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Coffee for WriMos: Day Eight

Look for anchors.

Yesterday’s break fed my diva and the keys are tapping out words beneath my fingers once again. While taking my break, I watched a movie last night, The Inside Man. I didn’t write yesterday, but I still thought about my story and I took a hint from the movie: anchors can tie together seemingly unrelated scenes.

The Inside Man is brilliant on many levels: it’s a Spike Lee movie; it stars Denzel Washington and Clive Owen; it has memorable characters and plot twists; and it has original music composed by  A. R. Rahman. It also employs the use of chewing gum as an anchor.

Not what you would expect of a sophisticated and gritty movie about cops, robbers and the seedy underbelly of the Fortune 500. Here’s how it works–the timeline for the movie is not chronological although most of it occurs in real-time. However, you have to decide which real-time story is indeed the one unfolding.

Chewing gum connects the two timelines and is one of the twist revelations.

When you are drafting, you may be unconsciously thinking of anchors. Maybe your anchor means something symbolic, or maybe your anchor simply relates to a certain character. Let your anchors emerge out of your subconscious as you write and assess meaning or strategy to them later during the revision.

NaNoWriMo is for writing. Let your subconscious be your guide.

Word Count: 2,105

Thought for Day Seven:

“Writing is a lot like making soup. My subconscious cooks the idea, but I have to sit down at the computer to pour it out.” ~Robin Wells

Excerpt from Rock Creek:

Wilstach ordered for them, soup and ham sandwiches. He nattered on about people he knew in New York and about his times as a business manager and press agent. He collected similes, he said.

“Similes?”

“Red as coal. Red as a cherry. Red as any rose.”

Memories swirled like blue mountain fog caught against a ridge. Memories of dreams long lost. Memories of Cob bending toward her alone in the semi-dark of her father’s store, his breath so close she could smell a whiff of whiskey along with the pinetar soap he used. His large hands firm on her waist. My love is like a red, red rose.

“Oh, yes. Robert Burns.” Wilstach smiled and took a hearty bite of sandwich that had arrived.

Sarah missed its arrival as well as her own and didn’t realize she had said the words out loud. It was dangerous dredging up old memories. She responded by eating just as heartily, though she failed to keep up.

“More coffee, Mrs. De Vald?” After the waitress cleared their plates, Wilstach opened up his notebook and uncapped his pen.

Sarah shook her head. She’d have to mind her answers and not blurt out anything unnecessary.

“Your maiden name is Sarah Shull?”

“Yes.”

“I can understand the spelling of Shell was a mistake or phonetic. All right, Mrs. De Vald. These question will help me solve the McCanles mystery once and for all.”

Sarah gripped the tablecloth now that her napkin was gone. Remember, she told herself, Mrs. Swanson is dead. No one knows.

“Was money owed by Wellman the cause of the tragedy?”

Sarah could hear Cob raging in the back of her mind. His money. He needed his money. It was the Pike’s Peak Express that owed him money. Wolfe and Hagenstien did, too. Cob lost his means for making money on his toll bridge and his road ranches but the parties who bought them never paid up. Until later. Not when Cob needed it. Horace Wellman was the station manager. He didn’t actually owe any money. “No.”

Wilstach nodded, scribbling with his pen. Then he paused. “In your opinion, and from what you were told at the time, did Wild Bill kill McCanles in self-defense?”

Wild Bill. Had he really gone wild? Was it the war? She’d seen the horrors of war etched on the faces of old men and embittered in the eyes of old women, horrors passed down to children and grandchildren as if it were a family birthmark. She’d heard that Hickok signed up for the Union Army as a scout. He knew trails and was the quiet sort who could pass through unnoticed. She couldn’t picture him wild. Dangerous, yes, but always in control. Not wild in temper like Cob. Still, she couldn’t imagine anyone calling Cob wild, either. Self defense? Cob never killed anyone. But neither had Hickok. “Certainly. Yes.”

“What makes you think this is true?”

Wilstach stared so intently at her she wondered if he knew she was lying. So she followed it with the truth. “Because on the morning of the tragedy I heard McCanles say that he was going to clean up on the people at the Station.” He meant to evict them. He never would have killed anybody.

“You say McCanles stole horses?”

Did she? Wilstach asked her about horses in his letters, but she never replied. She had to pay attention. No slip ups. Mind each line of numbers in the ledger. Be accurate, if not truthful in accounting.

“Yes, he stole horses.” Cob would be speechless to hear her say such a thing. She felt guilty. Cob had stole her heart, stole Mary’s but never horses. He was a righteous rogue. She closed her eyes momentarily. Wilstach continued to write, oblivious to her guilt.

“Were those horses for the use of the Confederate cavalry?”

For the war? Sarah had no idea how Cob would get the horses all the way to the Confederate cavalry. The morning Pony Express  rider had already passed through. There were maybe four, five horses in the corral. He must certainly know she was lying. “Yes.”

Wilstach smiled with satisfaction and bent his head to write some more. “And they sent you away on the stage the next day. Just not to the Black Hills.”

It wasn’t a question so Sarah didn’t answer. He continued to write.

