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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.


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.


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:





The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic

by H.R.R. Gorman

Here at the Carrot Ranch, we take the business of 99-word literary art seriously. Those who participate in the Ranch prompts or yearly Rodeo saddle up to TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction) it out and train new Rough Riders as we go. Now, the Ranch is hosting a new event to sharpen minds, welcome new hands, and celebrate one of our own the best way we know how: our first ever Rodeo Classic.

In this Rodeo Classic, we’re here to celebrate a stalwart center of many blogging corners, Sue Vincent. Sue has variously contributed to the community here at the Carrot Ranch, through communication with many other bloggers, and run her own famous #writephoto weekly blog prompt. You can (and should!) follow her on her blogs, The Daily Echo and the shared blog France & Vincent. She has inspired us to become better writers and shown us the power of mystery and myth. We also suggest taking a perusal at her book corral and Amazon pages!

The Rodeo and Prizes

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic serves as a special challenge. Riders will have to condense the following photo into a story of 99 words (or, if you prefer, a poem of 99 syllables). Writing 99 words has never seemed TUFFer!

Each story needs to have a beginning, middle and end. Poems must have distinctive theme, movement, and rhythm; no rhyme scheme is necessary, but neither will rhyme be punished. Go where the prompt leads you – any genre is acceptable, but keep it family friendly and related to the photo. If you haven’t wrangled here at the Carrot Ranch before, you can find some prize-winning 99-word flash from the 2020 Rodeo or the 2019 Rodeo at these links. Don’t cheat with 98 or 100 words or syllables! We’ll only accept 99 word stories or 99 syllable poems written in English! (We’ll be using to count words and to count syllables so everyone has the same standard). Only write 99 word stories. Do not write 99 word poems – we want 99 syllable poems.

For this rodeo, we’re offering a $100 grand prize. Five runners up will each receive one paperback from Sue Vincent’s collection of published books (those who live in a region where the paperback is unavailable may receive an e-book instead). No fee necessary to enter but this is a fundraiser so we kindly ask for a suggested donation of $5 per entry (no more than two entries allowed per writer). The contest will close at midnight on Friday, February 19th, 2021. Winning entries will be announced and read at on March 22, 2021. Top entries published at Carrot Ranch. We will not accept entries previously published (even if published on your own blog), so keep them tucked away for now.

Judges: Geoff Le Pard, Anne Goodwin, and Charli Mills. First-Pass readers: H.R.R. Gorman, Sue Spitulnik, D. Avery, and Sherri Matthews. List of judges and readers will update as needs may change depending on the volume of entries and continued judge availability. Entries will be anonymized prior to judging.

$5 suggested donation to enter. You may enter no more than twice. You are welcome to donate more than the suggested entry fee. All proceeds go directly to Sue Vincent and Family. Use this link to donate:

At the announcement that Sue had succumbed to her disease, we removed the donation link. Because the money went directly to Sue, we thought this the best course in order to preserve her family’s privacy. She got to live to see the winners of the contest, and for that we’re eternally grateful. If you’d still like to help out, we’re sure she’d appreciate you reading one of her books or perusing her blog!


The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic Parade

All Rodeos need a parade, just as the Carrot Ranch yearly rodeo has done. The Rodeo Classic parade will be a parade like no other – and we don’t need to wait until the end of the contest or announcement of winners to do so. It’s time to celebrate with gusto and march down the main street of Carrot Ranch central.

Sue Vincent

As mentioned above, Sue Vincent is a poet who has acted as glue for the community for over a decade now. She has honed her poetry and prose to a beautiful finish, and her adventures through ruins and the English countryside have inspired many of us throughout our blogging journeys. Recently, Sue has run into a spot of trouble with a bit of small cell lung cancer. With Covid complicating all medical procedures and the ability to speak with others (especially for those with respiratory illnesses), some of the best comfort can come from online interactions. You can read more about Sue’s situation on the series of posts beginning here.

The Parade, however, will march on through many different avenues. Sue’s literary art will be on full display throughout the month of February. Here’s some ways you can help participate in the parade and make the Rodeo Classic even better!

  • Advertise the Rodeo. Advertise this rodeo on your own blog, tweet it, forward on Instagram, post on Facebook, wherever you can! The graphic at the top of this page can be used freely as part of the campaign. The more participants, the merrier. We’d like to advertise the contest to people who may not already be familiar with our or Sue’s literary community, so put up the posters far and wide!
  • Reblog a post from Sue’s blogs. Go to The Daily Echo and/or France & Vincent and take a gander at some of the things there. Choose a post, or two, or seven, and reblog it with a comment on why you did so. Feel free to advertise the contest when you do.
  • Purchase one of her books. You can find a link to Sue’s books here and choose the Amazon page appropriate for your region.
  • Review that purchased book! Read the book and post a review. There’s many places to put it, but we suggest Amazon, Goodreads, and your blog as a start.
  • Comment or like her posts. Comments brighten anyone’s day, and Sue’s blog is filled with posts ripe for commenting. The Rodeo Organization Team will be reblogging some of her posts, so keep an eye out for those if you want some suggestions!

We look forward to seeing you in the stands, on the back of a bull, or maybe even clowning about.


The Rodeo Organization Team

2020 Rodeo

The results of the 2020 Flash Fiction Rodeo are riding in week by week in the order of each contest. We hope writers had as much fun as the Rodeo Leaders and Judges. We got to play within the western theme this year and had plenty of challenges!

Rodeo Contest #1:

In Folk Tales and Fables, Kerry E.B. Black asked participants to spin a yarn as long as the Rio Grande in 99 words.

