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Winning

Carrot Ranch announces the 2019 Rodeo Winners and invites writers to craft 99-word stories about winning. One of our community writers went where the prompt led him, past a story and into an exploration of winning. Michael Fishman wrote an excellent introduction to this week’s collection:

“As I steamroll way past 99 words what it all boils down to for me is courage. Just trying takes courage and you don’t win or lose when you try. Putting on your shoes: courage. Taking a step outside: courage. Taking a deep breath and saying “hello” to someone: courage. Trying to do something that makes your head spin with uncomfortable thoughts: courage. Trying something difficult even though it hurts inside: courage.

Courage = winning.”

The following stories are based on the November 28, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about winners.

PART I (10-minute read)

Keep Trying Until You Win by Charli Mills

Martha posed her best winning grin to the reporter, spitting dirt as she smiled. The bulb flashed so brightly it turned everything to white blotches. Blinking, and wiping at the mouthful of arena dirt she received after the goat clocked her a second time, she looked for Auntie Bess. The old woman was leaning against the railing beyond the chatter of family and fans. Ducking the swipe of a hankie, Martha joined her Aunt.

“Why’d ya win kiddo?”

“Cause no one else would go after that stinkin’ goat three times. Figured, I keep trying ‘til I got him tied!”

🥕🥕🥕

Every Child Wins A Prize by Norah Colvin

Melissa goggled at the toy-laden shelves.

“Only $2 a ticket,” the vendor encouraged.

Melissa indicated a music box on the top shelf.

“You won’t win that. It’s just a ploy to get your money,” grumbled Mum.

“You won’t know if you don’t try,” he winked.

Melissa turned to Mum. “It’s my money.”

Mum humphed as Melissa parted with her coin.

The man fanned the envelopes, favouring one. “Take it,” he whispered.

Melissa ripped the envelope open and passed him the card.

“What did I win?”

The man handed the music box to Melissa.

“Prizes are for triers,” he smiled.

🥕🥕🥕

Winners by clfalcone*

“We won! We fucking won!” Shouted the guitarist, fist pumping the air. The reticent bassist just stared blankly – he was thinking about notes and riffs….

The drummer rhythmically pounded the bar to a screamo chorus of ‘Rät Pöyzýn!’

The keyboardist read it out loud again: ‘After grueling auditions comprising 102 bands, Rät Pöyzýn is awarded the opening slot at Black Metal Fest next month.’ All mayhem broke loose after the announcement.

The bassist just sighed, saying in his best British, “The day will come when they have Rät Pöyzýn on their lips….”, then stared off into note land again.

🥕🥕🥕

Must Have Imagined It? by Anne Goodwin

As the compere brandishes the envelope, I rehearse my routine. Feigned surprise, a single tear, a never-expected-this speech. Out comes the card, my name announced, a hug and I’m on my feet. Squeezing past knees, deafening applause, fake smiles. Too busy balancing on five-inch heels to glance up at this stage.

“Oh my God, I’m sorry!” A sweaty hand on my bare arm, why has the clapping stopped?

Another starlet rises, is rushed along the rows. Some tuxedo guy explaining they must have mixed up the cards.

Of course, no problem, it happens. My aching chest. My frozen smile.

🥕🥕🥕

Winning by Anita Dawes

I couldn’t win a raffle,
if I bought every ticket, they have for sale
The prize is a 4-inch gold cup and
It would have been nice to win
Alas, I tried to cheer myself up
with a stroll around the charity shops
with ten to search through
I stopped for lunch in Poppins
Opposite is the Heart Foundation charity shop
In the window I could see a small cup
Nipping out to take a closer look
Hidden in the corner, I found it
Green glass, dark rim, orange base
At last, I could declare myself a winner!

🥕🥕🥕

Recipe for Success by Annette Rochelle Aben

Her brother had just gotten a big break, starting work for a local soup and sandwich shop. The hope was that this job would provide him the opportunity to shine with his creative culinary skills.

She received notice of a chili cookoff with prizes for home cooks as well as professionals. Why not enter! If she won, she could give the recipe to her brother, and he could make it at the shop. This just might kick start his career.

She was able to perfect the white, chicken chili recipe. And it won second place. Alas, the shop closed.

🥕🥕🥕

Victory by Reena Saxena

High political drama unfolds over a month. Broken promises, split in alliances, unexpected parties joining the fray, and finally, a grand swearing-in ceremony for the Chief Minister at a prime location in town.

Supporters go berserk in celebrations of victory. They claim to have been on high moral ground, while others manipulated things. There is a small news leak. Funds received from the Japan for a Bullet Train project have been diverted from State control during that month, by the caretaker CM.

The new CM takes charge with aplomb, but knows he has paid a price for the victory.

🥕🥕🥕

To The Victor by Iain Kelly

To the victor goes the spoils, that’s what they say.

There is cheering, waving flags, smiling faces. But it doesn’t feel like winning.

Surrounding them is destruction and death. Buildings and homes reduced to rubble.

They said the last one would be the war to end all wars. Maybe this one will be.

They are glad to be the victors, proud and patriotic.

Yet beneath the smiles and relief there is so much grief.

They have lost so much: friends, lovers, comrades, innocence.

History will immortalise them as heroes.

But can anyone really be called a winner in war?

🥕🥕🥕

Winners by Roberta Eaton Cheadle

He shuddered at the sight that beheld his desolate eyes. Stiff bodies ending in bloody stumps where their heads had been blown to pieces. Others, in which the pulse of life still beat, despite their shattered limbs lying in parts all over the field, spurted blood in bright sprays. There was also the noise; the screams and shrieks of pain from those who could muster the energy to expel such sounds from their desperate throats. These combined with the underlying low pitched moans and relentless whining of the dying, to form a symphony of despair. War had no winners.

🥕🥕🥕

Flight Training by Colleen M. Chesebro

Tina balled up the award notice and threw it on the floor. She stomped out of the room.

A chorus of voices questioned, “Miss Henshaw, didn’t she win?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Remember, this challenge wasn’t about winning. It was about determination and whether you gave up or kept trying.”

“Yet, she still won,” whispered Mary.

“Ah, but you gave up, Mary,” Miss Henshaw quipped. “Look outside.”

A crowd gathered at the window. Outside, Tina attempted to mount her broom. Her magic fizzled, and she landed face first in the mud. Yet she kept trying. At long last, she flew.

🥕🥕🥕

Winners by Bill Engleson

‘They’ve a glow about them, don’t you think?’

‘Who?’

‘Winners.’

‘Ah yes, whiners. They do sparkle away. Hog the light. Prance about, yelling, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!’

‘Not whiners, you nit. Winners.’

‘Whiners! Winners! What’s the difference? They all think they’re special.’

‘Maybe. But there are differences. Whiners are sometimes grumpy, right?’

‘Agreed!’

‘And winners, well, they’re gleeful. They’ve won.’

‘Won what?’

‘It doesn’t matter. Anything. A contest. An election.’

Yet, when they don’t win, whadda they do? They whine.’

‘So, you’re saying?’

‘One day they win, one day they lose. Win! Whine! Peas in a pod.’

🥕🥕🥕

Harvest (from “Trissente Sea”) by Saifun Hassam

A late summer hailstorm left the ancient Temple’s veggie garden in a mess. The village children had planted peppers, eggplants, and all kinds of squash.

After the storm, the children gathered veggies that could be used for the day’s cooking. Perhaps the mint would grow back again. The squash leaves were shredded. The vines seemed intact buried under the wet mud.

When the garden dried out, much of the squash had survived. Excited, the children harvested all they could. With Diamante’s help, they hauled the produce to the village market, for the Pumpkin Festival. They were winners after all.

