thing you type on and the window you stare out of are now the same thing.”

~ Douglas Adams

“My favorite journey is looking out the window.”

~ Edward Gorey

“Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.”

~ Edith Wharton

“If you want the people to understand you, invite them to your life and let them see the world from your window!”

~ Mehmet Murat ildan

“I was just sitting on the train, just staring out the window at some cows. It was not the most inspiring subject. When all of a sudden the idea of Harry just appeared in my mind’s eye.”

~ J. K. Rowling

My friend, Paula, drove six hours from Minneapolis to stay with me this week while drafts of cold wafted through the windows before the second layers went up. She came to stare out windows, winterized or not. My vision for home and Carrot Ranch converges — this house at World Headquarters is the Roberts Street Writery. A place to stare out of windows.

Paula calculated that we’ve seen each other three times in seven years. Before that, we saw each other daily, working on a management team together. Paula is a leader of leaders. Specifically, she is an independent certified Dare to Lead™ facilitator trained by Brené Brown.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

~ Brené Brown

As writers, to own our stories is to cultivate our authentic voices, the one distinction that will define our writing and keep our output original. We know all about vulnerability. To write is to be courageous.

My friend dares to step out to the frontlines of a VUCA world, to train leaders for uncertain times. When I first read the definition for VUCA, I thought perhaps it was a bit harsh, but then, look at the state of American politics this week and how much has shifted and polarized over the past two years. Look at crises around the world and our connectivity to it all. VUCA is a dim prospect to consider.

In a way, my friend installs storm windows, teaching leadership skills for a turbulent world.

Entrepreneurs are like artists. Or artists are like entrepreneurs.

“When I say artist I mean the one who is building things … some with a brush – some with a shovel – some choose a pen.”

~ Jackson Pollock

The Roberts Street Writery is a place where my friend could unplug from her busy uncertain world and slow down to dream about building her leadership consulting business. She arrived at the Keweenaw snow globe on Monday, Veteran’s Day. She joined a group of us from the Vet Center for dinner at the Pilgrim Steakhouse (they generously offered free meals to veterans that day). She joined one of my local writer friends, Donna, at the Continental Fire Company to co-judge a Rodeo contest and met my friend Cynthia at the Ripley Falls Home of Healing. We toured Finlandia’s facilities for workshops, shopped Copper World in Calumet, and had coffee at Cafe Rosetta. She told me it felt like there is more air here.

Carrot Ranch Headquarters is a place where artists and entrepreneurs can collect their thoughts, breathe, and find respite. It’s also a place to find an intact community. Paula writes about her visit in Good Times and Perfect Strangers. The benefits are reciprocal. The Keweenaw experiences new ideas, art, and exchanges. Roberts Street Writery guests experience what they need for rejuvenation. My friend is my fourth guest (our very own D. Avery was my first).

We have much yet to do to get the house the way I envision it for guests, but it is fully functioning and everyone enjoys its character. We have a queen bed in the Rodeo Room and a twin air mattress for the Unicorn Reading Room. After the first of the year, I’ll be hosting Silent Reading Parties and Write-ins. They will be live literary events simultaneously at the Roberts Street Writery and online. More details to come mid-January.

If any Carrot Rancher wants to get away to the Keweenaw, the Rodeo Room is open to you for up to three nights at no cost to stay. In the future, I hope to establish an actual Artist in Residency and seek travel support locally or through grants. But that’s likely a few years out. Like with everything we do, this is a simple first step.

If you are interested in coming to stay at the world headquarters for Carrot Ranch, shoot me a message. It’s an exchange: you get respite and a place to write, my community gets to meet a writer. I can set up readings from private to public, take you on a media tour, and let you experience all the Keweenaw has to offer or space for staring out windows.

This term, I’m studying plot and continuing to master x-ray reading. I’m plowing through I novel I detest, which is good. I’m reading carefully to understand how the author constructed it, what rubs me the wrong way, and why critics highly regard it. I’ll withhold final judgment until completed, but it has ruined my I’m-so-excited-to-read-every-day vibe. It’s work.

The other two novels offer more story, although one has horrible characters. Mind you, they are well-crafted characters, but shallow, racist, sexist, selfish characters. The third book has a great narrative drive and a protagonist (a book conservator). But the point of my opinion is that not all readers are a book’s target market. As an MFA student, I don’t get to read my pleasure. I’m reading as an author, and each book is teaching me something about the craft and industry marketing.

I’ve talked before about plotters and pantsers (writing by the seat of your pants). I firmly believe a book writer must be both, but how and when is a matter of learning to work to one’s strength. I identify as a pantser, but professionally, I’m striving for plantser, an intentional combination. I’m excited to be learning more about how to plot.

This week, I learned a way to craft a chapter like it were carpentry. Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez described in an interview (Writing Craftsmanship, Films on Demand) how the writer is to hook the reader by revealing the what but not the how. He gives an example of an opening that makes a reader wonder if the character gets killed. Our curiosity often breaks the spell to flip to the last page. Instead, Marquez advises, state right away that the character gets killed and then hook the reader line by line with the story of how.

One of my professors also linked to Kurt Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories! We already know that one. But it is a useful technique to think of every story you are familiar with (from fairy tales to books read) and name their shapes. This exercise teaches you to identify plot. You can also answer these questions in brief when you read:

  1. How is the plot introduced?
  2. How does the plot develop?
  3. How does the plot climax?
  4. What is the plot’s resolution?

Know the difference between premise and plot. Think of a premise as that the what-if setup — what if an orphaned boy was capable of magic and had to go to a secret school to master his skills? How Harry Potter does that and all the things that happen next are elements of plot.

My professor pointed out that often, early in writing, we have a great premise but no plot. Premise is not plot. It gave me an a-ha moment. I love to write for discovery. But that doesn’t mean I discover the plot. Therefore, it’s good to master quick plot-mapping skills (through learning to summarize book plots) so that you can plot while you pants. Plantsing.

