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Raw Weather

Wind howls across the high mountain desert of Gallup and rocks my RV with a steady wave-like rhythm. I’ve heard the joke several times already from locals: spring arrives, depositing Arizona in New Mexico. With the airborne sand, I do believe it’s from across the state-line to the west. It’s so gusty here, highways post windsocks to warn of cross-winds that can tumble a semi or RV. For now, we’re rocking while stationary.

It’s more than windy today at the ranch. I thought I scheduled a guest for the series Raw Literature, checked the calendar and see that I scheduled next week! In the midst of a move and a break-down, it’s just another hiccup. I’m fond of lemonade so today’s scheduling lemons gave me opportunity to participate in Irene Water’s fascinating memoir prompt, Weather: Times Past. What’s unique about her prompt is the collection of data based on memory, generation, region and urban or rural proximity. Participants and readers get to compare experiences. It’s open to anyone, and as is the case with most responses to prompts, this is a piece of raw writing.

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Memory of a Gen X Buckaroo, Weather in Rural North California

The old Californios Ranchos sat inland from the coast where fog creeps in by night and burns off by mid-morning. This region is home to cattle ranching, centuries old. Before there was California, there were the Land Grant holdings of Mexico and the original Missions of Spain. Weather didn’t change ownership; gold did. When Sutter discovered a gold nugget at his lumber mill, the (18)49ers poured into the region, and the US claimed it as a state: California.

To the ranchos, a change of hands didn’t mean a change in work. The miners needed to eat, and the ranches provided beef.

Some men came to mine, others to set up businesses. My family came to ranch, raising cattle, apricots, turkeys, hay or managing ranches. One grandfather was the foreman for an original rancho and another bought it after making his wealth by turning his ranch into a golf course. For generations, both the men and women in my family rode in the San Benito Horse Show & Rodeo. I even won several trophies for horse showing and one for goat tying, all before I was of an age to go to school.

This is buckaroo country — a culture unique to the Californios influence of the Ranchos style of ranching and horsemanship. And like any agricultural community, it’s always focused on the weather. In rural California, dry spells could turn into years long droughts, and rain could flood the dry river beds. It was a deluge-fueled flood that first caught my attention in regards to weather, and it was so severe, it cut off ranches from communities. One of my earliest recollections is standing with my parents on one side of a raging torrent of water as my grandparents stood on the other side. That memory has transfixed a fascination and horror of floods.

Many more times I would stand over flooded rivers in other states, drawn to relive the earliest memory of how water could swell so vast and swift, muddy and full of churning debris. Such has been the weather cycle in California and I wonder how the earliest ranchos managed. And that is how I begin raw thoughts for historical fiction. The confluence of memory and history and curiosity.

So I will end with a trio of flash fiction (at this rancho, its always 99 words, no more, no less) based on where my thoughts led me.

The Bad Dream of a Californios Girl

Maria shouted across the arroyo swelled with frothing mud. “Papa! Vaya con Dios! Papa! Mama!”

“Maria! Maria! Wake up. You’re dreaming the bad dream.”

Maria gasped in the dark, feeling her Aunt Tessa’s hands. “I’m awake, Tia.” Outside, she heard rain splatter against the hacienda’s shutters. She shivered.

“Maria, I’ve fixed of a cup of cocoa.” Her aunt lit the hurricane lamp and Maria saw the steaming cup sitting on the small table by the window. Her aunt had fixed her cocoa five years ago when she escaped across the flooded arroyo. The flood that swept away her parents.

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The Only Path Left

Father Sean Kincaid, nudged the mare to press forward in the rain and sopping ground. He’d experienced thunderstorms back in Missouri, but this was different. God Almighty had forged a sky river the first 12 days of 1851. Hadn’t scripture promised an end to God’s flooding wrath?

The bridge he’d crossed earlier was gone. Not a splinter remained. Sean’s chest tightened. On the other side was his parish church. Behind him was Rancho Santa Ana he had failed to reach because of a landslide. He looked up. Not to God, but to the steep incline he’d have to traverse.

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Good Horse-Sense

Capitan reared and snorted. The stallion charged his herd, pushing mares back, away from the river overflowing its banks on both sides. A deadly lake, pooling in the moonlight, eroding pasture. Capitan whinnied, turning on any horse who tried to bolt in fear.

“Damn stud save them mares,” Joe said, over coffee. The old ranch-hands gathered after mass at Kincaid’s Cantina.

“Unlikely, Joe.” Corey Fairfield expressed the skepticism of a vineyard owner. Educated.

Patty poured toppers. “Unlikely? As unlikely as your sons serving in the Pacific?”

Corey flushed at the chuckles. Their sons were Marines. Good horse-sense meant survival.

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Raw Literature: Raw From the Soul

ann-edall-robson

Essay by Ann Edall-Robson, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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I struggled with the thought of writing something insightful, useful and raw. Several starts and stops took me to the same conclusion. I write from my heart, about things I am passionate about. Often capturing moments others may not have had the chance to experience. Sharing, not only what I view in my everyday life, but also from the western heritage I am so proud to say I am from.

Writing isn’t something I just decided to do one day because it had become a fad. The stacks of journals, pieces of tattered edged papers, loose leaf pages and old school scribblers are a testament of how long my mind, paired with writing tools, have been having a love affair.

Books filled with poetry, fiction and life stories. Dribs and drabs of teenage dreams, and adult realism. All following me in boxes from my rural home, where I was raised, to the place close to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where I now call home.

Raised with the expectation that please, thank you and excuse me, were not only part of every person’s vocabulary, you had best be using those words, yourself.  Respect for everything and everyone, unless they proved otherwise, was mandatory.

This was not the beginning of the raw world I cherish.  Our western heritage encompasses so much, and is almost nearing a point of the “forget about it” era. Technology infringing on moral standards is pushing the wild, raw, traditional life, to the side. Ranching, farming, neighbouring, and knowing the land cannot and should not be shunned. It is such an important part of going forward. Without remembering, telling the tales, the history, we are nothing.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. We are in a time when no one writes letters by hand and mails them. Families don’t eat meals together, and when they do, they have no idea how to carry on a conversation. AND, our heritage is being paved over for the next shopping mall.

Now, more than ever, is the time we need to be the keeper of the old ways, traditions and stories. The raw life, regardless of the culture, needs a home. In both my writing and photography, I am passionate about recording and sharing the old days and ways.  Every chance I get, I include something from a time gone by. A time when our grandparents and parents were children. A time when I was a child.

How easily we choose to forget, or perhaps ignore, the history we were making in our young years. How we fervently wish the door could be opened to find it close at hand. Disappointed and even devastated, when we know it’s lost, gone forever, without a trace and without a recorded word.

I was connected to the land in my young years and didn’t even know it. Yet, when I read pieces I penned almost half a century ago, I recognize the influenced of my lifestyle. The Wire and Post Contraption and Partners, both included in Moon Rising: An Eclectic Collection of Works are from that era. Other short stories written for this book, came from within. From the heart of where and how I grew up.

horse-belly-deep-grass-2My writing and photographs are fed by the old-cabin-2soul of our western heritage. A honourable culture I remember, the stories I was told, the people I have known and places I have been. The fields of horse belly deep grass speak to me. Inviting the imagination to reminisce about the pioneers homesteading in the cabin, where now, only a few weathered grey logs are left.

The Quiet Spirits, my current project (Release 2017), has traits of western heritage immersed throughout.  And yes, there is another book being penned, not yet titled, and modeled after western ranching traditions.

Writing Raw or Raw Fiction is a style I have always embraced. The word Raw, to me, means open, unbridled, passionate, from the heart. I write by the seat of my pants, not missing the chance to record a thought, any thought. I made a recent comment, “The first draft should sting with every thought imaginable.” That is what raw writing is all about. Uninhibited, telling the story as if you were there. Find the whatsit, whatchamacallit, thingummy you are passionate about and use it until you exhaust the soul it came from.

