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Bite Size Memoir No. 3

Mountain Ghosts & Water Babies

Avoiding Water Babies
Lake Tahoe had no fairies, but Water Babies prowled its depths. I know because both grandfathers of K. and L. told me so. One man was Washo, the other Apache—both Native American—and they knew. Later, when showing K.’s grandfather a tiny pink arrowhead I found, he squinted, held it between his big thumb and forefinger, and named it a bird-point. It’s an arrowhead for shooting waterfowl. Then he asked me where I found it. I was always scrounging such things, gawking for them from the back of my bay horse, Captain. When I told him where—above the spit of forested, boulder-strewn land between two mountain creeks—he shook his head and warned me to be careful there. That’s where the Water Babies live. I remember feeling afraid and avoiding the dangerous currents that melded as the two creeks combined. He knew people had drowned there. And I was never one of them.


I Remember Mountain Ghosts:

  1. The girl buried in the old cemetery overgrown with gnarly sagebrush that hid toppled markers.
  2. The black cat crouched on top of a white marker the night C. and I crept up to the cemetery with her dad’s flashlight that died when we arrived.
  3. The Tommy Knockers who still noisily mined the shafts they had blasted from bedrock despite the fact they had died long ago beneath the granite, their bodies never recovered.
  4. The couple who died in their car that careened over Cadillac Curve where the car now rusts.
  5. Crazy old Mrs. Chalmers who drove her wagon to town every day the stage arrived, seeking her Englishman who never returned to her or the remote mountain mansion he built her.
  6. Jake Marklee who was shot for his land or maybe his toll-bridge or for many other imagined reason that still haunt my imagination.
  7. The unknown Washo elders buried in unmarked, sunken graves in a patch of forest fenced off with barbed wire so old the Jeffry pines had buried the wire deep in the bark.
  8. The two blind Washo sisters who lived in a wikiup above town and hoarded old buttons that scattered down the rocky hillside as a century of snows came and went.
  9. The man who gave name to Hangman’s Bridge over the turbulent East Fork of the Carson River.
  10. The phantom buildings of Silver Mountain City that I could see if I squinted just right even though it was nothing but an empty flat of sagebrush and Jeffry pines to adult eyes.


Join the flash fun at Lisa Reiter’s “Bite Size Memoir” challenge. Already she is onto challenge number three. Reading other flash memories niggles at buried memories of my own. And this surprises me. It’s like word associations–Lisa writes about faeries and I think about water babies; she writes about magic and I think of old ghosts. I like the detail dredging that is going on in my memory bog, but it takes reading as much as writing to pull it off. What will my memories remind you of?


Bite Size Memoir No. 2

Jinks & JapesFor me, exploring memory is like extracting water from a peat bog. It’s saturated, but not easy to pull out clean.

However, I’m taking the weekly “Bite Size Memoir” challenge posted by memoirist, Lisa Reiter, and discovering that I do have resources for writing from memory, after all.

This week’s prompt is “Jinks and Japes.”

Older students sat in the back of the bus. No reserved sign was needed; we simply understood the seating hierarchy. In the winter, we’d fill seats from first-graders to eighth and go skiing at Kirkwood for physical education.

Chatter buzzed the 30 minutes it took to drive up the winding mountain pass. Cheese sandwiches and cartons of milk filled two boxes for lunch. I can still taste the squishy white bread, tangy mayo and creamy American cheese. None of us dared to mess with lunch.

But let loose on the ski slopes, we found plenty of mischief, especially once we became back-seat riders. Our favorite joke was to ski backwards. We’d sing the television jingle that advertised Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars—“sometimes you feel like a nut” (jump to backwards skiing) and “sometimes you don’t” (jump to forward skiing).

We’d only stop long enough to devour a cheese sandwich.

Charli Mills – 1967 – USA

School at Seven

School at SevenBlogger Lisa Reiter has launched “Bite Size Memoirs.” She writes two poignant examples of the accepted styles for the prompt which is brief.

While I’m not a memoirist, I do draw heavily upon experience to create story ideas. Memories often lead me to reflect.