And if you are the opposite, carefully plotting, make sure you also take time to write without the framework to see what you might discover. You can pants in between plotting. Plantsing.

I know we have stared out windows before, but let’s have some fun with storm windows as a phrase or device in our stories this week.

November 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using storm windows. It can be literal on a house, but also consider other portals, even spaceships or submarines. Can you make it into something new or build a story around something historical? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by November 19, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests during the 2019 Rodeo will be announced on November 28, 2019.

Snow is the Mother of Invention by Charli Mills
Trudging snowy streets in blizzard conditions, Regis arrived home. He flipped a spring-loaded mechanism at the side of each lens of improvised goggles. In place, the outer lenses prevented moisture from coating the inner ones. Tiny nozzles spayed an anti-freezing gel that kept the outer frost-free without harming his eyes. “Eureka,” he shouted, startling the crows in his bare maples. He hopped, skipped and slid, crashing through the basement door, grasping for any handhold. Empty-handed he sprawled across the floor. Regis pushed himself up and whistled cheerily. Storm windows for the nearsighted might be his best invention to date.

November 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

Water is life.

It’s 4 a.m., and I’m brewing a pot of coffee in the Hub’s stainless steel pot. I pour the water into the reservoir, scoop coffee grounds dark as dirt into a filter, and hit brew. Back upstairs, I shower beneath hot water, letting the flow ease the stiffness from my body and revive my senses. I dress in layers to prepare for the biting cold of Gichigami — the Big Sea called Lake Superior. It’s October, and I have no plans to dip a toe in the sea, but I will be spending much of the day along her frigid fall shores. In a skirt.

Skirts feel like a foreign language to me; I’m never sure if I’m wearing one correctly. But I’m part of something sacred, and protocols state that kwe wear skirts so the earth can recognize that we are women. Fortunately, protocols also allow for pants underneath (translation for Brits in case you thought I might go commando, pants as in trousers). I’ve packed extra socks, a first-aid kit, communal drinking water in a 10-gallon cooler, snacks baked or donated by my Warrior Sisters, food for tonight’s feast in a small church basement, and the steel coffee pot.

Forty-five minutes later, I’ve avoided the deer hanging out alongside the road and drive in the pitch dark past Copper Harbor. It’s 5:30 a.m., and I park my car at Astor Shipwreck Park across the road from Fort Wilkins, which is shuttered until next spring. My car companion is going to drive a truck behind two senior citizens who will ride behind a group of women who are gathering this early morning to walk the water from Copper Harbor to Sandpoint Lighthouse in Keweenaw Bay, home of the Anishinaabe. They are meeting us here in the dark, teaching us their protocols so we might unite all peoples to do the work of the water. The Anishinaabekwe — the women — all wear traditional ribbon skirts and good walking boots or tennies.

It’s so dark, we don’t know each other and laugh as we begin to figure out voices. The air is cold, and the weather forecasters predict mixed precipitation. The Water Walkers of the tribe plan to make the 90 mile trip in three days. I’ve been helping with logistics — social media, communications, securing food and shelter. No one is in charge, but without a doubt, the Anishinaabekwe lead us. They hope to break down cultural barriers and teach us to protect the water according to their traditions. Gichigami is their Big Sea. The lands we walk across are ceded territories. To do the work of the water is to take a spiritual journey.

A small motor put-puts in the dark, heralding the arrival of two elderly women in a golf cart. People move and shift in shadows. Terri has the copper pot with Nibi (water), and another person carries the Eagle Staff. I can’t see, but I hear the pitch of excitement in her voice. The walk has begun. We are all asked to place acema (tobacco) in our left hand, the hand closest to our hearts, and say a prayer for the water as we cross over Fannie Hooe Creek and follow the kwe carrying Nibi in a copper vessel. Once the water is in motion, it cannot stop. Kwe take turns conveying the water, and any gender or non-binary can hold the staff. Several young and robust women from the Copper Harbor area will take turns with the Anishinaabekwe.

My friends are among those who have gathered — Cynthia and Laura (rodeo judges, they are, too). I set out with them at a brisk speed. It’s so dark and silent as we walk to Copper Harbor. We chatter and laugh. I start to worry that the pace is faster than I anticipated. My friend, Bon, is waiting at her house along the lake route with breakfast for the walkers. I plan to walk and catch a ride back to my car, but no one seems to know how far ahead the relay van is. So, I turn back and walk alone to my car, my thoughts on my role to support the Water Walkers. I feel like a contrary clown, walking backward.

That was October 19.

I had planned to offer snacks and water. Bon gifted me with the use of her air-pots for coffee and a recipe for omelets on the go. The ones she made for the walkers were a huge hit. I had set up the feast at Bethany Church in Mohawk. I would feed people. The next day, I might fill in where I could, but I knew another person was managing that night’s feast, and the following day, I’d touch base. The Tribal Council was in charge of that feast. I felt like the event was going smoothly, and I’d be needed less and less.

Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans? Nibi had other intentions.

Fourteen years ago, my daughter was a junior in high school. I had hoped she would attend secondary school at my alma mater — Carrol College in Montana. But she was also interested in another liberal arts college — Northland in northern Wisconsin. We made trips to both places, and the first time I saw Bayfield, Wisconsin, I fell in love with the Chequamegon Bay. For years, we had camped in northern Minnesota, and the North Shore of Lake Superior captivated me. The cliffs and waves of the North Shore are terrifying and majestic. Along Chequamegon Bay, the Apostle Islands buffer the inland sea.

When I first wrote Miracle of Ducks, I set it in Bayfield. I knew that Ike’s best friend, Michael Robineaux, would be from the band of Red Cliff Ojibwa. That’s how he came to me, in the way characters do.

What I didn’t know, until after the walk, is that Bayfield is ceded Anishinaabe lands. Madeline Island, where I studied the W-story structure at MISA, is a spiritual place for the tribe. It’s a sacred water place. In 2012, I seriously contemplated making it my home, the draw of the water had been so strong that summer I had lived there, writing and bobbing in the bay. Instead, I went to Idaho to be with the Hub. My eldest and her husband moved to Missoula, Montana. Our middle daughter moved out west, and we joked that our son would come next. But the water called us back. Gichigami called me home — Lady Lake Superior.

