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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.
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
“That it would last longer?”
“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….
(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.”
“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:
(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.”
“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?”
“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—”
“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.
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.
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.
A Flash Fiction contest by D. Avery
Co Judges: Bonnie Sheila and the Amazing Educator
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.
- Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit.
- Write a story that shows the sound and the fury of an intense and dangerous situation that the main character willingly chose.
- There are two dance partners; show the fury of the danger, be it a bucking bull or some other dangerous liaison.
- The sound; use sensory details to put the reader in the main character’s dance shoes.
- Bonus points for revealing the character’s motivation/fascination for dancing with danger.
- 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 email@example.com.
- 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
- Go where the prompt leads.
- 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:
- Word count: 99
- Use of the prompt.
- Dance moves; there is a respect and grace between the danger and the endangered.
- Imagery; a compelling use of sensory details makes the reader feel the music behind the dance, illustrates the fascination with the danger.
- 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.
From 118 entries, five writers were selected to take the TUFFest Ride. A few brave challengers have also followed the paces, taking the ride each week. The point of TUFF is to experience the shifts that occur in our writing when we revise. The process forces us to change our first drafts to meet the diminishing word constraints. In making those changes, we further explore our story and make discoveries and decisions. Lastly, we infuse the heart of our stories with emotion.
Here’s a quick look at the shortest stories from last week — each one is nine words and expresses a different emotion [set in brackets].
9-WORD SUMMATIONS WITH EMOTION by Kay Kingsley
Sapling nurtured, love grows an Oak death can’t fell [strength]
Unanswered dreams denied by fate suspended our love eternally [sadness]
9-WORD SUMMATIONS WITH EMOTION by Ritu Bhathal
Mudslide. This could not be happening again – could it? [Fear]
Fear aside. They need me. I’ve got to help. [Courage]
9-WORD SUMMATIONS WITH EMOTION by Pete Fanning
Whether fire or rain, they danced through the pain. [Happy]
Two souls, one dance. Muddy shoes, singing the blues. [Love]
9-WORD SUMMATIONS WITH EMOTION by Bill Engleson
Her spectre blazes in my brain, dangling in time. [wonder]
Mudslide! Low Tide!! Suicide! I have done your will. [resignation]
9-WORD SUMMATIONS WITH EMOTION by Liz Husebye Hartman
Everybody had opinions, but the mudslide called it in. [acceptance]
Dahlia embraces freedom as New Stuttgart is washed away. [disapproval]
This Rodeo contest challenged the judges, too. How does one judge the process of drafting and revision? We looked for tenacity, the ability of a writer to push into his or her piece. All five writers exhibited this trait that the masters consider more important than talent.
“Often it is tenacity, not talent, that rules the day.”
~ Julia Cameron
“Fish,” he said softly, aloud, “I’ll stay with you until I am dead.”
~ Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.
~ Albert Einstein
And that’s what TUFF called these five writers to do. Pete Fanning, Kay Kingsley, Ritu Bhathal Bill Engleson, and Liz Husebye Hartmann wrote tenaciously. Each week they met a challenge and overcame the doubt that dogs all writers. They wrote. And from the perspective of the one who got to read their writing weekly, I marveled at how each writer pushed through. TUFF creates a process for revision so that exploration and discovery still happen between first draft and second.
Too often, writers go from first draft into editing. By using the ultimate flash fiction constraints, writers can workshop their revisions before getting to the mechanics of editing, thus creating deeper and richer stories. It’s easy to learn to edit because it has specific rules. Creative writing, on the other hand, requires experience and the willingness of a writer to be vulnerable and uncertain.
In the words of one of our judges, reading the Fab Five’s stories and TUFF processes was “delicious!” Indeed, it’s been a month at a story smorgasbord, getting the privilege of watching the chef’s serve up flavorful dishes. But now as we go back for seconds, we only have room to pick three. Please congratulate our two Honorable Mentions in the TUFFest Ride:
- Honorable Mention: Liz Husebye Hartmann
- Honorable Mention: Ritu Bhathal
That means Pete Fanning, Kay Kingsley, and Bill Engleson have 24 hours to craft a second revision of their original mudslide story in 495 words (that’s five flash fictions as we define the 99-word form at Carrot Ranch). Email entries, following the same process with earlier challenges by noon EST Tuesday, October 30. On Friday, November 2, we will rank remaining TUFF writers as first, second and third place.
