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Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest #8

TUFF: The Ultimate Flash Fiction

by Charli Mills

What if I told you that writing flash fiction will get you to where you want to be? Would you scoff, or consider the possibility? Would you think I’m handing you a magic elixir? Ah, an elixir. Let’s pause a moment and talk about the hero’s journey.

If you answered the call to participate in the Flash Fiction Rodeo this past month, you answered the same call every hero hears: the one the hero reluctantly answers. We think of heroes as Thor or Wonder Woman. Yet, the hero’s journey calls to us all. Winnie the Pooh and Frodo and Mary Tyler Moore are all heroes. It’s about the path:

  1. The call: the opening scene in which the hero is called out of the ordinary world.
  2. The test: the story develops conflict through tests, challenges, temptations, allies and enemies.
  3. The cave: the story leads to a crisis, the hero’s darkest hour in the abyss of ordeal.
  4. The transformation: survival transforms the hero who begins the journey home.
  5. The return: the hero returns to the ordinary world with the elixir of knowing one’s own transformation.

For many writers, the Flash Fiction Rodeo was a call to go outside one’s comfort zone. Even those writers who wanted the challenge pushed themselves to write more than one response or enter multiple contests. You were all stirred by the call. You are Heroes of the Rodeo. You faced tests, found glitches and helpers, made new writing friends, discovered stories within you.

Your crisis is personal, but I know you had one — doubt, fear, panic. Our inner critics chide, Who are you to enter a writing contest?  The Black Dog rips our confidence. Even when we boldly go forth, we fumble a word, forget a rule, or worry that a form went to the bottom of the bull pen. Maybe your crisis rose from a topic that stirred a painful memory. Maybe your crisis eroded your time and forced priorities. Whatever it was, it is yours, and you overcame it.

You survived the Rodeo.

Contest #8 delivers your elixir. Yes, it’s called TUFF, a play on the acronym and the idea that it’s a tough challenge. It’s five steps, five flash fictions! Yet, it is a tool, a gift to you that you will understand because it will resonate with what writing flash fiction has already taught you.

So far in this Flash Fiction Rodeo writers have reflected back to childhood, poked at the hardness of scars, laughed when humor elicited fear, cast a magical spell with a new literary form, signed up for a twittering social platform to write publicly, braved the unknown with a bull draw, and contemplated murder despite being good people. This Rodeo was a rough ride, but you stayed in the saddle. You wrote.

Trust the surprises you made along the way. If you found yourself writing about a topic, or in a format or on a platform previously alien to you, you likely found a nugget of satisfaction. I’ll tell you something about flash fiction — it’s the constraint that shifts the gears in your mind to problem-solving speed. The 99-word format we challenge weekly at Carrot Ranch becomes satisfying because our brains recognize that we are going to solve a problem (write a story) and 99-words is the tool.

Now it’s time to challenge you to go where you want to go…as a writer, as an entrepreneur, as a creative person. TUFF is your elixir. TUFF teaches you that each flash fiction you write takes you closer to transformation. Call it creativity, an insight, an a-ha moment or a breakthrough. TUFF will return you to your ordinary world as a writer, author, educator, business professional, parent, creative with the elixir meant for you. Like your writing crisis, your writing breakthrough is personal. But it will happen.

Use this format any time you are struggling to write a scene, chapter or novel. Use it to write the various blurbs for your book synopsis. Use it to write out your goals, mission statement or vision for your blog, business or career. It’s a tool and it’s now yours. However, until November 6, it’s also the final Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest.

Submission Guidelines

Using the form below, write about a hero’s transformation after facing a crisis. Each step is its own flash fiction, but it is the evolution of a single story.

The Rules

  1. Use the form for all five steps to write about a hero’s transformation after facing a crisis.
  2. A hero is anyone or anything going from normal to a crisis to a transformation.
  3. Each step is a revision of the same tale, beginning with a free write and ending with a complete three-act story.
  4. In step one (free-write) time your writing to 5 minutes even if it’s incomplete.
  5. Enter the free-write unedited.
  6. You may edit steps 2-4.
  7. You must edit step 5.
  8. The final story has three acts: beginning, middle and end.
  9. Entries must be original (no cheating on the free-write; you’ll only cheat yourself out of the elixir).
  10. Entries due by 11:59 pm EST November 6. Enter each step in the form all at one time.

You have one week. Pace yourself.

CONTEST NOW CLOSED. WINNER ANNOUNCED DECEMBER 26.

CHALLENGE OPTION: Due to length, challengers are asked to use the form. Be sure to write (CHALLENGE) after your title. Weekly Flash Fiction Challenges resume November 2.

Judging

Charli will be joined by two Michigan authors over coffee, during a continuous Keweenaw snowstorm. Judges will consider the following criteria:

  1. The original idea expressed in the free-write.
  2. The process by which the writer uses steps 2-4 to work that original idea.
  3. The completion of the final story based on the original idea and the flash fiction process to get there.
  4. The unedited free-write reads like a draft.
  5. The final story shows insight, polish and has a beginning, middle and end.
  6. The interpretation of a hero (epic or common), crisis and transformation.
  7. The final deadline met: 11:59 pm EST November 6

Winner Announced December 26. All who stayed in the saddle and wrote for the first annual Flash Fiction Rodeo are heroes! Your journey is nearly complete. Thank you for your courage to express and share literary art with and among others.

Complete schedule of winner announcements:

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November 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

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!”

2019 Rodeo

The results of the 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo are in and we thank our judges:

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.

Rodeo #1: A Modern Tall Tale

FINALISTS:
Untitled by Denise DeVries

Where I live, gossip spreads faster than sound. For example, I eat the same breakfast at the same café every morning. Yesterday, I told Edith, “I won’t see you tomorrow. I have a doctor’s appointment across the county line. I’ll eat afterwards on Main Street.”

This morning, I took a blood test, left the doctor’s, and walked to the restaurant. A waitress I’d never seen before said, “Hey, Walter, I know you usually have bacon and eggs, but since your cholesterol’s high, it’ll have to be an egg white omelet. And with that blood pressure, you’d better drink decaf.”

Why I Had to Cancel Our Date by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Yes, I’d promised to be there by 7:00, but my shower took longer than anticipated because the hot water heater was on the blink and I had to crawl underneath to light the pilot and then dropped the one match I’d brought and the explosion knocked me clear into the neighbor’s kitchen and I couldn’t just ignore her offer of cocktails and she’s divorcing her third husband if she can raise the cash and I knew exactly where this was going so I excused myself to quickly shower but the dog had eaten the soap.

I should’ve called. Sorry.

🥕🥕🥕

The Scotsman by C. E. Ayr

Angus Hamish MacBeth MacPherson takes the US wrestling scene by storm.

When asked how such a big man can be so fast, he laughs.

‘Haggis,’ he says, ‘I’m the World Champion Haggis Hunter.’

‘These wee beasties have teeth like daggers,’ he explains, ‘when you’re in the kilt you don’t
want them too near your knees.’

‘But you’re also immensely strong and astonishingly flexible.’

‘That comes from my practice partner back in Glen Teuchter,’ he nods, ‘she’s a bit useful.’

‘You’ve learned all this from a woman,’ they gasp.

‘Aye,’ he grins, ‘but she’s not your average lassie, our Nessie!’

🥕🥕🥕

Millennial Milly by Kerry E.B. Black

Millennial Milly fought crime, but not just any crime. Eco-crime.

Costumed sustainably, she diverted environmental catastrophes with a blink of tear-filled eyes.

She cooled the polar-caps with icy stares and adjusted the ocean temperature as though preparing a bath.

At science seminars, with impassioned words that flowed freer than an unpolluted Mississippi, she educated billions about environmental dangers. Her Tom’s pounded after politicians and bested their skewed logic faster than a You-Tube Gamer earning his Diamond Button.

At last, she harnessed the social media until her army of gazillions flooded the internet with well-founded concerns until the threat ended.

🥕🥕🥕

U-Turn by Nobbinmaug

“I hate doing u-turns on these dark, narrow backroads.”

“What’s the big deal?

“There’s not much room for error.”