This year’s winner is Colleen Chesebro!

Honorable Mention goes to Norah Colvin, Liz Husebye Hartmann, and Mike Vreeland. Congratulations!

Each Rodeo has different independent judges. Judging is done blind. Thank you to Kerry E.B. Black for managing this contest and to her judges, Debra R. Sanchez and Beverly V. Blickenderfer!


Why Wolf Howls at the Moon by Colleen Chesebro

Long ago, the Moon Spirit danced upon the waters of the lake. When she met the spirit of the Wolf, they danced together on the shoreline.

One night, Moon Spirit said, “I must return to the ebony sky and take my place alongside the stars.”

Bereft, Wolf gobbled up Moon Spirit’s reflection as it floated on the waves. “I wish I could keep Moon Spirit’s magic with me forever,” he cried.

To this day, whenever wolf drinks from the lake, he cries to the Moon Spirit hoping she will return so they can dance upon the shore once more.



Snow White and the Seven Gunslingers by Norah Colvin

The huntsman made the all-too-common mistake of revealing everything before enacting the deed. Snow White kicked him in the shins and escaped into the forest.

Exhausted, she chanced upon a cottage. It appeared abandoned, so she went inside and soon fell asleep on one of the seven beds. She was startled awake by a septet of menacing, heavily-armed gunslingers.

When she explained her predicament, the gunslingers were outraged. “He’s a bad one, and she’s the worst. Stay here. We’re onto it.”

She heard them say as they rode out of sight, “Hi ho! We’ve got a job to do.”


Sky Rider’s Happily Ever After by Liz Husebye Hartman

Rapunzel was a rodeo champ by day, a sky watcher by night. Nobody could beat her barrel riding and calf roping. Stormy nights, she’d climb the Tower Mesa, hear thunder roll, knowing someday she’d join that rodeo.

It got so she spent both nights and days on the Mesa, losing interest in regular rodeos. Family couldn’t call her home, but took comfort, watching her lengthening golden hair glinting in the sunlight.

Along came Pepe LeGume, with his offer of magic beans for her golden tresses. She took the offer, cut her braid, and rosed her lasso to that magic vine.


Flem and the Rattlesnake by Mike Vreeland

Flem, Unlike most cowhands, was toothpick thin, bow-legged, and always smiling. Never once did he lose his cool, even when he found a large rattler in his bedroll. Instead, he cajoled the snake, letting it sleep next to him for warmth. 

Their bond grew.

One day, cutthroat robbers were after Flem. With nowhere to hide, the snake swallowed Flem whole, shook its rattles, and frightened off the thieves. 

After a bit, Flem crawled back out.

“Thank you immensely, Snake,” he said, sharing his hearty meal.

The moral of the story: Sometimes it’s okay to have Flem in your throat.



The Ride by D.L. Finn

We’ve made this journey on horses every year for our wedding anniversary. The only stop was to admire the beauty of the sunset before setting up camp by the gently flowing creek. This was our place. I know you’ll be there waiting for me. That’s why I brought your horse. We’ll ride as spontaneously as we did in youth, with the winds tangling our hair and the carefree laughter running freely. I won’t leave you until you have to go, my love. Then, I’ll return home comforted, knowing that we can stay there for eternity when my time comes.


The Tale of the Two Horse Women by H.M. Hallman

“These women morph into horses, and that’s why they aren’t to be owned,” the chief warned his son. 

“But father, what if someone owns one?” 

“Young Feather, no one has caught one,” the chief said. 

Young Feather couldn’t sleep. The moon was high. He walked to a river and slumped against a tree. He noticed a dark mare drinking from the river. The horse transformed into an eighteen-year old woman. 

He snuck over to see her. 

Startled, she said, “hello.” 

“Don’t fear. What is your name?” 


“Can we be friends?” 


Now, he would protect her and others.


Is He Really That Big by Sue Spitulnik

“Tanner, what’s your lasting memory of high school?” Jake asked.

“Sheriff Bullhorn’s dog that was so big he couldn’t fit in the car without the seat removed. He’d sniff around town at night and catch me every time I tried to kiss Betty Lou. Rodeo weekend when the dog got locked inside so he didn’t scare people was my only opportunity all year.”

“And what if the Sheriff caught ya?”

“The dog was a good warnin’ system, that never happened.”

“And now you’re married to Betty Lou?”

“Sherriff’s a good father-in-law but that huge dog’s still squeezin’ between us.”


Down That Lonely Trail by Bill Engleson

I could’ve circled ‘round, I guess. Kept goin’. Avoided Gopher Flats entirely. Nasty little watering hole. Didn’t even know if Belle still lived there. She’d been a bit of a tumbleweed in her time. Me too, I suppose. Flipped a coin. 1885 Liberty head five-dollar gold piece. One of my last. Didn’t matter which way it landed. I needed Belle. Someone who knew me. So, I came in from the south. Tied up the Roan outside the Gopher Union. Musta been midweek. Quiet night. The kid came up behind me. Bullet got me in the throat. Loved ya, Belle.


Cay-ote Killer by Clesea Owens

Swirled campfire gunsmoked ’round old Ernie’s head. His eyes shone in the firelight, two August moons ‘gainst a desert sky. “An’ that,” he whispered, “whers th’ last any cowboy heard o’ The Coyote Killer!”


“Ah’ll be!”

The talk still swam ’round the camp like Loui’zana fireflies when a shadow fell ‘cross the nearest cactus; when a howl yipped ‘cross the open sky. “Aowhoooooo!”

Scramblin’ to horse, rock, cactus; no man dared admit what he clearly saw: a baying, skulkin’, fur-dressed man, jus’ like what Ernie’d said.