Also on Friday, TUFF Judge Cynthia Drake will be dancing her first solo with her troupe 47 North Belly Dance at the Continental Fire Company. The show is a fundraiser to help her with ongoing cost to rebuild her home following the devastating landslide on June 17. I’ll be reading some of my flash fiction based on her story and that of community healing.
The Continental has generously sponsored the Rodeo and all our prize categories, and they continue to be local support of literary art. We are hosting a unique Old-Time Radio Rodeo that employs tough (99-59-9 words) with radio script. It’s a portfolio opportunity to get a story professionally developed into a real-live, on-the-air, radio spot. I hope you’ll give it a go, especially those of you who have experienced TUFF.
The ride is almost over. Stay in the saddle! And congratulate all our Fab Five Flash Writers for a job well done this Rodeo.
A Flash Fiction contest by Norah Colvin
Co Judges: Anne Goodwin and Robbie Cheadle
Do you love fairy tales? Chances are, unless you are a parent or grandparent of young children or an early childhood educator as I am, you may not have encountered a fairy tale for a while. Well, I am about to change that by asking you to fracture a fairy tale for the fourth Carrot Ranch rodeo contest. [READ MORE…]
For insights and tips from the contest creator, read Norah’s Post, “Once Upon a Rodeo Time.” For word count, use Microsoft Word or wordcount.net. Be aware that punctuation and word-hyphens can change your word count so run it through one of those two counters.
Norah Colvin is an Australian educator, passionate about learning and early childhood education especially. She has many years’ experience in a variety of educational roles. She currently blogs about education and learning in general at NorahColvin.com and shares teaching ideas and resources more specific to early education and the first three years of school on her website readilearn.com.au.
Connect with Norah on social media
JUDGES (read full bios at SPONSORS)
Norah’s esteemed and talented judges are Anne Goodwin and Robbie Cheadle.
Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, was published in May 2017. Anne is also a book blogger and author of over 80 published short stories. Her short story anthology, Becoming Someone, is due in November 2018. Catch up on her website or on Twitter @Annecdotist.
Robbie Cheadle has published five books so far in her Sir Chocolate series of picture books. Her books are unique with their wonderful fondant illustrations. She also recently co-wrote While the Bombs Fell with her mother Elsie Hancy Eaton, a memoir of her mother’s wartime experiences. Catch up with Robbie on her blogs Bake and Write and Robbie’s inspiration or connect with her on Facebook @SirChocolateBooks and Twitter @bakeandwrite.
This contest exhibits a writer’s ability to entertain by taking a traditional story and adding a twist, a surprise, or a new point of view while maintaining its recognizability.
The prompt word is “food”. Why? Because food features in many traditional fairy tales; including:
- Little Red Riding Hood — the basket of goodies for Grandma
- Snow White — the poisoned apple
- Hansel and Gretel — the breadcrumb trail and the witch’s edible house
- The Gingerbread Man —I need tell you?
- Stone Soup — ditto
- The Three Billy Goats Gruff —greener pasture
- The Three Bears —porridge for breakfast
- Jack and the Beanstalk — “Fee Fi Fo Fum. I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”
- The Little Red Hen —bread
- The Three Little Pigs —the wolf’s dinner, of course!
You do not need to start with a story that already features food, but your story must feature food in some way.
Since Anne and Robbie, as judges, are ineligible to enter the contest, I invited them to write a fractured fairy tale for this post and was delighted when they accepted the challenge.
A single bite by Anne Goodwin
“Just a bite,” she croons. “One bite won’t hurt.”
Won’t it? Drenched in chocolate and sugar-icing, there’ll be five hundred calories a forkful, at least.
