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March 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

An inch of brown foam blooms over double scoops of grounds, and I wait 30 seconds before filling the press pot with more boiling water. After five minutes I press the grounds and pour the dark brew into a stainless steel mug, over a small spoonful of Northwoods maple syrup, stirring, stirring, stirring. I pour half and half while the whirlpool in a mug yet spins, and it lightens to tan. My final step is to strike a whole nutmeg thrice.

I have earned my Morning Coffee Badge.

This is a tale of badges and how they arrived at Carrot Ranch to help writers follow their dreams.

My dream is to write from a cloud of inspirational joy. I know what that levitated state feels like — it’s comparable to the snowboarder when wax catches air on a mountain face; it’s the rock climber midway through a 5.9 climb; it’s the first river raft run when only the guides dare to face the rapids. Writing is my adventure. Literary art is my sport.

I always said I’d have a ranch, one day. This wasn’t what I meant when I contemplated how to grow a herd of 300 black Angus or convince my new husband to buy a ramshackle homestead tucked into the shadows of Great Basin mountains. But I was young and thought writing was a part of the dream.

Now I know it is the dream — to write the stories that clutch my heart and to free the characters kicking around the trails of my mind. I want to know how to master words, to make them leap through fiery hoops. I want a reader to feel what I feel as a dreamer. The writing builds the bridge between us. This ranch might not have cattle, but it wrangles more stories than ever rode the dusty drives of the American West.

No matter where I rest my heels or dip my toes, I am always out West for it resides within me. Its transformational imprint doesn’t go away, and over the years its come to color my art in the duns of the desert and the reds of cedar bark. Mix that paint with the blues and greens of the Keweenaw, and I feel…home.

Of course, my virtual sandbox, the place where I play and run barefoot with the literary tribe, has to be a ranch. It is a ranch. Carrot Ranch. Where bacon is appreciated and the day begins with the perfect cup of coffee. This is where literary art is accessible, to you and to me!

But how do we grow such a tribe? From the bloom, it seemed easy — keep writing, keep playing, keep planning. Have you ever nurtured a zucchini plant from seed? It’s a hearty seed full of promise. Press it into the soil beneath a sunny disposition and water frequently with inspiration, and soon you have a bush that drops squash after squash after squash. What do you do when zucchini is abundant?

Diversify and share. Zucchini patties, breakfast bread, chocolate cake, chutney, oven chips, grilled spears, green smoothies and pale soups.

This is how the Rancher Badges came to be. The zucchini is abundant at the Ranch, so we are going to make good use of it. If this is a place where literary art is accessible — and it’s a fun, vibrant and authentic experience — then we can all find good uses for the abundance. We are going to make good of the increase in writers at Carrot Ranch.

Rancher Badges reward community interaction and empower individual writers. The idea is to invite engagement without expectation. It’s also a way to provide structure for each writer because we all have different reasons to be here. The diversity is what makes the Ranch a special place — you make the Ranch a special place!

The program is optional. You don’t have to play. If you do play along, it starts with you setting your sights on which Badges you want to earn. Think of it this way — if we are each here because it’s a stop along the path to follow our dreams, which of these badges will get you there? Which of these badges matters to you? Which badges make you smile? Which badges inspire you to feel a part of the tribe?

You set and track your own goals. Once a quarter (June 1, September 1, December 1, March 1) you will turn in your request for badges. An email or submission form will be posted. Within two weeks, you will receive a digital Badge Board through email. You may keep it private, print it or publically display it on your own blog. You can show it off on social media, or share it with your kids, partner, dogs or cats.

Same badges, new badges, and an annual board. Each year the program will offer a new board and updated badges. You can collect them from year to year, or retire a board when a new year begins. It’s all about how you want to play and show off what you earned. You get to decide what your goals are. The Ranch will reward you for achieving them.

*****INTRODUCING THE RANCHER BADGES*****

Participation Badges show your involvement in the challenges at the Ranch.

A quarterly star rewards your accumulative flash fiction over three months. You set the goal: once a quarter, once a month; once a week. The idea is to meet your expectations and not that of others. Be your own star!

An ambassador badge rewards your engagement with other Ranchers. If someone is new, welcome them to the Ranch. If someone has been gone a spell, welcome them back. Leave appreciative comments (say what you liked about a flash). Point out good craft. Visit other blogs. How often? How many handshakes? That’s your goal to set.

Writing Badges support your personal writing goals.

Carrot Ranch attracts a variety of writers and has three badges to support different goals. As an author, you can set word count goals or meet deadlines. As a blogger, you can set post goals or participation in other blog challenges. As a poet, you can set goals to write a certain number of poems or master a new technique or style.

The prolific badge rewards the writing habit you most want to cultivate — a number of pages per day, more fiction than non-fiction, word count, number of flash fictions, number of different blogging challenges. If it feels prolific to you, then it is.

The phrase “runs with scissors” is a tongue in cheek way to denote taking a risk. Maybe it terrifies you to submit a story to a contest. Maybe you want to ask others to beta-read, but you feel shy. Maybe you need to write the scene you try to ignore. This badge pushes you to take a writing risk.

