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The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic

by H.R.R. Gorman

Here at the Carrot Ranch, we take the business of 99-word literary art seriously. Those who participate in the Ranch prompts or yearly Rodeo saddle up to TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction) it out and train new Rough Riders as we go. Now, the Ranch is hosting a new event to sharpen minds, welcome new hands, and celebrate one of our own the best way we know how: our first ever Rodeo Classic.

In this Rodeo Classic, we’re here to celebrate a stalwart center of many blogging corners, Sue Vincent. Sue has variously contributed to the community here at the Carrot Ranch, through communication with many other bloggers, and run her own famous #writephoto weekly blog prompt. You can (and should!) follow her on her blogs, The Daily Echo and the shared blog France & Vincent. She has inspired us to become better writers and shown us the power of mystery and myth. We also suggest taking a perusal at her book corral and Amazon pages!

The Rodeo and Prizes

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic serves as a special challenge. Riders will have to condense the following photo into a story of 99 words (or, if you prefer, a poem of 99 syllables). Writing 99 words has never seemed TUFFer!

Each story needs to have a beginning, middle and end. Poems must have distinctive theme, movement, and rhythm; no rhyme scheme is necessary, but neither will rhyme be punished. Go where the prompt leads you – any genre is acceptable, but keep it family friendly and related to the photo. If you haven’t wrangled here at the Carrot Ranch before, you can find some prize-winning 99-word flash from the 2020 Rodeo or the 2019 Rodeo at these links. Don’t cheat with 98 or 100 words or syllables! We’ll only accept 99 word stories or 99 syllable poems written in English! (We’ll be using https://wordcounter.net/ to count words and https://syllablecounter.net/ to count syllables so everyone has the same standard). Only write 99 word stories. Do not write 99 word poems – we want 99 syllable poems.

For this rodeo, we’re offering a $100 grand prize. Five runners up will each receive one paperback from Sue Vincent’s collection of published books (those who live in a region where the paperback is unavailable may receive an e-book instead). No fee necessary to enter but this is a fundraiser so we kindly ask for a suggested donation of $5 per entry (no more than two entries allowed per writer). The contest will close at midnight on Friday, February 19th, 2021. Winning entries will be announced and read at CarrotRanch.com/blog on March 22, 2021. Top entries published at Carrot Ranch. We will not accept entries previously published (even if published on your own blog), so keep them tucked away for now.

Judges: Geoff Le Pard, Anne Goodwin, and Charli Mills. First-Pass readers: H.R.R. Gorman, Sue Spitulnik, D. Avery, and Sherri Matthews. List of judges and readers will update as needs may change depending on the volume of entries and continued judge availability. Entries will be anonymized prior to judging.

$5 suggested donation to enter. You may enter no more than twice. You are welcome to donate more than the suggested entry fee. All proceeds go directly to Sue Vincent and Family. Use this link to donate:


SUGGESTED DONATION $5 PER ENTRY (Limit two entries)

You can donate as much as you are willing and able to. 100% of the proceeds go directly to Sue Vincent and Family.

***DONATE***


THE CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED AND WE’VE REMOVED THE ENTRY FORM – FEEL FREE TO DONATE UNTIL WINNERS ARE ANNOUNCED!

The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic Parade

All Rodeos need a parade, just as the Carrot Ranch yearly rodeo has done. The Rodeo Classic parade will be a parade like no other – and we don’t need to wait until the end of the contest or announcement of winners to do so. It’s time to celebrate with gusto and march down the main street of Carrot Ranch central.

Sue Vincent

As mentioned above, Sue Vincent is a poet who has acted as glue for the community for over a decade now. She has honed her poetry and prose to a beautiful finish, and her adventures through ruins and the English countryside have inspired many of us throughout our blogging journeys. Recently, Sue has run into a spot of trouble with a bit of small cell lung cancer. With Covid complicating all medical procedures and the ability to speak with others (especially for those with respiratory illnesses), some of the best comfort can come from online interactions. You can read more about Sue’s situation on the series of posts beginning here.