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September 17: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionThe entire valley that cradles Elmira Pond in pine-covered ridges smells like a giant campfire burning. I’ve checked the Active Fires map like a hen scratching the same bald patch of ground, hoping a missed grasshopper will show. There are no fires; just smoke.

Maybe it’s controlled burning or slash piles at logging sites. I turn to the local news for Bonner County, seeking any explanation for the haze. I’m greeted with a series of stories about Scotland’s freedom. Did I accidentally Google “bonnie lass” county or something related? No, it’s my local newspaper, but the editor seems obsessed with Scotland and freedom.

I won’t lie. This is what came to mind:

 

Clueless to the current political debate regarding Scotland’s independence, I imagine my Scots forefathers mumbling freedom like a prayer when they crossed gray seas to the the shores of the New World. Here, they forged lives based on ideals of freedom, amidst the institution of slavery. They demanded religious freedom with proper zeal, yet picked petty fights with neighbors. Men were as free as their social standing and coin in pocket; women not so much.

Just what is freedom, anyhow? Anne Goodwin initiated deep discussion with her review of A History of Loneliness by John Boyne. The question that is intriguing and part of her post title, is “why do good men do nothing”? This relates to freedom in regard to liberties and rights. When inequality, oppression and abuse exist, why do good men still look away from the beleaguered personal freedoms of another?

This is why the legends of people like William Wallace creep into our utopian vernacular with cries of freedom. It wasn’t so much that the character portrayed in Braveheart was a great orator of that profound word, it was that he fought for his freedom, the freedom of his neighbors and his country. He was the good man who did something.

But there are extremes to pursuing freedom; pitfalls to doing nothing or something. Different people desire different freedoms. Some wish to worship openly, fervently to evangelize as called to do so. Others wish to seek solace in the secret place with God, and yet others wish not to be bothered by the notion at all. All three gather for lunch and who has the freedom to pursue his or her belief?

Laws are of little help. Close to election time, debates rage across the social media plains like opposing buffalo herds, each rallying a cry of freedom–laws to protect the rights of the unborn versus laws to protect the private bodies of individual women. Which law upholds freedom?

Laws now force every American citizen to buy insurance. I’ve chose my feminine care with midwives over the years, including two home births. But the insurance companies call the shots and it is now illegal for midwives to treat non-pregnant women. I feel robbed of my healthcare freedom of choice.

Thoughts go to my characters who were real people facing real issues, too. While they might be befuddled by the politics, disputes and discussions of modern times, they would be familiar with the ideal of freedom. And it was no less complex in 1861 as it is in 2014.

Sarah Shull would have sought freedom from the constraints of her gender and societal expectations. Because she had an affair with Cob McCanles the shame fell squarely on her shoulders. Men were free to screw around; women were to blame when caught. The consequences that isolated Sarah drove her to escape to the west. It was a freedom she craved enough to show Cob how he could swindle the money needed. Yet, she never did find freedom because her livelihood would depend upon men and she didn’t make the best choices.

Cob McCanles was self-righteous. It probably never occurred to him that he infringed upon the freedoms of others by taking freely what he wanted. He used his power of gender, size and position to take what he felt was due to him. In a way, he represents what is wrong with the American ideal of freedom. If you are powerful enough, glib of tongue and convincing, you can roll-over those less fortunate who stand in your way–your wife, your community, those who can’t stand up to you and therefor are seen as inferior.

Wild Bill Hickok was someone who stood up for the oppressed. In a time when few cared to acknowledge inferiors–women or slaves in the south–he held his strong-willed mother in respect and helped his father free slaves through the underground railroad. He wrote letters home that he felt the frontier was no place for women and children–they deserved the freedom of safety. But he took the fight too far. He killed Cob, believing that he was defending company and government property. He killed many more men thinking he was making the frontier a free and safe place. When does freedom have the right to kill?

Messy thoughts, perhaps hindered by the smoky haze still lingering in my valley. I hunger for the ideals set up in myth and legend; I believe in the hero’s journey that we can enter the abyss and find the elixir; I believe things happen for a reason and the we are all connected to a bigger picture.

But that’s me. What of you? And how can we ever agree upon what is this thing that the movie character William Wallace cried out in the throes of death, “FREEDOM”?

September 17, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) let freedom ring in your story. It can be about breaking out of oppression, standing up to a bully, fighting for inalienable rights. Does an individual’s freedom conflict with the cause of the greater good? Does freedom of the greater good oppress individuals? It could be a political debate, a social media argument, a snippet of reality failing the ideal. Or make it heroic. Let us feel like wearing kilts and shouting to free Scots! Be free with your imagination.

Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, September 23 to be included in the compilation.

Bull Fighting by Charli Mills

“It’s my God-given right to clean up on Rock Creek.” Cob tensed his muscles, reminding Sarah of a tethered bull. Dragging boards by a nose ring drained the bull’s fight. Cob raged freely.

“Who does he think he is? Wellmen had better get back here with my payment or he and that skinny little wretch of woman he’s shacked-up with are out on their duffs!”

Sarah flinched at the familiar words used to describe her situation with Cob. Shacked-up felt oppressive especially with him on the prod. “Cob, just calm down. Come to bed.”