An,’ like’n old Ernie said, no man lived to tell it still


The Barrel Racer: A Fable by D.L. Williams

The mare blinked against the billowing cloud of dust. 14.38 seconds, the time to beat, and she was last to go. She approached the gate. “Just this run,” she thought, “before I win.” The thunderous pounding of her own hooves echoed in the mare’s ear, vibrating the ground like mini earthquakes. She rounded each barrel with the speed of a twister before returning across the timer. Beaming, she turned towards the clock to bask in her winning time. The numbers flashed red: 14.39 seconds. She lost. The mare trudged from arena, tiny puffs of dust languishing at her feet. 


Seven Sisters by Saifun Hassam

Eleanor and her little girl Jessie lived for a few months in Saguaro Township. Jessie was four, her legs crippled by a high fever on the wagon trek to Arizona. 

Jessie loved to picnic by the giant saguaros near the horse corrals. One day Eleanor saw an apparition. Seven beautiful maidens chanted and danced, fantastic quill patterns shining on white buckskin dresses.

Within the circle, Jessie was dancing! Heart pounding, exuberant, Eleanor danced with her! 

That night, Eleanor gazed at the glittering stars of the Seven Sisters. Her heart was full of gratitude and hope for Jessie’s new life.


The Origins of a Cowboy by Floating Gold

“Mommy, where do cowboys come from?”

Barb turned around and smiled. She was aware of Tommy’s bedtime trickery but took the bait anyway.

Sitting back down, she told her son about the first-ever criminal who kept stealing apples. No one was fast enough to catch him. Then, one day, in a billow of smoke, a man with a lasso in hand descended on a horse from the clouds. He chased the thief all through the Arizona desert but finally caught him thanks to his rope and the speedy stallion.

“But what came first – a cowboy or his hat?”


Packin’ a Punch Without a Fist by JulesPaige

Lucy was fit as a fiddle and head of this crew, after all she’d grown up ranching. Some of the new hires on this cattle run didn’t think a woman should be giving orders, and wouldn’t follow her directions. That just wasn’t fair. One night, she couldn’t take any more of their bull. Lucy got up on her high horse without getting in the saddle and quietly said I’ll start firing any poke who won’t work!” Then quoted Dr. Seuss; “You have brains in your head, feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose!”


The Journey by Darnell Cureton

She evaded the posse that was looking for her. Colored mayor Edith Fowler, low on food and water was determined to make it to Gold Rose County. She set her horse free and emptied the contents of the chest her buggy pulled behind the animal. With two days of a four day journey left, she set out on foot in the darkness. A worn blue cotton shirt, denim overalls, and old boots were the only barrier from biting desert bugs as the moon illuminated her way. The promise of a new life and love awaited if she made it. 


The True Story Of How Butch Cassidy Rode Off Into The Sunset by Doug Jacquier

The old train robber, with a face that looked like it belonged on Mt. Rushmore, loved all those Hollywood movies about Butch and Sundance dying in a hail of lead. He didn’t want anyone knowing that he’d returned to Utah to write in peace, without having some hired detective on his tail or that crazy Sundance always wanting to do one more job. His style was spare and clear and full of insight. Before his death from a rattle-snake bite at 103, his books sold well under various pseudonyms but his favourite was always the Pinkerton-taunting Perce P. Cassidy.


Tall in the Saddle Tale by Frank Hubney

One man can’t do much unless it’s Billy, but even he didn’t do much good.  Evil was his expertise at least until he overreached and felt the end of a rope.

But if it weren’t for Billy we wouldn’t have Todd, broken, good-for-nothing, who nonetheless stood up and took that bullet for the mayor, Billy’s bullet. His body blocked the door knocking the revolver from Billy’s hand.

Nor would we have Sarah who aimed her rifle ten feet from Billy’s head. Even Billy knew she would shoot having been married to her for longer than Sarah cared to remember.


The Deal by Tina McFarlane

Travis couldn’t believe his luck. “Well, I’ll be damned if she ain’t a beauty. How much?”

“Ten dollars. Just want the cursed thing off my farm.” The old man spit in disgust.

Travis stared at the horse’s black coat, shining in the sun.

“We got a deal?”

“Uh, yeah.” Travis fished the bills from his pocket. As he rode away, a figure dressed as a merchant emerged from the cabin. He smiled as he watched the old farmer wither and die.

Thinking he just made the purchase of a lifetime, Travis never noticed the fields as they turned black.


Shoot First, Aim Later by Darlene Foster

The Kid was always shootin’ off his mouth. Calling Tiny Bradshaw a lily livered chicken meant trouble. The cowboy Clyde saddled up. He rode into town as Tiny strode out of the saloon and down the street. He saw the Kid come from the other direction. “Shit!” Clyde jumped off his horse, ran into the church and up to the belfry. He aimed at Tiny. The Kid drew but Tiny was quicker. Clyde took a shot. The outlaw lay dead. The kid wasn’t moving either. Clyde buried his son the next day and hung up his six shooters forever. 


Rodeo Contest #2:

In Double Ennead Syllabic Poetry, Colleen M. Chesebro asked writers to wax poetic in a new 99-syllable form she created for Carrot Ranch. This one was not easy and hats off to all the participants!

This year’s winner is ANNOUNCED.


