How to Lasso a Wild Carrot in 99 Words – No More – No Less

As a hobby blogger, participating in writing and photo challenges is a great way to build skills while you build community. Today Always Write introduces the 99-Word Flash Fiction at Carrot Ranch.

Interview with Charli Mills creator of Carrot Ranch.

Hi Charli. Welcome to Always Write, networking hobby bloggers worldwide.

Thank you, Marsha. It’s a pleasure to be here. So hobby bloggers are your niche. How do you define a hobby blogger?

Charli Mills

 The UK Domain defines a hobby blog as “essentially a blog that is set up and populated with content for the blogger’s personal enjoyment as a hobby, rather than to promote goods or services, or as a money-making endeavour to earn a meaningful income from the blog itself.”

The article presents a robust definition and is well worth the read. For me hobby bloggers create an atmosphere, a culture, either on their own or with the aid of a professional web designer that is welcoming and homey. 

That’s why I’m passionate about this series of interviews with hosts and hostesses of writing and photo challenges. Always Write is a place for hobby bloggers to find resources.

Your website is so clever. When and why did you start Carrot Ranch and the 99-word Flash Fiction Challenge?

I left my job to write a book in 2012 which I’m still working on. Then I started blogging, creating Carrot Ranch in 2014. In 1998 I graduated with a degree in creative writing, and I’m working on my Master of Fine Arts now.

Carrot Ranch is not about me or my opinions. In fact, I try to be neutral when I write. Sometimes I publish stories on the blog, even in the anthology that don’t agree with my views.  An opposing story fits within the greater world view.  The hope is that Carrot Ranchers will write from their own perspective. 

This online community is not an echo chamber. I don’t just want people of the same mind to come and write stories every week. When people come and go, it’s actually good. Carrot Ranch has an influx of people, people taking a break, working on a book. I want diversity. It is also nice when people know each other as well.

Charli Mills

I’m not against profit but I want to see literary artists making careers out of their creativity and not blocked by the barriers that have existed. 

How did you come up with the theme of Carrot Ranch? It doesn’t seem Michiganesque.

My family heritage is ranching. I’m a born-buckaroo from Northern California and still have family ranching in Nevada and Eastern Montana. I have lived in every western state except Colorado and Wyoming, so it was natural for me to want a ranch. 

Instead, I took my writing degree to Minneapolis where I worked in marketing communications for the natural and local food co-ops. Back in the ’70s, the Twin Cities co-ops used a fisted carrot as a symbol of social justice — food for people not for profit. 

Charli Mills

Wow, that explains it! Names are so interesting. We used to live in a walnut orchard with the sign “Fox Farming” hanging at the entrance. I imagined foxes growing out of the soil. It turned out that the previous renter’s last name was Fox. Carrot Ranch had sort of the reverse connotation for me – a herd of carrots, so It’s great to have that cleared up. Go on.

When I think about how literary art is controlled by academia and capitalism in the US, I feel like it needs to be in the hands of the creators — words for people. So, Carrot Ranch is a pairing of my past and future.

I’m not against profit but I want to see literary artists making careers out of their creativity and not blocked by the barriers that have existed. 

Indie authors are pioneers, but we still need to overhaul the big systems that shut out marginalized voices or only promote elite connections. Carrot Ranch is a literary community with a mission to make literary art accessible to all hobby and career writers, even to people who don’t identify as Writers. 

Charli Mills

Writing becomes art when it is read and commented on.

Wow, this is deep. In this interview series my quest is to find out why bloggers, like yourself, take the time to create challenges. Your blog, Carrot Ranch is an amazing operation. The way you organized it impressed me. Do you have help with the contests or the website? 

I had help from a graphic artist to design the website although I took the picture of the horse and bird but the organization of it is all me. The Rough Riders help me run the ranch.

Charli Mills

I love the way they are listed on your menu. Are they paid staff?

Not at all. A Rough Rider wants to take part in collaborative work. They are worker bees, though. 

Charli Mills

So when you say they take part, what do Rough Riders do? 

Rough Riders don’t have to just write, they can be readers. They just have to be willing to participate. Rough Writers maintain the community, engaging with one another. They aren’t doing jobs or maintaining the site, but they do the work of creating an authentic community.