It was her only protection.

###

And I leave you with music to inspire your stories of freedom:

 

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.

June 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionWalking through the horse pasture in spring, I search for broken glass and know that old footpaths exist beneath the soles of my Keens. I can’t see them for all the new shoots of green grass, but the ground has a way of giving hints to history’s mysteries.

Even here on the slope above Elmira Pond, I can see spotty formations of moss. The pond is actually the remnant of a tamarack peat bog, itself leftover from the retreating forces of glacier activity 50,000 years ago. While not as impressive as glacier-carved lakes and mountain gorges, peat bogs hold old records. Scientists have found ancient pollens preserved in peat from similar bogs.

From this pasture, I can watch the migrations of mergansers, ringed-neck ducks, buffleheads, great blue herons and osprey. Who else has stood where I now stand and watched those same patterns of migratory birds? Watched an osprey fold its wings and drop from the sky to grasp a fish in talons?

According to the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, this beautiful valley dissected north and south by an international highway and railway has always been home to the Kootenai people. I stand upon ground made in covenant with those who stood before me:

” I have created you Kootenai People to look after this beautiful land, to honor and guard and celebrate my Creation here, in this place. As long as you do that, this land will meet all your needs…”

~Kootenai Covenant with the Creator

Yet other boots have trampled by this pond: men stricken with gold fever followed the old Indian trail into the gold fields of British Columbia during the 1864 Wild Horse gold rush. Today, this length of Hwy. 95 is called the Wild Horse Trail.

Iron horses came next. Two railways laid parallel tracks of wood and steel. A small depot in between the two tracks delivered shingles and other locally harvested lumber products to the passing trains. By 1901, railroad workers established a small town. Most were Italian immigrants and they named their new American home, Elmira.

Ranchers also pushed cattle 17 miles from Sandpoint to Elmira, grazing their stock in this valley that settles between the Cabinet Mountains to the east and the Selkirk Mountains to the west. Ranchers must have used the pond for watering livestock and townsfolk mined peat from its edges to use as cooking and heating fuel. Did any pause to look at how pink the sky can get at sunset? Did they uphold the covenant to celebrate creation in this place?

Evidently some celebrated more than others. According to records from the Boundary County Historical Society, Two Gun Hart, the infamous “prohibition cowboy,” busted moonshiners on the very property I call home. Now the broken glass makes sense.

Broken GlassThe horse pasture glass is from blue Mason jars, brown whiskey bottles and pottery crocks. Just the sort of containers used by moonshiners who would bottle their wares at the still and bury it at their point of distribution. This was the point of some rowdy celebrations. I hope somebody at least remembered to toast the ducks on the pond.

Every place has stories buried in the dirt or weathering before our eyes. Every person has a past and ancestors who passed down the relay baton to the next generation. Knowing that I have a strength called “context,” I look back to understand the present. Unraveling history’s mysteries is a passion and often the inspiration of stories.

Lately, I’ve been using flash fiction to explore the story of Cobb McCandless, Sarah Shull and Bill Hickok. They are real people. Cobb was the brother of my fourth-great grandmother, Julia McCandless. He left North Carolina in the “company of a woman.” It doesn’t take much digging into old records to know that Sarah was the woman. It is legend that “Wild Bill” Hickok killed the notorious ring-leader, Cobb McCandless and won the affections of Sarah Shull.

wild_bill_hickok_comic_bookActually, that legend is rubbish. It’s a false tale spread by the killer whom dime-store novels made into a wild west hero. Modern historian Mark Dugan has looked at primary documents and presents a different scenario. Trying to understand what was going on in the lives of these three people, I’m using flash to explore who they are and what their human motives might have been.

Over the generations, Cobb McCandless has been an easy target as the frontier bad guy and Sarah a silent enigma. Hickok got all the glory especially after he took a bullet in the back, gambling cards in Deadwood. There’s an African saying that goes like this:

“Until the lion has his own historian, the hunter will always be the hero.”

As writers, we have opportunities to be the historian to unsung heroes. We can give voice to the voiceless. We can imagine people who came before us and faded away, leaving only hints that they had existed. Our own families may have unsolved mysteries. We might use the perspective of a character to reflect upon an old object, a forgotten war, hidden love letters or describe a setting then and now.

June 25, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that considers history, near or far. Is it an historic account? A character’s reflection upon finding her grandmother’s hidden love poems? A modern family contemplating the ruins of an old structure? An archaeological dig? A classroom discussion of the History Channel? Dig into the past and record what you find. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, July 1 to be included in the compilation.

Depreciation Over Time by Charli Mills

Evening fireflies flickered as Sarah padded the worn path to her dugout. Ever since Cobb sold the east ranch to the Pony Express, the station manager and his sour-breath wife lived in the cabin that was hers. She worked as kitchen hand behind the yellow calico curtains she had sewn and hung.

From accountant to cook slave. From cabin to hole in the prairie sod. From mistress to forgotten woman.

At the dugout, Sarah lit a dish of tallow. She sat down on the bed quilt, and pulled out the old poem, reading “Oh mother dear, restrain thy tear…”

###

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.