Saddle Up Saloon; TUFF Topics With Charli Mills

Written by D. Avery @shiftnshake

       Read my writing and see my books at

September 27, 2020

Saddle Up Saloon“Kid, seems like yer fine’ly gittin’ yer acts t’gether, even if ya are repeatin’ some a ‘em.”

“Pal, did you know this is the twenty-eighth?”

“Yeah, Kid, I know today’s the twenty-eighth of September. Monday. A new show at the Saddle Up!”

“No, this is our twenty-eighth show since we started the saloon. Kin ya believe it? We’ve had some real fine guests an’ visitors in that time, fer sure.”

“So, Kid, what’s the plan fer this week then? Is there a special guest?”

“Very special.”


“Well, I’m confused, Pal. I have a guest lined up but I ain’t sure if’n it’s Shorty or if’n it’s Charli Mills. How kin I tell the diff’rence?”

“Near’s I kin tell, they’s one an’ the same, both real deal, ‘cept one’s fictional.”

“Oh. Like us.”

“No, not like us. We’re totally made up, but Shorty’s a BORP.”

“Mind yer manners, Pal, say ‘scuse me.”

“Not burp; BORP— based on a real person. Shorty’s the Boss a the ranch thet we hang out at, Charli Mills is the Boss a the Carrot Ranch thet real folks hang out at, virtually. Shorty gits writ in when we need her hep ta keep our story goin’.”

“Hmmph. Seems once agin like our writer don’t quite know what she’s doin’, then has ta drag uthers inta her messes. Whyn’t she jist write Charli Mills in, ‘stead a writin’ in Shorty?”

“Charli Mills is too dang busy, Kid! Havin’ Shorty ta take care a fictional aspects a the ranch frees her up. An’ it allows us an’ our writer ta make things up, which is fine ta do as long as there’s some truth ta it. Does thet clear up yer confusion?”

“Think ya jist added ta it but I’m thinkin’ fer this innerview we better jist have Charli Mills.”

“Looky there Kid, she jist walked in the door.”

“Looks like Shorty.”

“Shush, Kid, thet’s Charli Mills, all right, all the way from World Headquarters! Git her a cider! Howdy, Boss, um, Ms. Mills. Welcome to our, uh, your saloon.”

“Hey there Pal! Kid, is that a hot cider? As in habanero pepper hot, not heated over a campfire hot?”

“Yep, hard cider with a bit a heat.”

“Barnburner. Ahhh, nice.”

“Wow. Charli Mills herself, here at the Saddle Up!”

“Yep. In town for Cowboy Christmas. It’s Rodeo season.”

“Thet’s right, yer a bona fide buckaroo. Reckon this won’t be yer first rodeo.”

“My first Rodeo was 1971. Won a ribbon for sitting tall in the saddle. By 1974 I was tackling goats. Then my parents moved from buckaroo country to logging in the mountains. I worked for real ranches, pushing cattle, mostly. Kinda like Heidi of the mountains but with a horse.”

“Uh, Charli? Thet’s a fine bit a true story an’ all, but… kin ya tell us ‘bout the Rodeo at Carrot Ranch?”

“Oh, the first Flash Fiction Rodeo. Well, that would be 2017. Yep. We all got to say, ‘This was my first rodeo.’”

“What made ya wanna have a Rodeo competition at Carrot Ranch?”

“It’s a ranch, right, Kid? Well, pokes on a ranch practice their skills regularly. A rodeo is a chance to challenge those skills, show off a bit, get bucked off some. But rise from the dirt and be happy you rode with a bunch of others. Some will take the purse home.”

“A purse? Like Gucci? Think Nanjo Castille is sellin’ some Gotchie that’s cheaper.”

“No, not a Gucci, and be careful of Nanjo and his Gotchies. A purse, like prize money. First place in each Flash Fiction Rodeo contest takes home $25. Cash, Amazon gift card, or a donation to a worthy cause.”

“I’m lookin’ forward ta seein’ the contests set forth each Tuesday by yer crack team a Rodeo leaders, Charli. Sounds like a tough competition.”

“All of the contests will be tough, but a fun challenge. And then there’s TUFF. We’ve all learned to get tough, but TUFF is a standard contest that tests the reduction and revision skills of a writer.”

“Whut’s tough? Writin’? Or rodeoin’?”

“Both Pal! We’ve learned to be brave. To put our work out there. Writers have learned to read directions carefully because each Rodeo Leader is different in what skills they are testing. If you get bucked off a bull before 8 seconds, your ride is disqualified. Similar, if you don’t make the word count (or syllable count) a writer gets disqualified.”