For example, D. Avery is a Rough Writer who runs the Saddle Up Saloon. She writes ranch yarns between fictitious ranchers “Kid and Pal” and others who are aware of themselves. They have heard that they are the creation of D. Avery, but they don’t believe it. Jim Borden, a retired teacher makes comments, Becky Ross she makes comments. 

Participation is anything that has to do with literary art. Writing becomes art when it is read and commented on. That is the definition of literary art. It belongs in the hands of the people who read and write. That’s why the mission of Carrot Ranch is to make literary art accessible.

Charli Mills

I love that definition. That’s why I love blogging so much, it’s the comments of the readers. Your website has a menu item for patrons, are Rough Riders also your patrons?

Some of the rough writers are patrons, they don’t have to become patrons to support the community. Although patrons intended to support the infrastructure of the community, they don’t have to be writers.

We have several nicknames going on at the ranch, so I’ll try to clarify! 

Charli Mills
  • Rough Writers are the ones who write to the prompt and hang around long enough to get roped into Anthologies, Rodeos, and writing columns. 
  • Some writers are in a group online where we post goals, share information, ask group questions and play story games. I refer to that group as the Carrot Ranchers. Some are Rough Writers, too. 
  • And, if that’s not confusing enough, the community has also informally dubbed Carrot Ranch “Buckaroo Nation.” I think it would make a fun title to a lit magazine from the community. 

I love it! But it is confusing!

But that’s the thing about an authentic community — it can be messy, but we are there to play, write, and support each other in an industry that includes hobbyists and professionals. We wear different hats, sometimes. Publicly, I refer to the published work of Carrot Ranch as writing by the Rough Writers whether it’s the weekly collection or an anthology.

Carrot Ranch writer’s challenges and subsequent anthologies give opportunities for Carrot Ranchers to publish their work. Ranchers, and you are a rancher because you have submitted a story, have different goals. Writing for Carrot Ranch builds credibility and confidence no matter what your goals. The point is for the community to learn to use the 99-word Flash Fiction as a writing tool. 

Charli Mills

I find fiction writing difficult. It’s hard to get away from real people and real incidents.

Wallace Steger, one of first American authors to receive an MFA in the U.S., said something like, “You can go to therapy, you can pay to be on someone’s couch, or you can write. No matter how much you fictionalize, you are writing into your own truth. The minute you put yourself on the page, that person becomes fiction.”

It’s impressive that you published an anthology. Do the profits go back into the community of writers?

What we make covers Rough Riders’ travel scholarship and expenses for Vol. 2 or whatever the next volume is. The Anthology Volume 1 was a test. You don’t make much money off of online or book store sales. Sherri Matthews won the scholarship from the Volume 1 profits to go to Bloggers Bash. 

Charli Mills

That’s cool. Sherri is a good friend and former Californian, too, if my memory serves me. Congratulations to her! 

Part of my vision for Carrot Ranch Rough Riders is to teach them to use the book to stage speaking events. You have a better opportunity to sell books if you go to events. Of course, that’s on hold right now. But when things return to normal, any of the Rough Riders can purchase the books for cost and can sell the book themselves. So if the book costs $6, they can sell it at an event for $10, and they keep the profit. 

Charli Mills

The more you understand the trends and where you are in the landscape, the more you realize that there are tangible techniques to learn. Publication is not the luck of the draw.

That’s awesome. One 99-word fiction could earn a Rough Rider some big bucks if they work at it!

We help writers find where they fit in the publishing ecosystem. Ninety-six percent of all manuscripts get rejected. What are your chances of becoming the 4%? The more you understand the trends and where you are in the landscape, the more you realize that there are tangible techniques to learn. Publication is not the luck of the draw. Those who can take the time to learn the industry and apply what is going along socially, have a better chance to succeed. 

 Women’s fiction is big. Women  want to read about women’s issues. Relationships are big. 

The reality of being an author is you have to invest in it. Nobody is going to pick up your book without some investment on your part. You can go to school, spend $40,000 for an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts), go to workshops, or hire editors. The reality is that you are going to spend money to publish your work. Every writer needs editors, both developmental and line-by-line-proofreading even if you attend workshops and have a degree.

Charli Mills

How well I know about that! According to your website menu, your 99-word Flash Fiction is not your only challenge. What about the Rodeo Contests? 

Rough Rider writing a book.