“Just turn around. I have to get home.”

“All right, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Don’t be such a drama queen.”

“Drama queen? One time, I was out here driving with Stu. I tried to turn around. A jacked-up pickup truck came around a turn going way too fast and smashed into my car. Stu and I were both in the hospital for months. We’re lucky to be alive.”

“Oh my god! When did that happen?”

“Last Thursday.”

🥕🥕🥕

Untitled by Colleen M. Chesebro

“Do I plant the seeds like this, mamé?”

The old woman nodded and pushed her hat higher on her forehead. “Did I ever tell you about the time I grew zucchini bigger than you?”

The child giggled and shook her head.
“Your mama was so tired after you were born. I’d watch you so she could rest. One day, when she returned, I handed her one of my squash wrapped in a blanket and wearing a diaper. She made it home before she realized I’d tricked her.”

The child’s eyes lit up. “So that’s why she calls me Courgette.”

🥕🥕🥕

Untitled by Goldie

“This world is coming to an end” – said David to his friend.

“Stop whining. Every generation has its time” – replied Quan.

“We need the Internet to file an Internet outage complaint. Soon we will need money to buy money. Like in Zimbabwe…”

“At least we have water” – David added.

“When pigs fly…”

At that very moment, Quan’s son came into the room with his newly purchased guineapig.

“Look what I’ve got, Daddy” – he said right before he tripped over his own feet.

The pig went flying out of his hands.

The two men looked at one another in terror.

🥕🥕🥕

***THIRD PLACE***

High Seas Adventure by Jo Hawk

“The ship’s bow rose as we climbed the Mount Everest size wave. We dangled atop the precipice while all around, rolling water raged.

Gray storm clouds billowed overhead, dousing the deck with bucket loads of rainwater as our vessel groaned. Sensing her fate, she threatened to crack, and we didn’t dare to breathe.

Over the edge, I glimpsed a multitude of creatures staring at me, before we tipped, sliding into the abyss. A deluge rushed into the void and colliding with the rushing flood, pelting spray engulfed us.”

“Daddy, it was only a puddle.”

“A puddle to you, maybe.”

🥕🥕🥕

***SECOND PLACE***

Grandma’s Tall Tales by Norah Colvin

“When I was your age, we didn’t have iPads or smartphones. We didn’t have computers or even television.”

“What did you do, Grandma?”

“Plenty—played outside, played board games, read books—and talked to each other.”

“Oh, Grandma.”

“And, we had an outside toilet. We used newspaper to, you know—”

“What’s newspaper, Grandma?”

“Tell ‘em about your pet dinosaur,” winked Dad.

“What sort was it, Grandma? Did you ride it to school?”

Grandma laughed, “I didn’t really have a pet dinosaur—”

“We know, Grandma.”

Grandma leant closer. “But I did have a pet dragon— a fire-breathing dragon.”

The children’s eyes widened.

🥕🥕🥕

***FIRST PLACE***

Whalestrom by Bill Engleson

2:00 a.m.

Late October.

Brain’s bubbling like Krakatoa.

Sleep’s nowhere.

Tried warm milk.

Tried TV.

Nada.

Drove to the sea.

Stripped down to my fleshy finery.

Dove in.

Treading water, hundred yards out, I’m thinking, ‘this is a fine kettle of fish.’

Suddenly I get that not alone feeling.

“Hey, human. Howdy doody.”

My head does a 360.

Whales.

Three huge mothers.

Talking.

TO ME.

I suck up my trepidation, splutter, “Hi yourself, guys. What’s cooking?”

“Well, we’re whale watching.”

“You’re watching yourselves?” I babble.

“Nope. We’re whales watching humans.”

“How come?”

“Tit for tat, human. Tit for tat.”

🥕🥕🥕

Pro-Bull Mashup

FINALISTS:

The ABCs of the Seas by Joshua G. J. Insole

A wave rolled the ship, and the crew rolled with it on well-practiced sea legs. A perfume of rum lingered above the crowd.

The captain (a bodacious eccentric, if there ever was one) looked at the contestants stood behind their podiums. Each held a wriggling seagull. The rest of the crew hushed; the tension palpable.

“Final question! What’s a pirate’s favourite letter?”

Squawk! “R!” shouted Nose Bender triumphantly. He was named for being both a skilled pugilist and accident prone.

“Wrong.”

The audience gasped.

The Heartbreak Kid smirked and squeezed his avian buzzer. Squawk! “Nay… it be the C!”

🥕🥕🥕

Untitled by Chris Hewitt

“Right ye bilge rats, I’ve ‘eard enough, time fer a game o’ truth or consequences.”

The three scurvy pirates stood on the plank staring into the abyss.

“Ye first, Heartbreak Kid. Where’s the map?”

“I don’t…”

The pistol rang out. The captain shook his head.

“Nose Bender, yarr wouldn’t lie to yer cap’n would yarr?”

Bender trembled. “No cap’n”

“Jolly good matey, so?”

Bender hesitated, the captain sighed and unloaded another pistol.

“Bodacious Bob, it’s down to ye lad, what’ll it be?”

Bob smiled sheepishly, before unrolling the map from his shirt.

“Yarr, I always liked ye Bob.”

Click!

🥕🥕🥕

Who Will Walk the Plank? Liz Husebye Hartmann

Captain Hand sneered, boot heels pounding across the bridge of Starship Ridgemont. “You abandoned your post, Ensign Spicoli. My orders will be followed without question!”

Spicoli blinked.

“The refugees from planet Nose Bender had the munchies,” Spicoli nodded toward an empty pizza box. “It was the righteous thing…Sir.”

“By plundering 54 boxes of Bodacious Brothers pizza from the officer’s mess?” Hand’s antennae twitched with rage. “Recite penal code 289753-c…or walk the plank!”

“I’m calling in my Lifeline.”

“Fine,” snapped Hand, “Heartbreak Kid…”

“The code’s irrelevant, Captain,” Admiral Hamilton’s sweet contralto drawled from the Comscreen. “Kindness is the eternal law.”

🥕🥕🥕

Pirates! by Joanne Fisher

“Well, we’ve safely sailed the Bodacious through the Nose Bender, a labyrinth of reefs. Any sign of pursuit?” the Captain asked. The First Mate looked through a spyglass in the darkness behind them.

“It’s no good Captain! Heartbreak Kid is still following us.”

“Shiver me timbers! We may just have to fight.” The Captain replied. “We’ll have to arrange a boarding party.”

“Pieces of eight!” said the parrot on his shoulder.

They suddenly froze.

“And my question to you is: in that film clip, what colour hat was the First Mate wearing?” The game show host asked the contestants.

🥕🥕🥕

A Dream Killer Hack by Susan Sleggs

Moments before the bodacious architect was to present his competition bonus round subdivision design to investors, he sat at his computer searching for the file, Safe Harbor. It wasn’t there, but Not-So-Safe Harbor was. He clicked on it, then nearly lost his mind. His yachting themed street names had been switched to Walk the Plank Drive, Golden Snitch Avenue, Confetti Drop Circle, and Nose Bender Boulevard. He screeched, “I’ve been hacked by a pirate.” There was no time to fix the changes and his presentation was an epic fail.
Afterwards, his mentor said, “You didn’t deserve that heartbreak, kid.”

🥕🥕🥕

Make it to the Bell by Prior at Priorhouse

Anton’s idea of bull riding to win a lady’s affection was bodacious, at first. After falling off, she called him a lan’lubb’r and left. He was a buccaneer – not a buckaroo – but he didn’t become the heartbreak kid. Stayed in the game. During the speed round, he was assigned the nose-bender bull, the meanest brute. Anton’s heart raced as he secured the rope and spurred. He only received a Rice-a-Roni consolation prize, but left with a new motto: life is like a rodeo, the trick is to continue – keep trying – and make it to the bell.

🥕🥕🥕

Pirate’s Revenge by Jo Hawk

The sloop bucked and rolled, as her new commander navigated the cumulonimbus clouds thundering along the squall line. They sailed in pursuit of the notorious Nose Bender, the pirate who had slain their beloved captain and stole their hard-won booty.

