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March 28: Story Challenge in 99-words

Maybe it’s all been a slow fade. Maybe there’s no such thing as normal (hint: there isn’t). But it’s been a long time since I’ve had words for how to describe the mundane of my life (hint: it hasn’t been mundane). I’ve felt more stalled than fulfilled.

And yet…

Between my homeland in the West (California/Nevada), Montana, Iowa, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Elmira Pond in Idaho, the Coeur D’Alene Wilderness, eastern Washington, Mars, New Mexico, Kansas, Wisconsin (yes, twice), and the rocky spine that is the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan, I disappeared.

Do tumbleweeds remember having roots or were they always poised to ramble? If someone had asked where I am from, I’d answer, “It’s complicated.” But I’m starting to feel less ephemeral. More permanent. Rooted? No, more like one who can move among the roots. Part of a network, community, forest. Connected.

What looks like disappearance is actually transformation. After all, the catepillar doesn’t disappear in the cacoon. It transforms and emerges a butterfly. Silica in the magma makes a variety of rocks when the lava cools and disappears. Crystals and copper later emerge in veins of silica-rich quartz. I’ve decided I’m more like a rock than a tumbleweed. I’m not aimless.

Of course not, I have a North Star. No matter where I’m at in my journey, I have guidance.

My North Star shines over many. It twinkles with imagination, aligns with intellect, embodies regions of stories, connects generations of women and Indigenous through unbroken oral traditions, provides paper and pens, and writes 99-word stories. My North Star calls me to write and be a pathfinder for other writers. Carrot Ranch is my North Star.

No matter where I’ve been (and I’ve been to Mars and beyond), I could navigate by the Ranch. When I went to school for my MFA, I navigated my studies beneath my Star. No matter the circumstance of my life as a veteran spouse and caregiver, Carrot Ranch has guided my steps.

North Stars evolve, too but like a butterfly, it still is the catepillar. Like the quartz rock, it’s still silica.

Why does Carrot Ranch exist? In the beginning, it was to make literary art accessible 99-words at a time. I wanted to connect writing to art and to state that anyone could have access to literary art. Breaking down barriers is vital. Encouraging writers to step up is needed.

I don’t think Carrot Ranch, the North Star, is transforming. I believe it’s shining brighter and clearer. 2022, and Carrot Ranch exists to make the craft of creative writing accessible to those who dare. “Craft of creative writing” is clunkier than its pretty counterpart, “literary art” but it clarifies a commitment to craft and includes fiction, poetry, memoir, essay, and storytelling/spoken word. “Those who dare” recognizes the journey of each individual who writes at Carrot Ranch.

All journeys are equipped for joy. Joy is like grief; once you’ve experienced it, it stays with you. You can’t appreciate the height or depth of each without knowing both. This past weekend, I got to experience a joy project that embraces collaboration and it made me feel solid and fixed beneath my North Star. People who come together to express joy through writing, dance, music, spoken work and visual output find their source.

The Movement of Joy reminds us that we can tap into our creative expression of joy moving with others. In this online workshop, we explored three questions:

  1. What is joy?
  2. When did you find joy?
  3. When did joy find you?

Spoken word artist, Marquis “Ten Thousand” Burton, led us through several prompts, such as “What does joy smell like?” Warm apples and cinnamon, horse and saddle leather, rain on rocks. I remembered that I found joy on the back of a horse. Joy found me when I realized I can write creatively with other writers, week after week. Carrot Ranch is a ranch because it expresses the joy of my buckaroo heritage, painful as it was. When you focus on joy, all else falls away.

Then the music starts. Time to dance! Here’s the Joy playlist made up of all the Movement of Joy participants over the past few years (yes, it’s a pandemic project). Song #174 is my contribution. When you dance to any song on this list, you are dancing to someone’s expression of joy. What song would you add to the list?

In October, the Movement of Joy will be at Michgan Tech, and I will work with the organizers to get Finlandia University involved and pitch adding 99-word writing to the workshop. Wouldn’t that be joyful? Between the end of April and October, there will be much going on at Carrot Ranch Headquarters.

Speaking of Headquarters, it’s important to note that Carrot Ranch thrives in the traditional and modern lands of the Ojibwe where Anishinaabe Water Walkers cross the rocky spine protecting water in ceremony. Its important that we start recognizing the indigenous lands beneath our feet. And remember the movement of joy in our own backyards.

This is my love song to, with, and from the land where I now live:

It might be rocky on the Keweenaw Peninsula, but the soil is rich. Beneath my North Star, summer awaits with its promise of sunshine, snow melt and black fly bites — and many opportunities for Carrot Ranch to spread the joy of creative writing. Right after finals at the end of April, I get the chance to interview author Mary Doria Russell live at the Keweenaw Storytelling Center. I’m working with the incredible women’s yogini and storyteller, Tracy Chipman, to bring her readingsand teachings to our region.

My intent is to connect local and online communities in innovative ways to share our writings. I have numerous collaborations in the works that will call for submissions to community projects. From collection readings to vending 99-word stories from a vintage cigarette machine to pairing art with stories to writing ghost stories to online improv, this is going to be an exiting summer. Fingers and toes crossed, we might even get our first Carrot Ranch Writer in Residence offered.

And like cheesy late night commercials on TV — that’s not all.

The Carrot Ranch rebrand is progressing and I’m over the moon to say I figured out the fonts. That might seem lame but fonts matter. Originally, I worked with a designer who had license to CR fonts but fonts come and go on programs. I’m no longer part of Adobe (I use the professional version of Canva) but never mind because the compatible fonts I was using on WordPress disappeared. Now that I’m building the website from scratch, I took time to resolve the fonts.