Day two of the Water Walk I learned that it is not about the walk. People peeled off, leaving a small core group. We had to strategize relaying the water, keeping it flowing forward. My focus shifted to the Grandmothers — the two in the golf cart. I felt drawn to carry Nibi and asked the Hub if he’d carry the Eagle Staff. He said no, citing his other knee, which will need surgery. That deflated me. I’ve had three back surgeries, and I’m fit to run a desk. I realized I was not one to walk the water. And I had a role to play. I was doing the work of the water, too. When the Water Walkers crossed the Houghton Bridge, more people joined. I wanted to walk across the bridge, too, but someone needed to drive the Tribal van.

Kwe in skirts with Nibi.

Arranging for police escort was tricky. They wanted to meet the walkers at a certain point and time, but the water doesn’t stop or wear a watch. Neither does the woman carrying Nibi. I stayed in contact with our officer as another woman, and I scouted the route and where we could cross. By the time the Water Walkers caught up, the group had grown to twenty. At that point, I took over the van (“Look Native,” Kathy told me). I parked on the other side of the Keweenaw Waterway, the great canal large enough for lake freighters, and hoofed it back up to the bridge, camera in hand.

The video catches an awkward cultural miscommunication — the Water Walkers recognized me and shouted oo-waa! I did not shout back. Sometimes I’m slow to understand social cues. Later, when I learned more about this vocalization, Kathy told me she likes to go into the woods and shout. Sometimes she gets a call back. It’s the early communication system of the Anishinaabe: “I’m here, I see you, where are you.” But I knew I was seen, I was called to merge with the walkers as they passed me on the bridge followed by the flashing lights of the Hancock Police.

People asked what we were protesting. The police asked if we were carrying signs, and what did they read? One of my roles was to educate people, and I made small handouts to explain the Water Walk. Our message joins all colors, philosophies, faiths, and beliefs — no matter our differences, no matter our political standings, no matter our knowledge of science, one simple truth binds us all — Water is life. Cutting through the bike trails to avoid traffic in Houghton, our Water Walkers passed homeowners mowing lawns and raking leaves. One man dismounted his riding mower and salutes the procession with his hand on his heart. The Grandmothers teared up, touched by the simple recognition.

Our mixed group is called People of the Heart. Kathy and Terri come from the same Lodge where they practice traditional healing. Their teachings clearly state that they are for “all people.” In fact, 500 years ago, the Anishinaabe left their eastern lands to adhere to prophecy. They were to go where the food grows on the water (wild rice, manoomin) — the Northland (north Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and the upper peninsula of Michigan). There would come a time when the world would need the teachings of the Anishinaabe. The time has come for us to protect our water

Water is life.

Not oil, not money, not the latest iPhone or Unicode emoji. Kathy is not only a Water Walker, but she is also a biologist for the Tribe. For many years, she fought wildfires out west, leading a Native crew. Terri is an early childhood educator for the Tribe. The Grandmothers both serve on Tribal Council and sew. Sewing includes traditional skirts, shirts, and vests with ribbons, embroidery, and beading. The Anishinaabe traditions co-exist with the modern world, and it’s a gift packed with wisdom and experience and wonder. It’s teaching based on responsible use, respect, gratitude, and protection. Water is life, and we are to protect it not only for our generation but for the next seven.

How will decisions made today impact the future? Does policy or pollution threaten those seven generations from now? If we do this today, what happens tomorrow? Imagine if seven generations ago, those in power thought this way. We have become short-sighted. Doing the work of the water means taking time to contemplate its future, our future, a future we won’t live to see, but one we impact right now. Water has no voice. Corporations have personhood, but water does not. Kwe speak for the sovereignty of water, we are the life-bringers, the women with the capacity to carry a baby to term in a sac of water. Corporations have legal rights, but water is life.

Day three dawned long after I had. Three mornings in a row, I rose at 4 a.m. to fix four pots of coffee, refill the water jug, pack snacks, and fix breakfast on the go for the Water Walkers. I have relaying down by day three. Our support vehicles leap-frog ahead half a mile. My warm car is ready for walkers to take a break. We are operating lean — one kwe to carry Nibi, one person to carry the Eagle Staff. Once the sun comes up, several other women walk in support, and we continue the half-mile to a mile relay. The water moves forward, not stopping

The Grandmothers have accepted me, and they laugh and joke, waving their mugs my direction for more coffee. They take my succession of snacks, loving bologna sandwiches the best. Kathy calls it “Indian steak.” In America, it’s the comfort food of the poor. I know bologna well. When we were broke down and homeless in Gallup, we shared all the poor food I knew growing up with the Natives in New Mexico. Never had pinto beans tasted so good as when shared by others who know life’s struggles and yet still smile and give all they have to give. At feast the night before, the Grandmothers claimed me, and the Hub says the Navajo wanted me, too. Kathy says, “The Dine can not have her,” and we all laugh.

It’s a wonder to me, a moment of serendipity, that Michael Robineaux came to me as an imaginary character for a novel years before I’d come to be known to his people. When I felt the draw to Lake Superior, I was called by Gichigami to know her fully, to know all nations touching her shores. Oo-wa! I am seen. This time I understand enough to call back. Oo-wa! I see your humanity, too. We are one. The water unites us.

At dawn on the third day, I found a snowmobile bar open and willing to let us use the restrooms. By then, the whole UP had heard of the Water Walkers with news coverage. All the kwe used community connections and news media to get the word out. Somehow, an officer with the State Troopers missed all that. He pulled over Terri’s truck that drove behind the Grandmothers like an honor guard. In her absence, I slid in. The Grandmothers are all-seeing from behind. They watch the walkers, the water, the staff, the land, and the sky. They speak up when they need to and stay silent to let the younger ones experience for themselves. We need all generations in unity.