🥕🥕🥕

#47 Acceptance by Jules Paige

1
“While you are making tea, how about a Hot Toddy and make it a double for me?” Sam asked as he continued, “I’m off duty and being a police officer in this town can be stressful! The reality and the gossip can really be a challenge to decipher and that’s just within the department.”

While I’d really love to be adrift in a calm sea where everything was moving in slow motion – that wasn’t how this day was ending up. There was Dawg curled up in a ball of delight at Sam’s feet. Lucky was a winner his lap.

2
Meanwhile Byrd, I think was feigning sleep… I did think I saw a few curious winks from that crow’s curiously swiveling head. I was a winner to have three pet friends.

Sam was just a bonus. The cherry on the sundae. When he told me that my home might have been part of the route for the Underground Railroad – I could only imagine all those people who were shuffled off into freedom to become winners in their own right. I looked up a center and museum honoring William C. Goodridge; a slave became a free man to aid others.

3
I had also wondered about the family who may have owned the Dutch Snickersnee I was now using as a bread knife. It was also possible that trades had been made for food or safety. Each person thinking they were winners in that bartered transaction? Could it be one of Jack Seedsmen’s treasures or was it here long before he had lived and worked this place?

Amid the losses of life, I had to remain positive. I would work at finding the whole truth.

each breath that we take
we win the right to carry
forth our earned knowledge

🥕🥕🥕

Champions by Kerry E.B. Black

The percussion of applause deafened, an unyielding wave of enthusiasm and appreciation. The team leapt, joyful. They embraced, all previous competitive jealousy forgotten, for the moment. En masse, they lifted their coach upon their shoulders, an idol of inspiration. Confetti and iced Gatoraide rained like blessings upon them all.

Their opponents drooped. Many dragged their helmets through the grass, defeated in this pivotal game, second place, championship without the accolades. Their coach glowered at the winners while ushering his team into the showers. They’d congratulated the others before their display grew too extreme. “Next year, guys, that’ll be you.”

🥕🥕🥕

Who Won? by Faith A. Colburn

I’d been graduated for twenty-five years when an old classmate climbed up the bleachers to my family’s perch near the top.

“Do you remember me?” he demanded.

Of course, I remembered. My graduating class was only thirty-one.

“I’m the guy you embarrassed in advanced algebra class.”

I shook my head. I hadn’t been competing. I just enjoyed advanced math. I loved solving puzzles and math was an especially complex series of puzzles.

Since then, I’ve been asking myself who’s the winner. If he was the only one competing, then was he the winner? He didn’t seem to feel victorious.

🥕🥕🥕

What It Takes by Nancy Brady

From the time her classmates started playing football in the seventh grade, they never lost a game. Their winning streak continued through their senior year including winning the state championship.

Many went to college and tasted defeat for the first time. Some didn’t make the teams and for those that did, their team lost games.

The biggest defeat they often faced was the reality of college classes, which required hours of hard work.

Ironically, those boys who diligently studied throughout high school often persevered more easily than those who hadn’t. For the others, it required a change of attitude.

🥕🥕🥕

Winter Growth by tracey

Winter was descending, short cold days followed by long cold nights. Distraction was needed. No, not distraction… learning. Yes! This was valuable time that needed to be used thoughtfully. Much growth could happen in the cold with a little encouragement.

So many topics beckon, but let’s be real, nothing that involves leaving the warmth of home will happen. And yes, there it was, an on-line art class. Collage: cutting and gluing bright bits of paper. Abstract flowers and cats. Back to kindergarten and my simplest self. Growing from the roots. My heart lit with joy, I had a winner.

🥕🥕🥕

Winners and Losers by Joanne Fisher

She led a quiet simple life mostly tending her garden at the back of the house. Most people didn’t give her a second look, and probably thought she was some poor lonely soul, but the truth was she was happy. She had friends, more than enough food, shelter, and clothing. What more did she need? She enjoyed her life’s simplicity. She saw many people living wretched lives rushing around and working every hour of the day so they could buy things they didn’t really need. If it was all about winners and losers, who was the real winner here?

🥕🥕🥕

Winner by Ann Edall-Robson

It was dark when Tal stopped the truck and horse trailer next to the barn. He had been in the saddle at sunup looking for cows, watching for game, and doing the job he loved—being a cowboy.

Mac’s voice rumbled through the darkness near the barn door. “How’d it go?”

Tal smiled into the night, before turning to answer his boss.

“Found twelve head, caught a fish for my lunch, and I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight. I’d say the day was a winner.”

His stomach grumbled. Dinner would have to wait. Always, the animals came first.

🥕🥕🥕

No Contest by D. Avery

“Ya ever won anythin’ Pal?”

“Nope.”

“Me neither. But this outfit here says I might be a winner. Fer a small fee they’ll let me know fer sure.”

“What outfit is thet, Kid?”

“The Slim Chance Ranch. Says here they’d be willin’ ta let me ride with ‘em. Fer a small fee.”

“Kid, why would ya even consider it?”

“Says here it’s a good deal, might even increase ma chances of winnin’.”

“What the deuces d’ya win?”

“Says here I could win the chance ta ride with Slim.”

“Slim Chance.”

“Yeah, yer right, Pal. I never win nuthin’ no-how.”

****

“Shorty’s sure busy, huh Kid?”

“Yep.”

“So you jist shush up ‘bout yer foolish notions. Shorty’s got enough ta do without worryin’ ‘bout you takin’ off fer Slim Chance Ranch.”

“Kin go if I want, Pal. Might win, ya know.”

“If’n yer so het up on winnin’ why didn’tcha enner the rodeo contest here at Carrot Ranch?”

“B’cause.”

“B’cause why, Kid?”

“B’cause I never win nuthin’.”

“Cain’t never neither without ennerin’.”

“Asides, Pal, them writers that won? They’re great.”

“You grate on my nerves Kid. Ever one thet ennered is great.”

“Yer right. Carrot Ranch is a great place.”

🥕🥕🥕

 

November 28: Flash Fiction Challenge

For those who rode in last month’s 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo, this is the date you’ve anxiously awaited. I use the adverb with understanding. This past month, I’ve entered my writing in two contests and submitted it to two literary journals. Waiting for notification can induce anxiety, angst, and doubt. Know that every writer experiences the rollercoaster ride of doubt. Artists combat resistance. Maybe you didn’t participate in the Rodeo because the word contest unnerved you. This is Carrot Ranch, a safe place to write, a fun literary community where you can find kindred spirits, a weekly challenge that displays 99-word stories. A contest invites danger; it sparks resistance.

If you haven’t yet read Stephen Pressfield’s War of Art, it’s worth the read. Some of it will make you cringe. Some of it will make you determined. He’s an author who understands the artistic battlefield. He writes:

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance…Resistance by definition is self-sabatoge.”

(Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art. Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.)

It is not easy to overcome resistance. Each and every one of you who finds your way to the Ranch to read, write, or join a discussion is participating in the three pillars of literary art. It matters not that you are here every week, but as the host, I can attest to the growth of those who are regular participants. When writers are new to the weekly challenges, I hope they stick around long enough to experience the magic of writing to a constraint within the bounds of a safe space. The Rodeo is a series of contests meant to challenge you to overcome your resistance.

My hat is off to each contestant. Take a moment to congratulate yourself for overcoming, for resisting, for showing up, and for delaying gratification. The challenges are fun — we get to see our work in concert with others. However, contests select and eliminate. We may not be gratified this time. Even if we win, doubt will still try to whisper in our ear. Winning or losing never offers comfort. So why seek out contests and selective submissions? To overcome the impulses of resistance and to learn. Growth requires an awareness of how our writing compares to others.