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Ann Edall-Robson, writer, photographer, lover of life, and all things that make us smile. She has an unwavering commitment to share the traditions, heritage, and stories of the country life she hails from. 

An avid quilter and gardener, Ann grew up participating in rodeos and gymkhanas. She now lives with her husband near the rolling foothills, mountains, and country life that inspire so much of her work; both written and photographic.

Published books include: 

 

Moon Rising: An Eclectic Collection of Works

            From Our Home To Yours: Cookies

From Our Home To Yours: Cakes & Squares

Other writings:

Voice and Vision 2016 includes two of Ann’s stories

WebsiteAnnEdallRobson.com

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

November 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

november-2Clouds stiff as meringue coast overhead and cast shadows upon the red and white sandstone pillars of Zion. I watch as light returns, then gives way to shadow again. The cliffs, canyons and mesas morph in the obscuration of partial clouds. Reds deepen, crevices appear, whites highlight. It feels like watching a live kaleidoscope. All this show, and I also indulge in an afternoon cappuccino and crepe. I think of flying monkeys and wonder what shadows such creatures would cast.

My visit to this tourist hamlet of Springdale today is to uncover stories of flying monkeys. If Virgin (where I now live) is the gateway to Zion Canyon, then Springdale is the doorway. Tens of thousands of people pass through Zion National Park daily during the height of season. Despite a warm sun and partial clouds, tourism is receding. And no, flying monkeys did not chase off anyone. But I want to know more about them, and starting at the wood-fired grill of their namesake seems right. I have coffee at Me Me’s next door.

When I enter The Flying Monkey, savory smoke grabs me; my nose convinces my stomach to let my mouth experience a pizza here. There must be magic enough in the aroma to make monkeys fly. I return to my mind when the hostess approaches. I’m here to ask about monkeys not the fire-roasted pineapple and cilantro pizza.

“So, about the flying monkeys, ” I start to say.

“Oh, you want to know about our name.”

“I know where you get your name. I live in Virgin below Hurricane Mesa.”

“Oh…I’ve been up there…camping…”

“Did you see anything?” I’m excited now. The hostess may actually be an eye-witness.

“It was dark. But I always look at that strip and think about them, you know.”

“Me, too.”

“They all lived!”

“Really?”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Who is the local expert on the flying monkeys?”

This is how I often begin historical research. Casual conversation. I know what you’re thinking, how can conversation about flying monkeys be casual. I listen for rumors, look for odd local business names, seek the resident story-tellers. Today, I got two hits. Maybe the jeweler on the other side of Me Me’s knows something or perhaps the man across the street at the tire shop. The hostess tells me they’ve both lived in the area forever. She’s from St, George and this is her second season working in Springdale.

Geology opened this Pandora’s box. I wasn’t looking for flying monkeys, but places to rock hound. After my first big adventure in southern Utah, the one sliding across slimy red clay in the rain, I came home with some local jasper. I bought a book, Rockhounding Utah: A Guide to the State’s Best Rockhounding Sites. That’s where I read about Hurricane Mesa and it’s curious feature (in addition to agates and petrified wood). Author, Gary Warren, warns:

“There’s some private property up on the mesa now, so be sure to heed any posting. Be especially careful not to enter the test track area. It may be tempting, but it is a great big no-no!”

Knowing the military had a test track up on a mesa piqued my curiosity. That’s when I dug deeper into aviation records locally and discovered that in 1955, the Air Force developed a facility on Hurricane Mesa to test jet-propelled airplane ejection seats. Looking up at that mesa every morning, I think how tempting the big no-no is. Not only am I curious, I’m visual. I want to see what there is to see. And that was before I knew about the flying monkeys.

Now that we are officially Virgin locals (not to be confused with virgin locals), we find other locals readily talk about this magnificent area with a unique history. Filmography has convinced us this is the Wild West, but reality is rooted in Mormonism and mysterious testing. The Mormons pioneered to this geological land of wonder, once home to Paiute, Navajo and perhaps even Anasazi. Tensions between cultures led to deadly encounters. Global tensions after WWII led to the terrifying testing of nuclear weapons for which this area was fallout. We often hear tragic family stories of generational cancer. One John Wayne movie filmed here is reputed to have led to the deaths of all involved by cancer.

Locals tell us radiation surrounds us as much as geological beauty.

Do monkeys fly because they are local aberrations? Creatures resulting from radiation exposure? A Native American myth? A mushroom picker’s mistaken identity? Another local writer’s unchecked imagination? No. The answer is found back on the test track at Hurricane Mesa. Monkeys flew as live test subjects in the jet propelled and track ejected cockpit pods. Before men tested the ejection seats, monkeys did. And, so far, according to local lore or wishful thinking, the flying monkeys all lived.

November is, of course, NaNoWriMo. It’s the perfect season to write a first draft about mysterious government testing, monkeys and how women might have been involved. That is always my angle — history often forgets women among men and monkeys, and those are the stories I ultimately seek. However, No NaNoWriMo for me. More like, November is NaNoRanCho month. With a new home, office and ergonomic chair, I’m ready to get back to my ranch.

You might think that statement as odd as, well, flying monkeys once soared over Virgin, Utah. Why not “get back” to writing novels. First, I never stopped. Each week I work on revising two novels, in fact. Some weeks my revisions are processing, some weeks are filling research  gaps, and more weeks are needed for constructing transitions and new material. I’m not on a deadline for my novels. Perhaps if I had an agent or active publisher, my schedule would be different. As a marketer, I also know I need to have a well-crafted final manuscript for sale and a well-crafted platform from which to launch my books (like flying monkeys).

Carrot Ranch was originally a website I started when I left my last marketing job. I did marcom consulting, spoke at national workshops and managed communications for business clients. But as I worked on my first novel, I felt disconnected to my literary goals. I made the leap and transformed Carrot Ranch into a platform with a literary focus and a flash fiction challenge. No matter what I do, I always want to do good in the world. I began to focus on supporting a literary community. When my own personal crisis hit with a series of setbacks, including getting scammed by the publisher at Go Idaho and getting evicted from our home (and my office) because the owners thought it would sell better empty, my community helped me get through.

Much has changed since last November when I had high hopes for completing my second novel, launching our first anthology and setting up writers retreats in beautiful Sandpoint. A lot of the work I did, such as creating a library program called Wrangling Words and hosting a successful BinderCon event in Montana, has gone aside. Our anthology was delayed as I dealt with issues of homelessness. My confidence and plans felt shaken. But shit happens. I may not be able to control the circumstances, the injustices or recoup what I lost, but I can choose how to transform and reinvest in my platform, my writing and my community.

Therefore, I’m taking a NaNoWriMo-like daily focus on writing a new business plan for Carrot Ranch as a non-profit to support literary writers around the world with weekly flash fiction challenges, encouraging responses, an annual anthology, collective promotions (community books and blogs), contests for good causes, literary craft insights and practical marketing solutions for the everyday writer.

Carrot Ranch is my platform and it also belongs to the community here. By the end of the month, I’ll have all this crafted into a plan. I’ve retained a lawyer for the non-profit side; a designer to complete our first-still-in-the-works anthology and create a branded look for the continuing series; and an academic advisor to help me create a survey that will reveal what writers need to complete a practical and individual marketing plan.

While I’m sad to let go of my dream of having writers retreats in Sandpoint, I enjoyed the writers I did get to host at Elmira Pond. I missed out on one of our own Rough Writers who had plans to stay. I’m grateful I didn’t shut down the ranch, although I admit I’ve struggled mightily to keep my focus and presence since that awful day in March when we were told our lease would not be renewed. Many good turns have happened and in the end, I did deliberately choose my next home to be an RV. We could have rented, we could buy next year, but we own this RV outright and it meets every basic need have (and when you are homeless, you come to understand clearly wants verses needs). It gives us options.

