November 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

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.

November 28, 2019

For those who rode in last month’s 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo, this is the date you’ve anxiously awaited. I use the adverb with understanding. This past month, I’ve entered my writing in two contests and submitted it to two literary journals. Waiting for notification can induce anxiety, angst, and doubt. Know that every writer experiences the rollercoaster ride of doubt. Artists combat resistance. Maybe you didn’t participate in the Rodeo because the word contest unnerved you. This is Carrot Ranch, a safe place to write, a fun literary community where you can find kindred spirits, a weekly challenge that displays 99-word stories. A contest invites danger; it sparks resistance.

If you haven’t yet read Stephen Pressfield’s War of Art, it’s worth the read. Some of it will make you cringe. Some of it will make you determined. He’s an author who understands the artistic battlefield. He writes:

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance…Resistance by definition is self-sabatoge.”

(Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art. Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.)

It is not easy to overcome resistance. Each and every one of you who finds your way to the Ranch to read, write, or join a discussion is participating in the three pillars of literary art. It matters not that you are here every week, but as the host, I can attest to the growth of those who are regular participants. When writers are new to the weekly challenges, I hope they stick around long enough to experience the magic of writing to a constraint within the bounds of a safe space. The Rodeo is a series of contests meant to challenge you to overcome your resistance.

My hat is off to each contestant. Take a moment to congratulate yourself for overcoming, for resisting, for showing up, and for delaying gratification. The challenges are fun — we get to see our work in concert with others. However, contests select and eliminate. We may not be gratified this time. Even if we win, doubt will still try to whisper in our ear. Winning or losing never offers comfort. So why seek out contests and selective submissions? To overcome the impulses of resistance and to learn. Growth requires an awareness of how our writing compares to others.

Comparison can be the ultimate discomfort for any artist. It produces a host of nagging emotions that range from inferiority to full-blown jealousy. A winner can feel like an imposter. In fact, in the first term of my MFA, we discussed the imposter syndrome as a common affliction of graduate students. Understand that this mindset shows up for contests, too. However, comparison can be productive. Let’s discuss how because it’s important to growth as a writer.

First, acknowledge any negative emotions. Practice kindness. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, tells us that fear will come along for the ride of everything creative we attempt. Consider her mega-success (she wrote Eat, Pray Love), and yet she still feels fear. Resistance. Her advice is to invite fear along for the ride but never allow fear to take the driver’s seat. You can practice this every time you enter a contest, submit to a journal, or seek an agent or publisher. Invite fear along, recognize its emotional presence, but do the driving yourself.

From this frame of mind, accept any bludgeoning thoughts that tell you, “Hers is much better than mine,” or “His sucked; how could the judges be so blind?” Accept them as signals for comparison. Pause. Compare in a productive (and kind) way. Take a deep breath and ask, “How does her story differ from mine?” This exercise will teach you to learn how to compare and contrast in such a way that you begin to notice how craft skills are used. There is no right or wrong between your writing and someone else’s. The better you can get at identifying craft skills in other writing, the better you can adapt those skills to your own toolkit as a writer. Try to go a step farther and see what the judges selected. Instead of feeling hurt, set that real emotion aside and go deeper to identify one new writing attribute to try.

Originality will always be your ace card. No one has experienced the life you have. How can you express your sensations, experiences, concepts, and observations in your writing? That’s your voice. Cultivate your voice and you will cultivate originality. I see this truth played out week after week at Carrot Ranch. You go where the prompt leads because it will lead you to your voice. That intuition is what you learn to follow. You can always revise, but let originality lead the way.

The most original stories are not always the most sensational. I think mainstream media tricks us into believing that hooks have to be startling. What surprised me most about the entries to the 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo was how prompts lead to greater originality. One of our contests was unprompted (Three-Act Stories) and instead of broadening originality, many writers resorted to sensational ideas for stories. Funny thing is, this diminished the impact because what was meant to be shocking risked becoming cliche. Let that sink in a moment. Writing about a hard social issue or injustice is not necessarily brave; writing about it from your own point of vulnerability is.

Your voice matters. Dare to follow that sensational (or common) lead into your own swath of experiences, blow past the tropes with something only you could write. If you take on a shocking topic, use it in an original way or say something new about humanity.

The most fun we all seemed to have with the Rodeo (judges and contestants combined) was with the Pro-Bull Mashup. Using three words from the source of pro-rodeo bull names and two niche genres (pirates and game shows) created a tight constraint and yet yielded much playfulness. In opposition to no prompt, multiple prompts pushed creativity. That’s an interesting consideration. Currently, I’m working with a 94-year-old WWII veteran in a writing group and he told me that as a child he read the entire dictionary. If he gets stuck writing, he turns to a page in his dictionary and uses a word to prompt an idea.

A standing ovation to ALL of you who entered TUFF Beans.

TUFF does its job and that is to force a writer to revise. I’ve known that my greatest weakness as a writer is revision. One of my best professors from undergrad days used to say, “Your manuscript doesn’t begin to sing until the thirteenth time.” Reality as a career writer was that I wrote to deadlines. I had to learn to write and edit simultaneously, gather momentum from interview transcripts, find original ways to include research with relatable analogies and write to my audiences for specific publications. As a marketing communicator and a freelance profilist, I got good at my work.

