Monthly Archives: March 2019

Jacqui Murray blog hop Survival of the Fittest

Blog Hop: Jacqui Murray — Survival of the Fittest

This week I am delighted to introduce you to Jacqui Murray. I’d been following Jacqui’s blog Ask a Tech Teacher for some time before I realised she had other writing achievements in her portfolio. I had always enjoyed keeping up with what was new in technology for the classroom and reading Jacqui’s advice for teachers and parents as well as the general technology user. Now, I’ve discovered she has much more to explore.

Jacqui and I have found that we share a lot in common. She recently hosted me at her blog here, and soon her guest post Why Kindergartners Must Learn Technology will be shared on the readilearn blog.

This post is part of a blog hop celebrating the launch of Jacqui’s latest prehistory novel Survival of the Fittest.

Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray header

The Book

Title and author: Survival of the Fittest

Series: Book 1 in the Crossroads series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Cover by: Damonza 

Available in print and digital at: Kindle US Kindle UK Kindle CA Kindle AU

Short Blurb

Five tribes. One leader. A treacherous journey across three continents in search of a new home.

Summary

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind a certain life in her African homeland to search for an unknown future. She leads her People on a grueling journey through unknown and dangerous lands but an escape path laid out years before by her father as a final desperate means to survival. She is joined by other homeless tribes–from Indonesia, China, South Africa, East Africa, and the Levant—all similarly forced by timeless events to find new lives. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that this enemy doesn’t want her People’s land. He wants to destroy her.

Questions for Jacqui

Setting a book in the days of prehistory must present a number of challenges for writers. I asked Jacqui to explain how she approached some of those challenges.

How did Xhosa tell time?

Xhosa’s People had no need for the exacting time that we today have. It was enough to know that events happened around certain other repetitive events (like a full moon or a sunrise). They could peg daily events to when the Sun reached a certain point in the sky (with a good guess if it was overcast).A popular way of telling time which I borrowed from societies that predated clocks, sundials, and any regimented ways of telling time is measuring time by sun’s movement. A finger of time would be about fifteen minutes and a hand of time would be bout an hour.

How did Xhosa count?

Xhosa and her People also had no need for counting. This is true even today with primitive people. Many count only to two (which is the method I’ve adopted for Xhosa). Beyond that, numbers may be described as handfuls or how much room they occupy in relation to something else. Counting people was unnecessary because all Xhosa had to do was sniff, find everyone’s scent, or notice whose she couldn’t find. 

Did Xhosa have any type of culture—art, music, that sort?

This time in man’s prehistory predated art, music, and most culture. There is very little if anything known about earliest man’s (850,000 years ago) interest in art and music. In Xhosa’s case, I extrapolated from what we do know about these early iterations of man. They appreciated colors but didn’t think of applying it to themselves. Their brains could imagine things unseen but that didn’t extend to painting themselves, wearing jewelry, or tattoos. Since clothing was only for warmth (or in Seeker’s case, to protect his sensitive parts), no thought was given to designing or decorating these.

Music—They did appreciate bird songs but considered it an animal voice, not something that they could replicate for their own pleasure. They could replicate it but it was to imitate the bird, not express creativity. They also appreciated rhythm but that was to set a running pace or sooth people.

Most scientists believe Homo erectus couldn’t talk. How did Xhosa and her People communicate?

These early humans were highly intelligent for their day and possessed rich communication skills but rarely verbal. Most paleoanthropologists believe that the ‘speaking’ part of their brain wasn’t evolved enough for speech but there’s another reason: Talking is noisy as well as unnatural in nature which attracts attention. For these early humans, who were far from the alpha in the food chain, being noticed wasn’t good.

Instead, they communicated with gestures, facial expressions, movements, and all the body language we-all still use but rarely recognize. They talked to each other about everything necessary, just nonverbally.

thank you for your participation

Thank you, Jacqui. You’ve obviously worked hard to make your novel ring with authenticity.  I wish you success with it.

About Jacqui

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Quest for Home, Summer 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Connect with Jacqui on social media

http://twitter.com/worddreams

http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

https://worddreams.wordpress.com

https://jacquimurray.net

 

Jacqui has generously provided us with Chapter one as a preview of her novel Survival of the Fittest.

Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray

Chapter 1

Her foot throbbed. Blood dripped from a deep gash in her leg. At some point, Xhosa had scraped her palms raw while sliding across gravel but didn’t remember when, nor did it matter. Arms pumping, heart thundering, she flew forward. When her breath went from pants to wheezing gasps, she lunged to a stop, hands pressed against her damp legs, waiting for her chest to stop heaving. She should rest but that was nothing but a passing thought, discarded as quickly as it arrived. Her mission was greater than exhaustion or pain or personal comfort.

She started again, sprinting as though chased, aching fingers wrapped around her spear. The bellows of the imaginary enemy—Big Heads this time—filled the air like an acrid stench. She flung her spear over her shoulder, aiming from memory. A thunk and it hit the tree, a stand-in for the enemy. With a growl, she pivoted to defend her People.

Which would never happen. Females weren’t warriors.

Feet spread, mouth set in a tight line, she launched her last spear, skewering an imaginary assailant, and was off again, feet light, her abundance of ebony hair streaming behind her like smoke. A scorpion crunched beneath her hardened foot. Something moved in the corner of her vision and she hurled a throwing stone, smiling as a hare toppled over. Nightshade called her reactions those of Leopard.

But that didn’t matter. Females didn’t become hunters either.

With a lurch, she gulped in the parched air. The lush green grass had long since given way to brittle stalks and desiccated scrub. Sun’s heat drove everything alive underground, underwater, or over the horizon. The males caught her attention across the field, each with a spear and warclub. Today’s hunt would be the last until the rain—and the herds—returned.

“Why haven’t they left?”

She kicked a rock and winced as pain shot through her foot. Head down, eyes shut against the memories. Even after all this time, the chilling screams still rang in her ears…

 

The People’s warriors had been away hunting when the assault occurred. Xhosa’s mother pushed her young daughter into a reed bed and stormed toward the invaders but too late to save the life of her young son. The killer, an Other, laughed at the enraged female armed only with a cutter. When she sliced his cheek open, the gash so deep his black teeth showed, his laughter became fury. He swung his club with such force her mother crumpled instantly, her head a shattered melon.

From the safety of the pond, Xhosa memorized the killer—nose hooked awkwardly from some earlier injury, eyes dark pools of cruelty. It was then, at least in spirit, she became a warrior. Nothing like this must ever happen again.

When her father, the People’s Leader, arrived that night with his warriors, he was greeted by the devastating scene of blood-soaked ground covered by mangled bodies, already chewed by scavengers. A dry-eyed Xhosa told him how marauders had massacred every subadult, female, and child they could find, including her father’s pairmate. Xhosa communicated this with the usual grunts, guttural sounds, hand signals, facial expressions, hisses, and chirps. The only vocalizations were call signs to identify the group members.

“If I knew how to fight, Father, Mother would be alive.” Her voice held no anger, just determination.

The tribe she described had arrived a Moon ago, drawn by the area’s rich fruit trees, large ponds, lush grazing, and bluffs with a view as far as could be traveled in a day. No other area offered such a wealth of resources. The People’s scouts had seen these Others but allowed them to forage, not knowing their goal was to destroy the People.

Her father’s body raged but his hands, when they moved, were calm.  “We will avenge our losses, daughter.”

The next morning, Xhosa’s father ordered the hunters to stay behind, protect the People. He and the warriors snuck into the enemy camp before Sun awoke and slaughtered the females and children before anyone could launch a defense. The males were pinned to the ground with stakes driven through their thighs and hands. The People cut deep wounds into their bodies and left, the blood scent calling all scavengers.

When Xhosa asked if the one with the slashed cheek had died, her father motioned, “He escaped, alone. He will not survive.”

Word spread of the savagery and no one ever again attacked the People, not their camp, their warriors, or their hunters.

While peace prevailed, Xhosa grew into a powerful but odd-looking female. Her hair was too shiny, hips too round, waist too narrow beneath breasts bigger than necessary to feed babies. Her legs were slender rather than sturdy and so long, they made her taller than every male. The fact that she could outrun even the hunters while heaving her spear and hitting whatever she aimed for didn’t matter. Females weren’t required to run that fast. Nightshade, though, didn’t care about any of that. He claimed they would pairmate, as her father wished, when he became the People’s Leader.

Until then, all of her time was spent practicing the warrior skills no one would allow her to use.

One day, she confronted her father. “I can wield a warclub one-handed and throw a spear hard enough to kill. If I were male, you would make me a warrior.”

He smiled. “You are like a son to me, Daughter. I see your confidence and boldness. If I don’t teach you, I fear I will lose you.”