The Heartbreak Kid, trained for pirate antics, seized the helm and dared to spin the wheel of fortune. He took command, shouted orders, and tamed the Bodacious Mermaid. His actions earned the crew’s respect. They knew they played a deadly game. Facing sudden death, vowing revenge, they swore to fight in the bonus round, until the losing horns sounded.

🥕🥕🥕

THIRD PLACE:

Swashbucklers by Michael B. Fishman

I held the thin branch in front of his face. “Time to walk the plank, Nose Bender.”

“The Bodacious is my ship, Kid. I’ll decide who walks the plank.” I admired his swagger, even if he did have a stupid nickname.

I leaped onto the seesaw and waved my ‘sword’. “No one tells Heartbreak Kid what to do.” I said.

He laughed. “C’mon down, Kid. You’re the next contestant on Walk that Plank!”

Backing away I said, “Come get me, Bender!”

“Hey, I’m hungry.”

“Yeah, me too. Hey mom,” I yelled. “Can me and Phil come in and eat?”

🥕🥕🥕

SECOND PLACE:

Space Pirates From Space by Nobbinmaug

The universe’s most popular game show, Guess Who Farted, was holding its championships on Epatrus.

Captain Mauve Oyster entered two of his space pirates, Bodacious and Heartbreak Kid. Flower Blossom McLotus, their resident computer hacker, inserted the pair into the Nose Bender Finals against the reigning champion, Lawd Fawtsalot.

The pirates did their best to sabotage Mr. Fawtsalot but were no match for his snout. Meanwhile, Flower Blossom McLotus siphoned the digital starbucks from the show to a dummy account on LLacor.

“Cyber pirating is the only way to pirate,” Flower Blossom McLotus said to his robot companion, RDRR.

🥕🥕🥕

FIRST PLACE:

Woke the Plank by Bill Engleson

Ahoy, Mateys! I’m your host, Bodacious Bob Beak. Welcome aboard the gamey ship, Woke the Plank, where your swampy sense of smelly turkeys, tyrants and presidential pirates will go on a nose bender meltdown and your eyes will binge-twinge at the corruption.

So, Norm, who are our Whistleblowers tonight?

Well, Bob, buck boarding in from Wyoming is the Heartbreak Kid, a lad of eighty who’s going to blow the lid off the faux cattle racket.

And representing millennials, Ms. Calamity Tyke, toodling in on her electric bike and taking aim at aging Game Show hosts who refuse to retire.

🥕🥕🥕

Three-Act Story

FINALISTS:

Untitled by Chris Hewitt

The doctors had called him a miracle. He’d confounded their every expectation, firstly by surviving the night and ultimately by awaking from the coma. Bedridden, he’d buried himself in his books, discovering a lifelong passion for mathematics.

He had a gift. The youngest recipient of the prestigious Fields Medal before his tenure of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics. He never did walk again, but he’d leave giant footprints.

His final discovery and his greatest leap would lead him back to a familiar stairwell and a terrible choice. His first and final sacrifice, the discovery that there were no accidents.

🥕🥕🥕

The Story In The Mirror by Nobbinmaug

Annie awoke hours later, bruised, beaten, bleeding, raped.

She stumbled to her car and drove home in a daze. Hospital? No. Sleep. She just wanted to sleep.

In the morning, Annie could hardly get out of… Couch? She passed out on the couch? What happened? The mirror told her a story that seemed unreal, a story that only happened to other people.

Hospital? Yes. Shower? No. Rape kit. Is it too late? Maybe. Maybe not.

Annie sat in a room, shaking. It seemed like forever. The doctor finally arrived, and Annie stared up into the face of her rapist.

🥕🥕🥕

Untitled by Nidheesh Samant

All he had ever known since he first held a sword was the sand and the blood shed on it.

The crowd roared his name as he entered the arena. After years of fighting, the day had finally come when freedom was within his grasp. His fiftieth victory as champion would earn him liberty from slavery, the highest honor a gladiator could hope for. The fight was bitter as attested to by the wounds on his body. However, he seized victory and clinched independence.

He would continue fighting on these sands. Not as slave, but as a free man.

🥕🥕🥕

Defying Omens by Jo Hawk

Captain Graclynn Silver took the helm, barking orders for the crew to set sail. Doubt’s icy tendrils wheedled into her brain, clutching at her heart as the foghorn blew. Filmy sheets glazed the water’s surface, fusing with the sky to create a veil of uncertainty that did not bode well for their journey.

“Omens be dammed,” she shouted as she sought her bearings, and the ship crunched forward in search of open seas.

She tacked to starboard, advancing slowly, allowing history to drown in their dissipating wake. The fog lifted. Freed from fear, the sun promised smooth sailing ahead.

🥕🥕🥕

The Last Scene by Michael B. Fishman

They met in 1971 and were married six months later. He was 21, she was 20.

“My love,” he said at the wedding. “You turn storms into rainbows, you make gray skies blue.” Angie smiled when she said, “I do” and everyone whispered that they were a once upon a time couple. Five years and three children later had proven everyone correct.

Another five years and Gary sits next to his lawyer at an 18-foot cherry wood table. Looking at Angie he wonders when her smiles turned into tears and how ‘happily ever after’ became who gets the house.

🥕🥕🥕

Ellie’s End by Chelsea Owens

Ellie prided herself on her independence. Nothing, no one could affect her -certainly not internet whispers or radio station warnings.

She left for work with her earbuds in. She returned to her lonely apartment in the same way. She never listened to the wind, the silenced birds, nor the ever-increasing beeping of impending doom.

In fact, one might say that Ellie was the least prepared for the aliens when they came. No matter -hers was a quick and painless death, immediately decomposing in the stomach of Earth’s attackers. It was those silly survivalists who dragged out humanity’s inevitable demise.

🥕🥕🥕

Abandoned by Hugh W. Roberts

Having found herself abandoned by her parents; Annabelle tried to settle down for the night. This was the first time she’d be alone, and the world out there was dark, damp and smelly.

Squeezing into the smallest corner, she could find; Annabelle began to sob. Why had her parents decided now was the time to leave her? She was far too vulnerable to be left alone.

It was a bright light that woke her. Screaming, she was covered in a minty mouthwash that killed her instantly.

Being a germ in the mouth of a human was fraught with danger.

🥕🥕🥕

THIRD PLACE:

Untitled by Michael Guy Rua

The sight of the lake gives him solace. He learned to shoot a gun here. Hunting mallards with father on Sundays.

He sits in his car, holding an envelope in one hand and a .22 caliber pistol in the other. His breath fogging up the windshield. His heart pulsating through his chest.

He sets the pistol on the passenger seat. His hands quiver opening the letter.

Fixating on the pistol, he grasps his phone. Tears trickling down his cheeks.

“Hey Pumpkin. Test results came back negative. Zero trace of the virus. Leaving work now.”

The lake takes the pistol.

🥕🥕🥕

SECOND PLACE:

The Game by Colleen M. Chesebro

We’d been friends since grade school, which made getting through Janice’s funeral all the harder. The overpowering scent of roses choked the air out of the room.

Returning home was no easier. On the table in the dining room sat our Scrabble game still unfinished, a testament to Janice’s life. We’d played almost every night since 1972. How would I manage without my best friend’s companionship?

I sat down and stared at the game board. Our scores were tied, and Janice would have played next. Four tiles remained on the rack, spelling out her last word to me. Live.

🥕🥕🥕

FIRST PLACE:

Literary Immortality by Kerry E. B. Black

Benny stroked his wife’s brow. She hugged a teddy bear he’d given her when they were children. Benny knew even as a kindergartener he’d love her always.

They’d been married five years before the sickness.

“I’m dying.” She nestled closer.

He kissed her sunken cheek. “Not really.”

When she passed, his emotions bled into words.

Benny wrote a stirring obituary and composed poetry in her honor. He poured adoration into books in which she was the hero, a beloved literary legend.

As Benny faced his mortality, a biographer asked his inspiration. Benny hugged a teddy bear to his chest.