However, as a literary artist, I have had a tough time breaking those habits of simultaneously editing and drafting. I can write fast, and come up with original angles. But the more I pushed into my literary art and the more I grappled with manuscript revision, I felt like I had gaps in knowledge. Part of going back to get my MFA is to identify what it is I don’t know. What am I supposed to do each subsequent revision? Thirteen — how do I get to a singing manuscript when I can’t get past five revisions? I’ve developed tools like my storyboard. And I came up with TUFF to help me identify my blind spots in revision. I admit that I fear to make changes — what if I screw up the original thrust of creativity? How do I plot when my stories are character-driven and landscape-oriented?

TUFF and 99-word stories are tools as much as they are works of art. Many in my community use TUFF to craft business statements, explore narrative therapy, or generate manuscript revisions. Other organizations use it in ways I hadn’t considered. Offering it as a Rodeo contest is bringing it home to where it all began. When I see writers use the constraints to shift their stories and revise their original drafts, I feel giddy with excitement. TUFF provides its own lessons through the process. Our TUFF judge is a local life coach who loves using the tool with clients and business teams.

This year, I worked locally with our team of judges as I build up our Carrot Ranch literary presence in the Keweenaw. Here’s a bit about me and my home crew.

Charli Mills came to the Keweenaw from everywhere out West. As lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, she makes literary art accessible 99 words at a time and writes stories about the veteran experience and those marginalized by history. The Rodeo is a chance for her to encourage writers to push through creativity with courage.

Cynthia May Drake lives at the Ripley Falls Home of Healing, having lived in the UP for 30 years. She creates retreats and coaches clients to reach their spectacular potential. She regularly practices the 99-word and TUFF formats to resolve life conundrums, which has her fired up to be a literary judge for the Rodeo’s TUFF contest.

Marie Bertineau, born amidst the copper mining ruins of northern Michigan, is the daughter of an Ojibwe mother and a French Canadian and Cornish father. Her memoir, The Mason House, is set for release in September 2020 by Lanternfish Press of Philadelphia. She enjoyed the opportunity to work with Carrot Ranch on the Rodeo contest.

Tammy Toj Gajewski is an educated artist who recently retired from 24 years in prison where her nickname was Sgt. Carebear. She has written poetry and stories her whole life and is working on her book. She moved to the UP over 25 years ago and loves rock hunting, foster parenting, and dogs.

Bonnie Brandt came to the UP for MTU education and never left. As the daughter of a math teacher, she reads voraciously and belongs to a book club. She lives for the pun. She loves kayaking and cooking. She often will be reading even in summer!

Paula Sahin visited Carrot Ranch Headquarters during judging and joined in a session at the Continental Fire Company. She is a leadership development consultant trained by Brené Brown and manages Inner Wisdom Coaching and Consulting. She has a serious passion for learning and development.

Donna Armistead is a native of Florida and has taught dance and theatre in the Copper Country for over 30 years. Finally emerging from research mode to write a novel inspired by the lives of her Georgia ancestors, she is honored to have been invited to assist as a judge for the Rodeo.

Word Press allowed me to capture each entry and save according to IP address so that I could initially judge blind. I screened entries according to the rules and selected ten finalists in each category. I was looking for entries that met the criteria according to my perspective. I then shared criteria with my judges and let them use their own perspectives. None of the contests were purely technical. A few were more technical than others, but there remains an area of subjectivity. Judges do not all initially agree but everyone is allowed to voice their reasoning. Consensus was reached and three top places were awarded in each contest.

Each of the ten finalists will receive a submission critique. When I used to work with Paula Sahin, she coached me in ways to build strong teams. Together, we worked in senior management and helped our organization develop feedback loops that contributed to the productive growth of employees. As Carrot Ranch has grown, I’ve applied much of my previous career to our literary community, focusing on writers’ strengths and appreciating their use of originality and craft skills. With entry to my MFA program, I wondered if I could meld my positive feedback preferences with that of writing workshop critique.

One of my professors told me after a workshop exercise that I was one of the best line editors he had encountered. Editing is not my natural inclination (remember, I said my weakness is revision). What I realized is that by mindfully practicing positive feedback every week at Carrot Ranch, I had grown my skills. And yes, I’m working toward a brand of productive critique techniques to teach and use with others. I’m in my baby-steps phase, but by offering critique on contest entries where criteria are stated, I get to practice. Those receiving feedback get useful insights.

Be patient with me, though! Today is Thanksgiving in the US and it’s my second dinner, meaning I went to Wisconsin last weekend to fix Thanksgiving for my son at his request (Mama Bear can’t refuse an offer to feed people), then returned to the Keweenaw to fix dinner for my daughter, SIL, Hub, and friends. When on terms with an MFA, there is no such thing as a break. And somehow I thought it was a good idea (back in September) to announce winners today! I will not be immediately responsive, but I’ll be back at it on Friday when I’ll send email winner announcements.

Over the next four weeks, I will email a batch of critiques according to the order of contests. By the end of December, all 40 critiques will be delivered, just in time for my term finals.

I’d like to thank the Patrons of Carrot Ranch — your contributions maintain a dynamic community making literary art accessible. I have no staff. I have a small team of Ranchers who contribute as patrons. The work behind the scenes is my privilege. I’m grateful for all of you at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. It’s my life’s work to encourage others to write, read, and heartily discuss creative writing. It helps us all overcome resistance to our art and pursuit of it. I love what I do.

Thank you for your support of the Flash Fiction Rodeo. I hope you found it scary, fun, enlightening, and anything else you need to keep you on your writing path. Please take the time to read the 2019 Winners Page where all contest finalists, their entries and awarded top three places are displayed. Last year’s Rodeo Pages are all compiled into one 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo. To celebrate or commiserate winning, our prompt challenge follows.

