Rodeo #4: TUFF Beans

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

October 24, 2019

With Pepe Le Gume on the prowl at Carrot Ranch, I might regret prompting anything with beans. But beans hold a special place in my heart. I grew up on pinto beans, cowboy beans. A special treat was refried beans. I never had navy bean soup or chili beans or baked beans until I was an adult. Chili was a con carne served over pasta, soup was sopas, and whoever heard of maple-sweetened beans in buckaroo country? Now that I’ve had Vermont beans, I understand Pepe’s appeal.

In case you aren’t familiar with the mainstay challenges at Carrot Ranch, D. Avery created Pepe along with a host of characters in her weekly Ranch Yarns. Like beans, once a writer gets a taste for 99-words, you’ll keep coming back for more. We make sure the pot is always on at Carrot Ranch, where we create community through literary art. I want to thank all the regular Ranchers for honing their skills and diving into the contests. I’m proud of all of you for your dedication to writing and growing.

Now things are going to get TUFF. Our final contest of the 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo is all about having the guts to revise. As if writing weren’t challenging enough, we also have to know what to cut, what to add, and how to improve our stories. Revision is where the work happens. TUFF is an exercise in getting to the heart of a story and rebuilding it with that understanding. TUFF stands for The Ultimate Flash Fiction. In this contest, you will be asked to write one story with several reductions and a final revision. Your revision should be different from your initial draft. That’s where a writer has to gain courage and insight. TUFF will help guide you if you practice it.

Keep in mind that the TUFF contest is all about process. So far in this Rodeo, writes have tested skills of storytelling, craft, and creativity. Now it’s time to show how you approach revising an initial story idea. Your first 99-words should be a first draft and your final 99-words should be polished and improved. The word reductions in between help you find the heart of your story (59-words) and a punchy line (9-words). Judges want to see how you manage the entire process of TUFF.

And yes, beans are involved.


  1. Your story must include beans (go where the prompt leads).
  2. You will submit one story, retold through varying word counts: 99 words, 59 words, 9 words, and 99 words.
  3. Your second 99-word story should show the evolution or transformation of revision. How is it different? How is it improved? Did the TUFF process lead to new insights that changed the final version?
  4. The story can be fiction or BOTS (based on a true story).
  5. It can include any tone or mood, and be in any genre, and don’t forget the beans.
  6. Make the judges remember your story long after reading it.


  1. Every entry must meet the word count requirements exactly. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the Entries that aren’t 99-59-9-99 words will be disqualified.
  2. Enter this contest only once. If you enter more than once, only your first entry will count.
  3. Do your best to submit an error-free entry. Apply English grammar and spelling according to your country of origin style. As long as the judges can understand the language, it is the originality of the story that matters most.
  4. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email WITHIN 3 DAYS, contact Charli at
  5. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 30, 2019.
  6. You may submit a “challenge” if you don’t want to enter the contest or if you wrote more than one entry.
  7. Refrain from posting your contest entry until after November 28.
  8. Use the form below the rules to enter.



Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, will collect stories, omitting names to select the top ten blind. Please refrain from posting your contest entry on your blog. A live panel of judges from the Keweenaw will select three winners from the top ten stories. The blind judging will be a literary event held at the Roberts Street Writery at Carrot Ranch World Headquarters in Hancock, Michigan. After selections are made, a single Winners Announcement with the top ten in each category will be posted on November 28. All ten stories in each contest will receive a full literary critique, and the top winner in each contest will receive $25 (PayPal, check, Amazon gift card, or donation).

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  1. joanne the geek

    Ooh this sounds tricky. Also have to think about a story involving beans but doing my best to avoid the obvious thing that springs to mind…

    • joanne the geek

      Okay forget what I said. I managed to already write one…

      • Charli Mills

        Good job, Joanne! Once you TUFF it out, it can become a powerful writing tool. Ha! Beans will get some interesting angles.

    • H.R.R. Gorman

      Beans, beans, the magical fruit – the more you eat, the more you toot!

      That’s what came to my mind first.

      • Charli Mills

        So–that’s the first draft. How can you turn that upside down? That’s revision! 😉

      • H.R.R. Gorman

        One could write about a fart factory where they make methane and force workers to eat beans.

  2. robbiesinspiration

    This is a most interesting idea, Charli.

      • Charli Mills

        Inspiration is sparking! I like to see that, Robbie!

  3. jomz

    I’m liking this TUFF process. It is interesting. Let’s see how this goes. As long as it’s “beans,” right?