He looked away, the smile long gone from his lips. “Either you or Nightshade must lead when I can’t.”

Under her father’s tutelage, she and Nightshade learned the nuances of sparring, battling, chasing, defending, and assaulting with the shared goal that never would the People succumb to an enemy. Every one of Xhosa’s spear throws destroyed the one who killed her mother. Every swing of her warclub smashed his head as he had her mother’s. Never again would she stand by, impotent, while her world collapsed. She perfected the skills of knapping cutters and sharpening spears, and became expert at finding animal trace in bent twigs, crushed grass, and by listening to their subtle calls. She could walk without leaving tracks and match nature’s sounds well enough to be invisible.

A Moon ago, as Xhosa practiced her scouting, she came upon a lone warrior kneeling by a waterhole. His back was to her, skeletal and gaunt, his warclub chipped, but menace oozed from him like stench from dung. She melted into the redolent sedge grasses, feet sinking into the squishy mud, and observed.

His head hair was sprinkled with grey. A hooked nose canted precariously, poorly healed from a fracas he won but his nose lost. His curled lips revealed cracked and missing teeth. A cut on his upper arm festered with pus and maggots. Fever dimpled his forehead with sweat. He crouched to drink but no amount of water would appease that thirst.

What gave him away was the wide ragged scar left from the slash of her mother’s cutter.

Xhosa trembled with rage, fearing he would see the reeds shake, biting her lip until it bled to stop from howling. It hardly seemed fair to slay a dying male but fairness was not part of her plan today.

Only revenge.

A check of her surroundings indicated he traveled alone. Not that it mattered. If she must trade her life for his, so be it.

But she didn’t intend to die.

The exhausted warrior splashed muddy water on his grimy head, hands slow, shoulders round with fatigue, oblivious to his impending death. After a quiet breath, she stepped from the sedge, spear in one hand and a large rock in the other. Exposed, arms ready but hanging, she approached. If he turned, he would see her. She tested for dry twigs and brittle grass before committing each foot. It surprised her he ignored the silence of the insects. His wounds must distract him. By the time hair raised on his neck, it was too late. He pivoted as she swung, powered by fury over her mother’s death, her father’s agony, and her own loss. Her warclub smashed into his temple with a soggy thud. Recognition flared moments before life left.

“You die too quickly!” she screamed and hit him over and over, collapsing his skull and spewing gore over her body. “I wanted you to suffer as I did!”

Her body was numb as she kicked him into the pond, feeling not joy for his death, relief that her mother was avenged, or upset at the execution of an unarmed Other. She cleaned the gore from her warclub and left. No one would know she had been blooded but the truth filled her with power.

She was now a warrior.

When she returned to homebase, Nightshade waited. Something flashed through his eyes as though for the first time, he saw her as a warrior. His chiseled face, outlined by dense blue-black hair, lit up. The corners of his full lips twitched under the broad flat nose. The finger-thick white scar emblazoned against his smooth forehead, a symbol of his courage surviving Sabertooth’s claws, pulsed. Female eyes watched him, wishing he would look at them as he did Xhosa but he barely noticed.

The next day, odd Others with long legs, skinny chests, and oversized heads arrived. The People’s scouts confronted them but they simply watched the scouts, spears down, and then trotted away, backs to the scouts. That night, for the first time, Xhosa’s father taught her and Nightshade the lessons of leading.

“Managing the lives of the People is more than winning battles. You must match individual skills to the People’s requirements be it as a warrior, hunter, scout, forager, child minder, Primary Female, or another.  All can do all jobs but one best suits each. The Leader must decide,” her father motioned.

As they finished, she asked the question she’d been thinking about all night. “Father, where do they come from?”

“They are called Big Heads,” which didn’t answer Xhosa’s question.

Nightshade motioned, “Do they want to trade females? Or children?”

Her father stared into the distance as though lost in some memory. His teeth ground together and his hands shook until he clamped them together.

He finally took a breath and motioned, “No, they don’t want mates. They want conflict.” He tilted his head forward. “Soon, we will be forced to stop them.”

Nightshade clenched his spear and his eyes glittered at the prospect of battle. It had been a long time since the People fought.

But the Big Heads vanished. Many of the People were relieved but Xhosa couldn’t shake the feeling that danger lurked only a long spear throw away. She found herself staring at the same spot her father had, thoughts blank, senses burning. At times, there was a movement or the glint of Sun off eyes, but mostly there was only the unnerving feeling of being watched. Each day felt one day closer to when the People’s time would end.