🥕🥕🥕

TUFF Beans

FINALISTS:

Untitled by Saifun Hassam

 99-word first draft: On Market Day the bustling port city of St. Laurant was overflowing with fresh seafood and farm produce. In the surrounding green rolling hills, farming communities grew some of the best black beans, chickpeas, olives and walnuts in the area.

Elena thought of the family farm. Every Saturday for their “patio picnic lunch.” her mother prepared a delectable layered salad of black beans, jalapenos, olives and sour cream served with lamb stew and rice cakes.

The farm was gone. Elena, a photojournalist, was on a journey to the historic harbors several miles down the coast south of St Laurent.

59-word reduction of first draft: The St. Laurant Market was overflowing with fresh seafood and farm produce. From the green rolling hills, farmers brought their best black beans, olives and walnuts. Elena remembered her mother’s delectable layered salad of black beans, jalapenos and olives served with shrimp stew and saffron rice cakes.

A photojournalist, Elena was on a journey to the Isidore Channel Islands.

9-word reduction of first draft: Ancient stone portage trails were buried in bean fields.

99-word revision of first draft: Ancient Bean Fields

Elena was fascinated by the historic Isidore Channel Islands. Abandoned harbors and farmhouses, old recipes, resounded with echoes of seafarers bringing fruits, nuts and beans that grew well in the Islands.

Farmers brought beans, olives and walnuts to the St. Laurant Market. Elena remembered her mother’s delectable salad of black beans and jalapenos served with shrimp stew and saffron rice cakes.

From Dorian Harbor she followed a stony trail uphill past rye and bean fields. There were many island songs and folk tales about pirates, the most notorious being Simeon. Was the abandoned farmhouse once a hideout of Simeon?

🥕🥕🥕

Bean There, Done That by Goldie

99-word first draft: “Tonight’s guest is the winner of this year’s Sharp Knife Award – Julian Knight.”

“Thank you for having me.”

“I’ve eaten at your restaurant before and have to admit that everything I tried was absolutely delicious.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Everything is freshly made in-house.”

“Although, there was one item on the menu that I felt didn’t belong with all the other fancy foods.”

“Which one?”

“From Rugs to Riches Beans.”

“Ah, yes. It’s a nod towards my childhood. We couldn’t afford fancy. I want everyone to be able to afford a meal at my restaurant. All are welcome.”

59-word reduction of first draft: “Your restaurant won this year’s Sharp Knife Award. How do you feel?”

“I’ve dreamt about it since I was a kid.”

“Did your mom cook?”

“Whenever she wasn’t working, trying to make ends meet… Beans were a staple food.”

“Is that where “From Rags to Riches Beans” came from?”

“Yes. It’s affordable. I don’t want anyone to go hungry.”

9-word reduction of first draft: From Rags to Riches Beans, never forget your roots.

99-word revision of first draft: “Julian Knight won this year’s Sharp Knife Award with his new restaurant, and so I had to see for myself if his food was any good. For an appetizer, I ordered octopus, for dinner lobster and for dessert – creme brulee. Everything was perfectly cooked. It was delicious. The owner of the restaurant came to check up on me and so I took the opportunity to ask him about a menu item that didn’t quite fit with the rest.

“I wanted to pay homage to my childhood with “From Rags to Riches Beans”. Everyone should be able to afford food.””

🥕🥕🥕

Untitled by Tracey Robinson

99-word first draft: A silvery steady rain fell from a cold gray sky. No hint of sun or heat penetrated the cloud cover.

But the blue and white kitchen sang with warmth. Beans bubbled in a rich brown molasses sauce in the bright red Dutch oven. Golden yellow cornbread with a crispy tan edge added to the good scents perfuming the kitchen. On the counter a pale yellow lemon pie patiently awaited it’s meringue topping.

Pine logs crackled in the fireplace sending orange showers of sparks up the chimney.

No hint of the dark and cold penetrated the heart of the home.

59-word reduction of first draft: Cold rain called for comfort food. Something slow cooked in the oven, warming the kitchen all day. Beans in the red lodge pot bubbly with molasses and brown sugar. Cornbread to serve with the beans and lemon pie for dessert. Board games in front of the fire after dinner, everyone huddled together. We would create our own warm sunshine.

9-word reduction of first draft: A red pot of oven-baked beans warmed the day.

99-word revision of first draft: The forecast called for days of cold rain. “Climate change,” I thought glumly looking out at the gray, sullen sky. Rain dripped down the windows obscuring my view. I flipped through cookbooks looking for warming comfort food. Something we hadn’t had in awhile, something different. Ah, beans, the kind cooked all day, but in the oven in the red Lodge pot, not the crockpot. Brown sugar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, check. Cornbread with honey butter and lemon pie for dessert. Board games after dinner in front of the fire. Scrabble for sure, and maybe Monopoly? The day felt warmer already.

🥕🥕🥕

Untitled by Michael B. Fishman

99-word first draft: “Things were a lot different when I was your age, son.”

I close my eyes and take a breath, preparing for the story I’ve heard dozens of times. “Yeah, grandpa?”

“We worked hard back then. We didn’t waste anything.”

“Yeah.”

“The Depression. It made us tough.”

“Mm-hmm”

He looked at something beyond me. “Your grandma, she was a strong one. With no work and no money there were plenty of times when all we ate in a day were beans, but that woman never complained. Not once. I miss her, son.”

I looked away. “I miss her too, grandpa.”

59-word reduction of first draft: My grandfather stirred. “It was different then. The Depression made us different.”

“How so?”

“Made us appreciate what we had for one thing. Made us recognize the value in something like a simple can of beans.”

“I suppose.”

Brushing away a tear he said, “Your grandmother; a strong woman. None of us would be here if not for her.”

9-word reduction of first draft: Waste not, want not. My grandpa: one smart bean.

99-word revision of first draft: Old Stories

“It was different then, son.”

He repeats his stories often now. I’ve heard them all, but I lean forward, eager to listen again. “How’s that, grandpa?”

He stares. “We had nothing. Worked—”

A long pause.

“The Depression,” I prompted.

“Mm-hmm.”

His eyes glaze over. “Your grandmother, such a strong woman. No steady work, no money; plenty of times when all we ate, the three of us, were beans, but she never complained. You remember?”

I blinked hard and nodded.

“I sure do miss her,” he said.

I watched a fat tear roll down his cheek. “I do too, grandpa.”

🥕🥕🥕

Untitled by Sascha Darlington

99-word first draft: Aunt Lou holds a puy lentil between thumb and index finger. “A perfect protein. Not an animal hurt, low fat. What’s not to love?”

“We add cumin, tahini, tomatoes, garlic. Voila! Flavorful and kind.”

Her hands swiftly conjure the meal. The taste blossoms on my tongue.

Observing my satisfaction, she smiles. “All in the ingredients. Fresh vegetables, herbs, spices mesh. This is love. With beans we don’t need to eat animals.”

I know my parents, especially Dad, would disagree; I, however, am open-minded.

“Tomorrow: lard-less refried beans.”

Dad halts tomorrow: “A lunatic. Vegan. What the hell?”

My light fades.

59-word reduction of first draft: Aunt Lou treasures a lentil. “A perfect protein. What’s not to love?”

“Cumin, tahini, tomatoes, garlic.”

Her hands conjure the meal. Flavor bespells my tongue.

“All in the ingredients. Local vegetables, herbs, spices mesh. Beans are a vegan’s blessing.”

Dad would disagree, but I don’t.

“Tomorrow: lard-less refried beans.”

“You can’t go,” Dad says. “Crazy hippy.”

His words scar.

9-word reduction of first draft: “I’m giving her alternatives.”

“Vegan? Lentils? My dead body.”

99-word revision of first draft: Aunt Lou treasures a lentil. “A perfect protein. Tiny legume of love.”

“We add cumin, tahini, tomatoes, garlic. Voila! Flavorful yet kind.”

Her hands swiftly conjure the meal. Thirty minutes later, flavor bespells my tongue.

Seeing my delight, she grins. “All in the ingredients. Local vegetables, herbs, spices mesh. This is love. Beans give us so many blessings.”

Dad vehemently disagrees with his sister, but I’m open-minded. In fact, I’m enthralled. She’s my idol, my hero.