Some Places Have No Names by Kerfe Roig

summering storm, becalmed
grey hiding the sun
that surrounds everything until it dissolves–
cacophony lurks, comes
galloping unheard–

what will replace what is
not there? return breath
to wandering, release the held spirits to
be dreamed, scattered into
wishes unneedful

of understanding or
explaining—all is
deadlocked, lingering on the edge of almost–
as yet unattached to
outcomes or designs



Masked Terror by Reena Saxena

the dark shadows of fear
plains in deep valleys
are prominent above designed contraptions
living in terror – tears
again percolate

down those parched, shrinking throats
struggling to stay out
of the way, of an unseen monstrosity
paralysed in panic
as shadows loom large

on erstwhile bonds, buckling
down under pressure
of unmet expectations, knowing full well
it’s either an embrace
or life – choice is yours


If This Be… by Bill Engleson

Let’s gather in the woods,
weep, and not forget
the burning wagons and the still smoking skies
swirling above the plains,
death choking the air.

If this be travelers,
Dixie refugees
from Jim Crow, beaten, stripped, flesh-whipped, burned alive,
is this humanity?
Is this who we are?

And within these scorched woods,
wind and time smolder,
ashes of flesh congeal in the bloodied mud:
a saga to be spoke,
hung against the sky.


Plains Speaking by Doug Jacquier

Plains, wider than a life,
as distant as death,
white-knuckle riding in hell-driven dust storms
followed by deep peace, and
still a sacred home.

Plains, stolen from others,
who live in exile,
earning from slots where they once hunted bison,
looking for the peace that
their ancestors owned.

Cowboys, your stories of
hard-driving glories
should conjure the spirits of those gone before,
and celebrate all ages
that’ve ridden here.


The Rodeo of Life by Sam “Goldie” Kirk

And I jump on the horse
to gallop through the
wide meadows of absolute grief and sadness.
The blood on my lips sweet.
Winds envelop me.

“Laugh! Don’t cry,” they all say.
Voices rattle in
the head of mine, leading deeper down the hole.
All I need is quiet.
Dusk envelops me.

Glad I am when I run
and don’t think at all.
Day in and day out we face the foul music.
Would you run away with
me? Envelop me.


Nes Season by D.L. Finn

Is it finally here
When magic has blown
From Summer into Fall in one cooling surge
The night’s longer and the
Sky hides behind clouds.

Blooming blossoms retire
Trees bathed in scarlet
Pumpkins flavor and decorate the season
Apples are abundant
Harvest is flowing.

Gray squirrels collect nuts
Black bears fatten up
Yes, nature’s preparing us for winter’s chill
When Autumn’s blessings are
Blissfully embraced.


Nature’s Saga by theindieshe

Plains dusky and dreary,
Shrouded deep in death,
White lies of greed defiling the oasis,
Its bounties defiled and
Still and mired in lust.

Crimson sky now mellowed,
Its dreary aglow,
Turned wide expanse of aquamarine waters,
A dull caesious hue,
That silently surfed.

Nature’s untold saga,
Taking what it gives,
For we failed to treasure the bounties bestowed,
It will set the wrong right,
To wash off grey blight.


Rain by Saiffun Hassam

Wildfires scorched green forests
From summer to fall.
Leaves and ashes were swept into streams and creeks.
Charred, forlorn, barren earth
Under winter snow.

Winds stir, soughing, rustle.
Cumulus clouds from
The ominous thunderous skies; light zig zags;
Rivers cascade greening
World, yellow parched earth.

Rain on high chaparral;
Redstone buttes; foothills
Spring with yellow brittlebush, and blue lupines;
Cholla spines; prickly pear;
Dusk: Saguaro blooms.


Evening Classes by JulesPaige

Embers slowly fading
Heads, settled resting
We look up to the constellations and try
Reading weather patterns
For the cattle drive

We hear our slow breathing
Allow awe to fill
Every nook and cranny of our weary souls
Tumbleweeds whisper soft;
listen to the wind…

Laugh with the prairie wind
With clouds passing in
The magic purple sky that holds ancient stars
Their wise ancient quiet
Dusk offers guidance


Cattle Drive by Sue Spitulnik

Line those cows single file
Stream crossing coming
Get the leaders to plunge and the rest follow
No white water danger
Grazing fields ahead

The ladies run to food
The horses’ sense rest
The dinner wagon slops hot meals and coffee
Everyone satisfied
Dark comes, fire burns

Coyotes howl ownership
Cowboys rarely laugh
In the starlight night, they trade short shifts of sleep
Always protecting the
Quiet munching cows


The Commission by Geoff Le Pard

I’m just a simple bloke
Who’s kept in the dark;
Then I’m to ‘write a poem about some stuff’
As if that is my thing
And is rather rude.

Again, it’s not a joke,
It isn’t a lark.
Lovers dancing round the moon? That’s just such guff.
I’d rather have to sing
On stage in the nude.

Now it’s to be bespoke.
I’d need to be Clark
Kent’s alter ego for this. I’ve had enough.
I’m off so please don’t ring;
Or I might be crude…


The Lonely Cowboy by Marje @ Kyrosmagica

The cowboy has no friends,
Riding through the plains
Death on his shoulder, his horse gallops and neighs
Kicking up stones of white
And on he must ride.

He lives and breathes this day
Lassoed in his fear
He wipes his brow contemplating fierce outlaws
Then eats his beans and waits
For the moon to rise

He’s a lonely drifter
No gal by his side
There ain’t no cute young’uns for him to cuddle
The stars give him comfort
And guide his way home.


Chasing the Moon by Eloise De Sousa

Alabaster skin that
draws the shadows in,
she thunders through the distant Gemini twins,
chasing the rattled stars,
scattering my dreams.

Galloping; froth mounting,
flared nostrils find north,
through whispered threads of darkness where clipped glimpses
spill their secrets from the
Zodiac above.

