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Becoming Someone Blog Tour

Branding, Bios and Author Multiple-identity Disorder
by Anne Goodwin

If there’s one consistent message about managing our author platforms, it’s that consistency rules. After all, if consumers need to be exposed to a product around seven times before they commit to making a purchase, only a fool would reduce the odds of being noticed by presenting their product in potentially contradictory ways. Friends, I am that self-sabotaging fool.

While I deeply admire those who can sum up what you stand for in an attractive image and roll-off-the-tongue strap line, there’s a part of me wailing How on earth can you know? Doesn’t your sense of who you are alter, like mine, with the seasons? Don’t you behave differently depending on who’s with you and where you are?

I do appreciate that we can’t dither indefinitely; that we have to make choices if we’re not to stagnate. I accept there’s no brand loyalty without brand recognition. Hell, thanks to Charli, I even accept I have a brand. But I have to develop it at my own pace.

I’ve come a long way since I balked at putting my mugshot on my website. I’ve come a long way since my first published stories were followed by the bio-that-never-was:

Anne Goodwin loves fiction for the freedom to contradict herself and hates bios for fear of getting it wrong. 

Although a certain self-deprecating humour has become part of my brand – risky because what amuses one person turns another right off – the sentiment of that non-bio still holds true. I do like to contradict myself and fear commitment to a form of words that were right for me yesterday but a poor fit today.

But my shape-shifting author identity might be frustrating for others, as I was reminded recently when someone kindly sent through the version of my bio she planned to use in a post that mentioned me. Horror of horrors, it was the bio that accompanies my debut novel, and thus three and a half years out of date. Yet it wasn’t so much that the older version deprives me of the opportunity to crow about more recent accomplishments, but the slant of the summary was wrong. I don’t know if others do this but, in addition to my short-and-sweet Twitter biography, and the let-me-tell-you-everything about page on my website, I’ve composed a completely new bio for each of my published books.

Why, Anne, why? Because each novel draws on a different part of me: I thought readers of my debut, Sugar and Snails, narrated by a psychology lecturer at Newcastle University with a close friend teaching in the mathematics department across the road, might like to know that I studied those subjects at that same institution myself. But that’s irrelevant to people picking up my second novel, Underneath, who might be more interested to learn that, like Steve, my narrator, I used to like to travel and that, like Liesel, his partner, I worked in mental health services in the region where the story is set. If and when my possibly third novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is published, I’ll probably mention that, like Janice, one of three point-of-view characters, I had a role in the longstay psychiatric hospital closures of the 1980s and 1990s.

With my forthcoming short story collection, Becoming Someone, I have a freshly-minted bio all over again. As the anthology is on the theme of identity and self-discovery, it felt right to include some of the quirkier aspects of my own identity in the bio:

Alongside her identity as a writer, she’ll admit to being a sociable introvert; recovering psychologist; voracious reader; slug slayer; struggling soprano; and tramper of moors.

We all have multiple identities to accompany our different responsibilities and roles. But I’m still unsure how much my multi-author biographies represent flexibility and diversity versus disorder and lack of focus. What do you think?

Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity launches on Facebook on November 23rd, 2018, where the more people participate the more she’ll donate to Book Aid International. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a particular interest in fictional therapists.

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com
Twitter @Annecdotist.

Becoming Someone published 23rd November, 2018 by Inspired Quill
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-908600-77-6 / 9781908600776
eBook ISBN: 978-1-908600-78-3 / 9781908600783
Amazon author page
Author page at Inspired Quill publishers
Facebook launch in support of Book Aid International

Rodeo #2: Memoir Winners

By Irene Waters

She Did It was the prompt for the memoir ride in the Rodeo.

The four judges were given a judging sheet: was it a complete story, grammar, and spelling, structure, use of language, adherence to memoir rules (not accusing, showing the bad- not telling, reflection and was it believable) and then a subjective score worth 35% of the marks.

I couldn’t have asked for better judges with Helen, Angie, Gil and myself all being diligent in reading and evaluating the pieces.

Reading memoir is quite different from reading fiction. As a reader of memoir, you have a pact with the writer that you will believe the facts being told and this, makes the focus of your reading change. You read to gain understanding, to see how someone has coped and how it has changed their life. Memoir also touches our emotions and shows us ways of dealing with our own condition. It may give the inarticulate a way of both expressing how they feel whilst showing them that they are not alone. One memoir will affect multiple readers differently and the same reader differently at different points in their lives.

All the entries were of a good standard. Only one was disqualified as it went under the word limit of 99 words. A number of entries did not give their work a title, or they called it the prompt “she did it.” A tip for future competition entries – give your work a title. It isn’t counted in the word count, and it is a chance to impart some additional information to your reader and makes it easier for the judges when collating the results.

We were impressed by entries that put you in the scene with wonderful description such as Rebecca Cunningham’s: “Twenty-nine anemic Earl Grey tea bags sat dried to the top lip of the sink” – I have lived in that place. Sherri Matthew’s: “For weeks I searched for him in the crowd until one Sunday, I found him.” What woman doesn’t relate to this? Nez Hewitt’s anxiety of returning home from vacation fearful that her dog would no longer love her. Again, I relate – I too have had those worries. There were humorous entries, emotive entries, topical entries and all had great merit. One, however, stood out and takes the first place prize.

Because That’s How Things Were Done Back Then.

Because boys can’t help it? Because she let him? Because of Babycham? I don’t know why she did it. I don’t know what ‘it’ is.

Because “You made your bed, now lie in it!” Because the neighbours. Because abortion’s a sin. My friends think the wedding’s at eleven but it’s really half past three.

Because my mother’s smile is wooden. Because I hate hairspray. Because my auntie caught me faking bellyache, I shuffle behind my sister to the altar steps.

Because I’m not allowed to question. Because weddings need bridesmaids. Because hypocrisy’s the shotgun that slays my parents’ shame.

This entry was my first choice, equal first for another judge, third for another and rated well with the other. Angie Oakley wrote, “A great deal covered, powerful use of repetition, no wastage, and much said about culture, and the way lives were ruined.”

Gil Hinsby said, “I really like this one and the structure and style of writing made it interesting but needed second reading. It probably would have been a better flow without the line My friends think the wedding……….marked it down for that and still got top three.”

I particularly like the reflection of why things were done in a past time. There was no condemnation – it was just the way it was. The repetition of ‘because’ was powerful and the imagery evoked of the child who didn’t want to be bridesmaid was vivid.

Congratulations Anne Goodwin. $25 is coming your way.

In second place was

This Time

His angry words still rang in her ears as she climbed the unfamiliar staircase:

“Come one step closer and I’ll punch you in the face.”

She had heard these words before but had always swept them and the apologies and promises under one of the many rugs in their beautiful home.

This time, however, they had drilled a deep hole into her heart and the last dribbles of love she felt for him were seeping onto the bare floorboards of this tiny apartment.

“When can I move in?” she stammered softly.

“Whenever you like, madam.”

“Now. Right now, please.”

Helen said, “This was an emotive piece. I felt for the abused and it evoked admiration for the actions she took. Felt her desperation through the use of expressive language.” I loved the sentence starting “this time….”

Angie said, “Strong ideas, economically expressed.”

Congratulations Juliet Nubel who wins the e-book of The Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1.

In third place was

Red Sky at Morning

She stood by last night’s bonfire. Flames leapt high, our drunken faces and dancing limbs in hideous relief, like Dante’s inferno on the shore of this northern bay.

Driftwood burns to cool embers. We flee to our tents to couple, or sleep it off.

Night shifts, heavy indigo to thin green, cool breeze shredding night to red dawn.

She slips off her shoes, shucks off sweatshirt and jeans, no zip cracks the morning silence. Wasted thin by her disease, she steps into the water to die on her own terms. She did that.

That part I want to remember.

Angie said, “A great deal said in few words, and some beautiful language choices. “Night shifts…red dawn.  Consistent and powerful voice. Well structured.”

I loved the language choices and the high definition scene that was painted. I was unprepared for the sadness at the end which made it all the more poignant.

Congratulations Liz Husebye Hartmann who wins the e-book of The Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1.

I would love to mention every single piece and hope you will read them at Rodeo #2: Memoir. I will, however, end with each judge’s own personal favourite.

Helen had two that she rated highly – Changing worlds by Saifun Hassam for the wonderful last line that packed a punch and Tasters Choice by Jules Paige for its poetic qualities.

Angie Announcing the Marriage by Geoff Le Pard because “Lots of ground covered economically. Showing, not telling yet making a deeper connection with the way women’s choices were limited by the culture and the circumstances. Original.”

For Gil My Aunt Remembered by Nancy Brady, Showtime by Kerry E.B. Black and  Because (our first place recipient) were the ones Gil chose because “What these have in common was they all felt real, emotional and complete. They really told a whole story in so few words, resonated with me, the characters came to life, the stories showed emotion and had some lovely lines.” As for me, I found something to commend in each and every entry.

Congratulations to all entrants. It was an honour and a pleasure to read all your entries. Thank you to my committed judges. It was a pleasure working with you and finally a big thank you to Charli for hosting the rodeo for the second year. We look forward to next year’s event.

November 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

The urge to craft a story surpasses available material. Sometimes I forget my sketchbook and resort to what I have at hand — the blank side of the insurance card in the car, a discarded grocery list at the bottom of my purse, a recycled envelop.

When I was nineteen, I waited tables at a casino dinner house.  Between serving meals and refilling ketchup bottles I wrote bits of stories on napkins. More often than not, I tossed the words in the garbage along with food scraps at the end of my shift. Back then, I was practicing stories. I had no desire to share them.

It’s not until the story develops into an emotional being that takes on a life of its own that the need grows into one of sharing. But what if all you have are scraps?

I’m sitting at an oak library table, casting my eyes between the bank of windows overlooking Portage Canal and the magazine I’ve opened to read. Outside, snow falls like drifting down feathers. Seagulls still circle low over the water that has yet to freeze but looks dark gray as if it were slowly morphing into steel.

This space that envelops me in books and snow-scape is called the Michigan Room. It’s where I lead a small writing activity called Wrangling Words once a month. It’s just like our weekly flash fiction challenges but in person. The snow has returned without ceasing, and likely everybody has stayed home to hunker down. But I love this space I’m in, outside my desk, filling my mind and imagination. Wood grain, pages, snowflakes — scraps of the moment.

The book review I’m reading of Retablos by Octavio Solis has introduced me to a folk art that I’ve seen in the southwest but did not know by name. It’s as old as the Spanish Conquest, based on the religious decorative panels found in Catholic Churches. As a storytelling medium, a retablo often uses scraps of metal to commemorate a near-disaster by those who survived.

The book reviewer, Deborah Mason, writes:

“By commemorating the event, the retablo can transform that story of salvation into myth. But memory is slippery, and retelling a story, even on a buckled sheet of metal, results in embellishments and refinements.”