“Yer in the arena, not jist ridin’ the range.”

“Yep. So polish up your silver. When I rode in rodeos as a kid, I learned how to polish the conchos on our best bridles and saddles. Writers will want to polish up their stories before submitting. Make each word shine. You got to polish early, let it sit, and polish some more.”

“Soun’s like winnin’ advice, Charli.”

“And don’t be sore if you don’t win. Not everyone draws the best bull to ride, and sometimes the lasso misses its mark. Some judging is more subjective, like art. Doesn’t mean your skills suck. Just means it wasn’t your win. Yet.”

“Not yet. Thet’s a positive mind set thet there.”

“Keep practicing those skills with the weekly challenges. If you see a craft skill a fellow writer uses, like dialog or description, give it a go. Try writing different genres or taking different perspectives. Play.”

“There’ll be the reg’lar weekly challenges at Carrot Ranch while the rodeo’s goin’ on?”

“That’s write. The weekly challenges will continue at the Ranch but I will be taking a hiatus from commenting, saving my voice for running TUFF here at the Saloon each Monday.”

“Yer gonna be runnin’ the Saloon?”

“Yep, Kid. Pal gave me permission to hold TUFF right here. Here’s more info on what the TUFF challenge is all about:

“No foolin’, that’s a powerful tool, that TUFF process.”

“It sure is. For the Rodeo, writers who want to enter have to start October 5. No late-comers to the race. October 5, writers will get their prompt and turn in a 99-word draft by the next Monday, October 12. Then writers will have to reduce their 99-words to 59 by the next Monday, October 19. Then they will reduce that reduction to 9-words by Monday, October 26.”

?“Jeez! A rootin’ tootin’ writin’ workout!”

“Well, that’s not all. On the 26, these writers who’ve hung with TUFF every Monday will then have to rewrite their entire story by November 2. That’s when the Saloon reverts back to you two.”

“So we git a month off. No longer behind bars, so ta speak. But yer gonna be busier than ever, with rodeoin’ an’ TUFFin’ and MFAin’. Whut kin folks do ta hep ya out, Charli Mills?”

“Folks at the Ranch can help by acting community-like throughout the challenges, commenting on stories and links and comment. Visiting with each other. Not every one. But if every submitter commented on a few, everyone would be included. It’d help me out.”

“Could jist shut the place down, close it fer the rodeo time.”

“I can’t shutter the Ranch. This here place is my North Star. I want to make literary art accessible, especially to those silenced or working to express their voice. I write women’s fiction to give voice to those forgotten on the fringes and frontiers. The Ranch is my real-live place to gather voices around the campfire of storytelling.”

“Not gonna lie, Shorty, I mean Charli, I’m glad thet Carrot Ranch will go on reg’lar with the weekly challenges even through the Rodeo competition. Thet’s comfertin’ somehow. Good ta have it stayin’ the same.”

“The routine will remain constant over October but over the years the Ranch certainly has evolved. 99-words has become our signature like a cattle ranch that built a herd of black baldies from Angus and Herefords. We have a purpose and we are a community.”

“It sure is. What’re the highlights a the Ranch fer you, Charli?”

“Best thing about the Ranch, for me, is the surprising diversity of stories week after week. It’s like storytelling anthropology. The same prompt triggers different responses and writers each use imagination and creativity unique to their voice. I love the way the collection comes together as a whole. When I share or read them, people are amazed at the capacity of creative response in 99-words linked together. That’ the magic of what we do here.”

“It ain’t all magic, Boss. It’s a magical place but thinkin’ it must be tough bein’ the lead buckaroo.”

“It’s all sweat equity at the Ranch. I chuckle when someone refers to the Ranch like a group or organization. It’s a community, but we aren’t staffed. Just me shoveling stories in the back of the barn. That’s why I’d like to encourage the community to interact. Not take up time, but to really think about their writing and the reading of others. Have a discourse. Be supportive. Encourage the growth of literary art as a light in dark times.”

“Well thet soun’s like a fine time, somethin’ fer ever’one.”

“Hey, Charli, did you know when you started the ranch that Pal lived here and that Ernie was up the creek making moonshine?”

“I smelled the mash and suspected, Kid. Invited them to come out of the shadows, share some swigs and stories. And you showed up, under Pal’s wing.”

“Yep! Charli, how real is Carrot Ranch?”