And it has a chair that allows me longer stretches of writing! I didn’t share my greatest challenge: that how we were living led to debilitating pain. I could barely meet ranch duties each week, only write in short stints and I couldn’t read for long. I’ve had three back surgeries and without an ergonomic place to sit or sleep, I developed nerve pain in my legs, shoulders and hands. I thought it would take time to build up to my previous level of desk-marathoning, but the new home-on-wheels with it’s proper bedroom and real bed plus an ergonomic chair and office space has me happily pecking away at the keys. What a relief! I now have a choice of recliner or couch for reading, too. And I’m continuing my walking and pool therapy. Thank you, to all of you’ve who’ve hung in there with me.

I feel like I can start dreaming and doing again. So, of course, I believe in flying monkeys. First, a few shots of the new Carrot Ranch office:

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November 2, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using flying monkeys as a device or phrase. As a phrase it can be something like, “When monkeys fly over Grandma’s tea party.” As a device, you can use flying monkeys as characters (a circus act, astronaut companions, zoo critters). Think of what they are doing and why. How can flying monkeys inspire you this week?

Respond by November 8, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Danni’s Circus (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls

Danni’s yard had become the local circus. Instead of flying monkeys she had ten canine clowns.

By nine weeks, the puppies were the biggest attraction in town. Tourists gathered and Deputy Erikson cruised by daily. He informed Danni she could keep the litter up until twenty weeks unless she was training any, and at that required a special license.

Twenty weeks. Danni would let the circus run away before she lived with this chaos that long. It was time to sell the clowns. Yet, she looked at the male, Bubbie, and wondered if she should apply for a license.

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Tales from Kansas (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Then the witch sends out winged monkeys to stop the farm girl from Kansas.” Jesse Williams read Sarah her favorite chapter from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Sarah sipped her tea, not wanting to leave the warmth of Jesse’s family parlor. “I knew of a real fantastical man from Kansas.”

“Tell me, Sarah!” Jesse seemed more of a child than a near-grown woman of 16. Maybe it was because Sarah felt so old. She was ancient.

“He came to Rock Creek after wresting a grizzly bear.”

Jesse’s Dad coughed, and laid down his newspaper. “You knew Wild Bill Hickok?”

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October 12: Flash Fiction Challenge

october-12Water so blue; sand so red. I sway, not sure I can stand, but I feel a desperate need to keep my remaining dog joyful. Grief is never a straight path, and one curve turns us to the pain of loss and the other to the fear of it. Bobo has a leaking heart valve, a healed spinal injury that leaves a leg limping, and seizures. Add to that loneliness for her brother Grenny and increasing urination, and I’m terrified of losing her, too.

But we cannot live in the shadow of death. That’s not the purpose of grief.

Grief is firmer stuff than that. It may cast the shadow, but only so we can soak up all the love and light we yet have. We do not succumb to grief; we step into the valley and walk across it. Like stepping out onto this southern Utah red sand, I sink and then feel the hold. It’s firm enough to walk. Firm enough to seek joy in memories. Firm enough to make new ones.

As I walk, Bobo pulls at her harness like a lunging sled dog. She sees the blue water and smells the warm air, full of scents unknown and in need of investigation. Halfway down the slope that leads to the beach, I unsnap her lead and she runs straight into the water rippling to shore. In the distance a flock of floating mud hens watch her, understanding they will be fleeter on water than an animal that sinks. Barely deep enough for her paws to still touch she veers right and swim-walks.

The red sand is darker and firmer where it meets water. Water is the force that carves this desert wonderland, despite its rarity. We have many forces upon us in a lifetime, but unlike stationary sandstone and basalt, we can choose how we react.

“What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens.” ~Ellen Glasgow

We may need to take a walk with what happens and slog through what it means, to step one foot in front of the other in the sand and confirm we are still on solid ground. We may look around and notice only the shadows or unfamiliarity. Hold firm. Give it time.  I begin to look through the eyes of my dog wading where water and sand define her moment of bliss. And why bliss? The vet can’t say how much longer she has, but none of us know that. Bliss is the present moment of scents and sand and wetness. She’s yet delighted in life. I look around again and see curious prints in the sand. I wonder.

To a writer, what’s that is almost as good as pondering what if.

Not only do writers get to choose to react to the forces in life, we also get to shape them into stories. Part of what we learn to do is build reaction — we lead with the unexpected or end with a twist. Maybe because writers understand reaction and choice, we look at social situations through a different lens. Often we can see what sets off the reaction. Consider DJT — Donald J Trump. He’s built a career of manipulating reactions to feed his lust for power. His legacy, whether he wins or loses, is that he radicalized hatred in the US. Many writers from big medias to small blogs have continued to point out his campaign of hate.

But what disturbs me more is the reaction of those who support DJT.

Hate, like compassion, is a choice. It’s easy to cave in to my own negative feelings during a time of grief. I let the latest Trump scandal get under my skin because I saw how it relates directly to rape and rape culture. I spoke out because I know the dangers of silence. Many rabid Trump supports, mostly (surprisingly) women, gnashed their teeth at me. In my grief, I felt unbalanced more than I normally might. I succumbed to paralysis and hopelessness. I drove home from the beach only to watch my previously blissful dog succumb to a grand mal seizure. I felt lost and alone on Mars.

A few days later, Bobo was recovered and ready to pull at the harness once again. I avoided the beach, but took her to town. I got out of my confining space and just drove in the sunshine. I went trailer shopping. I looked at the only rental in the area that would accept a large breed dog. I bought a pesto pasta lunch at a small market. I walked Bobo down a tree-shaded sidewalk and went no where but around the block. And then I chose my reaction. I chose to get up out of the sand, brush off and live another day. With love. With joy. And yes, even with sorrow. But not fear. Not hate. Not despair.

With the help of a loan and perseverance to find the right “home” I might have an improved trailer next week. If we save and search, we might find our own property next spring. From there, who knows? We don’t know. We have today. And these wise words:

“People respond in accordance to how you relate to them. If you approach them on the basis of violence, that’s how they’ll react. But if you say, ‘We want peace, we want stability,’ we can then do a lot of things that will contribute towards the progress of our society.” ~Nelson Mandela

This wisdom is important to remember in the days to come. We might not know what to expect after the US presidential election. We’ve never had such a stir. But we can find firm footing in each step forward if we declare our intention for peace and stability. Reaction is not progress. Hateful rhetoric will never heal what ails our society. Violence will only breed more violence. And words can be violent. Let our words lift up instead.

We are not the only ones making tracks in the sand. I saw where snakes left grooves, mice pattered in circles and a gila monster scurried. Each so different from my own print. We walk across the sand, all of us. One does not have more right to do so than the other. I’m curious again. I wonder and wander and choose carefully my next steps while being open to both joys and sorrows. Once again, I have much to learn from my dog.

October 12, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a walk across the sand. It can be a literal day at a beach, in the sand box or a metaphor of your choosing. What is the sand like and what does it reveal to the reader?

Respond by October 18, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Running the Beach (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Looking skyward, Danni noted how the clouds, water and land curved like a snow globe illuminated by an unseen sun. A bald eagle scouted the beach beneath cloud layers, and the two young pointers zigzagged across the sand. Biddy plodded behind, slow but with head up and ears perked. Gripping both leashes, Danni ran heavily, the sand hindering her steps, but she pushed through, laughing as the two dogs bounded and pulsed with matched vigor. Breathless, she let go and both dogs galloped, tongues flapping.

Michael passed Biddy and caught up to Danni. “What did you do that for?”

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Crossing the Sand Dunes (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Mary swaddled baby Charles to her chest, and clung to him with one hand, while keeping the ever curious Lizzie close with the other. The older boys walked behind. Sally whined to her husband Leroy that the sand was too hard to walk in, and though Mary agreed, she kept stepping forward and sliding back in silence. At the knoll, the boys giggled, running and sliding downward. The wagon teetered and Leroy coaxed the mules. “Easy!” Then it tilted again, dangling momentarily. Sally screamed as the wagon toppled. Leroy rose to his feet, reigns in hand, sand in mouth.