Once darkness eats daylight,
my heart lies in wait-
each hoof beat drumming into my velvet skin-
her lunar imprint’s grace,
to admire again.


A Child Appeared by Myrna Migala

Snow cold so pure and white
Falling, falling, on
A town; look up a shimmering star so bright.
Bethlehem sees Winter
Night of holiness!

Forever and ever
A world will rejoice.
The joyous birth of happy festivity
A Birthday! Remember.
Everyone! Cheerful!

The world now indeed is
Coming together —
Bitterness fades; disagreements set aside.
All this and more because
A Child has appeared.


Never Again by Josie Holford

Heart sick of traitor Trump
And his posse of
Me-diocre incompetents, grifters all
We must remain firm. Let’s
Forget about nice.

We know that we must drum
The Trumpian ilk-
Springtime for Hitler – out of America
Decency, matter.

We need to ensure that
He plus enablers
Are so thoroughly driven beyond the pale
They never again stain
Our America.


Within a Kiss by Kyra Jude

It starts like a whisper
Supple and discreet
Hints of pleasure pining in euphoric winds
Each moment long and tense

What spells bind eyes to lips
And bear the soul’s taste
How does a gaze say words, the tongue never could
Words of need, words of want
And lips meant for love

Snow may fall, cold then warm
These love-lips twist on
A sweet taste of bliss, moaning deep with desire
Like vast stars in winter,
Night is kissed to life.


Dawn’s Memories by D. Avery

Greening, graying, moss cloaked;
transitory world,
shout from beneath moldering leaves; from rock, sprout;
spreading shoots take root in
my dreams recalling.

Living, loving, laughing—
innocent again.
Lark song breaks the day, calls the sun, warms the rock;
green and gray are lovers,
sing dawn’s memories.

Death wanders in disguise
whispers shades of white
and dances in autumn’s ecstatic colors.
With the lark we sing still
when recalling dawn.


A Pitiful Plague by Debby Gies

Shout loud at what it is.
Words and actions in
My head ring clear of the assault on mankind.
Open your eyes and ears.
A call for kindness.

Stifling in ignorance,
Poison fills the mind.
This hate virus infects and sheds viral ash.
Soil, rinse, spin, and again,
The story repeats.

The cure for this madness,
Some will fail to learn,
Only love and kind words can conquer this plague
For a fresh breath of life –
Love thy fellow man.


Pain, Inside and Out by Norah Colvin

Hoofs pound across the roof
Hunting a way in
pillow muffles but still they thump so loud
Relentless drenching rains
r all around

Hoofs pound inside my head
Brutal throbbing pains
Lightning lasers pierce my eyes I cry dry tears
The torture does not cease
Blinding like a rage

Hoofs pound inside my chest
Warning it will burst
While my clammy skin pours sweat in waterfalls
Pain grips my heart and shreds
What remains of me


Noted Notes by Kerry E.B. Black

Gray mists obscure the moon.
Still howl coyotes.
Laugh as though their voices mean nothing to you
while I remain quiet.
Dusk appears again.

Perpetual cycle-
here and yet not hear.
Examine sacred writings with words whirling,
and I without glasses
read a different text.

Ghosts groan from all corners,
begging to be seen.
Walk through their funeral finery unscathed.
Sinking, I sob, silent
into dust again.


Song of Monson by Kitty’s Verses

Over dark, rainy nights,
Thundering clouds, the
Quivering silence of soul brushes against ,
Unforgettable rim,
Of recollections,

As each drop pit patters,
Crossing multitudes,
Plummeting through images it settles on rim
Of dainty bud coaxing,
To open its layers,

Bud and soul pondering,
Nature plays awhile,
Circumspect to open their oft hidden layers,
Song of monsoon calling,
Beauty to reveal.


The Party of Life by H. R. R. Gorman

Celebrate for the next

Day is not assured.

Carouse while you can, and we’ll remember when

We’re old and don’t want to

Party ’til we drop.

Pass the bread of pleasure

Down the table with

Impish delight – regale in togetherness,

Celebrate with shared eyes

Gray we’ll be one day.

What a fickle thing is

Memory! Recall

The good as well as the embarrassing thoughts,

For the food of the gods

Is a good time had.


Gathering Pluck by Marsha Ingrao

Gray glances glimmering
Howls a coyote’s
Laugh at his dry humor, mellowing his soul
Silky muslin in
The dusk fades into night.

Tanglewood hills beckoned
Hushing trembling hearts.
Inky evening shadows descended welkin
Leaves crunching underfoot
Cemented resolve

Chill enveloped courage
Distant coyotes
Barked against the silvery moon breath frozen
Arms sheltered out the cold
“Will you marry me?”


Rodeo Contest #3:

In Git Along and Start Writin’, Marsha Ingrao combined a western classic song with the three-act storytelling structure.

This year’s winner is Doug Jacquier.

Honorable Mentions go to Bill Engleson, Liz Husebye Hartmann, Susan Spitulnik, and JulesPaige.

Thanks to Marsha’s judges, Norah Colvin and Irene Waters!


New Bride in Wyoming by Doug Jacquier

Molly’s nerves were a-jinglin’ driving the buggy back to the ranch. As a new bride fresh from the city, she tried to be a real country wife for Earl, cooking and milking the cow, and she tried to use Wyoming words whenever she could.

When Earl came in, she said ‘I got you a present’.

‘Well, that’s real nice, Molly. What is it?’

‘A dog to keep you company when you’re on the trail!’

She opened the bedroom door and out strolled a Dachshund.

‘And you didn’t think I was listening when you said ‘git a long little’ doggie.’



