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By D. Avery
Sometimes fear, respect, and awe are the braids of one rope. Sometimes that one rope is all a buckaroo has to hang onto. Your flash should never let go of that rope.
That was my lead-in to the prompt for the final rodeo contest, the Sound and Fury. I wanted contestants to write about a dangerous situation that people willingly engage in.
I have learned so much here at the Ranch even since penning such tough talk over a month ago. The prompt was to write of danger and risk, but for many just sharing one’s writing is a risk, and to compete is an even greater risk. To be willing to face a fear, to do what is not easy to do, engenders learning and growth; it is an act of creative courage.
Creative courage is what Carrot Ranch is about. The rope here is a lifeline, a support, a way to find your way through a blizzard of self-doubt and fear. It is braided from caring, safety, and trust. I am grateful and in awe of all who participated in the rodeo events and applaud the contestants’ courage and willingness to take a risk.
I naively posited to my co-judges that this year’s contest would be easier to judge, as there were fewer entries. I also assumed (spell check) that as the writer in our group I had the advantage and insights necessary to our task. Then my co-judges, both voracious readers, schooled me in judging, exposing the flaws in my assumptions as they showed me how to read a 99-word story. Because there were fewer entries, 19 after two had to be dropped for consideration because of word count, we were able to read more closely and collaboratively, but that did not make the task easier. Around the table, it was felt that there was a lot of talent and many great ideas and takes on danger presented in response to the prompt. We found that the quality of all entries was very high and that the entries were closer in range. This forced us to focus on word choice, on beginnings and endings; while we felt a story did not have to be totally resolved, we agreed there should not be uncertainties that distract from the reading and that there should be a sense of completeness in a story. And then we re-read again. Our deliberations finally brought us agreement on our three winners.
Taking first place and $25 is Jules Paige’s Contested Contingent.
They are silent soldiers. A rare unified army. Commanded by a queen to seek the supplies to survive. Instinctual training leads them through dense foliage to the structures of giants. With all the unseasonable torrential rains their homes have become flooded. Yet they expect no outside relief. They are a self-sufficient bunch.
Mother has not seen the arrival of the invaders. In her nightgown, robe and slippers she ventures into the morning light of the kitchen and… draws a blood curdling scream. Father rushes to her aide. His bravery unsurpassed, he calms Mother and calls the local ant exterminator.
The Amazing Educator felt that this entry had “something extra” with the twist of ants being in danger, and the tongue in cheek humor regarding the brave father protecting the assaulted mother, and appreciated that it was well paced with strong vocabulary and sensory details. We all agreed that though the six-legged characters were unexpected, Jules provided a fun take and answered our criteria for showing the “dance between the danger and the endangered.” The motivations of the ants and the humans were clear, and the irony of the ants escaping one danger only to become endangered again because of the supposed danger they posed to the domicile of the giants was quite a dance indeed.
Anne Goodwin comes in second with To the Rescue. In addition to collecting another ranger badge, Anne wins a copy of D. Avery’s After Ever.
Cold cruel enough to cut the breath from me. Waves roar loud enough to drown out other sounds. It took a fool to dive in after her. It’ll take a hero to ferry her to shore.
Hair and beard turn to icicles. Arms to cartwheels, legs to flippers, brain to military command. Kick harder! Plough faster! Fight off lakebed vegetation, fear and fatigue!
I’ve almost reached her when a tether takes my ankle. I yank it back. It reins me in. I’m swallowing water when I grab her wrist. How will history judge me: a hero or a fool?
The desperate dance in the water was very vivid and tense with Anne’s terse sentences and succinct descriptions. Though the ultimate outcome was unresolved, it was clear what the motivation was, and we felt this story was complete and only enhanced by the suspense of not knowing whether the foolish hero succeeds or even survives.
Third place and a copy of Chicken Shift go to Ritu Bhathal for Goodbye Fall.
Below me flowed water, fast and furious.
I tightened my grip on the pot.
“All ready?” The instructor checked my harnesses.
But I nodded. I needed to do this.
Launching myself, as instructed, I fell, headfirst, feeling the air zoom past me.
The elastic went taut and I bounced up and down several times.