I’m staring at snow, realizing no one is coming today, and I’m relieved for the moment to grab a scrap of paper from by box and start scrawling ideas. It’s an old woman’s story. It’s a story about me embellishing the natural wonders of a humble bog pond. It’s a story I’m trying not to kill beneath the hammer blows of revision. I feel surreal, writing in this strange and yet wonderous space.

None of it makes sense to read. I’ve been writing every day on Miracle of Ducks, pushing aside my inner critic who has rolled eyes so much I think I’ve blinded the annoyer. What I’m writing feels like a train wreck. I was almost ready to give up, to concede that one’s first novel is indeed practice. It’s not saying what I want it to say. I keep TUFFing my drafts and overhauling chunks to fit a new scene.

But it is this idea of myth of slippery memory that brings me back to a character who once emerged in my flash fiction. She actually fits into Danni’s story like a missing puzzle piece. Ramona is now Ike’s grandma who helps carry the story and solidify my decision to relocate it in Idaho.

It took 30,0294 words, a scrap of paper, and a book review about Retablos to figure out my blueprint, the underlying motivations of my protagonist.

I never stop writing. I write every day. But that doesn’t make me productive. Often, it’s exploration and communicating the stories of now. It’s about creating and connecting. I’m hardly accurate in my goals, but my vision, my north star shine brightly, and so I write my way through it all.

Deborah Mason continues in her review:

“Yet despite its imprecision, the retablo expreses a profound  truth not only about its maker but also in the world he or she lives in. The retablo itself becomes part of the myth as well.”

Fiction or non-fiction, we write into the truth. We feel the story and layer the details onto the page. We rework the scraps until they bloom — the quilter, the painter, the metal worker, the writer — we all work in scraps until we have captured the story that speaks our truth.

And speaking of table scraps, I hope to be enjoying left-overs next week. It is Thanksgiving. I’ve decided to take that week off, something I don’t often do at the Ranch. After posting this collection, I’ll be on turkey duty and savoring leftovers until the next challenge on November 29.

November 15, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that uses scraps. It can be scraps of dried flowers, paper, metal, fabric, food — any kind of scraps you can think of. Then write a story about those scraps and why they matter or what they make. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by November 20, 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.

Scraps of Imagination (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Cleaning out Ramona’s dresser felt wrong, but Danni could no longer sulk over coffee at the kitchen table. She heard Ike tell his Uncle Logan, “At least she wasn’t a hoarder.”

True, Danni thought. Ramona was frugal but wrapped in her sock-drawer were rolls of dollar bills. She thought about showing the men and making a Grandma-was-a-stripper joke. Ramona would have chuckled. Danni spied a scrapbook beneath. Curious, she opened up pages to fairy drawings and cursive writing. Scraps of dried flowers mingled with Ramona’s fertile imagination before dementia robbed them all of who she was.

Creative Mash-Up

Who knew mashed potatoes possessed such superpowers? Sure, the buttery mashed tubers sway our senses, paired with bangers or served alongside turkey and gravy. But they can do much more, unexpected feats.

This week, writers played dangerously, pairing mashed potatoes with superpowers. The imaginative responses are out of the ordinary kitchen and into realms you never thought potatoes would take you.

The following stories are based on the November 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs mashed potatoes with a superpower.

PART I (10-minute read)

Gravy Witch by H.R.R. Gorman

I put my plate on the table pulled the napkin from atop my crystal ball centerpiece.  A tap of my spoon on the orb’s surface initiated my process to scry for criminals.

A man shoveling jewels into a bag appeared in the cloud at the center of my ball.  I curled my finger toward myself, pulling his spirit from the ball and dropping it on my plate.  It settled in the mashed potatoes.

I tipped my gravy tureen over the potatoes and watched the orb with glee as his body suffered from a heart attack.  His soul tasted delicious.

🥕🥕🥕

Super Mash by Ritu Bhathal

I sat at the table, awaiting my meal.

It was bangers and mash tonight. My absolute favourite.

I don’t know why, but somehow mum managed to make the best mashed potato ever.
Creamy, fluffy, light, with no lumps: something I had still not mastered, despite copying her technique.

And no matter how I was feeling, it made me feel better. If I was ill, the buttery mash would make me feel better. If I was upset, I’d leave the table smiling.
I don’t know why, but it was that mash. Maybe mum had some sort of mystical mash superpower…

🥕🥕🥕

Wielding Power (Part I) by D. Avery

It was Ilene’s idea to include Marge’s senile mother for Thanksgiving.

“Everyone just be whoever she thinks you are. It’ll be fine.”

Fortunately she thought Marge and Ernest were her parents. Marge would wield some power.

“Betty, I think you know everyone.”

“I see Ida brought George.”

Marge smirked. Lloyd was to be her mother’s best friend’s brother; Ilene would have to keep her hands off him.

“Look who’s here.”

Nard spilled his beer when Betty Small embraced him. “Billy! You got leave!”

Marge grinned. “Yes, your fiancé.”

She could have asked Betty to mash the potatoes but didn’t.

🥕🥕🥕

Wielding Power (Part II) by D. Avery

“Make room on the couch for Betty and Billy,” Marge commanded. “Let them get caught up.” She laughed at Nard’s desperation as he helped her mother to the couch.

“I’m your father?”

“No. Billy didn’t make it back.”

“Oh.”

“She never loved my father as much.”

“Oh.”

When everyone in the crowded singlewide had a full plate Nard spoke, holding Mrs. Small’s hand.

“Thanks Lord for these friends and all this food. Lord, I’m grateful for Betty, love of my life… I’ll come home,” he promised.

After a moment of astounded silence Ernest coughed ‘amen’ and everyone dug in.

🥕🥕🥕

Wielding Power (Part III) by D. Avery

“Marge, Ernest- epic. Good food.”

“Thank you Lloyd. I sure do miss my mother’s mashed potatoes though. These are just ok. She did something that made hers….”

“Epic?”

“Yeah, Lloyd, epic. I wish I knew what it was.”

“Marge, these are fine. A little garlic and rosemary wouldn’t of hurt either.”

“Mom?!”

But Marge’s mom was already Betty again, mooning over Nard. Nard’s uniform was just his cleanest Dickies from the dealership, but he was soldiering on in his role.

Leaning against Ernest, Marge smiled gratefully. “My mother hasn’t called me by name in two years.”

“Happy Thanksgiving, Marge.”

🥕🥕🥕

Mashed Potato Surprise by Rosemary Carlson

The family sat down for Thanksgiving dinner. She had cooked quite a dinner and he had helped. Everyone was at the table and they were both carrying the dishes of food to the table when she heard a crash. She turned around and he had dropped a large bowl of mashed potatoes on the floor, splattering them everywhere. They were everyone’s favorite dish.

He smiled, walked to the table, and pointed his finger. A lightning bolt appeared and at the end, a large bowl of mashed potatoes.

She said, “Hmm, so why have I bothered cooking all these years?”

🥕🥕🥕

The Eye of a Potato Superhero Hurricane by Bill Engleson

There we were, jawing over a cuppa Joe at Ernie’s Eats. Ernie was in a small businessman funk.

He gets that way.

“Spud, its always the little guy that gets the short end of the superhero stick.”

“I don’t getcha,” I said.

“Well,” said Ernie, stroking his chin like it was a cat, “Take dine and dashers. You don’t see guys like the Spy Smasher showing up, givin’ them what for, do ya? Nope. Too darn busy smashin’ spies. What I need is…well, you. Spud Smasher! Yeah! Spud Smasher! Mashin’ those dine and dashers.”

“Dream on, Ernie. Dream on.”

🥕🥕🥕

Captain Amazing vs Mashed Potatoes by Teresa Grabs

Captain Amazing was known throughout the universe as the one person you wanted in your corner. He had faced the mighty Balthazar and squashed the Fidget uprising in ’22. After a remarkable career as a galactic superhero, he retired. He had a soft spot for kids, so when Amy cried for help, he had to answer. He misjudged his landing and smashed through the window. Airborne mashed potatoes landed on his head.

“Not mashed potatoes! My only weakness!”

Amy’s mother looked at the puddle on the floor, then at the broken window, and shrugged. She had a turkey to prepare.

🥕🥕🥕

Educated Boars? by JulesPaige

As one of three brothers, finally living free from our adversary, I can be grateful to look out of our window and see rainbows after a rain. But we are not so foolish to be lax in our preparedness. Our larder is full of potatoes that we can broil, boil or mash. Our stash is secure.

Our superpower is knowledge. At any time our walls could crumble. We need to prepare for the slyest of villains, keep the hounds at bay and be wary of all wolfs. Especially those in overalls, driving tractors bent on destruction. We are prepared!

🥕🥕🥕

Untitled by Michael Grogan

Super Mashed Potato Boy looked out his kitchen window and saw the world was in trouble. There were weevils in the potato patch, and it needed his urgent attention.

There was one way to deal with such a world-wide crisis. A huge plate of mashed potato, eaten hurriedly and washed down with an icy ginger tea.

Having done so, he flew out his window and dealt a deadly blow to the weevils. Around him, grateful farmers sang his praises and the world was once again saved from potential disaster.

He went home and took up his trusty potato peeler.

🥕🥕🥕

Hannah by Saifun Hassam

With determination and extraordinary willpower, Hannah transformed the farmer’s cottage into a popular restaurant. Over her faded blue jeans and bright yellow T-shirt, her apron proclaimed “Spuds Forever!” Her magical touch turned mashed potatoes into super delicious meals.

Lunch or Dinner: beef and potato dumplings; mashed potato and leek soup; garlic fried chicken in mashed potatoes; golden fried mashed potato cakes; jalapeno veggie mashed potato quiche; and the intriguing “spiderweb” mashed potato salad bowl.

Cathy and Trish were caught in the early downpours of September rain as they drove through the farmlands. Hannah’s cottage was a warm welcoming shelter.

🥕🥕🥕

Mashed Potatoes by Anita Dawes

When I read these words this morning, I was taken back to my childhood, reading the Dandy comic. Desperate Dan with his huge plate of mashed potato with two large sausages sticking out, looking like a bull had landed there.

I have to tell you that no one does mash like Jaye does! The minute she begins peeling the spuds, I swear my kids pick up some strange signal. They come knocking from all over Hampshire, just popping in, big smiles on their faces. They know there’s mash on the go and they say it is just a coincidence…

🥕🥕🥕

The Apple Pie from the Same Tree by Chelsea Owens

Ann’s mother was special when it came to food. She could scan a printed page, retrieve a container from the cupboard, and *poof* add to the mixing bowl. Later, the family would eat freshly-baked casserole or chocolate-crusted cake.

And that is why Ann thought she might be magic, too. Surely, by the same means, Ann could create with a pinch of this or dash of that.

After Ann’s first attempt, only her father would taste it.

“Ah. Mashed potatoes?” he asked.