“Tomorrow: lard-less refried beans.”

“You can’t go,” Dad says.

“Why not?”

“She’s a crazy hippy who’ll scar you.”

Instead, his words scar me.

🥕🥕🥕

Jacob’s Cattle by H.R.R. Gorman

99-word first draft: Pink tips.

Jacob’s cattle.

Sweaty summer mornings of planting, weeding, and harvesting heirloom bean varieties makes afternoons of stringing the green beans and shelling the soups.

“Do you want to eat this winter?” mother asked me. “Shell faster.”

Greasy beans.

Half runners.

I don’t like the soup beans like Jacob’s cattle. I dread the vomit-inducing winter stews laced with pintos. Starving is worse, but can’t I just string pink tips and eat the hull? Dry them into leather britches, boil them with potatoes?

Dry them into leather britches, plant them as seed, and re-start the summer cycle next spring?

59-word reduction of first draft: Summer days start with sweaty field work and end with shelling and stringing beans.

“Shell faster if you want to eat this winter,” Mother orders.

Foul soup beans. Jacob’s cattle beat starving, but can’t I just string green beans and eat the hull? Can’t I dry pink tips into seed and enhance my desire to obey next summer’s threats?

9-word reduction of first draft: “Shell beans now or starve this winter,” Mother threatened.

99-word revision of first draft: I sweat in the bean fields then prepare the crop for canning and seed. I enjoy the heirloom pink tips and their soft hull, but I shell Jacob’s cattle beans today.

“Shell faster. You want to eat this winter, don’t you?” Mother threatens.

Soup beans beat starving, but why couldn’t they let me dry delicious pink tips into leathery seed and grow more next year?

I hush and shell the Jacob’s cattle beans. Hunger now isn’t as bad as winter starvation and beatings for shirking chores. I’ll have to sweat next summer anyway or somehow stop the seasonal cycles.

🥕🥕🥕

A Tale of Two Sisters (BOTS) by Nancy Brady

99-word first draft: Carrie and Julia were sisters, but they differed in many ways, one of which was food likes/dislikes. This was true in regards to vegetables. Carrie especially liked green beans and peas from the garden, but also Lima beans. She even preferred wearing “bean” panties, made from a pebbly cotton fabric.

Julia, however, was a picky eater. Julia survived on drinking glasses of milk and only eating meat. Casseroles like pot pie were barely tolerated; only the chunks of beef were eaten, never the peas or beans. Even her underwear was different than Carrie’s. Smooth, satiny cotton covered her bottom.

59-word reduction of first draft: Carrie and Julia were sisters, but they were different. Their food choices were some of them. Carrie liked fresh green beans and peas, which she also called beans.

Julia, a picky eater, preferred milk and meat, but avoided most vegetables.

Their underwear also reflected their differences. Julia’s were silky cotton; Carrie’s were pebbly cotton, which she called “bean” panties.

9-word reduction of first draft: Two sisters had different ideas about food and underwear.

99-word revision of first draft: Carrie and Julia were sisters, but they were not alike in their tastes when it came to food.

Julia was a picky eater; she didn’t even like the foods on her plate to touch. She didn’t like vegetables, but loved milk.

Carrie, on the other hand, was more adventurous in her eating habits. She liked vegetables especially beans. Green beans and peas were grown in their garden. To Carrie, peas were beans.

Not only that, but her underwear preference was made of a pebbly cotton that, to her, looked like beans, which is why she called them “bean panties.”

🥕🥕🥕

THIRD PLACE:

Untitled by Chris Hewitt

99-word first draft: He was a bean counter. Not some pedantic accountant, an actual counter of beans. His party piece was to grab a handful of dried beans, announce the total, then count them out for all to see. He was never wrong. It was a gift. He was unbeaten until the harvest fair when a pretender to the title stepped up. Round after round they counted, neck and neck. Neither had missed a bean. Neither would give up. After two weeks they’d counted the towns entire pinto bean harvest, without a mistake. A draw was announced until next year years harvest.

59-word reduction of first draft: The state fair had become hugely popular and its highlight had become the pinto bean count. The challenge was simple – guess the number of beans in the jar and win the cash prize. For fifty years the prize remained unclaimed, until the pot was a million dollars and the crowds threatened to close the fair down with their numbers.

9-word reduction of first draft: Count the beans in the jar, win the prize.

99-word revision of first draft: Their rivalry had become legend, a tall tale of caution told to kids. For forty years the two neighbouring farmers attended the county fair, its highlight, the annual bean count. Each year, a new jar of beans was offered up. Each year only the two rivals guessed correctly.

They could have shared the prize, but for the bad blood between them. Instead, year after year, the prize pot grew, as did their bitterness. Ultimately, it would come to a bloody end one hot summer.

A young girl won the prize pot that year. Their forty year hatred her delight.

🥕🥕🥕

SECOND PLACE:

Untitled by Sherri Matthews

99-word first draft: I can see the advert now, the kid home from school with a plate of beans on toast in front of him, the slogan: ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’ splashed across the TV. Baked Beans. Staple for any kid growing up in 1970s England and a good memory replacing the bad. Each day at school, I had to write a couple of paragraphs of ‘Morning News’ in my exercise book. Mum kept it and years later, we laughed our heads off reading it. Always, ‘we had beans on toast for tea, they were delicious.’ You’d think that’s all we ever ate.

59-word reduction of first draft: The TV advert sticks in my mind even now: ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’. Good old beans on toast, a staple for my tea growing up. You’d think that’s all I ate reading my old ‘Morning News’ from primary school years later. And always described as ‘delicious’. But not all my morning news was funny. Out of the mouths of babes…

9-word reduction of first draft: I learnt young how not to spill the beans.

99-word revision of first draft: My mother kept my primary school book, ‘Morning News’. Every daily entry ended: ‘We had beans on toast for tea, they were delicious.’ Reading years later, we laughed our heads off. You’d think that’s all we ever ate. One page was different. I’d drawn a stick figure of a man by a toilet and written, ‘Daddy tells rude jokes and drinks too much and gets sick.’ But he wasn’t my daddy except for appearances. My real daddy didn’t rub my leg and leer. I wonder even now why I wrote that. And I wonder why my teacher said nothing.

🥕🥕🥕

FIRST PLACE:

For the Love of Beans by Norah Colvin

99-word first draft: Fred Green loved beans more than anything. His garden was his heaven. He just needed someone to share it with.

So, he advertised for a wife; “Must love beans” his only requirement.

Harriet Primrose, who thought her chances were done, applied and won. “What’s a few beans?” she thought.

Initially, she accommodated his ways—earplugs and room deodoriser buffered the worst. But when he called her Haricot, she snapped and did a runner.

Finding him skewered on a beanpole, the villagers weren’t surprised. “She’d buttered him up. He was stringing her along. It could only end in a bean stew.”

59-word reduction of first draft: Fred Green loved beans but was lonely and wanted a wife. Harriet Primrose agreed. At first, Harriet suffered his toots—earplugs and room deodoriser helped. But when he called her Haricot, she snapped. Before doing a runner, she skewered him on a beanpole in his garden. The villagers weren’t surprised—they always knew it could only end in a bean stew.

9-word reduction of first draft: Bean farmer’s wife fed up with his tooting ways.

99-word revision of first draft: For the Love of Beans

Reading the advertisement, Harriet Primrose couldn’t believe her luck. “Must love beans” was all it specified. “Can’t be difficult,” she thought.

And it wasn’t. At first. She loved preparing his beans—anyway he liked: fried, baked, boiled, even double-fried. She quickly discovered the benefits of nose and earplugs but, when the novelty waned, she couldn’t abide what he found hilarious.

One day when he called her haricot, she snapped. “I’m tired of your godawful beans, your godawful toots, and godawful you. I’m outta here.” She flummoxed him with a humungous fart and disappeared in a cloud of rotten bean gas.

🥕🥕🥕

2017 Rodeo

My First Flash Fiction Rodeo Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsThe 2017 Flash Fiction Rodeo Winners include:

Rodeo #4: TUFF Beans

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.

CRITERIA:

  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.

