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The TUFFest Ride Third Challenge

TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction) could be thought of as a tool. I think of it as a revision process, one that teaches writers through experiencing each task. The TUFFest Ride is a contest by which the Fab Flash Five — Ritu Bhathal, Bill Engleson, Kay Kingsley, Pete Fanning, and Liz Husebye Hartmann — are competing for first, second and third place rankings. They are the five winners selected from 118 entries submitted to five Free-Writes in September. We have other dedicated writers following along, playing from the “safety of home.”

It’s not that TUFF  endangers writers, but the writing process itself feels vulnerable. We can’t teach writing from that place of instinct and imagination without risking the emotion and doubt that lingers within each of us. Editing is crisp, it is clear and known. Editing is teachable, knowable, less risky. But TUFF asks us to shed the safety of editing. Set it aside and write without boundaries. Go where your gut leads you. Explore. Push into the fiction writer’s answers to “what if?” and risk being curious even if it might mean you are wrong.

Last week we learned the purpose of 99 words — a tool of exploration. The technical challenge asked the writers to explore point of view (POV) by either shifting from one POV to another or introducing a different POV character.  Let’s listen to a recording of our Fab Flash Five, as I read each of their two 99-word POV stories:

One of our regulars at the weekly Flash Fiction Challenges, CalmKate, has provided an illustrative example of the TUFFest Ride thus far and one that will help me explain the next task in the contest (or challenge for those of you following).

Rank Dank Mud by Calm Kate

Asleep at last, a brief reprieval from the relentless wind and rain … such a violent storm.

Then about midnight we’re woken by a violent piercing crack, what the … ?

Goodness that was the mountainside sliding downhill, trees, homes, vehicles, road, pets and people. The quagmire is astounding, the sight disturbing. The mind and emotions are numb.

Disbelief resides with distress as we try to get our heads around this monumental mess. No one can describe the sight of mud mixed with trees and torn structures. Buildings, roads and vehicles strewn about in pieces like kindling emerged in mud. Thick dank rank mud. We can’t believe what we see coz it’s just too horrifying to comprehend.

Facilities are out, power, water and sewage are no longer functioning. Groceries are scarce as we all panic buy in bulk. The roads impassable so no idea when help will get through. The shock and fear just too overwhelming to grasp or express.

Then with time and sun the smell settles like an unwanted guest. The debris, mud and waste all rotting in one ginormous compost heap. But there is no bin to contain it … this is our neighbourhood, our friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

All sounds are muffled like they are also stuck in the mud. We are muted, no one dare speak loudly, our tongues are tied. None of us will ever be able to block out that resounding crack and weird sound as the sky came down to meet the earth crushing everything in between.

Other than assure our loved ones that we were safe we don’t use our phones coz there is no power to charge them and what would we say anyway. Everything is the same dull dank colour and the smell blocks all orifices.


99-word POV #1 (Original) by CalmKate

A violent piercing crack wakes us all.

Goodness the mountain slid downhill taking trees, homes, vehicles, pets and people. The sight is most disturbing leaving our mind and emotions numb.

Everything is strewn about like kindling covered in dank rank mud. Power, water and sewage are out. The shelves are all bare as we panic shopped.

The debris, mud and waste are rotting like compost but this is our community … we are muted as we struggle to comprehend. Having assured our loved ones that we are safe our phones are off for emergencies only. No power to recharge.

99-word POV #2 (Different) by CalmKate

Looking down I can see that my minions need a reminder that they are mortal. To stop taking life for granted, whining instead of being thankful for what they’ve got.

A good old storm with a dangerous mudslide should remind them to be more grateful. I’ll make sure to knock out their utilities and keep them isolated and hungry for a while. Life has got too easy with groceries galore and light at the flick of a switch.

As for those damned devices they’re all so engrossed in I’ll make sure that they have to talk to each other.

What I want to point out in Kate’s writing are a couple of nuggets that emerged in each POV:


  • A violent piercing crack wakes us all. (POV #1)
  • Life has got too easy with groceries galore and light at the flick of a switch. (POV #2)

The first nugget exemplifies the power of writing concise prose. If you compare that line to Kate’s original opening, you can see how it still works and carries the tension of the moment. The second nugget could only have emerged through exploration. Had Kate not explored a different point of view, she could have missed this idea which offers her stories a pivotal point of contrast. Not only is her story one of natural disaster, but now we see an expansion of what can happen because of or in spite of an easy life — the consequences of complacency.

Do you see how 99 words allow you to continue to play in your creative writing without yet having to rein it to editing? You are still writing as you revise and yet you are tightening language, focusing tension, and discovering the cost to character’s lives. There’s no end to the exploration of play in 99 words, and if you take away anything from TUFF, I hope you understand the value of investigation that doesn’t take up a lot of writing time. No one wants to get to the end of 75,000 words and then explore a different POV! Play with it up front. Use the weekly challenges to develop your characters outside your novel to learn new insights.

Now we begin to focus. Now we cut away everything but that which is most essential.


  1. Decide on one POV. It can be the original, or it can be the experimental one.
  2. Reduce the story to 59-words.
  3. For a technical challenge, incorporate a nugget from your opposite 99-word POV (and bold that nugget to illustrate it).

This is a revision challenge. You are not only continuing to distill the original story, but you are also deciding upon a single point of view to carry your narration, and you are adding something you didn’t have in the original free-draft or the POV you chose to keep.

An example can be found in Kate’s illustration above. If she goes with POV #1, she includes Nugget #2. If she goes with POV #2, she includes Nugget #1. Of course, Kate is free to select her own nuggets just as each contestant and challenger will do. The task is to take a nugget from the opposing POV. You might have to change the nugget’s POV if it’s in first person and your story is in third. Or you can take the idea and expand it, not using the exact verbiage.

Contestants turn in their entries by11:59 p.m. (EST) Friday, October 19. Challengers can post or link in the responses. Let me know of any insights you recognize as you continue the TUFFest Ride!

Rodeo #2: Memoir

By Irene Waters, Rodeo Leader

Memoir is a passion, so I’m thrilled to once again host the memoir section of the Carrot Ranch Rodeo Contest. Hoping you’ll tighten your saddles and put on your spurs and join in. [READ MORE…]

Last year we had Scars – this year?

“She Did It.”

Three little words can hold so much meaning and have so many stories that come to mind. For the memoir prompt “She Did It” write a true story or a BOTS (based on a true story) keeping in mind the tips on writing memoir.


  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 net as this will be the one I use to check the entries. Entries that aren’t 99 words will be disqualified.
  2. The genre is memoir although BOTS (based on a true story) will be accepted.
  3. English grammar and spelling (American, English or Australian) are expected, but as long as the judges can understand the language, it is the story that matters most.
  4. And it must be a story — that is it must be complete by itself not a part of a larger narrative. Give it a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  5. The prompt is a prompt, and the three words don’t have to be used in your 99 words unless you want to.
  6. You must enter your name and email with your entry using the provided form below. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email, contact us at
  7. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 17, 2018. Entries are judged blind, and winners announced November 16, 2018, at Carrot Ranch. Please do not compromise the blind judging by posting your entry before the winners are announced.
  8. You may post a “challenge” if you don’t want to enter the contest, but don’t use the form to enter the contest. Only contest entries will be published.