Ann nodded, trying not to feel sick as he stirred her mix of potato, milk, and runny eggs.

🥕🥕🥕

Super Foods by Di @ pensitivity101

‘It’s a special dinner, made to make you strong. That’s why it’s blue, just like Superman.’

‘OK Mom.’

Celia looked at her nine year old son as he ate. Mashed potatoes were the only thing he could manage just now, but it was a start.

Tomorrow she would add red dye as well as the blue, and it would be Spiderman to encourage him.

He snuggled down under the covers, exhausted, but he’d eaten most of what was on his plate.

‘Mom?’ he asked sleepily.

‘Yes love?’

‘Batman hasn’t got any superpowers, so please don’t give me black potatoes.’

🥕🥕🥕

Super Carl by TNKerr

Carl knew he was different from his classmates. Yes, he had superpowers like all the other kids, but his gifts were more eccentric. He couldn’t see any practical applications for them.

Carl had the ability to manipulate plants. He could also transform himself into a gelatinous substance, like potatoes mashed with an electric mixer.

School was torture and constant teasing until he slathered up the opponent’s lanes at the track meet against Eastwood High. Their star runner, Flash, never left the starting blocks, he couldn’t gain any traction.

All the trees and shrubs in the schoolyard fell over laughing.

🥕🥕🥕

The Time-Traveler’s Thanksgiving by Haley Booker-Lauridson

Paul watched the last glob of mashed potato splat onto hardwood floor. His eyes moved to the baseball, to his wife, to two mortified faces.

“What did I tell you about playing ball in the house?”

“Not to,” his sons answered in unison.

Paul sighed. “Honey?”

Alice obligingly closed her eyes.

Alice started awake. Darting to the kitchen, she saw her husband fussing over the turkey, mashed potatoes safely on the counter.

She turned. A ball speeding to the bowl of mash instead smacked into her raised hand.

“What did your father tell you about playing ball in the house?”

🥕🥕🥕

Mo’s Superpower Mash Disaster  by M J Mallon

Mo had always wanted to know what people really thought about her so she developed a special mash infused with a truth serum. What a disaster! Mo’s cafe was now closed until further notice. No one wanted Mo’s magic mash infused with such a bizarre superpower. Who would want to be on the receiving end of that kind of damaging ability? Finding out what people really think about you isn’t great – unfiltered thoughts and comments hurt. Mo’s Mash cafe reopens tomorrow with a new menu topped by:

Tell a bunch of lies mash to keep the regular punter’s happy.

🥕🥕🥕

The Super Food by The Dark Netizen:

One whiff of it, and I knew it was ready.

It was almost time for the meeting. I had promised my peers that I would cook something pep their moods up. And boy, did we all need a boost. We had lost for the tenth time in a row. Few of us had already decided to call it quits. However, as the team leader, I decided to take matters into my own hands. With my experiment turning out to be a success, one spoonful of my mashed potatoes, and we would remain villains no more.

We will become super-villains!!

🥕🥕🥕

PART II (10-minute read)

Blown Cover by Allison Maruska

Anyone who thinks having superpowers is so cool doesn’t have a sister.

McKenzie hasn’t stopped sucking up to Mom today. She set the table, cooked side dishes, and collected coats at the door.

Phony.

Time to prove she isn’t so nice. I just have to make her randomly lose her temper.

I turn invisible and creep to the Thanksgiving table, planting myself behind her seat. When she lifts her full glass to her mouth, I shake her arm, soaking her.

“Matthew!”

I dart away, but something warm and gloppy hits my invisible shoulder.

Mashed potatoes.

My cover is blown.

🥕🥕🥕

Taterman To The Rescue by Patrick O’Connor

Look, out the left window. It’s a squirrel. It’s a train. It’s Taterman!

Taterman. A superhero who gets his strength from mashed potatoes.

His favorite mashed potatoes are from Popeye’s Chicken. It’s all about the cajun gravy.

Whenever there’s a call for help, Alvin Wyatt becomes – Taterman.

His secret lair is in his mother’s basement.

In his regular life, he’s a struggling comedian.

Alvin doesn’t pay attention very well and forgets punchlines. He’s frequently unemployed.

The next time you need help, cook some mashed potatoes and Taterman will be there shortly.

Don’t forget the cajun gravy. He’ll respond faster.

🥕🥕🥕

Mash Master by oneletterup

“More garlic!” He shouts. “I’ll do it.”
Masher in one hand. Stick of butter in the other.
“And cream.” “Garlic and cream.”

Twenty years old. Slouching. Half awake.
Scruffy beard. Stained sweatshirt.
Waving them aside.

He scoops up twelve cloves. Minced and done.
Their eyes water from the steam. Whirr of the beaters.
Minutes pass.
“Taste!” he commands.
They obey.
The garlic bite smoothed out by the creamy russets.
“Salt!”

The pot of potatoes transformed.
They watch awestruck.
His eyes brighten. He stands up straighter. Grinning.
It’s magical.
“You’ve done it again,” they cheer.

The Almighty Master of Mashed.

🥕🥕🥕

Where Farmers Get Their Strength by Molly Stevens

“Grandma, what it was like when you lived on a farm growing up?”

“It wasn’t an easy life, Nick. Everyone worked hard – my parents, brothers, sisters, and hired hands. We got up before the sun, and worked in all kinds of weather – from blistering heat to frosty mornings.”

“What did you do?”

“I milked the cows, shoveled manure, drove a tractor, and picked potatoes. But that was nothing compared to the hours my parents put in to keep things going. It was like they had superpowers.”

“Where did they get their strength?”

“Mashed potato – it was their kryptonite.”

🥕🥕🥕

Count Spudula by Susi J Smith

“That’s your superpower?”

Count Spudula grinned, posing with hands on hips as he awaited applause from the studio audience.

The presenter cleared her throat. ”You un-mash mashed potato?”

“I call it…re-formation.”

“So no laser vision, or invisibility?”

His smile faltered.

“No curing the common cold?”

“No…”

“What about mushy peas, or diced carrots?”

The count lowered his arms and sighed.

“Just spuds?”

“Just spuds.” He dropped down onto the armchair and rubbed his brow. ”I spent a fortune on gamma rays…changed my name legally…My wife left…”

The presenter smiled, rubbing his forearm. “Maybe next time, Gary.”

🥕🥕🥕

But the Greatest of These … by Anne Goodwin

He isn’t the man she married. Not even the man whose passions she failed to comprehend. Ten hours to cook a meal consumed in ten minutes? Ten herbs and spices to flavour the flesh when one would do. Now the gourmet’s reduced to eating pap.

When the diagnosis came she panicked. How would she live with his shell when the man it was built for was gone? Now, feeding him mashed potato like a baby, she draws on the power he gave her long ago. Back when he found her, lost and wounded, and, by loving, taught her love.

🥕🥕🥕

Potato Dead by Deepa

“It was the table’s mistake!” I came crying and hugged mom tightly.

“It hit me!” I murmured slowly with heads down.

“You have got the first potato on your head, Roy!”

Mom laughed and kissed the bump on my head.

When I was four years old, it was a challenging time for mom to handle me. She tells me even now that she never had to detox or diet to lose her post-pregnancy fats. All she had to do was follow me wherever I ran.

🥕🥕🥕

Super Spud by Kay Kingsley

“If Popeye can eat spinach and get super powers, I can eat mashed potatoes and get MY superpowers!”

“Kevin, who wants to eat mashed potatoes to get super powers? That’s lame. Wouldn’t you rather get bit by something and turn into something cool?”

“No. Why should I have to get bitten by something?”

“Um, because that’s what happens. Duh. Mashed potatoes… so lame.”

“It’s my drawing. Stop looking!” I covered my paper with my arm. I was SUPER SPUD! A 50-foot potato with huge mashers for feet, ready to squish my brother, my red cape flapping in the wind.

🥕🥕🥕

Mashed Miracles by kate @ aroused

My love for humans is so divine.
with their hearts mine does entwine
as a universal one I regard them mine

Know they have hardships to work through
by doing so they will become more true
add mashed spuds made like glue

So they can unite through adversity
know they must embrace diversity
wherever they live rural or city

Such power will truly transform their life
if for kindness and insight they do strive
they will blossom and emerge from strife!

They can develop clairvoyance and healing
if they avoid drama and stealing
live ethically dealing with their feeling!

🥕🥕🥕

THAT Thanksgiving by Kerry E.B. Black

I always knew Momma was more than her lithe frame suggested, but THAT Thanksgiving I was sure. Money was tight, and winter’d set in with a merciless, frosty stranglehold. “How’re we gonna feed everyone?” I wondered, but Momma sang as though she hadn’t a care in the world. Baking turkey perfumed the air before guests arrived. Stuffing spilled from its belly when we carved. Golden gravy and ruby cranberries sparkled like treasures beside a heaping bowl of mashed potatoes light enough to be an angel’s cloud. I wept, ravenous. She’d done it. With meager rations, Momma produced a feast.

🥕🥕🥕

If Only by Norah Colvin

Jake pushed the plate away. “Don’t like mash.”

Mum sighed and turned away.

As Jake stared at the potato, out popped a tiny, lumpy, and obviously grumpy, old man. He shook his fists.

Jake leaned forward. “Pardon?”

“I’m leaving.”

“Why?”

“Ya always push me away. Say ya’d rather chips or roasties. Doncha know we’re all the same—inside—only outside’s different.”

“Didn’t think—”

“Your kind—unkindness—never do. Gotta learn ta look beyond the differences, kid.

Learn ta love us all.”

“Wait—”

“What?” said Mum, turning as Jake scooped the last spoonful of mash into his mouth.

🥕🥕🥕

Into the Wild by Liz Husebye Hartmann

Lizzie stared at the monitor, hands folded in her lap. The cursor blinked.

Sighing, she trotted off to the kitchen for more coffee.

Returning, she sat again and watched the cursor blink.

Blank.

A dearth of inspiration.

Even that third cup didn’t raise Lizzie’s superpower: quirky imagination.

“Wonder what the weather’s doing?’ she clicked to raise the radar map on her screen.

And there: a dense cloud of snow skating toward her town, like a sneeze of mashed potatoes.

“No inspiration inside? Then it’s outside for me!”

Lizzie rose to dress in layers, inspired enough to don a bra!

🥕🥕🥕

Smashed Potatoes by Miriam Hurdle

“What are you doing, Meg?”

“Helping, sis.”

“By doing what?”

“Smashing the potatoes.”

“You do what? For what?”

“Didn’t you read the email from the Community Center. They need additional 50 lbs smashed potatoes with opinion power to serve the Thanksgiving dinner to the veterans.”

“Oh no, let me check the email.”

“I’ll do 10 lbs mixed with fortune cookie opinions.”

“OMG. That’s what it says. Let me call Judy.”

~

“Meg, let’s pick up the smashed potatoes and cook them.”

“What did she say?”

“Judy made some typos. We still can make mashed potatoes with your smashed potatoes.”

