To a buckaroo community, the annual rodeo was a chance to show off skills of the trade: reining a cow-horse, throwing a loop and dallying a rope, wrestling a steer to the ground, and tying a goat. Yours truly was the Goat Tying Champion of a long-forgotten rodeo.

I still remember the smell of horse apples condensed in the stalls where all the ranchers and buckaroos boarded their horses during the three-day event. My red hair sported gold yarn bows at the end of each braid, and I had a brand-new felt hat the color of a chocolate lab.

I’d been practicing with the migrant children down at the barn. We could all toss a goat with the same ease our fathers and uncles could take a steer to the ground — it was all about mastering leverage. After practice, we’d eat pinto beans and tortillas. Someone would pass around a homemade jar of pickled jalapenos. The cowboys all laughed as we kids tried to act tough.

My grandmother grew and pickled jalapenos every summer so by the age of six I didn’t even wince.

Practice and peppers prepared me for what happened that rodeo. I drew last and waited my turn to ride my horse as fast as he’d run from one end of the arena to where the goat was tied to a stake. I had my length of rope in one hand and reins in the other. I was fired up and ready!

Then, the contestant before me rode his horse over the goat, injuring it. No one had thought to have a backup goat, so the event temporarily paused as one was located. I don’t know where they found this goat, but he was bigger than any I had tossed. He was triple the size of the goat all the other kids had tied.

And I was the youngest and smallest.

With a click of the tongue, a shout of “Haw!” and giving my horse his head we flew across that clumpy arena sod to the Big Billy. I jumped off my horse, and the chase was on. I grabbed the rope, held mine in my teeth and grabbed my way to the goat. I wrestled and tried every leverage move I had learned. He broke free and butted me with his horns. I grabbed the rope again. And again. And Again.

Finally, I tied that goat and received the worst time that rodeo. That wasn’t the year I won the trophy, but it was the year I won the respect of my buckaroo community. I had grit. I had tenacity.

Writers have to have the grit of a buckaroo who carries his saddle between rodeos. Writers have to have the tenacity to not quit the longest ride they’ll ever have chasing publication the way bull-riders chase those perfect 8-seconds. Writers have to be willing to take down the big goats.

That’s why we rodeo at Carrot Ranch. All year we practice the literary art form of flash fiction in 99 words, no more, no less. So once a year we put those skills and safe writes to the test. We rodeo.

A rodeo is a contest in which writers show their skills with the flash fiction form. It’s an exciting break from the weekly challenges and an opportunity to compete. Like a cowboy rodeo, this event includes different contest categories to show off a variety of skills. The 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo runs October 1-31.

Contestants will get to wrangle tight word constraints, tell emotive, compelling and surprising stories, and write across genres and audiences. Some contests will call for specific craft skills, like using dialog to carry a story. Other contests will add twists to the prompts.

The following Rodeo Leaders return to stimulate your writing this October: Geoff Le Pard, Irene Waters, Sherri Matthews, Norah Colvin, and D. Avery. Over the next five weeks, each leader will introduce you to their contest, judges, and tips for competing. Each contest comes with a top prize for the winner: $25.

Unfortunately, it was too big of a billy goat for me to get a digital book together from all the entrants last year. We had more words than I anticipated and much editing was needed to include all the stories. I do an anthology once a year, too and I was unable to edit two big projects. Having learned from my first flash fiction rodeo, I will post a full collection of each contest up to a manageable word count.

That means I’ll be picking the most polished and accurate. After all, it is a contest, so here are a few tips for winning or getting selected to be in the collection:

  1. Be exact in word count (use Word Press or a word counter tool).
  2. Read the directions, complete the response, and re-read the directions again. Revise.
  3. Set your first draft aside for at least a day. You’ll edit better fresh.
  4. Read your entry out loud. You’ll catch word omissions or clunky phrasing.
  5. Take time to polish your most important words — verbs. Use active voice.

We will be simplifying rules and focusing on 99 words. Each contest will offer a week for contestants to respond. Contests will post every Tuesday at 12:09 a.m. EST (set your clock to New York City). Contests will close the following Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. EST. We’ll be using the forms for submission. If you’ve been practicing the weekly challenges, this will all be familiar to you.

Now to add a bite of jalapenos to this rodeo!

How tough do you think you are as a writer? Got grit? Got tenacity? Got skill? Then you might be willing to try the TUFFest Ride. Now, pay attention because this contest is not simple and it begins in September. I’m looking for the Fab Five (yes, I have the Fab Five Leaders, but I also want five fabulously tenacious writers with skills).

The TUFFest Ride. Here’s how it’ll go:

  1. In September, writers will have five chances to enter a 24-hour free-write (September 1, 7, 13, 19, 25). You only have to enter once to qualify. Free-write will be 297 words (that’s three 99-word flash fictions).
  2. October 1: Writers tune into a live video posted at Carrot Ranch Facebook Page for the announcement of who will be selected the Fab Five from the September entries. These five writers will have five days to do a new free-write.
  3. October 8: The Fab Five tune into a live video for a twist to a 99-word challenge to rewrite their free-write. They will have five days to write.
  4. October 15: The Fab Five tune into a live video for a twist to a 59-word challenge to rewrite their 99-word story. They will have five days to write.
  5. October 22: The Fab Five tune into a live video for a twist to a 9-word challenge to rewrite their 59-word story. They will have five days to write.
  6. October 29: The Fab Five tune into a live video to find out which three advance. The remaining three contestants will have 24 hours to write a final 495-word story from their TUFF exhibition.
  7. November 2: First, second and third place announced. All five contestants will win a prize (yet to be determined, based on sponsors).

The TUFFest Ride is a big billy goat commitment and a true test of flash fiction writing skills. Our leaders are eligible to enter, as are any judges. Leaders and judges won’t enter contests they lead or judge.

My TUFF judges are two of my grittiest Copper Country friends — Cynthia Drake, who some of you might recognize from my posts about the landslide that hit her Ripley home in June. She is living in our RV and beginning the long hard process to rebuild. Laura Smythe is our mutual friend, a New York City-educated poet and fellow instructor at Finlandia University. She’s also a publisher and book designer. By fun coincidence, she designed one of the books of a Rough Writer! They are both up to the challenge with me. And I hope you are, too!

Tips to strategize TUFF:

  1. Breathe. Control your breath, and you control your mind.
  2. Enter as many of the 24-hour September free-writes as you want.
  3. Or focus on one date and be prepared for the revealed prompt.
  4. Remember, initially, it’s a free-write. Don’t think, write. Be outlandish, surprise yourself. This is what “follow the prompt” prepares you for in writing creatively.
  5. Be willing to commit to the October write-offs if you win a Fab Five slot.

Next Tuesday, join Geoff Le Pard as he offers tips for his October 3 Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest.

Carrot Ranch Weekly Flash Fiction Challenges will go on hiatus after the September 20 challenge. It returns November 1. If you are not interested in contests, you can play as a challenger. Or check out the expanded Advanced Flash Fiction Challenges to do on your own.


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