Author’s Note: The McCanles family never crossed the sand dunes in Nebraska, but they were bothersome to the Mormon Migration that did. They simply up righted the toppled wagons and continued.

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September 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

september-28A small child with arms stretched upwards expects to be scooped up by a loving carer. What does the saguaro cactus expect? Standing tall across the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona and western Mexico, an army of these cacti giants reach toward a blue sky. They can grow as tall as 40 to 60 feet in height with as many as 25 arms, like deities with multiple limbs, leaving us to wonder if more arms means a greater reach. Prickly as they are, would they be picked up tenderly?

And so it is with politicians. They stand tall before us, on the television screen, the stadium stage, behind the debater’s podium, and wave multiple arms. One arm waves to the targeted voter segment; another waves off past voting records or experiences best left in the dark; another arm reaches toward sponsors; another closes a door on a segment not deemed worthy of votes. Are the multi-limbed deities of cosmic power expressing protection or danger?

I look at the towering, reaching saguaro cactus where I piddle my dogs, and I know to keep my distance.

When it comes to politics, I tend to give a similar wide berth to the subject. I don’t want to stand in the shadow of multiple arms covered in spines. I don’t like the spine-slinging, back-handed slaps of a presidential election year. Commercials fling barbs at opponents in 30 seconds of “approved messages.” Family members shoot poisoned darts at one another on Facebook beneath banners of “Never Her,” or “Never Him.” Mass media skews every word any candidate ever spoke to line up the spines in neat rows like the ribbed saguaro. It’s a prickly season.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe in participation in the democratic process. In 1776, my nation declared independence by democratic vote, but failed to define who could vote. That interpretation was left up to individual states until after the US Civil War. Cobb McCanles was elected first sheriff of Watauga County, North Carolina and he ran on the Whig party ticket in 1852. Each successive two years (the length of term for sheriff in NC at the time), Cobb was sponsored by the same backers, but ran for a different party ticket each time.

My reasoning for this is that the Whig party was crumbling in the 1850s in a similar way to the modern Republican party disintegrating. If you look at that party’s candidate, Donald Trump, you have to scratch your head in wonder how he represents party values. In truth, he represents a desperation for change without critical thought. And that’s what Cobb experienced in his time. In fact, one party ticket he represented was based on not allowing immigrants citizen rights because it was feared the influx of Irish would take jobs. Sound familiar?

Our fears and plights are never new experiences.

Yet, the more fractured small and young counties like Watauga became, the greater the shift of power to those with wealth. Cobb’s backers might have slipped party alliances like snakeskin over a decade, but they were consistently the wealthiest men in the region. When in the antebellum south, how better to express one’s wealth than by owning slaves? A look at the 1850 and 1860 slave census records for Watauga County reveals that each of Cobb’s political partners were slave-owners. Sarah Shull’s father owned slaves; Cobb’s wife’s family all held slaves; and as sheriff, Cobb often had to take custody of slaves as property to offset debts.

None of the McCanles family ever owned slaves in that era. I believe that Cobb’s mother came from one of the large Alexander plantations in Virginia, but her husband was never listed as an owner on a slave schedule and neither were any of their five grown children despite having the means. In fact, this was a point of contention for Cobb in politics — he wanted economic prosperity; opportunities to make a living. I believe this was the driving factor for Cobb and his brother the summer they went west in 1858.

The history of that trip is fuzzy. Family members have letters and oral history that says the two brothers came west together and they use that to “prove” the two came to Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory in 1859. But too many other documented facts show that Cobb came west in February 1859 with Sarah Shull and a few other men, including a receipt for his purchase of Rock Creek Station and a promissory note to Sarah for her services as an accountant. Both are dated the end of March 1859. Leroy brought his and Cobb’s families out in September of 1859.

And Cobb built multiple improvements and ranches, thus gaining that economic prosperity he sought. It came at a price, though. Politically, it ostracized him from the men who once backed him and it created a division so deep between the McCanles and Greene families (his wife’s family and that of his sisters who each married Greene brothers) that Mary could never go home to North Carolina after Cobb’s death. And the remaining McCanles clan had to clear out of the region after the Civil War. This was politics at it’s most barbarous — neighbor against neighbor, but instead of name-calling and Facebook un-friending, they shot and lynched one another.

Racism and sexism are complex fruits of this nation, much like the blossoms that appear upon the spiny saguaro. You can’t easily pluck either without getting poked by the hard truths of their history and legacy in this nation. Voting rights are still not fair in this country, yet most people seem to think we’ve resolved it all back in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act of the 24th Amendment. However, the dilution of voting power for minorities and lack of access for the homeless continue to be real problems in 2017. Because of this, I do not take my voting privilege lightly. I will not be deterred by the barbs I encounter.

It’s a real possibility I have lost my privilege to vote.

While fellow Americans are chasing the multiple-arms of their candidates and trying to chop off those of their opponents, I’m scrambling to meet registration requirements. I may as well be living on Mars as far as official addresses go. The Zion Resort and RV is my official address with the included “Site 82.” However, the US Postal Service does not recognize the physical address as a deliverable one. That is why I have to add the RV park’s PO Box to my address. But a PO Box is not a physical address. You see the conundrum? My physical address does not receive mail and can’t be validated; my PO Box is not a physical address. I can’t use General Delivery, either; that’s also not a valid address. Most full-time RVers use an address of family or friends. However, Todd works in Utah and needs a Utah address for income tax reasons.

Even if we get over this address hurdle and successfully register to vote before the October deadline, we have another hurdle: ID requirements. Getting a Utah Drivers License requires more proof — we need an electricity bill to prove residency (having an address is not enough) and our social security cards. We don’t have an electrical account; the park does. We’ve never needed social security cards in other states and ours are packed away in our Liberty Safe in a storage unit in Sandpoint, Idaho. We don’t have enough time to request new cards. We need to negotiate other ways to prove we live at the RV park and have social security numbers.

Those who are more homeless, living on the streets or in a shelter, are screwed. They are disenfranchised and often criminalized for their lack of housing. Although criminalization laws are unconstitutional, those experiencing homelessness cannot even participate in the voting process to uphold that constitution, change unjust laws or elect officials to represent their interests. To think my veteran husband who suffers service-related disability cannot vote because of a misfortune beyond our control is outrageous. Yet, even if his veteran’s ID were enough to give him access to a federal election, what about me, his wife? I have no Wife-of-Veteran ID. I support, advocate and take my role seriously. Now I know what it must have felt like to be a woman suffragist.

For this reason, I greatly respect Senator Hillary Clinton. Day after day, I see the barbs slung at her simply because she is a woman who has had a career in politics. I admire her reason and calm under fire; her intelligence and preparation; and the fact that she does not crumble beneath bullying tactics. However, she’s not my candidate if I get to vote. And no way, no how is Donald Trump even a consideration! Although, I’ve heard some credible arguments lately as to why people I consider sane and thoughtful are voting for him. My vote is my vote, and another American’s vote is his or hers. Take it seriously.

I also refuse the scare tactic that my third-party vote will have disastrous results. Look, I didn’t put the two-party candidates in their current positions. I’ve been a third-party voter all my registered life. From ages 18 until 46, I voted Independent. At age 47 I registered as a Libertarian. I’ve never voted as a Republican or Democrat, although I have voted for candidates outside my party before.

The only wasted vote is the one not cast. Our political scene is prickly, but like the Sonoran Desert itself, our nation is yet full of life. Despite our history and legacies, there is yet beauty and hope. I looked more carefully at that saguaro this morning and I realized it’s crowned with a thorny heart. Like my America. We are prickly, full of pain and faults, yet there it is — we reach highest with our hearts.