The Parade, however, will march on through many different avenues. Sue’s literary art will be on full display throughout the month of February. Here’s some ways you can help participate in the parade and make the Rodeo Classic even better!

  • Advertise the Rodeo. Advertise this rodeo on your own blog, tweet it, forward on Instagram, post on Facebook, wherever you can! The graphic at the top of this page can be used freely as part of the campaign. The more participants, the merrier. We’d like to advertise the contest to people who may not already be familiar with our or Sue’s literary community, so put up the posters far and wide!
  • Reblog a post from Sue’s blogs. Go to The Daily Echo and/or France & Vincent and take a gander at some of the things there. Choose a post, or two, or seven, and reblog it with a comment on why you did so. Feel free to advertise the contest when you do.
  • Purchase one of her books. You can find a link to Sue’s books here and choose the Amazon page appropriate for your region.
  • Review that purchased book! Read the book and post a review. There’s many places to put it, but we suggest Amazon, Goodreads, and your blog as a start.
  • Comment or like her posts. Comments brighten anyone’s day, and Sue’s blog is filled with posts ripe for commenting. The Rodeo Organization Team will be reblogging some of her posts, so keep an eye out for those if you want some suggestions!

We look forward to seeing you in the stands, on the back of a bull, or maybe even clowning about.

Sincerely,

The Rodeo Organization Team

March 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

A bag of colorful balloons adds festivity to any day. Snowflakes the size of downy feathers float from the omnipresent gray cloud, and all I want is to blow up colorful latex and toss color to the sky. Can you imagine the sight? Red, blue, green, purple and yellow globes of color floating among the snowflakes and bouncing lightly from drift to drift.

Despite a snow-locked land and a frozen shore, my mind and body respond to longer days of light. Not even the clouds can prevent its penetration. For five luscious days, the clouds backed off to hang over Lake Superior, and the southern sun-porch warmed up enough for noon coffee. On the sixth day, snow returned, and my teeth chattered as I tried to capture the joy of sitting in the sun. It was of no use, and I retreated back to the rooms with storm windows and radiant heat.

From my desk, I watch the snow and dream of balloons.

I’m in a festive mood because Carrot Ranch is celebrating four years of flash fiction challenges. Evidently, I drink coffee and talk a lot about the weather. Here’s how I opened the first challenge on March 5, 2014:

In northern Idaho, rain is falling on packed snow. It is a good day to hunker over the keyboard with a mug of hot Yuban coffee. But no matter your weather or drinking preference, I hope you have stopped by Carrot Ranch to pick up a prompt.

That day from a different northern climate, I let go a balloon with a message, hoping someone would answer. It was lonely drinking coffee and tapping keys. I wanted to recapture the camaraderie had felt back in the ’90s while I attended college for a degree in creative writing. I missed the passionate discussions in classes, where we sought hidden meanings in the language of authors. I missed sharing my writing for feedback from classmates I had grown to know and trust. I missed dreaming of the well with kindred spirits.

Many times since I tried to recreate those moments from college. I kept in touch with classmates and professors. I read. I attended literary workshops and joined writing groups. For a brief time, I found a close fit on a social media site called Gather. Started in 2005, the site encouraged discussion. I found groups where I could write fun and quick literary challenges, and I created lasting friendships. Several writers, I employed through my work as a marketing communicator for a natural food co-op, and Gather is where I met Ann Ravoula, a designer who worked with me to build an award-winning regional publication. She’s also the designer of our Carrot Ranch logo, Rough Writer log, and the cover for Vol. 1.

Gather instilled in me the idea that visual and literary artists could come together in meaningful ways. Unfortunately, social media site went the way of profiteering and became more about affinity marketing than social interaction. Affinity marketing sites are ones that force social interaction through a reward system. The idea is to boost traffic so the site owners can sell more lucrative ads. It killed the organic interactions and people left, no longer enjoying the experience.