“When it does, I will confess to killing the Other. Anyone blooded must be allowed to be a warrior.”

Survival of the Fittest by Jacqui Murray

 

 

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.

size is a point of view

It’s a point of view

Have you ever been faced with a task, at work or at home, that seemed so big you didn’t know where to start?

Have you ever been hustled by a supervisor, external or internal, to make a start whether ready or not?

Have you ever jumped in, hoping it would all work out in the end?

Have you ever chipped away without any real sense of direction and eventually found what you were looking for?

Charli Mills flash fiction challenge chisel

It was of these situations I was thinking as I responded to this week’s flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a chisel. Use chisel as a noun or a verb. Think about what might be chiseled, who is chiseling. Be the chisel. Go where the prompt leads!

Perspective

The monumental task cast a shadow deep and long, miniaturising the toolkit at his feet.

He shook his head, muttering complaints and impossibilities.

The supervisor appeared. “Better get started. No time to waste.”

He rummaged through the toolkit, lifting, inspecting and replacing each implement in turn.

“What’s the holdup?” bellowed the supervisor.

He grabbed the mallet and whacked the stone. “Take that!” Chunks smashed around him. He wiped his brow and whacked again.

“Great. You’ve started at last,” encouraged the supervisor.

Later, as the light turned, the shadow faded and diminished. He lifted his chisel and refined his work.

size is a point of view

Of course, I’ve had the opposite happen too. I’ve begun a task that I thought was miniscule but turned out to be mammoth. What about you?

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Image of quarry by Ann Jessica Johnson from Pixabay.

 

School Days reminiscences of Sally Cronin

School Days, Reminiscences of Sally Cronin

Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.

This week, I am pleased to introduce Sally Cronin, author, blogger and supreme supporter of authors and bloggers. Sally is a prolific writer on numerous topics on her blog and in her publications. She seems to have an infinite capacity for supporting other writers with guest posts, reviews, blog visits and comments, and shares on social media. I am constantly in awe of her output and the esteem in which she is held and I am very grateful for the support she provides me in the online world.

I am especially pleased with the timing of Sally’s interview as today 17 March is St Patrick’s Day and Sally is Irish! She even has a lovely book of Tales from the Irish Garden, published late last year.

Tales from the Irish Garden by Sally Cronin

Before we begin the interview, I’ll allow Sally to tell you a little of herself:

I have lived a fairly nomadic existence living in eight countries including Sri Lanka, South Africa and the USA before settling back here in Ireland. My work, and a desire to see some of the most beautiful parts of the world in the last forty years, has taken me to many more incredible destinations around Europe and Canada, and across the oceans to New Zealand and Hawaii. All those experiences and the people that I have met, provide a rich source of inspiration for my stories.

After a long and very happy career, I took the step to retrain as a nutritional therapist, a subject that I was very interested in, and to make the time to write my first book. Size Matters was a health and weight loss book based on my own experiences of losing 70kilo. I have written another eleven books since then on health and also fiction including three collections of short stories. I am an indie author and proud to be one. My greatest pleasure comes from those readers who enjoy my take on health, characters and twisted endings… and of course come back for more.

Welcome, Sally.

Now let’s talk school. First of all, could you tell us where you attended school?

Portsmouth UK (3), Malta, Cape Town South Africa, Preston UK,

Did you attend a government, private or independent school?

All the schools were government.

What is the highest level of education you achieved?

Diplomas in Secretarial Studies and a Diploma in Nutritional Therapy.

What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?

I started as a secretary in a dental practice but within a few months started training as a dental nurse which I found more interesting.

What is you earliest memory of school?

Age four arriving at the first class at primary and noticing all the names scratched out on my extremely old desk and my teacher Mrs. Miller.

What memories do you have of learning to read?

My sisters read to me and taught me the basics so I could read before I went to school. I already had a collection of books by the age of four.

What memories do you have of learning to write?

I remember the blackboard with lines drawn and beautiful letters that we had to copy and a poster with all the letters and an object that began with that letter. We all had lined copy books and we would practice a letter until we got it right.

What do you remember about math classes?

Not much I am afraid as it was not my favourite subject. I was always good at mental arithmetic and knew my times tables before I was five, but triangles and other angular objects never fascinated me. I passed it at o’level just!