November 28, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about winners. Who are they, what’s the mood, and what did they win? Express emotion or subdue it. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 3, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests are located at 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo.

Challenge submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.

Keep Trying Until You Win by Charli Mills

Martha posed her best winning grin to the reporter, spitting dirt as she smiled. The bulb flashed so brightly it turned everything to white blotches. Blinking, and wiping at the mouthful of arena dirt she received after the goat clocked her a second time, she looked for Auntie Bess. The old woman was leaning against the railing beyond the chatter of family and fans. Ducking the swipe of a hankie, Martha joined her Aunt.

“Why’d ya win kiddo?”

“Cause no one else would go after that stinkin’ goat three times. Figured, I keep trying ‘til I got him tied!”

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  1. floridaborne

    “What do Mendel, Manville, Austin, Lovecraft, Shakespeare, and Dickinson have in common?”

    What an odd question. Someone else raised a hand to answer, and I’m ever so happy I wasn’t the one who did it first.

    “Mark,” the esteemed professor of my arts and creativity class said. “You may answer.”

    “They’re all famous.”

    Professor Dick, as the class liked to call him, chuckled. “Not in their own time. The icons we now revere were ignored during their lives. What does this tell you?”

    “They stood the test of time,” I said.


    At that moment, writing became my passion.

    • Charli Mills

      You have a winning perspective expressed in your flash, Joelle. Often those who are ahead of their time, stand its test.

      • floridaborne

        I remembered a tidbit that I read long ago about people who were insanely famous in their time and faded into obscurity shortly after death.

        It does beg the question: Which is better — to be rich and famous, then fade into obscurity, or die never knowing that your name will live on for a thousand years?

      • Charli Mills

        Considering how big the gaze of fame is in our age, I’d think it would be better to let the art have it after the death of the artist.

  2. Liz H

    Better to gobble a turkey, and mashed potatoes and pie, than hurry a critique. Hope all of our holiday weekend is full of good food, peaceful family relations, a little nap, some outdoor time, and gratitude for all we have, here at The Ranch, and at home!

    • Charli Mills

      Better for everyone involved! I gobbled, continue to gobble (turkey sandwiches are the best), and have walked through the winter wonderland wit the ol’ dog who also loves turkey nibbles. We got in lots of games, too. That’s my favorite! I’m ever so grateful for home and Ranch! I hope your Thanksgiving was equally full to the brim with goodeness, Liz.

      • Michael B. Fishman

        Turkey sandwiches with liberal amounts of mayonnaise!

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, Michael, you know the recipe for the perfect turkey sandwich! Also a smear of sweet-hot mustard, the kind you save for Christmas day summer sausage, and a spoonful of leftover homemade cranberry sauce with whiskey. Sprinkle some sea salt flakes and a grind of peppercons…! 🙂

  3. Jules

    Dear Charli, Judges, Winners and all the contestants! Great Job!!
    I feel like a winner just for entering. There’s so much in this post I’ll have to come back when I’m not full of Turkey dinner and ready for a nap.

    However I was able to incorporate the Carrot Ranch prompt into another trio of 99 word segments to further my story. Lucky is a calico cat… No need to read the whole series as I think each can stand alone – so just enjoy:

    #47 Acceptance
    (three parts 99 words each ending with a haiku)
    “While you are making tea, how about a Hot Toddy and make it a double for me?” Sam asked as he continued, “I’m off duty and being a police officer in this town can be stressful! The reality and the gossip can really be a challenge to decipher and that’s just within the department.”

    While I’d really love to be adrift in a calm sea where everything was moving in slow motion – that wasn’t how this day was ending up. There was Dawg curled up in a ball of delight at Sam’s feet. Lucky was a winner his lap.

    Meanwhile Byrd, I think was feigning sleep… I did think I saw a few curious winks from that crow’s curiously swiveling head. I was a winner to have three pet friends.

    Sam was just a bonus. The cherry on the sundae. When he told me that my home might have been part of the route for the Underground Railroad – I could only imagine all those people who were shuffled off into freedom to become winners in their own right. I looked up a center and museum honoring William C. Goodridge; a slave became a free man to aid others.

    I had also wondered about the family who may have owned the Dutch Snickersnee I was now using as a bread knife. It was also possible that trades had been made for food or safety. Each person thinking they were winners in that bartered transaction? Could it be one of Jack Seedsmen’s treasures or was it here long before he had lived and worked this place?

    Amid the losses of life, I had to remain positive. I would work at finding the whole truth.

    each breath that we take
    we win the right to carry
    forth our earned knowledge


    Acceptance: A time draft that has been accepted for payment. See banker’s acceptance.
    I’m using acceptance as; the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered. As in useful knowledge.
    Info about William C. Goodridge
    snickersnee. Rare a large knife, designed for use as a thrusting and cutting weapon. Origin of snickersnee. from snick or snee, earlier stick or snee, combat with knives from Dutch steken, to thrust, stab + snijden, to cut. Or: a knife, especially one used as a weapon.
    The Underground Railroad, a vast network of people who helped fugitive slaves escape to the … The system grew, and around 1831 it was dubbed “The Underground Railroad,” after the then emerging steam railroads. … The fugitives would also travel by train and boat — conveyances that sometimes had to be paid for.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jules! You write every day, and that is overcoming resistance. Entering a contest or submitting to publication takes great courage. I think it’s important that we recognize each step we take, keep moving forward and stay open to learning craft and exploring our art. I’m pleased if the Ranch can help facilitate steps. You are going to town on your story! Thanks for the additional lesson about WC Goodridge, too.