Comparison can be the ultimate discomfort for any artist. It produces a host of nagging emotions that range from inferiority to full-blown jealousy. A winner can feel like an imposter. In fact, in the first term of my MFA, we discussed the imposter syndrome as a common affliction of graduate students. Understand that this mindset shows up for contests, too. However, comparison can be productive. Let’s discuss how because it’s important to growth as a writer.

First, acknowledge any negative emotions. Practice kindness. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, tells us that fear will come along for the ride of everything creative we attempt. Consider her mega-success (she wrote Eat, Pray Love), and yet she still feels fear. Resistance. Her advice is to invite fear along for the ride but never allow fear to take the driver’s seat. You can practice this every time you enter a contest, submit to a journal, or seek an agent or publisher. Invite fear along, recognize its emotional presence, but do the driving yourself.

From this frame of mind, accept any bludgeoning thoughts that tell you, “Hers is much better than mine,” or “His sucked; how could the judges be so blind?” Accept them as signals for comparison. Pause. Compare in a productive (and kind) way. Take a deep breath and ask, “How does her story differ from mine?” This exercise will teach you to learn how to compare and contrast in such a way that you begin to notice how craft skills are used. There is no right or wrong between your writing and someone else’s. The better you can get at identifying craft skills in other writing, the better you can adapt those skills to your own toolkit as a writer. Try to go a step farther and see what the judges selected. Instead of feeling hurt, set that real emotion aside and go deeper to identify one new writing attribute to try.

Originality will always be your ace card. No one has experienced the life you have. How can you express your sensations, experiences, concepts, and observations in your writing? That’s your voice. Cultivate your voice and you will cultivate originality. I see this truth played out week after week at Carrot Ranch. You go where the prompt leads because it will lead you to your voice. That intuition is what you learn to follow. You can always revise, but let originality lead the way.

The most original stories are not always the most sensational. I think mainstream media tricks us into believing that hooks have to be startling. What surprised me most about the entries to the 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo was how prompts lead to greater originality. One of our contests was unprompted (Three-Act Stories) and instead of broadening originality, many writers resorted to sensational ideas for stories. Funny thing is, this diminished the impact because what was meant to be shocking risked becoming cliche. Let that sink in a moment. Writing about a hard social issue or injustice is not necessarily brave; writing about it from your own point of vulnerability is.

Your voice matters. Dare to follow that sensational (or common) lead into your own swath of experiences, blow past the tropes with something only you could write. If you take on a shocking topic, use it in an original way or say something new about humanity.

The most fun we all seemed to have with the Rodeo (judges and contestants combined) was with the Pro-Bull Mashup. Using three words from the source of pro-rodeo bull names and two niche genres (pirates and game shows) created a tight constraint and yet yielded much playfulness. In opposition to no prompt, multiple prompts pushed creativity. That’s an interesting consideration. Currently, I’m working with a 94-year-old WWII veteran in a writing group and he told me that as a child he read the entire dictionary. If he gets stuck writing, he turns to a page in his dictionary and uses a word to prompt an idea.

A standing ovation to ALL of you who entered TUFF Beans.

TUFF does its job and that is to force a writer to revise. I’ve known that my greatest weakness as a writer is revision. One of my best professors from undergrad days used to say, “Your manuscript doesn’t begin to sing until the thirteenth time.” Reality as a career writer was that I wrote to deadlines. I had to learn to write and edit simultaneously, gather momentum from interview transcripts, find original ways to include research with relatable analogies and write to my audiences for specific publications. As a marketing communicator and a freelance profilist, I got good at my work.

However, as a literary artist, I have had a tough time breaking those habits of simultaneously editing and drafting. I can write fast, and come up with original angles. But the more I pushed into my literary art and the more I grappled with manuscript revision, I felt like I had gaps in knowledge. Part of going back to get my MFA is to identify what it is I don’t know. What am I supposed to do each subsequent revision? Thirteen — how do I get to a singing manuscript when I can’t get past five revisions? I’ve developed tools like my storyboard. And I came up with TUFF to help me identify my blind spots in revision. I admit that I fear to make changes — what if I screw up the original thrust of creativity? How do I plot when my stories are character-driven and landscape-oriented?

TUFF and 99-word stories are tools as much as they are works of art. Many in my community use TUFF to craft business statements, explore narrative therapy, or generate manuscript revisions. Other organizations use it in ways I hadn’t considered. Offering it as a Rodeo contest is bringing it home to where it all began. When I see writers use the constraints to shift their stories and revise their original drafts, I feel giddy with excitement. TUFF provides its own lessons through the process. Our TUFF judge is a local life coach who loves using the tool with clients and business teams.

This year, I worked locally with our team of judges as I build up our Carrot Ranch literary presence in the Keweenaw. Here’s a bit about me and my home crew.

Charli Mills came to the Keweenaw from everywhere out West. As lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, she makes literary art accessible 99 words at a time and writes stories about the veteran experience and those marginalized by history. The Rodeo is a chance for her to encourage writers to push through creativity with courage.

Cynthia May Drake lives at the Ripley Falls Home of Healing, having lived in the UP for 30 years. She creates retreats and coaches clients to reach their spectacular potential. She regularly practices the 99-word and TUFF formats to resolve life conundrums, which has her fired up to be a literary judge for the Rodeo’s TUFF contest.

Marie Bertineau, born amidst the copper mining ruins of northern Michigan, is the daughter of an Ojibwe mother and a French Canadian and Cornish father. Her memoir, The Mason House, is set for release in September 2020 by Lanternfish Press of Philadelphia. She enjoyed the opportunity to work with Carrot Ranch on the Rodeo contest.

Tammy Toj Gajewski is an educated artist who recently retired from 24 years in prison where her nickname was Sgt. Carebear. She has written poetry and stories her whole life and is working on her book. She moved to the UP over 25 years ago and loves rock hunting, foster parenting, and dogs.

Bonnie Brandt came to the UP for MTU education and never left. As the daughter of a math teacher, she reads voraciously and belongs to a book club. She lives for the pun. She loves kayaking and cooking. She often will be reading even in summer!

Paula Sahin visited Carrot Ranch Headquarters during judging and joined in a session at the Continental Fire Company. She is a leadership development consultant trained by Brené Brown and manages Inner Wisdom Coaching and Consulting. She has a serious passion for learning and development.

Donna Armistead is a native of Florida and has taught dance and theatre in the Copper Country for over 30 years. Finally emerging from research mode to write a novel inspired by the lives of her Georgia ancestors, she is honored to have been invited to assist as a judge for the Rodeo.

Word Press allowed me to capture each entry and save according to IP address so that I could initially judge blind. I screened entries according to the rules and selected ten finalists in each category. I was looking for entries that met the criteria according to my perspective. I then shared criteria with my judges and let them use their own perspectives. None of the contests were purely technical. A few were more technical than others, but there remains an area of subjectivity. Judges do not all initially agree but everyone is allowed to voice their reasoning. Consensus was reached and three top places were awarded in each contest.

Each of the ten finalists will receive a submission critique. When I used to work with Paula Sahin, she coached me in ways to build strong teams. Together, we worked in senior management and helped our organization develop feedback loops that contributed to the productive growth of employees. As Carrot Ranch has grown, I’ve applied much of my previous career to our literary community, focusing on writers’ strengths and appreciating their use of originality and craft skills. With entry to my MFA program, I wondered if I could meld my positive feedback preferences with that of writing workshop critique.

One of my professors told me after a workshop exercise that I was one of the best line editors he had encountered. Editing is not my natural inclination (remember, I said my weakness is revision). What I realized is that by mindfully practicing positive feedback every week at Carrot Ranch, I had grown my skills. And yes, I’m working toward a brand of productive critique techniques to teach and use with others. I’m in my baby-steps phase, but by offering critique on contest entries where criteria are stated, I get to practice. Those receiving feedback get useful insights.