What was your favourite subject?

Sally Cronin liked history best about school

I loved history and being in schools outside of my home country I got to learn far more than I would have done if locked into the curriculum in the UK. In South Africa for instance, I learnt about the Boer War from a completely different perspective and it did not paint the British in a good light. It was 1964 and I also heard about the war first hand from the grandmother of one of my friends. Living history is the best.

What did you like best about school?

Sally Cronin liked learning new things best about school

Learning new things, once the basics of reading and writing were done it was like opening a door to the world. I loved all lessons (apart from maths) and also the access to sport which I enjoyed including hockey, swimming and tennis.

What did you like least about school?

Probably leaving them as I would make friends and then two years later we would be on the move again. Then I would start again out of phase often for my age, with a different curriculum which included new subjects I was unfamiliar with that had not been taught at the previous school. It always felt that I was playing catch up and spent most of my evenings with extra homework to do that.

How do you think schools have changed since your school days?

I can only judge this by friends who still have children in school and it would seem that there is less freedom, less physical activity, less homework, and more crowded.

What do you think schools (in general) do well?

I think that schools do well with the basics and for children who are academic they provide a solid platform to secondary education.

How do you think schools could be improved?

I feel that there is a one size fits all approach to education which does not take into account the individual child’s needs or abilities. In the UK in particular there has been a push in the last decade to get children into university, and the loss of technical colleges (now rebranded as universities) that I went to for those who want a more practical approach to their careers. Also I believe that there should be a push for more apprenticeships and that some children who want to follow that route should be allowed to leave school at 14 as long as they are going into an approved apprenticeship. I understand that is happening in Australia and I think it should also be introduced in the UK and Ireland and other countries.

thank you for your participation

Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Sally. I appreciate your perspective. It’s been wonderful to have you here. I learned so much I didn’t already know about you.

Find out more about Sally Cronin

On her blog: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7979187.Sally_Cronin

 

Connect with her on social media

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sally.cronin

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sgc58

LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/sallycronin1

Books by Sally Cronin

All Sally’s books are available from

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sally-Georgina-Cronin/e/B003B7O0T6

And Amazon UShttps://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2

If you missed previous reminiscences, check them out here:

Charli Mills

Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.

Coming soon:

Anne Goodwin

Geoff Le Pard

Debby Gies

Hugh Roberts

D. Avery

with more to follow.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.

 

a flash fiction story about a mouse

What’s a mouse got to do with it?

A furry mouse or a magic mouse? Which do you prefer?

This week, Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch got herself a new computer with a new mouse. She thinks it’s a magic mouse. I hope it is.

Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge - mouse

In her excitement, she put out the challenge to writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a mouse. It can be real, imagined, electronic or whiskered. Go where the prompt leads!

Mice feature prominently in stories, poems and songs for children.

Very young children learn the nursery rhymes Hickory Dickory Dock and Three Blind Mice.

Rose Fyleman’s poem about Mice is always popular for children to learn and recite in school.

There is the fable about The Lion and the Mouse, the story of The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse and the more recent The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear.

As a child, I enjoyed the song Windmill in Old Amsterdam. Perhaps you remember it too?

But I think my favourite mouse story is that of Possum Magic, the classic picture book by Mem Fox. I’m not referring to the picture book itself, but the story of how it came to be.

Possum Magic by Mem Fox

Mem shares some of the goss on her site. You see, Hush started life as an invisible mouse in an assignment Mem produced as part of a course in children’s literature. She was awarded a high distinction for the story and, over the next five years, sent it off to nine different publishers. Each time the story came back.

While Mem found the rejections disheartening, she was encouraged by family and friends who believed in her story. So, she sent it off again, and the tenth publisher asked her to “cut the story by two thirds, re-write it more lyrically, make it even more Australian and change the mice to a cuddly Australian animal. “

Mem did as requested, changed the mice to possums, and so Possum Magic was born. The book was published in 1983 and remains one of the most popular and best-selling picture books in Australia. (While not mentioned on the site, I seem to remember reading that the book had almost 30 rewrites!)

When I first heard this story of Possum Magic, I was younger than Mem was when the book was published. The story inspired me and encouraged me to hope. I loved Mem’s yet attitude (though I didn’t yet know it as that), her belief in her story, persistence in pursuing its publication and willingness to learn from others. Without those marvellous qualities, Possum Magic may never have seen the light of day. It may have languished in the bottom of a drawer somewhere with other forgotten manuscripts.