Above all have fun.

JUDGES (read full bios at SPONSORS)

Irene Waters

Angie Oakley

Helen Stromqvist

The TUFFest Ride Second Challenge

Welcome back to the TUFFest Ride where five writers — Ritu Bhathal, Bill Engleson, Pete Fanning, Liz Husebye Hartmann, and Kay Kingsley — exhibit their flash fiction riding skills in The Ultimate Flash Fiction. TUFF is a process of drafting, revising, and rewriting a single story by varying word counts.

The TUFFest Ride also includes unexpected technical challenges. Like POV. All authors write their stories from a point of view (POV). It is the position the narrator takes in telling the story. Here’s a simple breakdown, although it is not a simple technique to master:

  1. First person POV: the character tells his or her own story, relating the experiences as they happen. Narration uses the pronoun “I.”
  2. Second person POV: narrates the experiences of the reader as “you” in non-fiction. Not to say it can’t be used in literary art or fiction; it’s just not common.
  3. Third person POV: the character does not relate his or her own story, but relates the experiences of another. Third person omniscient has access to the thoughts and experiences of all the characters. Third person limited only has access to the thoughts and experiences one or a few characters. POV characters allow an author full access to a few key characters while staying out of the skins and heads of the remaining characters.

When an author jumps too quickly from one character’s thoughts to another, readers have trouble keeping up. Editors call this “head-hopping.” Readers need a signal (a page break, chapter break, italics, etc.) to follow the narration that includes multiple POV characters.

Typically, in flash fiction, writers use one narration voice. But how do we know that is the right voice for our stories? The 99-word flash fiction form offers an experimental writing tool. It’s not a big commitment — only 99 words — and a writer can use it to try different POVs. Another possibility, if a writer is still trying to figure out the angle for the story-idea, a new POV can shed light on the story.

A different POV character might be someone mentioned in the story — what is that person doing when the story happens according to narration? Or it could be the POV of an observer. Second person POV could be a narrator telling the character their own stories such as a grandparent relating a child’s tale to the child, or a loved one telling a coma victim their story.

By now, you should know that this week’s TUFF challenge will include POV. The Fab Five (and hopefully some of you playing from home) all have a new free-draft that includes the prompt “mudslide.” All the challenges from here on out use that free-draft story. You are not writing a new story, but you are rewriting the original, and you can certainly go any direction you want with it. Cutting words is an exercise in concision but is not truly revising.

I want you to be brave and revise. I want you to push into your original draft and pull out a 99-word story from it.

The Second Challenge: write two 99-word stories using your original free-draft for mudslide. One continues the original POV. The second uses a different POV or POV character. This is your chance to see how flash fiction can be an exploratory tool.

All of the stories for our Fab Five will post November 1. However, if you’d like to hear their stories, I offer you a reading on SoundCloud. I had, once again, technical difficulties. This time I did get the video recorded but failed to upload it. I’d like a quick shout-out to Frank Hubeney who has often recorded flash fiction readings using SoundCloud as that gave me a secondary option. Hopefully, I’ll have the recording issues worked out by next week!

The TUFFest Ride Reading of Free-Write Entries for Mudslide by Kay Kingsley, Bill Engleson, Pete Fanning, Liz Husebye Hartmann, and Ritu Bhathal:

Rodeo #1: Dialog

By Geoff Le Pard, Rodeo Leader

Writers are notorious people watchers. It’s a small miracle we don’t get done for stalking more often. Part of that idea — thieving we do involves listening to what people say — phrases, the modes of speech, dialect, etc. People convey ideas and feelings with words. [READ MORE…]

So, those pesky rules:

  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit.
  2. It’s dialogue only. Everything inside speech marks, please. (American and British styles both accepted.)
  3. Any genre, time, place, just let us know via words. If you can world build a fantasy, hats off! (Oh, by the way, I bloody loathe the overuse of the exclamation mark. Be very sparing or my prejudices may show through.
  4. It’s a conversation so you need two characters at least. But can you have a conversation with yourself? With an inanimate object? Go for it. There’s a prompt at the end for you to use, but use your imagination. It doesn’t have to be anyone in the picture who’s speaking, does it?
  5. I don’t mind what English spelling or slang you use, just make it recognisably English.
  6. I want emotion, but I want fiction. Not memoir, not a personal narrative and no non-fiction, though dialogue non-fiction sounds a challenge in its own right.
  7. You must enter your name and email with your entry using the provided form below. If you do not receive an acknowledgement by email, contact us at
  8. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 10, 2018. Entries are judged blind and winners announced November 9, 2018 at Carrot Ranch. Please do not compromise the blind judging by posting your entry before the winners are announced.
  9. Go where the prompt leads, people.
  10. Have fun.

JUDGES (read full bios at SPONSORS)

Geoff Le Pard

Find Geoff’s books at Amazon US or Amazon UK. Follow his blog at TanGental and on Twitter @geofflepard.

Esther Chilton

Whether it’s an edit you’re after, some advice about a market, writing in general – in fact, anything and everything, you can get in touch, and she’ll try and help you. To find out more, visit her blog: Or contact her:

Chelsea Owens

When not cleaning (an infuriatingly large amount of the time), eating, sleeping, parenting, driving, reading her blog feed, budgeting, and cooking; Chelsea breathes in and sometimes out again. She also writes daily on her blog:

In judging we will apply the following criteria:

  1. Word count: 99
  2. Pure dialogue.
  3. Use of the prompt.
  4. Emotion: does the piece convey feeling? Do you generate a reaction in the reader?
  5. Ideally we want a story, something that makes us think. Where’s this going? What’s happened? Engage us in your tale.
  6. We love any clever tricks, to make us go ‘ah ha’. Include something to make us wonder and up the slippery pole you go.
  7. Just remember, in real life, we don’t say everything, we finish each other’s sentences, we talk over each other. Use that. Make it feel real. Make us hear it, and you’ll be a winner.

And the picture prompt?

Oh come on, it’s me. Wadyaexpect? The inside of Starbucks?

Thank you for entering! The contest is now closed. Winners announced November 9, 2018, at Carrot Ranch.

Let’s Get TUFF and Rodeo!

You can expect spills and thrills at the Rodeo. At last, we launch, late due to multiple technical difficulties following an extraordinarily long day at the Minneapolis VA Polytrauma Center. In the end, a Rough Writer drove all the way from Nebraska to feed me tonight after a day of unintentional fasting. I feasted on kale and sweet potato curry with bok choy and cauliflower rice with C. Jai Ferry (of TwitterFlash and grit lit fame).

Forgive the lateness of this post and the lack of video. My recorder died, and I can not figure out an elegant solution to videotaping on my laptop while also reading the winning entries. And I know that’s what you are all chomping at the bit to learn. I just figured out wi-fi connection at the Fisher House where I’m staying.

First, let me say this was the hardest contest I’ve ever had the privilege to judge. No one turned up with weak entries. The writers who all submitted entries to the free-writes stretched their writing abilities, pushed into the prompt and took risks on the page.

Right after the final free-write, my judges and I began the process of selection. First, we focused on entries that created a memorable impression. Next, we looked at writers who short-listed more than one entry and stories we all selected as judges. We had three clear winners and an agonizing time to decide who took the final two spots.