  4. Norah

    Happy Thanksgiving, Charli. Have a wonderful celebration with family and friends. There is much for which we can be thankful. I’ve perused and will be back to read more thoroughly and comment over the weekend.
    Many thanks to you for a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable rodeo. Thanks to the judges for their input, and to all the contestants for their entertaining and, sometimes, thought-provoking stories.
    Best wishes, everyone.

    • joanne the geek

      Congrats on winning Norah!

      • Norah

        Thanks so much, Joanne. I’m totally chuffed. I am over the moon. I certainly didn’t expect to place, let alone win. 🙂

    • Sherri Matthews

      Congratulations on your win and 2nd place, Norah! So proud of you! <3

      • Norah

        Thank you, Sherri. Congratulations on your place too. I can’t believe we topped this TUFF contest together. I feel like I’m still dreaming. ????

      • Sherri Matthews

        Thanks, Norah…me too 😀 I couldn’t believe it when I saw my name there! How wonderful to TUFF it out together! And so we keep dreaming 🙂 <3

      • Norah

        Indeed we do … ????

    • pedometergeek

      Congrats on your win, Norah, as well as your other placements. That is awesome.

      • Norah

        Thank you so much. I’m thrilled, to say the least. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Norah! Thanksgiving was laid back and we had over a new friend as well as my daughter and her husband. I’m thankful for much, including home and ranch. Congratulations! It was exciting to match names to stories after the judging. I was happy to see Rancher’s named as well as some writers who were new.

      • Norah

        I’m pleased you enjoyed Thanksgiving, Charli. I always enjoy time with family, particularly now we are not so close location-wise.
        I did notice some familiar names and some not so familiar as I read through the list of winners. The biggest surprise was to find mine there. 🙂

      • Jules

        I recognized some names from other prompts I’ve played at – so here’s to always including links so that others can play!

    • nightlake

      Congrats, Norah. Your Tuff Beans story was very imaginative and liked your modern tall tale as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

      • Norah

        Thank you so much. Needless to say, I am both surprised and delighted.

    • Norah

      I’m back with my story, Charli, and I can’t believe I didn’t comment on yours when I was last here. Sometimes you win just by sticking at it when nobody else does. I think that’s a good point and your story shows it well. It’s sort of like the last man standing which I often refer to as ‘a Steven Bradbury’. He is a local Brisbane man who won the 1,000 metre speed skating event at the 2002 Winter Olympics when all his opponents were involved in a pile-up close to the finish line. There’s something to be said for sticking with it.
      My story’s theme is related. It’s simply about having a go. You’ll never win if you never have a go.
      Every Child Wins a Prize
      Melissa goggled at the toy-laden shelves.
      “Only $2 a ticket,” the vendor encouraged.
      Melissa indicated a music box on the top shelf.
      “You won’t win that. It’s just a ploy to get your money,” grumbled Mum.
      “You won’t know if you don’t try,” he winked.
      Melissa turned to Mum. “It’s my money.”
      Mum humphed as Melissa parted with her coin.
      The man fanned the envelopes, favouring one. “Take it,” he whispered.
      Melissa ripped the envelope open and passed him the card.
      “What did I win?”
      The man handed the music box to Melissa.
      “Prizes are for triers,” he smiled.

      • Charli Mills

        Norah, I like the delightful twist and how it turns the stereotype of a carnie on its head. He’s practicing kindness while mum harumphs with skepticism. The important lesson in both our stories is to try, try, and try again. Sometimes you win because you are lucky; sometimes because you hit a perfect score; sometimes because you are the last one standing. But only triers even win. Congratulations on yours!

      • Norah

        The carnie made that decision in an instant. I think there’s more behind that random act of kindness. I’m going to work on it. Thanks for the prompt that has me thinking of writing more.
        I have to admit that I very nearly didn’t try and there is no way I’d have won if I hadn’t. It was a push to get it done but it was so worth it in the end. Thank you for all you do to encourage me and others.

  5. joanne the geek

    Thanks to the judges. Looking forward to reading all the finalists when I have some more time.

    • Charli Mills

      We had a wonderful group of thoughtful judges. And congratulations on doing so well in the Rodeo!

  6. Miriam Hurdle

    I spent Thanksgiving in the hospital, nothing life threatening. That’s enough to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Charli.

    • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

      You can be thankful indeed, Miriam, but better if you hadn’t had to be there. Hope all’s well now.

      • Miriam Hurdle

        Thank you, Anne. I hope to go home today.

    • robertawrites235681907

      Oh dear, Miriam, I had notice your absence on your blog. I hope you are okay.

      • Miriam Hurdle

        I’ve had some problem for three weeks. No doctor knew what it was and I had the wrong treatment. I finally came to the hospital and got a doctor gave me the right treatment. Now I started to get better.

      • Miriam Hurdle

        Thank you so much, Robbie.

    • Colleen M. Chesebro

      I wondered where you’ve been. Hope you are on the mend. Thinking of you. <3

      • Miriam Hurdle

        Thank you, Colleen.????

    • Sherri Matthews

      Hi Miriam, so sorry to read this, but so glad you’re on the mend <3

      • Miriam Hurdle

        Good to hear from you, Sherri. I was discharged yesterday. Resting at home now. ????

