Saddle Up Saloon: April 15, 2022

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

April 15, 2022

Welcome to the Saddle Up Saloon where we feature interactive characters, real-life authors & poets, the occasional Carrot Ranch announcement, and a Cowsino story game every first Friday of the month. You can learn about the craft of creative writing, introduce your own characters to the Kid & Pal crew, discuss the writer’s journey, and be part of making literary art accessible to anyone.

Yeehaw! This Buckaroo Has Some News! by Charli Mills

This is a day when dreamers get to show something tangible. I get to play with writers weekly, teach young adults to write, and read regularly, therefore I move comfortably through the clouds and veils of imagination. After all, I lead an imaginary ranch (Ranchers are real and Carrots grow in good soil) and have a pet hodag named Primrose (she’s a regional cryptid). I have no problem mapping my vision in the night sky with a North Star shining bright, no matter what circumstances frame my life. I am a writer on a journey.

Dreams take as long as they take to manifest. The magic that becomes something substantial begins as an inspired idea. Like my mentor, Elizabeth Gilbert, I wholeheartedly live a creative life. For me, writing has never been about a destination, but a way of living. I look for signs and wonders all the time to affirm my path because it hasn’t been easy and few understand why I find it joyful. Carrot Ranch is my sandbox and all of you are my writing (and reading) besties. Even when I’m swamped or discouraged, I know this community will believe in my wings. I believe in yours, too!

But when something comes to fruition and can be announced, I bounce! I’m giddy and ready to burst to tell you the news that will impact our writing community. It’s kind of like getting new socks and turquoise boots in the mail — signs that the dream is real, unfolding, and collective.

Let me set the stage and tell you a quick story.

After a life shakeup (one of many to follow), I decided to make lemonade and go for the dream of living a creative life as a writer. No more dabbling. In 2012, I resigned from my marketing career. My staff and I cried. My boss and I cried. I kept clients on the books as a contractor and left for Idaho after spending the summer exploring my novel on the shores of Lake Superior in Wisconsin. I wrote. I started Carrot Ranch as a way to connect with other creative pilgrims on the writing path. I wrote. I lost a house, a sense of home, and slowly, painfully, a husband to mental illness and cognitive breakdown because of his military service. I didn’t stop dreaming the dream of writing with others for the good of us all — meaning, if I found ways to make this writing life work, I wanted others to find their ways, too. I gained an MFA, knowledge, and an unbelievable opportunity to become Indiana Jones (my ideal of a prof — outdoor adventurer interested in history, teaching college, and dressing in a dapper fashion unafraid of the mud). I gained a sense of self no matter where I am. I gained roots from the shared communities of others. I gained acceptance that dreams take time, plans will blow up and reconfigure. I never lost hope.

Carrot Ranch has been the community to give me roots in many places. Because of that, I’m always dreaming of ways to connect writers, readers, and places. Writing — yours and mine becomes a conduit. You might be in your familiar place, but your writing zips you across the globe and into the hearts and minds of others far from you. That’s the superpower you have as a writer. These events I’m going to share with you, I could do on my own. But what’s the fun in that? I’d rather bring my community along and share OUR writing. I’m serious when I call our weekly collection “literary anthropology” (which appeals to my inner Prof. Jones). It’s taken several years to bring all this to fruition, but let me announce…

  • Ghost House Stories: a call for writers to submit 99-word stories in response to historical data and newspaper articles, published throughout the year in the Ghost House Farm newsletter and distributed at farmers’ markets.
  • Carrot Ranch Stories Fundraiser for the Keweenaw Storytelling Center: We are sponsoring a refurbished vintage candy vending machine painted by local Carrot Ranch artists, featuring dispensable 99-word stories to be sold for a dollar to support local literary art.
  • Fort Wilkins Story Readings: Carrot Ranch story collections read to tourists in Copper Harbor to encourage the attendees to collaboratively write one, too.
  • Writer in Rustic Residence: open to any Carrot Rancher who wants a week in the Keweenaw, writing, encouraging literary art, and promoting their book(s) or work written while visiting. The cabin is rustic and will be “tested” this summer.
  • Red Rabbit Art Studio and Carrot Ranch Art Walk: Thanks to a Canadian friend I met in Vermont, I got the idea to pair art and authors. TOJ is a Carrot Rancher poet from local workshops and a magnificent visual artist. Over the summer, participating writers will write 99-word stories to pair with pieces of art to be displayed late September on a fall nature walk through the northwoods and along Lake Superior.

These events and opportunities are meant to show you the ways we can interact in the world through literary art. You have a broad audience for your 99-word stories.