🥕🥕🥕

Fast Hands (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane flung the bowl of mashed potatoes at Horace. The bowl bounced off his shoulder and Hickok caught it midair. Horace hadn’t even moved except, Sarah noted, his eyes had widened the way a cow might look when protesting a lead rope to the milking barn. No one spoke as glops of white, buttery mashed potatoes slid down Horace’s shirt. Nancy Jane growled and slammed the heavy oak door when she stomped outside. Sarah understood her friend’s upset with how poorly Horace had handled Cobb’s interference at the station. More than that, she marveled at Hickock’s super speed.

🥕🥕🥕

Super Power Heroes by D. Avery

See how the engineer’s designing a structure to retain the gravy?

The starving artist here, she’d rather sculpt and splatter than put fork to mouth.
Her twin’s a musician. He’ll plop and slop and get every sound he can from this meal. Every fork’s a tuning fork in his hands.
The historian’ll tell you all about pomme de terre, and how the reason it’s associated with the Irish is because the English couldn’t be bothered to steal them from under the ground.

That one’s a magician, mashed potatoes disappear in a flash.
Me? I fed them on the cheap.

🥕🥕🥕

Mash Flash by D. Avery

Pal, you sleepin’?

Not anymore.

Started readin’ that book, Creative Courage. Been thinkin’ on Shorty’s post.

I know Kid, it’s intriguin’ ta think on what Anne Goodwin would think.

It is Pal. An’ I’m inta the epiphany of it ain’t gotta jist be the protagonist that changes. Could be the writer or the reader- any an’/ or all.

It’s a trifecta all right. Makes sense, long as someone gits some elixir.
Pal, have you been inta the elixir?

Yep. Ornery come by, brought some product.

He never comes by.

Came fer the mash.

Ain’t corn mash, it’s potato flash.

🥕🥕🥕

Rodeo #1: Dialog Winners

Well, it’s over, and we judges have had a blast. It looks like you people did too. In all, we received 38 entries. Only a couple failed on word count, a couple of others didn’t stick rigidly to dialogue, but most of you were very good and complied with the rules. Even managing to make something from what was a tricky picture prompt.

Yes, that is me, and that is a giant tortoise; my family spent a day behind the scenes at London Zoo, including feeding these magnificent reptiles. My daughter is responsible for capturing me having the brief catch up…

 

Before we get down to the business end a few general thoughts:

  • In a fair few cases, there was still some ‘telling’. When you only have 99 words you really mustn’t. You have to leave a lot to the reader’s imagination, let them work it out. Sometimes the best entries are those we had to come back to, to find the hidden gems.
  • I’m often guilty of penning a snippet, making a joke but to win these competitions you need depth. A story hinted at perhaps but something more than just those 99 words. A character we care about also gains a bonus tick.
  • Use the title. These are free words. Clever titles, puns, and word plays are all very neat, and I love them, but if you use them to help the judges understand something about your story, you don’t need to then explain it in the story.

Ok, so let’s get down to cases. We liked a lot of what we read; we also disagreed (except the winner – that stood out). So this is how it goes. Each of us has chosen a story we liked, but the others felt they couldn’t push it higher into a place; these we have given a Honourable Mention.

***Honourable Mentions***

From Judge: Chelsea Owen

Man to Man By Deborah Shaw-Wagner

“You seem like a wise old thing. May I ask a question?”

“Well, I don’t know from wise, but I’m old enough. Ask away.”

“It’s just you’re the first I’ve come across where I feel comfortable asking. You look like you’ve seen a thing or two.”

“Or three, sure.”

“Don’t tell anyone, but I’m having woman trouble. We don’t move through life at the same pace.”

“Can’t she slow down? Can’t you speed up? Compromise?”

“We’ve tried. Nothing works.”

“Then maybe it’s time to move on.”

“I live in a giant terrarium! How far am I going to get?”

 Chelsea says: This piece had several interesting elements in it, including a tortoise asking advice of Geoff (the old and wise man) and Geoff then asking whether the tortoise might need to ‘speed up’ or ‘slow down’ regarding his ‘women trouble.’

I felt the take was clever, and appreciated the author’s following the parameters set up. If it would have had a definite story arc and less of just a conversation snippet, I think it could have bumped up to top three for sure.

From Judge Esther Chilton

Of Old Men, Teens, and Tortoises By Nidheesh Samant (The Dark Netizen)

“Do you see that old man there? The one talking to the turtle.”

“Yep, I see him. He’s looking like a retard.”

“Hahaha! These senile old farts, I tell you. I bet he believes that the tortoise over there understands what he is saying.”

“I guess it can’t be helped. Comes with old age.”

* * *

“You see that girl there, Mr. Tortoise? The one who’s looking here and talking to herself. I bet she’s making fun of me.”

“Teenagers, I tell you. They think everyone else is an idiot. I bet they also think tortoises don’t speak.”

Esther says: I chose this as my HM because I like the two different viewpoints. The first is the teenagers’ viewpoints and what they make of the man and tortoise. Having a teenager myself and being around them quite a bit, I could imagine teenage girls thinking along these very lines! Being critical, some of the dialogue could be made tighter and perhaps doesn’t reflect how teenagers speak these days. But the concept is excellent.

The second viewpoint is from the man and the tortoise. Just as the teenagers are mocking them, they replay the compliment. There is some slight confusion with the line ‘The one who’s looking here and talking to herself’, whereas in the photo, there are two teenage girls together, and as there is a clear conversation going on between them in the first half of the story, this line doesn’t quite gel.

But, overall, the idea is great; it’s a neat little story, which makes the reader smile. The two different viewpoints give it that something and they tie in together nicely.

From Judge Geoff Le Pard

A Shell of His Former Self By Bill Engleson

“Yes?”

“Yes.”

“I thought…”

“That it would last longer?”

“Yup.”

“It lasted as long as it did.”

“I suppose. But that’s not much of an answer.”

“Hmmm! Do you really have a question?”

“Of course. It seems like it has ended…far too soon.”

“It always does. But what did you expect? Advance notice?”

“Maybe. Why not?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because LIFE is all the notice you’re entitled to. By all accounts, you’ve had a good one.”

“And still have, right?”

“Time does flit.”

“You are so fucking cryptic.”

“I’ve been told that. Regardless. Better pack your bags.”

Geoff says: I enjoyed the premise of the Tortoise as a sort of grim reaper, preparing the man to meet his end. The philosophical conversation was great, about getting some notice of impending death and there still being time, like the tortoise is playing with the man but at the end letting him down not very gently with ‘Better pack your bags’. When we discussed it, we felt it lacked that something more, the suggestion of a bigger story here which the opening exchanges might have been used to incorporate. It meant, eventually, we didn’t feel the necessary warmth towards the characters to push this onto the podium. It made me laugh, though and that always leaves a nice glow.

Ok, so now the places. Drum roll….

Third Place

(receives a digital copy of Apprenticed To My Mother, by Geoff Le Pard)

 

Seems terminal By Anne Goodwin

“I’ve seen some serious cases, but this.”

“So tragic.”

“Should’ve taken precautions.”

“They don’t all end up in this state?”

“Not the ones who exercise self-control.”

“But isn’t it addictive? No going back once you’ve hit that high.”

“No return to normal, admittedly. But lots draw the line at earwigging on conversations on the bus.”

“Wouldn’t you be curious, though? Wouldn’t you want to inhabit the mind of a tortoise? Or a former lawyer obsessed with words?”

“Sure, if it were reversible.”

“How do you know it’s not?”

“Go and talk to the tortoise. Betcha he answers to Geoff.”

Chelsea says: I believe we liked the unique approach to this prompt. It was two persons engaged in conversation, and was a story based on the picture but not specifically ABOUT the picture Geoff included. Also, it had a twist and a bit of humor.

A really nit-picky suggestion would be to clear up some continuity between the first part of their conversation and the last sentence. I get the idea they are talking about THE tortoise they can see, even standing over him. Then, one says to the other, “GO and talk to the tortoise” like they are not near him.

Esther Says: Again, this story hooks the reader right from the start. What’s serious and so tragic? Gradually, all becomes clear. It’s a witty, amusing story and uses the prompt in a great way, reversing the roles of who’s actually who in the photo. The last sentence is a belter, making the story finish on a high.

Being picky, the dialogue in the middle could be improved – the paragraph beginning ‘No return to normal…’ is slightly wordy.

Geoff says:  It’s a piece that full of potential in what’s really going on and how the conversation is probably taking the man somewhere too far. There’s a lot of nicely judged humour and a great last line.

Roll those drums again, and we come to:

Second Place

(receives a digital copy of Esther’s book of short stories, the Siege)

 Untitled By  Sarah Brentyn

“Mr. Le Pard?”

“He’s not here.”

“Isn’t that him?”

“Yes. It is.”

“Okay. Well I need to deliver—”

“He’s not here at the moment.”

“But he’s right there. You just said.”

“He’s probably at the park…maybe the zoo.”

“Excuse me?”

“You must be new.”

“Well, yes. Today’s my first day. I’m Susan. I told him that earlier but he called me Shelley.”

“Ah, the zoo it is then. He’s off visiting his friend, Shelley, the tortoise. No telling when he’ll be back. Just leave the lunch tray, Susan. One of the nurses can bring his meds back later.”

Chelsea says: I think I mostly enjoyed the idea of Geoff being crazy and on medication. He IS speaking with a tortoise, for Pete’s sake. The dialogue was believable and did not leave me scratching my head as to who was speaking and what he/she intended with his phrases.

-With the exception of a bit of a muddy patch there in the “Isn’t that him? / Yes. It is. / Okay / Well I need to deliver— / He’s not here at the moment. / But he’s right there. You just said.” That was a tad confusing with Geoff later being revealed as being at the zoo visiting his friend.

Esther says: The story, which has been awarded second place intrigues right from the start. There’s confusion between our two conversationalists. This hooks the reader and makes them want to know what’s going on. The reality is a sad one, and it’s so poignant. The last line is very understated yet finishes the story powerfully.

Nonetheless, the writer does overexplain the ending, and so the last couple of paragraphs are a little clunky.

Geoff says: There’s so much warmth and poignancy here. It confuses, deliberately so at the start, and that echoes the man’s confusion. And the ending, the inherent sympathy of the carers allowing him his time ‘inside’ is delightfully done. So much we want to know about, about the time at the zoo, the other place he visits. As already foreshadowed by my fellow judges there were a couple of places where we felt the dialogue clunked a little at the end. But a great piece. (thought what’s with the lack of title…?)

And now, for the drums and the fireworks and the whizz-bangs and applause and jazz hands and all kinds of cacophony we have…

The winning entry

The biggest of stars

The flashista extraordinaire

(takes home a cool $25.00 and all the accolades)

 

No Title By Sarah Brentyn

“Mommy, that man’s kissing the tortoise.”

“He’s not kiss…oh, dear God. Zookeeper!”

“What seems to be the problem, Ma’am?”

“The turtle—”

“Ah, yes. Sad state of affairs, that is. And it’s a tortoise.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Not much I can do, you understand.”

“I do NOT understand.”

“Can’t just magically change the situation, now can I?”

“You must do something. The turtle—”

“Tortoise.”

“Whatever! Stop giggling, Jenny.”

“Don’t worry, Ma’am. We’ve hired a witch to reverse the spell. Should be here next week. He’ll have his wife back then. Enjoy your day.”

Chelsea says: This story was one of my favorites from the start, in terms of humor, interesting dialogue, and incorporating more than one speaker. The words flowed rather well, which made for smooth reading. I was also able to picture the characters; I believe I may have started assigning each a tone and a certain lilt to his/her speech.

I have only highly critical suggestions of what could be improved (especially considering it won first place). First, a few bits in the ending phrase are confusing without the aid of the picture. Second, even more, distinct voices would help in piecing out who is speaking -though, as-is, that’s not difficult to figure out.

Esther says: Our winning story stands out as it interprets the prompt very well, the dialogue flows and is realistic, and it’s a complete story in itself. I also like the gradual build-up towards the climax, where all is revealed. It’s a light, fun story and leaves the reader with a warm glow.

If there’s any criticism, and it’s only very slight, perhaps there could be more ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’ in the last paragraph.

Geoff says: On first read this won. Then I read it again and again and it won again. It has so much. Three people and you know exactly who is speaking – that takes real skill. There’s humour, there’s a twist, there’s a larger story as to how the man’s wife was turned into a tortoise and why, there’s a nice fantasy about it, there’s time for a little parental correction ‘stop giggling Jenny’ as well as the parent twice being corrected that we have a tortoise not a turtle and all in 99 words. If there’s anything to say to improve it, I think the last paragraph might benefit from reworking – given everything else here it feels almost like unnecessarily lengthy exposition… but I really am being picky.

So there you have it. The benefits of completely blind judging means our winner and our second placed entrant is one and the same: Sarah Brentyn.

Take a bow, smarty pants….

Read the full collection at Rodeo #1: Dialog.

November 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

While up north on the Keweenaw Peninsula, I overheard one elderly local tell a monk that an early October snow was no indication that we’d have a long winter. At the time, I was returning from a brief retreat at a lighthouse keeper’s cottage, and the monks were closing up shop for the winter and selling the rest of their jams while fat fluffy flakes covered the ground. I bought six jars. Who could resist blackberries jammed in rum?

It was like overhearing a riddle, though. My mind pondered how early snow could be anything but a long winter on a peninsula fiercely guarded by Lady Lake Superior who has the power and desire to create her own snow globe? It’s different from out West where a late August blizzard in the Rockies reminds us to prepare, but that long cool, even warm, autumns could follow.

Here, the snow means snow. It didn’t stick, but it didn’t return to blue skies, either. The gray mist and soggy cold rain feel dreary. The snow falls brightly and white-washes the world, removing the dinginess of constant cloud cover. Snow illuminates the globe Lady Lake keeps on the mantle of her ice-water mansion. Snow has returned.

And with flair. Of course — it’s Lady Lake. Why not be a drama queen on the fourth day of the 41 North Film Festival at Michigan Tech University? I walked out of the Rosza Center, following a film on the WWI Hello Girls, and into the lobby with 30-foot glass windows facing east. Snow fleeced the view. The next film up was a work in progress called Copper Dogs about female dog-mushers in our region. Well played, Lady Lake.

Culture and snow fill our winters, so I don’t mind. Travel, for me at least, shuts down. After my terrifying drive in a true Copper Country blizzard at the start of last winter, I vowed to be a winter home-body. Students return to our universities and with them come cultural events. So it’s a good time to hunker down. The film festival filled my well.

Tuesday night, I returned to the Rosza Center to listen to Welby Altidor speak on creativity and collaboration.

Altidor believes that each of us possess creative genius, but it must be cultivated and developed through practice. Creative courage is more than practical tools and strategy, it’s a way life for Altidor and those who dare to embrace it.

Yes, yes, yes! You betcha I was going to drive across snow-paved roads to listen to Welby. He was speaking my love-language — make (literary) art accessible!

Welby was the creative director for Cirque du Soliel, and as a dancer and choreographer, he understands the universal power of telling a story. Art is the great communicator wrapped in many mediums from movement to written words. He began by telling us that every good story includes three elements.

Welby teaches that every good story includes love, power, and transformation. You could compare this to the classical teaching of the Greeks, who perfected the three-act story: pity –> fear — > catharsis. Love seems more universal to me than pity, although I understand the Greeks intended for an audience to love the protagonist enough to pity his or her plight. Power is what we might call tension and leads to the Greek ideal of the audience fearing for the well-being of the protagonist. Catharsis is an emotional release (from the fear) and transforms the audience.

Note that in the hero’s journey, the three acts still apply. Of course, I started thinking, what would Anne Goodwin say… After much discussion on the model of the hero’s journey failing to capture the protagonists who don’t change or return with an elixir, I had an a-ha moment. We change. Not the protagonist, but we — the writer, the reader, the creator changes.

That’s the universality of the hero’s journey. Even if the hero falls flat, the creator of the story needs to provide a transformation for the reader — a greater awareness of self, others, or the world around us. And Welby was speaking directly about creatives and how to build creative teams. We must love our art enough to give it power and transform ourselves and audiences.

Welby’s book (and presentation) center on creative courage. To create transformative work we must start from a place of caring. Like at Carrot Ranch — we gather because we care about literary art. We care about writing. We care about stories and words and what we can do with them. We care about our stories. We care about the stories of others. This is the beginning of creative courage.

What comes next wouldn’t surprise anybody who understands Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it might surprise you to think it applies to art. We need to secure safety. Yes, creativity needs a safe place to plant the seeds. That is also the purpose of Carrot Ranch — to create safe space to practice, explore and discover our literary art. I felt like Welby was looking at our community!

For collaboration, Welby says we next need to foster trust. Our literary community builds trust through positive feedback and consistency. We also learn to trust the 99-word constraint as a creative process. Our weekly collections are creative collaborations.

So what happens next? This is where we get to play with danger!  Welby explains that art pushes limits and takes calculated risks. Writing dangerously is to push deeply into an idea that you might think is on the fringe. It’s breaking the rules to create something different. It’s risking creative failure, submitting to a contest or writing outside your comfort zone. It’s earning the “runs with scissors” badge.

Once we start writing dangerously, we dream! We experience breakthroughs! We grow!

Welby went on to say that many of us are disconnected from our superpowers. Part of our mission in life is to discover them, accept them, and share them with the rest of the world. He asked us to tell the person seated next to us what our superpower is. If you can identify your superpower, you will better understand your voice as a writer.

And don’t think any of this creative business is easy. It isn’t. Welby also points out that there is a war on imagination. He said it hit him hard when he had the opportunity to go to North Korea, and he recognized constrained people the way his father was. It’s rooted in fear of failure. Methods might be taught and learned, but what we really need is creative courage.

A significant shift occurred the night I listened to Welby, and it didn’t have to do with my creative art. I wondered as I took notes, how can my family create fertile soil for the Hub. No matter his condition, our circumstances, or unknown future we need creative courage. I looked again at the seven dimensions of creative collaboration and realized the answers were there.

My daughter went with me to listen to Welby speak. We stepped out into the snow, and I told her that the seven dimensions could apply to her dad. She went home and sketched the concentric circles around each one and posted this statement with her photo on Instagram:

Great talk tonight with @welbyaltidor@rozsacenter. Here’s the mental model he presented; good insight into how to rebuild relationships and goals with Sgt. Mills. Walking the tightrope of late effect traumatic brain injury (LE-TBI) starts with taking care, raising safety nets, and building trust.
#creativecourage #love #veteranfamily #braininjuryawareness #tbiawareness #onestepatatime”

And Welby Altidor replied:

“Great stuff! I love your reinterpretation! Honoured it provided inspiration. Never give up!”

On that fine note, let’s move on to mashed potatoes. In the US we near the festival of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy — Thanksgiving. I’m working on my menu and my novel which seems like opposing creative efforts. But Welby told us that fitting two things that don’t go together is how the troupe creates such memorable choreography and art in Cirque du Soliel. His examples: drones and lampshades; clowns and robots; treadmill and hoop-diving.

So we are going to write mash-ups that pair an unusual superpower with mashed potatoes.

November 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs mashed potatoes with a superpower. It can be in any circumstance, funny or poignant. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by November 13, 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.

Fast Hands (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

Nancy Jane flung the bowl of mashed potatoes at Horace. The bowl bounced off his shoulder and Hickok caught it midair. Horace hadn’t even moved except, Sarah noted, his eyes had widened the way a cow might look when protesting a lead rope to the milking barn. No one spoke as glops of white, buttery mashed potatoes slid down Horace’s shirt. Nancy Jane growled and slammed the heavy oak door when she stomped outside. Sarah understood her friend’s upset with how poorly Horace had handled Cobb’s interference at the station. More than that, she marveled at Hickock’s super speed.

Festival of Lights

Light up a lamp, candles, hot air balloon and more because around the world people believe that light overcomes darkness. Even when our festivals are attacked or melded strangely when cultures collide, our humanity glows brightest with hope.

As we enter a season filled with holidays, writers lit up the page with stories about festivals of light.

The following are based on the November 1, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a festival of lights.

PART I (10-minute read)

Festival of Lights by Charli Mills

Glass shatter during dinner. Papa grabbed the boys and we sheltered beneath the table. Patterns of woodgrain forever etched my memory. Mama stood until Papa hastened her to hunker down with us in frightened silence.

We waited for boot thuds and forced entry. A truck engine revved. Guttural voices hurled invocations hard as the pick-ax that smashed our front window and toppled our Menorah – “Big-nosed Jews!” “Death to Hymies!”

My 10-year old mind probed why Papa’s features fated us to die. Friends at school said, the Holocaust wasn’t real, grow up, get over it, this is 2018 in America.

🥕🥕🥕

It only takes One: by Di @ pensitivity101

There is no darkness
When a single light shines,
It brings hope and promise,
A gathering of minds.
Another light beckons,
Two soon becomes three,
Four, five and six,
Reaching out to set free
Festival torches,
All sizes and bright
Dazzling in glory,
Embracing the night.
Some call upon spirits
For Lost Souls to find peace,
Warmth, joy and kindness
Are within easy reach.
All join together,
No-one is ever alone,
Lend a hand, ear or shoulder,
Or just pick up the phone:
Celebrate living,
Let light show the way,
It only takes one
To keep darkness at bay.

🥕🥕🥕

The Festival of Treats and Lights by Rhuchira Khanna

Raj lights lamps in all corners of his house with hymns playing in the background.

He is celebrating Diwali the festival of light that symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance.

Just then the bell rings, he opens the door to a bunch of kids dressed in spooky costumes and shouting, “Trick or Treat.”

He smiles, grabs his bucket full of treats and shouts “Treat…Treat!” As if surrendering to their threat in a sweet way!

Shuts the door, and continues with his prayers of the Hindu festival that comes around the same time as Halloween.

🥕🥕🥕

Glowing Lights by Patrick O’Connor

It was a dark evening. The clouds didn’t allow the stars to easily be seen. On top of that, the New Moon meant visibility would be low.

Then the announcement.

“Burn in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…”

Multiple flashes and suddenly the whole park lit up in multiple colors.

Seventy-five hot air balloons lit their fires all at once causing a kaleidoscope of color.

It could not have been more beautiful.

Once a year, in September, the balloon festival comes to town.

As the balloons slowly lifted to the night sky, the glowing lights offered an image of peace.

🥕🥕🥕

Chester Learns About Hygge by Molly Stevens

Chester stomped into the house after getting his ice shack ready for winter. He said, “What in the blazes are you doing with all these candles everywhere?”

Ruth took a sip of hot cocoa. “Now that the weather’s turned cold and the days are darker, I’m practicing the Danish art of Hygge.”

“Hoo-gah? Where’d you get that cockamamie idea? From our loony neighbor, Myrah?”

“No, I read a book about it. You have to admit. The candles make the house look cozy and inviting.”

“Inviting? Yes, to a crew of firemen.”

Ruth smiled. “That might not be so bad.”

🥕🥕🥕

Lustre by Reena Saxena

The festival was extra special this time around. Her husband had splurged on the best of everything for Diwali, and the children had an excited look pasted on their sweet faces. She couldn’t deny being happy …. but she sensed a dark secret somewhere, which the illumination could not cover.

The Anti-Corruption Bureau guys were at the doorstep, early morning. Their house was being raided.

The lamps looked morose in the light of dawn, and the floral designs lost lustre. She handed over the keys to the officer, and moved out, not wanting to see the can of worms.

🥕🥕🥕

The Light of My Life by Susan Sleggs

I sit alone most evenings in my dark high rise apartment looking out at the colorful lights that make the city seem like a welcoming, safe place. Too bad I know most of it isn’t friendly at night even for a man. I have admitted to my co-workers that I do this but I haven’t shared why. It isn’t any of their business. They say it’s a strange habit. I know when my cell sounds a specific tone the whole place will be brightened with the chatter of my daughter while we Face Time. She is my true light.

🥕🥕🥕

Brown Mountain by H.R.R. Gorman

Recent floods had stopped the trains from winding through the mountains, and Stewart took advantage of this darkness to investigate the Brown Mountain lights.

Lights glinted ahead. They didn’t flicker like a lantern or candle, but this region wasn’t lit by electricity. Stewart picked up his pace.

The massive, golden source became more apparent as he closed in on it. He noticed the light streamed from an open doorway, and a queue of skeletal figures entering. The ghosts ventured forth with smiles, and Stewart felt no inclination to stop them.

He reported on the haunting, “Lights caused by trains.”

🥕🥕🥕

Festival of Lights by Frank Hubeny

“I saw one once,” Joel’s grandfather admitted.

“We knew Teresa didn’t understand things like we did because of some birth defect. At her mother’s funeral, dark thunderclouds approached. Her father wanted to speak but couldn’t at the podium. Teresa rushed to him, ‘Don’t cry, Papa! She’s right here.’”

“With a lightning crack the power shut down. Someone lit candles so we could see.

“When I told them what I saw, they thought I was as nutty as Teresa, but a ten-year-old doesn’t misunderstand the way adults do.”

Joel’s grandfather paused. “Teresa’s mother was there caressing her husband and daughter.”

🥕🥕🥕

Come On Baby by Geoff Le Pard

‘Wassup, Morgan?’

‘Mum’s left Dad.’

‘Why?’

‘He came back from that Jazz festival, turned all the lights on, got all frisky…’

‘Eeew, gross.’

‘Right? She asks what’s up, he says he’s high…’

‘Your dad!? How’d that happen?’

‘One chap brought cake. Dad asks what is it. According to Dad the guy said they’re not brownies but Dad had a bite, insisted they were and had six. Larry, Dad’s mate checks. They guy actually said “They’re pot brownies” by which time Dad’s on his way to light Mum’s fire.’

‘Sounds like you’ll have a sibling come spring…’

‘Or they’ll divorce…’

🥕🥕🥕

A Quality of Mercy by Liz Husebye Hartmann

“Alas,” Lady Arabella sighed, holding a palm out from under her parasol. Days of full darkness had been followed by months of half light. “It seems the sun will never again shine, nor rain warm our moonless nights.”

“I fear you’re correct, sister, but what can we do?” Rob, hand tucked behind his back, reached down to adjust a spat. He noted the striped caterpillar crawling across their path, and raised his heel

“Hist! Show mercy, brother!” Arabella touched his arm.

With that, soft drops of rain began to fall, shimmering with all the colors of love and hope.

🥕🥕🥕

Star of the Show (Part I) by D. Avery

Hope made her guess. When her mother had incorrectly guessed Mary, Joseph, wise man, sheep, donkey, cow, inn keeper, and even baby Jesus, Hope finally told her what part she had in the Christmas pageant.

“It was my idea, Mommy! I got them to let me do my idea!”

“What, Hope? What role is left?”

Hope’s eyes shone with her broad smile. “The star! I’m going to be up on a ladder behind the stable dressed up like the star!”

“Do you have lines to memorize?”

“Nope. I just have to shine.”

“Oh, Hope, you do. You’re a natural.”

🥕🥕🥕

Star of the Show (Part II) by D. Avery

“Our Hope is a star, alright. Come on, we’re going snowshoeing.”

“Now? It’s so dark out.”

“I have a surprise.”

“Let’s go, Hope. I’d rather tramp in the snow than have to guess again.”

From the top of the meadow the frozen lake was an empty blackness in the moonless dark, framed by twinkling lights of houses on the surrounding rolling hills.

Below them their own kitchen window glowed warmly.
Suddenly beams of light reached out from the high roof of their barn.

“Daddy! A Christmas star in the cupola!”

“Not just Christmas. We’ll light up every dark night.”

🥕🥕🥕

Brief Outage by Bill Engleson

In the night, there is the increasingly familiar hum. The neighbour’s high-end generator has kicked in again.

The house is silent, a symphony of darkness, save for the thump of the fatter cat’s feet in the room above.

And a near-spent nightlight.

The electric bedside clock is unforthcoming.

I stretch.

My toenail slashes her ankle.

I get a wallop. “That hurts,” she points out.

“Sorry.”

“Damn! You’re sorry, are you? You always do it.”

“Sorry.”

It’s the best I can do…

Then the house starts to buzz.

The clock flashes its resurgent time.

Power surges.

The night’s electric again.

🥕🥕🥕

Where is Clarity? by Jules

Gnat. Sat. After annoying my nose, flying past my glasses.
Adding an extra period where it did not belong on my screen.

I could imagine the gnat elsewhere, like visiting simmering dew, outside.
While thinking about what to write I forgot about my coffee.
The rim of fluid enchanted by the glowing reflection of the chandelier.

swimming contently?
not quite caught in a raindrop;
gnat gained afterlife

could’ve drowned in a raindrop
did his soul add any light?

Saturday we will switch from later dawn to an earlier dusk.
Just who are we fooling by ending Daylight Savings Time?

🥕🥕🥕

November the fifth … and the third and the fourth and the sixth too by Anne Goodwin

Rainbow sequins burst onto a velveteen sky. With every screech and bang of the lightshow’s soundtrack, she feels him flinch. People scowl: his barks and yelps foul their outdoor entertainment. She grips his collar, strokes his head.

In the before, they baked potatoes in the embers, her brother’s boxer snug in his basket beneath the stairs.

Only one more night before the park’s returned to her and him and others like them. Pitch and peace from sunset to sunrise. Until Christmas. Hopefully, they’ll be bedded down in a shelter then. When another batch of fireworks explodes in the sky.

🥕🥕🥕

Tragedy by kate @ aroused

Some use their tragedy to educate the masses. Talk to politicians, schools, service clubs, whoever will listen. About the ongoing violence and abuse, the demeaning vitriol and sadistic mind games that was their life for far too long.

But some feed off the drama, others wonder why they never left, most can’t listen with their heart. We don’t want to believe this is our sons, fathers and husbands.

They hold mass candle light vigils to mark extremely violent deaths, or the just sheer vast numbers. But still the laws and attitudes don’t really change. The women are to blame.

🥕🥕🥕

River by Anita Dawes

This river of lights, each one a wish
Hope to pin your dreams upon
A prayer to Lakshmi to chase away the darkness
To turn your demons into dust
A river of starlight echoing the world above
Each light a prayer to the ghosts of old Gods
In the heart of the people
India, a place of colour
Smiles light the faces of people passing by
Hope lives here
The old Gods love them for it
Each light above, connected to the ones below
To the dreamers who believe Lakshmi will come calling
To greet each wish made tonight…

🥕🥕🥕

Return: by The Dark Netizen

Praises be sung, our lord has returned victorious!

The cheers and chanting continued throughout the capital as its ruler made his triumphant return. The citizens lit torches and kindled celebratory flames in order to welcome their light bringer. They sang praises of his exploits in battle, how he alone destroyed half the enemy army. They celebrated their victory over their greatest enemy, one who was threatening their very way of existence. The roads leading to the palace looked like rivers of gold, and the palace itself shone like the sun.

The Festival of lights marked the Demon king’s return.

🥕🥕🥕

Haunted by Rosemary Carlson

“It’s always darkest before the dawn.” That old quote popped into her head at 4 a.m. It wouldn’t be daylight soon this morning since the Earth was spinning toward the shortest day of the year. She was still awake at this ungodly hour, as she often was, yearning for the light.

She couldn’t sleep until it was daylight. The old dreams, the terrible dreams of her childhood, haunted her, and she knew she couldn’t sleep until dawn when they would subside. She remembered them when she awoke, screaming, but only for a few seconds. Only the light chased them away.

🥕🥕🥕

Harvest (from “Diamante”) by Saifun Hassam

Spring’s unusually heavy rains flooded farms and orchards in the villages. Working together, the villagers replanted the fields and shared the harvest.

Diamante, a school teacher, was also responsible for the ancient temple until the Abbott could send a priest. For the fall harvest celebration, the children festooned the ancient temple with flowers and lit countless candles. From the open roof, sandalwood smoke drifted into the sky.

As evening deepened into night, Diamante recited the ancient prayers. The children excitedly traced the paths of shooting stars, imagined them falling into the sea, turning into myriads of tiny green lamps.

🥕🥕🥕

Christmas Eve by Margaret G. Hanna

We begin our ritual.

We’ve been here before. We know what to do. We sit in silence and darkness. Quietly. Calmly. Anticipating. The organist plays one single note. We sing “Silent Night.” Softly.

The minister lights the first candle. We pass the flame from one person to the next until the sanctuary is bathed in the soft, warm, gentle glow of candlelight. The primal call of flickering flame draws our attention to why we are here. To remember and celebrate the miracle of birth, of rebirth.

We go out into the night, to the sound of snow falling silently.

🥕🥕🥕

Festival of Lights by Kay Kingsley

Along life’s backyard fence hangs endless strands of twinkling lights.

Each strand is separate but when viewed from a distance, they all seem connected, end to end, as far as the eye can see.

We each have a strand of our own, each bulb shines bright for a wonderful life event but suspended between those bright events an invisible darkness remains, the home of hardships and monotony.

With a little luck, we try not to linger there as the dim glow of hope beckons in the distance.

Our chains are unique and together our festival of lights hang eternal.

🥕🥕🥕

PART II: (5-minute reads)

Bandi Chorr Diwas by Ritu Bhathal

Emperor Jehangir found no reason to keep Guru Hargobind imprisoned anymore, for he had shown no danger towards the leader.
The Guru insisted upon the release of fifty-two innocent Hindu kings imprisoned alongside him.

Whoever was able to hold onto the cloth of his gown would be free.
He had a special cloak stitched with enough tassels so they could all hold on.
The day Guru Hargobind arrived back in Amritsar happened to be Diwali where the whole city was flooded with the light from candles, lit in joy at his return back to the holiest of Sikh cities.

🥕🥕🥕

Gert by Kate @ aroused

Many gathered for the monumental celebration of Gert’s life. She inhabited our earth for nearly a century seeing so many changes we can barely comprehend.

Gert struggled with the night as sleep evaded, she would be restless so we chose a theme of light as she transitioned to better things. Her favourite opera was broadcast as we had a light parade … some with lanterns or candles, their wax safely caught. The entire village strung with vibrant coloured lights.

Then we gathered in the local for her favourite toddy while we shared stories of her many adventures and achievements.

🥕🥕🥕

The Tradition by tracey robinson

Every December the family went to the huge light display in Winterhaven. Mom complained about the crowds, the kids complained about the cold and Dad complained about the cost. But it was a family tradition. This year Mom said she just couldn’t face it and Dad didn’t want to pay so they didn’t go.

On Christmas Eve, once it got dark, Mom said, “Everyone get your coats on, we have a hole in our holiday that needs to be filled”. They walked through their still, silent neighborhood, savoring all the small light displays, happy to continue their family tradition.

🥕🥕🥕

Horticultural Thoughts by D. Avery

“Whatcha thinkin’ on, Kid?”

“Thinkin’ on plants Pal.”

“Shorty said ta be thinkin’ on light.”

“I am. Ever heard a phototropism?”

“I favor geotropism. Like ta keep rooted, grounded in my place.”

“Plants kin take root jist about anywhere. Patient and perseverant. I reckon plants gotta be rooted firmly an’ reach fer the light. Always pointin’ towards the light.”

“Yep, Kid, they’s a lot ta contemplate with plants. Mebbe it ain’t so far afield, you thinkin’ on plants. Reckon folks is like plants, Kid?”

“Some is Pal. Some need cultivatin’.”

“How?”

“Light. We gotta stay grounded and shine on.”

🥕🥕🥕

Ranch Lite (Yarn I) by D. Avery

“You fixin’ ta build a fire, Pal?”

“Yep. Figger if ever’one’s as tuckered out from the rodeo as me, they might wanna jist set a spell by the light of a warming fire.”

“Pal, ‘member when we first showed up here?”

“We? ‘Member, I’ve always been here, jist no one knew it.”

“Oh yeah. Then how come we’re always together?”

“I wish I knew, Kid. Prob’ly ‘cause when people hear voices it’s always plural, not ‘voice’. Someone needs us.”

“Someone could do worse.”

“Yep.”

“You set, Pal, I’m gonna tell about showin up here.”

“Can I stop you?”

“Nope.”

🥕🥕🥕

Ranch Lite (Yarn II) by D. Avery

It was a dark an’ stormy night.

“Kinda cliché, Kid.”

“Well it was, ‘an mebbe it’s metaphorical.”

“Meta for who?”

“Shush.

It was a tumultous time, deep winter. A young greenhorn, feelin’ her age-

“What? You describin’ cheese? How kin a young greenhorn be old?”

“That’s the way it is, Pal. Jeez, where was I?”

“On yer way here.”

“Okay.”

An old greenhorn was wanderin’ the desert. The wind was blowin’ an’
somewhere in that wind was the answer, my friend.

“The answer was blowin’ in the wind? Was this 1963? Jist cut to the chase already.”

“If’n you’d…

🥕🥕🥕

Ranch Lite (Yarn III) by D. Avery

…let me.”

I was wanderin’ somewhat aimless, had gone off trail. I was stumblin’ in the dark. Then, crestin’ a rocky ledge-

“What’s that meta for?”

“Shush Pal!”

I saw a strange glowin’ light, color of carrots on the horizon…

“Were you near Roswell, New Mexico?”

“Pal!”

“Okay!”

I went closer, real cautious like. I wasn’t sure what it was, if’n it were safe. If’n it were meant fer me…

“Was it?”

“Sure was.”

I followed the light and come ta the fire here at the Ranch.

“That’s it?”

“Yeah.”

“Not much of a story, Kid.”

“Lighten up Pal.”

🥕🥕🥕

The TUFFest Ride: Winners

After one of the most challenging rounds of judging 118 entries from 36 writers over five 24-hour free-writes with five different prompts, three judges selected five writers to take the TUFFest Ride.

TUFF stands for The Ultimate Flash Fiction. As a literary form, it requires a writer to master spontaneous drafting, reduction, and expansion for a single story. As a writing tool, it guides a writer through revision to get to the heart of a story or the point of an idea. The TUFFest Ride is a writing contest that invites a small group of writers to exhibit their skills to master the process publicly.

The first task of TUFF is to free-write. That means to draft a story from scratch. It’s a demonstration of creative instinct, pushing into the unknown to retrieve a possible story. To help spark an idea, writers followed the lead of a prompt: mudslide.

The second task of TUFF is to explore. The 99-word format is long enough to write a concise and compelling story or scene, and yet short enough to write several to explore different options, including point of view. POV is the voice of narration, which is not always the voice of the protagonist. Sometimes, in third person, an author can craft multiple POV characters. Writing a flash fiction from a different POV can lead to a more profound sense of the story or draw out a hidden nugget.

The Third task of TUFF is to focus the central idea. 59 words are the heart of a story, the synopsis of a novel, or the pitch to an idea. It has enough of the elements to be complete. Its purpose is to teach the critical rule of revision — know what each story, scene or chapter is about. The writer keeps the essential elements in this task, including any new insights from exploring with 99 words.

The fourth task of TUFF is to punch the reader. These 9 words are the hook or can be the opening sentence (or sequence). All the emotion from the heart of the story is packed into this last reduction. The purpose is to hook the reader to read more emotionally. Mastering the hook gives a writer an edge and teaches the writer to come out fighting for the reader’s attention. Punch ‘em in the gut with this line.

Each task of TUFF is pure writing. Revision is about writing, not editing. The purpose of the TUFF process is to show how a writer revises through drafting, reduction, and rewriting. Editing happens after you revise. How often have you heard or read, “turn off your inner critic” when you write? That’s because writing and editing are two different processes. It’s much easier to edit and to teach writers to edit — after all, editing comes with clear rules and tasks. That’s why TUFF has tasks to guide writers to continue to write without the inner critic and yet still getting at the heart and emotion and power of a story, scene or chapter.

If the writer has allowed writing (creativity) to lead the process, TUFF will produce valuable insights to inform the rewrite better. The rewrite is the second draft, but after having explored the potential of the first draft through creative means. TUFF is relatively easy to learn, although many writers may struggle because it asks you to set aside editing and trust the writing process. Creative writing can’t be taught explicitly in the way spelling and grammar can be. You have to experience it, do it, and do it regularly. This is why Carrot Ranch uses 99-word flash fiction challenges weekly. The challenges repeat the creative exploration task, and the writer who regularly plays along actually learns to trust their gut instincts (go where the prompt leads) better.

The fifth and final task of TUFF is to rewrite the original free-write (first draft). The writer uses all the insights gained through the creative distillation of the story through previous TUFF tasks. The writer is now better informed of the original story. And yet the second draft still allows for creative process; it remains open to crafting. Even the final task of TUFF is pure writing. If it isn’t, editing can stifle your inner writer. Set the editor aside and take the TUFFest Ride to the page. The second draft gives you more words — 495 to be exact. This equates to five 99-word increments.

Once you have revised through TUFF, then you have material to edit. Editing shapes the course of your story (it’s arrangement into a beginning middle and end, or into scenes that form a chapter, or into chapters that form a book). Editing the course is building the bones. Next, editing fleshes out clarity. It takes a critical eye to readability, rhythm, and flow. Clarity asks if this is the best word, the right sentence, the exact scene. Once fleshed out, editing polishes the skin or applies the make-up. Now editing can grimly march through the sentences slashing comma splices and questioning grammar. Final editing cares about correctness. These tasks take place after writing, not before and not during.

Stay TUFF and write on. The journey to mastery never ends until the master is no more.

In September, 118 entries qualified to take the TUFFest Ride in 2018. Laura Smyth and Cynthia Drake assisted with judging, highlighting the best stories from each of the five Free-Write contests. The judges further selected the best stories from among the top entries. Several writers stood out among their multiple entries, and the judges chose five writers to take the TUFFest Ride. Each of these writers took the full ride from 297 to 9 words. Three continued to the second draft and had 24 hours t complete it. Because they went through the TUFF process, the idea is that the second draft would flow more quickly.

Because 118 entries plus the full TUFFest Ride of the Fab Five nets over 60,000 words, we will only publish the complete work of the Fab Five which you can read at The TUFFest Ride.

However, to acknowledge those daring writers who completed the challenge alongside the Fab Five, we offer you this Badge of Honor to proudly display:

Thank you to our marvelous judges, Cynthia Drake and Laura Smyth! Their guidance and thoughtfulness throughout the contest have made it a pleasure. We all found the writing of our Fab Five to be delicious and have our winner announcements. We met in Laura’s office and giggled our way through a video, showing why we call ourselves the Squirrel Sisters. Laura was relieved when she realized the recording was not live because I could edit it.

I laughed! I told her I didn’t know how.

And, apparently, I don’t know how to record, either. Afterward, when I shut down my laptop, I failed to save our recording. This year, technology officially wins over my best efforts to record. I can tell you we discussed how the process pushed each writer into their story. We talked about each writer, their strengths, willingness to be vulnerable and our preferences as readers and judges.