For instance, my novel “Miracle of Ducks,” is based on my experiences of sharing a life with a former Army Ranger and his obsession with German Short-haired Pointers. Fictionalizing those experiences allows me to explore the realm of “what if…”

Right away I was drawn to Lisa’s challenge. I believe in the power of prompts to spark creativity; the magic of constraints to improve writing; and the joy of practicing craft with other writers. It’s like musicians who gather and just jam.

After reflecting on Lisa’s first prompt, I realized what a tumultuous time age seven was for me. I hardly remember school that year, but I have one vivid memory related to seven and school. What follows is what I mined from that memory for “Bite Size Memoir No. 1.”

School at Seven by Charli Mills

Morning, and it’s the last day of school at Sunnyslope. Not for the year. Just for me. My parents bought a store and a pink house near Lake Tahoe.

Mrs. Vineyard says I can build snowmen at recess where I’m going. It doesn’t snow in Hollister where apricots grow, planted by great-grandpa Bumpa who lives at the place smelling like hospitals.

I like Bumpa and bingo and horses. Not doctors.

Papa, drives slowly down the steep hill overlooking turkey barns and old scrap. We don’t talk about the other grandfather or why my parents are moving. It feels like it’s my fault, and misery squats on my shoulders the way blackbirds roost in eucalyptus trees. Papa stops the car. He leans over and offers me a choice of three candies. Big bars of chocolate. I choose the Baby Ruth.

Seven was not a sweet year, but I remember that clemency.

(Look for new prompts on Fridays  at Sharing the Story, and follow along on Twitter at #BiteSizeMemoir.)


April 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionLife. It’s our stories.

Even when we write fiction, it’s our own stories that bubble up–how we process the world; how we describe the way a red lunar moon appears to us at midnight; how we felt when our cousins visited back in 1977.

When I see Rocky Mountain tree swallows tumble and dive, hawking for the first batch of spring insects, I remember the crush I once had on a boy in school who made paper airplanes. When I think of that crush, I can transport it to a character, scene or plot. Or I can try to recall more details of fifth grade and their implications on my life today.

One path leads to fiction and another to memoir. Yet, both are forms of creative writing. And both draw upon our vast resources of stories.

This week, I met up with @FlashMemoirs on Twitter. Part of building a literary community around weekly practice of flash fiction is to connect with others who enjoy the flash craft. Christine Houser, Founder of Flash Memoirs, has had “a lifelong passion for petite, pithy, personal stories.”

Her blog reminded me that flash can also communicate memory. The key element is that of storytelling. If you are interested in memoir (and flash), read her article, Your Memoir Vs. Your Memory. I especially like the quote she uses from Bill Roorbach in Writing Life Stories:

“To me the first goal, the first excellence, is artistic. The needs of other excellences, such as accuracy, must follow the needs of [storytelling] in a kind of hierarchy that helps me make decisions as I write.”

For this week’s prompt, we are going to write biographies. Since this is flash fiction, you might want to use this prompt as an exercise to explore a character your are writing or thinking of developing. If you have developed an alter-ego, maybe you want to explore how he or she is different from you. And, if you want to practice a flash memoir, go ahead and overlook “fiction” for the week and see what kind of bio you can create. Christine Houser has a lyrical bio on her About page in the “I Remember” style of memoirist, Joe Brainard.

All writers, word dabblers, story wranglers and curiosity seekers are welcome to join the challenge! Together we can make literature a part of everyday life online. If you just want to read, that’s participation, too. Last week’s compilations are posted at White Flowers. Comments are welcome!

April 16, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a biography for a character, alter-ego or you. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, April 22 to be included in the compilation. My contribution follows and is the flash bio for my protagonist–hopefully, the first of many novel protagonists.

Dr. Danni Gordon by Charli Mills

Nevada ranches, home sweet childhood home, no more. Bayfield resident with view of sailboats, Madeline Island, tourists and town along Lake Superior. Northern Wisconsin. Archeologist of records and dirt. Into historic bottles—purple and brown glass—evidence of old fisheries. Also likes bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir. Dog-owner, reluctantly. Dog-defender, by chance. Wife of Iraqi contract soldier. Friend, reluctantly, to the one who calls her Bone Digger. Battling knavish vets and annoying stoic deputies. Stuck to bird cage. Stuck on Ike. Stuck with dogs. Stuck teaching kids. Learns of love through hounds. And her forever pup. Miracle of Ducks.


Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.