In 2014 I wondered if I could create a writing challenge on my own website. Two years earlier I had left my job to write a novel. I wrote for business clients and felt isolated from my literary writing. I wrote about marketing and small business for magazines and newspapers, but I had no continuity among literary writers beyond the one month a year that I joined NaNoWriMo. Even there I felt isolated, not knowing anyone else, and the closest regional group was over 100 miles away.

My website was a placard for writing, and Carrot Ranch was the name of my communications business. But the website never generated business — I do that through a network of colleagues and clients, using email and cell phone. I wondered if I could shift some of my marketing knowledge to writers through blog posts, build up relationships and convince writers to play weekly with a literary art form called flash fiction.

Four years ago I launched the ballon, and five writers showed up: Susan Zutautas, Paula Moyer, Norah Colvin, Ruchira Khanna and Jason Kennedy. I knew Susan and Ruchira from social media connections. Paula is family (her Solar Man is married to my Radio Geek). Jason knew Susan (or they were both Canadian).  And Norah showed up with a gift in hand — a Liebster Award. I had no idea what it was but delighted that I wasn’t alone to meet my challenge.

From this humble start, I came to identify “the thing” I had been missing — a literary community. The question was, could we build one through practicing flash fiction together? Four years later I’m happy to report that the answer is yes. In fact, Norah helped me collect my thoughts on the topic, and she wrote a chapter on Building Community in The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1. When we wrote that book, and I worked with 29 other writers to bring it to fruition, I realized that we had been strangers until we wrote together.

And that’s a beautiful realization.

Carrot Ranch evolved from communications to a literary community. We make literary art accessible — we write, read and discourse. You’ve probably noticed we keep the feedback positive. In Vol. 1, Norah repeats the message:

Be positive, be polite, be encouraging.

It’s not stated anywhere explicitly, but my philosophies on writers feedback originate from three sources:

  1. Servant Leadership: a philosophy and set of practices that enrich the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.
  2. Appreciative Inquiry (AI): a change management approach that focuses on identifying what is working well, analyzing why it is working well and then doing more of it. The basic tenet of AI is that an organization will grow in whichever direction that people in the organization focus their attention.
  3. StrengthsFinder (from Gallup): developing your strengths to do what you do best every day.  The pursuit of meaning — not happiness — is what makes life worthwhile. Knowing your strengths and using them is meaningful.

Over the course of four years, I’ve seen the impact of building a literary community through flash fiction on my own writing and that of others. We’ve met each other with care and have built trust, extending it to an environment where writers feel safe to explore and experiment. And we have fun!

Last October we launched a Flash Fiction Rodeo of eight contests. And that was loads of fun, plus eight writers each won a purse. We have a collection of outstanding writing from all the entries, and I intend to publish them in an e-book. I’ve already commissioned a cover, but when I tried to buy the software to design the inside, I realized I needed a Mac. I’m all for balloons, but I’m not going Mac. If anyone has suggestions, I’m open to learning.

Also in motion is Vol. 2. This goes beyond a collection. It begins with new 99-word arrangements from the Rough Writers (our core group from the community) and plays with “serial” arrangements. Think Marvel Comics (at least, that’s what I’m thinking)! You’ll bet we’ll have some BOTS and memoir essays and extended stories. We also have invited our Friends (those who write challenges frequently or lurk weekly) to play with a surprise challenge.

The editing process is intensive — from collecting submissions, working one-on-one with writers on development, working with a Rough Writer editorial team to define and maintain a style guide that represents global writers, working with special content writers, proofing, designing and proofing again. Four years ago I had no idea I’d be doing this, but I knew I longed to be doing meaningful work with literary art beyond my own writing.

From one little balloon, set free with a message — come write 99 words, no more, no less.

Now we are growing and bursting at the barn doors! In business, we say that’s a “good problem” to have. In communities, we focus on servant leadership practices to better understand what makes the community thrive. Going back to our three drivers of literary art — writing, reading, and discourse — I’m exploring ways to stay vibrant, relevant and engaged.

Writing. Our vibrancy comes from our diversity. We come from different locations, backgrounds, experiences, demographics, and genres of writing. I also understand that we each have different reasons for coming to the Ranch. Some seek the discipline of writing prompts; some want to increase their blog interactions; some are looking for the camaraderie. We are all looking to write. Bloggers can share links and writers can submit stories. We also offer Guest Posts.

Reading. We actually have a dedicated readership at Carrot Ranch, outside of our writers. That’s good! I also collect stories to read out loud and arrange into weekly collections. This is an area I want to grow. Readers have the opportunity to discover new writers and their blogs and books.

Discourse. We like to discuss at Carrot Ranch! Well, I’m sure you’ve seen those of us who do. I think we all keep a good balance with those who like discourse and those who just want to share the story quietly. Part of the infrastructure plan is to build a forum at Carrot Ranch. Part of it will be for Rough Writer work or Rodeo planning, and parts will be open to asking questions within the community or start topic threads.

I’m looking for anyone who might be interested in serving as Ranch Ambassadors (spreading goodwill among the writers who gather, so everyone feels welcomed as the response grows) and Ranch Moderators (assist with collecting and arranging weekly challenge responses). Each position will be volunteer (though I may send you books or rocks) and will have a brief description of participation. If you are interested in more of a leadership role and have a few hours a week to spare, shoot me an email wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Let me take time to introduce you to the Leadership Team who serve as Rodeo Contest Leaders and as an informal advisory group: Geoff Le Pard, Sherri Matthews, Irene Waters, Norah Colvin, D. Avery, JulesPaige and C. Jai Ferry. They already serve as ambassadors and support the Ranch in areas of extending literary accessibility (memoir, TwitterFlash, education, Ranch Yarns and behind-the-scenes support).

In October we will once again host the Flash Fiction Rodeo. Our Leadership Team will return to the event. We will put out a call at that time for new leaders who want to mentor in 2019 with the Leadership Team. In 2020 they will become the new Leadership Team, and in 2021 they will mentor a new group.

Why? It’s to develop leadership in the literary community through different roles and opportunities. Just as Carrot Ranch is a safe, fun and positive place to write, it’s all that for stepping out of your comfort zone and participating in more meaningful ways among the community.

And if you are rolling your eyes and saying, get to the prompt already — that’s okay, too! We make literary art accessible one 99-word flash fiction at a time. We come to the Ranch to play. Do what feels right for you, further your goals, dream, and by all means, keep writing!

If you like what we are doing here, consider offering Patron Support. It’s not required, but it helps with building and maintaining infrastructure to serve the community and helps cover the costs associated with publishing. Plus you can earn some cool gifts from the Lead Buckaroo.

One last consideration, let loose your own balloon this week. Do something that scares you, but you want to try. Take a risk, and take a step toward the dream you hold. The worst that can happen is that no one sees your balloon. But no one will if you don’t blow it up and let it fly!

March 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a balloon. It can be a party balloon or a hot air balloon. How does it add to your story? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 13, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published March 14). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

At the Edge of a Long Winter by Charli Mills

Searching the newspaper before I fire up the woodstove, a classified diverts my attention. For Sale: Party Balloon, Never Celebrated. There’s a number, and I recognize the area code for Montana. I’m across the border in North Dakota, trying to keep warm with seven other oil rig guys in a tin-roof modular on some farmer’s north forty. After my housemates rise to the heat of corncobs and newspaper, I finish my coffee and call.

“Hello?” A woman’s voice.

“Um, yeah, calling about your balloon.”

“Cabin fever. I needed to hear another voice.”

“Oil rigger. I’m lonely, too.”

“Let’s talk!”