I want all the writers who submitted to know that each one of you drafted with creativity and skill to convey a story in 297 words. Even if you were not selected, your writing will be posted in a collection on November 1. I hope you will play along.

Finally, at last, the wait is over — please meet the TUFF Fab 5 who are about to embark upon the TUFFest Ride:


Soon as we got to Nannie’s I hurried to the kitchen to pour a cup of her sweet, cheek-sucking Kool-Aid. I gulped it down and wiped my mouth with my sleeve. Then I set outside to spy on Grandpa.

Grandpa never left his car, an old Dodge that sat under the pine trees out back. Sometimes he’d sleep there, with his head lolled back in the seat, his mouth opened, snoring loud enough to wake Mrs. Wilmer’s dachshunds. But most days he just listened to the radio, sipping on Coors Banquet, banging his fist on the steering wheel depending whether he was listening to a ballgame.

I was tossing my football around when he called out my dad’s name. I dropped the ball and looked around when he honked, “Now come on, Douglas,” he said, “We’ve got a long drive home and no time to waste.”

He waved me over, to that old Dodge that hadn’t moved in my lifetime. The hood didn’t shut, and the tires were flattened to a fold. Still, I plodded over and opened the door, breathing in a gust of spring pollen, summer mold, fall leaves and a sprig of winter pine.

“Shut the door, Douglas. Hurry.”

I reached over and yanked it shut, cans scattering under my feet.

“There we go,” Grandpa said, hands on the wheel. “Gosh, Dougie, I didn’t think you were going to make it home,” he said, taking me in. A chill over my bones, him calling me that. All I knew about my dad sat in a dusty flag-folded triangle on the shelf above my dresser. But Grandpa, even with that map in his head a few roads short of an intersection, I liked him saying it. Besides, the seat was comfortable.

“Yeah, let’s go home.”



The tree is always there, taunting us, imposing itself on who we are.

We are the weak link in their chain.

I am the weakest.

I am often left alone.

“He’ll be fine,” he says, as I hear the door close, the slam, the silence, the crunch, feet falling on cracking snow.

I lift the window, look down. Iced air snaps in, smashes my eyes, freezes my face.

I glimpse the shape of them going to the car.

She hesitates. I wonder. Maybe this time.

“Its not right.”

He scoffs, “Christ, Jennie, he’s almost of an age.”

Of an age?

I am almost of an age.

“You say,” she says.

“Fuckin’ right. Where do you think backbone comes from? From you? From your kind?”

She touches the car door handle.

He stomps to the driver’s side.

“GET IN! It’s bloody cold.”

Her gloved hand lingers.

“JESUS! He’ll be fine. It didn’t do me any harm. Ever.”

She opens the car door, gets in, closes it.

The motor grinds. It won’t catch. Another grind. Then it catches, engine firing, exhaust swirling in the winter night.

They drive away.

I stare until they vanish.

His memories come in angry waves.

“Your Grandfather. Tough as steel. ‘The best ones are found as high as you can go,’ he’d say, demand I climb as high as I could to get the best Braeburn. I gave it my all, even when a broken branch shredded my skin.”

He flashes me the underside of his left wrist. I bear witness to the scar he wears like a medal. “See. A little blood. A little souvenir. That’s what life’s all about.”

I have no scars from climbing.

No medals for what I am.

I close the window, crawl into bed.

This is it, then.



The sun was just starting to rise as I drove east along Interstate 80 as the black dawn gave way to shades of gray and purple that marked the beginning of a beautiful Midwest sunrise.

Cars passed in intervals and my mind drifted mile after mile. I had been driving for 10 hours and decided I needed to stop, fill up and shake off the storm of my past as I drove straight towards its center.

I zipped my jacket up and wrapped my hands around my coffee as I leaned back on my car listening as the pump filled my tank with gasoline. As I had expected, the sunrise was beautiful and for the first time in a long time I let my heart feel a pain I had pushed down since I left Laramie in October 1998.

The controversy surrounding his death divided our town and the nation. When they found him he had been left to die in a field after being savagely beaten. Deciding I would defend him and in turn I would be defending myself, I was ready to have ‘the talk’ with my father.

I had anticipated anger, after all he was a religious conservative man but I hadn’t expected the explosion. His fist flew faster than my head or heart could react and with a broken nose I fell to the floor. That night I packed my things and headed west to California and never saw him again. That was the year life as I know it began.

I spent 20 years living a life of discovery, one I lived for two since Matt never got the chance to. I’ve forgiven my father and now as he lay dying, I make the long drive home. It’s time he knows it.



Jody sighed and pulled on her helmet, before heaving herself up onto the horse. Nina cantered up to her, her horse slowing down as he neared her.

“It was a good idea, this break, wasn’t it Jod? An early ride totally blows the cobwebs away. I feel so alive here!”

Smiling weakly at her friend, Jody nodded and gave her horse’s rein a little pull, setting her off on a slow gallop.

Being here had given her plenty of time to think, and she had. But it had been a constant bombardment of memories; pictures flashing through her mind, rather like scrolling through the photo album on her phone. And every image centred around one person.


The one person she was trying to forget.

Ben the bastard.

Ben the cheat.

Ben the di-

No. She had to stop this. She was meant to be forgetting him, not allowing his memories to become sharper with each day.

“Stop it.”

She looked up to her friend who had caught her up again. “What?”

“Stop thinking of him. I know what you’re doing. And it’s not healthy.” Nina’s blood boiled as she thought of the idiot who had broken her best friend’s heart. “And anyway, I brought you here to forget him! What you need is to find someone to help you forget. Have you seen some of the ranchers here?”

“Seriously Nina, I am not interested, not after all the shit with Ben. I’m afraid one little ranch romance isn’t going to help.”

“Oh, I know, but it wouldn’t hurt, eh… haven’t you noticed how that Jimmy keeps looking at you?”

Nina knew.

The only way this girl was going to get over Ben was by having a long, hard ride, and she wasn’t talking about a horse.



Once upon a time, summer sunrises warmed deep forest, from chill evergreen to clattering gold, edging our bedroom curtains with the nascent glow of unarticulated adventures. Ceaseless waves, having raked over agate and quartz all night, left hints in bits of driftwood and bobber, and precious white-scrubbed logs from distant islands and Superior storms. Bare feet scrambled over slick green rocks, gathering and grousing over ownership. Pale pirate’s legs wavered under thigh-deep water, ferrying those bones of raft-base to whatever part of the beach each had designated as “my spot.”

My Spot. My logs. My bobber. Ownership begins early, stains our pure blood with ambition. We soon forget that any pirate’s treasures claimed are gifts, not rights. Even Nature’s well is not bottomless.

Once upon a time, we visited the island’s one hardware store, padding from hot sands to cool dark, a single fan humming from a high corner in the converted boathouse. Its proprietor, wind-darkened skin folding like sail canvas around warm brown eyes and a mouth that found humor in our enthusiasm, stretched in dun and evergreen, beckoning us in. His hands were strong, each line traced by the grease from his last job. I breathed in heady inspiration from motor oil, decades of sawdust, and the tang of fertilizer. He led us to boxes of long nails and spikes, vital to our summer rafts.