We need all peoples, all nations. Water is life.

One of the walkers asked me to walk Nibi. I didn’t think I could. But I tried. She said she’d walk with me, carrying the Eagle Staff. This kwe, whose dog was dying as we walked, focused on life, not death. This strong woman wanted all of us kwe to spend time in contemplation, carrying Nibi no matter our levels of strength. As I faced the Water Walker coming my way, I confessed my fear — it’s the same one that hits me when I submit my writing — it’s not enough, I’m not enough. Old recordings, debilitating doubt, lies we believed. I focused on the truth. Water is life. I grabbed the copper bucket, I did not look to the left, I did not look to the right, I walked forward. At my own pace.

I’m surrounded by women dancing circles around me in skirts and shawls. Why was I ever averse to skirts? They flow like water, skirts to skirts, shawls to shawls, women encircle the work, doing the work of water. I carry Nibi in me. Gitchigami rises overhead in a thick bank of clouds pushing away the storm that was supposed to hit us during the walk. Water kept us dry. Eleven eagles greeted us at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community border. We walked the Anishinaabekwe home. I walked the water. I am a Water Walker. I am kwe. This time the story caught the story-catcher.

Lead Buckaroo walks the water.

November 7, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes Water Walkers. It does not have to be in the Anishinaabe tradition; in fact, it would be more interesting to see interpretations from across all nations and walks. It can be a title or used as a phrase. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by November 12, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests during the 2019 Rodeo will be announced on November 28, 2019.

SUBMISSIONS CLOSED. SEE OUR LATEST CHALLENGE.

Water Walkers by Charli Mills

My Nakomis shields my body with hers when they pelt us with rubber bullets. They don’t understand why we don’t die like all the others around the globe. They think we hoard a stash of stolen science. We are the Water Walkers, and we speak on behalf of the world’s poisoned water. Scientists can now alter the DNA code of entire families to survive the hydro-toxicity crisis. Only select families, though. They want to know why we aren’t altered or dead. Threatened us to give up our secret. Nakomis says we never held back. We tried to teach them.

September 26: Flash Fiction Challenge

From his post in the Eagle River Lighthouse, a young surfman spied a double-stack steamer through his binoculars. It was dead in the water, listing sideways and he couldn’t see the ship’s name. The maple and birch leaves must have started to turn because it was September 16, 1901. Autumn colors and gales hold hands in September. It can be warm and muggy one day, blustering with cold rain the next. In between, mist hovers and chlorophyll dissolves to expose brilliant oranges and yellows. Concern might have wrinkled the surfman’s brow. A gale with steady eight-foot waves will even stop the modern US Ranger from going out to Isle Royale. Today’s lake freighters will plow through autumn gales but change their course, wary of the Keweenaw. The western edge is unfriendly when Lake Superior orchestrates a gale.

That day, 118 years ago, communication systems fainted at the mere mention of winds, so fragile were the lines to weather. The surfman had no communication with the ship. It was not flying any distress flags, but it was no time or place to have cut the engines. Did they fail? Did something precipitate the quiet listing, such as the ship’s load shifting or another below decks emergency? The winds whipped, the waves roared with a pushing surf, and colored leaves blew from the shoreline trees. The American flags along the Keweenaw were flying half-mast on September 16, 1901, while President McKinley laid in state, assassinated two days earlier. No other signals indicated distress. The surfman watched from his post as the ship rolled over whole and disappeared.

For days, uncertainty cast doubt upon the sole witness. Boats launched to rescue survivors and found nothing and no one. No other ships experienced difficulties with the September 16th gale; it had not been particularly forceful or noted for rogue waves. With communications down, and trips taking days or weeks to complete, it was hard to determine if a ship was yet missing. Newspapers and the nation were focused on the tragic death of the president, not on speculation over what one young surfman at a remote Lake Superior post might have seen.

Then debris began to emerge, most of it wood, including the black and yellow masts that caused alarm — could it be the famous steamer known by those colors? A few bodies emerged, wearing lifevests clearly marking the ship’s identity. As feared, it was the Hudson. 288 feet long, her steel hull never appeared. It took mere days for Lake Superior to bash her wood parts and release the debris to surface and shore. A lake not known for giving up her dead, the surfmen must have felt surprised that a few escaped. None survived. Lake Superior held tight to the crew of 25, including the ship’s master, Angus J. McDonald.

But that is not the end.

There is a maritime legend to consider. In the 1940s, a tug coming around Keweenaw Point encountered a rusty, mud-slimed ship. It plowed toward them, and the tug had to veer to avoid a collision. Thinking the ship in distress, the tug captain boarded it. While it was solid beneath his boots, the apparitions that appeared were not. The ghosts warned him to get off as they were the crew of the Hudson and doomed to relive their sinking every year for eternity. The date was September 16.

That’s not the end, either.

Two Great Lakes shipwreck hunters located the Hudson, using sonar equipment they built. They had narrowed their search to 32 square miles, which in regards to the size of Lake Superior, was a relatively small area. In July of 2019, they found the Hudson in deep water, its bow plowed into the bottom of the lake. Eerily, the Hudson remains intact as if she could rise and float the way the tug captain described of his ghostly encounter. On September 16 of this year, the explorers who found the wreck attempted to see if she remained on her historic day of sinking. They were unable to determine.

It’s not the ghost stories or the maritime history that captivates me. I’m drawn to the Keweenaw shipwrecks because of those unremembered. Immediately, my imagination flashes to the surfman who witnessed the ship capsize. What a sight! And to have no one believe you for days, how would that feel? Who were the people who waited for those 25 men to return to Detroit? One account claimed that the ship’s master was “wedded” to the Hudson. What did that mean? And if the ship were doomed to relive its sinking every year, why? And who was that tug captain anyhow?