Extracurricular Badges encourage you to accept other challenges at the Ranch beyond flash fiction.

Rough Writer and memoirist, Irene Waters, hosts a monthly writing challenge based on memory and includes comparative demographics. She guest writes at Carrot Ranch to teach memoir craft.

Rough Writer and grit lit author, C. Jai Ferry, pushes writers to the dark side of TwitterFlash where literature is carved into tweetable slices. She guest writes at Carrot Ranch to teach Twitter best practices for literary artists.

Raw Literature is an open guest series for any writer from our extended community. The personal essay explores why or how a writer writes. A new guest essay posts on Tuesdays.

If you hang out at the Ranch long enough, you’ll realize I love rocks as much as I love stories. I dreamed up #CarrotRanchRocks in the darkest days of a Keweenaw winter to combine geology with literary art. I’m looking for writers to join me in crafting 99-word stories about rocks which will go forth with a hashtag and a serial number for linking up to its story.

Community Badges recognize the attributes of writers among writers.

Are you social (friends)? Are you shy (lurker)? Let others know where you stand, or challenge yourself to connect more or explore unseen.

Sharing is caring in the blogosphere, and this badge gives you recognition. Teachers are also caring writers among us who like to teach us new words, techniques or challenge themselves to keep a growth mindset.

Just for Fun Badges recognize the playful spirit of writers at Carrot Ranch.

Love bacon? Love carrots? Show your preference (and both counts).

Flash fiction opens up avenues to creativity and trains the brain to problem-solve in 99 words, no more, no less. If you want to push your creativity, set goals, or simply embrace it, this creative badge says it all.

Unicorns. Carrot Ranch. Eventually, you’ll come to understand. In the meantime, if you dare to write a unicorn story, here’s your badge.

Administrative Badges identify community leaders.

The Congress of Rough Writers is the core group of this literary community. A small advisory team who leads the annual Rodeo form the leadership behind the scenes. Those who participated in Vol. 1 contributed to the book earning 5 stars from Readers’ Favorite.

How to earn Rancher Badges:

  1. Decide which badges best match how you want to participate at the Ranch as a writer.
  2. Set your own goals to further your writer’s journey.
  3. Keep track of your goals.
  4. Once a quarter (June 1, September 1, December 1, March 1) submit your request for badges.
  5. Within two weeks you will receive a board (or two) with your badges to display at will.

In addition to badges, we have another important change in process for the flash fiction challenges. I once said that my limit for collecting flash would be 50. We’ve exceeded that, and I’ve been thinking through my process for collecting and how it could change.

Right now, the way I collect keeps me from my own ranch. If I engage over the course of the week, I lose my place with the way pingbacks, links, and comments popuate. That’s why I ride in on Wednesdays and burn the 3 a.m. oil.

I’ve considered different ways, but I don’t want to diminish the interactive vibe we have going on or the level of diversity.

Before the participation bloomed as robust as zucchini, I collected stories on the Carrot Ranch Facebook page. This allowed me to apply the CR style and clear the formatting. But the back and forth became too much.  I will now ask all writers who want to be included in the weekly collection to post stories at http://www.facebook.com/CarrotRanch/ following the CR style:

Title in Title Caps by Pen Name or Author Name

99-word flash fiction

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Short link if applicable (use https://goo.gl/)

Notes to editor: such as italics or centering of poetry

This step is in addition to linking, ping-backing or leaving your story in the comments. I’m asking you to take this step to help free up my process so I can be more interactive throughout the week. There is no need for anyone to comment on stories on FB. Keep the comments here and/or directly on shared blog links. It’s okay if you don’t understand the style, but it reduces my workload if you follow it.

The reason Carrot Ranch has a style is for editorial consistency. Each country of origin retains its own spelling and punctuation except for the title and byline. I’ll be reminding each of you in the comments.

If you are allergic to Facebook, a ludite or worried about Russian interference, please use the Contact Form as an alternative.

Now to play!

March 22, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme “follow your dreams.” Bonus points for throwing a badge into the tale. Go where the prompt leads.

  • Respond by March 27, 2018, by leaving a link, pingback or story in the comments.
  • If you want your story published in the weekly collection, also post it at Carrot Ranch on Facebook in the post newsfeed (this is the second posting of your story).
  • Follow the style of the flash fiction that follows.
  • Leave a short link on FB with your story if you want one included in the title.
  • Rules are here.

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Comanche by Charli Mills

Follow your dreams, they said. So, he stomped dry dust up the Kickapoo Trace into Missouri, dodging the likes of Jesse James. He was handsome, strong and nicknamed Comanche. In St. Louis he gathered with the rest, seeking fortunes west, avoiding the plow. He had dreams. The Army picked only the best, and he stood tall and proud, selected for service. Outfitted with Captain Keogh of the 7th, he marched wild and free. That’s how he felt, living the dream. Until he took seven bullets on Custer’s Battlefield. And lived. The only survivor, the handsome brown-eyed mustang from Texas.

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