Now that I have a heading, subheading, and text font that can be used across platforms, I refreshened the palette for Carrot Ranch. I’m a brand nerd and this foundational branding is serious play for me. I’m keeping the iconic banner because it’s a work of art, but have new colors to make it pop.

Once I updated the brand kit, I created a logo for the Carrot Ranch LLC designation which will house all the programs from the community to coaching to publishing. More to come on what that means. Transformations are not overnight endeavors! For now, enjoy the brand elements unveiling (with one element hidden for another few weeks).

While I prepare for the renovation and innovations taking place at Carrot Ranch, you will see pages or elements or content disappear. It’s time for the catepillar to cacoon. Don’t be alarmed. All story collections will be archived and moved to the new site. The Congress of Rough Writers page will be simplified and open to all who write here. I’m also building pages that I hope you will find useful, such as a DIY Revision Plan.

Thank you for your patience as the cacoon liquified the catapillar to prepare for the butterfly. It coincides with my own transformation to find permanency where I have landed and fallen in love with the land and water. I’m reaching out for joy and fulfillment.

In other news from the Keweenaw, winter returned. It can disappear anytime soon!

March 28, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about disappearance. It can be an event, act, or subtle theme. Who or what disappears? Does it fade or explode? Can it be explained or experienced? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by April 2, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.


  1. “What?”
    “New Moon, Kid. April Fool’s Day.”
    “Callin me a fool?”
    “Nope. Sayin this is a powerful time. Time a change an time ta set intentions.”
    “Sure, Kid. It’s a new year.”
    “I ain’t never been good at visionin. I jist hang out here at the ranch, grab onta shootin stars.”
    “They’s plenny a stars here Kid. An Shorty’s north star lights up the whole place.”
    “Sure does. Cain’t believe I’m lucky ‘nough ta be here at Carrot Ranch as it transforms inta…”
    “Inta what Kid?”
    “Inta another phase a its own self.”
    “Not disappearin?”
    “Nope. Re-appearin.”

  2. Norah says:

    I love your colour palette and your new banner, Charli. It does pop! I’m interested to see all the other changes you are making. It certainly sounds like a transformation. The carrot’s wings are about to spread. Enjoy your spring!

  3. Yes What looks like disappearance is actually transformation. Well said!

  4. The brand reveal is beautiful! You’ve always been amazing at branding. That is going to rock the ranch, lady.

  5. suespitulnik says:

    I am excited, like the others, to see and be a part of the new branding. Growing does take pains and time. I’m happy your North Star is Carrot Ranch where you share so much of yourself with so many of us.

    • Charli Mills says:

      And likewise, I’m excited for you to be a part. of the growth at the Ranch, Sue. It does take time and for people like you to wait as things grow, disappear, and transform takes a measure of belief that inspires me to keep going when it’s all gooey. But I also believe the Ranch benefits us all and my North Star keeps point to accessibility for “us” to grow on this sometimes wild, sometimes remote writer’s journey.

  6. I’m busting at the seams! I love the new branding and can’t wait to hear all the good news! <3

  7. Leanne says:

    Thanks for the exciting news and updates! Looking forward to the big reveal!

  8. Jules says:


    It takes courage to change and put yourself out there. I’m soon to be out there too… in another poetic anthology. I consider myself to be very lucky to have by happenstance found the Ranch. And to have explored the world that opens wide with joy and acceptance from all the participating writers and folks who visit, exhange ideas and become friends. 💕

    May we all evolve and continue to grow! Cheers to everyone!!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Jules, you might have found the Ranch through happenstance like a caterpillar seeking a munchy leaf, but you have transformed yourself and taken flight with projects and publishing your poetry and stories. You be all a-flutter for what you have accomplished so far on your journey and for all that comes next. We all do better with joy and acceptance lifting our wings. Cheers to you and friendships and all the writers who find our Ranch.

  9. I love how you always find ways to spread your wings, and involve your community with it. Wishing you much deserved success in it. Let me know how I can be of help, although I’m just a mere 2k miles away 😉

    My take for today’s prompt has been filled up in the above form.

    • Charli Mills says:

      We all fly better together, Ruchira. I see us as butterflies on a meadow, loving our craft and sharing our journey. Ha! You are not far at all. Hearts connect faster than miles. Thank you, as always, for your help.

  10. Rebranding is a lot of work, but it is so exciting.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, sounds like you understand the branding process! Yes, now comes all the “updates.” It is exciting, though. Rejuvinating!

  11. Liz H says:

    Living in the best of interesting times…fear not!
    My take on the prompt is not at all inspiring, but it’s kinda fun and is in the form & submitted.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Liz, sometimes we get to bask in inspiration, and other times we get to process. Writing is so many things — it is capable of witnessing our grief, finding laughter, seeking understanding, and witnessing experiences shared. It’s emotional, sensual, logical, silly, and more. Onward into the best of interesting times!

  12. It has been said that change is as good as a rest. What you are doing with the ranch has evolved through a life vision. And when that vision is revealed in baby steps or all at once, it will be you who has kept you on the course.

    Let the excitement build and the drums roll. You go girl!

  13. Thank you for the playlist. One of the things that makes me happy is getting turned on to new music and I look forward to listening to a lot of the new (to me) music from that list.

    And great work on the rebranding and logo creation. You’re obviously a lot more than a writer!

  14. All these changes sound very exciting, Charli. So glad it’s all going to plan. Everything you’ve told us so far sounds brilliant. I can’t wait for the unveiling of the new site.

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