As fun as these engagements are, the ways we have to share our writing is not actually the “big reveal.” But I wanted you to see all the activity going on behind the barn doors at Carrot Ranch.

When I studied for my MFA, I also studied for a Masters Certification in Teaching Creative Writing Online. While I wrote my thesis novel over two years, I also developed components of an educational platform. However, I got hired by a university to teach composition, which was a delightful surprise, but forced me to reflect on my vision. I readjusted, re-dreamed, mulled over the possibilities. I realized I had been rudderless for a while just to survive school and circumstances.

A few close friends were willing to listen to me process, even sit by their fire and think out loud. I finally finished a client project in December and swore that was the last client I’d have. It gave me clarity on a few decisions I had to make and a way forward on my writing path. Then, a friend and colleague put a bug in my ear.

Colleen Chesebro and I are both former Montanans and current Michiganders. I’m in the upper mitten and she’s in the lower, so together, we naturally make a pair. She writes poetry and I write fiction. She also writes fiction, saying that 99-words has improved her writing, and I understand my poetic writing better because of her guidance. I’m a dreamer who can plan and she’s a planner who can dream. She’s organized, and I like to think I am. I’m a maximizer and Colleen’s an activator. I edit and she paginates. We both believe in high quality and professional standards in our literary craft.

The bug in my ear had to do with ways we could collaborate, and she added unicorns to the conversation. Our communities intersect and we’ve even had the chance to work on client projects together. Colleen has mad skills in her self-publishing toolkit. We’ve both been interested for several years in a formatting program that would make the work easier and more beautiful. In fact, I slipped over to the dark side of the Apple after my last PC died. In part, I chose Mac to run Vellum.

When I found out that Colleen was interested in Vellum, we started talking more about self-publishing books. After my MFA program, I know that one of the successful author careers is the amalgamation of publishing paths. My profs who were published by commercial houses, also self-published and collaborated with other authors. When we worked with our client, we discovered a great work flow, complimentary skills, and shared enthusiasm for our literary communities and writing lives.

We did a thing.

Well, we discussed a thing. At length. Colleen asked good questions. I asked my Small Business Development rep a bunch of questions. We researched. Colleen prolifically read up on the programs we considered. We shared models, ideas, and finally found the “big magic” EG talks of. Then we had more questions. We made decisions. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to do this!

To be clear — in case the IRS is listening because we talked at great length about how to do this financially and where the tax burden would go and how we would protect ourselves professionally — Colleen is an independent contractor. Carrot Ranch is an LLC. We are both sole proprietors so there are no employees involved with either party. We both understand the risk we are taking on and that a profit will take time. We both agree to contribute sweat equity. I can’t do this without Colleen because she has skills that would make this cost-prohibitive. In return, I have industry knowledge, editing, and marketing skills.

Be sure to jump over to Colleen’s post today. She will unveil her exciting new business venture, offering self-publishing services. Her logo is absolutely adorable and befitting of her literary brand, too. She’s someone I recommend to clients. And her contributions to this thing will be immeasurable.

So, I did a thing. Last year, after graduation, I filed Carrot Ranch as an LLC and committed to working with the SBD on an education platform. At school, as a prof, I realized there are gaps in distribution of books to colleges and that I need really good, short craft and literary books for ENG I & II. I also began to question the options for my manuscripts. I need to publish, but maybe I’ll publish a writing craft book for my classroom, education platform, and beyond first.

With renewed vision, I let go of a lot more than I grabbed up. Don’t think I’m adding to a busy plate. I let go of a bunch of possibilities to be a teacher, author, and publisher. Carrot Ranch is my home and if I do the thing I, well, I did, I’d make sure it benefits the community. And it does.

Two weeks ago, the state of Michigan accepted Carrot Ranch LLC dba…

I founded a micro-press. Yep. Holy wah. I founded a micro-press. You’re all probably wondering what the heck a micro-press is. Well, think wee. It’s the smallest of the small presses. It’s an independent publisher. To start, we will publish an anthology later this year. Next year, we’ll put out a call for novella manuscripts and award one author from our community a royalty-based contract. The following year, we will put out a call for a collection of poetry from a single poet. Gitty Up Press will publish craft books to be used in classrooms. In a year, we will consider an online Lit Journal. If I don’t sell my manuscripts in three years, I will publish them through Gitty Up. A micro-press is small and it can’t publish much, but it will serve our collective communities.