My heart was in my mouth.
As I came to a stop, I looked at the pot, still in my hands.
Loosening its lid and allowing the contents to fall into the water, I whispered “Goodbye Jake,” before slowly being pulled back up.
What is apparent from the beginning is both the narrator’s fear and resolve to make this jump, though Ritu reveals this through discreet details, such as a tightened grip, a gulp, a silent nod. The motivation isn’t revealed until the end, with the detail of whispering and being pulled back up slowly adding to the poignancy.
For her Honorable Mention, Bonnie chose Chasing the Past, by Sascha Darlington.
Blake’s ultimatum: “Stop storm chasing or I’ll leave.”
The first fat drop of rain hits the windshield as I pull onto Rafferty Road. Forget Blake. Focus.
The hail throttles me awake. The tornado falls out of the sky, barrels toward me. Momentarily, I’m awed by the intensity, the blackness, the harsh windy sound of the twisting, family-killing creature.
“Stupid!” I jerk the Suburban’s wheel, bounce over the median, then turn right onto a dirt road. I’m nearly standing on the gas pedal. The rearview shows only blackness. Debris shatters the back window.
If I survive, I’ll never storm-chase again.
This was one we had all looked at more than once. There was compelling language and tension, though the final sentence felt flat.
For her Honorable Mention, the Amazing Educator chose Addressing the Animated Alarm, by Jules Paige.
They sit around quite a bit. But their hands aren’t idle. In their spare time they keep their credentials current and their equipment clean. Each man and woman forming a bond, a second family that they can depend on. Some are volunteers, others get compensation. Some paid members volunteer at other locations. Not a one would consider themselves a hero.
Whenever that klaxon rings, fear gets pushed aside. Danger gets treated with respect and all follow the leader who barks the orders of where the equipment and bodies need to be. There is no hesitation for the brave firefighters.
The Amazing Educator liked the language of this piece, the word choice and the rhythm of it. She only wishes that it could somehow be more inclusive regarding the EMTs and others who also put themselves into dangerous situations to serve and protect others.
My Honorable Mention choice is a story that made me feel like I was watching the kind of movie I don’t watch. It was scary, with the character in an ill-advised and dangerous situation. Oh yeah, that was the prompt.
Susan Sleggs’ He Had Kind Eyes was disturbing to me, and well written, and I appreciate that Susan ended it with unexpected chivalry. Susan accomplished a lot with her 99 words.
The bartender told the tarted up woman, “There’s a rule; the boss gets first dibs on any strange and then they share?”
She stayed, sipping whiskey a little too fast. The Harleys roared in.
The group entered. The noise level tripled. They eyed her until she ordered another. A man smelling of leather, and aftershave paid; took proprietorship. Soon walked her out.
In the quiet night, he said, “Your perfume smells like fear. What do you want?”
Tears formed. “To prove I’m not a mouse.”
He kissed her like no other had. “Go home. You proved it to me.”
Phew! I’ll say it again; this was no easy task. We found merit with each and every one of the entries; each demanded careful consideration. I learned a lot about writing flash from each entry and from reading with my fellow judges. Thank you to my friends and fellow judges, the multi-talented Bonnie Sheila, and a really smart woman who truly is an Amazing Educator. Thank you Carrot Ranch Literary Community, the writers, leaders, and readers and other supporters, for riding along with the second Flash Fiction Rodeo. Congratulations to Charli on another successful Rodeo.
Congratulations to all who placed and all who played.
You can read the qualifying entries under the Rodeo tab at Rodeo #5: Sound and Fury.
By Norah Colvin
Fairy Tales — Fractured in 99 Words
Once upon a time on a virtual ranch,
Was a whole bunch of writers wanting a chance
To fracture a tale in no more and no less
Than 99 words to show who was the best.
The judges were ready, no red pen in sight
And sent out the prompt for writers to write.
In trickled stories one after one
Till time was up and the contest was done.
The judges then read them and read them some more
The stories that numbered ten times four.
They pondered, selected and collaborated
Till agreement was reached on the #1 rated.