“Skin and bone, you are.” She cuffs my wrist between her little finger and thumb. “Don’t upset your brother. He spent hours crafting that cake.”
Where is the boy who preferred woods to kitchens? Where is the girl who ate without fear?
“Starving yourself won’t bring back your parents. Please, Gretel, eat!”
The gingerbread house looks lovely, but smells like a trap. “Let’s not cut it, Grandma. There’s a cake competition at the church.”
The Elvin Hill by Robbie Cheadle
Throughout the feast the Goblin King watched the Elf King’s daughters. He and his two sons were to choose a wife from among them.
A delicious meal was served. He noticed that one daughter did not partake of the food. She only ate fruit and drank water. When she danced with her sisters to entertain the visitors, tiny flowers sprang up where she stepped. He could see that her magic was white and not the usual black of elves.
He selected her, and a new generation of good elves resulted from their union. It changed the course of history.
So, the ingredients your story must include (otherwise known as rules):
- Your entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit.
- It must involve a recognizable fairy tale, character or setting. Note: the term ‘fairy tale’ is used loosely for any traditional tale. You are wisest to choose a story with which the judges will be familiar.
- Your story must feature food.
- Your story must entertain or surprise us with a twist or a new point of view. Humour is good, but so is dark. Go where the prompt leads.
- You have a week to write, so edit your manuscript to ensure it’s free of typos, spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Entries must be received by October 31, 2018 at 11:59 p.m. (EST). Contest winner, second and third place entries announced here December 7, 2018.
- You may post a “challenge” in the comments if you don’t want to enter the contest, but don’t use the form. Only contest entries will be published.
Thank you for entering! The contest is now closed. Winners announced December 7, 2018, at Carrot Ranch
By now, I hope writers have experienced the value of exploring options and discovering nuggets within the reductive revision of a single story. Revision is pure writing, but we don’t always know what we are looking to revise. When we reduce the word count, we force our brains to puzzle out what is most important.
When I read the posts and comments of our challenge writers, I can see the sparks of insight.
Writing calls to us through the discovery of meaning. Art communicates that meaning between artist and reader/viewer/listener. But before we can get to that sweet spot of communication, we must first discover the meaning percolating in our minds and hearts.
The writer who thinks has an idea perched in the brain. The writer who feels has an emotion tickling the heart. Both can feel like that word one has on the tip of the tongue — it’s almost recalled but not quite. TUFF searches for that word, defines the idea and captures the emotion. A writer cannot do this in one draft. And yet, who has time for thirteen?
Back in college, under the tutelage of Dr. Stottlemeyer, I practiced revision the way a pianist might practice — every day I wrote. And still, every day I write. But what does a pianist practice? What does a writer practice? We all grow weary of exercises because we want to hit the keys — piano or laptop. Our brains want to problem solve.
I’ve talked about this before with word constraints because scientists believe constraints encourage the brain to problem solve. Often writers who start to regularly practice 99-word challenges begin to feel more creative or experience breakthroughs in writing. It feels like magic, but it’s science. What if I told you that pianists practice to problem solve?
Writers can do the same. What is the idea of the story? What is the emotion? What meaning does this story hold for me? For readers? TUFF allows you to explore, discover nuggets and fix problems. It offers the kind of writing practice that affords problem-solving.
Of course, the judges and I have had to keep TUFF tough. Each week offers a new technical challenge. First, we offered a prompt that had to be included, interpreted or expressed. Next, we asked for two different POVs. Then we wanted one POV but with a nugget the second POV provided.
Let’s hear from our Fab Flash Five and how they managed the third challenge:
Some of you recognized a nugget as a brief insight. And you think that is the 9-word strategy. Oh, no. It is not! The 9-word challenge is not a nugget, though both might be expressed with brevity. Sure, one of your discovered nuggets might be offered as the 9-word challenge, but first, you have to understand the tightest flash fiction word constraint as a punch.
Not that I’m a violent person, but I do advocate writers punching their readers in the gut.