The best way for me to answer these questions is a combination of research and writing. You all know my favorite format for writing — 99 words, no more, no less. I start my research with Wreck Reports and other records my maritime historian friend collects. Her interest is in the surfmen who risked their lives to save those in peril on Lake Superior. Over 30,000 lives have been lost on the Great Lakes. That’s a lot of unremembered sailors and such. Alas, I must wait for the initial documents and can do nothing more but imagine the whipping winds and the shock of the sight, a ship rolling over.

This past week, my coursework prepares me to begin training in the infamous MFA workshop process. As writers, we can feel intimidated to receive feedback. Receiving criticism on our writing is not easy but is necessary for improvement. It’s not the writer who is critiqued, but the work. Authors make common mistakes, and we are learning what to look for when critiquing our peers. An amusing but informative primer from the Science Fiction Writer’s Association blog pinpoints such problem areas with humor specific to sci-fi. However, all writers can learn from it’s evolving list. The same site also offers guidelines for critiquing work for publication.

This training will inform the bedrock of workshops we’ll one day have online at Carrot Ranch. In addition to my MFA, I’m also studying for a certificate to teach creative writing online. While that fruition is a ways off yet, another endeavor at the Ranch is right around the corner — next week, the Flash Fiction Rodeo begins.

Leaders and judges from last year might feel unremembered, but that was not the intent. So much has happened between last Rodeo and this, I simply did not plan as I had in the past. D. Avery, Sherri Matthews, Norah Colvin, Geoff Le Pard, and Irene Waters and their judges did a fine job last year. Their creativity and critique are much appreciated. This year, a group of local judges will manage their duties at a Roberts Street Writery event. Judges will converge over a shared meal and relaxed environment to pair up on four different contests to pick a top-prize winner and two runners up. I’ll be the tie-breaker judge in all events.

The purpose of the Rodeo is to provide writers with an opportunity to showcase your best skills. It’s also a chance for those who have not entered contests to get their feet wet in a safe environment. This year, I intend to provide a brief critique to the top ten contestants. It’s a way for me to practice, and an opportunity for writers to gain an insight into the effectiveness of flash fiction writing. 40 critiques, even brief, is as much as I can manage. As I did last year, I’ll publish all the contest entries in collections.

Another difference: This year, writers can only submit one entry. Why? Because it is a contest. I want us all to learn how to first critique our own work. I want you to take enough time to let your first draft sit. Sit, don’t submit. Then read it over after a day or two. You’ll be surprised at how you’ll read it differently. Read it out loud. How does the language flow? Is it complete? Is it correct? Polish it up. A contest is different from a challenge. Focus on your best draft. If the prompt leads you to multiple drafts, you will have the opportunity to submit extras as challenge responses. Or, if you don’t like the idea of a contest, submit as usual, but indicate Challenger in the box that will ask you Contest or Challenge. Challengers will be published weekly through the submission form as usual.

Top prize offered is $25 in the form of US dollars or an Amazon gift card or as a donation to the charity of the winner’s choice. The Rodeo is meant to be fun, and also a step up from a weekly challenge. I hope you all enjoy the next four weeks. The Flash Fiction Rodeo begins October 3 and ends Oct. 29. We’ll run on the same schedule — contests announced on Thursdays, ending the following Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. The only difference is that I’ll be more punctual! After all, I have to step up, too.

Now, let’s play one more week before the Rodeo commences.

September 26, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about someone unremembered. Is it a momentary lapse or a loss in time? Play with the tone — make it funny, moving, or eerie. Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by October 1, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

The Night After Lake Superior Swallowed the Hudson by Charli Mills

“And she rolled over like a lapdog!” First-mate of the Eagle River Life-Saving Station hooted. He slapped Charles on the back, blowing pipe smoke in his face.

Charles coughed; his lungs weak from a bout of pneumonia after attempting to reach a floundering fishing boat last month. “Saw it, I did.” He glowered at their jovial faces and stalked off, rounding the dark corner of the station, nearly colliding with the white-bearded keeper.

“Wreckage will rise, Charles. The teasing will cease. Let them laugh for tonight. It’s the best they can do for those unremembered beneath this cold-hearted sea.”

September 19: Flash Fiction Challenge

Last night my hands shook as I checked my iPhone battery obsessively, focused my camera, and touched the American flag on a stick in my back pocket. I didn’t want to gouge somebody with the flag, but I couldn’t hold my sign, banner, and phone all at once. My sign read, Welcome home, Rich. His wife made a batch of them for us who gathered with her. I did not want to miss the loving moment 49 years in the making. B had waited that long to welcome home her soldier.

On July 4, 1969, R left for Vietnam, giving his fiance a rhinestone American flag pin. He married her, perhaps with reluctance as most returning Vietnam soldiers felt like damaged goods, unworthy for loved ones they had left behind. Many broke off engagements. Many lashed out at wives, initiating cycles of generational trauma. Some rode out the storms, finding help, finding balance, finding peace.

B waited for R, and they exchanged vows. Their marriage has been both loving and fraught with the specters of Vietnam. Every veteran adjusts — or not — differently. The spouses do, too. Those who are strong, like B, hold onto their identities, advocate for healthcare, and shake up their veterans when necessary. At lunch a few weeks ago, R told me his wife is a pit bull. He means she fights for him as committedly as he fought for his nation. He then said I was a pit bull, too. I take it as a term of honor, coming from a combat veteran who fought an unpopular war.

Standing next to B at the Delta County Airport in Escanaba, Michigan which is 200 miles from their home on the Keweenaw, I asked her what it felt like to welcome home her hero 50 years after he had left for Vietnam. She confided that she never thought she’d see the day. R never spoke of what he experienced in-country, but he finally opened up after seeking help for PTSD ten years ago. Like me, B was surprised to meet other combat veteran spouses. We are so invisible that we don’t even know about each other until we end up in groups like ours. The Vet Centers of America are the only organizations that actively include veteran spouses in readjustment counseling.