    • Charli Mills

      Follow the beans and complete each step of the TUFF process! 🙂

  4. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Ello, Keed, how have you bean?”
    “Pepe LeGume! It’s tuff times, but I’m all right. You?”
    “I am so very happy, Keed. You see dat post? No, not dat fence post, de post dat ever body read. I am mentioned in eet. So. I am real, no?”
    “Reckon ya could pass fer real.”
    “Keed, I been passed so much. Now I find dees ranch, I jes’ want to linger here and smell de roses.”
    “Phew. I think ya dropped a rose.”
    “Keed, I am going to cook beans for ever’body. Weeth bacon.”
    “Fer real?”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      (Yes, I managed to clip off the last line. Oof.)

      • Liz H

        😀 Bwahahahahaha!

    • Charli Mills

      It’s understandable you dropped a line after Pepe dropped a rose!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Ha! This character ought to be good for a gag or two.

      • Charli Mills

        May we not be gagging by the end of this potential stinker of a challenge!

      • Liz H

        Oh children!!!… 🙂

      • Charli Mills


  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Reblogged this on ShiftnShake and commented:
    It’s the final Rodeo event at Carrot Ranch, and it’s a TUFF one. Play to win. No entry fee, cash prize, loads of fun.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for shiftin’ this over to your place, D.!

  6. Norah

    This one’s going to be TUFF, Charli. Beans don’t feature highly on my menus. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      To my great disappointment, the Hub never liked beans either! Sometimes TUFF prompts lead to breakthrough.

      • Norah

        My Hub loves beans, much to my dismay.

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! I’m so sorry!

  7. Jim Borden

    now I know why you call these challenges…

    • Charli Mills

      Challenge leads to growth! 😉

  8. floatinggold

    I have no idea how I’m going to do this. But I’m sure something will come to me.
    My first draft is always very precious to me and to think that the first draft will be scrapped is a travesty!

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, don’t think of the first draft as scrapped. Polish what you love about it. Let the process teach you what is at its heart context-wise and how you can craft a punchy line. Then revise with the love you have for the first draft and use the insight gained from the process. TUFF is meant to give you confidence to revise without losing your initial find. <3

      • floatinggold

        What a great explanation. Thank you for such an uplifting message.

      • Charli Mills

        Kind of like TUFF love! 🙂

    • Norah

      I agree. I had to work hard on a second draft. I draft so much in my head before I write, and then had to rewrite and rewrite to pare it down to 99 words. What’s rough about that?

      • floatinggold


  9. Liz H

    Uffda Mayda!
    What am I saying? This could be a real gas!
    Sorry, not sorry.
    (Mike drop).

    • Charli Mills

      Clouds rising over the Ranch on a sunny day! 😀

      • Liz H

        Do NOT light that cigar!

      • Charli Mills

        Fire Danger on High Alert!

  10. Sarah Brentyn

    I’ve never tried one of your TUFF challenges so might do that for fun if time allows. Love the concept. Will share. <3

    • Charli Mills

      I’ll be teaching TUFF to grad students at Michigan Tech next week. I love watching the process impact even engineers and researchers. It’s more profound on writers! Play with it and see what unfolds. <3

      • Sarah Brentyn

        That’s awesome, Charli. Let us know how it goes. I imagine watching the impact on engineers will be really cool. When I taught, the most interesting (and challenging) students were the ones who were majoring in business or science. 😉 “But I don’t NEED this stupid writing class. I’m a … major!” Haha! Have fun!

      • Charli Mills

        The hook is that it will give them an edge, pitching to investors! 😉

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Of course it will. Effective communication (and creativity) is needed in all industries/majors. 🙂

  11. jomz

    Would you believe I forgot to title my entry? I was so excited that I managed to whip something up that the title was far from my mind. I hit submit as soon as I completed the story. I still don’t know what the title is as of writing this comment, but I’m still thinking. Hahaha…

    Can it still be fixed, or do I leave it as it is? Thanks.

    • Charli Mills

      A title is not required, so that’s fine! In fact, sometimes it can be hard to title a TUFF challenge because the title might change. But there are no rules regarding titling or not except that the title doesn’t count in the word count requirements. Once you submit, that’s your entry.

      • jomz

        Well, that’s a relief. Thanks.

        Indeed, it can be even TUFFer titling something that has to be revised a lot! 🙂

      • Charli Mills


  12. Miriam Hurdle

    Oh, I hope to make it. ????