Be patient with me, though! Today is Thanksgiving in the US and it’s my second dinner, meaning I went to Wisconsin last weekend to fix Thanksgiving for my son at his request (Mama Bear can’t refuse an offer to feed people), then returned to the Keweenaw to fix dinner for my daughter, SIL, Hub, and friends. When on terms with an MFA, there is no such thing as a break. And somehow I thought it was a good idea (back in September) to announce winners today! I will not be immediately responsive, but I’ll be back at it on Friday when I’ll send email winner announcements.

Over the next four weeks, I will email a batch of critiques according to the order of contests. By the end of December, all 40 critiques will be delivered, just in time for my term finals.

I’d like to thank the Patrons of Carrot Ranch — your contributions maintain a dynamic community making literary art accessible. I have no staff. I have a small team of Ranchers who contribute as patrons. The work behind the scenes is my privilege. I’m grateful for all of you at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. It’s my life’s work to encourage others to write, read, and heartily discuss creative writing. It helps us all overcome resistance to our art and pursuit of it. I love what I do.

Thank you for your support of the Flash Fiction Rodeo. I hope you found it scary, fun, enlightening, and anything else you need to keep you on your writing path. Please take the time to read the 2019 Winners Page where all contest finalists, their entries and awarded top three places are displayed. Last year’s Rodeo Pages are all compiled into one 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo. To celebrate or commiserate winning, our prompt challenge follows.

November 28, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about winners. Who are they, what’s the mood, and what did they win? Express emotion or subdue it. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by December 3, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests are located at 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo.

Challenge submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.

Keep Trying Until You Win by Charli Mills

Martha posed her best winning grin to the reporter, spitting dirt as she smiled. The bulb flashed so brightly it turned everything to white blotches. Blinking, and wiping at the mouthful of arena dirt she received after the goat clocked her a second time, she looked for Auntie Bess. The old woman was leaning against the railing beyond the chatter of family and fans. Ducking the swipe of a hankie, Martha joined her Aunt.

“Why’d ya win kiddo?”

“Cause no one else would go after that stinkin’ goat three times. Figured, I keep trying ‘til I got him tied!”

TUFF Beans Challengers

It wouldn’t be a Flash Fiction Rodeo without a TUFF contest. The Ultimate Flash Fiction asks writers to write and revise a single story by reducing it to its sparest form and then rewriting it again in 99 words. TUFF goes from 99-59-9-99 words with one story. The process challenges writers to rethink their stories and revise. The final output shows a transformation from the original idea. It takes courage to rewrite original stories and TUFF introduces a tool to help.

The following are challenge submissions for fun.

The Calypso Triplets by JulesPaige

99-word first draft: The triplet Calypso sisters liked to call the biggest pot they had a cauldron. It wasn’t always easy figuring out what to cook for dinner. They were very independent and had very different tastes.

Amy wasn’t fond of split-peas it was just too mushy. Bernadette wasn’t impressed with any bean that increased flatulence. Connie pretty much ate anything, but she didn’t like cleaning the cauldron.

Breakfast was a challenge too. Amy liked full brew coffee, Bernadette decaf and Connie just liked to keep the grounds for the garden. However they all agreed that sharing an apartment was cool beans.

59-word reduction of first draft: The triplet Calypso sisters liked to call the biggest pot they had a cauldron. Amy wasn’t fond of split-peas it was just too mushy. Bernadette wasn’t impressed with any bean that increased flatulence. Connie pretty much ate anything.

Lunch was often a soup mixture of Green, Red Kidney Beans, Black Eyed, Borlotti, and Haricot Beans. Bernadette kept Beano handy.

9-word reduction of first draft: “Excuse me’s” peppered the lives of the Calypso sisters

99-word revision of first draft: The triplets tried to live a very healthy lifestyle. They didn’t want to become ‘has been’s’. So they attempted to be good vegetarians, which required much of their protein to come from a variety of beans.

Amy enjoyed experimenting with soy based tofu. Bernadette thought most beans were bland and needed herbs and spices. Connie pretty much ate anything.

Connie let her sisters do all the cooking. They didn’t need to know that she stopped at the Golden Arches for a burger now and then. What they didn’t know was just one less ‘explosion’ they’d have to deal with.

🥕🥕🥕

Movie Talk by Bill Engleson

99-word first draft: “It’s a saying. Means you’re cookin’, doing what needs doin’. ”

“I don’t know. I think you’re wrong.”

“Come on. Everyone knows it. It’s as common as saying…big fish eat little fish.”

“That one I know. But this one, Man, I think we ought to look it up.”

“Don’t have to look it up. Hell, it was in the Godfather a couple of times. Sonny said it and Moe Greene, you remember him, waking up with that horse’s head in his bed?”

“That wasn’t Moe Greene.”

“Doesn’t matter. My bad. But both Moe and Sonny said, “I made my beans…”

59-word reduction of first draft: “Come on. It’s as common as the saying… a hole in the head. Means you’re cookin’ doing what needs doin’. ”

“Think you’re wrong.”

“No, I’m not. Hell, it was in the Godfather. Sonny and Moe said it different times.”

“Moe…the one with the horses head?”

“That was another guy. Anyways both Moe and Sonny said,” I made my beans.”

9-word reduction of first draft: It’s gangsterese, right, to say, “I made my beans.”

99-word revision of first draft: I thought, beans. I like beans. I like slow cooking them. A bonanza of dishes is possible.

Charli mentioned Chili Con Carne, eh. A childhood favorite food. And while I’m thinking, I decide, okay, I’ve got two tales in the hopper. How about a third?

I’ve done this before. Recently. Played with a prompt. Like a teasing cat with a silly mouse in its paw.

To honour Leo Gorcey’s, Slip Mahoney, I seek out a one syllable b word.

Balls?

Bras?

Beads?

Then I watch the news.

Fires in California.

That horrible human trafficking story from England.

Beans, indeed.

🥕🥕🥕

Yellow Roses by Charli Mills

99-word first draft: Yellow roses climbed sun-bleached lattice where silage soured the air like beans. A teenaged boy in hot-pink satin shorts watered roses with a milk bucket. His grandfather once mulched with cedar chips, but having none, the teen used manure. A setting sun bruised the horizon with a purple haze. His father pulled up and the leaking exhaust of the rusty truck lingered like stale smoke. “Get that bucket to the barn, boy.” The teen nodded. He had the patience to grow his grandfather’s roses in the desert. One day, he’d leave and take his yellow roses with him.

59-word reduction of first draft: The teen grew yellow roses in the desert and cultivated a plan to escape silage and endless beans. Wearing hot-pink satin shorts to irritate his old man, he watered roses with a milk bucket. The setting sun bruised the sky. He could almost smell his grandfather’s pipe and cedar mulch, but the rusty rattle gave away his father’s truck.

9-word reduction of first draft: He’d escape the beans, taking yellow roses with him.

99-word revision of first draft: Yellow Roses of Saigon

“Get that bucket to the barn, boy.”

A teen in hot pink satin shorts rose from watering his grandfather’s yellow roses. Exhaust leaking from his old man’s rusty truck choked the sour air of dairy cows and beans. The setting sun bruised the sky like a beating from his father’s fists. Putting the bucket down, the boy pruned cuttings from the bush. He could almost smell his grandfather’s pipe. He turned to face his father. “I joined the Army, Dad. Me and my roses leave tomorrow.”

“Fool.” His father spat into the sand. “Yellow roses won’t grow in Vietnam.”