Pause for a moment on what we all learned in composition: crafting a thesis statement. It’s one of the earliest structures of writing we learn — to make a claim, or a point. It gives the reader an idea of what your essay is about. In journalism, we summarize the most important aspects of a story by opening with a lede. In creative writing, we begin with a hook. Write a book, and agents, publishers, and readers will all want you to “hook” them with your first fifty pages. Many fiction writers study first lines because it’s often the most important.
That first line (or opening sequence) is your punch.
In TUFF, the 9-word constraint captures the essence of your story. To come out punching, your hook must have emotion for that is what hooks a reader. The next technical challenge is all about crafting the emotion of your punch. It is not enough to rely upon a nugget. You must infuse a meaningful nugget with emotion.
- Reduce the story to 9 words.
- Write it two different ways, using two different emotions.
- Use [brackets] following each of your two 9-word punches to indicate the specific emotion.
- Each emotion must be different, like [happy] and [sad], or [disgust] and [trust].
Contestants turn in their entries by11:59 p.m. (EST) Friday, October 26. Challengers can post or link in the responses. It’s time to come out punching with your TUFFest Ride!
Waves surged relentlessly against the craggy rocks of Eagle Harbor where I went to write for a few days as a guest of Keweenaw historian, Barb Koski. It was mid-October, and the gales of November had come even earlier than when the Edmond’s Fitzgerald went down. Barb’s expertise in maritime history focuses on the heroics of the surfmen — those who went out into the wind-driven swells in small boats to rescue the crews of large ships.
Like Barb, many who live, work or attend secondary education on the Keweenaw Peninsula fall in love with the area’s natural beauty and endless outdoor activities. Barb showed me many natural wonders and historic structures during our getaway. If you spend any time outdoors on the Keweenaw, you can’t escape the area’s bold history of industrial copper mining.
In 1885, Michigan Tech University founded Michigan Mining School. From 1886 to 1889 the Houghton Firehall shared space with the new school and its four instructors tasked with training future mining engineers. The firehall, formally known as the Continental Fire Company, operated from 1883 to 1974 in a stately brick building of three floors plus bell tower. The company kept its horses in the basement, its engines on the main floor, and offices (and hayloft) on the third floor, which it shared with Michigan Mining School for a time.
The current owners of the Continental Fire Company embrace the civic history of the building while operating a bar, lounge, and event venue. The interior design includes original brick and beam structure with nods to mining and firefighting. Larger-than-life historic photographs include hard-rock miners and snippets from documents that once governed the firehall (such as the admonishment that there shall be no spirituous liquors in the hall). Funnily enough, the modern CFCo serves plenty of fine spirituous liquors and caters to the entertainment of university students.
What would a 1880s fireman think of the food and excellent local brew served where he once parked fire engines?
What if one of the earliest professors met for lunch with a modern professor, what would they discuss?
From firehoses hung to dry in the bell-tower to horses kept in the basement, how does a past perspective color a present one?
In the Keweenaw, Houghton, Michigan is our center of livelihood, home, and culture. We are never too distant from our history and geology. We can always go hear the waves of Superior surge, then go clubbing later at the Continental. We are made up of many threads that weave the tapestry of our region built on copper, colleges, and curiosity.
Let’s go back to sound and talk old time radio for a moment. When I stayed in the lightkeeper’s cottage with Barb, we fiddled with the old radio and tried to get the phonograph to work (alas, its needle went missing). We listened to the radio which never covered the sound of surf. I imagined the lightkeeper’s family or that of a surfman on blustery fall nights. Did they listen to the radio? Did they listen to music, talk shows, and old-time advertising?
That’s what this Bonus Rodeo event is all about — imagining the confluence of history and today through the sounds of a radio spot. It all focuses on the current Continental Fire Company with playful connections to its past.
An important note before we continue: this contest is sponsored by the Continental Fire Company to develop three radio ad spots. The stories (and their reductions) will belong to the Continental Fire Company. If you do not like the idea of giving copyright to your creative work to a business for them to use in development of advertising, then please do not enter this contest.
