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Are You Ready to Rodeo?

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.


  1. Well done, Buckaroo. What a great graphic! What a great story from your lil’ buckaroo days! What a great TUFF challenge! Yee haw! The rodeo returns!

    • Charli Mills says:

      I love that graphic! Came out of an outfit back east. 😉 When I was a kid, buckaroos came up from Mexico to work the cattle. Some brought their families. We all looked forward to the rodeo season (our own time of Cowboy Christmas). I hope this Rodeo comes to feel like Flash Fiction Christmas!

  2. Ritu says:


  3. Roseann Terry says:

    Exciting, stimulating, daunting, should I try, what’s to lose?

  4. Norah says:

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    It’s on again! Are you game? It’s time to polish your boots!

  5. Norah says:

    This is so exciting, Charli. Last year, the competition was tough. This year, it will be even tougher with even more writers competing. I love the story of little you and the big billy goat. I think you’ve be facing and overcoming challenges like these all your life. I’m looking forward to hearing all about this year’s contests. Can’t wait. Bring it on!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Norah, it reminds me of why the rodeo was such a big deal — all the bruises you got working cattle and horses became experience toward skills you could show off and might win you a purse. Writing is the same way. We write, feel the bruises of learning and overcoming barriers to do, and then we have an event to gather us all and show what we have learned.

  6. TanGental says:

    here we gooooooo!!!!! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!! Up those snakes and down those ladders, we’re ready to ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuumllllllllllllllleeeeeeeee … Enough. Fab, Triff, Trem, it’s gird your pens and sharpen your loins, or whatever. Lovely stuff, Charli.

  7. Michael says:

    Ooh exciting !

  8. This is so exciting! I’ve never wrestled a billy goat but I like the idea that writers have an equal amount of the tenacity it takes to do so. Yippee to the rodeo!!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Doubt is the biggest billy goat we face, Molly. In the flow, we can toss it and tie its legs, tell the tale that pushes to get out, free like prairie wind. Yes, writers have tenacity. And the Rodeo is a way to off-gas all that tension we build as we write tenaciously. Let the fun begin!

      • You are so right about the doubt, Charli. It is a billy goat of immense proportions. You give me faith that I can rope it! Now about the off-gas of tensions. I fear my husband is not going to be happy if I have even more gas I need to release. Any alternatives to that? 🤣

      • Charli Mills says:

        Ha, ha! Well, sometimes our significant others need to tolerate our out-gassing in the name of creative pursuits! 😀

  9. Oh Charli, what a delightful image of you with red braids ‘sporting’ gleaming gold bows, a ‘chocolate lab’ hat & fierce determination written all over your face. And all the tenacity and guts a Pony Girl needs to bring down that Billy, no prize needed that year for the bravest and toughest little girl out there! And that’s you today! Not to mention your enjoyment of jalapenos! My children laugh at my wimpyness when it comes to anything remotely hot or spicy. You can tell they were brought up in America…what’s with all the hot sauces?! I’ll stick to ketchup…but braver (thanks to you!) I hope, when it comes to writing 😉 So exciting, all of it, I’m honoured to ride alongside my wonderful fellow Ranchers for this year’s Rodeo, thanks so much for giving me a leg-up into the saddle…now let’s ride and write and rock and roll! 🙂 <3

    • Charli Mills says:

      Sherri, what a culture shock — from ketchup to Tabasco Sauce! I can tell your kids grew up in California. There are plenty of other states that agree with your ketchup is spicy enough taste. No worries, you bring your own peppers to writing! <3 I'm so happy to have you along in the saddle again. You've been riding hard and now time to exhibit those skills! 🤠

  10. Jules says:

    Quivering Quills… Time to wrangle them wily words!
    Good Luck all.

    I had some time constraints and private issues so this year –
    I will not be returning as a leader.
    My goat was just too big.
    I’ll do my best in contests or challenges.

    Go FAB FIVE!!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Jules, you are such a shining star at Buckaroo Nation! The best leaders are those who communicate their limits and prioritize their goats. The rodeo is for fun and I know you will do just that! I enjoyed how spirited your entries were last year. <3

    • Norah says:

      I’m sorry you’re not a leader, Jules, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Enjoy it from the other side.

  11. Susan Scott says:

    Lovely post thank you! Such energy! And well done for wresting that billy goat down to the ground and using this as a metaphor for writers!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Susan! I don’t always have an appropriate moment to share buckaroo stories, but at Rodeo time they bubble up. Catch the rodeo energy and write like a whirlwind!

  12. floatinggold says:

    I enjoyed reading your intro story. You must have been funny to watch, but you made it work! Well done. Against all odds.