Although many traditional fairy tales begin with ‘Once upon a time’ and conclude with ‘they lived happily ever after’, only one of the stories began, and only two ended in the traditional way (and not one incorporated both). I guess why waste words when you’ve got only 99 with which to play.
The criteria we set wasn’t necessarily easy: to retell a traditional fairy tale with a twist. We said it must include food and we must be able to recognise the story it was based on—all in 99 words.
Overall, responses were excellent with unexpected twists and turns and different interpretations of the original stories, some humorous, some a little dark. Only two stories were disqualified on the word count and two more for not being recognisable fairy tales. All others fitted the criteria giving us judges a tough job to select just one winner.
We were interested to see that a few fairy tales appeared in stories more often than others. Perhaps this was due in part to the requirement to write a recognisable tale as well as to include food in the story. Obviously, it was easier if food was in the original.
We were also pleased to see a modern thread running through the some of the stories. In fact, one of the things we all liked about the winning story was its contemporary feel.
Of the winning story, Anne said,
“This entry excited me from the very first reading in its freshness, yet faithfulness to the original right up to the final delightful twist. The voice is crisp and the pace snappy: a fine achievement in so few words.”
“I liked the modern touches with the GPS and the pizza, and I enjoyed the hint of trouble with the young man with the wolfish smile. I also liked the twist with the young man being attracted to the pizza rather than wanting to eat gran and little red riding hood.”
I also appreciated the use of the GPS and the recognisable touch with it taking her in the wrong direction. The name Scarlett, her task, and the wolfish grin all served to make the story recognisable, and the inclusion of takeaway food completed the requirements. All these worked together to make it the winning entry. We hope you agree with us.
Drum roll, please!
In first place is:
Scarlett by Nancy Brady. Congratulations, Nancy! (Winner of $25)
It was the end of Scarlett’s long day at her new job when she got a text from her mother:
“Take dinner to Gram.”
Grabbing some food from the establishment, Scarlett then plugged Gram’s new address into her GPS and set off in her little red Bug towards The Woods Senior Living Complex.
Yet, despite this, she got lost, making a wrong turn. At a stop light, she saw a handsome young man. She asked for help. Sniffing the aroma, he smiled wolfishly, gave her directions, and then hoofed it to Gram’s for Domino’s deluxe pepperoni and sausage pizza.
Coming a close second is:
Friends of Goldilocks by Hugh W. Roberts. Congratulations, Hugh! (Winner of the ebook, When the Buzz Bombs Fell by Robbie Cheadle and Elsie Hancy Eaton)
Looking in the fridge, Goldilocks was surprised the Bear family had left milk. However, it had turned sour, so she couldn’t make herself a big bowl of porridge to get rid of her hunger pains.
This was pointless, thought Goldilocks, as she got out her mobile phone to check who else had told their Facebook friends they were away.
Sure enough, local food blogger Chris P. Bacon had informed her followers that she was on an overnight food hygiene course.
Perfect. Not only would there be plenty to eat, but Goldilocks could rob the house at the same time.
Of Friends of Goldilocks, Anne said,
I loved the contemporary feel with Facebook used as a central plot device and the subversion of the traditional tale by making Goldilocks a villain. With a few more words – or a bit more time – perhaps the flow could have been a little smoother.
I liked this story because of the modern touches too. I enjoyed the mention of a food blogger in this piece, and I like the fact that Goldie was a robber and her being in the bear’s house was part of a bigger picture with a more sinister undertone.
I liked these aspects too and loved that Goldilocks checked Facebook to see who was away from home—a good caution to anyone who is travelling. The use of the mobile phone and a food blogger bring the familiar story into the 21st century.
In third place is:
Untitled by Sam Kirk. Congratulations, Sam! (Winner of e-book, Becoming Someone by Anne Goodwin)
The wolf was hungry and needed some action. On his way, he saw a beautiful girl in a straw house.
“Let me in, or I’ll blow your house in.”
“I don’t negotiate with terrorists” – were her last words.
Next, the wolf stumbled upon a house made of sticks.
“Let me in, or I’ll blow your house in.”
“I don’t negotiate with terrorists” – were her last words.
He salivated at the thought of bacon, looking at a piggie in a brick house.
He repeated his line.
“Not on my watch” – she shot him and used his fur as a rug.