      • Sherri Matthews

        Likewise, Miriam. So glad you’re at home resting…get well and in good time to enjoy Christmas 🙂 <3

      • Miriam Hurdle

        Thank you, Sherri. I do hope to be well enough to enjoy Christmas. ????

    • pedometergeek

      Glad you are doing better and have exited the hospital. Continued healing, Miriam.

      • Miriam Hurdle

        Thank you very much.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, no, Miriam! It can be scary when treatments aren’t working as they are expected. I’m relieved to hear that you are now home. I hope you got a post-Thanksgiving meal. I’m thankful you are okay! <3

      • Miriam Hurdle

        Yes, my hubby went to family Thanksgiving and brought back samplings for my post Thanksgiving meal. I’m thankful. ????

    • Jules

      Sometimes just simple procedures need an extended stay – Hope you are home now. Best to you and speedy recovery 🙂

      • Miriam Hurdle

        Thank you, Jules. I’m home taking meds, but only healing slowly. ????

    • Charli Mills

      Ms. Paula, you graced us with your thoughtful contributions to Carrot Ranch. I’m so happy you got to experience Mama Bear care at world headquarters! Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Perfessor Mills, you’ve once again delivered a top notch lecture.
    There is a very lot to take in here. I will humbly take my time.
    To all who took part in the rodeo challenges, a hearty woohaa! to you all.

  8. Chelsea Owens

    Well said, Charli. Thank you for all the work you’ve put into this and the prompts.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Chelsea!

  9. Iain Kelly

    Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to you Charli, and all the team who put in all the work judging. A great collection of stories, and so nice to have a safe and welcoming space in which we can all submit stories.

    Here’s a different perspective on what ‘winning’ can mean:

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Ian! I appreciate that you find the Ranch welcoming and safe space for sharing your stories. Your latest moved me with its hard truth. Not all winning is winning.

      • Iain Kelly

        Thank you for the kind compliment Charli.

      • Charli Mills

        You are welcome, Ian!

    • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

      Mm, with the forthcoming election in the UK this feels all too real. Whoever wins, we’ll all be losers.

      • Reena Saxena

        This is the scene with elections everywhere.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Reena!

  10. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    Hope you enjoyed your family feasts, Charli, and well done for fitting in this thoughtful post. Coincidentally, I’ve also written – albeit less eloquently – about writerly envy in my end of the month post on reading. My flash is either funny or tragic, depending on your position! Look forward to the announcement of the Rodeo winners.

    Must have imagined it?
    Do you read above the level you write? #amreading #amwriting #envy

    • Charli Mills

      Feasts extended into this week with local Mormon Missionaries in town. They helped me paint my interior walls. It was unexpected but their help appreciated thus I cooked western food for them — meals while far from home. We must be thinking along the same lines. Winning brings up all kinds of emotions and apparently can be imagined! That’s a stunning reaction, but a sly undercut to diminish the reality of another. Thank you for turning your post into a valuable insight into positive envy.

      I found your flash funny!

  11. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Taking the Prize

    “Mrs. K won me at chest again! She’s good!”
    “It’s chess, Aidan, and I beat you, I didn’t win you.” She didn’t correct his opinion of her skills, but as beginners were her only competition, her own game didn’t improve much over the years.

    “Mrs. K? Got time for a game?”
    “Aidan! Of course. How’s high school?”
    Aidan gave some advice through the game, elucidated some of his moves for her. He beat her soundly and her game improved.
    “Well, see you later Mrs. K. I will win you again.”
    He would, though she sure felt like the winner.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        But I don’t write “sweet”. (Or romance. Or memoir. Just playing with words.)
        I mean, what I meant to say is, Thank you.
        This is slightly more polished at my site. But just as sweet.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Ditto. But it is heart-warming / uplifting and lots of other terms I don’t like.

    • Charli Mills

      Mrs. K has the right skills and Aiden came back to share his growth with her. It takes a long time for a teacher of the young to see winning results.

  12. Jim Borden

    thank you for your dedication to everyone who is part of Carrot Ranch. And good luck with your finals!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Jim!

  13. Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life.

    Fabulous collection Charli. and well done to the entrants, finalists and winners and to the judges for the time and effort, in what must have been a difficult decision making process..

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Sally! It takes several rounds of consideration and discussion. All the judges were thoughtful and also welcoming of originality. We had great entries.

  14. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    No Contest

    “Ya ever won anythin’ Pal?”
    “Me neither. But this outfit here says I might be a winner. Fer a small fee they’ll let me know fer sure.”
    “What outfit is thet, Kid?”
    “The Slim Chance Ranch. Says here they’d be willin’ ta let me ride with ‘em. Fer a small fee.”
    “Kid, why would ya even consider it?”
    “Says here it’s a good deal, might even increase ma chances of winnin’.”
    “What the deuces d’ya win?”
    “Says here I could win the chance ta ride with Slim.”
    “Slim Chance.”
    “Yeah, yer right, Pal. I never win nuthin’ no-how.”
    “Shorty’s sure busy, huh Kid?”
    “So you jist shush up ‘bout yer foolish notions. Shorty’s got enough ta do without worryin’ ‘bout you takin’ off fer Slim Chance Ranch.”
    “Kin go if I want, Pal. Might win, ya know.”
    “If’n yer so het up on winnin’ why didn’tcha enner the rodeo contest here at Carrot Ranch?”
    “B’cause why, Kid?”
    “B’cause I never win nuthin’.”
    “Cain’t never neither without ennerin’.”
    “Asides, Pal, them writers that won? They’re great.”
    “You grate on my nerves Kid. Ever one thet ennered is great.”
    “Yer right. Carrot Ranch is a great place.”

