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The TUFFest Ride Finals

From 118 entries, five writers were selected to take the TUFFest Ride. A few brave challengers have also followed the paces, taking the ride each week. The point of TUFF is to experience the shifts that occur in our writing when we revise. The process forces us to change our first drafts to meet the diminishing word constraints. In making those changes, we further explore our story and make discoveries and decisions. Lastly, we infuse the heart of our stories with emotion.

Here’s a quick look at the shortest stories from last week — each one is nine words and expresses a different emotion [set in brackets].


Sapling nurtured, love grows an Oak death can’t fell [strength]

Unanswered dreams denied by fate suspended our love eternally [sadness]



Mudslide. This could not be happening again – could it? [Fear]

Fear aside. They need me. I’ve got to help. [Courage]



Whether fire or rain, they danced through the pain. [Happy]

Two souls, one dance. Muddy shoes, singing the blues. [Love]


Her spectre blazes in my brain, dangling in time. [wonder]

Mudslide! Low Tide!! Suicide! I have done your will. [resignation]


Everybody had opinions, but the mudslide called it in. [acceptance]

Dahlia embraces freedom as New Stuttgart is washed away. [disapproval]


This Rodeo contest challenged the judges, too. How does one judge the process of drafting and revision? We looked for tenacity, the ability of a writer to push into his or her piece. All five writers exhibited this trait that the masters consider more important than talent.

Often it is tenacity, not talent, that rules the day.”
~ Julia Cameron

“Fish,” he said softly, aloud, “I’ll stay with you until I am dead.”
~ Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.
~ Albert Einstein

And that’s what TUFF called these five writers to do. Pete Fanning, Kay Kingsley, Ritu Bhathal Bill Engleson, and Liz Husebye Hartmann wrote tenaciously. Each week they met a challenge and overcame the doubt that dogs all writers. They wrote. And from the perspective of the one who got to read their writing weekly, I marveled at how each writer pushed through. TUFF creates a process for revision so that exploration and discovery still happen between first draft and second.

Too often, writers go from first draft into editing. By using the ultimate flash fiction constraints, writers can workshop their revisions before getting to the mechanics of editing, thus creating deeper and richer stories. It’s easy to learn to edit because it has specific rules. Creative writing, on the other hand, requires experience and the willingness of a writer to be vulnerable and uncertain.

In the words of one of our judges, reading the Fab Five’s stories and TUFF processes was “delicious!” Indeed, it’s been a month at a story smorgasbord, getting the privilege of watching the chef’s serve up flavorful dishes. But now as we go back for seconds, we only have room to pick three. Please congratulate our two Honorable Mentions in the TUFFest Ride:

  1. Honorable Mention: Liz Husebye Hartmann
  2. Honorable Mention: Ritu Bhathal

That means Pete Fanning, Kay Kingsley, and Bill Engleson have 24 hours to craft a second revision of their original mudslide story in 495 words (that’s five flash fictions as we define the 99-word form at Carrot Ranch). Email entries, following the same process with earlier challenges by noon EST Tuesday, October 30. On Friday, November 2, we will rank remaining TUFF writers as first, second and third place.

Also on Friday, TUFF Judge Cynthia Drake will be dancing her first solo with her troupe 47 North Belly Dance at the Continental Fire Company. The show is a fundraiser to help her with ongoing cost to rebuild her home following the devastating landslide on June 17. I’ll be reading some of my flash fiction based on her story and that of community healing.

The Continental has generously sponsored the Rodeo and all our prize categories, and they continue to be local support of literary art. We are hosting a unique Old-Time Radio Rodeo that employs tough (99-59-9 words) with radio script. It’s a portfolio opportunity to get a story professionally developed into a real-live, on-the-air, radio spot. I hope you’ll give it a go, especially those of you who have experienced TUFF.

The ride is almost over. Stay in the saddle! And congratulate all our Fab Five Flash Writers for a job well done this Rodeo.


  1. floatinggold says:

    CongratZ to all 5 for enduring the challenge.
    Pete’s qualifying story engulfed me, and so did the 9 word pieces above. Well done!

    • Charli Mills says:

      I have enjoyed watching the process unfold and probably felt as nervous as the writers. But in the end, the writers and the process both held. Those are zingers of 9-word stories. Thanks, Goldie!