CONTEST RULES:

  1. Every entry must meet the word count requirements exactly. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the wordcounter.net. 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 wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  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.

CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.

2019 JUDGING

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).

Rodeo #3: Three-Act Story

What is a story? We all tell them, and as writers, we craft them in the written word. A story is about Something that happens to Someone, Somewhere. It’s plot, character, and setting. A story has a beginning, middle, and end. Because we are hardwired for stories, we retain data better from narrative. Storytelling is in my blood.

When I was a kid, my mother ran a general mercantile in a town of 99 people. One of those 99 was Eloise Fairbanks, a one-eyed shut-in born in 1908. Her father operated the water mill, and when she was a young woman, she rode the backcountry of the Sierra Nevadas as a telegraph lineman. Weezy, as she was called, would call the store and order a six-pack of Coors. My job was to pedal the brown bag over to her house. She’d holler for me to come in when I knocked, sitting at her kitchen table. I’d sit, too, anticipating what followed the popped tab of her first beer — stories.

See what I did there? I slipped in a little story about stories. It has a beginning and is about someone, with me as the narrator (first-person POV). The Someone is Weezy. She’s from Someplace in time (when I was a kid, the Sierras, my implied hometown). Something happened — she’d tell stories once she got her beer. The end.

According to Greeks, stories happen in Three Acts.

Act I, the beginning, the story rises. It’s marked by pity, or what we would now consider empathy. If a story is about someone, we have to feel something for that character. Literature can teach empathy because writers and readers practice it. When we care what happens next for or to this Someone, we come to the middle.

Act II shifts to fear, according to the Greeks. We can interpret this as the emotion that drives the writer and reader to worry about what happens next. Or be curious about what comes next. The driving emotion doesn’t have to be fear, but the middle holds an important shift or build-up of tension or expectation. The story is in motion.

Act III is when that motion comes to an end. The Greeks called it catharsis. The action falls; the story has arrived at an exit. A good ending is not canned, but one that lets the reader think about the story and the Someone long after the conclusion. A twist is when a writer ends with the unexpected, and it can be humorous or dramatic.

When I teach storytelling to engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs, I like to show them the science of a three-act story mapped out in a graph. This video is worth watching. Kurt Vonnegut graphs stories, and once you see their form, you’ll also understand how versatile story structure can be.

Now it’s time to craft a story!

CRITERIA:

  1. Write a story that has Three Acts (they do not need to be labeled).
  2. The story must have a discernible beginning, middle, and end.
  3. The story must be about someone, set somewhere, and something happens.
  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 there is NO PROMPT.
  6. Make the judges remember your story long after reading it.

CONTEST RULES:

  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the wordcounter.net. Entries that aren’t 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 wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  5. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 23, 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.

CONTEST NOW CLOSED

2019 JUDGING

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).

Rodeo #2: Pro-Bull Mashup

Where else would you find a bull-riding flash fiction 99-word contest but at Carrot Ranch? Come on, all you pencil crunchers, gather ’round and listen to a  tale.

My dad rode bulls. His dad and his dad’s dad rode bulls. My second great-grandfather wore high-heeled vaquero boots in an 1880s photograph, and while I have no more evidence than those boots, I suspect he rode bulls, too. When you grow up around ranch critters, you ride everything that will hold your weight (you can’t ride a chicken, but you can ride a pig).

Getting bucked off is fun, or so you grow up believing. Your relatives and their friends, congregate in the corrals, hold down a critter, set you on it, hoot like crazy throughout your ride, and dust you off when you faceplant in the dirt and critter-pies.

Following this generational bent, I wanted to ride bulls, too. I never got to, but I did ride goats, calves, mustangs, and even a few mild-mannered steers. Somewhere along the way, I got the taste of goat-hide in my mouth, and it’s kind of like getting the smell of a skunk caught in your sinuses. To this day, the barest hint of goat cheese makes me shudder. Eating it is like licking a goat. That and my boots are all I have left of a bull-riding heritage. The boots, by the way, are for when the BS gets deep.

Bull-riding in the US has evolved into a huge sport outside its original heritage. It’s dangerous, fast-paced, and still draws crowds. Raising stock for rodeos is also a big business, and bulls have names as extravagant as carnies or prize-fighters. It’s from the list of Pro-Bull names that this contest takes inspiration. Take a moment to feel the vibe of this year’s ride:

At Carrot Ranch, our weekly literary art and wordplay are expressed in 99 words. Several regular Ranchers often include the prompts or constraints of other writing challenges, and that is known as a “mashup.” This contest has several mashups based on multiple prompts derived from three Pro-Bull names, and the amalgam of two genres. Read the criteria carefully because this contest requires you to combine multiple writing elements and prompts.

Rosin up your writing gear!

CRITERIA:

  1. Write a story using all three bull names as names, places, or things: Bodacious, Nose Bender, and Heartbreak Kid.
  2. Combine two genres: game show and pirate. (Use the provided links for genre tropes and plots.)
  3. It can be fiction or fictionized BOTS (based on a true story), but if true, wow, what a life you lead!
  4. It can include any tone or mood.
  5. Use original details to express your tale.
  6. Make the judges laugh, gasp in surprise, or remember your story long after reading it.

CONTEST RULES:

  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the wordcounter.net. Entries that aren’t 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 wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  5. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 16, 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.

CONTEST NOW CLOSED

2019 JUDGING

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).

Rodeo #1: Modern Tall Tale

Out west where I grew up, to tell a tall tale was to tell a whopper of a lie so big no one would ever believe it. Someone would start the storytelling, and the next person would try to out-exaggerate the last one. Some told tall tales as a joke, especially if an inexperienced newbie might believe it. Wild Bill Hickok’s biographer, Joseph Rosa, suspected that Bill magnified the truth for fun.

Tall tales are the stuff of dime-store novels and pulp fiction.

What is a tall tale? One that openly exaggerates and magnifies the truth to the point of being unbelievable. The story itself is hyperbole. But we want to believe it because it’s humorous, melodramatic, or sensational.

This contest asks you to give a tall tale a modern bent. Don’t rely on the stories of Pecos Bill or 19th-century dime-store westerns. Go past the early sci-fi and detective stories of pulp fiction. Write a tall tale that is recognizable set in the present time.

Have fun, exaggerating!

CRITERIA:

  1. Write a tall tale and exaggerate something that happens to someone somewhere.
  2. It can be fiction or fictionized BOTS (based on a true story) but must be exaggerated to the point it couldn’t possibly be true. It’s okay — tell a whopper of a lie as a story!
  3. It can be humorous, sensational, or melodramatic from any genre.
  4. Use original details to express your tale.
  5. Make the judges laugh or gasp in surprise.

CONTEST RULES:

  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the wordcounter.net. Entries that aren’t 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 story that matters most.
  4. Use the form below the rules to enter.
  5. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email WITHIN 3 DAYS, contact Charli at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  6. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 9, 2019.
  7. You may submit a “challenge” if you don’t want to enter the contest or if you wrote more than one entry.
  8. Refrain from posting your contest entry until after November 28.

2019 JUDGING

Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, will collect stories, omitting names in order 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).

CONTEST CLOSED.

Rodeo #5: Sound and Fury Winners

By D. Avery

Sometimes fear, respect, and awe are the braids of one rope. Sometimes that one rope is all a buckaroo has to hang onto. Your flash should never let go of that rope.

That was my lead-in to the prompt for the final rodeo contest, the Sound and Fury. I wanted contestants to write about a dangerous situation that people willingly engage in.

I have learned so much here at the Ranch even since penning such tough talk over a month ago. The prompt was to write of danger and risk, but for many just sharing one’s writing is a risk, and to compete is an even greater risk. To be willing to face a fear, to do what is not easy to do, engenders learning and growth; it is an act of creative courage.

Creative courage is what Carrot Ranch is about. The rope here is a lifeline, a support, a way to find your way through a blizzard of self-doubt and fear. It is braided from caring, safety, and trust. I am grateful and in awe of all who participated in the rodeo events and applaud the contestants’ courage and willingness to take a risk.

