TUFF Winner Announced

Written by Charli Mills

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

December 1, 2020

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    

  1. Skinwalker flees western filth, finds love in the foothills.
  2. New to skinwalker world, he seeks his kindred soul.
  3. 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:

  1. Down that Lonely Trail by Bill Engleson
  2. Untitled by Frank Hubney
  3. Winning Ways in the West by JulesPaige
  4. Untitled by Ellen Best
  5. Untitled by FloridaBorne
  6. Untitled by Liz Husebye Hartmann
  7. Untitled by Jeff Gard
  8. Too Busy to Date by Marsha Ingrao
  9. Untitled by Doug Jacquier
  10. Destiny’s Gifts by Saifun Hassam
  11. The Cat and the Fiddle by D. Avery
  12. Marriage Material by Sue Spitulnik
  13. The Problem with Rookies by Eleanor Colquitt
  14. Untitled by Hugh Roberts
  15. Untitled by MJ Mallon
  16. Untitled by Norah Colvin
  17. Untitled by Sascha Darlington
  18. 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!

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  1. ellenbest24

    Well done the participants, for sticking to the trail, it was TUFF. I offer the sincerest congratulations to Liz Huseby Hartmann.

    • Charli Mills

      It was TUFF but worth the ride.

      • ellenbest24

        It was. X

  2. Hugh W. Roberts

    Congratulations to everyone that had a go at this year’s TUFF, but especially to the winner, Liz.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Hugh!

  3. Doug Jacquier

    Go, Liz, all the entrants, Charli and the judges.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Doug!

  4. Jules

    Way to go Liz, all the entrants.
    Thanks to all the Judges and our Head Honcho Charli for another great ride.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jules!

  5. denmaniacs4

    Magnificent selection, so well done judges and Liz Huseby Hartmann…

    • denmaniacs4

      And of course, Charli…where are my manners…

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Bill! Ti’s a broad effort we all share.

  6. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Thank you all Rodeo Leaders and Judges. That is a huge undertaking and you did it so well. I hope this year’s set up took some of the load off our MFA student.
    Congratulations to all Rodeo participants. It’s no small thing to be in the ring. My hat is off to Liz who deftly combined genres and was not deterred by the final challenge but used it to advantage to bring a twist of humor to her story. Well done, Liz, you went to the buzzer.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, D.!

  7. Liz H

    I’m tickled…wow! Thanks to all participants and judges, and those who kept on writing and commenting throughout. It takes a village to host a rodeo, for sure.
    I’m looking forward to seeing the other entries on their own webpage, with maybe a link here in the comments?
    Yee-haw, see us all back in the saddle and riding/writing the dusty trail!

    • Charli Mills

      Congratulations for being the village winner!

      • Liz H

        ???? A step up from my usual role as the village idiot!????????

  8. suespitulnik

    Thank you to the Carrot Ranch family: Charli, the contest leaders, judges, and contestants. Congratulations to all the winners, especially Liz.
    I know I did better this year so sticking with the process is rewarding.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sue!

  9. E.A. Colquitt

    Congratulations, Liz, and thank you to Charli and all the hosts and judges! I really enjoyed the TUFF process – any opportunity to practise editing is great as I work on my novel 🙂

    What can we do with our entries now? Are we allowed to blog them?

    • Charli Mills

      Yes! You may post your entry now on your blog now. Thank you for waiting and please feel free to linkback to this post.

      • E.A. Colquitt

        Will do – thanks 🙂 TUFF was great fun!

  10. Norah

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:

    The results of the four-week Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction TUFF writing contest are in. Pop over to the Carrot Ranch to read the winning entry by Liz Husebye Hartmann – an excellent choice.
    Thanks, Charli and all the leaders, judges and contestants for another great rodeo.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing, Norah!

      • Norah

        My pleasure, Charli. 🙂

  11. Marsha

    Reblogged this on Marsha Ingrao – Always Write and commented:
    Here it is the results from the final Carrot Ranch Rodeo Contest, the TUFF one!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing, Marsha!

  12. Marsha

    Congratulations to you Liz. Great story, and fun to read the progress. Congratulations and thanks to all the winners and leaders. Charli, thanks for including me this year as a hostess. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. See all y’all back at the ranch.

    • Charli Mills

      So glad to have you on the Rodeo team, Marsha! Thank you for all your help this year!

      • Marsha

        It was lots of fun, and a great honor. 🙂

  13. reading journeys

    Congratulations to Liz Husebye Hartmann – great story, loved the speculative fiction.
    Well done – all the participants.
    Enjoyed the challenge of writing the TUFF story – made “TUFFer” as Charli added more twists at each stage!!
    Thank you, Charli, for a great Rodeo and
    Thanks to all the Rodeo leaders & judges.


    • Charli Mills

      It was fun adding TUFF twists! Thanks, Saifun!

  14. H.R.R. Gorman

    Wow – I couldn’t tough it out, so congrats to ALL the submitters! Even though it looked like such a short word count, it was a rodeo for sure. 🙂

    And especially great work, Liz!

  15. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    Yeah the TUFF was tough, but fun to do. Congratulations to Liz. That last line is definitely a winner.


  1. The Problem with Rookies – E.A. Colquitt - […] Look out for a new blog post series here next month, when I’ll be discussing each TUFF stage in…

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