🥕🥕🥕

Untitled by D. Avery

99-word first draft: They ran out of milk and eggs first. When the hay ran out and her milk had run out they ate the cow. When the hens had picked every scrap of anything edible from the hay and the scraps from butchering they ate them. They’d been out of meat for days. Still it snowed.
He went through the barn again, she went through the cupboards again, but there was nothing except a sack of beans for planting come spring. But by the calendar, spring was long overdue, and still it snowed.
Her children were starving. She opened the sack.

59-word reduction of first draft: Still it snowed. He went through the barn again, she went through the cupboards again, but again there was nothing, nothing left to eat except a sack of beans intended for planting come spring, seeds for future harvests. But by the calendar, spring was long overdue.
As snow fell she fed her children unsweetened boiled beans, bitter but filling.

9-word reduction of first draft: Her starving children found the plain beans sweet enough.

99-word revision of first draft: “Those are seeds. There’ll be nothing to plant.”
In normal circumstances his logic would hold. They’d kept the cow for milk until all the hay was gone, kept the chickens for eggs until their feed was gone. Then the meat from those animals had run out. They’d boiled every scrap into soup. Snow fell though calendar spring was two months past. Her children were starving. Her logic would prevail. She made him promise. Her children would eat those beans, the last meal she would prepare for them. But it would not be the last time she would feed them.

🥕🥕🥕

Stinker of a Ranch Yarn by D. Avery

99-word first draft: “Ello, Keed, how have you bean?”
“Pepe LeGume! It’s tuff times, but I’m all right. You?”
“I am so very happy, Keed. You see dat post? No, not dat fence post, de post dat ever body read. I am mentioned in eet. So. I am real, no?”
“Reckon ya could pass fer real.”
“Keed, I been passed so much. Now I find dees ranch, I jes’ want to linger here and smell de roses.”
“Phew. I think ya dropped a rose.”
“Keed, I am going to cook beans for ever’body. Weeth bacon.”
“Fer real?”
“How you say? Darn tooting.”

59-word reduction of first draft: “Pepe, this might be a tuff question fer ya. How’d ya end up here at the ranch?”
“Keed, I am from south of the border, that ees, da border of Quebec. I snuck in weeth dat lead buckaroo when she crossed Quebec and Ontario returning to her headquarters in the Keweenaw.”
“LeGume! Yer a bean stalker!”
“Ees magical, no?”

9-word reduction of first draft: Legume blew in after the Writers Refuge, lingers still.

99-word revision of first draft: Beans are magical. Not Jack’s magic beans, not the magical fruit that’s good for your heart; something more is encased in those symmetrical shells.
The magic of plants and cycles is revealed to young children who can easily observe a plant unfold from the hard bean; can plant them, watch them grow, flower, and bear more beans.
A great source of protein, traditions and stories are revealed through the preparations, memories stirred, savored, and shared. Beans are the humble communion of gatherings and of campfires, the places where friendships are forged and where magic unfolds like a favorite story.

🥕🥕🥕

Rodeo #4: TUFF Beans

With Pepe Le Gume on the prowl at Carrot Ranch, I might regret prompting anything with beans. But beans hold a special place in my heart. I grew up on pinto beans, cowboy beans. A special treat was refried beans. I never had navy bean soup or chili beans or baked beans until I was an adult. Chili was a con carne served over pasta, soup was sopas, and whoever heard of maple-sweetened beans in buckaroo country? Now that I’ve had Vermont beans, I understand Pepe’s appeal.

In case you aren’t familiar with the mainstay challenges at Carrot Ranch, D. Avery created Pepe along with a host of characters in her weekly Ranch Yarns. Like beans, once a writer gets a taste for 99-words, you’ll keep coming back for more. We make sure the pot is always on at Carrot Ranch, where we create community through literary art. I want to thank all the regular Ranchers for honing their skills and diving into the contests. I’m proud of all of you for your dedication to writing and growing.

Now things are going to get TUFF. Our final contest of the 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo is all about having the guts to revise. As if writing weren’t challenging enough, we also have to know what to cut, what to add, and how to improve our stories. Revision is where the work happens. TUFF is an exercise in getting to the heart of a story and rebuilding it with that understanding. TUFF stands for The Ultimate Flash Fiction. In this contest, you will be asked to write one story with several reductions and a final revision. Your revision should be different from your initial draft. That’s where a writer has to gain courage and insight. TUFF will help guide you if you practice it.

Keep in mind that the TUFF contest is all about process. So far in this Rodeo, writes have tested skills of storytelling, craft, and creativity. Now it’s time to show how you approach revising an initial story idea. Your first 99-words should be a first draft and your final 99-words should be polished and improved. The word reductions in between help you find the heart of your story (59-words) and a punchy line (9-words). Judges want to see how you manage the entire process of TUFF.

And yes, beans are involved.

CRITERIA:

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

CONTEST RULES:

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

CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.

2019 JUDGING

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

Three-Act Story Challengers

A writer uses many craft elements to tell about something that happens to someone somewhere. When told in three acts, a story has a beginning, middle, and end (BME). Rodeo #3 is all about the mechanics behind storytelling in 99 words. The contest has now ended, but you can enjoy the following submissions by challengers. Some are prolific 99-word story writers and had more than their one contest entry. Some just wanted to have fun, telling a tale. In three-acts, of course. Winners of the contest will be announced on November 28, 2019.

Coursework or Coarse Work? by JulesPaige

Acme constantly delivers to Wile, who thinks he will succeed in his quest of catching his nemesis. It is an old story of chasing one’s dinner. Being the mighty hunter. Yet the coyote seems to only have a series of unfortunate events repeat. Most often damaging more than his ego.

We root for underdogs because we desire the right recognition. Dreams though seem to be elusive, like the Road Runner that escapes unscathed. Are our human wants just a different hunger that can only be sated by hard work?

Where’s the fairy tale ending? You gotta write it yourself!

🥕🥕🥕

A Water Story by Charli Mills

The ground above Lake Itasca releases an underground spring. A trickle becomes the 2,348 mile-long Mississippi River, nicknamed Father of Waters. Yet, it is within the wombs of women where life grows in sacs of amniotic fluid – water from mothers. Women bring life.

Scientists document facts about water. They can tell us our bodies use it for cell development and waste elimination. They point out the rapid rate of glacier melt as a phenomenon of climate change.

Men pass laws against women’s bodies and reverse protections for the environment. In the end, who can deny — Water is Life?

🥕🥕🥕

Bare Facts by JulesPaige

Looking through her rearview mirror she spied the driver behind her dangling an unlit cancer stick from his mouth. Her internal thought dripped with sarcasm that he could not hear; My, isn’t that attractive.

Cancer has become a dreaded word. Often becoming the elephant in everyone’s living room. Survivors abound every day due to those skilled in various treatments.

Three males in her family were being treated for three different cancers in the same month. She only knew the full circumstances of her man. And he was going to make it because of early detection and a skilled surgeon!

🥕🥕🥕

And Then the Sun Shone by Liz Husebye Hartmann

The yard was covered, leaves bright yellow, and wet from last night’s rain. Randall shook his head, tipped his cap to scratch his balding pate, and looked up to the sky. No help there. Rainclouds fisted up again overhead.

Marla’d promised to bring the grandkids over for his birthday tomorrow since Sadie had passed. Five years now, and he missed her every day. She would’ve ensured the place was spotless. Dragging the rake to his front porch, he eased into the wooden chair.

He lifted his head as the truck rumbled in.

“We came early to help! Happy birthday!”

🥕🥕🥕

Neighbours by Joanne Fisher

One night a vampire moved into the vacant house next to us. At first we were concerned, but she turned out to be no bother really.

Life went on in our street. The vampire was rather quiet, and kept her house and grounds tidy. We only usually saw her in the evenings flying off to somewhere. Occasionally she would come round to ask for a cup of blood.