I naively posited to my co-judges that this year’s contest would be easier to judge, as there were fewer entries. I also assumed (spell check) that as the writer in our group I had the advantage and insights necessary to our task. Then my co-judges, both voracious readers, schooled me in judging, exposing the flaws in my assumptions as they showed me how to read a 99-word story. Because there were fewer entries, 19 after two had to be dropped for consideration because of word count, we were able to read more closely and collaboratively, but that did not make the task easier. Around the table, it was felt that there was a lot of talent and many great ideas and takes on danger presented in response to the prompt. We found that the quality of all entries was very high and that the entries were closer in range. This forced us to focus on word choice, on beginnings and endings; while we felt a story did not have to be totally resolved, we agreed there should not be uncertainties that distract from the reading and that there should be a sense of completeness in a story. And then we re-read again. Our deliberations finally brought us agreement on our three winners.

Taking first place and $25 is Jules Paige’s Contested Contingent.

They are silent soldiers. A rare unified army. Commanded by a queen to seek the supplies to survive. Instinctual training leads them through dense foliage to the structures of giants. With all the unseasonable torrential rains their homes have become flooded. Yet they expect no outside relief. They are a self-sufficient bunch.

Mother has not seen the arrival of the invaders. In her nightgown, robe and slippers she ventures into the morning light of the kitchen and… draws a blood curdling scream. Father rushes to her aide. His bravery unsurpassed, he calms Mother and calls the local ant exterminator.

The Amazing Educator felt that this entry had “something extra” with the twist of ants being in danger, and the tongue in cheek humor regarding the brave father protecting the assaulted mother, and appreciated that it was well paced with strong vocabulary and sensory details. We all agreed that though the six-legged characters were unexpected, Jules provided a fun take and answered our criteria for showing the “dance between the danger and the endangered.” The motivations of the ants and the humans were clear, and the irony of the ants escaping one danger only to become endangered again because of the supposed danger they posed to the domicile of the giants was quite a dance indeed.

Anne Goodwin comes in second with To the Rescue. In addition to collecting another ranger badge, Anne wins a copy of D. Avery’s After Ever.

Cold cruel enough to cut the breath from me. Waves roar loud enough to drown out other sounds. It took a fool to dive in after her. It’ll take a hero to ferry her to shore.

Hair and beard turn to icicles. Arms to cartwheels, legs to flippers, brain to military command. Kick harder! Plough faster! Fight off lakebed vegetation, fear and fatigue!

I’ve almost reached her when a tether takes my ankle. I yank it back. It reins me in. I’m swallowing water when I grab her wrist. How will history judge me: a hero or a fool?  

The desperate dance in the water was very vivid and tense with Anne’s terse sentences and succinct descriptions. Though the ultimate outcome was unresolved, it was clear what the motivation was, and we felt this story was complete and only enhanced by the suspense of not knowing whether the foolish hero succeeds or even survives.

Third place and a copy of Chicken Shift go to Ritu Bhathal for Goodbye Fall.

Below me flowed water, fast and furious.

I tightened my grip on the pot.

“All ready?” The instructor checked my harnesses.

I gulped.

But I nodded. I needed to do this.

Launching myself, as instructed, I fell, headfirst, feeling the air zoom past me.

The elastic went taut and I bounced up and down several times.

My heart was in my mouth.

As I came to a stop, I looked at the pot, still in my hands.

Loosening its lid and allowing the contents to fall into the water, I whispered “Goodbye Jake,” before slowly being pulled back up.

What is apparent from the beginning is both the narrator’s fear and resolve to make this jump, though Ritu reveals this through discreet details, such as a tightened grip, a gulp, a silent nod. The motivation isn’t revealed until the end, with the detail of whispering and being pulled back up slowly adding to the poignancy.

For her Honorable Mention, Bonnie chose Chasing the Past, by Sascha Darlington.

Blake’s ultimatum: “Stop storm chasing or I’ll leave.”

The first fat drop of rain hits the windshield as I pull onto Rafferty Road. Forget Blake. Focus.

The hail throttles me awake. The tornado falls out of the sky, barrels toward me. Momentarily, I’m awed by the intensity, the blackness, the harsh windy sound of the twisting, family-killing creature.

“Stupid!” I jerk the Suburban’s wheel, bounce over the median, then turn right onto a dirt road. I’m nearly standing on the gas pedal. The rearview shows only blackness. Debris shatters the back window.

If I survive, I’ll never storm-chase again.

This was one we had all looked at more than once. There was compelling language and tension, though the final sentence felt flat.

For her Honorable Mention, the Amazing Educator chose Addressing the Animated Alarm, by Jules Paige.

They sit around quite a bit. But their hands aren’t idle. In their spare time they keep their credentials current and their equipment clean. Each man and woman forming a bond, a second family that they can depend on. Some are volunteers, others get compensation. Some paid members volunteer at other locations. Not a one would consider themselves a hero.

Whenever that klaxon rings, fear gets pushed aside. Danger gets treated with respect and all follow the leader who barks the orders of where the equipment and bodies need to be. There is no hesitation for the brave firefighters.

The Amazing Educator liked the language of this piece, the word choice and the rhythm of it. She only wishes that it could somehow be more inclusive regarding the EMTs and others who also put themselves into dangerous situations to serve and protect others.

My Honorable Mention choice is a story that made me feel like I was watching the kind of movie I don’t watch. It was scary, with the character in an ill-advised and dangerous situation. Oh yeah, that was the prompt.

Susan Sleggs’ He Had Kind Eyes was disturbing to me, and well written, and I appreciate that Susan ended it with unexpected chivalry. Susan accomplished a lot with her 99 words. 

The bartender told the tarted up woman, “There’s a rule; the boss gets first dibs on any strange and then they share?”

She stayed, sipping whiskey a little too fast. The Harleys roared in.

The group entered. The noise level tripled. They eyed her until she ordered another. A man smelling of leather, and aftershave paid; took proprietorship. Soon walked her out.

In the quiet night, he said, “Your perfume smells like fear. What do you want?”

Tears formed. “To prove I’m not a mouse.”

He kissed her like no other had. “Go home. You proved it to me.”

Phew! I’ll say it again; this was no easy task. We found merit with each and every one of the entries; each demanded careful consideration. I learned a lot about writing flash from each entry and from reading with my fellow judges. Thank you to my friends and fellow judges, the multi-talented Bonnie Sheila, and a really smart woman who truly is an Amazing Educator. Thank you Carrot Ranch Literary Community, the writers, leaders, and readers and other supporters, for riding along with the second Flash Fiction Rodeo. Congratulations to Charli on another successful Rodeo.

Congratulations to all who placed and all who played.

You can read the qualifying entries under the Rodeo tab at Rodeo #5: Sound and Fury.

Rodeo #4: Fractured Fairy Tales Winners

By Norah Colvin

Fairy Tales — Fractured in 99 Words

Once upon a time on a virtual ranch,
Was a whole bunch of writers wanting a chance
To fracture a tale in no more and no less
Than 99 words to show who was the best.

The judges were ready, no red pen in sight
And sent out the prompt for writers to write.
In trickled stories one after one
Till time was up and the contest was done.

The judges then read them and read them some more
The stories that numbered ten times four.
They pondered, selected and collaborated
Till agreement was reached on the #1 rated.

Thank you, contestants. We judges, Anne Goodwin, Robbie Cheadle and I, had a wonderful time reading your stories and thank you for submitting them to the Fractured Fairy Tale Contest.

Although many traditional fairy tales begin with ‘Once upon a time’ and conclude with ‘they lived happily ever after’, only one of the stories began, and only two ended in the traditional way (and not one incorporated both). I guess why waste words when you’ve got only 99 with which to play.

The criteria we set wasn’t necessarily easy: to retell a traditional fairy tale with a twist. We said it must include food and we must be able to recognise the story it was based on—all in 99 words.

Overall, responses were excellent with unexpected twists and turns and different interpretations of the original stories, some humorous, some a little dark. Only two stories were disqualified on the word count and two more for not being recognisable fairy tales. All others fitted the criteria giving us judges a tough job to select just one winner.