    • Charli Mills

      Stars align in funny ways. Winning comes of funny ways, too like a teacher, years later who gets to bask in a child who has grown into an engaging adult. But it does take ennerin. One step at a time. The Ranch is safe space. Kidd’ll find a safety net, or at least friendly hands to dust ’em off.

      Birdie says Kid’s handler might have had a submission accepted. You can share that ennerin with us!

  15. Susan Zutautas

    Congratulations to all the winners of this years rodeo contest. Great stories!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Susan!

    • Charli Mills

      Welcome back, Robbie! You have been busy and this a good time for you to reflect on how much you have grown in your writing, too.

      • robertawrites235681907

        Thank you, Charli. I have learned so much from you and Esther and other people you kindly read and review my books. It is rather amazing.

      • Charli Mills

        It’s exciting, isn’t it, when you apply what you learn and it comes together? And writing allows us to continually grow.

      • robertawrites235681907

        It does, a never ending challenge. That is why I am so hooked I think. I find it hard to find things that completely challenge me and I really need it.

    • Sherri Matthews

      Congratulations, Colleen! I’m so glad to be back too! <3

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        Hi, Sherri! I’ve missed everyone. So glad to see you! ????

      • Sherri Matthews

        Yes, me too…I’m hit-and-miss everywhere at the moment. Good to see you too, Colleen! <3

    • Jules

      Glad you are back I enjoy your fae! Keep going! ((hugs))

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        Aw, Jules. Thanks. I miss our community here. I learn so much! ??

    • Charli Mills

      Coleen, your wings are stretched and growing beautifully! Welcome back and congratulations! <3

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        Thanks, Charli. I learn so much from these challenges. Thanks for all your hard work. ??

      • Charli Mills

        We all learn together and grow individually in our own work! <3

  16. floatinggold

    This was such a great pep talk. Thanks, Charli.

    I’d just like to add that art (including writing) is subjective. While you can compare technicalities all you want, sometimes you will just think one story is better than the other while another person will disagree.

    Judging must have been TUFF. Thank you to all the Judges and YOU for organizing all that.

    I can’t wait for my 2 critiques.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Goldie! Yes, art is subjective and it’s both exciting and terrifying that art (including literary) exists between creator and beholder. Working with many judges shows how perspectives differ from person to person. And yet, I think it’s the ability to balance craft with connectivity that is the sweet spot for us as artists to aim for. Ah, but yes, it’s measure is subjective. Enjoy the process as much as winning results. And congratulations! You had a great showing with two winning finalist entries.

  17. reading journeys

    Hi Charli
    Still reading thru the blog — lots to think over.

    Thank you Charli for all your hard work: A wonderful Rodeo, and thanks to all the judges.

    Congratulations to all the participants and the winners. Still reading thru the Rodeo FF.

    And then what a great wonderful shock! My TUFF Beans story made it to the Finalists! Still in shock!!
    I had such a lot of fun writing the FF for the Rodeo contests!
    Thanks for this honor! I’m a reader thru and thru but FF has become part of my “literary world!”


    • Sherri Matthews

      Congratulations, Saifun!

    • Charli Mills

      Saifun, congratulations! I hope this validates for you that the Reader has become the Writer.

  18. Leanne

    Such a powerful and insightful post.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Leanne!

  19. Norah

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    The winners of the 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo contests are announced!
    In this post, Charli Mills discusses each contest, introduces the judges and the judging process, and includes a link to the page on which you can read all the finalist and winning stories. Is yours one of them? (One or two of mine get a mention — I’m over the moon!)

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      “Where’s Shorty? I already been thinkin’ on next year’s rodeo.”
      “Jeez, Kid. Yer ideas should be resisted.”
      “Thinkin’ we oughta have a chariot event. Aussie’ll love it.”
      “How d’ya know thet? Ya never Been Her.
      “Cain’t ya see it, Pal? Why, even if the wheels come off her chariot Aussie’ll be up there with a foot on each horse, holdin’ the reins on a pair a dreams, bringin’ ‘em in over the finish line.”
      “Reckon she would, Kid. She wrangles words an’ corrals curriculum. Knows cattle an’ kiddoes.”
      “Reckon she’s ever been bucked?”
      “Reckon this ain’t her first rodeo.”

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Hey! It didn’t keep my Ben Hur link and he link to the trick rider.

      • Norah

        That’s hilarious, D. The image is up there with the best of them. I’d like to see that. I wonder who would play Aussie in the movie. ????
        I don’t think Kid’s ideas should be either resisted or arrested. The humour is difficult to resist. About as difficult as the scene you you described with Aussie with a foot on each horse.
        Aussie’s always honoured to feature in one of your stories. (She told me. ????????)

      • Norah

        I got the links to both. Clever!!

      • Charli Mills

        This is Aussie in a nutshell: “She wrangles words an’ corrals curriculum. Knows cattle an’ kiddoes.” Love it!

        Who would play Aussie is the movie? Nicole Kidman.

    • Charli Mills

      A tangled web but I think this couple can navigate it!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for the reblogging!

    • Charli Mills

      That’s a winning link!