I made my own raft. Tiny and wobbly, we were twin mermaids. In deeper water, the boys had their exclusive kingdom.

In this time, I roll back my chair and look out over the empty cityscape. My spreadsheets reflect in the office window, silent as the night office. My stilettos lay behind me, being shoeless my one compensation for success attained.

Papa’s bar was high. My memories wave me homeward.


Congratulations Pete, Ritu, Bill, Liz, and Kay! You will represent the Ranch in an exhibition write throughout the Rodeo. Each of you have won $25.

Each of you will progress through four TUFF tasks with technical twists that won’t be revealed until each Monday at Carrot Ranch.

Three of you will advance to compete for rank of First, Second and Third place. The overall first-place winner will receive an additional $25.

So, let’s talk TUFF. The Ultimate Flash Fiction is a process, a brain game, to reduce words to produce more. TUFF is about learning to go with gut instinct to draft and to then trust the creation to revision. When you free-write, you have to let go of your inner editor and write. When something feels uncomfortable, that’s a sign of writing deep. Drafting can feel vulnerable.

When writers revise, it’s not always obvious how to go about it. TUFF is a quick revision tool that writers can apply to scenes, chapters, and even entire novels. It’s a way to get at the heart of what your story of book is about. I even use TUFF to coach entrepreneurs to craft the story of their business vision. You can use TUFF to create variously sized synopses.

TUFF begins with a free-write. The first revision is 99 words, the second 59 words, and the third is 9. By the time you go through the constraint process, the story or idea sharpens. That allows you to go write the clearly envisioned story. The process will surprise you! Writers who take the TUFF challenge feel the shift.

However, because this is the TUFFest Ride, the judges and I will be reviewing each week’s entries and deciding how best to test the writers’ skills with an additional technical challenge.

All writers are welcome to play along from the safety of home. You can post your challenges in the comments. Due to the volume of words that the extra challenges produce, I won’t be posting any challenge entries. We will enjoy and discuss them right here in the comments.

Except for the Fab Five. Pete, Ritu, Bill, Liz, and Kay will email their weekly entry to Their full entries will be posted on November 1 (please refrain from sharing your entries on your own blogs until the judging is final on November 1).


We begin the TUFFest Ride with a free-write. You have five days to draft 297 words to the prompt: mudslide. Your technical challenge is to include at least three of the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, sound). This is the story you will revise and rewrite as a final entry throughout TUFF.


Remember: competitors email entries and challengers post in the comments.

Deadline: October 6 at 11:59 p.m.

All You Need to Know to Rodeo

Weekly Flash Fiction Challenges are on hiatus until November 1. Just like hands on a ranch, we’re going to take a break from our regular chores to challenge and show off our skills. We’re going to have us a rodeo! A flash fiction rodeo.


Judging for TUFF began after the final September Free-Write. These writers were in it to win it. A free-write is a scary contest to enter because it makes a writer feel vulnerable, but vulnerability is exactly what a writer has to push past to write deep, to meet the muse, to follow gut instinct. Drafting is all about trusting the spark of creativity.

We will post a video on October 1 (right here in the blog feed) to announce the five writers who will advance to compete every Monday. They will write a new story to a fresh prompt, then each week revise according to word count and a technical challenge. After the final constraint, three writers will go on to compete for first, second and third place.

All five are winners and each will receive at least $25 by the end of the contest.

All writers are welcome to take up each Monday TUFF challenge. You can play along from the safety of home. Learn more about the TUFF process under Flash Fiction. It’s a powerful tool that can help you revise a story, scene chapter, novel, synopsis, and more.


Beginning October 3, a new Flash Fiction Contest will debut in the Rodeo. Each one will remain open until 11:59 p.m. (EST) the following Wednesday. That gives writers plenty of time to enter. Be sure to read the rules. Follow the word count exactly (use Microsoft Word or Punctuation is often “counted” so check your work using one of those two official word counters.


One of our local sponsors, Continental Fire Company, is an evening venue for events. The building is a historic firehouse from the 1800s. Later it became the first location for Michigan Tech University. The owners embrace their location’s rich history. And that will factor into the bonus contest. They are looking for three old-time radio spots.

CFC will select three entries to develop into radio ads that they will produce and use. Three winners will each receive $25 and a clip of their ad when produced. This exciting opportunity is how we can incubate our literary art and find creative uses for it. Details and rules post Sunday, October 21 when the contest opens. History details and online sources will also be shared. The contest will close along with the final scheduled Rodeo #5 on November 7 at 11:59 p.m. (EST).


If you don’t want to enter a contest, you can submit a challenge in the comments or on your own blog post. We will only publish qualified contest entries in collections because it becomes too daunting of a task to track down all the challenges. So, to be clear, if you want to be included in the collection, you must enter the contest. It’s free, so why not?


You can enter all six contests for free! No fees and first place wins $25. Our sponsors make this possible.


Set your clocks to New York City (that’s EST).

Our live readings and TUFF prompts will be posted by 7 p.m. EST. Submission deadlines will take into account when each video posts. TUFF challenges have 5 days to respond (until the final 24-hour challenge).

Rodeo contests start at 12:00 a.m. EST on Wednesday and close the following Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. EST.


Judging and compiling entries into collections take time. Winners will be announced each Friday by order of contest after the events close. Each contest will post its winner announcement date. We will also post the collection of qualified entries that same day.


Qualified entries are those that meet the contest rules. Pay attention to word count. If a contest calls for 99 words, and you submit 96, your entry will be disqualified and not included in the collection. This might seem harsh, but it is a contest, so take it seriously. But have fun, too!


This simply couldn’t happen without the leadership of Geoff Le Pard, Irene Waters, Sherri Matthews, Norah Colvin, and D. Avery. Each of them works hard to make you sweat, stretching your skills. They, along with their judges, have a difficult task to pick a winner. Be sure to read their rules carefully. And show them some gratitude for what they do to make this Rodeo fun and challenging.

Next year, they will each mentor new leaders. The following year, those mentees will go on to develop their own contests, and the third year they will, in turn, mentor new leaders. This allows writers from our literary community to take on leadership roles. If you are interested to know more, contact the Lead Buckaroo.


Thank you for participating in a vibrant literary community where we get to play with words, meet other writers in meaningful ways, and progress our own writing goals. You are Carrot Ranch!

Now go saddle up and get ready to show off your skills. Best to you all!

Weekly Flash Fiction Challenges return November 1.


Parade of Nations

Step aside or join in the march — it’s a parade of nations coming through! Parades move forward with noisy color and colorful sounds, twirling the senses, often giving candy and vitality to bystanders. Nations can demonstrate such vibrancy when they come together, celebrating culture with joy.

Writers took to the parade street this week and traveled the globe (which is not all that difficult given the many time zones we all write from).

The following is based on the September 20, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a parade of nations.

PART I (5-minute read)

Her Family of Cultures by Sascha Darlington

This job at the university laboratory was a stepping stone. She’d get her master’s and then a career. Unexpectedly, her international colleagues became part of her new family.

A Chinese woman taught her joy despite suffering.

A Polish man taught her flirtation.

An Ethiopian woman demonstrated caring through injera and wat.

An Indian confided emotional injury despite pride in culture.

A French woman showed her strength through adversity.

