Everything about the TUFF Rodeo contest was difficult.
TUFF is an acronym for The Ultimate Flash Fiction. The contest challenges writers to revise their original 99-word draft through a series of word reductions. It gives writers the chance to think differently about their original draft.
To make the contest harder, each week of the four-part contest gave writers a new craft twist. When TUFF writers had to reduce their draft to 59 words, they also had to craft two different 59-word points of view. Next, writers had to craft three different 9-word taglines for their story. Finally, writers had to revise their original 99-words and add an eerily out of place prop.
Judges considered each entry’s process as much as the final result. They expected an original final 99-word story that incorporated the western and romance themes with an out of the place prop. They wanted to see raw ideas and writing in the original draft, not the final one.
Judging was hard. Two entries considered for first prize fell short. One had a confusing typo and another omitted the prop. We discussed originality, surprise, and cultural sensitivity versus realism. The judges had a hard time deciding and even talked about the subjectivity of judging.
It’s at this point I want to introduce you to the TUFFest judges around. Laura Smyth and Cynthia Drake. Both use the TUFF format in their professions (TUFF is a tool). Laura is a college professor and published poet who also designs books for publishers, including a 2021 memoir by Mary Gauthier. She has used TUFF in her classroom. Cynthia is a life coach, Quaker youth leader, and a grief counselor. She has used TUFF with her clients and at workshops for visioning.
Both women understand what the process is meant to achieve. TUFF transforms.
Many entries were seriously considered but it was difficult to find consensus. This is a hard contest to enter and to judge. In the end, Entry 6 proved to be surprising and transformative. Not only did it tick the boxes, provide an error-free final story, and create unexpected humor by dropping an out-of-place character as the prop into the last line, but the story also demonstrated that a western romance could be speculative fiction.
Congratulations to this year’s hard won TUFF winner: Liz Husebye Hartmann.
Original 99-word Draft: UNTITLED
Anton shrugged out of his jacket, kicking off his boots, and with them, the urban muck of cow shit and cheap whiskey. Padding into the foothills in bare feet, he wrinkled his nose, drawing his lips back from canines that glinted moonlight.
His departure had been delayed. Had she already left?
Trees morphed to low brush as he climbed higher, tearing buttons from his shirt, slipping off his jeans, to reveal his sinewy, tawny body. He panted, called to her, low in his throat.
Pausing, his hope faltered.
Startled, joyful, he rolled, as her canines grabbed his careless neck.
TUFF PART Two: 59-word Story with Original POV
Anton abandoned the mining town, shucking jacket, boots, shirt, finally slithering out of his jeans. He wrinkled his nose, padding across stone, toward the foothills; the town’s stink still clung to his tawny, sinewy body.
He hoped the smell wouldn’t drive her away. Had she already left? He growled, heart breaking.
She landed on him, canines at his neck.
TUFF PART Two: 59-word Story with Different POV
Audra watched his dark shape slink to the foothills, shrubbery shaking with his ascent. He’d much to learn in his new skinwalker form, but what a fine form it was. She could wait.
He called, deep and low, anxiety unmasked, still stinking of the mines.
Audra bunched her shoulders, canines bared. She was ready to pounce, ready to fuck.
TUFF PART Three: Three 9-word Taglines for Your Story
- Skinwalker flees western filth, finds love in the foothills.
- New to skinwalker world, he seeks his kindred soul.
- The body is willing, Can he survive the love?
TUFF PART Four: Final Revised 99-word Story with Prop
Anton abandoned the mining town, shucking Stetson, boots, and shirt, finally slithering out of his jeans. He wrinkled his nose, padding across stone, toward the foothills; the town’s stink of cheap whisky clung to his sinewy body.
Audra watched his dark shape slink to the foothills, shrubbery shaking with his ascent. He’d much to learn as a new skinwalker, but he intrigued her. She could wait.
He called, deep and low, anxiety unmasked. Had she already left?
Audra bunched her shoulders, canines bared. She prepared to pounce.
The time-traveling photojournalist followed at a distance, then lowered his camera, blushing.
Thank you to the 18 writers who braved the TUFF Rodeo Contest. Due to the length and complexity of the entries, we won’t be publishing all the stories on the 2020 Rodeo page. But we do want to give a special call-out to the writers who wrote the TUFFEST:
- Down that Lonely Trail by Bill Engleson
- Untitled by Frank Hubney
- Winning Ways in the West by JulesPaige
- Untitled by Ellen Best
- Untitled by FloridaBorne
- Untitled by Liz Husebye Hartmann
- Untitled by Jeff Gard
- Too Busy to Date by Marsha Ingrao
- Untitled by Doug Jacquier
- Destiny’s Gifts by Saifun Hassam
- The Cat and the Fiddle by D. Avery
- Marriage Material by Sue Spitulnik
- The Problem with Rookies by Eleanor Colquitt
- Untitled by Hugh Roberts
- Untitled by MJ Mallon
- Untitled by Norah Colvin
- Untitled by Sascha Darlington
- How to Calm a Wandering Mind by Anne Goodwin
I’d also like to thank all of this year’s Rodeo Leaders — Kerry E.B. Black, Colleen Chesebro, Marsha Ingrao, and Sam “Goldie” Kirk. All of our judges did their best to be thoughtful and fair. Those who stepped up to judge can attest to how difficult of a task it is. And thank you to everyone in the writing community who persevere through tough times in 2020.
We’ll see you back next year for the Rodeo and hope to see you at the weekly challenges. Thank you!