Judging is not easy, especially in a creative contest. In the end, we focused on writer strengths, use of the process, and the elements that compel a reader.

Cynthia stated, that as a dancer she resonated with Pete Fanning’s story. It’s one she could feel as dance steps. Laura pointed to the surprise she felt when she read Kay’s second draft because the writer journeyed with the character from young woman to deathbed (Cynthia and I teased Laura about being a poet who always goes straight for death in her writing). We all loved the lyricism of Bill’s writing and appreciated how he explored far and wide, yet maintained his strongest original elements.

It was not easy, and we squirreled away on many topics, deciding that we all appreciated TUFF as a process. Cynthia has used TUFF to process her goals to restore her damaged home after a mudslide (the theme of all these stories). Laura has had me in her Finlandia classroom to teach the process to her Composition 101 students. And I’m taking to TUFF for NaNoWriMo 2018.

Here is our final ranking with massive appreciation to all the writes and those who hung in the saddle.

FINAL RANKING

Honorable Mention: Liz Husebye Hartmann
Honorable Mention: Ritu Bhathal
Third Place: Pete Fanning
Second Place: Kay Kingsley
First Place: Bill Engleson

Congratulation to the five of you! We were blown away by your writing and the tenacity to push through difficult tasks and find the strengths throughout the ride. This contest called you to endure, and you did.

Flash Fiction Challenge: November 1

Rain clouds the color and weight of lake-tankers hang over the neighborhood. These days, I don’t know if the moisture is pelting rain or sloppy snow — it’s the season of transition all around the world.

No matter the hemisphere, change is happening. The sun slants, the weather patterns shift, and we feel uneasy. We crave the light.

After managing the leads of three dogs, I unbuckle the collars and let the beasts pound across the hardwood floors, nails clicking as they all head for the dog water. My pea-coat harbors husky fur and I pretend it’s trendy wool. Bidding the dogs farewell for the evening, I head back out into a spit of rain and behold a sight —

The setting sun, momentarily free from its captor of steely clouds, diffuses light across the neighborhood of three-story mining house all with the steeply pitched roofs of snow-country. Like a laser beam, the sun illuminates the thinning orange maple across the road, and it glows like amber. One of my hearty, hale, and elderly neighbor’s steps outside across the street from me with an old film camera. He takes a photo.

“Never seen the likes before,” he tells me.

A moment is all it takes to change our world. Light can alter us, uplift us, convince us that “a new dawn, a new day” is all the hope we need to face more gray clouds and uncertainty. I’ll take it as a good omen. After all, I’m on my way to a Diwali feast — a celebration of light over darkness.

I imagine Michigan Tech’s international students feeling far from home. The engineering and technological university prides itself on a diverse global student body. But Houghton (on the south side of the portage canal) and Hancock (on the north side) remain remote. They only exist because of the 125-year-old copper mining industry. The industry’s legacies are two universities and a peninsula full of poor rock ore and ghost towns. What a strange place this must seem.

Yet, they bring their culture with them, sharing it with the community. Like Diwali when the Indian Cultural Club spends three days cooking a meal and weeks preparing a show full of romantic matchmaking, dancing, and music. I head out, aiming for the light.

Last we gathered at the Ranch for a weekly challenge, we watched stories of a Prade of Nations unfold. After month-long Rodeo, we return to a festival of lights. It seems the hopeful side of transformation.

The Hub spent the month in Minneapolis at the Poly Trauma Center. We are learning to focus on what he can do — a light. He’s learning to let go of his worry over cognition and focus on loving-kindness. Think about that a minute. When faced with the changes of an altered brain, when faced with any transition or uncertainty, what a light to focus on — loving kindness.

And isn’t that the essence of all the holidays that are about to descend?

Loving-kindness. Light over darkness. Good over evil. Hope.

Like the elderly neighbor, I want to snap a picture. I want to remember the warmth of food served to me by gracious college students facing exams and loneliness for home. I want to believe in the points of light we can all be when we spread kindness. It doesn’t remove the pain or gloss over the fear; it accepts that we have a choice in what we do next.

Light a candle.

Not giving up hope on my long-suffering novel and the mess I’ve made of it, I’ve backed up to an earlier, crappier version, but one that is complete. I already know I’m going to tank significant portions. I’ve mostly decided on where to locate the wandering characters who must feel as homeless as I do by now. And I’m going to listen — listen to their story instead of trying to force mine upon them. Writing is messy. But I’m going to light a candle every night and show myself that loving-kindness as I kick it into gear and rewrite it.

You know what that means — yes, I’m doing the NaNoWriMo event. And I’m going to TUFF my way through writing every day. I’m also committing daily time to Vol. 2 which is lagging behind the tight schedule I set. In a perfect world, I’d be, well, perfect! But I’m imperfect. I process slowly. I get tied up in knots and angst my way into woeful prose. I bleed across the keyboard and forget to compress the wounds. I’m ready to light my way home.

My storyboard for Miracle of Ducks hangs on the wall, stripped of all its notes. Bare bones. Today, I write those bare bones, I free-draft Danni’s story — 1,800 words. Then 99, 59, 9. Then I start to plot the storyboard, delete or TUFF chapters 1,800, 99, 59, 9 words each day until I hit 50,000 words. I trust the process to get me back on track. I seek my own elixir.

Tune in on Fridays to catch winner announcements for all the October Rodeo contests. With each announcement, I’ll publish the qualifying entries on a page under the Rodeo tab. We still have two live contests, and I encourage you to check them out. Both are free and have prizes:

Sound and Fury by D. Avery asks you to write a story that shows the sound and the fury of an intense and dangerous situation that the main character willingly chose. Closes Nov. 7 at 11:59 p.m. Top prize $25.

Old Time Radio by Charli Mills asks for 99-59-9 words for radio spots to capture the history of the Continental Fire Company. Closes Nov. 7. Three winners get $25 each and a chance to hear their story produced into an actual radio spot.

I want to thank all our leaders, judges, participants and sponsors (please take time to look at the sponsor ads along the right-hand column and click on those that interest you). The community effort and participation makes the Rodeo a fun way to stretch our writing skills. Thank you!

Now to shed some light on the season of transition! Welcome back to the weekly challenges.

November 1, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a festival of lights. It can be any holiday, event or moment. Express the hope of light over darkness. Or use it to highlight injustice. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by November 6, 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.

 

Festival of Lights by Charli Mills

Glass shatter during dinner. Papa grabbed the boys and we sheltered beneath the table. Patterns of woodgrain forever etched my memory. Mama stood until Papa hastened her to hunker down with us in frightened silence.

We waited for boot thuds and forced entry. A truck engine revved. Guttural voices hurled invocations hard as the pick-ax that smashed our front window and toppled our Menorah – “Big-nosed Jews!” “Death to Hymies!”

My 10-year old mind probed why Papa’s features fated us to die. Friends at school said, the Holocaust wasn’t real, grow up, get over it, this is 2018 in America.

Rodeo #5: Sound and Fury

A Flash Fiction contest by D. Avery
Co Judges: Bonnie Sheila and the Amazing Educator

THE CONTEST

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

Think of a dangerous situation that people willingly engage in. It need not be heroic with a heroic outcome for it is ill-advised to sit down on a bull or to run with them charging down the same narrow street. But people do. Why? Explore the motivation for the character; how did they come to be in this situation?

A high scoring bull rider stays on an athletic bucking spinning bull for eight seconds after exploding out of the chute. They are dance partners, with a grace that is gritty and brutal. The rider holds that braided rope for dear life, knowing the only thing worse than being on a bull’s back is to be at its mercy on the ground. The fascination with danger or the tension of being in a dangerous situation should permeate your story.

A high scoring writer will maximize that eternal eight seconds, letting the reader know what that dangerous situation smelled like, tasted like, sounded like, felt like, looked like. Put the reader on that bull’s back. Give the reader the sound and the fury of a dangerous situation.

These tracks from Marty Stuart’s Way Out West album may set the tone for this prompt. Enjoy and have a good ride.

The rules:

  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit.
  2. Write a story that shows the sound and the fury of an intense and dangerous situation that the main character willingly chose.
  3. There are two dance partners; show the fury of the danger, be it a bucking bull or some other dangerous liaison.
  4. The sound; use sensory details to put the reader in the main character’s dance shoes.
  5. Bonus points for revealing the character’s motivation/fascination for dancing with danger.
  6. Use the form provided below to enter (open this post if you are reading it in an email). If you do not receive a confirmation email, notify wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  7. Entries must be received by November 7, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. (EST). Contest winner, second and third place entries announced here December 14, 2018
  8. Go where the prompt leads.
  9. Have fun.

For word count, use Microsoft Word or wordcounter.net. Be aware that punctuation and word-hyphens can change your word count so run it through one of those two counters.

Judges for this event are D. Avery, Bonnie Sheila, and the Amazing Educator.

D. Avery, Rough Writer spinner of Ranch Yarns, shares prose and poetry at ShiftnShake. She has published two books of poetry, Chicken Shift and For the Girls. Her third book, After Ever, little stories for grown children, is evidence of her shift to fiction writing. You might find her funny, except when she’s serious, but you can certainly find her at Twitter and Amazon.

Bonnie Sheila is a crafty woman who lives by the sea and who has taken up quilling to keep herself off the streets. Her art can be viewed at Crescents and Coils. She has many talents, but fishing is not one of them.

The Amazing Educator has fiercely and fearlessly championed children for thirty years. Hundreds of people read, write, and even spell well because of her. She is a voracious reader and fearless leader of book groups who has also worked as an editor. When tooling about in her Jeep, Dog is her copilot.

In judging we will apply the following criteria:

  1. Word count: 99
  2. Use of the prompt.
  3. Dance moves; there is a respect and grace between the danger and the endangered.
  4. Imagery; a compelling use of sensory details makes the reader feel the music behind the dance, illustrates the fascination with the danger.
  5. The story brings understanding as to why a person would engage in a high-risk situation.

Thank you for entering! The contest is now closed. Winners announced December 14, 2018, at Carrot Ranch.

A 5-Star Readers’ Favorite!

Thank you, Writers of Carrot Ranch!

Congress of the Rough Writers, Carrot Ranch, @Charli_Mills

Inspired Quill Publishing

Lead Buckaroo & Sasquatch

TUFF Judge Laura Smyth

Bob & Sue Spitulnik

TUFF Judge Cynthia Drake

Continental Fire Company

Solar Up

readilearn

Bill Engleson

Susan Sleggs

M J Mallon

Colleen Chesebro

Miriam Hurdle

Rodeo Leader Geoff Le Pard

Rodeo Judge Esther Chilton

Rodeo Leader Irene Waters

Rodeo Leader Sherri & Judge Mike Matthews

Rodeo Judge Hugh Roberts

Rodeo Judge Anne Goodwin

Rodeo Judge Robbie Cheadle

Rodeo Leader D. Avery (Soon to be released new book)

Rodeo Judge Bonnie Sheila