Then a hunter came and the vampire was no more. After that a guy who constantly plays the drums moved into the now vacant house. Honestly, I’m really missing the vampire.

🥕🥕🥕

Fetching by Charli Mills

Bare limbs of birch pointed skyward, yellow leaves buried roots. A pup burst through the woods, scattering leaves. A woman ran, red leash in hand, calling, “Maxwell, come here!”

Max chased snowshoe hares down the birch-lined trail, pulling a woman on skis. She laughed and he pulled harder, kicking up a lone yellow leaf.

She wrapped him in a fleece blanket. “Good boy, Max,” she said, her hand lingering on his head. Walking the leaf littered road, a tear slid down her cheek. It had been fourteen autumns since she had walked this way alone. But water needed fetching.

🥕🥕🥕

Beginning, Middle, End by Chelsea Owens

Top Bun was the epitome of a beginning: first to stand in line at the condiments counter, first to graduate in his class, and always top bread at work.

Meat, meanwhile, existed in the middle. Middle child, middle man, middle class -that was him.

Poor Bottom Bun was last. No matter what he tried, he always woke late. He never caught the train on time; if he did, it was behind. The best dance partners were already taken, and even his mother had run out of names when he came out. He was, as one might guess, The End.

🥕🥕🥕

A Quitting by D. Avery

She felt proud. It’d been six months; she was sure she was done smoking for good.

“That was a bad habit I never should have started. Well, it’s done now.”

He blew smoke rings; sipped his coffee.

She could taste food again. She was more mindful of the food she ate, made healthy meals. She lost weight. She felt good.

He complained there weren’t mashed potatoes anymore. He crushed each beer can after draining it. She winced at the sound.

He’s only been gone a week, but she’s sure.

“That was a bad habit I never should have started.”

🥕🥕🥕

Rodeo #3: Three-Act Story

What is a story? We all tell them, and as writers, we craft them in the written word. A story is about Something that happens to Someone, Somewhere. It’s plot, character, and setting. A story has a beginning, middle, and end. Because we are hardwired for stories, we retain data better from narrative. Storytelling is in my blood.

When I was a kid, my mother ran a general mercantile in a town of 99 people. One of those 99 was Eloise Fairbanks, a one-eyed shut-in born in 1908. Her father operated the water mill, and when she was a young woman, she rode the backcountry of the Sierra Nevadas as a telegraph lineman. Weezy, as she was called, would call the store and order a six-pack of Coors. My job was to pedal the brown bag over to her house. She’d holler for me to come in when I knocked, sitting at her kitchen table. I’d sit, too, anticipating what followed the popped tab of her first beer — stories.

See what I did there? I slipped in a little story about stories. It has a beginning and is about someone, with me as the narrator (first-person POV). The Someone is Weezy. She’s from Someplace in time (when I was a kid, the Sierras, my implied hometown). Something happened — she’d tell stories once she got her beer. The end.

According to Greeks, stories happen in Three Acts.

Act I, the beginning, the story rises. It’s marked by pity, or what we would now consider empathy. If a story is about someone, we have to feel something for that character. Literature can teach empathy because writers and readers practice it. When we care what happens next for or to this Someone, we come to the middle.

Act II shifts to fear, according to the Greeks. We can interpret this as the emotion that drives the writer and reader to worry about what happens next. Or be curious about what comes next. The driving emotion doesn’t have to be fear, but the middle holds an important shift or build-up of tension or expectation. The story is in motion.

Act III is when that motion comes to an end. The Greeks called it catharsis. The action falls; the story has arrived at an exit. A good ending is not canned, but one that lets the reader think about the story and the Someone long after the conclusion. A twist is when a writer ends with the unexpected, and it can be humorous or dramatic.

When I teach storytelling to engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs, I like to show them the science of a three-act story mapped out in a graph. This video is worth watching. Kurt Vonnegut graphs stories, and once you see their form, you’ll also understand how versatile story structure can be.

Now it’s time to craft a story!

CRITERIA:

  1. Write a story that has Three Acts (they do not need to be labeled).
  2. The story must have a discernible beginning, middle, and end.
  3. The story must be about someone, set somewhere, and something happens.
  4. The story can be fiction or BOTS (based on a true story).
  5. It can include any tone or mood, and be in any genre, and there is NO PROMPT.
  6. Make the judges remember your story long after reading it.

CONTEST RULES:

  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the wordcounter.net. Entries that aren’t 99 words will be disqualified.
  2. Enter this contest only once. If you enter more than once, only your first entry will count.
  3. Do your best to submit an error-free entry. Apply English grammar and spelling according to your country of origin style. As long as the judges can understand the language, it is the originality of the story that matters most.
  4. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email WITHIN 3 DAYS, contact Charli at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  5. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 23, 2019.
  6. You may submit a “challenge” if you don’t want to enter the contest or if you wrote more than one entry.
  7. Refrain from posting your contest entry until after November 28.
  8. Use the form below the rules to enter.

CONTEST NOW CLOSED

2019 JUDGING

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

Pro-Bull Mashup Challengers

Writers faced the bullpen at the Rodeo with the rip-snorting task of combining three pro-bull names into nouns and mashing them into two genres — game show and pirate. They faced, rode, and wrote Bodacious, Nose Bender, and The Heartbreak Kid onto the stage, the plank, or perhaps a strange new reality tv show.

Each writer gets to enter the contest once. Some only want the fun of the challenge, and others are prolific and wrote extra stories. These are the challengers from Rodeo #2: Pro-Bull Mashup.

The contest is now closed. Rodeo #3 launches October 17, 2019 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Foul Play by D. Avery

“Pal, I won us tickets ta see the bull ridin’. Nose bender seats.”

“D’ya mean nose-bleed?”

“Nose bender. From pressin up against the fence an’ peerin’ through the knothole. Guy said ringside seats is sold out, this is such a bodacious event.”

“Sold out? This rodeo don’t charge.”

“The guy said we had to pay, Pal, but said I could git these seats if the price was right. I answered some ranch trivia questions an’ I won!”

“Nanjo Castille! This ain’t trivial, he’s a pirate! This could lead ta heartbreak, Kid. Where’s he at?”

“Sleepin’ off Ernie’s ‘lixir.”

“Shorty!”

🥕🥕🥕

One Chance to Ride by Charli Mills

Heartbreak Kid tightened the rigging. Daddy schooled her in knots. She’d want it to come loose, not drag her through the arena like a ragdoll. They all wanted her to bomb, break bones. It would serve her right. She had pirated the sport meant for cowboys, not cowgirls. Daddy’s nose-bender against the county rodeo association made salacious headlines. He fought for her right to ride. The paper dubbed her the Heartbreak Kid, mocking her dreams of riding eight seconds. This was no game show with winner’s confetti. Getting to ride a bull named Bodacious would be her prize.

🥕🥕🥕

Sink or Swim! by JulesPaige

The very bodacious hostess was looking for a ‘Romeo’, not a heartbreak kid for her contestant. Michael Nosebender needed a new name if he was going to compete on national television. So he pirated the first name he thought of; Mickey Rooney. Since this was a match up for the silver hair set Carol let the guy slid in the third seat. Not that anyone with any brains would want to date that old curmudgeon.

The widow Della Street wanted someone young to offer her a very romantic cruise far away from raunchy buccaneers. Florida’s Gulf coast would do.

🥕🥕🥕

A Bull in a China Store by Goldie

“I’m Mark – Will’s best-man. We met in college” – Mark smiled and took a sip of bourbon.

“I don’t want any surprises” – said Will before the rehearsal dinner.

“No problemo” – Mark replied.

200 guests.

“He was known as the Heartbreak Kid. The ladies loved him. I had to break a nose, or two when a jealous ex came after Will. They called me ‘Nose Bender’.”