September 28, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a prickly story. Is it the temperament of a character that is prickly or is it a hardship he or she faces? You can write about cacti, rose thorns or other natural elements. Think about how the prickliness conveys the story.

Respond by October 4, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Liars in Court (From Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“I can’t believe it. She lied,” said Danni.

“Children are capable.” Michael reached for the door.

“Liar!” a woman shouted from behind.

Danni and Michael turned around.

“You’re not a real cop. Go back to the reservation where you belong.” Kyndra Hinkley looked ready to batter them both with her oversized leather purse.

“Where I serve is incidental. Save your words for court,” Michael said.

Kyndra turned on Danni. “Oh, we are through in court. The judge believes my daughter. He’s going to order you to pay full damages and I hope his verdict kills your big ugly dog.”

###

A Thorny Dilemma (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane muttered while she tended her unconscious father.“He’s gonna get his. He’s gonna pay.”

Sarah handed her friend a fresh basin for dabbing the wounds. The prickly thorns of a locust tree welted the man’s entire body. She turned at the sound of boots on the plank floor of the cabin.

“May I enter?” asked a male voice from behind the calico curtain that hung for privacy of the bedchamber. It was Hickok.

Nancy Jane’s eyes glittered. Sarah knew what she was thinking. If anyone could confront Cobb, it was the young man who wore his pistols backwards.

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March 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

March 23Walking across the Higgins Street bridge, I see a gathering of human crows in hooded dry-suits lined up along a small strip of rocks and willows.  In Missoula, Montana where the Clark Fork River runs through it, the group looks like Navy Seals on a mission. These are not soldiers, but adventurers with surf boards in hand.

Yes, they surf in Montana.

Landlocked by other western states, it matters not that Montana has no ocean. The Clark Fork pounds over rocks beneath the Higgins Street bridge and a perfect surf of sorts forms at Brennan’s Wave. Conveniently located near a park, below a bridge and just blocks from the University of Montana, this phenomenon attracts the adventurous.

My adventure is to watch from the bridge above.

I’ve had enough adrenaline and drama in my life to feel satisfied to watch others dip into killer waves. Adventure doesn’t always mean having to do the deed oneself. I don’t have to squeeze into a dry-suit, buy a board and a personal flotation device, or listen to the horror stories of others who forgot to wear a helmet. I don’t have to plunge into cold mountain water, experience roiling rapids over my head or wonder how long I can hold my breath. Being witness is an adventure of its own.

This thought has been with me long enough it feels like wisdom. I’ll let others scale the rock cliffs or dangle in acrobatic silks from iron bridges. I’m a witness to adventure. I snap photos and soak up sunshine from my perch. Has this been the way of others before me?

When I was younger and unafraid to tumble off the back of a gelded beast 17 hands tall, I galloped. I was, and remain, terrified of water, yet I river-rafted, sucking in air to my rhythmic hyperventilation until I could control my breathing and not show my fear. I’ve jumped sand dunes on a three-wheeler, plunged skis over a cornice, and gave birth at home in defiance of doctors. Younger Me had an edge of cowboys & Frank Sinatra singing, I Did It My Way.

More Mature Me savors mountain bluebirds on a fence wire, reads books alongside rivers and waves at the surfers. I don’t need to explain my soul or my retirement from adventure to anyone. I witness the adventure of others. It still counts.

In history, I think it’s overlooked that women are as adventurous as men. Women tend to settle into maturity quicker because of maternal instincts, perhaps. Roles dictated by generations of culture and society create a framework that’s difficult to break. Or is it? What if women have always had the capacity to experience extreme sports or elite adventures, but that capacity is hidden within the interior of the imagination?

I think of Sarah Shull, Mary McCanles and Nancy Jane Holmes as I stand on the Higgins Street bridge and watch surfer after surfer take on Brennan’s Wave. Did they find satisfaction in witnessing, as I do? Did they feel the thrill of the Pony Express ride when horse and rider pounded hooves across the hard-packed prairie sod of summer? Could they imagine themselves as part of the great western frontier adventure without having to bare-arm wrestle other men or saddle a snorting bronc?

It’s an omission of the woman’s experience to count her present in the Wild West simply as mother, daughter, wife or whore. Women tend to play supporting roles to every lead man. Thus it was a challenge to take on the story of two swarthy frontiersmen and their highly debated gun battle through the filter of the three women who knew them. It sounds a bit like adding lace to iron. But that’s unfair. Women have capacity for adventure, too. Even if they stand as witness. They watched, engaged and could demonstrate prowess, too

Sarah Shull became a memory box for an important incident; Mary McCanles faced down Pawnee attacks as a mother and widow; and Nancy Jane, well what Nancy Jane did will surprise everyone. These women knew adventure. What adventure calls to you? Has it shifted over time and ability?

March 23, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write an adventure, experienced or witnessed. Explore your own ideas about what makes an adventurous spirit. Is it in the doing? Does standing witness count, and if so, how? Be adventurous!

Respond by March 29, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Showdown by Charli Mills

Hickok grabbed across his hips and spun each revolver like a sideshow performer. He grinned at Sarah and Nancy Jane, both gathering lunch from the garden. “I’ve returned from my adventure,” he announced.

Nancy Jane stood up, brushed dirt off her faded calico skirt and grabbed the garden hoe, twirling it around her body in a similar manner. She rested the implement across her shoulders. Sarah, still kneeling by the peas, laughed.

Hickok frowned. “Well, it doesn’t shoot,” he said.

Nancy Jane swung it off her shoulders and sliced a sunflower stalk in half. “Don’t need to,” she replied.

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March 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

March 2Mr. P would ask, “Have you read the Iliad?” I’d shake my head no. If I had my way, I’d have stayed lost in the Little Woods or the Prairie. Eventually I found my way from  Laura Ingalls to the diary of a girl who died among the Donner Party. I’d seen wagon ruts, knew about the granite walls where you could still see scrapes from the wagons hoisted up impenetrable box canyons, and I often read my library books in the back of an old Conestoga abandoned along Pleasant Valley Creek.

But Mr. P wasn’t having any of it. He sent me through Greek mythology, introduced me to classics and quizzed me on each book. I couldn’t escape this Apache. Yes, he was Apache–a scholar, a poker player, the husband of one of my school teachers and he worked for the county in a little modular office set up next to the stout library built of rock. He knew how to lure me. “Want to know where you can find arrowheads?” My eyes lit up. Yes! The catch was, read another classic.

And so I did.

For some reason, these books failed to capture my imagination until I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Yet what intrigued me about Dracula was what kept me going back to the library for Laura Ingalls. It wasn’t just the stories, but the authors. I wondered at who Laura was behind the page as much as on it. For some reason I can’t explain, I was curious as to why Bram Stoker would write such a story. So I wrote a story about Bram and how he liked history and mountains and found himself researching Vlad Tepes in Romania.

I was 12 or 13. It was after I discovered writing stories. My first constraints were given to my by my 7th/8th-grade teacher who also made me run long distance for physical education. Where I lagged in running, I excelled in spinning stories. I wrote three pages. He said write five. I wrote five and he said write ten. I suspected he was training me like in PE–run half a mile this week, one mile the next.

In 8th-grade I was running five miles and turning in 15 pages a week. I dropped the running but never the writing.

Fast forward through my life and other mentors flash in and out of memory. I can tell you what each library was like wherever I lived. In St. Paul I discovered the History Center, where a humble library sat upon three levels of historical archives. Here I learned to walk in the shadow of classics that mattered most to me–historical fiction. I secretly dreamed that one day I’d finish a historical novel.

Now it’s the path I walk (not run) out loud. I’m writing historical fiction, revising my first draft, poking at the idea for my second. With my contributions to Go Idaho, I’m firmly set to join Women Write the West. This is my dream and I would not have it if it weren’t for the libraries in my life, and the people who pointed me to them. When was the last time you visited your library?