Another important feature of Gitty Up Press and Colleen’s Unicorn Cats Self-Publishing Services is our shared commitment to quality publishing. We have joined professional organizations: Independent Book Publishers Association and Midwest Independent Publishers Association and will uphold Industry Standards and adhere to these code of ethics as IBPA members:

Code of Ethics (from

A commitment to professionalism, confirming IBPA’s collective belief that the production of content of lasting financial and/or cultural value is just as important as securing open markets for this content.

As part of the independent publishing community, IBPA members pledge to the following CODE OF ETHICS:

  • To uphold the highest standards of our industry, to create works of lasting financial and/or cultural value, and to pursue editorial, design, and production excellence.
  • To respect the rights of authors and other creators and stakeholders, to observe all copyright laws and conventions, and to never knowingly publish plagiarized work.
  • To reward authors and contributors for their work, to be honest in our financial dealings, to write contracts in understandable language, to resolve all disputes promptly and fairly, and to foster equal opportunity in our workplaces.
  • To not mislead readers or buyers with false promises, inflated sales data, or manipulated reviews.
  • To not publish works of hate speech1, or works that encourage discrimination, oppression, or violence.
  • To recycle and reuse and to follow green practices whenever possible.

It might sound like I’m a busy person taking on more busyness. That’s not it. I’m a dreamer who has had twenty plates spinning while managing chaos on the homefront and traversing several steep learning curves. It’s coming together, not spreading out. I’m dropping 16 plates to focus on 4. Chaos is coming to an end. This thing, this Gitty Up Press, amplifies my North Star. Carrot Ranch has roots, and not too far off, it will have fruit.

The call for anthology submission will go out in May. I have writers to contact from an earlier plan first. We will have clear details for the process, what to expect, and financial transparency.

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

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  1. Ritu

    Well this is just amazing!
    Congrats, Charli!

    • Charli Mills

      I’m grinning, Ritu! I didn’t think I’d do this but with a collaborative relationship with Colleen, it will work. Thanks!

      • Ritu

        It’s wonderful! Wishing both of you much success!!

  2. Jules

    I think that about sums it up nicely!

    • Charli Mills

      I’m still thinking, Wow, too, Jules!

      • Jules


  3. suespitulnik

    FANTASTIC!! Your own micro-press. How exciting. Congratulations to you and Colleen.
    I am so humbled to be along for the ride.

      • Charli Mills

        And Colleen has great drive! <3 Together, we will be the wind.

      • Charli Mills

        We got a good buzz going, lol!

    • Charli Mills

      I hope it will be a boon to our community, Sue! Thanks for being on the ride!

  4. explorereikiworld

    Giddy up! The ride is gonna be a fun-tastic one!!

    • Charli Mills

      Saddle up, Ruchira! Yeehaw!

  5. TanGental

    Go gurl… you can lasso’em! Best of luck with your micro press…

    • Charli Mills

      Lasso out and ready, Geoff! Thanks!

  6. Scott Bailey

    That’s quite a story! Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished and I wish you nothing but good luck on these other endeavors.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Scott! It’s always been a big vision but when it becomes something tangible, it’s exciting.

  7. Annette Rochelle Aben

    Such excitement here! How wonderful to watch two remarkable women pursue amazing goals. Gitty Up Press will be a blessing in ways you have yet to imagine. <3

    • Charli Mills

      I’m going to hold onto those encouraging words, Annette. Yes! I do hope for those blessings to materialize throughout our vibrant writing communities! <3

  8. JT Twissel

    You sure do have a lot of energy! Best of luck!

    • Charli Mills

      Now some of that good luck to go with it! Thanks, JT!

  9. Doug Jacquier

    If anyone can pull off this stampede towards focus, it’s you two. So looking forward to all the new 99 word opportunities. Any chance of a fundraiser for international guests wanting to spend time as the Rustic Writer in Residence? 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Doug. And, YES! All this activity opens doors for art grants and I will set up fundraising for our Rustic Writer in Residency.

      • Doug Jacquier

        I was joking, Charli. Return airfares alone would be over $3,000. I’ll just keep buying lottery tickets. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Return fares? Who says we’ll let you go home once we get you to the rustic cabin, bwahaha…! Well, I’m not joking, Doug. I want this to be regarded as possible! If there’s a will, there’s a way.

  10. pedometergeek

    Congrats on the micro-press. I wish you all the best and much success in your newest endeavor.

    As a person who helps out with a small indie press, I have learned what all this entails. As my husband often says, “The punishment for writing and publishing a book is to sell it.” He never promises more than what he knows he can do for authors, but they don’t accept the realities.

    Again, the best of luck to you and Colleen. ~nan

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Nan!

      I’m chuckling over your husband’s witty wisdom. Part of why I started a micro-press instead of a label was so I can learn how to be an independent publisher. Colleen and I are enrolled in some top-notch organizations and we both remain committed to quality standards.