“Carrot Ranch is a fictional spread where real writers gather. It has a headquarters on the Keweenaw, surrounded by the waters of Lake Superior. It even has a Rodeo Room for guest writers in residence and a Unicorn Room where Zoom readings, storyboarding, and magic happens.”

“I love thet Carrot Ranch is a community of folks from all over the world.”

“That’s right Pal. We are a tribe of writers that has built a legacy of stories from prompts that bind us. Anyone who feels connected to the ranch, all the Rough Writers, the Poet Lariat, the Columnists, the Rodeo Leaders and Judges, the weekly, or occasional challenge writers, the readers and lurkers – they are all part of Carrot Ranch Literary Community. It is what they want it to mean to each of them. And now Stephanie Davies, an Australian illustrative artist, created this poster to represent all the folks who are a part of Carrot Ranch, all the folks that help make Carrot Ranch the community that it is.”


“Whoa! That’s amazing!”

“Yep. Tellin’ ya, Kid, thet’s jist another thing makes me pleased an’ proud ta be a part a the Ranch. Charli, you should be proud. This place sure has evolved, as ya said. What d’ya think Carrot Ranch’ll be up ta five years down the road?”

“Five years from now the Ranch will have built its Roberts Street Writery. That’s where headquarters is. Folks from Carrot Ranch will be meeting around retreat campfires, or visiting headquarters for Residencies. I’ll have finally published one of my manuscripts and have a frame to dust on my MFA.”

“Reckon it will too. This community has kept goin’ despite certain goin’ on’s in the larger world. What d’ya see fer the Ranch in fifteen years?”

“Fifteen years from now, the Ranch will still be collecting storytelling anthropology. Those trained through the Writery will be bringing literary outreach to every corner of the world, sparking literary revolutions among those seeking to express their voices, share their stories. It’ll be a 99-word revolution, a literary art virus, a call to dignity and kindness and appreciation of art.”

?And then Charli Mills downed her cider, thanked Kid and Pal, and returned to her thesis, knowing she has a busy month ahead of her. But even with all her chores and responsibilities her eyes sparkled like silver spurs, for the Rodeo, Cowboy Christmas, is a part of her vision for Carrot Ranch. She knows the weekly round-up will nurture her writerly soul. And TUFF, the ultimate flash fiction writing tool, will be center stage at the Saddle up Saloon Mondays beginning October 5 even as the other Rodeo events are posted by their leaders on Tuesdays.

Pal & Kid could use some help too. While they will have some down time from the  Saddle Up Saloon during October, they could be looking ahead. Almost anything goes. Got something to share? Take the stage! If you or your characters are interested in saddling up for a wild ride as a saloon guest, contact them via

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  1. suespitulnik

    October will be a rip-snortin’ ridin’ month, as fun as anyone wants to make it.

    The Buckaroo Nation Totem Pole is beautiful, creative, and all-inclusive for our members. Thank you to the artist for designing it and to Charli/Shorty for realizing how one could represent more cohesiveness.

    Congratulations to Kid and Pal on their 28th “anniversary.” I’m glad you keep us involved and provide an always open venue where we can hang out.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      D. here… I just hope those two yahoos can handle the time off, stay out of trouble. Hmm.. maybe we’ll see them around the Rodeo grounds.
      I have enjoyed their work at the Saloon, it’s helped to have a place open throughout this crazy spring and summer. Thank you Susan, for your input and help at the Saloon!

      • suespitulnik

        My pleasure. Their presence has given me reason to smile during this strange time.

    • Charli Mills

      Stephanie was wonderful to work with! I gave her a dredful mock up of ideas for each element and streamlined it into a beautiful work of art. Yes, Sue, we will have a rip-snortin’ time!

  2. E.A. Colquitt

    So Shorty corresponds (in some way) to Charli Mills… do Kid and Pal have their own counterparts, I wonder, or are they (despite their own denials) fully fictional?

    Also, I love the totem pole 🙂 which symbols represent which parts of the community?

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      I see specific places and countries through some of the representations on the totem pole, also past prompts with the rainbow cat and unicorn.
      Kid and Pal are absolutely 100% self made fictional characters, sprung out of the Ranch like fruit flies on a soft tomato. So they say.

    • Charli Mills

      I don’t know how Kid’s keeper figure out that my bull-riding great-granddad used to call me Shoty! Of course, he called everyone Shorty.

      Stephanie’s art is beautiful! I’m hoping writers here will see themselves or their stories in the places and prompts illuminated in the totem pole.

    • E.A. Colquitt

      Thanks, guys 🙂 yeah, both the totem and the story are nice and wholesome!