    • Charli Mills

      I hope you do, too, Miriam! Are you back home?

      • Miriam Hurdle

        I’m home, Charli. I’ll go to Oregon middle of next month. My car was at a point of no return a few weeks ago. I’ll go car shopping next week plus other things. I’m brewing a sorry. Hope to find an hour with no interruption to write. ????

      • Charli Mills

        With all the car upgrades and smart technology, maybe one day our cars can go out and replace themselves! I hope you find some time. And have a safe trip to Oregon.

  13. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Ok, here is my sequence. For more on beans:

    “Ello, Keed, how have you bean?”
    “Pepe LeGume! It’s tuff times, but I’m all right. You?”
    “I am so very happy, Keed. You see dat post? No, not dat fence post, de post dat ever body read. I am mentioned in eet. So. I am real, no?”
    “Reckon ya could pass fer real.”
    “Keed, I been passed so much. Now I find dees ranch, I jes’ want to linger here and smell de roses.”
    “Phew. I think ya dropped a rose.”
    “Keed, I am going to cook beans for ever’body. Weeth bacon.”
    “Fer real?”
    “How you say? Darn tooting.”

    “Pepe, this might be a tuff question fer ya. How’d ya end up here at the ranch?”
    “Keed, I am from south of the border, that ees, da border of Quebec. I snuck in weeth dat lead buckaroo when she crossed Quebec and Ontario returning to her headquarters in the Keweenaw.”
    “LeGume! Yer a bean stalker!”
    “Ees magical, no?”

    Legume blew in after the Writers Refuge, lingers still.

    Beans are magical. Not Jack’s magic beans, not the magical fruit that’s good for your heart; something more is encased in those symmetrical shells.
    The magic of plants and cycles is revealed to young children who can easily observe a plant unfold from the hard bean; can plant them, watch them grow, flower, and bear more beans.
    A great source of protein, traditions and stories are revealed through the preparations, memories stirred, savored, and shared. Beans are the humble communion of gatherings and of campfires, the places where friendships are forged and where magic unfolds like a favorite story.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      This may not follow the rules for this contest, as it doesn’t appear to be reduction and revision, but this is how it goes with me, is where the prompt leads. To me the arrival of Pepe Legume and his enduring presence is magical, and he did originate around a campfire where I had met new friends though he didn’t reveal himself until later on the road in Canada. I often need to let my characters loose first before I can be loosened up to write what might have been wafting underneath their humor and antics. I recommend the TUFF process in whatever way it makes sense to you.
      Good luck to all who enter the contest with their bean based entries.

    • Charli Mills

      Pepe has a tagline! “Legume blew in after the Writers Refuge, lingers still.” And thanks for explaining your process in comparison to the rules. TUFF can lead to all kinds of outcomes. It can be used for crafting visions, pitches and mission statements. It can be used to create book synopsis or social media stories. It can even be applied to writing a novel. Or, as in this case, for pure fun and play with characters and words. For the purpose of the contest, TUFF is a process for revising a flash fiction story.

      Toot on!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Huh. This sequence apparently isn’t the real thing. I just put a totally different challenge piece into the hopper. I followed the rules this time and yeah, the TUFF process is very cool. Not so much revision as reversions. Refinishing a “finished” piece. Cool tool, Perfessor.

      • Charli Mills

        Cool beans!

  14. denmaniacs4

    It’s Saturday morning on the West Coast. I have two Tuff Beans stories in the works. I am resisting making my bi-weekly bean dish as one can get too close to the subject at hand and start seeing both the forest and the trees. So, there they are, my two tales. I have just finished the third movement of each tale. Time to begin the final 99 word revision. The sun will be shining here for the coming week. My burn pile needs attending. Needles and leaves litter the property. Dust is Sahara high on my library books and the works needs cleaning, dusting, asap. Speaking of Sahara, I watched Sahara with Humphrey Bogart last night. If one is looking for a nice bit of fascinating war propaganda and a helluva film, you could do worse. Much worse. Well, back to laundry and refashioning Beans there, not quite done yet.

    • Charli Mills

      Lovely bean report from the West Coast, Bill. Beans and movements are normal — fiber is healthy they say. Dust can wait when writing is at hand. Sahara is a good film recommendation. I wonder is films from the ’30s and ’40s are going to speak to us in different ways now, post-truth era? Enjoy your sunshine, tree cast-offs, and polishing beans.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Beans is a resonant theme for me so I went all in, I have beans in the crockpot, the maple syruped New England kind, with Jacob’s Cattle beans from Maine. I have let Pepe et al out to play. I played at this tuff bean prompt. I am however procrastinating, perhaps as you are on this fine Saturday, putting off all those other things that need to be done. Oh well. What are rodeos for if not to distract and entertain?
      I expect a big movement from you with this TUFF prompt.