  2. Liz H says:

    (Climbing down from the saddle, hobbling over to the water pump). Quite the wild ride! (Fans herself with her hat). Will come back to the work and craft that final step–the process has great value!
    Thanks for the structure & opportunity, Charli and Judges!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Woohoo and whew! You rode hard, Liz and your story has such rich detail for you to develop. The judges and I discussed how much we appreciated that you pressed into different character perspectives. I felt that you were in the process of giving a place an identity through the people who live there. That’s one of your strengths as a writer. Take a breather…then get back in the saddle! Good job!

    • Wipe the horse down and skedaddle back to the saddle you straddle so well. See how you did that there? It’s as if you’re writing for radio. That’s write Liz, there’s more fun for you. Consider the radio rodeo bonus challenge.

    • Norah says:

      You write well, Liz. Congratulations on being one of the Fab Five. You may not have made it to the finals this time, but you’re on a winner with your writing. I wish for you all that you wish to achieve.

  3. Jules says:

    Best wishes to all who rode and continue ride the TUFFest Ride Contest.
    I’m going to ride along and see if I can expand what I’ve worked at as a challenger…

    Best to Cynthia Drake and the great sponsors of Continental Fire Company.
    And Charli have fun reading your flash fiction 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      Jules, it’s been great riding alongside you in this ride as a challenger. I’ll be taking the TUFFest Ride to my manuscript and working through revisions every day, starting with TUFF on the chapters that need rewriting during NaNoWriMo. I’ll pass along your best to Cynthia! Thank you!

  4. calmkate says:

    Congrats to the winners but also the regulars who’ve kept posting and entering this busy month of Tuff rides …. need a long cold drink of water back at the corral

    Thanks judges and Charli for taking us on this wild ride … can’t wait to hear about the other competitions 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      Time for that cool water! Thank you for riding along, Kate. We’ll announce the rankings for the remaining three TUFF writers on Friday, and then we’ll announce winners and publish collections every Friday (except the extended Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 23) thru December 14. Stay tuned!

  5. Ritu says:

    Congratulations to Pete,Kay and Bill 😍
    It was indeed a tough ride, and I might just write that 495 words anyway!!!
    And Liz… We rock!
    Charli et Al, thank you for pushing us and our creative limits 🙏🏼💜

    • Charli Mills says:

      Liz and Ritu, yes, you both Rock! Thank you for taking up this crazy ride and pushing through your creativity.

      The judges and I discussed how moving it was to put two characters in an immediate scenario that triggered the trauma of the past. The use of details like ringing phones, making coffee gave concrete details and yet we could sense the heightened emotion of the character who experienced a previous bad mudslide. For me, it captured that sense of service I see in veterans and how they set aside their trauma to met their duty. Well done!

      • Ritu says:

        Thank you so much for the faith.
        I sometimes read others work and am mesmerized by their words.
        I always feel my writing is more simplistic…

      • Charli Mills says:

        Authors who write commercial fiction make bank on the ability to make a simple story compelling. TUFF is about finding that clear path and its heart. You write with clarity and that’s a strength, Ritu! <3

    • Norah says:

      Congratulations on your fabulous effort, Ritu. You have done well. In my eyes, you are all winners, and I have learned a lot from all of you. I wish you continued success with your writing.

  6. denmaniacs4 says:

    Am I ever feeling the pressure? You bet I am. A couple of hours of Pickleball this afternoon will relieve that. Incredibly honored to be in the final three. Enough said…back to the task at hand. All the best everyone. What a creative site this is! Charli, you’re amazing, your writing community is fantastic…

    • Charli Mills says:

      Cynthia just got a new heating system installed in her damaged home and as she’s been fond of saying all week, “The heat is on!”

      Thank you, Bill. I also recognize that this community is an amazing total of all its parts, especially the writers who show up. Okay! Pickleball and then write!

    • Norah says:

      Congratulations on your selection. Keep writing! This contest is not done yet.

  7. Ritu and Liz, absolutely wonderful writing. Thank you for the challenge. I am looking forward to finishing this TUFF ride regardless of my placing. My hats off to all involved, especially to Charli, Laura and Cynthia for judging. I know it can’t be easy. Thank you for all you have done.

    Now, off to write. The clock is ticking and I am feeling the pressure! Good luck Bill and Pete!