A Mexican taught her the value of beer, laughter, and literature.

A Yugoslav gave her saxophone and gypsy jazz.

When she thought she might finally leave, an Englishman stole her heart.


Flash Fiction by Jan Malique

Come, let us rejoice, for one day at least. The Otherworld Gates open wide, bring forth all who inhabit places hidden. Silent feet tread lightly on paths of whispers and songs of joy.

For such a parade of nations do the denizens of ancient, and half forgotten places venture forth. For unity’s sake do human and the Old Ones gather. For sake of Peace, at least for one day, may blessings gush forth, shower like gold upon heads bowed.

See them parade, show pride in their souls of sunlight and birdsong. Show pride in the babel of tongues aplenty.


Wandering With Purpose by JulesPaige

They are the migrators of nations. Parading in the sky. Canadian Geese and American Redstarts. Even the insects get into the act the Monarch butterflies, that Fifth generation setting off to Mexico in late summer. Some Blue Jays stay put one season and head to warmer climates the next. Robins also have a few that stay northerly. Some Ruby Throated Humming
Birds can end up in Panama.

Greys, browns, black, orange, yellow, red, white, and blue. Free from borders, These critters carry natural colors as their wings flag and flap in Vee’s, groups or just as a single flutter.


Parade of Nations by Deepa

cars unloaded on the lakefront
thousands were drawn to the park
headed by the finest bandwagon
drawn by twelve magnificent horses
the marching band parade
of anxious thoughts
followed by the drum roll of words
dancing off their rails all night
the ringmaster lost control
parade of nations
jump into action


Dayton Peace Accord: World Affair by Nancy Brady

Participants began to line up for the parade. For some nations, there were only one or two participants; other contingents had larger groups, but all were dressed in their various ethnic costumes. Voices grew louder as the wait seemed to be interminable, waiting for the start of Dayton’s World Affair with its Parade of Nations.

World Affair was a yearly event that celebrated the proud ethnic and cultural diversity of the area. Lithuanians, Germans, Japanese, Scots, Irish, Greeks, and other people from around the world representing their ancestral countries, mingled together in the convention center for the three-day event.


Equestrian Event by Abhijit Ray

“I bet she is here for the annual equestrian event and she will participate in parade of nations this evening,”

Sid was looking at the woman in blue jacket riding a white horse.

“Lets go talk to her and find out more.”

“What event? How are you going to talk to her?”

“Be a little bold and a little innovative my friend,” Sid was already halfway towards the girl.

That was Sid, always forward, always brimming with easy confidence.

Sid did not know that girl’s army major husband was also a rider and disliked romeos hanging around his wife.


Flash Dance by Charli Mills

Jamie clacked his tap-shoes across the pavement. He’d found the kilt at the Keweenaw Consignment and paired it with his mother’s discarded turquoise blouse, the one that matched his sunglasses. He danced every day, preparing for his solo march in the Parade of Nations. Jamie was alone in his nation – an outcast. Many people treated him kindly and he managed to live on his own. Others said cruel things or pointed and laughed. He ignored them. A shout from the bystanders, “Dance, laddie, Dance!” inspired a spontaneous back-flip. Too late, he remembered what was worn beneath a kilt – nothing.


Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

We line the road, watching them hobble around the bend, ragged and hollow, the rabid fight from only hours ago now carved out of their eyes. We’d spent most the summer surrounding them, from Richmond to Farmville, cutting them down before they scurried down to Lynchburg.

Now the two nations would be one again.

Their great leader is in the courthouse, signing papers and negotiating mercy. I stand with my infantry. Slaves to soldiers who only now, in the eerie dawn of peace, as the confederates wait to be pardoned or paroled, dare to dream of our own freedom.


Good Fences? by D. Avery

Complaining about the bordering gardens, the new neighbor did an un-neighborly thing. He enclosed his property behind a fence, a veritable wall, really.
Thing is, the surrounding peas the others were tending throve. Whorls of tendrils covered the fencing; vibrant blossoms cascaded over the fence, their sweet fragrance carried on the soft breeze. There were many colors and hues, for the neighbors grew all sorts of peas. The new neighbor looked up from watering his monochrome crew cut patch of ground. Awed by the parade of color, he had a change of heart. He would give peas a chance.


When Time Stood Still by Colleen Chesebro

“Eyes left, salute!”

I listened to the drill sergeant’s voice and a sense of pride swell in my chest as I raised my hand to salute the onlookers in the parade stand. Exhaustion had set in weeks ago. Air Force Basic Training had drained me of everything I possessed, but somehow, I carried on.

This was my flight’s crowning achievement to march in the Parade of Nations to salute our NATO allies. We had earned the honor as the first women’s flight to graduate from the USAF. The cadence of my life slipped into place and time stood still.


School Parade by Ritu Bhathal

I hate assemblies!

I stood there nervously.

They came trooping in, like a parade of nations, English, African, Indian, Slovakian,

Polish, Vietnamese… and more.

This was my first time and I had four hundred and twenty pairs of young eyes trained upon me.

Clearing my throat, I said, in a loud, yet slightly wobbly voice, “Good morning everyone!”

“Good morning Mrs Johnson!” came the singsong reply.

And those eyes looked at me with such trust, my nerves melted away.

“I’ve got a wonderful song for us to sing, and then we’ll talk about the year ahead…”

I LOVE assemblies!


The Varied Strait by JulesPaige

There at the falls… up and down the stairs to the caves, for zip lining, to ride the ferries into the mist. Promenading in a free form dance along both sides of the Niagara river a parade of nations. Tourists from everywhere. Their song
varied in the many languages that were unfamiliar to almost every other set of ears there. Some had driven, others had flown across the oceans.

Perhaps every continent was represented. And the mist of the falls smiled and looked back at each pair of eyes when the sun helped to form rainbows at the horseshoe.


Commune Communiqués-June 1968 by Bill Engleson

I wasn’t all that excited.

An old guy coming to live out his life…in our commune.

“He’ll be here mid summer,” Kate said, clutching the old Frenchman’s letter.

“And he knows about us, how?” I asked.

“His niece, Rosario,” she says. “Passed through last summer. Was here most of that July. Then she hit the road. Lives in Columbia, I think,” she adds.

“Hmm,” I mumble, and down my carrot juice.

I’m a local. Not well-travelled. But we are a potpourri of flavours.


One Aussie.

An underground railroad of Yanks.

Bobby Kennedy’s dead but our life goes on.


PART II (5-minute read)

Captain Amira (from Quantanelle in Space) by Saifun Hassam

The great starship “Valentina” was on its way to Mars and beyond. Captain Amira Robertson watched Earth’s blue and white swirls receding.

On her tenth birthday, Amira’s Grandfather Qassim had given her an encyclopedic book, Astronomy and Astronauts. Photographs of the Solar System, the Milky Way, and faraway galaxies captured her imagination. Earthrise from the Moon and Mars. The stormy gas giant Jupiter. Saturn with its rings and satellite moons. The Oort Cloud comets.

Neil Armstrong had taken that first step on the Moon. And now spacefarers from a parade of nations were exploring ever farther into deeper space.