In October of each year we host the Rodeo Contests to get people geared up for Nanowrimo. It’s play, it’s practice. Some people work on it as though it were to submit to a literary contest, but mostly people do it for play. You have to imprint the 99-word pattern. Ninety-nine words are the smallest element of a scene. If you can write a 99-word scene, you can write a chapter.  If you can write a chapter, you can write a book. 

Charli Mills

Everything you do is 99 words, then?

Everything except TUFF, which stands for The Ultimate Flash Fiction. TUFF is also part of the October Rodeo. Ranchers start with a 99-word piece, then they reduce it to 59 words. Finally they take the 59 words and reduce them to 9 words. That gives them the heart of the story. Once they realize what the story is about, then they rewrite the 99 words. 

If you can get that process going, it helps you get unstuck. The goal is to see a writer use the 99-word write as a tool. I love to see them being brave and changing their story as it goes and letting it evolve. That’s why revision is hard. We don’t want to let go. 

Charli Mills

Writers have different paths and expectations with what they want to do and the workshop is for people who want to publish their work. We help them figure out what path they are on and how to jump from one path to another.

99 words no more no less picture of eggs.

You mentioned that the 99-word-story benefits the community. How does that work?

Anyone can write a 99-word-story in ten minutes. 

Charli Mills

No way! Mine sure took longer than that! 

You can, though. I present library writing programs. We did Carrot Ranch sessions in three libraries and a bookstore during our retreat. I challenged participants to five minute writes and five minute edits. They looked at me like I’m crazy, then BAM, ten minutes later they were done.

Charli Mills

Of course, I did that all the time in my classroom and as professional development with teachers and aides. We called them Quick Writes. But they weren’t ready for publication in ten minutes.

That’s not the ultimate point. When I do a reading from Volume 1, I ask people I meet at Farmer’s Markets, book fairs, libraries and bookstores where I am set up, “Can I read you a 99-word story? It will only take 45 seconds.”

They almost always say okay. Then I read a 99-word story. It catches their attention. The anthology brings the power of people together. It’s anthropology because they write their individual story about the prompt. It is so human to bring the stories together and put them into a collection. Some stories go together and other times they are polar opposites. There is usually an anchor story. Those who read the stories are responding to human conversation. 

The last line, when I’m reading in public is , “Do you want to buy a book?”

Charli Mills

Funny! What a marketer. You’ve got to have a close. I want to stray a little from talking about writing challenges. You mentioned a retreat, Charli. Tell us more.

Rough Rider, D. Avery hosts the retreat in Vermont. Writers have different paths and expectations with what they want to do and the workshop is for people who want to publish their work. We help them figure out what path they are on and how to jump from one path to another. We instill that there is no shame in what you write. Even if it’s not a best seller. The annual retreat honors the work writers have done in a year. 

The retreat counts as professional development as an author. It may take 3-12 years to get published traditionally. It will help you have things in your platform so it gives you an edge.

Charli Mills

Is this your ultimate goal?

No, no, no, no. I am developing an educational program to provide the platform for teaching literary art under the Carrot Ranch Brand. 

Along with my MFA, I am earning a certification to teach online creative writing. I will use that to add the educational component to Carrot Ranch and to invite interested community members to participate as instructors. I need to train them first, but then they can develop and sell their own online classes. 

That’s all I’m saying for now as I work toward finishing my degree next year and developing this education program.

Charli Mills

That sounds so exciting, Charli. I want to be on board for that! Teaching was my career and my master’s degree is in curriculum and instruction. We are getting off the target of writing challenges a little here, but I’m curious about your book and writing clubs. 

We have one writing group on Facebook. The question you have to answer to join the group is, “How has Carrot Ranch impacted your writing?” I want to know if people know what Carrot Ranch is. It’s not open, it’s a writers group for Carrot Ranch. On Monday’s I call for goals. It’s a place where writers can have accountability, if they want that. Some ranchers post occasionally, others post regularly. On Tuesdays we have started something new. We are doing an open mic on Zoom. Attendees get five minutes to introduce themselves, their work and to read. It happens on the third Tuesday of the month at 11:00 am Eastern time, 8:00 am PST, 5:00 pm for people in Great Britain. 

Charli Mills

Charli, it has been a pleasure to chat with you today. We’ve covered a lot of territory – typical ranch life! Good thing we held our horses! I look forward to collaborating with Carrot Ranch very soon. Your mission strummed the creative strings in my internal gee-tar. 