Libraries are more than a container of books. As writers we should be attached to our libraries like a baby to mama. They comfort and nurture us; they help us grow and learn. The Library in Sandpoint is as amazing as a star. It twinkles among a swath of other diamonds that make up the night sky. I have one, you have one, every community has one. And like stars, each one is worthy of wonder. May we never lose our wonderment for libraries!

Yet, what do you do for your library?

I know what East Bonner County Library District does for me. Books. They have old favorites, new fictions. It was upon The Library shelf I discovered, I Was a Revolutionary by Andrew Malan Milward, a collection of short stories rooted in history and place, weaving in and out of time, genders and ethnic identities. It opened my eyes to threading shorts in a long way. I can check out seeds from my library! Seeds! I can also deposit seeds from my garden.

When I do something for The Library, I get something in return. I became a volunteer and I get supportive and informational monthly meetings with chocolate. I host Wrangling Words and get support for building a local writing community. I put up posters and I meet people and get coffee. I make posters and I get invited to a design workshop. And did I mention, this is all free? I get to grow and learn as I did in school. Learning is life-long at the library.

In 1909, Fairbury Public Library become one of 69 Carnegie libraries in Nebraska 48 years after Cobb’s death, two years after Mary died (in Fairbury) and one year after their son Monroe met Wild Bill Cody. Monroe would tell the western entertainer his version of events at Rock Creek that eventful day when Hickok (Cody’s good friend) shot Monroe’s father. Today, Fairbury Public Library is the repository for genealogy in Jefferson County where Rock Creek was located. And yes, I’ve been to that library. It’s the photo for this week’s challenge.

Appalachians are often thought of as uneducated. Yet, Cobb was highly educated and so were his sisters and brother. His father was a school teacher. Cobb introduced one of Jefferson County’s first schools, paying a teacher out of his own pocket to teach his children and others in the area. I wonder if he would have had a personal library. Sarah was also literate, but Mary and Nancy Jane were not. Literacy didn’t seem to get a woman further in life during these times. And many northerners (Yankees) made poor assumptions upon hearing a southern accent, thinking a slow drawl meant an uneducated mind. How wrong, yet these biases still stick to the annuals of history.

Literacy is a great equalizer, and as Mr. P tried to impress upon me, a foundation of books builds an open mind.

March 2, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a library. You can honor the libraries in your own experience, dream about libraries of the future or explore a community without one. Bonus points for discovering something you didn’t know your library offered. For example, my library offers organic and heirloom seeds.

Respond by March 8, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Northern Assumptions by Charli Mills

The stranger scuffed his boots when he entered Rock Creek Trading Post.

“Howdy, Ma’am.”

A lanky freighter, Sarah thought. He favored one leg and his left arm hung limp. “Good day. Supplies are low until spring mud recedes.”

“Well, I don’t think you’d have what I need, anyways.” He touched the brim of his hat.

“What’s that, Sir?”

He grinned. “A proper northern library.”

“I see. Follow me.” Sarah opened the backdoor to reveal shelves of books. She grabbed one, handing it to the stranger. “I hope this isn’t beyond your grand intellect.”

It read, Tom Thumb’s Picture Alphabet.

###

February 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

February 10

Photo by Betsy Fulling, Courtesy of FSPW

Cute and furry are the mountain goats that live atop Scotchman Peaks in northern Idaho. Even their scientific name, oreamnos americanus, labels them as cute. It means, “a mountain lamb belonging to America.” Aw, what could be cuter than a mountain lamb? Funnily, they are not goats at all, but related to antelope and gazelle.

Nor are they sheep. The Cabinet Mountains, a craggy chain of the Rocky Mountains that span western Montana and the Idaho panhandle, are also home to bighorn sheep. Somehow, they aren’t as cute, but they do have magnificent curling horns. Tourist often confuse the two animals, and I’ve even heard one exclaim that she saw “bighorn goats.” The most notorious case of Rocky Mountain animal identity confusion is the story of the visiting hunter who shot an elk only to find out he tagged a llama.

For casual identification purposes, the mountain goats are cute and furry, white with black horns and beards (both sexes).

And they like salt. Ranchers put out mineral licks for cattle and horses, and it’s not unusual for deer to show up. Wildlife often gather in geological places where they can lick natural minerals, and mountain goats have a clever advantage — the ability to scale rock faces. They also have a newfound source atop the rocky vistas of Scotchman Peaks — hikers.

It sounds adorable. A cute and furry animal, greeting hikers, tongue extended. Like the attraction factor of piled kittens, unwise hikers offer a leg or arm to the mountain goats after a sweaty hike. Experienced hikers, like those knowledgeable of kittens, avoid such encounters with claws and cuspids, or rather horns and molars. Cute and furry mountain goats bite and butt. Last year, the main trail to one of the most spectacular vistas overlooking the Clark Fork and Lake Pend Oreille was closed due to a goat licking that turned ugly. A woman was bit.

Educating humans on good behavior in the wild is a small portion of what the Friends of Scotchman Peaks do. Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Phil Hough, executive director of FSPW for an upcoming (March-ish) article in Go Idaho. Their target goal is to gain Congressional designation an 61,800 acre roadless area as Wilderness. However, their mission is to conduct education, outreach, and stewardship activities to preserve this amazingly diverse and rugged area where cute and furry goats live. Anyone can become a Friend. I’m a Friend!

In fact, my first event after becoming a Friend was to help the group decide a raging debate: Wine or Beer? My friend (who is also a Friend) joined me. She sided with a pale ale and I chose Love (a Washington state red). We broke the tie with a bacon-chicken sandwich dressed with greens and blue-cheese. Phil greeted me like a friend, and I made a new one, local author and publisher, Sandy Compton. When I say anyone can join, I mean even a shuffling middle-aged writer who most likely could never reach the top of the peaks to see the goats and shoo them off her sweaty limbs.

FSPW are master community builders, bringing together diverse Friends. You can read more about their community building success in my upcoming article, but two points I want to make here. One is the power of community and the other is the significance of wild places to everyone.

The past two weeks, the Rough Writers and Friends have explored the themes of community and power. They are related. Communities pull together, gather, build up. That can be powerful. What impressed me about FSPW is how they focus their efforts of stewardship. Phil pointed out to me that many environmental or advocacy groups circle the wagons around what they are against. Instead, FSPW embrace what positive benefits stewardship and wild places have for Friends of diverse walks (hikes) and interests.

Wild places matter, even to those who are not active hikers or hunters. It’s important to our psyche to know that wild places exist. Consider the words of great souls who understood the importance:

“And this, our life exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” ~ William Shakespeare

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.” ~ Sir John Lubbock

“Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.” ~ Aldo Leopold

Wild places are vital to writers. We find inspiration between sky and water, roots and crown of a tree, the wingspan of a kingfisher. We learn to use all our senses outdoors and seek wild spaces even if it is a city park or a backyard garden. We feel the pulsing energy of the land around us and we connect through it. We even melt into romantic notions at the sight of a cute and furry mountain goat. And what do we do with this? We write, of course.

Imagine the Nebraska Territory as Cobb McCanles first saw it in 1858. Pioneers had already cut ruts making haste to gold fields, promised land or future farms. Yet few actually lingered in the Territories. It was wild space to get through, pass by and go beyond. Buffalo herds still roamed, prairie fires burned seasonally and native grasses grew taller than a young child. Coyotes yipped and prairie chickens courted. A fringe-culture of traders, hunters, freighters and guides loosely populated the prairie before the Civil War. I believe Nancy Jane Holmes, the third female character of importance in Rock Creek, lived in one of these ungoverned wilderness societies.

Historians may disagree, but I believe that Cobb and his brother Leroy made it out to Colorado and back to North Carolina in the summer of 1858. Sarah Shull once mentioned later in life the brothers went out west that summer. It makes sense because antebellum North Carolina was rapidly on a comet path to war by then. Their father, James McCanles, moved with his wife and three married daughters to a cluster of farms in eastern Tennessee where Unionists were gathering and politicking. The McCanles brothers wanted no part of war and explored the areas beyond the Bleeding Kansas and Missouri border where the Border Wars between slavers and abolitionists were in full swing.