Three of us BABs (veteran spouses) stood next to B on the tarmac, watching the sunset turn the scattering of horizontal clouds copper. We waited with B to welcome home R from the Mission 17 UP Honor Flight to Washington DC. It’s a project that helps combat veterans find closure. They visit war memorials, meet their state representatives, read mail call on the flight, and return to a patriotic reception. Koppers, a local plant, charted a bus and catered our dinner, all free of charge, so we could travel the 400 miles to be part of the crowd that welcomes home our veterans. R. was on Mission 17 yesterday.

B with her new blue hoodie that reads on the back, “It’s never too late to say thanks,” printed off greeting signs for us. One of our other BABs bought us all small flags to wave. B wore a huge smile and her 50-year-old pin. Beneath it was a new one to commemorate the Honor Flight. She said she never believed she’d see the day R would be welcomed home. A youngster waiting in the crowd told a bystander, “My friend thought it was disgusting that my grandpa got spit on, but we are not going to spit at him this time.” No, we were going to cheer and hug.

And I was going to capture that reunion. A welcome home born of war, cancer, and interludes.

Just like when we write a novel, life holds key kernels, those events that shape us and our relationships. All else are satellite details in terms of narratology. But the interludes add up too and quantify who we become. Despite war on one end of marriage and cancer on this end, B and R have had sweet interludes with family, friends, and living on the Keweenaw. B was there to welcome him home like they were young and in love all over again. She was going to welcome him home with the expectation of the young woman who waited 50 years ago, not knowing if she’d ever see the young man who gave her a pin. B was going to welcome him home with every ounce of energy she had left in her bones and soul.

Interludes are not the transitions, but the sweet music that fills in the gaps of life. After we graduate school, often we take an interlude of traveling or working. When the kids leave home, we fill the space with distractions until we find purpose again. Writers complete a novel and paint until words come again, and a new novel takes seed. Veteran spouses know many interludes and are adept at filling the space. I find that my own life has entered an interlude of sorts. Not a transition, not a beginning or an ending, but a song until the orchestra returns; coursework until I’m ready to tackle the manuscript with new vigor.

Soon, I’ll be starting the workshop process. I want to learn both sides — as a writer and as a teacher. One gap I see for indie writers is the lack of access to creative writing critique. It’s crucial to development, and yet it can be crushing if not executed with respect and expertise. Kind of like squashing the spirit of a veteran who is trying to find healing and closure. For now, I’m learning with an eye to offering critique groups in the future. It can help develop a book to prepare it for an editor. My instructor has advised us that how we learn to critique is like developing our own editorial style. I hadn’t thought of editing being a style like writing.

And so it progresses. Life with its big moments and small interludes in between. How can we use those to tell stories?

September 19, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an interlude. It can be a pause between two key moments, the pause between acts in a play, an intermission, or a temporary amusement Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by September 24, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

SUBMISSIONS FOR PUBLICATION CLOSED

To Be Left Behind (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Iraq was Ike’s interlude. He said it was what he needed to do between jobs, something temporary, a way to make money until they got better situated. Danni sensed it was greater than a diversion. Iraq threatened her marriage. It was the husband-stealer, a merciless sexpot siren with a hunger for middle-aged soldiers, Dolly Parton’s Jolene. “I cannot compete with you, Jolene,” the words sang without mercy in Danni’s mind, clenching her chest. Interludes end and the main event picks up again. Ike would come home. But Danni could not get over his leaving. What if Iraq kept him?

September 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

Lightning flashes as quickly as minnows in the shallows. It’s fall, cool, and a storm rumbles over the Keweenaw in the black of night. A few seconds after sharp silver pulses, thunder rattles the window panes. The radiators that sat silent throughout summer now diffuse a cozy heat that keeps the cold outside with the rain. Hot tea sits on my desk, and I ponder, what is the greatest gift?

Life. Liberty. Family. Art. Love. Home. A laundry list of answers comes to mind. It’s not my question but the suggestion of a prompt from my husband’s cousin. She and her mom sit on our couch in Hancock, the one they bought for us when we started to rebuild our household. It’s midnight, stormy, and conversation rolls around the room. The Hub is happy, sharing stories of the past. I wonder what my cousin means about the greatest gift when she says her story is dark.

I call J my cousin because she and the Hub’s sister, Silly the Kid (his nickname for her), were part of the greatest gift I got when I married him. Early on, I knew J was going to be one of my greatest friends. I loved her humor and intelligence and free-spirit. As a young couple, the Hub and I went weekly to her house to play board games with her and her husband, who was serving in the Navy. I marveled at their young three-year-old boy whose bedtime story was The Hobbit.

At the time, so long ago, J had a baby girl, a precious baby that made me anticipate the one I was expecting. Then a sheriff’s deputy showed up to our house one day with their son. We were the trusted people to watch over him the day tragedy struck. A few days later, we were burying that sweet baby girl over her great-grandfather’s grave. J’s husband was restationed out week, and J left.

I sit here now, 32 years later, thinking how heavy such an incident remains. J’s greatest gift, I suspect, was the second daughter she had years later. But as all mothers learn, daughters and sons are not our gifts to keep. They are their own people. We might give them life, but they make of it what they will. But it’s a pleasure to see J and Aunt M, her mom, travel the world together, staying in New Zealand January through March, visiting family across the US, visiting places like Poland or Alaska and taking world cruises.

Aunt M and Uncle R are my patron saints. Many, many years ago, Uncle R read something I wrote, and he told Aunt M that I was going to make something of my writing. She explained to me that he had vision and believed in my ability and dreams. He was subtle about it. He never complimented me directly but always showed interest, asked questions, and read my published work. When he lay dying, Aunt M read him my very first, and very raw draft of Miracle of Ducks. Whatever the book will be one day, it will be dedicated to them.

Perhaps the greatest gift one can give another is the support and encouragement to achieve potential. It’s a gift Aunt M, and Uncle R gave to me. I miss him. As any of us do when loved ones pass.

We are calling this trip, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. J and Aunt M flew from Phoenix to Chicago, boarded a train to the Wisconsin Dells, and hopped in my car last night. We stayed over in a motel after dark, so we weren’t on the road late. It was a five and a half-hour trip. The greatest gift can be the conversations on a road trip — the connections and deep sharing, the confessions and insights. Deep communication.