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Author: Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, author, blogger and retired teacher/consultant - Promoting Hobby Blogging

49 thoughts on “How to Lasso a Wild Carrot in 99 Words – No More – No Less”

  1. Wonderful interview, thank you for featuring Charli and Carrot Ranch, Marsha. My collaberation with Charli continues and I am truly honoured to also call her friend. Flash Fiction taught me that I can write fiction. As a memoirist, I didn’t think I would ever say that. It’s a fantastic writing tool across the board. I loved the little mention…how lovely, thank you! ❤ Great to connect with you again, my friend. I'll be scarce for the next few weeks as I work on edits, but I'm signed up for your newsletter and will keep in touch on FB too. Have a wonderful summer and keep safe!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much Sherri. I look forward to chatting and reading each other’s 99ers. I’ve been in Sedona for the past three days and spending about 12 hours a day behind the wheel. You don’t get much writing done there, especially on the curvy mountain roads! 🙂 Good luck with all your edits. Have a great rest of the summer. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi again, Marsha, again, just back from my blogging hiatus, manically catching up. I love Sedona and remember it well. We took the kids there a few times over the years, whey they were young. How fun, out there on those curvy roads. Bet you had a great time. I’m still working on those edits, got setback as you know from FB with my health issues, but back to the grind and trying to get back here somewhat too. Big hugs, my friend! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Marsha, this was great. This is quite a fine interview. As you see, Charli Mills is quite something. The Ranch is an amazing place with amazing people and characters.
    “How has Carrot Ranch impacted my writing?” I pulled a carrot and it opened a vein! Turned me into a miner, a 99er. This Ranch got me writing. Gave me confidence as Charli says here.
    Had to laugh a few times through this post; yes, there is a community and a culture and therefore nicknames. (Notice how Ms. Mills can’t keep it straight, Rough Writers/Rough Riders?)
    As Charli mentioned, there is now a Saloon. If you’d like to turn the tables, come by and chat with Kid and Pal about writing challenges and blogging and such.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Charli, I’ve been behind the wheel of a car for 3 days for about 12 hours a day. I need a chance to get back on my horse. I can see that you are having troubles controlling your broncos, but since I’m going backwards, I can only make a guess as to what’s going one. Thanks again for sharing the history & philosophy of Carrot Ranch.

        Like

    1. I love Kid and Pal and your lively sense of humor in those stories. Maybe I should host a 49er since I’m from CA. LOL I’m interested in hearing more about your writing history. You say that the ranch got you writing? You have an interesting handle. You’ve certainly made a great contribution to the ranch. I wonder what else will be added to the carrot ranch. Did you like my wild carrot picture? That carrot grew in my garden. I struggle growing carrots. They need some 99ers to fertilize them and make them grow big and stout. Thanks again for stopping by to comment. So you think Kid and Pal would talk to me? Have them email me at tchistorygal@gmail.om 🙂 Marsha

      Like

    1. Thanks so much for the reblog, D. Avery. I love your stories. Fabulous! You notice I quoted you! I look forward to getting better acquainted. 🙂 Marsha

      Like

  3. This was so nice to hear more about carrot ranch and a little bit of your history, Marsha 😉
    Also – likes hearing the live reading from Charli- she is great orator.

    And for me – my favorite part of joining in with Carrot Ranch is how easy it is set up to join.
    Charli has made joining in a very simple process – just need to submit in the form with an email address. During times of light social
    Media use I found this was win win for me a few times – I had only a limited time to write (well a lot more than ten minutes – ha) but I did not want to make a blog post or even log into WP. And because we can submit work
    So easy – one night – there was an hour before the deadline to submit for that week and I eagerly wrote an entry. There were no barriers to hold me back (like to log in and link a post).
    I noticed that the “easy to submit” also came in handy other times and it aligns with one of her goals to “get people writing” –
    Wishing everyone a wonderful week