Beyond the Missouri River was Indian Territory. Wilderness.

Family anecdotes passed down through letters and generations say that Cobb and Leroy traveled west together. Some family vehemently disagree that Sarah Shull came with Cobb in late winter 1859. Yet surviving documents prove Cobb hired Sarah Shull in March of 1859. They both signed it so she had to be with him. Likewise, other documents place Leroy back in North Carolina at that time. It’s reasonable to assume the brothers did go west together as far as Colorado, but in 1858 not 1859. They would have passed through Rock Creek or other road ranches like it. Cobb knew Sarah grew up working in her father’s store and kept books. She didn’t want to be left behind where she was shunned because she bore a married man’s child, a child who died. Nothing held her to North Carolina.

But the married man, Cobb, was still married and had reconciled with his wife. They also had decided to raise their special needs daughter, almost unheard of in those days. Where else could a man like Cobb make new opportunities for his kin away from brewing war? Where else could he bring his former mistress to run a road ranch trading post? The wilderness beyond the Missouri River.

As to whether or not they encountered cute and furry animals is open to speculation. But I’m fairly certain pioneers wouldn’t have let mountain goats lick them. Who knows.

February 10, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about wild spaces. Is it a wilderness or a patch of weeds in a vacant lot that attract songbirds. What is vital to the human psyche about wild spaces? Bonus points for inducing something cute and furry.

Respond by February 16, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

My gratitude to Phil Hough and my new 6,000 new Friends for the use of this week’s prompt photo. The outstanding mountain goat shot is the capture of Betsy Fulling.

***

Unseen by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane adjusted the rear sight and held the longrifle tucked to her body. One mule deer, one lead ball. She bit back the curse for her brother for getting himself killed in a border raid. It wasn’t their war. They were wilderness folk, free-landers, friends to Cree and French traders who liked the American prairies.

Movement caught her eye. Jackrabbit. Its long ears upright, nose twitching. If she missed the buck, she’d snare the rabbit. It spooked, and so did the deer when two men rode up on horses oblivious to her in the grass, holding a gun.

###

December 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

December 30Mile marker 490 on Idaho State Highway 95 marks the spot where industry once built a town called Elmira. Throughout my two blogs, I’ve explored what remains of the town, mostly an iconic 1910 schoolhouse. I’ve guessed that the industry was logging or railroads based on what brought people to settle this area.

Last month, I got a writing gig with a new online magazine called, Go Idaho. It’s not yet live, but it will live up to its promise to be a magazine about amazing people and places in my state. You can sign up for the VIP List and I hope you subscribe. It’s an innovative magazine that forgoes advertising and generates revenue through subscription. And, it pays writers. I’ve freelanced for 22 years and watched the industry shift from robust regional publications to watered down global internet.

Yet, I still believe in the value of quality writing. Companies still need copy-writers who understand consumer engagement; readers still want good stories to read; and we all recognize top-shelf writing with appreciation. Making a living as a writer is not exactly the career path any school counselor would promote, but any industrious writer can make it work. You have to find a niche (business background, regional access, past experience, interests), an outlet and fair payment. If you are all about the literary writing, seek artist grants in your town or region, set up a plan to submit to contests with prizes or polish your work to submit to paying literary outlets.

Do the groundwork and keep writing.

Living way up north in the Panhandle gives me a regional writing niche. Funny thing is, my book editor got me in touch with the magazine editor, so be open to who others might know. It’s a perfect fit to my Elmira Pond voice, journalism profile background and content writing for internet. Your perfect fit is out there, too. Same goes for publishing a book. First you need to know what you want to achieve, then you have to find the right publishing partner. I believe that many rejections writers experience are due to poor fit. Get to know that agent or publisher or editor and study what interests them.

It’s why I know Elmira was a railroad and logging industry town — it fits the terrain.

One of my assignments for Go Idaho is a series about places and the traces of cultural diversity in its history. Naturally I began with Elmira. For fun I called up people (random neighbors) and asked each to complete the sentence, “They say Elmira was a ________ town.” I was trying to find the myths and compare it to historical record. For example, I’ve heard that Elmira was founded by Italian immigrant railroad workers. My neighbors gave me even juicer myths and history gave me a surprise. I will continue to write this series and have already explored Swede Island and have a spring trip planned to discover a Chinese burial ground known to some locals.

The magazine gig and a new client project has made me a naughty novel writer. I set my revision aside for a rest at Thanksgiving and, yes, it’s still resting. My goal this year is to discover something in between revision obsession and revision avoidance. Right now, I’m coming out of a holiday break that I can’t claim was adventurous, productive or reflective, but it was restful. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get industrious again.

Where to begin? Assessment. The turning of a new year is always a good time to reflect. Not all writers set goals, but I tend to be goal-oriented. I also have a vision for what “success” looks like for me as a writer. In fact, I shared that vision last year and mentioned my interest in hosting writing retreats in northern Idaho. Whether you have set goals, an idea of what success means to you, or you simply reflect on what has come to pass and what next, now is a good time to take stock.

2015 was not the year I expected. However, I didn’t let the setbacks derail me. In taking time to assess at various points throughout the year, I found it wise to shift priorities. Next week, after Longboarder returns to a more boisterous home and friends and I have in all my client submissions, I plan to plan. We have our first Anthology to craft and publish; Carrot Ranch is expanding to a live monthly writer’s support program at the local library; my Rock Creek revision deadline is the end of January; and I need to continue to source writing income.

Vision. Goals. Plan. Assess. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

And above all, write. Writing is a combination of drafting, researching, arranging, revising, reading, inspiration and perhaps other activities such as plotting, people-watching, imagining, exploring. Writing is a hearty stew, not a single ingredient. And these days, if you publish — magazines, blogs, books — you need to add promoting to the mix. I’d like to get back to my platform building posts. Target audience is the biggest gap I see in our book publishing industry, and it’s a tricky one to deal with whether you publish independent, small press or with the big pillars.

Humans are industrious. Sometimes our industry is driven by greed — the desire to make money and be powerful through wealth — and sometimes it is driven by compassion — the desire to help others. I’m sure industrious people have a plethora of reasons for their efforts. Cobb McCanles came to Nebraska in March of 1859 and built a toll-bridge, dug a new well for pioneers, settled four ranches, operated a Pony Express relay station, traded with indigenous tribes, ran a stage coach stop, kept a wife and family and kept a former mistress. He was definitely industrious. The west often afforded such opportunity. In part, it’s what frustrated him about the southern economy based on plantation expansion and support of a slave trade. Only a few made wealth. Out west, a hard working man could make a living.

So could immigrants who came to America, believing in better opportunities for those clever and hard-working enough.

You see that picture up above for the flash fiction challenge? That’s a train of railroad cars all carrying steel rails for maintenance. I’ll give you the hint that Elmira was, and still is, a railroad maintenance hub. I see those rails parked outside and I think of the gandy dancers of men that once worked in teams to realign the rails before modern machinery. Were they Italian? Did they settle Elmira? Ah, you’ll have to read my story at Go Idaho!

December 30, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write an industrious story. It can be about an industry or the efforts of a person or group of people. What does their industry reflect? Does hard work pay off? Are there risks or accidents?

Respond by January 5, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Prairie Industrialist by Charli Mills

Sarah knelt on the bank above, handing Cobb tools he needed. He waded the icy creek and directed the digging. The timbers he squared himself.

A small and curious crowd gathered. A few of the buffalo hunters pulled whiskey and crouched alongside several Ottowas. Many traded at the store. Her store. Well, Cobb’s store really, but she was running it.

“What’s he doing?”

Sarah looked up at the ranch wheelwright Cobb hired. “He’s building a toll-bridge to make a safer crossing at Rock Creek.”