McCall by Bill Engleson

No gitin’ around it, I was one of them strays you’d stumble over in the street. I’d sozzled my way to Cheyenne, up in the Wyoming Territory. That’s where Aggie found me.

“You poor saphead,” she said, holdin’ me to her bosom.

After she’d took her pleasure with me, and me with her, she expressed her fury at Bill Hickok. He’d left her high and dry. I swore my revenge on her honor. I found him in Deadwood one August morning. Spied on him for days. Liked the man. Played poker with him. But a blood oath’s an oath.


Just a Numbers Game by Liz Huseby Hartmann

“It’s a numbers game. We drive these dogies from Texas to wherever…”


“They should be home, sucking their mama’s teat, not choking on range grass, not dying on the trail. We only get paid for what’s delivered.”

“That’s others’ misfortune, not ours.”

The two cowpunchers looked down on the tiny cattle ranch, waiting for cloud cover on this late Spring night.

“Never signed up to be no murderer, nor a rustler.”

“Can’t be a bleeding heart in this business.”

“This ain’t the 1880’s, it’s the 1980’s!”

“Learn to eat range grass, then. Roll on, pardner.”

Stealthy, they crept.


Walking the Canal Path by Susan Spitulnik

I was a-walking one morning for pleasure

along the paved canal trail

when in dog poop I stepped

made me madder’n hell

but I scraped off my shoe

continued walking along

admiring gold and rust-colored leaves

wonderin’ why so many had changed

and yet some were still green

soon coming towards me

was a man and his dog

the man carried a blue bag full

of the dog’s smelly droppings

I stopped them to say thanks

for being so neat and tidy

then I stepped aside

to get out of their way

and went splashing into the canal



Remarkable Ramblin’ by JulesPaige

A-walking one morning, I spied some stray dogies. An’ wanted to make them my own. Now I’m not a cowpoke that is oft to steal another man’s brand. These musta strayed far from their herd.

It’d been a tough winter for me. I figure raisin’ these dogies might help me sing a new cheery song. 

I was a singin’ to sooth ’em.  But my heart weren’t true. I felt kinda blue.  I asked ’round to see were they come from. T’was a ranch called Noteworthy. I returned ’em to high praise! And was offered a job! Yippie Ki Yay!



Jail Break by Douglas Goodrich

Out of breath, I escape around the corner with Mr. Waddles in my arms. I covered his beak, for fear his clucking might give our spot away.

“I’m going to get you out of here.” I assured him. “Mr. Mitchell? I know you’re over there. Get out here now! With the Chicken”

Mrs. Baker is too smart for me to try and fool, so I reveal myself.

“You should be ashamed! You haven’t an idea the trouble you’re in. Get with the rest.”

Waddles and I hurried by, knowing I’d try again, next field trip to the petting zoo.


Tracker Maury by Saifun Hassam

Kris Maury of LeMar Ranch was a skilled tracker. To the north was Coulson Wilderness. One morning, the cowboys hit the trail to round up the North Creek herd. Chuck-wagon and herding dogs kept pace.

“Whoopee ti yi yo!” the cowboys yelled.

On the lookout for wild animals, Kris was more alert at North Creek. His sharp eyes caught a cougar crouched on immense boulders. Kris slid slowly off his horse, his rifle in hand. His border collie Maxie growled. The cougar and her three cubs disappeared.

Kris threw back his hat. “Git along, Maxie, afore misfortune gits us!”


Untitled by Frank Hubeny

Pete remembered his dying father-in-law’s warning, “Wyoming will be your new home, but beware of that swamp. It’s alive with filth.”

Although their ranch was adjacent to the swamp, Pete made it prosperous. For too many years he heard the hauntings, but he tolerated them. Then something snapped in him. Perhaps it was because the owners of the swamp went bankrupt. Perhaps he saw one too many spooks wallowing there. Perhaps he heard one too many tales from the locals.

Regardless, Pete bought that swamp and took his father-in-law’s advice to its logical conclusion. He drained the putrid mess.


Where’s Jean by Hugh Roberts

On walking back into the store, Eddie whistled a tune. With a spring in his step, life seemed trouble-free. Then panic set in. Where was Jean? He’d left her here outside while he visited the store’s bathroom. At only three-foot, eleven inches tall, Jean was the love of his life.

Looking around, he spotted a sign. ‘Lost Property.’ Maybe Jean was there? Eddie’s misfortune soon turned back to smiles as he spotted Jean behind the lost property counter.

“Jean!” he shouted. “Thanks awfully, madam,” he beamed, as the lady in lost property handed him back his pull-along shopping trolley.


Untitled by John Hughes

Just passin’ through, podner, but your post and contest captured my attention. Good ol’ Leonard Slye. Quite the career and life. I watched him and Dale faithfully on tv in the 50’s.

When I was a kid I’d go to bed and sleep listening to the Sons of the Pioneers on the radio. Cool Water, Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds, etc. I loved all the old western movies, in black and white. Tom Mix, Ken Maynard, Bob Steele, Hopalong, Roy, Gabby Hayes, et al.

Those were the days. “Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies.” It’s your misfortune and none of…


Rodeo Contest #4:

In Wanted Alive, Sam “Goldie” Kirk offered a poster prompt on a familiar wanted western theme in 99 words.

This year’s winner is Shiloh Carozza.

Honorable Mentions are D. Avery, Sue Spitulnik, and Norah Colvin.

Thank to the judges, Geoff Le Pard and Darlene Foster.


Incriminating Evidence by Shiloh Carozza

“Reach for the sky!”
“Teacher says the sky is the limit.”
“Shuttup. Gimme your paper.”
“But I drew this!”
“Gimme it. It’s better than mine.”
“But it looks like me, not you.”
“Here, you take mine. Trade pictures with me or I’ll shoot!”