A Parade of Nations by Norah Colvin

The children listened intently, eager to learn. Each family’s wish was for a better life. The group was a parade of nations; with Dragos from Serbia, Duy from Vietnam, Melino from Tonga, Ervine from Scotland, Rongo from New Zealand, Jung from Korea, Sanhitha from Sri Lanka, and Jawara from Senegal; and these were only the new arrivals. Others were first and second generation with but a few who could count back further than three, except for Kinta whose ancestors were the first to arrive. The wall map, dotted with pins to show each one’s heritage, was their proudest display.


A Different Sort of Parade by Chelsea Owens

Oogdiblok the Fiercely Flatulent surveyed the plodding masses, scowling. Urgdup, his counselor, knew this meant nothing since the stinky leader always scowled unless he was angry.

“Fmouglisk oog digump,” Urgdup warned.

Sighing, Oogdiblok replied, “Gurdonk.” He blew a raspberry with his fat lips, dismissing his counselor. His expression did not lighten until Fmouglisk oozed in.

She was upset. Oogdiblok knew this by the radiant smile she wore. “Eekdi homespank murgle!” she screeched.

He smiled and winked. He knew he’d started without her. Next time, he resolved, she wouldn’t be allowed to watch The Parade of Ogre Nations at all.


The Gluzzlebups’ Parade of Nations by H.R.R. Gorman

The announcer put its lips to the microphone.  “Next, we have the United Statesians!”

A three-toed alien named Gluzurr held the head of her bounty high and licked her lips.  Plump cheeks belied the delicacy of Gluzurr’s kill.

“And the Chinese!” the announcer bellowed.

The crowd gaped at the corpse on Boolan’s flaunted staff.  The meal had kept a fine diet.

“Next, we have Furrazh with a Zambian!”

The Zambian representative of choice had been flayed perfectly to show off the marbling of the athletic muscles.

“What a lovely parade of nations!” the announcer cast.  “Let the feast begin!”


The Family Hairloom (Pun totally intended) by Anurag Bakhshi

There was a parade of nations to honour him at his funeral. The greatest hero the world had ever seen, there had been none like him before, there would be none like him hence. Samson- a God among men, they called him. With his courageous act of bringing down the pillars of the temple, sacrificing himself in the process, he had achieved immortality.

I read what I had written till now and looked at the box on my desk. Now I just needed to add a suitable price to my listing on eBay for Samson’s seven strands of hair.


Parade of Nations by Deborah Lee

Jane ambles through festival avenues, enchanted. The diversity is staggering. Bright colors, strains of different styles of music, smiling faces beckoning her to their booths: Come see this blanket, this bracelet, this vase. Flags are everywhere, almost none she recognizes.

What draws her most are the smells, the different foods. There are foreign foods she’s familiar with, of course — Thai, Korean, Italian, Mexican. But so much to taste from countries previously unconsidered: Romania, Guyana, Cuba, Lebanon, the Basque provinces. Her mouth waters, her stomach rumbles.

As a parade of nations, the Olympic Games have nothing on downtown’s International Festival.


National Food Parade by Susan Sleggs

The buffet in the, new to us, Bed and Breakfast was a wonderful surprise. There was a virtual parade of international foods. We couldn’t name some of the fresh fruit and the egg casserole had a spice we couldn’t distinguish. Both were delicious. We tarried longer than the other guests so we could ask our hostess about the strange exotic flavors. She told us she had asked her international guests over the years for spice and recipe suggestions then incorporated them into her breakfast preparations. Her goal was to please any discerning pallet from anywhere on earth. She succeeded.


Flash Fiction by Robbie Cheadle

“I often wonder how many great potential inventions the world misses out on because the inventor lives in a country where it is difficult to develop the idea.”

Jade laid her book aside and stared at Tim.

“You mean because the country the inventor comes from doesn’t have any institutions that provide financial support to inventors?”

“Yes, financial support is one aspect. I was also thinking of educational and research opportunities and even something as simple as a market to buy the invention. There are lots of barriers to inventing.”

“Your right, we need an international inventor support programme.”


A Scorcher of a Summer by Anne Godwin

“How was your summer? Did you get away?”

“It depends what you mean by away.”

“Oh, I forgot, you don’t go away anymore, do you? Don’t blame you, this year. Who needs to go abroad with the scorcher of a summer we’ve had?”

“Me, actually.”

“You did go away? Where?”

“Barbados and Madagascar most recently.”

“Most recently? You went other places earlier on?”



“Finland, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, and Poland, as far as I recall.”

“As far as I recall? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I watch a parade of nations in the pages of a novel.”


Flash Fiction by tearsofbloodinmyheart

Mari sat and looked at the pile of stickers in the box. Her heart sank. Why no one had bothered to put them into any sort of order and fill the book was beyond her. And now it looked as though the job would fall to her.

She could of course throw them all out, claim she didn’t know what they were and why they had become so important. She hadn’t the heart.

She sorted the flags, a parade of nations, peeled back the thin film to reveal the sticky coating and started filling the gaps in the book.


Parade of Clowns by Perigrine Arc

I sat on my blanket, eating my morning cheerios with my grandpa. The television was on while we ate.

“Grandpa, you sure these are clowns?”

“Yes, Rosie, most of them. Each one represents a state in our nation. Look there–that’s the clown from D.C.…”

I squinted. He didn’t look happy.

“Why’s that lady look so scared?”

I looked up. My grandpa’s gaze seemed far away.

“It’s a parade of clowns, dear, and that woman’s the only sane one.”


Quiz Night Is Always Educational by Geoff Le Pard


‘Come on, Morgan. You’re the expert on flags. We need this. Blue stripes.’

‘I don’t know, do I?’

‘Funny, isn’t it? Each nation has a flag, all different yet we still get hung up on skin colour.’

‘Nicaragua ? What’s brought this on? Drat, I do know it.’

‘Oh I got bollocked at work for saying coloured when apparently I meant people of colour.’

‘Yeah, daft. Look at me, like someone’s sicked over my face, yet I’m white.’

‘That’s booze, not ethnicity.’

‘Still. Cuba?’

‘We’re all red underneath.’

‘I thought it was blue?’

‘Nope red.’

‘Good to know. Cyprus!’


Flash Fiction by Anita Dawes

The birth of a Nation is hard, as any mother will tell you.

It’s new, shiny and fragile.

It must be nurtured, fed at regular intervals

Like a garden, it needs water, love and guidance.

All easy to say.

You let it grow, wait for the day it can stand

Take the rain. Will it weather the storms?

Yes, if it was built on firm ground

Strength comes with unity

Invisible hands holding everything together

A strong chain will let no rust in

You know what is said about one weak link

Never take your eye off the ball…


All We Are Sayin’ by D. Avery

“Yee haw!”

“Kid, what the tarnation you so wound up about?”

“All the Buckaroo Nation celebrations! I was already gittin’ all excited ‘bout the Rodeo. An’ now there’s ta be a parade! I cain’t wait ta see all the flags from all over the world.”

“Flash, Kid, not flags.”

“And the food, Pal! Multicultural culinary curiosities from countless countries.”

“Jeez… Folks’ll likely serve food fer thought and fer the soul, Kid, but it cain’t fill yer belly. Don’t s’pect Shorty ta cook bacon either.”

“I’m hopin’ fer peas.”



“Why in the world”

“Exactly. Let’s have world peas.”