We arrived in time to meet up with the Hub, our daughter, her husband, and his dad and step-mom. We shared a meal at a new restaurant in Houghton called The Den. Family meals create some of the best moments, especially when the food and fellowship rank high. The gave me a bite of his scallop, and it was as near perfect as seeing my daughter so happy. I wish I could see all my three children framed in such happiness and enjoyed the moment, memorized its texture like the edges of a comforting quilt.

Tomorrow night is another dance performance where I get to perform four new flash fiction pieces. Having family in town for the show is a treat. Sharing art is another gift and a great one. The greatest gift this year came in Vermont, sharing scams and words, kayak trips and waterfalls, loons and laughs. Art is best shared. Art must be shared. For all the critics have to say or teach about art and define what it is, those who create it and experience understand art at such a deep level as to escape definition.

This week, both of my courses are focusing on the writing community and what it means to be a literary citizen. Well, my oh, my. I might have something to say on those topics! The greatest gift to my writing life is the ranchers of Carrot Ranch, their literary art, aspirations, and community. We might need solitude to write, the courage to go to lonely corners, and the solitary act of dragging words from the brain to the page to shape stories, but we also need companionship. If you are interested, one of the articles I’m reading is Do Writers Need to Be Alone to Thrive?

I want to take time to explain participation at Carrot Ranch. Ranchers can come and go as they please. The idea is that we play, remembering why we love the ride. You bring your own goals to the Ranch where it is safe for you to share, grow, and discover. The literary critics do not reside here. Personally, I feel that literary art involves three actions — reading, writing, and discourse. We discuss what strengths we see in writing and how a story moves us or leads us to recall or realize.  I believe in the 99-word art form as one that can open up creativity and be useful as a tool. I believe writers who regularly practice the constraint experience magic or breakthroughs in creativity.

But what does this means to the mechanics of participation in our literary community?

You can write to the prompt and share in different ways. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, submit your response in the form. One, it streamlines collecting. Two, it signals permission to publish your writing in the collection. You don’t have to do anything more if your goal is to publish at Carrot Ranch. If you submitted a response, but do not see it in the collection, shoot me an email at words for people(at)gmail(dot)com. Some weeks I get a storm of spam, WP can be glitchy, and I’m at risk for human error.

If you want to build up your blog traffic, you can share a link or your story (or both) in the comments. However, passive sharing might not garner more traffic. Community requires interaction. Think of it this way — if you went to a social event to network, you would introduce yourself, hand out business cards, and respond to the cards you collect, as well. In the comments, be social at the level you hope to cultivate. If you want blog traffic, visit the blogs of others, and make supportive and meaningful comments.

If you want kinship among writers, get to know people through the comments, stories, and blogs you encounter. You’ll find that many writers who come here are also on other social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Many host or participate in other prompts. Some also have blog opportunities such as indie book reviews or posting thematic blog archives. Get to know what is happening in the greater writing community.

As a rule of thumb, comment “high and low.” In other words, read the story before yours, and the story after. You are not obligated to read them all in the comments, although I highly recommend taking time to read each 10-minute part in the weekly collection. If you were moved by a particular 99-words, let that author know.

Next month, we will have a Rodeo of Flash Fiction Contests. I’ve been remiss all year in following up with my terrific leaders from the past two years. But the show will go on — instead of challenges, Carrot Ranch will host four weekly contests next month instead of challenges. Each contest will be juried and a top prize of $25 awarded. Each contest is meant to test the skills of a writer, and your best work is anticipated.

September 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift. Answer it as if it were a question, or show what it could be. Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by September 17, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

SUBMISSIONS FOR PUBLICATION CLOSED

A Better Way to Serve (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Freya returned from Iraq, friendless. Mark Bastia didn’t survive the IED blast. His dog tags hung with hers. Despite combat, she was never counted as their brother. She pulled a long drag from her last cigarette, eyed the perfect branch from which to hang herself, and decided the greatest gift to the world would be to remove herself from its spinning. She touched the branch and recoiled. 22 a day, and she would not become another nameless statistic. Instead, she enrolled in college to battle veteran suicide and opened the first satellite Vet Center in North Idaho. She survived.

August 29: Flash Fiction Challenge

Grab your notebook and walking stick, a light coat, and maybe a hat. It’s cold enough to turn a few maple leaves into fire paintings. We’re going for a walk.

Feel the brisk air? Inhale deeply and watch your breath frost on the exhale. I wasn’t kidding about the cold. I know, it’s dark so let your eyes adjust a moment. See my tomato plants in the shadows of night? It won’t frost yet. They’ll be okay. If you can strain your eyes, that’s a potted eggplant. No flower, no fruit. Ah, well. It was worth a try. See over there to the right of the tomatoes? Yes, I know it’s dark, but see how the light-colored leaves illuminate? Those are all Brussel sprouts. Six of them and they will continue to grow until frost. After that, they will sweeten on the stalk.

Carefully take the stairs, and we’ll gather beneath the street lamp. Look back at my home (MY HOME!) and see how the light in the back windows glows. It makes me sigh in satisfaction. A heavy sigh frosts my breath again! Notice the color of the lamplight is pinker than the warm yellow tones emanating from inside my house. Just an observation. Smell that? Crisp fall air smells sharp and clean. It clears the sinuses the way champagne cleanses the palate. Did you catch the whiff of smoke? Someone has lit a fire against the chill.

This narrow street we are standing in is named Jensen. It’s a one-way alley. See Mrs. H’s house over my shoulder? She’s on the corner of Roberts and Ethel. Next door on the corner of Ethel and Jensen is her granddaughter’s house. Their back yard is a run-on sentence to ours. We really don’t know the property lines. That bank of lilacs might be mine, or they might belong to Mrs. H. Their snow gets shoved into our yard each winter. But I’m jumping ahead.