    Is it Christmas? These are SUCH exciting things to come. I’ve been on a bit of a CR break, but I’m ready to dive right into those.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Goldie, I think I recall laughter from the grandstands. I was too young for the event but no one said no or anticipated the change in goats. I wanted to ride bulls like my dad, grandfather, and great-grandfather so I wasn’t going to let a goat best me! Never did get to ride a bull but probably for the best.

      Yes! It’s Cowboy Christmas — the season of rodeos! Happy to see you ready to dive into the events!

  13. […] via Are You Ready to Rodeo? […]

  14. The contest is here again already? Time flies. Fantastic Rodeo Leaders. This should be another great ride!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Times certainly flies faster these days, Sarah! Here we are at the Rodeo once again. The leaders all have great events to stir up the writing!

      • It will be another fantastic year. A lot of the “new” (not-so-new-now…say that three times fast) writers joined the Ranch because of this last year. Very cool!

  15. Jules says:

    Awe shucks I had such a good title I had to run with it…
    Here’s my 99 word ad for the 2018 Carrot Ranch Rodeo!
    Quivering Quills…

  16. Reblogged this on Myths of the Mirror and commented:
    I played in last year’s Carrot Ranch flash fiction rodeo and found it immensely fun. And challenging! Charli Mills, the Carrot Ranch chief buccaroo, has announced this year’s rodeo, and I encourage anyone who’s up for a wild ride to give it a go!

  17. Lots of fun, Charli and team. I look forward to entering as many of these as is possible for me.

  18. Loved this.

  19. Hi Charli, it sounds exciting. I’ll learn as it goes because I’m new to this.

    • Charli Mills says:

      You’ve earned your spurs, Miriam. Now you get to ride! (And you can always say, “This IS my first rodeo!”)

      • Okay, I TRY to be ready. Of course I’ll raise the warning sign!! I’ll gone first part and last part of September, but I know I only need to do one (or more) free write. Will the prompt/genre be given? (See, I’m anxious already!)

      • Charli Mills says:

        Each free-write will have its own prompt and it will be revealed with 24-hours to respond!

  20. […] Up the hill toward the Houghton County Fairgrounds, I can make out the distant bellow of a microphone. The words flow like batter and none form meaning. Although I can’t understand what the announcer broadcasts to the fair-goers, I pick up the magical vibe of fair time. It reminds me of rodeos and that we will soon host the 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo. […]

  21. Love the concept.. have to take a look

  22. A nice inspirational introduction, love the analogy between writing and rodeoing. The urge to join in is strong, even though I’ve never roped or rode a horse in my life.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Greenhorns are welcome, Kelvin! We’ll have some non-horse prompts throughout the Rodeo and plenty of opportunity to show your writing skills.

  23. Hi Charli
    This will be very new for me! It will be a great challenge for me — writing FF is still very new for me. I’m looking forward to reading all the stories .

    • Charli Mills says:

      You’ve been doing great, Saifun! You have the advantage of practice. We’ll post all the stories for each contest when winners are announced throughout November.

  24. This sounds like one of the most interesting things I have ever heard of, but unfortunately, I can barely tie my shoe, let alone lasso anything.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Give it a go! You might wrangle some good stories! The Rodeo contests in October will allow for a week to respond and each one will be different. Lot’s to choose from.

  25. […] via Are You Ready to Rodeo? — Carrot Ranch Literary Community […]

  26. OMG! I had a blast last year and will be back to try my luck riding Diablo! LOL! Sorry, I got carried away with the rodeo part! <3

  27. Great story!
    I really enjoyed the rodeo last year and I believe I will put my hiatus to an end by saddling up for this year’s rodeo! Looking forward to it.

  28. Juli Hoffman says:

    This looks like fun! I’m so glad I stopped by!!! 😀

  29. Reblogged this on M J Mallon Author and commented:
    Are you ready to rodeo at Charli Mills Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo?

  30. Juli Hoffman says:

    Reblogged this on Roundabout Forty and commented:
    This looks like such a blast! I’ve got the dates written in my calendar.
    Looking forward to writing some flash fiction. 😀

    xo Juli

  31. […] sleigh bells, that’s the jingling of spurs; it’s Cowboy Christmas, that’s right, the Carrot Ranch Rodeo is coming back in October. The slack rounds have already begun with Charli’s TUFF challenge, […]

  32. […] the Rodeo in October, 24-Hour Free-write contests to qualify as one of five writers to compete in The TUFFest Ride will post. I’m also looking for some more sponsors if you have a book or blog you might want […]

  33. […] am munching my way through an anthology, LIFE in a FLASH by Geoff Le Pard (one of the Carrot Ranch Literary Community’s leaders), and I was compelled to pause after reading Geoff’s flash fiction story Happy Place (at […]

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