September 25 Free-Write

The clock started ticking at 12:00 a.m. (EST). That’s midnight in New York City when September 25, 2018, begins. The contest ends by the close of day September 25, 2018, at 11:59 (EST).

This is the final free-write flash fiction contest to qualify five writers to compete in the October TUFFest Ride event during the 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. A free-write requires you to draft quickly.

You can revise, edit or polish. But you only have 24 hours which is not enough time to let a first draft set. We know that. We are looking at your free-write skills, your bravery to write freely according to a prompt.

Judges will examine how creative a writer can be within both time and word constraint. Charli Mills, Cynthia Drake and Laura Smyth all of Hancock, Michigan will judge all TUFF contests. Your free-write must follow all five rules to qualify.


  1. You must use the revealed prompt: “ranch romance”
  2. You must enter using the provided form below
  3. You must write your story in 297 words (exactly, not including title)
  4. You must enter by 11:59 p.m. (EST) on September 25, 2018 (use the form provided below or email your full name and entry to
  5. You must be willing to compete in the 2018 October TUFFest Ride if selected

If you qualify, you will be among five winning writers to further compete for first, second and third place in the TUFFest flash fiction contest you will ever enter. The event equates to bull-riding in a cowboy rodeo. It’s a chance to show your versatility of flash fiction writing skills. Five writers will compete:

  1. October 1: Writers tune into a live video posted at Carrot Ranch Facebook Page for the announcement of who will be selected the Fab Five from the September entries. These five writers will have five days to do a new free-write.
  2. October 8: The Fab Five tune into a live video for a twist to a 99-word challenge to rewrite their free-write. They will have five days to write.
  3. October 15: The Fab Five tune into a live video for a twist to a 59-word challenge to rewrite their 99-word story. They will have five days to write.
  4. October 22: The Fab Five tune into a live video for a twist to a 9-word challenge to rewrite their 59-word story. They will have five days to write.
  5. October 29: The Fab Five tune into a live video to find out which three advances. The remaining three contestants will have 24 hours to write a final 495-word story from their TUFF exhibition.
  6. November 2: First, second and third place announced. All five contestants will win a prize (yet to be determined, based on sponsors).


Go with your gut. At Carrot Ranch Literary Community, we play with 99 words, no more, no less every week. We’ve learned that our first instinct to a prompt might be strange or uncomfortable. The natural tendency of a writer is to water down that reaction — to write safely. Don’t. Be brave and go where the prompt leads you.

Be creative. Along with going with your gut, take a creative approach. If you are literal, you might write too stiffly. But do poke a literal response if that comes to you. Ask yourself how you can turn it upside down and create a surprising twist. Also, you don’t need to use the exact phrase (or the quotation marks unless you are using dialog or showing irony).

Be professional. We are all adults here, and adult content is a part of literary art. However, think like a professional literary artist whose job is to write. If you think shocking readers gives you an edge, think again. We live in a world desensitized by global crassness, violence, and inhumanity. Shock value is cheap. Instead, craft a clever twist, show intelligence and the ability to interpret the global theater. Make your readers think.

Write with emotion. You also want to make your readers feel. Characters give us all the opportunity to experience life beneath the skin of another. Literary art can share imagined experiences from what it is like to attend school at Hogwarts or be a polar bear. Invite your readers to feel these unique perspectives. Avoid stereotypes.

Breathe! When you control your breath, you control your mind. Yes, it’s a competition. Yes, it’s only 24-hours. Yes, you have a lot on your plate. But you have the right to be here. You are a creative writer — so breathe, read the rules, write, count your words, and enter. No matter the outcome, you were brave enough to write!

You can use Microsoft Word or use to determine 297 words.

There are no entry fees, and five winning writers will each win a cash prize.

Thank you to our sponsors:

Openings Life Coaching
SmythType Design
Solar Up
Bill Engleson
Thread Tales Studio
The Continental

And our Leaders & Judges:

Geoff Le Pard
Irene Waters
Sherri Matthews
Norah Colvin
D. Avery
Chelsea Owens
Esther Chilton
Angie Oakley
Helen Stromquist
Hugh Roberts
Mike Matthews
Robbie Cheadle
Anne Goodwin
Bonnie Sheila
Colleen Chesebro
Miriam Hurdle

**There’s still time to sponsor the Rodeo**

ENTRY FORM (email for support or to submit special formatting)

Sound Off to the Rodeo

Some cowboys grow up knowing one day they will ride bulls. Others deny their destiny until the call of the rodeo arena grows too insistent to deny. The same could be said of writers. And no matter how hard she tries to shrug off the inevitable, D. Avery is a mighty fine writer.

D. introduced us to Kid, Pal, Aussie, and Boss through weekly Ranch Yarns that give character to the flash fiction prompts and the Ranch community. Through her writing explorations, she discovered the stories of characters who pushed her to the page, handling difficult issues with empathy, curiosity, and humor. Soon, she’ll release her first collection of fiction.

But first, D. is gonna get us riding bulls for the final rodeo contest in October.

Rodeo #5 The Sound and the Fury: Bull Riding
By D. Avery

Sometimes fear, respect, and awe are the braids of one rope. Sometimes that one rope is all a buckaroo has to hang onto. Sometimes that rope is wrapped around a muscular two thousand pound bull.

That bull will do everything it can to buck the rider off its back and should it succeed in that, will then try to trample or gore the dislodged rider. The bull’s reactions are natural and logical; some would even say athletic and beautiful. That’s why the bull in the bull riding event at rodeos gets scored by judges just like the rider; the bull can earn up to 50 points, the bull rider can earn up to 50 points.

Bull rider Carrson Hiatt says, “The bull, that’s your dance partner for the night.”

It is a very dangerous dance for the human partner. Injuries are frequent and frequently severe. Deaths are not unexpected and not uncommon. Bull riding would seem then to be an illogical thing to do. Unlike roping events or bronc busting it is the only rodeo event that isn’t derived from a traditional cowboy chore. Nobody has ever needed to get on the back of a bull; for that matter, no one needs to run with bulls or taunt them with red capes. But people do.

It is a complicated story, millennia old, of people dancing with bulls, of courting danger. The mystique surrounding el toro is documented in prehistoric as well as modern art; in cultural traditions around the world, the complex relationship with risk-taking and bravado is perpetuated, personally and vicariously, through ritualized confrontations with a bull.

In the U.S. bull riding is bigger than ever and is no longer just a Western event; many riders nowadays do not hail from a ranching background, and for the past twelve years the Professional Bull Riders league has opened their season in NYC, a seemingly incongruous place for rodeo.

What does any of this have to do with writing?

Well as you know Carrot Ranch is holding its second Flash Fiction Rodeo; at the end of October writers from around the world will take part in the second Carrot Ranch bull riding competition.

What is it about danger that fascinates people? What motivates a person to willingly subject themselves to pain and peril? Bring your pen, hang onto your hat, and get ready for a wild write that illustrates the sound and the fury of a dance with danger.

Rules and prompt revealed October 31, 2018, at 12:00 a.m. (EST). Set your watches to New York City. You will have until November 7, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. (EST) to complete the Sound and the Fury contest. Winners will be announced on December 07. Carrot Ranch will post a collection of qualifying entries.