    Liked by 2 people

      1. thanks for the reply.
        And it almost feels a little wimpy to say that the “ease” is what helped me – but you know, when life gets busy and we have so many things draining us – we have to pick our extra activities carefully (and just had a co-author bail out on a project because she was overwhelmed and it makes me sad because I think she was perceiving the project to be a lot harder than it was – and fear crept in and throwing in the towel was a rescue – but she was 75% done and did not even know it – ) anyhow, when flash fiction sites need you to create a post and then sometimes also link into the linksy or other places where you have to fill out another form, mandatorily add email and links – it adds four more steps – and that becomes daunting –
        so it is not wimpy to say that – and actually – it ties into some excellent points made my James Clear in the book “Atomic Habits” – check it out if you have not yet – it was my husband’s book of the year last year and a few of us soaked up some of his excellent points – it is a must read
        Okay – wishing you and everyone reading – a wonderful weekend
        🙂
        and thanks again for hosting, Charli

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yvette, you make some excellent points. I know people do get overwhelmed. I remember the first times that I tried linking my email and post. I did it totally wrong, just pasting it into the comment section. I just ordered Atomic Habits. I certainly have some bad habits to break. I appreciate your conversation here, Yvette. When you have so much to do, it is an honor that you stop to chat. I’m going to answer your last comment. I feel badly that I didn’t answer you right back, but I’ve been on the road driving for the last three days. Talk to you in a second. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Well thanks for the replies my friend – and I did not realize you were doing this series and I will Be back more often –
            And yeah – I have a lot to do right now – but when I make time for blogging it helps me “do what I do better” – well most of us time – ha – and take breaks when needed
            Please let me know what you think of atomic habits when you finish it 😉 📚

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I definitely will. I’ll be on the road a few more days. In a rental car, I do all the driving, much to the consternation of my friend, I found out today! LOL, our first time traveling together. She’s brave! I look forward to having some time to read. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Thanks, Yvette. I got home safely after 10 hours of driving yesterday. I have a couple of blog posts to get ready today. Much more fun that going out in 100+ degrees. Have a wonderful week. Stay safe and cool. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

    1. You are such a great writer, Yvette and I love how you take the time. I get started, then I get sidetracked by life. I have trouble being consistent responding to all the challenges. This week I’ve been on a road trip to Sedona, AZ with a girlfriend. Beautiful place and I experienced my first monsoon here. Have a great weekend, Yvette. Talk to you soon. I’m looking forward to reading your husband’s book.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Marsha – hope your time I’m Arizona is awesome – and it is easy to get sidetracked on blog stuff because I think it sometimes is what is part of the hobbyist blogging style
        And side note – think of you when I sometimes bring in pieces of lavender 😉
        Well thanks for the nice comment and post.
        Have a nice weekend

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well, don’t I smell nice!!! I love it. Yes, commenting and holding a conversation is the fun part of blogging. I think collaborating is a growing part of what hobby bloggers are doing. I’ve noticed several groups of bloggers are starting to host challenges together. It will be interesting to explore how they do that. I’m hoping to have several groups respond to my invitation. It also keeps me busy to try to participate in each person’s challenge that I interview. That will not be possible in a while. LOL You have a great weekend, too, Yvette. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Marsha, this is a wonderful interview with Charli. I have been wrangling words at the Carrot Ranch for a lot of years. The encouragement from Charli and comments from other Rough Writers, one cannot help but improve on writing techniques. My biggest writing take-away from participating in the weekly 99 Word challenge has been the ability to tighten up my long stories. The Carrot Ranch is a great place to chill out and have some fun with your writing. You meet people from all over the world who have the same common goal as you do – writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Ann for the compliment and lovely comment. Our conversation together uplifted both of us. Normally I do interviews by sending questions. I did hers over the phone and it was wonderful. I can’t wait to meet her and the other rough writers in person. I spent quite a few hours studying her website and it is so well organized and full of great ideas. I loved the biographies of all the Rough Writers.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Another fantabulous interview. I love seeing my writing friends getting the spotlight and getting to know lots of tidbits. Loved the video and seeing and hearing Charli. I keep saying I want to start doing videos but I don’t have the courage yet, lol. I really loved when Charli said that different weeks some writers jump in and out in between projects and books. That’s it exactly. If you don’t show up for a few weeks and you feel like jumping in, everyone is welcome. Great interview! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know. I liked that she has created this tool for sharpening our writing by trimming it down. She suggested that I trim Girls on Fire to 99 words. I’m not quite up to that yet. 🙂 I’m getting interviewed by Kid and Pal on Sunday, I think it is. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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