Of Sam’s story, Anne said,
Like a traditional tale, this story makes a virtue of repetition but with a surprise and humorous ending. The opening line, linking hunger with action, left me unsure whether he wanted to eat the girl or have sex with her. Perhaps it was intentional, but it didn’t set the story up for me as clearly as I’d have liked.
This story is not as unique as the first two as the pig gets the better of the wolf but the idea of turning him into a rug was most amusing. I liked the comparison of the destructive wolf with a terrorist.
What I like about this story is that it kept to the same pattern as the original story. Neither of the first two pigs was prepared, but the clever third pig was. While I don’t normally condone violence, I think this is a very fitting conclusion to the story. It took me by surprise, and I laughed. It’s good to see women standing up for themselves and against terrorism—a few good messages rolled into one short story. I think the addition of a title would give readers advance notice of what they will read, but since a title was optional, it couldn’t lose marks for that.
In addition to the three winners, from the stories we all rated highly, we each chose a story for honourable mention.
Anne’s honourable mention:
Not-so Modern Love by Liz Husebye Hartmann. Congratulations, Liz!
“WTF! You cut off your toes to fit into my glass slipper? And you cut off your heel! What were you thinking?”
“Cindy!” The two stepsisters looked at each other. “You gotta give up something if you wanna marry a prince!”
Cindy rolled her eyes, grabbed an apple, and pushed through the kitchen door. “You found my slipper?”
“We’ll see,” Flashing his perfect princely grin, he held out the sparkling shoe.
She took it and slid it on.
“Perfect fit!” he crooned. “Now, I also require a prenuptial lobotomy…”
She crunched into the apple. “You really are a jerk.”
In the traditional telling, Cinderella has a satisfying plot, but the happy-ever-after ending is ideologically unsound. I really appreciated this feminist version although, for the contest, perhaps the food is too peripheral to the story.
Robbie’s honourable mention:
Goldie’s Quest by D.G. Kaye. Congratulations, Debby!
Starving and exhausted, Goldie trudged through the forest scavenging for anything edible when she discovered the house in the woods.
Goldie rapped on the door. Curious and desperate, she tugged on the door handle, elated to find it unlocked.
The aroma of freshly cooked sauce filled her nostrils and aroused her taste buds as she spotted three bowls of pasta.
Goldie didn’t hesitate to gobble up all three bowls then headed for the couch for a nap.
Half hour later she awakened to the discomfort of her rumbling, expanding stomach.
“Oh crap,” Goldie exclaimed. “That pasta was not gluten-free!”
I like this story. I thought the usage of the food theme was very good in this particular piece and the pasta not being gluten-free and upsetting Goldie’s stomach is so modern. Everyone I know has allergies, so this is very topical and will strike a chord with a lot of people.
My honourable mention:
Untitled by Geoff Le Pard
‘Mr ‘ansel? Bad news I’m afraid.’
‘Again? Do you builders ever bring good news?’
‘In Fairyland? You’ll want a happy ending next. It’s the gingerbread cladding…’
‘Yes? Has the cost gone up?’
‘I can’t get any, even with a sack of giant’s beans. You’ll have to make do with carrot or pumpkin.’
‘No way. You heard what happened with that Ella woman?’
‘That’s the one. Her godmother turned the town’s allotment into transport. No one’s changing my house into a veggie vehicle. Where’s the gingerbread gone?’
‘It’s that caterpillar, gone for partially peckish to very hungry and…’ *shrugs
Because this story had no title, it took me a little while to see where it was going, but it all became clear eventually. I like that a variety of different fairy tales and characters have been intertwined to create a plot with a problem. The conclusion, with the inclusion of a very popular and recognisable children’s story, though not a fairy tale, is amusing.
So, thank you to all contestants. We judges had a difficult but enjoyable task in reading all your story. I’ll conclude with a statement from Anne which sums up our thoughts.
Anne Goodwin: I had the impression – and I hope I’m right – that the entrants had tremendous fun crafting these stories, testament to the fairytale genre’s enduring appeal. But I also realised that Norah’s challenge was a lot trickier than it might initially appear. Food plus a recognisable story plus a narrative arc: not so easy to create a new angle in only 99 words.