      • Liz H

        I am perceiving some tongue-in-cheek here:
        resonant theme
        big movement
        But maybe it’s just me–I grew up in a pretty much all-boy family, high school athletes and jock-ular friends. So I am always wary…

      • Charli Mills

        Tongue in cheek, bean in pot.

  15. Norah

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    And now for the last and TUFFest contest in this year’s Carrot Ranch Rodeo. Are you ready to saddle up for some writing fun?

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for the TUFF share, Norah!

      • Norah

        My pleasure, Charli. 🙂

  16. Leanne

    Hi there,

    Just wanted some clarity about the rules. So we are submitting 4 versions of the same story:
    1. First draft – 99 words
    2. Second draft – 59 words
    3. Third draft – 9 words
    4. Final draft – 99 words

    When I read the headings for each box for each draft, “59-word reduction of first draft” and “9-word reduction of first draft” it sounds like
    1. First draft – 99 words
    2. Second draft – subtract 59 words from first draft –> 99-59=40 words
    3. Third draft – subtract 9 words from first draft –> 99-9=90 words
    4. Final draft – 99 words


    • Liz H

      I think it’s more about revising/heightening/lessening/ adding/deleting to fit the specified word counts for each step, and if you learn something along the way, find a better way of phrasing, or a different point of view, that better tells the story in the final 99, then the TUFF process is workin’ for ya.

      But Charli’s the ultimate expert on this one…

    • susansleggs

      Replace the word reduction with revision and you will see the number given is the correct one. 99 – 59 – 9 – 99 words

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, reduction was an attempt to clarify that the revisions reduce in word count but that it is indeed one story you are working with. Each revision is a reduction of the original draft. I appreciate that you asked for clarity! And thanks, Liz and Sue for jumping in to help!

    • Leanne

      Thanks everyone. Submitting soon 🙂

  17. tnkerr

    OK Charli,
    Not sure if I’m doing this right or not, but I’m doin’ my best here. I have written all the stories over the last few days and I’m submitting them all with the single form. You also point out that the judges should understand the language. This bit concerns me some. As I have sprinkled bits of Spanish in these stories, as I am wont to do. In fact the nine word story is entirely in Spanish. There are a few reasons that I had to do this:
    1. The stories are about beans and in my world beans are frijoles.
    2. Sometimes I need to change languages in order to meet the word count requirements.
    3. The Spanish lends a sense of place to the stories, and also works for character development.
    You can use something like “google translate” if you want for my stories. It’ll probably be close but might not be exactly as I would translate it myself.
    Sorry to throw a wrench in the works.

    • Charli Mills

      TN, the reason we “follow the prompt where it leads” is to learn to trust our own gut responses and to write in our own voices. One of my grade-school teachers taught me a valuable lesson — if I don’t know a word in a sentence, I can likely figure it out based on context. That’s an important lesson as writers. We can’t always assume our words will be known by those reading, but we can work to make the context clear. It’ll be interesting to see if your smallest reduction can be understood from your original draft and second reduction. It’s a risk, but we go where the prompt leads!

  18. Susan Zutautas

    That was a TUFF one but I got er done 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Woohoo! Way to ride TUFF, Susan!

  19. Jules

    I had to have a good think here. So I submitted my piece for the contest.
    Not sure if I’ll brew another (ooh wait that word brew made me think of something…) anyway at least I got the contest piece in 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Looks like you percolated, Jules!

  20. Jules

    OK I’ve put off laundry long enough…

    Please enjoy this challenge entry:

    The Calypso Triplets

    The triplet Calypso sisters liked to call the biggest pot they had a cauldron. It wasn’t always easy figuring out what to cook for dinner. They were very independent and had very different tastes.

    Amy wasn’t fond of split-peas it was just too mushy. Bernadette wasn’t impressed with any bean that increased flatulence. Connie pretty much ate anything, but she didn’t like cleaning the cauldron.

    Breakfast was a challenge too. Amy liked full brew coffee, Bernadette decaf and Connie just liked to keep the grounds for the garden. However they all agreed that sharing an apartment was cool beans.