  3. denmaniacs4

    I wander in, look around, smile, wonder exactly where I have just been and saunter out again, confused and amused…

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      So glad you wander in, and I truly hope any amusement outweighs the confusement. But maybe it’s something you drank? Get yer head straight, it’s time to polish the silver.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, the movie theater is further down the dirt road. Plays good film noir I understand.

      • denmaniacs4

        I would be remiss if I didn’t reference Bogdanovich’s classic, almost 50 years old, The Last Picture Show. Modern day western; coming of age story; so many other themes…an with a sort of dusty rural noir quality that saddens and comforts me to this very day…

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Thank you for that. Top of my the pile.

  4. Colleen M. Chesebro

    Reblogged this on Word Craft ~ Prose & Poetry and commented:
    Kid and Shorty… I mean Charli Mills, give the lowdown on Rodeo season at Carrot Ranch… Be on the lookout for more rodeo information coming your way on this blog! Giddy-UP!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Thank you Colleen. Can’t wait to see what you offer up for Rodeo competitors.

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        It should be fun! I’m excited, D. ??

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing, Colleen!

  5. writefunnydramatrue

    TUFF sounds tough. 😀 It mirrors finishing a first draft and paring it down to fewer words, then having to come up with a query and a pitch.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      As Charli says, it’s a versatile and useful tool, TUFF. What you describe is one application. I’ve played with it some, enough to see that there are many applications, in any genre or setting; I have enjoyed trying it out and seeing how a piece of writing changes from the process then maybe sifting out the shiny bits. The TUFF contest in the Rodeo is a great opportunity to stretch some writing muscle and try this out. With any form of flash fiction writing, it’s up to the writer to decide whether they just wrote a full story or only germinated a seed to grow a later story, but you will find the TUFF contest fertile ground for story growing either way.

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, yes, yes! TUFF is both an artform and a tool.

  6. dgkaye

    Loved this. Loved seeing and listening to you. And your direction for the TUFF challenge was excellent. Yellow roses to you. 🙂 xx

    • Charli Mills

      Aw, thanks, Debbie! Yellow roses all the way around — the color of friendship!

      • dgkaye

        Absolutely! 🙂

  7. Liz Gauffreau

    I particularly enjoyed the video with Charli showing TUFF in action. Powerful stuff!

  8. Norah

    Great interview. The Rodeo is going to be both fun and challenging. I’m hoping to TUFF it out again this year. Loved Charli’s explanatory video. Great work Pal and Kid. Enjoy your month off. Don’t get up to any mischief!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Can you believe it? Charli Mills at the Saddle Up!
      Um, funny you should mention mischief… Kid is talking about you. See ya later, Educator!

      • Norah

        🙂 Mum always said I was a mischief maker. I never agreed with her on that though.

    • Charli Mills

      Hope to see you riding TUFF, Norah! Kid will be Kid…

      • Norah

        We wouldn’t have it any other way – Kid wouldn’t be Kid …

  9. Sherri Matthews

    Love this, D and Charli, and the Buckaroo Nation Totem Pole is stunning. I’m so thrilled to be part of this wonderful nation! Exciting stuff, and loved your Yellow Roses, Charli. Looking forward to giving TUFF another shot this year 🙂

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Thank you Sherri. It sure is a great totem pole, worthy of our fine community at the Nation.

  10. Jules

    Gonna be a great month –
    We’re gonna have to celebrate big time when it’s all over iffin’ we’re still standin’ tall and not all tuckered out! 🙂

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      We’ll all git through it, jist pace yerselves.

  11. Lisa L.

    I’ve been away from here for far too long. So much going on and I am surely confused about much of it. Guess I’ll be doing some catching up over the next few weeks!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      There is definitely a lot gong on! The big thing this month is of course the Rodeo. The Saloon? Yeah, it might be confusing, but the guests have been fantastic. Thanks for coming by.

  12. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    Twenty-eighth post on 28th September – music to those of us who like numbers as well as words. Good to see Charli Mills is keeping her ambitions short as usual 🙂

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Right? Guess that’s why she gets called Shorty.

  13. ellenbest24

    not wanting to bite off more than I can chew, with Two courses both on Tuesdays and three deadlines looming for completed work. I would like to give this a crack, so I guess its time to focus this is going to be TUFF.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Yikes. This is a TUFF month! Good luck with all your undertakings.

      • ellenbest24

        Thank you.

  14. robbiesinspiration

    October seems to be the month that everything happens. Nice to see Charli swinging by to add her input.


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