  8. Congratulations to the Fab Five. You all rode tall.

  9. Norah says:

    What a fantastic process this is for writers. I’ve been following along at home in my half-hearted fashion, knowing I would have been knocked out at the starting gate. What these writers have achieved is amazing and I have learned so much from the process. Thank you to writers and judges for the privilege of riding along. Judges, thank you. What a TUFF task you have had, and still have ahead of you. You are appreciated.
    Cynthia, I wish you success with your fundraising. I hope you get a good turnout. It sounds like a fun night.
    Good luck to the radio ad writers too!

    • Charli Mills says:

      It’s amazing, the endurance writers are called to have. I think you know it, too, Norah, as an educator. What works one time might have to be tweaked another. You can’t ever sit back in the saddle and not be attentive. You have to ride day after day. The process is meant to teach writers through their own sense of discovery, to be brave and explore while revising, and not take a lot of time. I’m going to use TUFF every day during NaNoWriMo. Thanks!

  10. Norah says:

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    And the TUFFest Write is nearing the finish line. The Fab Five are now the Thrilling Three as they dash to the end. Results will be announced on Friday. Check out their latest entries here.

  11. Pete says:

    To Liz and Ritu, I hope you finish the challenge with us because I’ve enjoyed so much reading the entries. It would feel incomplete without seeing your finished product! Congrats to everyone who took the challenge, what a fun ride!

    • Liz H says:

      Been working today with the 24 hour turnaround. Pleased with how TUFF has enriched the story.
      Looking very much forward to seeing the good work of my four co-cowpokes. It’s been a rigorous ride!

    • Charli Mills says:

      You have all been awesome co-cowpokes! Met with my judges today and we lamented that we had to pick, lamented that the ride was over. We enjoyed watching you all exhibit skill and creativity as the process unfolded.

  12. […] TUFF: 495 word Final Ride A challenge piece […]

  13. Jules says:

    Completing the Challenge portion with my 495 words here:
    Enjoy: Reigning Emotions

    • Liz H says:

      Well done! Meet you at the Carrot Ranch Rodeo Revival Spa?
      Cheers! 😉

    • Jules says:

      I made some slight changes… to the original posting for ease of reading.
      Sometimes we are too excited to just hit that cute little submit button.
      I’m not usually one to edit since I generally write short fiction and poetry. But I have learned that there is value in second and third reads and some carefully crafted editing.

      Looking forward to reading other Ranch Writers! Contestants and Challengers all!

      • Charli Mills says:

        TUFF is all about writing. Editing happens after we write and give it space so yes, the extra readings are part of the editing process. It’s good to recognize the difference because it’s powerful to let ourselves write without the interference of our internal editors. 🙂

  14. Annecdotist says:

    Congratulations all for staying in the saddle. I’ve barely managed to keep up with the reading, so can only imagine the intensity of the ride. A busy final twenty-four hours for the remaining three. Bon courage!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Anne, you did well to ride in other Rodeo contests and thank you for judging, too! I’m taking TUFF to that draft and other revisions. November will be my TUFF month.

      • Annecdotist says:

        Sure, but really intended to follow the process. Hope to look back on those posts after I’ve read through a certain MS I should’ve got to a month ago. But today should be the day.

  15. Liz H says:

    Okay, so here’s my final installment of TUFF:

    Cutting Ties and Mudslides

    Billy burst through the front door of the barbershop, sliding across the checkered floor and into an empty barber chair. He twirled twice and stopped.

    Emil leaned back in the other chair, barber’s cape rustling over his sagging paunch.

    Leon raised his shears from Emil’s thinning pate, “How can I help, Billy?” He didn’t really want to know, but he was a businessman.

    “Dahlia’s gone and told me she wants another semester in Germany.” Billy buried his face in his hands. “It’s like she doesn’t want to get married!”

    [Continue ]

  16. Congratulations to you all. It’s quite the feat of writing endurance!

  17. Congratulations, writers! I can’t wait to read all the fun flashes at the end of the road! <3

    • Charli Mills says:

      We’ll get to read all their pieces in their entirety. Because we had so many entries and there are so few of me, I won’t be able to post the Free-Writes. But the rest of the Rodeo entries will include all the flash fiction and it will be good reading! Thanks, Colleen! <3

  18. loristory says:

    My 495-word challenge is done. This was a great learning experience and I loved reading everyone’s work. Mine is at

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