Another sip of bourbon.

“She was dressed as a pirate that Halloween. Bo-dacious! Will says she’s the one that got away. Will, I have a surprise for you. Let’s see what’s behind curtain number 3!”

🥕🥕🥕

Games off the Coast of Brazil by Charli Mills

Nosebender ruled the deck of her ship Bodacious with its black sails. She was French Basque, busty and disfigured. Sometime during her trade, gaming Spanish galleons out of Brazil, the butt of a pistol bent her nose. It frightened God-fearing captains during raids she crafted into a high-seas game show. She called her first-mate, a Portagee with a blind left eye, the Heartbreak Kid. A bit of a pirate joke — he was ugly as Nosebender. But he supported her slick game of ridding Spain of her ill-gotten riches, sharing the winnings with the wretches of the New World.

🥕🥕🥕

And They’re Off by Susan Zutautas

Standing at the ticket window Ian placed his bet. Twenty dollars on Nose Bender to win. Meg the practical one put twenty dollars on Heartbreak Kid to show.

At the starting gate, the bell rang, and the horses were off.

Heartbreak Kid took the lead with Nose Bender three horses back. Meg and Ian, both excited stood cheering their horses on.

Out of nowhere the favorite to win, Bodacious took the lead leaving the couple’s horses behind. The favorite won, Heartbreak came second, Nose Bender way behind, came in sixth.

Both disappointed but they had a fun day out.

🥕🥕🥕

The Parrot Nation by Charli Mills

“Welcome back to the celebrity edition of, ‘Whose Parrot is This?’”

Cheers rose from the audience, responding to cue cards. No one knew who the famous person would be. Anticipation dripped like sweat.

The host, a man with a plasticized smile and pirate hat initiated the hints to three audience members on stage

“Squawk! I speak Russian!”

“Putin?”

“No! Squawk! Diplomats suck!”

“Giuliani?”

“No! Squawk! Make America—”

“Trump!”

“Ding, ding, ding! Yes! This parrot belongs to President Trump, Stable Genius, Grand Pirate of the Walled Swamp.”

The crowd roared, prompting unnecessary. The rally had begun, the games continued.

🥕🥕🥕

Reality Show by D. Avery

“Kid, stop poutin’ up in thet poet tree. What’s wrong?”

“Reckon yawl should jist vote me off the Ranch. I feel awful fer indangerin’ ever’one. Agin. I’m heartbroke.”

“Kid, don’t git yer nose bent outta joint. Nanjo’s gone. Some bodacious city slicker name of Rudy come by an took ‘im east.”

“Ta the Big House?”

“I heard White House. They’ve got friends there.”

“Hmm. I’m russian ta conclusions now.”

“Right? But where else kin a corrupt pirate like Nanjo be tried by a jury of his peers? The $64,000,000 question is, kin we vote thet gang off the Island?”

🥕🥕🥕

Rodeo #2: Pro-Bull Mashup

Where else would you find a bull-riding flash fiction 99-word contest but at Carrot Ranch? Come on, all you pencil crunchers, gather ’round and listen to a  tale.

My dad rode bulls. His dad and his dad’s dad rode bulls. My second great-grandfather wore high-heeled vaquero boots in an 1880s photograph, and while I have no more evidence than those boots, I suspect he rode bulls, too. When you grow up around ranch critters, you ride everything that will hold your weight (you can’t ride a chicken, but you can ride a pig).

Getting bucked off is fun, or so you grow up believing. Your relatives and their friends, congregate in the corrals, hold down a critter, set you on it, hoot like crazy throughout your ride, and dust you off when you faceplant in the dirt and critter-pies.

Following this generational bent, I wanted to ride bulls, too. I never got to, but I did ride goats, calves, mustangs, and even a few mild-mannered steers. Somewhere along the way, I got the taste of goat-hide in my mouth, and it’s kind of like getting the smell of a skunk caught in your sinuses. To this day, the barest hint of goat cheese makes me shudder. Eating it is like licking a goat. That and my boots are all I have left of a bull-riding heritage. The boots, by the way, are for when the BS gets deep.

Bull-riding in the US has evolved into a huge sport outside its original heritage. It’s dangerous, fast-paced, and still draws crowds. Raising stock for rodeos is also a big business, and bulls have names as extravagant as carnies or prize-fighters. It’s from the list of Pro-Bull names that this contest takes inspiration. Take a moment to feel the vibe of this year’s ride:

At Carrot Ranch, our weekly literary art and wordplay are expressed in 99 words. Several regular Ranchers often include the prompts or constraints of other writing challenges, and that is known as a “mashup.” This contest has several mashups based on multiple prompts derived from three Pro-Bull names, and the amalgam of two genres. Read the criteria carefully because this contest requires you to combine multiple writing elements and prompts.

Rosin up your writing gear!

CRITERIA:

  1. Write a story using all three bull names as names, places, or things: Bodacious, Nose Bender, and Heartbreak Kid.
  2. Combine two genres: game show and pirate. (Use the provided links for genre tropes and plots.)
  3. It can be fiction or fictionized BOTS (based on a true story), but if true, wow, what a life you lead!
  4. It can include any tone or mood.
  5. Use original details to express your tale.
  6. Make the judges laugh, gasp in surprise, or remember your story long after reading it.

CONTEST RULES:

  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the wordcounter.net. Entries that aren’t 99 words will be disqualified.
  2. Enter this contest only once. If you enter more than once, only your first entry will count.
  3. Do your best to submit an error-free entry. Apply English grammar and spelling according to your country of origin style. As long as the judges can understand the language, it is the originality of the story that matters most.
  4. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email WITHIN 3 DAYS, contact Charli at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  5. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 16, 2019.
  6. You may submit a “challenge” if you don’t want to enter the contest or if you wrote more than one entry.
  7. Refrain from posting your contest entry until after November 28.
  8. Use the form below the rules to enter.

CONTEST NOW CLOSED

2019 JUDGING

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

Rodeo #1: Modern Tall Tale

Out west where I grew up, to tell a tall tale was to tell a whopper of a lie so big no one would ever believe it. Someone would start the storytelling, and the next person would try to out-exaggerate the last one. Some told tall tales as a joke, especially if an inexperienced newbie might believe it. Wild Bill Hickok’s biographer, Joseph Rosa, suspected that Bill magnified the truth for fun.

Tall tales are the stuff of dime-store novels and pulp fiction.

What is a tall tale? One that openly exaggerates and magnifies the truth to the point of being unbelievable. The story itself is hyperbole. But we want to believe it because it’s humorous, melodramatic, or sensational.

This contest asks you to give a tall tale a modern bent. Don’t rely on the stories of Pecos Bill or 19th-century dime-store westerns. Go past the early sci-fi and detective stories of pulp fiction. Write a tall tale that is recognizable set in the present time.

Have fun, exaggerating!

CRITERIA:

  1. Write a tall tale and exaggerate something that happens to someone somewhere.
  2. It can be fiction or fictionized BOTS (based on a true story) but must be exaggerated to the point it couldn’t possibly be true. It’s okay — tell a whopper of a lie as a story!
  3. It can be humorous, sensational, or melodramatic from any genre.
  4. Use original details to express your tale.
  5. Make the judges laugh or gasp in surprise.

CONTEST RULES:

  1. Every entry must be 99 words, no more, no less. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the wordcounter.net. Entries that aren’t 99 words will be disqualified.
  2. Enter this contest only once. If you enter more than once, only your first entry will count.
  3. Do your best to submit an error-free entry. Apply English grammar and spelling according to your country of origin style. As long as the judges can understand the language, it is the story that matters most.
  4. Use the form below the rules to enter.
  5. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email WITHIN 3 DAYS, contact Charli at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  6. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 9, 2019.
  7. You may submit a “challenge” if you don’t want to enter the contest or if you wrote more than one entry.
  8. Refrain from posting your contest entry until after November 28.