“What happened to your eye, son?”
“A bully shot me with a rubber band, sir.”
“He wanted my homework. It was a self-portrait.”
“That’s awful mean. Did you tell your teacher?”
“Yes, Sheriff Brown, but I want him arrested.”
“Arrested? How do I know what he looks like?”
“He looks like this.”



Wanting for Patience

“Just sit; be quiet. Your constant chatter’s killing me.”

“That’s hyperbole, Grampa, chatter can’t actually kill.”

“We’ll see. Got that precocious vocabulary, can’t even read.”

“Not yet.”

“Uh-huh. Breakfast: All American—”

“What’s that?”

“Breakfast with all the food groups; eggs, bacon, toast, home fries.”

“That’s just starch and protein.”

“Uh-huh, all American. Just listen. Western—”

“What’s that?”

“Omelette, has onion, pepper, ham—”

“Is there an Eastern?”

Pouring coffee and providing paper and crayons, the waiter complimented the grandfather’s patience.

“I’m reaching for it, Mister.” While the green-eyed boy jabbered, his grandfather drew a wanted poster until their westerns arrived.


The Loss of Innocence by Sue Spitulnik

Cleaning out my parents’ house I found a poster I had made when I was little. The caption said, “Wanted, Alive Not Dead.” It was my Dad I wanted alive. He was a cop, and being too young to understand I thought he was dangerous, not his job. I remember him coming home in uniform and saying, “Reach for it, Mister.” I would put both arms up in the air, he would grab me around the middle, swoop me off the floor, and then hug me as if he might never see me again.

Finally, I understand his actions.


Squirreled Candy by Norah Colvin

“Reach for it, mister, and you’re dead!”
Henry meant it. He hadn’t squirreled his penny candy away to let others help themselves to it. Every night, more disappeared. He’d wanted to catch the culprits alive and receive restitution, but they’d become too greedy.
His wanted posters hadn’t helped. A stake-out was the only way.
Night after night he tried to stay awake, but every night he failed and every morning, more candy had disappeared … until now.
The startled intruder dropped the candy jar and disappeared into the darkness.
“I’ll get you next time!” Henry fired after the squirrel.



Surprise Package by Mel BeeCee

Sam drove stage coach across the wasteland between Arizona and Nevada.  On this run, Sam was carrying a special cargo destined for some rich lady in Juniper.  As the stagecoach turned the bend in Rock Canyon, Sam heard the words “Reach for it mister!”  Sam found himself staring down the bore of a Winchester 1873, with One Eye Red holding the trigger.  Sam cursed.  Sam tossed the package to the outlaw.  As Red rode away, Sam smiled.  He wondered what Red would think when he opened it.  Because it contained the taxidermied corpse of the rich lady’s favorite cat.


Untitled by Anonymole

Mysti hung down into the crevasse, her arm outstretched, her suit restricting her movement. Just below her thermally gloved fingertips, her brother clung to a ledge of red rock. They’d been exploring reports of a lava tube along the Valles Marineris. Her brother ignored her warnings and entered the cave. Ten steps inside, the floor gave way and a gaping crack swallowed him. She unlatched her supply belt.
“Reach for it, Mystir. It’s right there,” she pleaded over comm.
“It’s been a great adventure, Mys.”
“Don’t you give up, I need you alive.”
He shifted his grip and reached.


Wanted Alive by Frank Hubeny

The Robinson gang liked to string up bad guys except those in their gang. They hung good guys, too, but good guys were better used as assets in the mine. It made financial sense to keep them alive as long as they obeyed.

Billy did not obey. He attacked the mine operations and became a legend exposing their corruption. They posted a reward for Billy’s capture alive.

If they got hold of him, they’d tie his hands forcing him to reach for the sky while they publicly whipped him every evening. He’d die eventually.

No one turned him in.


Thief by Saifun Hassam

Jared broke camp, ready to ride to Hawks Canyon. Isabel DuMond stepped into the clearing. Piercing icy blue eyes, hand sure and steady at her Colt.

He could not underestimate her. She was lightning fast; accurate; deadly. He knew her when he was an honest vaquero riding sage and pinyon ranges before he turned horse thief.

He drew his gun. His wrist shattered. She was a fraction faster. A lariat tightened around his arms. He was returning to Laredo.

Isabel headed up Hawks Canyon. She knew Jared’s corral of stolen horses was there, among the tumbleweeds and cedar pines.


Once Upon a Time in the Old West by Liz Husebye Hartmann

“That’s gotta be the worst ‘Wanted’ poster I’ve ever seen.”

“It’s from your description!” Pablo tilted his head, defiant.

“I know it’s close to Halloween,” Goldie softened, “But what we need is realism.”

Goldie hadn’t been the same since her return from the future. She’d met a West Coast Surfer (whatever that was) and had clearly lost her mind. She’d insisted on the list of numbers and letters to call.

“I know he’s here,” Goldie sighed.

Then he came, on a pale horse riding, looking exactly as she’d described.

“Oh shit. It’s the Apocalypse!” Trembling, Pablo drew his six-gun.


Start Early by Kerry E.B. Black

We start early on the ranch. Lots to do before that old sun sets. Muck out stalls, turn out the herd, gather eggs. Grooming, cleaning, and milking. Never ends. Not really. A new day starts it all again.

Yep, early. My first memory’s dumping slop in the hogs’ trough. Now my back’s bent and my fingers are twisted. I groan when I bend, creak when I move, but there’s joy in a job well done.

Especially when it comes to raising young’uns. We teach ‘em to stand tall, work hard, and when they have a goal,

Reach for it.