Other competitions:

Rodeo 1: Dialogue led by Geoff Le Pard and judges Chelsea Owens and Esther Chilton
Rodeo 2: Memoir led by Irene Waters and judges Angie Oakley and Helen Stromquist
Rodeo 3: Travel with a Twist led by Sherri Matthews and her judges: Mike Matthews and Hugh Roberts.
Rodeo 4: Fractured Fairy Tales led by Norah Colvin and judges Robbie Cheadle and Anne Goodwin.
The Tuffest Ride starting in September will see 5 writers qualify to compete in October and is led by Charli Mills. For Info

September 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

How quietly fall colors sneak up like Jack Frost has an airbrush. The colors subtly tint a leaf or two, then a cluster here and there. The color from the airbrush increases and soon the maple trees catch the brilliance of red and orange. No two trees turn simultaneously.

In our small neighborhood of a dozen old miners’ homes, I watch trees change hue in succession. My daughter tells me that their biggest maple is often the last to take on autumn’s hues. From the back deck where the Hub puffs a pipe, I lean back on the bench and watch the maple behind him.

At first, the giant maple appears vividly green. If I stare long enough I can catch the faint tracings of yellow across the leaves. Oranges burst like flowers. And the flowers are not yet to be outdone. Hibiscus unfolds daily in the front yard, each blossom unfurling like pleated burgundy satin.

A flash of gray flits from the trees and I watch a whiskey jack (Canada jay) flutter above the porch door jamb of our neighbor. He’s shoving a peanut behind a loose piece of trim with his beak, squawking and beating his wings. The whiskey jack has the right idea — winter is coming.

But not to the rest of the world. And that’s what is so fascinating about a global community. Somewhere, winter is not coming. Somewhere the flowers are a different color. Somewhere the trees are not maple. Somewhere the pipe is a different relaxant. Somewhere is a place so exotic to my own Keweenaw, I couldn’t imagine all the differences.

Yet for what variation might exist, we are all the greater tribe of humanity. Linguists know we all have words for mother/father. Humanitarians know we all suffer and yet strive for better lives. Culinary experts record our shared love of food, no matter how we spice it. Every culture has a flatbread. Caves and museums record our need to communicate stories in art. Fashion reveals our propensity for clothing that adorns.

And a single Ranch in Hancock, Michigan witnesses the power and creativity of storytelling around the world. Here we make literary art no matter how we experience this time of year.

With the coloring of the north-woods comes the return of almost 8,000 students to Finlandia University (600) and Michigan Tech (7,200). Over 1,000 of these students are international. Our peninsula shares Lake Superior with Canada and several tribal nations, including the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC). Thus, every September we celebrate a Parade of Nations.

KBIC lead us in the cultural activity, drumming blessings before and at its conclusion. Representatives of various nations line up alphabetically and march from Finlandia University in Hancock across the portage bridge to the Dee Center (aka the hockey rink) at Michigan Tech in Houghton. Beneath national flags, people proudly express their origins, often in colorful clothing. Children march with adults, KBIC members dance, and school mascots toss candy.

The parade tasted bittersweet to me this year. I had planned to wear my Finlandia blues to show my school colors, but the unexpected happened. The course I created for the CTE Marketing Program closed because the roster of students dropped out. This devastated me initially, but I remain in good graces with both Finlandia and the CTE division. They have asked my to come up with some solutions to problems we encountered and it may work out next year. I watched the Finlandia students march and accepted: next year will be different.

Another milestone of bitter-sweetness passed this week — 31 years with the Hub. If you’ve had the chance to listen to the Rodeo Playlist, maybe you caught Garth Brooks’ song, The Dance. The line, “I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to miss the dance” says so much. I would not have missed how right we used to be even knowing how this will go.

But we have some bright news — the Hub has finally received an admission date to the Poly Trauma Center at the Minneapolis VA. They almost denied his referral completely, citing that after review of his case, they believe he can not be rehabilitated. Yeah, we’ve already accepted that painful reality. However, I’ve not only advocated for my husband, I’ve also been driving the point that in order to help younger soldiers, the one’s we know have brain injuries from bomb blasts, we need to better understand “after brain injury.”

Already, I’ve made many aware of the plight. I’ve talked with younger wives who’ve told me their spouse is kind of like mine except…And I tell them that my spouse once had those exceptions, too. Instead of waiting between initial recovery and eventual degeneration, we need to do more than ignore the problem. That is why Mt. Sinai Hospital in NYC has a Brain Injury Research Center. Pending paperwork, the Hub will take part in an observational study he can contribute to through surveys (mostly the focus is on emotions). He also plans to sign documents to donate his brain for further study.

It’s been a boon to have insights from this cutting edge research on CTE because they can help us when the Hub goes to Minneapolis. They know what to look for, including biomarkers the VA has already missed. It was so validating to read that the signs I had been trying so hard to get the VA to read are exactly the ones they see in cases of CTE.

And don’t think I’ve missed the irony of my course and my husband’s suspected condition. Yes, they are both CTE. One is career technical education and the other is chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is causing strife but I’m fighting back with another set of letters — EMDR. I’ve recently, thanks to the help of a veteran spouse friend, started to see a therapist who uses EMDR as a tool to access traumatic memory and resolve the impact. It’s not an easy therapy, but it is powerful.

An interesting side-note to EMDR is that I’ve had such vivid visual memories that I realized why I don’t like writing memoir — my visual recall is normally not that sharp. I wonder if I’ll gain a new ability? I have plenty of fiction to attend to, though so I don’t plan on adding to my writing bucket list just yet.

With all that has been going on, the Parade of Nations was the balm I needed. To share some of the vibrancy with you, I have photos:

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As a reminder to regular or occasional Ranch Writers — this will be the last Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge until November 1. The Rodeo begins October 1 when we announce the five writers who will compete every Monday for the TUFFest Ride. Every Wednesday in October, a different Rodeo Leader will launch a flash fiction contest.

Any Minneapolis writers? Give a call out in the comments. I’ll actually be doing the first live read on October 1 from Minnesota! Not what I had planned, but that’s the first week of the Hub’s 4-week evaluation. I’ll return to Michigan October 4.

All contests are FREE to enter and offer a $25 first place prize. All five TUFF contestants will also each win a cash prize. We might have a sixth unadvertised advertising contest for a local sponsor and that will be announced October 5. There’s much to do in October during the Flash Fiction Rodeo! I hope you feel inspired to participate. It’s something different and more challenging.

If you want to sponsor the event, check out the different levels of sponsorship.

For now, let’s go out with a Parade of Nations.

September 20, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a parade of nations. It can be literal, or it can be a phrase that you use to describe a situation. Explore what it could be. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by September 25, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.

Flash Dance by Charli Mills

Jamie clacked his tap-shoes across the pavement. He’d found the kilt at the Keweenaw Consignment and paired it with his mother’s discarded turquoise blouse, the one that matched his sunglasses. He danced every day, preparing for his solo march in the Parade of Nations. Jamie was alone in his nation – an outcast. Many people treated him kindly and he managed to live on his own. Others said cruel things or pointed and laughed. He ignored them. A shout from the bystanders, “Dance, laddie, Dance!” inspired a spontaneous back-flip. Too late, he remembered what was worn beneath a kilt – nothing.