All three winners will be awarded a $25 cash prize. Winners can post their stories on their blog, in a book of their own writing, and here in the published compilation with copyright acknowledgment (include the statement, “Winning entry belongs to the Continental Fire Company for development of advertising”). Local producers will further develop winning entries into radio spots, and winning authors will be included in the creative acknowledgments.
- Each entry will include three scripts: 99 words, 59 words, and 9 words (all untitled).
- Each script includes dialog. Use [brackets] to denote any character speaking (such as narrator, professor, miner, fireman, man, woman, dog, horse, boy, girl, etc.).
- Also place in [brackets] any additional sounds (such as clanging of firebell, fiddle music, crackling fire, professor’s cough, etc.).
- Combine the history of the Continental with what it offers today. (Remember, it’s a radio spot to advertise the modern Continental Fire Company).
- Use WordCounter.net for accurate word count but remember to SUBTRACT any words in [brackets].
- Be creative, but also be clear. See examples of radio ads and scripts here and here.
- Entries are due by 11:59 p.m. (EST) on November 7, 2018. Winners & radio spots announced Dec. 1, 2018.
Do you recognize elements of TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction)? That’s because TUFF works in many ways. For radio, a 99-word script plus intro and ending that relates to the advertiser is a one-minute spot. A 59-word script is a 30-second spot, and a 9-word script is a 15-second spot. In advertising, these are typical lengths that the advertiser purchases. They should all be about one story, not three separate stories. TUFF reduces a single story. Radio spots do the same thing from a story to a snippet to a memorable tagline.
The Continental Fire Company and their radio representative will judge the contest. They are looking for fun spots to playfully capture the historical spirit of their gastropub. Winning entries become their creative property to develop into a professional ad campaign over the local radio waves. Winning authors receive $25 cash and creative acknowledgment.
Be sure to check out the Continental Fire Company and get a feel for their business and include what they offer. For historical facts and story ideas, here are some resources:
- Copper Mining in Michigan (note the references used for further research at the end).
- Houghton Firehall (note the references used for further research at the end).
- Michigan Tech Historical Archives
- Houghton Fire Department
- Article on the new menu at the CFCo
- CFCo Facebook page
Thank you for entering! The contest is now closed. Winners announced November 23, 2018, at Carrot Ranch.
By Sherri Matthews
In July, I had the good fortune to spend a week’s holiday with my husband on the Italian Amalfi Coast. I say good fortune, because hubby won it, thanks to a random prize draw. We couldn’t believe it. Who wins those things anyway? Surely it’s a scam? But I can report back that it’s no scam because I’ve got the pics to prove it. [READ MORE…]
Welcome to Travel With A Twist, the third contest at Rodeo 2018. Packed and ready for the off? Then let’s ride. But first, just like any essential safety demonstrations, a few simple rules before take-off:
- Entry must be 99 words, no more, no less (not including the title).
- Use the form below to enter, including your name (judging is blind). All entries will receive a confirmation email. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email, contact us at email@example.com.
- You may enter as many times as you wish, but all entries must be received no later than 11:59 pm (EST) October 24, 2018.
- You may post a “challenge” in the comments if you don’t want to enter the contest, but don’t use the form to enter the contest. Only contest entries will be published.
- Contest winner, second and third place entries are announced here and at my blog, A View From My Summerhouse, on November 30.
JUDGES (read full bios at SPONSORS)
Waiting by the palm tree/bus-stop/tent to read your entries are the judges:
Mike Matthews: An avid reader, Mike is a keen observer of life and writings, my fellow traveller, sound-boarder and proof-reader. Mike has also demonstrated insightful and patient editing skills since his wife (me) embarked upon the writing of her memoir, most aptly deployed when she’s threatened to shred the entire thing.
Hugh Roberts: Author, blogger and friend, I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting Hugh in person several times at the Annual Blogger’s Bash in London. Hugh writes sizzling short stories with deliciously devious flair, many of which are published in his debut collection, ‘Glimpses’. His second volume follows in the New Year. Hugh also won first place in Norah Colvin’s, ‘When I Grow Up’ competition in last year’s Rodeo. You can catch up with Hugh at his blog, ‘Hugh’s Views & News.