How many manuscripts do you need to take out, dust off, and send on their way?

Here’s my little story in response to Charli’s challenge this week. I hope you like it.

A Mouse Backfires

“Eek!“ shrieked Granny, toppling back on the chair, arms and legs flailing.

“Thwunk!” Her head struck the wall, silencing the children’s sniggers.

Granny slumped motionless, eyes closed, tongue lolling from her slack jaw.

Barney gaped. “D’ya, d’ya think she’s dead?”

“Don’t be silly,” admonished Eliza, older and wiser. “She couldn’t be. Could she?”

The children tiptoed closer.

“What if she wakes up?”

“What if she doesn’t?”

“I’ll check her pulse,” mouthed Eliza.

Suddenly, Granny jolted upright, eyes staring blankly.

The children gasped.

“Gotcha!” laughed Granny. “But that is a clever mouse.”

“How did you —?”

Granny winked. “Granny knows.”

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

Charli Mills reminiscences about school days

School Days, Reminiscences of Charli Mills

Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.

First to share her reminiscences is Charli Mills, lead buckaroo at the Carrot Ranch where she challenges writers with a weekly flash fiction prompt and an annual flash fiction rodeo. She believes in the power of literary art to change lives and that it should be accessible to everyone. She encourages writers to find their voice in a supportive environment where everyone is welcome.

I have known Charli for almost as long as I have been blogging and was among the first to participate in her flash fiction challenges when they began five years ago this month. I have rarely missed a week since. Charli’s support and encouragement of my writing and my work has been unfaltering, even when she was experiencing her own tough times, and I am extremely grateful for it. I don’t know how well I may have maintained my yet mindset without her.

Before we begin the interview, I’ll allow Charli to tell you a little of herself:

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, is the award-winning goat-tying champion of a forgotten 1970s rodeo. Now she wrangles words. Married to a former US Army Ranger, Charli is “true grit” although shorter than John Wayne. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and gives voice to women and others marginalized in history, especially on frontiers. In 2014 she founded an imaginary place called Carrot Ranch where real literary artists could gather where she hosts a weekly 99-word challenge. She’s pursuing her MFA with SNHU, writing novels, and leading workshops to help writers with professional development.

Welcome, Charli.

Now let’s talk school. First of all, could you tell us where you attended school?

Sacred Heart Catholic School (Hollister, California), Sunnyside Elementary (Hollister, California), Diamond Valley School (Woodfords, California), Douglas High School (Minden, Nevada), and Carroll College (Helena, MT).

Did you attend a government, private or independent school?

Sacred Heart was a private Catholic school, and so was Carroll College. I achieved kindergarten at one and a BA at the other. The other three were public schools. Diamond Valley was located next to the Woodfords Community of the Washoe Tribe. Our county was too small in population to warrant its own high school and the mountains cut us off from the nearest California option at Lake Tahoe so we were bussed into Nevada to Douglas High School, which was a horrible experience as we faced much prejudice as the “Alpine kids” even though not all of us were Native American.

What is the highest level of education you achieved?

To date, I’ve earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English –Writing. However, I’m in the application process to pursue a Masters of Fine Art in Creative Writing.

What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?

At Diamond Valley, in 7th-grade, Mr. Price made us write a spelling story once a week using the “prompt” of words from our spelling list. My stories were long and he encouraged me to write them longer. Then he asked me to read my stories aloud to the class every week, and I have loved reading my writing ever since. In high school, I struggled unless writing was involved. Ms. Bateman hit me hard with editing, but also taught me how to improve. She invited me to be on the newspaper team and I was the youngest member. By my senior year, I was co-editor. After high school I waited tables, worked road construction, and wrote for a daily newspaper, dreaming of going to college to be an archeologist and an author. Ten years later, I enrolled in a writing degree when my three young children started school. I often joked that I went back to kindergarten with them. My freelance writing took off while I was still in college. I never did become an archeologist and I worked 20 years in marketing before pursuing my author dreams, but my first novel will feature a character who is an archeologist. It’s all connected to my days at Diamond Valley School, and the skills I honed at Carroll College.

What is your earliest memory of school?