All qualifying stories entered into the contest are now collected and available to be read under the Rodeo tab Rodeo #4: Fractured Fairy Tales.
Thank you, Charli, for hosting the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo for the second year. What a fabulous event that provides an opportunity for writers everywhere to participate in the literary arts in a supportive and encouraging community. We look forward to the third Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo in 2019.
By Sherri Matthews
Well, we asked for travel stories with a twist, and we got ‘em. Thank you so much to all who entered, 29 in all. You’ve taken us around the world (twice), to Rome and through most of Europe, to Morocco, Lima, on sun-drenched holidays including the Caribbean and Hawaii, up mountains, along the coast, to a Harry Potter conference in San Francisco, a monastery, Lake Michigan, Key West, Rock Springs and the weird and wonderful Garbled Creese. We’ve walked, ran and hiked, and travelled by car, cruise ship, plane, bus, motorhome, and broomstick.
The high quality and enjoyment of every story, however, did not make it easy for the judges. I don’t like this part of the job! First, I verified every story’s word count and sadly had to eliminate 2, one just under, one just below 99 words. Then we narrowed it down with each of us separately selecting our top three. Out of our new total of nine, I cross-matched those stories chosen by more than one judge. Out of those, we deliberated and found our winner, second and third places, and we then each chose one Highly Commended.
So here goes, and huge congratulations to all:
First Place: A Visit with Grammy, by Colleen Chesebro, who wins a cash prize of $25
Jess ran. She couldn’t miss this bus, or Grammy would worry at her late arrival.
She stumbled into the queue as a woman towing a wheeled suitcase pushed past her. Jess swerved to miss it, whacking the woman’s elbow with her own. She stepped out of the way and bumped into the man in front of her.
“Sorry,” Jess muttered.
“Ouch! Who’s there?” asked the woman.
“It wasn’t me,” said the man.
Then, Jess remembered. They couldn’t see or hear her, only feel her ghostly touch. She didn’t need to ride the bus to visit Grammy – she flew.
We all agreed that this flash expertly spins an everyday setting into a wonderfully unexpected ghostly twist that we didn’t see coming and all in 99 words. A fantastic, fast-paced read showing through dialogue the confusion between Jess, the man, and the woman. Not only did the writer surprise us at the end, but Jess too, as she remembers she is a ghost. Sweet, but sad too; hope Grammy is comforted by Jess’s ghostly touch. Beautifully told, as Hugh adds, ‘It took me by complete surprise with its ending. As soon as I got to the ending, a smile appeared across my face because I loved what the author had done and the journey they had taken us on…perfect in every way.’
Second Place: By Frank Hubeny, who wins a copy of the ‘Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol I.’
James had just enough cash to fill the tank of his pickup. He started up the ramp to the interstate when he saw the couple in the dark wave him down. He stopped, but he didn’t expect them to ask to be taken to Canaan, over a hundred miles away. At this time of night there would be few cars. She was pregnant.
He brought them to their rundown apartment.
While driving back James wondered why he was asked to help those two angels in the north woods. He never saw them again, but they never left his side.
What immediately struck the judges is the way the writer so cleverly evokes a hint of the ‘nativity’ through its modern-day setting. As Mike says, ‘This story brings to me, a powerful telling of the unseen and unexpected reward for selfless giving by helping strangers who are lost and cold.’ I imagine James driving back home, alone on the road with few cars late at night, thinking about his encounter. Just as his angels never left his side, neither did this beautifully moving story leave us.
Third Place: Time Travel, by Faith A. Colburn, who wins a copy of Hugh Roberts’ short story collection, ‘Glimpses.’
Exploring Grandma’s house, I set a ladder into the attic. As if waiting for me, a leather-bound journal appeared in a stray sunbeam next to the ladder. Opening it, I journeyed back to 1886. With Great-Grandma, I watched workmen lay limestone foundation stones, level them, and frame the two stories with gables. She couldn’t wait to move into her very own space. At the end, she wrote that things started moving mysteriously. She heard noises. She described a ghost in the attic: brown hair, green eyes, dressed like me. She even noticed my silver barrette—her barrette I inherited.