“First spring flood’ll wipe it off the face of the earth.”

“Cobb’s a solid builder.”

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Re-creation of the bridge Cobb built over Rock Creek at Rock Creek Nebraska State Park:

DSC_0253

October 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

October 28I keep a hammer in my kitchen drawer, among more common utensils like spatulas, tongs and a lemon zester. It might look misplaced, as if I hung a platter on the wall and stuck the hammer in the nearest drawer. Yet, it’s not. It serves a purpose in my kitchen — pounding peppercorns or nuts. Before I lost my apples, I made my favorite apple crisp recipe that calls for candied-ginger and macadamia nuts, well-pounded.

Tools are vital to any trade. Think of a writer and you’d likely think of pen and papers as trade tools. True, I love notebooks and writing pens of a certain ball size and blue ink, although my laptop is the workhorse. On my desk is an array tool-books — The Elements of Style, Webster’s New World College Dictionary, The Associated Press Stylebook, Writer’s Market, Mission-Based Marketing, A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business, The Publicity Handbook, Strengths Finder, The Craft of Revision, Revision & Self-Editing, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster Better, and a tower of historical books.

I’m as proud of my tool-books as the Hub is of his tool-chest full of aviation wrenches and other chrome. Tools are an investment in one’s craft.

This time of year, writers have before them one of the biggest and most gracious tools ever offered in the form of an event — National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo. It’s a nonprofit that believes your story matters:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. 

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

Many are preparing for this event, and others are eagerly waiting for the start. Grumblings ripple through the writing community with some curmudgeons thinking that “real” writers don’t NaNo. It’s a tool. It’s a choice. It’s like me using a hammer to crack nuts. You might use something different, but that separation of choice doesn’t make one tool superior to the other.

What makes NaNoWriMo an effective writing tool is in how you use it and why. Know your strategy before you decide or are persuaded by the opinions of fans or foes.

I’ll tell you straight up; I’m a fan. I love NaNoWriMo as a drafting tool. Here’s why it works for me:

  1. It’s the right fit for writing a first draft (strategy: finish that novel).
  2. It’s a process that focuses on creation (strategy: turn off the internal editor; turn on the story possibilities).
  3. It has an accountable deadline (strategy: stop procrastination).
  4. It doesn’t matter what the quality of the draft is (strategy: write that “shitty” first draft).
  5. It generates 50,000 +/- words (strategy: generate material to develop and revise).

As a drafting tool, NaNoWriMo can help you develop that story idea, build strong daily writing management skills and get new material in the pipeline. November has worked out for me and even had me thinking that I could do this every year to generate new material. Except…

My priority at this time is to revise my draft of Rock Creek by December 15. If I generate new material, I won’t meet my deadline. I could use the NaNoWriMo framework, but I’d be defeating the organization’s purpose to craft a new story. And revision is a different process than drafting.

What I’ve decided to do is rooted in a trio of inspiration. Last year, Anne Goodwin set course on a non-NaNo project and came up with a fast-draft. She set her own word count goal, which is exactly what one should do when considering any writing tool. Recently, Geoff Le Pard posted his thoughts on how best to use NaNoWriMo this year and dithered over several project ideas which led him to a brilliant NaNothology project. Writers who have participated in NaNoWriMo with encouragement to others on the blogosphere, along with faithful readers and cheerleaders who have waved me on in the past, I can’t help but feel buoyed by your enthusiasm. Check out Ula Humienik’s Ultimate NaNoWriMo Toolkit.

Recognizing that I can adjust the tool, come up with a creative concept to fit my situation and tap into the shared energy of writers and readers, I’m debuting my new tool: NaNoReViSo. Like NaNoWriMo, I’ll begin November 1, but continue up until December 15 when I send off my revised manuscript to beta readers, including my editor (who will assess the manuscript), a few specialized historians and readers of the genre. I’ll also take off a week, November 22-28. And, revision is a different beast from drafting, thus is more than word count, although some days will be dedicated to rewrites. Here’s how I’m seeing NaNoReViSo as my revision tool:

  • 35 days
  • 3 hours a day dedicated to revision
  • 2 hours a day dedicated to reading or reviewing research
  • Compare the story to the historical timeline
  • Complete the hero’s journey arc
  • Figure out what to cut, what to add
  • Post progress on Mondays

My goal is to revise this draft well enough to secure the interested publisher. That draft will follow beta reader feedback. Although I’ve fictionalized the story, I’m presenting a never-before considered theory. It’s plausible, but has a few holes. For now, imagination will have to be the putty. Who can truly prove a 150-year old murder?

With hammer in one hand and a rope in the other, I’ll also be wrangling that anthology project. I’m welcoming a few more writers to the Congress and putting together a project plan based on Rough Writer feedback. I will make an announcement through email once I’ve completed a private group list and heard back from all new invitees. Our project and new inductees will be announced here once all is set.

One tool a historian uses is a body of documents that pertain to an event or a person. Many historians also use first-hand accounts. The former is often incomplete and the latter incorrect. Such is the case with every history book written on the subject of the Rock Creek affair. Some call it a massacre, others a gunfight. Even preeminent historian, Joseph Rosa, relies on accounts that might not be more than opinion or myth. Yet he has been the most thorough researcher of documentation that pertains to Wild Bill Hickok’s role in the shooting at Rock Creek. He points out that the failings of earlier historians has to do with their attempt to appeal to their audiences and acknowledges that many of their accounts are more fiction than fact. I’d like my book to be fiction that is rooted in fact.

Thus at times I feel I need a weed-trimmer to wade through the historical accounts to discern the facts. Documents are dry and sometimes puzzling, but they present interesting considerations. For example, Nebraska State Historical Society has the original document calling for the arrest of those who killed Cobb. It reads:

Territory of Nebraska
County of Gage

The Complainant and informant, Leroy McCanles of the County of Johnson, Territory afforesaid Made before T. M. Coulter Esquire one of the Justices of the Peace in and for Gage County, on the 13th day of July 1861, who being duly sworn on his own oath says that the crime of Murder has been Committed in the County of Jones and that Dutch Bill, Dock and Wellman (thier other names not known) committed the same

Subscribed and
Sworn to before me (signature of) _ L. McCanles
This 13th day of July 1861
T. M. Coulter
Justice of the Peace

In my own family oral tradition, my Grandfather Sonny told me that Wild Bill Hickok shot our kin. He said his grandmother told him that Cobb teased Hickok for the shape of his nose and lip, calling him “Duck Bill.” I read this document and realize several points: Leroy (Cobb’s brother) filed the complaint in Beatrice (Gage County) on July 13 which validates the shooting timeline; a charge of Murder was sought; and Leroy only knew the men’s nicknames. It’s possible that Leory said “Duck Bill” and the Justice of the Peace thought he said “Dutch Bill” because it was common to distinguish men by their heritage (more so than a joke). It’s possible that our family story is true.

It’s the possibilities that gets my imagination revved. I write and turn to different tools as I go.

October 28, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include a tool in a story. How can it enhance the character, tension or meaning? It can also be a story about a tool or a character’s obsession for tools. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by November 3, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Future Prince by Charli Mills

Hickok scooped hay with the pitchfork, favoring his stiff shoulder. Sarah watched from the loft, wondering if he knew she and Cobb were above with Miss Boots and her litter. Cobb set aside a closed-eyed kitten and jumped from the rafters into the hay-pile.

Hickok wobbled, dropping the pitchfork.

“Hey, Duck Bill. Never gonna get those horses fed at that rate.” Cobb pretended to tackle Hickok, and then retrieved the pitchfork to finish the chore with speed and strength.

“One day, my arm’s going to heal.”

“Sure it will, Duck Bill. Then you’ll be prince of the pony dung.”

***

Author’s Note: Another name for Hickok in later years, and the title of Wilstach’s book was, Prince of Pistoleers.

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