And here’s our criteria for the winning entries:
- Any genre accepted, but the story must clearly be travel related.
- Journey anywhere you like near or far, on any mode of transport (or not), but make us emotional. We might cheer, wince; laugh or cry. Doesn’t matter, we can take it (we’ve got travel insurance).
- Wherever you go, there must be a twist in the tale, something we never saw coming. Don’t know about you, but I usually end up taking all the wrong things when I pack for a holiday. Layers are the key, I’ve learned. Just like the layers in your flash, that perfect item you almost didn’t pack, but decided to at the last minute… that’s what we’re looking for when we rummage through your bags.
Thank you for entering! The contest is now closed. Winners announced November 30, 2018, at Carrot Ranch and at Sherri’s blog, A View From My Summerhouse.
TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction) could be thought of as a tool. I think of it as a revision process, one that teaches writers through experiencing each task. The TUFFest Ride is a contest by which the Fab Flash Five — Ritu Bhathal, Bill Engleson, Kay Kingsley, Pete Fanning, and Liz Husebye Hartmann — are competing for first, second and third place rankings. They are the five winners selected from 118 entries submitted to five Free-Writes in September. We have other dedicated writers following along, playing from the “safety of home.”
It’s not that TUFF endangers writers, but the writing process itself feels vulnerable. We can’t teach writing from that place of instinct and imagination without risking the emotion and doubt that lingers within each of us. Editing is crisp, it is clear and known. Editing is teachable, knowable, less risky. But TUFF asks us to shed the safety of editing. Set it aside and write without boundaries. Go where your gut leads you. Explore. Push into the fiction writer’s answers to “what if?” and risk being curious even if it might mean you are wrong.
Last week we learned the purpose of 99 words — a tool of exploration. The technical challenge asked the writers to explore point of view (POV) by either shifting from one POV to another or introducing a different POV character. Let’s listen to a recording of our Fab Flash Five, as I read each of their two 99-word POV stories:
One of our regulars at the weekly Flash Fiction Challenges, CalmKate, has provided an illustrative example of the TUFFest Ride thus far and one that will help me explain the next task in the contest (or challenge for those of you following).
Rank Dank Mud by Calm Kate
Asleep at last, a brief reprieval from the relentless wind and rain … such a violent storm.
Then about midnight we’re woken by a violent piercing crack, what the … ?
Goodness that was the mountainside sliding downhill, trees, homes, vehicles, road, pets and people. The quagmire is astounding, the sight disturbing. The mind and emotions are numb.
Disbelief resides with distress as we try to get our heads around this monumental mess. No one can describe the sight of mud mixed with trees and torn structures. Buildings, roads and vehicles strewn about in pieces like kindling emerged in mud. Thick dank rank mud. We can’t believe what we see coz it’s just too horrifying to comprehend.
Facilities are out, power, water and sewage are no longer functioning. Groceries are scarce as we all panic buy in bulk. The roads impassable so no idea when help will get through. The shock and fear just too overwhelming to grasp or express.
Then with time and sun the smell settles like an unwanted guest. The debris, mud and waste all rotting in one ginormous compost heap. But there is no bin to contain it … this is our neighbourhood, our friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
All sounds are muffled like they are also stuck in the mud. We are muted, no one dare speak loudly, our tongues are tied. None of us will ever be able to block out that resounding crack and weird sound as the sky came down to meet the earth crushing everything in between.
Other than assure our loved ones that we were safe we don’t use our phones coz there is no power to charge them and what would we say anyway. Everything is the same dull dank colour and the smell blocks all orifices.
A violent piercing crack wakes us all.
Goodness the mountain slid downhill taking trees, homes, vehicles, pets and people. The sight is most disturbing leaving our mind and emotions numb.
Everything is strewn about like kindling covered in dank rank mud. Power, water and sewage are out. The shelves are all bare as we panic shopped.
The debris, mud and waste are rotting like compost but this is our community … we are muted as we struggle to comprehend. Having assured our loved ones that we are safe our phones are off for emergencies only. No power to recharge.