  20. Hugh's Views and News

    Thank you so much for hosting another Rodeo contest for us writers, Charli. Your work and that of the judges is really appreciated by those of us who you teach and inspire to write better.
    Congratulations to all the winners.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Hugh! I appreciate your words. My hope is always to encourage. Congratulations on your winning entry among the finalists!

  21. Sherri Matthews

    Charli, I am truly honoured, excited and amazed to have placed 2nd in TUFF Beans. Thank you and and your judges so much for this validation which means the world to me especially now as I submit my memoir to agents and battle through that very fear you write about. I’ve entered several contests over the years, had a few placings, but not for sometime. Gradually, my confidence fell away to nothing. And this is why your post is so important for anyone feeling beaten and downcast and no good at their writing…for anyone feeling so locked up that you think you daren’t enter another contest for fear of rejection and all that brings. But you have to put your writing out there to progress otherwise you and your writing will stagnate. It’s a huge risk. Rejection is a constant. But still you press on. Despite what I percieved, initially, as my abject failure at progressing in any competitions, a major turning point came for me in the summer of 2017 amidst serious personal trials. My recent contest entry had got me nowhere. Or had it? I paid a small fee for a critique. That critique was a turning point for my entire book. It confirmed everything I had come to suspect needed changing and it came down to a total rewrite and tough edit. Writing flash fiction here at the Ranch has trained me to reduce down to the bone, it’s very marrow, and helped me find the real story. This meant an entire shift. I know I sound like a broken record but for me, it’s been a lot about the war in my head and internal struggle. I started using the discipline of TUFF a long while ago, not necessarily word for word, but the idea of it. Even though I haven’t been able to flash at the Ranch for too many long gaps lately, I continue to ‘flash’, so to speak, in all my writing. But, as you point out, it’s also about developing voice while keeping the originality of that ‘Raw Lit’. Your encouragement and teaching has empowered me to keep going and not give up and to keep the faith. I didn’t think I could enter any of the Rodeo contests this year with so much else going on. I confess I also didn’t think I would place if I did. I confess, I also thought I wouldn’t place anywhere, but checked myself and thought that’s not a good way to start. Write and enter. Then it’s done and you can feel good that you’ve done that much. And if you get somewhere, well, fantastic. If you don’t, there’s always the next one and the one after that… That’s what I’ve been telling myself for so long that I’ve actually come to believe it! But perhaps I should have used TUFF for this too long comment…so sorry!I wish you the very best in your contests and upcoming finals, Charli. Thank you for another wonderful Rodeo and huge congratulations to all the winners…and I am looking forward to my critique! <3

    • Charli Mills

      Sherri, first — congratulations on your win! And, thank you for sharing what has been on your heart as a writer, and your process. I’ve been privileged to be your writing partner these years, getting to see first-hand all your brave rewrites and dedication to finishing your book. You amaze me with your bravery because I know how hard it is for you to take the risks. But you do. To see your name in the winner’s arena made me so happy! It’s no coincidence that you and Norah both use TUFF, and the lead judge does, too. What I hope others take away from your comment is that it can be a valuable tool for revision. I love what you say — “Writing flash fiction here at the Ranch has trained me to reduce down to the bone, it’s very marrow, and helped me find the real story.” Thank you for taking the time to share your process and progress as an author. As always, you are beautiful and brave! <3

      • Sherri Matthews

        Aww, Charli…how you warm my heart. Thank you so much. The privilege is all mine. Your faith in me and amazing encouragement has helped bring me to this point… I am truly honoured to have the freedom and validation to share my writerly thoughts here…from the heart…<3

  22. denmaniacs4

    Sometimes, I begin a flash with a sentence. A partial sentence. Frequently, it’s a comment by a new character…or perhaps a returning voice. Though I like winning as much as the next person, I typically spend more time by far not winning. I am quite okay with that. It makes those brief flourishes of approval all the sweeter. Mostly however, I like playing with words. In real life, in real conversation, this can engender more than a few groans. How many puns can you hear before the weight of wit falls on you like a pun of bricks? See what I mean. So, here is my contribution this week.


    ‘They’ve a glow about them, don’t you think?’



    ‘Ah yes, whiners. They do sparkle away. Hog the light. Prance about, yelling, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!’

    ‘Not whiners, you nit. Winners.’

    ‘Whiners! Winners! What’s the difference? They all think they’re special.’

    ‘Maybe. But there are differences. Whiners are sometimes grumpy, right?’


    ‘And winners, well, they’re gleeful. They’ve won.’

    ‘Won what?’

    ‘It doesn’t matter. Anything. A contest. An election.’

    Yet, when they don’t win, whadda they do? They whine.’

    ‘So, you’re saying?’

    ‘One day they win, one day they lose. Win! Whine! Peas in a pod.’

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Yep. No one likes a whiner or a punster. But congratulations on your wins.

      • denmaniacs4

        Thank you. A lifetime of punster diving needs to come to an end…

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        It’s killing me that I have nothing right now. Punny how that goes.

      • denmaniacs4

        Give it time. Don’t punish yourself too much.

    • denmaniacs4

      Thyme waits for no man…especially when he has puntifocated enough for one day. I concede.

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! Well, Bill, I hope the weight of punny bricks felt good as you earned two first-place wins this Rodeo! Congratulations! May winning not lead to whining, though. 😉

      • denmaniacs4

        I am so honored (honoured) to win two. Great prompts are a Carrot Ranch hallmark. And fear not, no whining…just, dare I say it, a respectably moderate amount of wining…and a smidgen of dining.

      • Charli Mills

        Cheers to moderate wining for winning!

  23. Michael B. Fishman

    Thank you, Charli, for running the 2019 Rodeo, and thank you to all of the judges. I really enjoyed taking part and the challenges were a great motivator. And congratulations to all the finalists! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      So good to see you at the Rodeo, Michael. Congratulations!

  24. pedometergeek

    What It Takes

    From the time her classmates started playing football in the seventh grade, they never lost a game. Their winning streak continued through their senior year including winning the state championship.

    Many went to college and tasted defeat for the first time. Some didn’t make the teams and for those that did, their team lost games.

    The biggest defeat they often faced was the reality of college classes, which required hours of hard work.

    Ironically, those boys who diligently studied throughout high school often persevered more easily than those who hadn’t. For the others, it required a change of attitude.

    Nancy Brady, 2019

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Yep. Some don’t really train for the bigger pond.

      • pedometergeek

        I experienced a bit of this at first. I finally figured out how to study for college classes, but it was a learning curve. ~nan

    • Charli Mills

      Good insight, Nan. A long winning streak can deter perseverance which is required for winning long-term goals.

      • pedometergeek

        Thanks, Charli. I saw it happen to more than a few people, but in the end, they persevered (maybe not as their parents might have wished, but they are happy with their life choices). ~nan

      • Charli Mills

        One way or another we find our way, eh.

  25. Michael B. Fishman

    So you always tell us to go where the prompt leads us and this one led me outside of the realm of storytelling and way, way past 99 words and up the steps of a somewhat well-worn soapbox of mine. I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to share it and finally decided to go ahead.

    • Charli Mills

      Micheal, go where the prompt leads, always. That’s gut training. Instinct. Thank you for sharing because this is safe space and even when something different than the challenge bubbles up, you can still share it here. I used some of your words to introduce the collection.

  26. H.R.R. Gorman

    I love the Carrot Ranch contests, but I feel for the judges because Flash seems so hard to judge! I’m very happy that I was a finalist and might get a critique, because I’m absolutely floored to find out more details about how other people view flash. Though I practice on my own, it’s always great to be involved in a community that furthers skills and values growth. Thank you, Charli, for all you do!

    Also, great flashes this week! Not sure I’ll get around to it in time, but we’ll see!

    • Charli Mills

      Congratulations on your winning finalist entry, H.R.R. It’s not easy to judge flash fiction, but it is good to practice critique — the attempt to look at what is working or what could be improved. It’s not science but it is thoughtful. And it does help us grow. You will be getting a critique! Thank you!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Padmini!

  27. Ann Edall-Robson

    I’ve had some ideas to bring Hanna’s Story back to life, and this prompt was the final push.

    By Ann Edall-Robson

    It was dark when Tal stopped the truck and horse trailer next to the barn. He had been in the saddle at sunup looking for cows, watching for game, and doing the job he loved—being a cowboy.
    Mac’s voice rumbled through the darkness near the barn door. “How’d it go?”
    Tal smiled into the night, before turning to answer his boss.
    “Found twelve head, caught a fish for my lunch, and I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight. I’d say the day was a winner.”
    His stomach grumbled. Dinner would have to wait. Always the animals came first.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Glad to see these characters back around these parts.

    • Charli Mills

      Yes! I have wondered about Hannah and her crew, Ann. That does sound like a winning day for a young cowboy, even if his dinner is delayed.

  28. susansleggs

    Charli, What a great rodeo. More steps of growth for me and the others at the ranch. Congratulations to all the winners and thank you to the judges. Your essay was packed with things to make me think, as always. Thank you for sharing. Your Thanksgiving looked terrific. Michael Fishman’s blog post said what I’m thinking more eloquently but I’ll share where my mind is…

    A competition brings forth a winner
    The winner fights still for approval
    Her life becomes everyone else’s business
    It’s impossible to do what is right
    Or agreeable to all
    Perhaps this is really about fame

    A different type of competition brings winners
    The names are familiar
    To the other contestants
    Whether it be beauty, sports, or writing
    Because they are a cut above

    A competitor takes the high road
    Entering is a win
    Runner-up position brings elation
    Competing with self to improve
    Is the grand prize

    The high road is lonely
    Internal improvement doesn’t fulfill
    Like holding a trophy

    • Charli Mills

      Congratulations on your winning finalist entry, Susan! Michael Fishman’s post and Anne Goodwin’s post both added to the discussion around winning. I like this idea: “Competing with self to improve
      Is the grand prize.”

  29. calmkate

    lol just read your finalists and winners stories Charli … what a hoot [and no bean gas] 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! There’s a gaseous cloud hanging over the Ranch! Time to lighten up on the beans. 😉

      • calmkate

        lol can smell it over here 😎

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, no! I hope we don’t contribute to air pollution! 😀

      • calmkate

        lol lots of hot air everywhere over here Charli 😉

      • Charli Mills


    • Charli Mills

      Not too late, Robert! Sorry about the defeat. May we all be winners at some point, and our football teams, too.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Joanne, and congratulations on your winning finalist entry!

  30. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Annette!

  31. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Donna! (Thanks for making me cry, ha, ha!)

  32. pedometergeek

    Well done, Sally. Nice take on the prompt.

  33. Charli Mills

    How touching! Thank you, sally!

  34. Charli Mills

    Thanks for the inclusion, Sally!

  35. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Anita!


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