2019 JUDGING

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

CONTEST CLOSED.

Get Ready to Rodeo Like It’s 2019!

The 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo begins October 3 (TODAY!) and remains a free-to-enter series of contests. Here’s the contest schedule:

  • Oct. 3 (11:59 pm EST): Modern Tall Tales (entries due Oct. 9, 11:59 pm EST)
  • Oct. 10 (11:59 pm EST): Pro-Bull Mashup (entries due Oct. 16, 11:59 pm EST)
  • Oct. 17 (11:59 pm EST): Three-Act Story (entries due Oct. 23, 11:59 pm EST)
  • Oct. 24 (11:59 pm EST): TUFF Beans (entries due Oct. 30, 11:59 pm EST)

ENTER USING THE FORM FOUND AT EACH CONTEST POST ON THE BLOG.

This is your pep talk. Saddle up, you got this! It’s also the post to help guide you through the expectations. Each contest will have its own post, going live at 11:59 p.m. EST (set your clock to New York City). You have until the following Wednesday by 11:59 p.m. EST to submit. That’s a full seven days.

The Ranchers and Rough Writers who practice their craft through play and serious participation (writer’s prerogative as to which it is) will be familiar with the (mostly) 99-word literary art form. It is 99 words exactly. 99 words, no more, no less. This is the official word counter for the contest: https://wordcounter.net/. Don’t count words on your own, or else you’ll find all the gray areas of counting, including hyphenated words and punctuation. Use the official word counter because it is the hard, fast constraint of what we do at Carrot Ranch.

Follow directions. In addition to the word constraints (TUFF has a several: 99-59-9-99), each contest will have its own prompt and criteria. Read the instructions thoroughly before you write, and again after you write your first draft. Often, after we get the first draft out, we realize we might have missed an important point. Or, you can reread the criteria and revise to better fit what the judges will be looking for in entries. It’s important not to be hasty. You have seven days, plenty of time for revision and final proof-reading. I want your best submission. I want you to wait before you submit and be certain you have no changes — because, this year, you get one submission per contest. In the spirit of wordplay and inspiration, you may submit as many challenge entries as you want. Use them to limber up, fulfill your need to be prolific, or play along if you don’t want to compete.

Go where the prompt leads! I want you to learn to trust your gut, write from the heart, and revise mindfully. When you follow your instinct despite writer’s doubt or critical inner voices telling you not to, you overcome a huge barrier to writing authentically. Carrot Ranch is built to be a safe literary community where writers can explore, grow, and incubate.

Incubation is not just for chickens! I think slam poets and stand-up comedians do this best — they take new material to a live audience, test-drive new word phrases and jokes. I like to hang with the poets because 99 words can be lyrical, and it aligns with acceptable mic time. Did you know 99 words equals 45 seconds? That might matter to you one day. If you have not read live, I’d encourage it. I often read from our collections,  less so than when I had a regular open mic night to attend when I lived in Idaho. But I find opportunities, including art or book fairs, to read my own 99 words to gauge reactions. There is no better audience than a live one to incubate new work. The second best is to share among an online group such as what we do here.

Reflect. Contests present a time for you to rethink some of the stories you wrote that got strong responses. If you’ve ever received a “well done” from me, that is the equivalent of Paul Hollywood’s handshake on the Great British Baking Show. Even if you haven’t received a “well done,” pay attention to what commenters, me included, have responded to. This gives you an idea of what your strengths are — writing with emotion, creating powerful imagery, crafting unexpected twists, fitting an entire story in 99 words, or crafting original ideas.

FOCUS ON YOUR STRENGTHS.

Don’t let doubt niggle away your confidence, focusing on weaknesses unless you can be constructive. Know that training is required for critique because it is a skill. Anyone can learn the skill, of course, but many struggle with the perceived negativity and rejection that can accompany criticism. And yes, there are those who exploit the weaknesses of others to feel better about their own abilities. Such insecurity is often expressed by trolls and bullies. But that doesn’t mean criticism falls into that realm. For our purposes, I want you to focus on what works in your writing. Respond from a place of strength, and you will feel more confident. Confidence shows in our writing!

Dare to be original. How can you stand out? Well, no one is you, no one has had your accumulative experiences, and we all come from diverse walks of life, locations, and interests. We each have a bucket of details to color the stories we imagine or base on ones we experienced. Yes, BOTS (based on a true story) are welcome here because by the act of committing the story to 99 words and deciding which details to include, and how you sequence the event, all ads up to fictionizing a real story. In fact, my virtual mentor, Wallace Stegner, wrote about his faith:

“…that fictionizing is an essential function of the mind and emotions–that reality is not fully reality until it has been fictionized.”

Follow your North Star. Before you embark on this contest, understand why it matters to you. You are here for different reasons – one writer wants to publish her book traditionally and hopes a contest win will add to her portfolio. Another writer has discovered new life and friends in writing online, and he’s here to have fun. Someone else might still carry the voice of a harsh critic, a perfectionist parent, or a dismissive teacher, and they want to prove they are a writer. Remember, it is best if you set your North Star overhead, aim for your own personal goals without comparison to another’s writer’s personal goals, and banish that voice of the critic. Have some of your most obnoxious characters apply duct tape to the mouth of your worst critic. And care for who you are as a writer. Care for your fellow writers. Care for this place where, together, we make literary art accessible, no one kept out.

My North Star. I want to make literary art accessible. That’s the mission of Carrot Ranch. Every door I open for you, I get to walk through, too. Like many of you, I love to write. Like those who have experienced writing education or careers, literary criticism can create unhealthy spaces. One day, after training, I’d like to expand Carrot Ranch into the dimension of offering productive critique groups, training writers into a process that teaches both skills of giving and receiving feedback. This will happen online and at my workshops or retreats. You grow, I grow, we all grow. Again, I defer to my virtual mentor to explain my vision for the kind of environment Carrot Ranch supports through weekly challenges, annual Rodeo contests, and future critique groups:

“Managing the environment for a group of talented (and frequently headstrong) people is not easy. I have often thought of it as comparable to the way one trains a hot-blooded colt, whose whole impulse is to run. You put him in a corral and you let him run—in circles, with a rope on him. You don’t yank his head off, and you don’t let him run over you. You teach him to run under control. And much of his control is going to be learned from the other horses in the corral.

A writing class is inevitably competitive, do you see? Everyone’s primary concern is his own success, and that success, when something as personal as literature is involved, is acutely personal. But if you encourage competition, or let it run rampant, any individual’s success becomes everyone else’s envy.

Ideally, if the class mix and the teacher’s wisdom operate right, every individual’s success becomes everyone else’s stimulation. The people in such a class, if it is well selected, are roughly equal in talent and opportunity. If one puts a story in The New Yorker or gets an enthusiastic acceptance of his novel, other members of the class have a right to feel that the possibility is all the more available to them.

That successful one is no better than I am, they will think. The gift there is different from mine, but not superior. What happened to him is bound, sooner or later, if I work, to happen to me. (C Mills, emphasis.)

For some such reason, in seminars that jelled properly, I have seen people write better than they will ever write again—write better than they really know how to. The trick is to keep the competitiveness friendly, to see to it that individual success stimulates other members of the group, instead of depressing and discouraging them.”

Stegner, Wallace. On Teaching and Writing Fiction (pp. 62-63). Penguin Publishing Group.

In a short while, your first contest will go live at 11:59 p.m. EST. May you ride well, sitting tall in the saddle. Success here is success for us all. Believe in possibility and never stop defining, exploring, and reaching for your North Star.