My earliest memory of school is being in trouble. I was highly imaginative and evidently, the nuns did not appreciate my drawings in textbooks. We lived on a ranch outside of Hollister California and my mother worked in town. She’d drop me off at a sitter’s and I’d walk to school every morning with the daughter who was in kindergarten, too. She never got in trouble. I recall wondering why I was so different and why the nuns didn’t like my freedom of expression. At Carroll College, I took an art appreciation class and wrote a paper on my theory of Greek influences on modern pornography. I worried I was going to get in trouble again for expressing my ideas, but the Jesuits loved it. I thought about sending that paper to Sister Margaret at Sacred Heart, explaining that I turned out fine, using my imagination.  Not sure she would agree!

What memories do you have of learning to read?

Books captivated me! I wanted to crack the code and would sit and pretend read. The nuns said I couldn’t read so the next grade placed me in remedial reading until the teacher caught me “pretend” reading a chapter book. She realized I wasn’t pretending. How I learned to read mystifies me. I couldn’t grasp the components, but I could read. Math was similar. I had the answers but struggled to show the work. Spelling escapes me but writing flows. Learning was always a frustration in school, yet I was always curious and even now I love to learn.

What memories do you have of learning to write?

Again, learning the actual mechanics of writing was frustrating, but any time teachers let me be creative or pursue curiosity, I could write volumes. Like reading, I just wrote. It wasn’t until high school when Ms. Bateman got a hold of me and drilled grammar into my head, and explained editing as a process. But I also felt it shut down my creativity. I didn’t learn until later how creativity serves as a bridge between my right and left brain. Once I understood that, I’ve made it a point to allow creativity to thrive in my work and writing.

What do you remember about math classes?

Pain and suffering! I never found a saving grace in math because I never found a way to be creative with numbers. In fact, creativity with numbers is frowned upon.

What was your favourite subject?

I loved history because it was full of stories. I’ve been a natural born story-catcher and history seemed to be a part of that. Where I lived was part of the old Comstock Lode and emigrant trails, and I attended school with Washoe students, learning their lore and history. My aunt used to take me relic hunting, and I had a huge collection of arrowheads, trade beads and square nails. I could spot a relic from on top of my horse. I learned to read the human imprint on the land, and when I was 17, I met a state archeologist who legitimized my ability and he coached me to record 11 archeological sites in my hometown area. So, in school, I loved history most.

What did you like best about school?

Charli Mills like skiing best at school

Skiing. In the winter, we skied once a week at the ski resort near our school for winter PE. It was the best! I don’t know of any other school that ever had such a perk. I remember waking up so excited on ski days. The resort was huge and when we were young, six and seven years old, we were sent to the bunny hills and taught to alpine ski. By the time we were pre-teens we were skiing black diamond routes. I remember #4 best. I loved #4! We’d take the #1 chairlift up, and ski over to the #2 chairlift. At the top of #2, we’d ski down a long, steep and remote mountainside where chairlifts #3 and #4 sat perpendicular to each other. After we skied down #3, we’d take the longest lift at the resort, #4 all the way to the top of a mountain so isolated and remote, it boggles my mind today that we got to do this as school kids. Here’s a link to Kirkwood today: https://www.kirkwood.com/the-mountain/about-the-mountain/trail-map.aspx. When we skied, there were only six chairlifts, but you can see how far away #4 was from the lodge. Funny story – by the time I was in 7th-grade and was writing spelling stories, my good friend Gerald shared his dad’s Ian Fleming novels with me. I went from Little House on the Prairie to James Bond! Gerald was my skiing buddy and we used to make the #4 loop together. We’d pretend we were British spies! Ah, it was good to have someone to share an imagination with. I doubt anyone else who answers this question will ever say skiing.

What did you like least about school?

Mean people. Kids and adults can be cruel and I don’t fully understand why – is it cultural? Is it human nature? The level of cruelty could be stunning at times. I think this is what taught me empathy. Bullies taught me to care about others. If I wasn’t the one being bullied, I found I couldn’t tolerate others being bullied either.

How do you think schools have changed since your school days?

For one thing, I don’t think students are turned loose on ski hills anymore! I think there’s more respect for cultural diversity than when I went to school. Obviously, technology has changed. Diamond Valley is still a small remote school, but it now has an alternative high school, which is a good change. I think bullying is better dealt with now and parents are more involved, perhaps too involved. In the US, the crisis of school shootings is unfathomable to me. Even with all my bad experiences of being bullied and witnessing it, no one was armed. But that mean spirit was always there and now it has access to guns and that is terrifying. Hopefully, education continues to be important as technology changes our societal landscapes, and through education, we can resolve this shameful American blight on our school system. Maybe we need to focus less on gun control and getting more to the heart of abuses of power in our nation. We need to heal from institutions of slavery and Native American genocide. We need less division and more dignity.

What do you think schools (in general) do well?

I think schools provide inroads to learning that are valuable to becoming productive and happy human beings. Schools are amazing, really. They have been a part of what is America at its worst and what is America at its best. Schools do well to create environments where real learning takes place.

How do you think schools could be improved?

Most importantly, schools need to be safe. Early on, we need to give children the gifts of education and not the burdens. I think citizens should be involved in their public schools even if they don’t have children. How can we be part of the improvement? I don’t have the answers, but I’m willing to be a part of solutions. I support EveryTown for Gun Safety, and until we deal with the hardest cultural issues in our nation, it doesn’t matter if our schools achieve awards or graduate students who score well on tests.

thank you for your participation

Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Charli. It’s been wonderful to have you here. I learned so much I didn’t already know about you.

Find out more about Charli Mills

at the Carrot Ranch: https://carrotranch.com/

and on her Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Charli-Mills/e/B078FV6JGB

Connect with her on social media

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/CarrotRanch/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/charli_mills

The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol 1

Purchase your own copy of

The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol 1

via the Carrot Ranch bookstore: https://store.bookbaby.com/book/The-Congress-of-Rough-Writers

Participate in a

Carrot Ranch Writing Refuge (Keep updated at the Ranch)

Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.

Coming soon:

Sally Cronin

Anne Goodwin

Geoff LePard

Debby Gies

Hugh Roberts

D. Avery

with more to follow.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.

flash fiction challenge about backing up

What’s got your back up?

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has urged writers to have a backup plan in place for their work. She suggested a variety of ways including storage on USBs or external hard drives, in the cloud or as hard copies. She also warned that no method is fail-safe.

flash fiction challenge to back up

The cautionary post preceded, as her posts often do, a flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the term backup. You can back up or have a backup, just go where the prompt leads! However, there is no suggestion of caution in her final phrase ‘go where the prompt leads’.

When I began to consider how I might use the term ‘backup’, I was soon faced with the complexity of our language and wondering how we ever learn to make any sense of it at all.

Back up may be used as a two-word-phrase or as a compound word. The words, with their regular short vowel sounds and consonants, are easy to read and pronounce, even for the youngest beginning readers. Individually, their meanings are clear. Back refers to a part of the body or a location behind. Up is the opposite of down. But put them together and the complexity of meaning emerges with possible use as nouns, verbs or adjectives.

Below are some examples of meanings that can be applied to the phrase:

Feeling annoyed

Perhaps the most literal translation is in reference to a feeling of annoyance; for example, He got his back up when they insinuated he was always late for work. This use comes from a cat arching its back when annoyed.

Move backwards

The truck driver was told to back up to avoid blocking the driveway.

He had to reconsider and back up when the others told him he was wrong.

Teachers may need to back up on what they had planned when they realise the children are not understanding their lessons.

Blocked

The backup of traffic was caused by an earlier accident on the narrow bridge.

The water would back up in the gutters and overflow every time it rained due to the leaves from the overhanging trees.

Support

It is important to back up any science report with evidence from research.

The situation was escalating, and the police were relieved when backup arrived.

The backup singer was required to take the lead when the performer got laryngitis.

Alternative strategy

You need a backup plan in case this one doesn’t work.

You need to backup your digital work in case your computer crashes.

Posture support

One birthday, thoughtful Hub gifted me a wearable device for supporting my posture during long hours at my desk. Sadly, it was complicated, and he was the only one to don it, semi-successfully. Those of us less brave to even attempt were in stitches as he manoeuvred himself into it. Having failed to convince me or anyone else to try, it has been relegated to the back of an (unknown) cupboard ever since. Mere mention of the BackUp causes fits of laughter and it remained #1 inappropriate gift for many years – until he presented man perfume on another birthday.

This is a true story. No names have been changed to protect the innocent. I tried to find an image of the device online, but it seems the design has probably improved over the years. The one Hub gave me had straps to go around the knees as well as the back.

You’d think with all the different meanings of ‘back up’ that I’d have no trouble finding a story to write. However, since the description of my birthday surprise is 99 words, no more no less, and for the fact that I have no backup plan, that true story will be my contribution this week. I hope you like it. Perhaps truth is stranger than fiction.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.