If you count those two houses and the ones across the alleyway down to where Jensen curves back up to intersect Roberts, we total six houses. There’s only one other house on the other side of my next-door neighbor. That makes eight, ours makes nine. Let’s walk to the corner. The alleyway slopes downhill slightly then rises again to meet Roberts Street. That open space fills with snow removal in winter.

If you go past the last house, there’s a hillside where we all dump our maple leaves after they drop. That house on the corner is for sale. Bet the new owners will be surprised to see the neighborhood crossing their yard with a parade of leaves this fall. Okay. We are at the corner. If we turn left, we’d have to cross the snowmobile trail. It’s great for walking the dogs in summer. If you walk up the long hill, you’ll pass the county fairgrounds where the city of Hancock stores all its removed snow. It’s like glacial melt in the spring.

Further, are the Maasto Hiihto Trails. I know, it looks like a misspelling, but double vowels are typical in the Finnish language, and you’ll find that our area is imbued with Finn culture. The Laurn Grove Park is only a block up the snowmobile trail. It has an ice hockey rink and play area for kids. If I had young children, they’d play there, making sport of cutting paths through the small copse of woods on the other side of the trail.

The park is named for two boys who grew up in the scattering of neighborhoods like ours on this hillside. Both died in WWII on different ships in the Pacific. Past the park is the house where the Koski boys grew up a generation later. They both served in Vietnam, and their wives are good friends of mine.

The opposite way down the snowmobile trail is the Finlandia football field. I heard them practicing well after dark tonight. The Hancock high school squad practices there, too, and I know the parents of one of the boys. His dad served in Iraq, and his mom works fulltime at Michigan Tech. She takes care of him. He has back injuries, TBI and PTSD almost to the point of agoraphobia. But he watches his son play.

War has left its mark on my small neighborhood. My husband is a veteran of Grenada and deployments to Central America. My next-door neighbor was in the Army. Not sure if he’s a combat veteran, but he can seem intimidating. I talk garden matters with him, and that softens him.

Let’s walk back to the house from Roberts Street and add to our count the neighbors on the opposite side. Fourteen. That’s our block. A good baker’s dozen of us. A friendly bunch. Dog walkers and bird watchers. A few general landscapers, just two of us gardening, but everyone mows their lawns or hires Mrs. H’s great-grandson.

Come on inside. I don’t know about you, but my hands are cold! The tip of my nose, too. It was quiet tonight. Last week, when the fair was in town, traffic got loud up and down Ethel. Sometimes we can hear noisy bikes or trucks blasting down Quincy Hill. Otherwise, it’s a quiet place for town-living. I’m going to link a map for you, and you can zoom in to see 1112 Roberts Street or zoom out to where I live in proximity to Lake Superior.

What a glorious tool, Google Maps! You can also click on places like Maasto Hiihto Trail or Franklin Mine or McLain State Park and look at streets and satellite views and click on photos. You can measure distances and see the terrain. Maps used to show space on a grid. Now they can be more interactive. The purpose of our walk tonight was to introduce you to something I just learned and feel excited about — deep mapping.

Consider the difference between space and place. Space spreads out on a map and can be measured in longitude, latitude, and altitude. Place is what we make of space, the meaning we attribute to it. To deep map a place, we start with observation. We took a walk. According to Linda Lappin, author of a book I’m reading for my MFA called The Soul of a Place, “A deep map, then, is a sample swatch of the multiple manifestations of the genius loci [the spirit of a place].” The term comes from PrairyErth: A Deep Map by William Least Heat-Moon and shows the stratification of a geographical spot.

Walking the spot is the first step to deep mapping. This is exploration. Next is a gathering of details — how does the light of day, the cold of winter change the place. Lappin advises authors to learn the names of plants and birds and streets. This act transforms a writer into a camera, a recorder, a scientist before artist. As artist, deep mapping then calls the writer to respond to all discoveries, to learn and observe. Push deeper and research the place names and local history. Think about how your personal story intersects with all this information about a single place. Finally, a deep mapper must organize all this material into blocks, miles, and themes.

Lappin writes that she gathers superstitions, plant lore and recipes to add local color. All this true-to-life background informs the details upon which she traces out the plot of the story. She shows that deep mapping crosses all genres and can include interiors as well as exteriors. I find it fascinating because I’ve intuitively deep mapped places I write about not realizing there’s an entire process to this kind of work. Film-makers, visual, and performing artists also use the tool.

And as a writer of 99-word stories, I often use that literary artform to catch my mapping impressions, which makes me even more excited about the process. If you give deep mapping a try or find, like me, you already do some of it, let me know your thoughts in the comments.

While reading The Soul of Place, Lappin shared a list of street names she collected in Italy. One translated to Girl Thief Road. This jogged my memory of a Mean Mary song:

The banker’s boy, the boss’s son
They’re hoarding all the treasures their daddy’s won
And they think the vault is safe but she’s smarter than they thought her
They always underestimate the safebreaker’s daughter

You can listen to the full song here: The Safebreaker’s Daughter. One of the techniques for deep mapping can be music. I like songs that hint at a story, ones I can apply to a place. Mean Mary never reveals “the story” in her song, and that’s why it always niggles at me. How did they underestimate the safebreaker’s daughter? And, who was the safebreaker? Did he have a legitimate job, or was he a thief? What if I plopped these characters from a song onto my street? Deep mapping can be fun, and there are endless ways you can use it to spark your own writing.

August 29, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the safebreaker’s daughter. Who is she, what did she do, and where? Go where the prompt leads you!

Respond by September 3, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Thelma on Roberts Street by Charli Mills

The light overlooking Roberts Street flickered and faded. Thelma smiled and accepted the omen – all that glows holds no permanence. Probably the gales blew out a transformer nearby. Wind gusted through the maple trees, scattering small flocks of leaves to the ground. Summer was over. The tourists went home; the college students returned. The latest batch of football players for Finlandia made a good excuse for her to walk this path. Just another smitten female sauntering home late. Who would think she was casing the football coach’s house? She had ten minutes to prove she was the safebreaker’s daughter.