Looking down I can see that my minions need a reminder that they are mortal. To stop taking life for granted, whining instead of being thankful for what they’ve got.
A good old storm with a dangerous mudslide should remind them to be more grateful. I’ll make sure to knock out their utilities and keep them isolated and hungry for a while. Life has got too easy with groceries galore and light at the flick of a switch.
As for those damned devices they’re all so engrossed in I’ll make sure that they have to talk to each other.
What I want to point out in Kate’s writing are a couple of nuggets that emerged in each POV:
- A violent piercing crack wakes us all. (POV #1)
- Life has got too easy with groceries galore and light at the flick of a switch. (POV #2)
The first nugget exemplifies the power of writing concise prose. If you compare that line to Kate’s original opening, you can see how it still works and carries the tension of the moment. The second nugget could only have emerged through exploration. Had Kate not explored a different point of view, she could have missed this idea which offers her stories a pivotal point of contrast. Not only is her story one of natural disaster, but now we see an expansion of what can happen because of or in spite of an easy life — the consequences of complacency.
Do you see how 99 words allow you to continue to play in your creative writing without yet having to rein it to editing? You are still writing as you revise and yet you are tightening language, focusing tension, and discovering the cost to character’s lives. There’s no end to the exploration of play in 99 words, and if you take away anything from TUFF, I hope you understand the value of investigation that doesn’t take up a lot of writing time. No one wants to get to the end of 75,000 words and then explore a different POV! Play with it up front. Use the weekly challenges to develop your characters outside your novel to learn new insights.
Now we begin to focus. Now we cut away everything but that which is most essential.
- Decide on one POV. It can be the original, or it can be the experimental one.
- Reduce the story to 59-words.
- For a technical challenge, incorporate a nugget from your opposite 99-word POV (and bold that nugget to illustrate it).
This is a revision challenge. You are not only continuing to distill the original story, but you are also deciding upon a single point of view to carry your narration, and you are adding something you didn’t have in the original free-draft or the POV you chose to keep.
An example can be found in Kate’s illustration above. If she goes with POV #1, she includes Nugget #2. If she goes with POV #2, she includes Nugget #1. Of course, Kate is free to select her own nuggets just as each contestant and challenger will do. The task is to take a nugget from the opposing POV. You might have to change the nugget’s POV if it’s in first person and your story is in third. Or you can take the idea and expand it, not using the exact verbiage.
Contestants turn in their entries by11:59 p.m. (EST) Friday, October 19. Challengers can post or link in the responses. Let me know of any insights you recognize as you continue the TUFFest Ride!
By Irene Waters, Rodeo Leader
Memoir is a passion, so I’m thrilled to once again host the memoir section of the Carrot Ranch Rodeo Contest. Hoping you’ll tighten your saddles and put on your spurs and join in. [READ MORE…]
Last year we had Scars – this year?
“She Did It.”
Three little words can hold so much meaning and have so many stories that come to mind. For the memoir prompt “She Did It” write a true story or a BOTS (based on a true story) keeping in mind the tips on writing memoir.
- Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the net as this will be the one I use to check the entries. Entries that aren’t 99 words will be disqualified.
- The genre is memoir although BOTS (based on a true story) will be accepted.
- English grammar and spelling (American, English or Australian) are expected, but as long as the judges can understand the language, it is the story that matters most.
- And it must be a story — that is it must be complete by itself not a part of a larger narrative. Give it a beginning, a middle, and an end.
- The prompt is a prompt, and the three words don’t have to be used in your 99 words unless you want to.
- You must enter your name and email with your entry using the provided form below. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 17, 2018. Entries are judged blind, and winners announced November 16, 2018, at Carrot Ranch. Please do not compromise the blind judging by posting your entry before the winners are announced.
- You may post a “challenge” if you don’t want to enter the contest, but don’t use the form to enter the contest. Only contest entries will be published.
Above all have fun.
JUDGES (read full bios at SPONSORS)
THANK YOU FOR YOUR ENTRIES! CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED!