I am thrilled to have Charli Mills of Carrot Ranch here and so pleased she made room in her busy schedule for this interview. I’m not sure how best to introduce someone you probably already know so I won’t. Here she is, Charli Mills:
Hi, D. Thanks for having me at your place! This is a practice run for when I
show up in person. I’m Charli Mills, lead buckaroo at CarrotRanch.com/blog.
The Ranchis an imaginary place for real writers where we make literary art
accessible 99 words at a time. You can find me on Twitter @Charli_Mills and
on Facebook at
and an experimental page called
where geology meets literary art.
Is Carrot Ranch a person, place or thing?
It’s definitely a THING! It’s an online literary community where people from
all around the world come to play with words and stories. Its thing is art – a
dynamic of people creating. Writers need readers, readers need writers, and
together we engage in expression, discussion, and exploration. Yeah, Carrot
Ranch is a cool thing, bigger than one writer alone.
What has been the biggest lesson of Carrot Ranch for you? What do
you think it has been for others?
For me, the biggest lesson of Carrot Ranch is that creativity is endless. For
five years, I’ve asked writers to respond to a weekly prompt within the
constraint of 99 words. You’d think it would get old, but the opposite has
been true – the writers dig deep every week and surprise me. Every. Week.
But what is the biggest lesson of Carrot Ranch for others? That’s individual.
And I honor that sacredness of a literary artist or blogger or author looking to
figure out what it is they need. The biggest lessons tend to come as
serendipity or unexpected breakthroughs. Many find out that play leads to
productivity. Some fall smitten with the 99-words as art form. Others blossom
in a safe space.
Every week you offer a flash fiction challenge that also has a lot of
comments among the participants. Describe your prompting
Every week, I look forward to the prompt post as a date with artists. I’m a
story-catcher, and knowing I get to tell a story once a week, my mind is
constantly searching. Some weeks, I feel expansive and want to express
creatively and other weeks I settle around the campfire to tell a tale from my
life. I always look for lessons. I never want to dump on readers, so I try to connect my own explorations of writing to the things I’m passionate about or
the observations I make in life in general. I tie it back to what this means to a
writer because this is the real deal – this is expressing how to live a creative
life even when life sucks or life gets goofy. It’s all good writing material.
What I love most about Carrot Ranch as a community, is that it’s made up of
many different individuals. Some writers love to chat. Some get “punny” and
playful, some drop a quiet link or story and don’t say a peep, others come
and go, and many read, write and repeat. It’s so alive! Funny thing is, I’m like
a lurker on my own ranch! I let the conversations spin, but I also make sure
everyone, no matter their preferred involvement, gets acknowledged.
In addition, you present the flash fiction pieces in a post each week.
Tell about that presentation and the process.
That arrangement is a collection of all the stories submitted through the form
in the weekly challenge post. I love all that oozing creativity, and diversity of
perspectives, influences, and writing styles. The arrangement is a secondary
form of art for me.
First, I seek a strong “hook.” This is the story that leads the rest, the one that
will draw in readers. I set up two or three sections of 10-minute reads. That
breaks up the length for the modern reader. I used to collect 15-20 stories a
week. Now I’m averaging 50. So, the sections help me with arrangement,
too. I’ll look for a lead story for the second and third sections. The Ranch Yarn
(by D. Avery) are always the concluding word. Often the story before the
Ranch Yarn summarizes or pulls together all the other stories.
Because writers are so good at “going where the prompt leads” most of the
stories have a distinct thread of authenticity that easily knits to other stories
no matter how different. Sometimes I group similar stories, and sometimes I
spread them out. I’ll often cluster funny stories and end the humor with one
that is dark or profound. Or the opposite – I’ll use a humorous story to relieve
a series of heavy ones.
I want to say something about art here – there’s a saying that if only the best
birds sing, the forest would be silent. Writers often fret that their work is “not
good enough.” I’m not looking for the best stories. I’m encouraging writers to
discover their own authenticity, to go where the creative spark takes them,
which feels weird and vulnerable. But because Carrot Ranch writers have
that safe space for exploration, these stories pop with that authenticity. I get
to play with arrangement and create a collection that sings like the forest
which is way more vibrant and interesting to read than a collection of “best”
How big is this Ranch? What can be found there besides the weekly
flash fiction prompts and readings?
The Ranch spreads out beneath big skies. A writer or reader or lurker could
potentially get lost. Tabs point the way for anyone wanting to wander. Some
pages are set up for different reasons – to educate, promote events, or for
me to explore the value of literary art. I see the Ranch as a place that lets
buckaroos be buckaroos. As a writer, you can grow at the Ranch or simply
play. For the regulars, the Ranch can offer a platform, even listing new books.
Take some time to explore.
How else are you growing Carrot Ranch?
I teach writers to craft a vision of success for their writing. I call this a
writer’s North Star. Mine is the size of Betelgeuse, like 90 times bigger than
the sun. With the capacity to imagine and maximize, my vision is huge. I
learned long ago that visionaries scare people, so I try to only reveal a few
rays at a time. Not everyone has the patience for a big dream, and no one
has ever seen my full vision. Suffice to say, Carrot Ranch is always growing!
However, maintaining what works is important because that consistency
builds trust in a community. So, I’m thoughtful about growth, not disrupting
what works just to introduce something new. Some projects depend upon
funding. It’ll come together.
I’ve been developing workshops since 2001 and dreaming of leading nature
writing retreats ever since I trained as an Aldo Leopold educator in 2004. In
2015, I started welcoming writers to my home on Elmira Pond in North Idaho
and began working on writing workshops. Now I’m blending retreats with
workshops – space for personal reflection and structure for professional
growth. This will be what grows at Carrot Ranch. Regular ranchers will get
free tutorials as I work on my MFA and certification to teach writing for online
universities. Nature writing refuges will be something I take to my favorite
outdoor places. I’m also working on a plan to do research meet-ups.
Is it true that Carrot Ranch is in fact a real place and that people
will be able to go there for writing retreats?
Carrot Ranch is a literary community, a thing, not a place. When I used to
have a home, I invited writers to take a retreat to North Idaho on Elmira
Pond. I did blog about Elmira Pond and it is a real place. That’s where I began
to dream of bigger retreats. When I ended up following my husband across
the west, I wondered at the idea of doing traveling retreats. Then we came to
rest at our daughter’s place in Michigan and I realized it would be hard to get
a group of writers to such a remote place, but I will one day have a retreat
on the remotest National Park in the lower 48 of the US because I live at the
gateway to Isle Royale. It would be a bucket list kind of retreat. But it’s not
However, as I think of community, I carry Carrot Ranch in my heart and so do
many others. That’s why I’m looking to do retreats outside of where I live and
in places near where other Ranchers live or could get to – like a cruise boat
around Australia, or nature retreat centers across the US. It would be Carrot
Ranch in essence, but not a real place. The Carrot Ranch Refuges and Carrot
Ranch Research Trips will be retreats where people can go. And if anyone
gets to the UP, they can go to the Ripley Falls Home of Hygge where I lead
book cultivation retreats
Do you have a “proud to be a blogger” memory or moment?
My proudest moment was when I transformed a blogging tool into a literary
Describe or list publications or events.
The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1
Thirty writers began with 99 words. They went on to tackle a new prompt,
extended stories, memoirist essays, and how to build a literary community
with flash fiction. This is not your typical anthology.
Charli Mills, Series Editor, Publisher & Lead Buckaroo
Sarah Brentyn, Editor & Contributor
(Every Second Saturday 12:00-1:00 p.m. at the Portage Lake District Library,
Michigan Room, Houghton, MI)
April 13 • May 11 • June 8 • July 13 (guest host) • August 10 • September 14
Local writers (and those curious about writing) gather at the library to learn
and play with 99 words as a literary art form. Each writer will get to read one
of their stories. It’s a way to meet other writers, appreciate literary art, and
learn flash fiction as a writing tool.
Free and open to all.
TO CULTIVATE A BOOK
June 23 • September 22
Ripley Falls Home of Healing, Hancock, MI
Writing a book? Give your dream space to grow. This retreat welcomes
writers of all stages of book writing from dreaming to planning to seeking
publication. Strategize with other writers interested in book publishing, learn
professional development for authors, and give nurturing space to your book.
WRITING REFUGE VT
The ultimate nature writing experience for the whole writer.
Join Charli Mills, lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch and host D. Avery for four
days immersed in nature to write, grow and discover. Lodging, meals, and
consultation are all included. Come for the inspiration and leave with a