We were interested to see that a few fairy tales appeared in stories more often than others. Perhaps this was due in part to the requirement to write a recognisable tale as well as to include food in the story. Obviously, it was easier if food was in the original.

We were also pleased to see a modern thread running through the some of the stories. In fact, one of the things we all liked about the winning story was its contemporary feel.

Of the winning story, Anne said,

This entry excited me from the very first reading in its freshness, yet faithfulness to the original right up to the final delightful twist. The voice is crisp and the pace snappy: a fine achievement in so few words.”

 Robbie said,

I liked the modern touches with the GPS and the pizza, and I enjoyed the hint of trouble with the young man with the wolfish smile. I also liked the twist with the young man being attracted to the pizza rather than wanting to eat gran and little red riding hood.”

I also appreciated the use of the GPS and the recognisable touch with it taking her in the wrong direction. The name Scarlett, her task, and the wolfish grin all served to make the story recognisable, and the inclusion of takeaway food completed the requirements. All these worked together to make it the winning entry. We hope you agree with us.

Drum roll, please!

In first place is:

Scarlett by Nancy Brady. Congratulations, Nancy! (Winner of $25)

It was the end of Scarlett’s long day at her new job when she got a text from her mother:

“Take dinner to Gram.”

Grabbing some food from the establishment, Scarlett then plugged Gram’s new address into her GPS and set off in her little red Bug towards The Woods Senior Living Complex.

Yet, despite this, she got lost, making a wrong turn. At a stop light, she saw a handsome young man. She asked for help. Sniffing the aroma, he smiled wolfishly, gave her directions, and then hoofed it to Gram’s for Domino’s deluxe pepperoni and sausage pizza.

Coming a close second is:

Friends of Goldilocks by Hugh W. Roberts. Congratulations, Hugh! (Winner of the ebook, When the Buzz Bombs Fell by Robbie Cheadle and Elsie Hancy Eaton)

Looking in the fridge, Goldilocks was surprised the Bear family had left milk. However, it had turned sour, so she couldn’t make herself a big bowl of porridge to get rid of her hunger pains.

This was pointless, thought Goldilocks, as she got out her mobile phone to check who else had told their Facebook friends they were away.

Sure enough, local food blogger Chris P. Bacon had informed her followers that she was on an overnight food hygiene course.

Perfect. Not only would there be plenty to eat, but Goldilocks could rob the house at the same time.

Of Friends of Goldilocks, Anne said,

I loved the contemporary feel with Facebook used as a central plot device and the subversion of the traditional tale by making Goldilocks a villain. With a few more words – or a bit more time – perhaps the flow could have been a little smoother.

Robbie said,

I liked this story because of the modern touches too. I enjoyed the mention of a food blogger in this piece, and I like the fact that Goldie was a robber and her being in the bear’s house was part of a bigger picture with a more sinister undertone.

I liked these aspects too and loved that Goldilocks checked Facebook to see who was away from home—a good caution to anyone who is travelling. The use of the mobile phone and a food blogger bring the familiar story into the 21st century.

In third place is:

Untitled by Sam Kirk. Congratulations, Sam! (Winner of e-book, Becoming Someone by Anne Goodwin)

The wolf was hungry and needed some action. On his way, he saw a beautiful girl in a straw house.

“Let me in, or I’ll blow your house in.”

“I don’t negotiate with terrorists” – were her last words.

Next, the wolf stumbled upon a house made of sticks.

“Let me in, or I’ll blow your house in.”

“I don’t negotiate with terrorists” – were her last words.

He salivated at the thought of bacon, looking at a piggie in a brick house.

He repeated his line.

“Not on my watch” – she shot him and used his fur as a rug.

Of Sam’s story, Anne said,

Like a traditional tale, this story makes a virtue of repetition but with a surprise and humorous ending. The opening line, linking hunger with action, left me unsure whether he wanted to eat the girl or have sex with her. Perhaps it was intentional, but it didn’t set the story up for me as clearly as I’d have liked.

Robbie said,

This story is not as unique as the first two as the pig gets the better of the wolf but the idea of turning him into a rug was most amusing. I liked the comparison of the destructive wolf with a terrorist.

What I like about this story is that it kept to the same pattern as the original story. Neither of the first two pigs was prepared, but the clever third pig was. While I don’t normally condone violence, I think this is a very fitting conclusion to the story. It took me by surprise, and I laughed. It’s good to see women standing up for themselves and against terrorism—a few good messages rolled into one short story. I think the addition of a title would give readers advance notice of what they will read, but since a title was optional, it couldn’t lose marks for that.

In addition to the three winners, from the stories we all rated highly, we each chose a story for honourable mention.

Anne’s honourable mention:

Not-so Modern Love by Liz Husebye Hartmann. Congratulations, Liz!

“WTF! You cut off your toes to fit into my glass slipper? And you cut off your heel! What were you thinking?”

“Cindy!” The two stepsisters looked at each other. “You gotta give up something if you wanna marry a prince!”

Cindy rolled her eyes, grabbed an apple, and pushed through the kitchen door. “You found my slipper?”

“We’ll see,” Flashing his perfect princely grin, he held out the sparkling shoe.

She took it and slid it on.

“Perfect fit!” he crooned. “Now, I also require a prenuptial lobotomy…”

She crunched into the apple. “You really are a jerk.”

Anne says,

In the traditional telling, Cinderella has a satisfying plot, but the happy-ever-after ending is ideologically unsound. I really appreciated this feminist version although, for the contest, perhaps the food is too peripheral to the story.

Robbie’s honourable mention:

Goldie’s Quest by D.G. Kaye. Congratulations, Debby!

Starving and exhausted, Goldie trudged through the forest scavenging for anything edible when she discovered the house in the woods.

Goldie rapped on the door. Curious and desperate, she tugged on the door handle, elated to find it unlocked.

The aroma of freshly cooked sauce filled her nostrils and aroused her taste buds as she spotted three bowls of pasta.

Goldie didn’t hesitate to gobble up all three bowls then headed for the couch for a nap.

Half hour later she awakened to the discomfort of her rumbling, expanding stomach.

“Oh crap,” Goldie exclaimed. “That pasta was not gluten-free!”

Robbie says,

I like this story. I thought the usage of the food theme was very good in this particular piece and the pasta not being gluten-free and upsetting Goldie’s stomach is so modern. Everyone I know has allergies, so this is very topical and will strike a chord with a lot of people.

My honourable mention:

Untitled by Geoff Le Pard

‘Mr ‘ansel? Bad news I’m afraid.’

‘Again? Do you builders ever bring good news?’

‘In Fairyland? You’ll want a happy ending next. It’s the gingerbread cladding…’

‘Yes? Has the cost gone up?’

‘I can’t get any, even with a sack of giant’s beans. You’ll have to make do with carrot or pumpkin.’

‘No way. You heard what happened with that Ella woman?’

‘Cinders?’

‘That’s the one. Her godmother turned the town’s allotment into transport. No one’s changing my house into a veggie vehicle. Where’s the gingerbread gone?’

‘It’s that caterpillar, gone for partially peckish to very hungry and…’ *shrugs

Because this story had no title, it took me a little while to see where it was going, but it all became clear eventually. I like that a variety of different fairy tales and characters have been intertwined to create a plot with a problem. The conclusion, with the inclusion of a very popular and recognisable children’s story, though not a fairy tale, is amusing.

So, thank you to all contestants. We judges had a difficult but enjoyable task in reading all your story. I’ll conclude with a statement from Anne which sums up our thoughts.

Anne Goodwin: I had the impression – and I hope I’m right – that the entrants had tremendous fun crafting these stories, testament to the fairytale genre’s enduring appeal. But I also realised that Norah’s challenge was a lot trickier than it might initially appear. Food plus a recognisable story plus a narrative arc: not so easy to create a new angle in only 99 words.

All qualifying stories entered into the contest are now collected and available to be read under the Rodeo tab Rodeo #4: Fractured Fairy Tales.

Thank you, Charli, for hosting the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo for the second year. What a fabulous event that provides an opportunity for writers everywhere to participate in the literary arts in a supportive and encouraging community. We look forward to the third Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo in 2019.