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.Tweet
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.Tweet
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.Tweet
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?
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.Tweet
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.