We all enjoyed this story greatly, reminding me of one of my favourite films, ‘The Others’ and the question, who are the real ghosts? But it is the way the writer so beautifully crafts the story through the eyes of the young woman reading Great-Grandma’s journal that makes this such a fascinating time travel story with a twist. It evokes a sort of parallel universe, where glimpses of ghosts from the past and the future are revealed in the present. Mike could almost smell the mustiness as he soaked up the atmosphere in Grandma’s attic. Hugh loved the description of the stray sunbeam pointing out the leather-bound journal as if it were a signal from the past. A fantastic trip down memory lane.
Now to our Highly Commended stories.
Untitled by Tracey Robinson
The greenhouse effect was brutal in the car and Lindsey’s three year old howled with misery. It was a long drive from Montana to Arizona. Spying a park at the next exit she found a deserted, shady playground. Soon Katie was worn out. “Want ice cream?” Lindsey asked Katie.
As Lindsey strapped Katie into her car seat she felt dizzy and decided to find a place with air-conditioning. She closed the car door and collapsed, her head bouncing off the pavement. Katie’s wails went unheard as the temperature in the car climbed and then she too succumbed to death.
Hugh’s Comments: This is a story about what many of us in today’s’ world believe is happening. Although it had a brutal twist, it is so near a situation that could well be just around the corner, and a truth that many of the people of today will experience whether they become victims themselves, or hear or read a story about the events that unfold in this story. It had me smiling while I read it because it was a lovely, happy story about a mother and her new baby on a typical day out. I was comply astounded by the ending, even though it’s an ending that has hints of real truth consequences of what is happening to our planet.
Untitled by Nidheesh Samant (The Dark Netizen)
This was it, the conclusion of my long journey.
I was tired of the slum I was living in. It was suffocating, seeing the same sad faces every day. I could not continue living in the darkness as my family did. One day, I left my home and decided to travel to the glamorous big city. I managed to hitchhike at a highway diner.
As I reached my destination, I thanked the man in the only way I knew how. I drank his blood. Now it’s time to live my dream of spreading dengue and malaria in the city.
Mike’s Comments: I enjoyed this very well written story greatly for its stealthy, surreptitious mood. Concise and punchy, the writer took me on a journey that filled me with a sense of foreboding from the start and concluded with its wonderfully doom-filled twist. This is one hitchhiker I hope never to encounter out on the open road.
Homeward Hike by Liz Husebye Hartmann
Above the timberline, stunted trees of high altitude are little more than memory. As far as the eye can see, reindeer moss is sparked with tiny white flowers and golden clusters of cloudberry. My boots crunch and drag across sharp gravel. I should break for steaming tea and chocolate squares, gather cloudberries, and save my orange.
The final peak stands stern above the clouds.
No stop, berries abandoned, I emerge, eyelashes ice-coated, blinded by sunset. I’ve made it from filthy city to purified mountain top, in time for transport.
I lift my hands to the pulsating beam of light.
Sherri’s Comments: This beautifully crafted story has an ethereal, dream-like quality. Through its highly defined description, I imagine a woman hiking up a mountain, which is ordinary enough albeit challenging, but the key is in the title: she’s going home. But where is home? My intrigue grows as she hikes ever higher, not stopping, at last reaching her destination. But then the writer mentions transport. At the top of a mountain? The answer lies in ‘the pulsating beam of light.’ In the final ten words, the writer reveals that the woman’s home is otherworldly and her spaceship awaits. A fantastic travel story with a twist I did not see coming.
You can read all the entries at Carrot Ranch under the Rodeo tab.
And that wraps up this Travel with a Twist contest. Time to unpack and attack the laundry but first: Thank you so much, Charli, for honouring me with the privilege of leading a contest at the Rodeo for a second year running. Big thanks also to my fellow rough writers here at the Ranch and my wonderful community at the Summerhouse, for all your amazing support throughout of all the contests. And of course, a massive thank you to my lovely, stalwart co-judges, Mike Matthews and Hugh Roberts – couldn’t have done this without you, no way. Congratulations, one and all; let’s ride and write like the wind until the next time!
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
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.
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!