    The triplet Calypso sisters liked to call the biggest pot they had a cauldron. Amy wasn’t fond of split-peas it was just too mushy. Bernadette wasn’t impressed with any bean that increased flatulence. Connie pretty much ate anything.

    Lunch was often a soup mixture of Green, Red Kidney Beans, Black Eyed, Borlotti, and Haricot Beans. Bernadette kept Beano handy.

    “Excuse me’s” peppered the lives of the Calypso sisters

    2nd 99

    The triplets tried to live a very healthy lifestyle. They didn’t want to become ‘has been’s’. So they attempted to be good vegetarians, which required much of their protein to come from a variety of beans.

    Amy enjoyed experimenting with soy based tofu. Bernadette thought most beans were bland and needed herbs and spices. Connie pretty much ate anything.

    Connie let her sisters do all the cooking. They didn’t need to know that she stopped at the Golden Arches for a burger now and then. What they didn’t know was just one less ‘explosion’ they’d have to deal with.

    • Liz H

      Oh, this is fun! And timely for the approaching holiday!

      • Jules

        That’s were ‘brew’ lead me 😉
        Yep I was thinking about the three fates and witch brews!

      • Liz H

        Great minds, eh? I followed the leader.

    • denmaniacs4

      A simmering cauldron of bean cookery…great tasting flash…

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, you exploded with humorous word play!

  21. floridaborne

    This is driving me nuts. I put a period on the last sentence at the end of the last 99 word rendition — and the period didn’t show up on the preview!

    aAAAAAaaarrrug! This is going to keep me awake!

    • Charli Mills

      Don’t let that keep you awake, Joelle! Of all the Rodeo contests, this one is the least concerned with punctuation. It’s all about processing raw writing. Process, not periods.

      • floridaborne

        Thanks. 🙂

  22. Peregrine Arc

    Reblogged this on Peregrine Arc and commented:
    Join in, Arcians. And wish me luck. ????

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing!

  23. Chris Hewitt

    Wow, that was the toughest round yet. Got their in the end. One way or another 😉

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Glad you made it, Chris!

  24. denmaniacs4

    A Bean Orphan, possibly a homage to Boston, in search of of home, hopping from pillar to post…

    Beans Boyle

    Where I grew up, nothing happened without the approval of Beans Boyle. That was okay with me. Beans was my uncle, my mother’s brother.
    An aunt, on seeing the hyperactive baby Benjamin, Bean’s birth name, bouncing off the walls in the back room of the family grocery store, said, “he’s full of …” and the name stuck.
    Boyle’s Grocery not only withstood the devastating depression, it flourished. By the end of the war, three sons and one daughter were dead. Beans, the oldest surviving son, was family Capo.
    We Feed Our People said the store’s slogan.
    Beans was King.

    BB 59-word reduction

    Back in the day, my uncle, Beans Boyle, ran the neighbourhood. Beans, hyperactive from the get-go, came by his nickname honestly. An aunt observed toddler Benjamin bouncing off the walls and opined, “he’s full of…”
    By War’s end, Boyle’s Grocery was flourishing. Beans, the oldest surviving son, became Capo.
    The store’s slogan was We Feed Our People.
    Beans was King.

    BB 9 words

    Boyle’s Grocery flourished. Beans was King of the neighbourhood.

    Beans Boyle 99-word redux

    Benjamin “Beans” Boyle, my oldest surviving maternal uncle, not only became de facto family patriarch after the War, he was also the neighbourhood Grocery Godfather.
    Nothing of any importance ever happened without his sanction.
    Even when Bennie was a toddler, he was a going concern, “full of beans” as Aunt Freda once rechristened him.
    Boyle’s Market was Bodega central from early depression days on.
    Credit was given.
    Payback was due.
    In some form.
    Food was currency. Boyle’s Market was the food bank.
    Beans was the Banker.
    Bean’s mantra: Feed Your People and you’ll own them body and soul.

    • Charli Mills

      You are on a bean kick, Bill! Love the name of “Beans.”

  25. Peregrine Arc

    Charli, I apologize if you received my entry twice. The first time I hit the submit button, I got an “expired link” error. I hit the back button and was able to submit. Phew!

    • Charli Mills

      That’s fine! If there’s two, I grab the first one.

  26. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Chelsea!


  1. Carrot Ranch Rodeo #4: TUFF Beans | Chelsea Ann Owens - […] presented her most challenging contest yet, one utilizing a writing process called […]
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