They’ll Be Putting Up a Poster for Me …(but they won’t catch us) by JulesPaige

Waldo wed my gal. Domestic bliss weren’t her thing as much as it wasn’t mine. Jist neither of them two families really knowed their kin folk. They’d caught Waldo and Sissy in the hay loft sleeping, which was jist ta git outta chores. Her folks thought a shotgun wedding was best. Which dun’ give me an idea. I’d roll into the ranch on my Harley, while everyone else was cattle russlin’. I’d roll up round the barn an’ call ‘er out. “Reach for it Missy!,” I’d say! She’d hug me, kiss me, toss ‘er apron and we’d be gone!


Untitled by Doug Jacquier

The green-eyed monster smacked his blood-red lips, breathed noisily through the triangle where his nose used to be and smoothed his dyed black hair. ‘If you think you can imagine a scarier Hallowe’en costume, reach for it, Mister.’ Impassively, I donned my mask. Revealing an orange comb-over, white piggy eyes embedded in a fake tan and a red baseball cap, I said ‘People love me. And you know what, I have been very successful. Everybody loves me.’ With that, I mounted my hobby horse and rode into the sunset, knowing it was just a matter of bidin’ my time.


Untitled by FloridaBorne

At the age of 70, she’d seen enough killin’ to know the boys marching into European trenches would never be the same — if they lived to tell about it.

Fifty two years prior, she’d moved into a home outside Raleigh, North Carolina, with her new husband when Lincoln’s war came to their doorstep.

For decades, no one but God knew a widow’s only child was fathered by a union soldier, nor how she’d blown off that corporal’s head the moment he was at the height of his pleasure.

Her grandson’s called her a coward. Perhaps if they knew…


The Kid Next Door by Bill Engleson

He’s a cute kid, I suppose.

Had more than his fair share of wear and tear.

Moved in last winter. My neighbour’s basement suite.

Jules usually rents to students. Turns out the kid’s mom is a student.

You know, divorced and reinventing herself.

Don’t see her much. The kid, however. He’s a going concern.

Met him in late February.

Just before COVID took us to the dance.

Surprize snowfall, so I’m out shovelling. Kid reaches through the hole in the fence. Toy pistol, pajamas, t-shirt, says, “Reach for it, mister!”

What are you gonna do, eh!

I dropped dead.


TUFF Rodeo Contest:

In TUFF Love, Carrot Ranch’s Charli Mills asked participants to revise an original western romance through a 99-59-9-99 word process with each step requiring a different craft twist.

This year’s winner is Liz Husebye Hartmann.


Untitled by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Original 99-word Draft: UNTITLED

Anton shrugged out of his jacket, kicking off his boots, and with them, the urban muck of cow shit and cheap whiskey. Padding into the foothills in bare feet, he wrinkled his nose, drawing his lips back from canines that glinted moonlight.

His departure had been delayed. Had she already left?

Trees morphed to low brush as he climbed higher, tearing buttons from his shirt, slipping off his jeans, to reveal his sinewy, tawny body. He panted, called to her, low in his throat.

Pausing, his hope faltered.

Startled, joyful, he rolled, as her canines grabbed his careless neck.

TUFF PART Two: 59-word Story with Original POV

Anton abandoned the mining town, shucking jacket, boots, shirt, finally slithering out of his jeans. He wrinkled his nose, padding across stone, toward the foothills; the town’s stink still clung to his tawny, sinewy body.

He hoped the smell wouldn’t drive her away. Had she already left? He growled, heart breaking.

She landed on him, canines at his neck.

TUFF PART Two: 59-word Story with Different POV

Audra watched his dark shape slink to the foothills, shrubbery shaking with his ascent. He’d much to learn in his new skinwalker form, but what a fine form it was. She could wait.

He called, deep and low, anxiety unmasked, still stinking of the mines.

Audra bunched her shoulders, canines bared. She was ready to pounce, ready to fuck.

TUFF PART Three: Three 9-word Taglines for Your Story    

  1. Skinwalker flees western filth, finds love in the foothills.
  2. New to skinwalker world, he seeks his kindred soul.
  3. The body is willing, Can he survive the love?

TUFF PART Four: Final Revised 99-word Story with Prop

Anton abandoned the mining town, shucking Stetson, boots, and shirt, finally slithering out of his jeans. He wrinkled his nose, padding across stone, toward the foothills; the town’s stink of cheap whisky clung to his sinewy body.

Audra watched his dark shape slink to the foothills, shrubbery shaking with his ascent. He’d much to learn as a new skinwalker, but he intrigued her. She could wait.

He called, deep and low, anxiety unmasked. Had she already left?

Audra bunched her shoulders, canines bared. She prepared to pounce.

The time-traveling photojournalist followed at a distance, then lowered his camera, blushing.



Anyone who participated in the 2020 Flash Fiction Rodeo can download and use this icon to show that you can “Write and Rodeo”!

Thank you to all our Rodeo Leaders, their Judges, and our Participants! See you next year when the Flash Fiction Rodeo returns!

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

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.



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.”



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.



Whalestrom by Bill Engleson

2:00 a.m.

Late October.

Brain’s bubbling like Krakatoa.

Sleep’s nowhere.

Tried warm milk.

Tried TV.


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.


Three huge mothers.



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


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.


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.”



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.



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?”



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.



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


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.



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.



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.



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


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.”


“The Depression. It made us tough.”


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.


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.”



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.



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.



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.


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


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



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

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!


  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.


  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 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
  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.



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!


  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.


  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 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
  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.



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!


  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.


  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 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
  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.


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).