      You and Anne understand the realities of sales. Truth is, big five or small press or self-published or imprint or hybrid or university press — all have to face the reality of sales. There are significant differences, pros and cons to each publishing path, and choices to make for authors with manuscripts. Even an author who gets a six-figure book deal followed by a six-figure screenplay option has to dance to the tune of sales. In fact, I think they have greater pressure because so much was invested in their manuscript and they have to “perform.”

      What I hope to do is educate our community on the realities and yet, provide a plethora of choices in regard to sales strategies to overcome the real and looming barriers within the book industry. Authors can be innovative. Anne is innovative! She works for her sales in a way that suits her, at times serious, (contemporary book reviews for publishes) and at times playful (tik tok). She focuses more on themes than actual promotions which is savvy. Audiences don’t connect with promotions (Buy My Book!). They engage with ideas, content, and themes. Thus, this micro-press endeavor is further marketing work for audience building but the beauty of a community is that audience building benefits us all.

      I’d love to chat with your husband if he’s willing! I’m in go-learn-go mode!

  11. Norah

    Wow! Wow! and more Wow! Congratulations on all you have achieved, and will achieve, Charli. What a great collaboration between you and Colleen.

      • Norah

        What a ride!

      • Charli Mills

        Colleen’s a trooper because it’s going to be a sweaty ride, lol!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Norah! Ultimately, this will be a community collaboration and one that I intend will benefit more than just me and Colleen. I hope to open doors to possibilities and growth for writers within our communities.

      • Norah

        You’re always so generous, Charli. Thank you. ????????

    • Charli Mills

      You are right, Anne the hard work feels less so when it follows a dream path. This feels like the most rooted thing I can do and it impacts all aspects of my writing journey in positive ways. I’m always turning over rocks to find the agate within. 😉 I believe this can benefit others, even if it is growing. I’m all for growth!

  12. Hugh W. Roberts

    What great breaking news, Charli. Many congratulations. I’m looking forward to being on this journey with you both.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Hugh! I hope this benefits many within our communities. Come along for the ride with us!

  13. Colleen Chesebro: WordCraftPoetry

    Charli, this grand adventure will be so fun because we’ll be doing the things we love. Thanks for being such a great mentor to us. There are a lot of great things ahead. <3

    • Charli Mills

      Colleen, I’m so grateful for your patience and nudges in this direction and for all our conversations. I love how we can experience peer mentoring in our communities. There are indeed great things ahead — “realistic masterpieces of substance”!

  14. Ann Edall-Robson

    I read this twice and then read it again just to be sure what I was reading is going to be so. It will be a wonderful (ad)venture for both Colleen and Charli. Congratulations! Makes my heart sing to be along for the ride.

    • Charli Mills

      Let the (ad)venture begin, Ann! Thank you for heart-singing with us! I intend to create paths for learning, publishing, and increased sales for both emerging and mid-career authors within our communities. Gitty up!

  15. Jennie

    Wow! WOW!! This is fabulous, Charli.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing the excitement, Jennie!

      • Jennie

        My pleasure, Charli!

  16. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    That DOES sound like a lot but I can hear the passion coming through every word. That’s great that you found what you enjoy and are able to start on the journey. Lots of interesting things to come. Exciting times! CongratZ!

    • Charli Mills

      It’s a funnel for the passion, Goldie! What I love most is that I’ve found a way to further my personal ambitions and invite others along to grow and benefit, too! Thanks!

  17. Michael B. Fishman

    The events you shared sound like a lot of fun, especially the fundraiser for the Keweenaw Storytelling Center. What a great idea. And congratulations and best of luck to you and Colleen on the Gitty Up Press. That is so cool and so exciting! I can’t wait for the first publication to roll off the press. And kudo to whoever designed the logo.

    • Charli Mills

      Michael, I’m happy you see the “fun” in fun-draiser for the Keweenaw Storytelling Center. I can’t wait for this to all unfold and see the many ways it uplifts our community.

      Ah, there’s a story behind the logo.

      Colleen was creating and tempting me with fun unicorn logos as we talked about partnering on Vol. 2. Obviously, it got out of hand because it led to unicorn cats and a micro-press, lol! We worked through possibilities and legalities and arrived at her services, my press, and our shared vision for benefiting our communities. Colleen gave me a great name, but wouldn’t you know, another small press around since 1969 already had that name! I was playing around with logos but wanted a piece of unicorn art that had a ranchy-boho-folkart vibe. That’s a tall order. But it lead me to a design marketplace where I found a designer who captured the look and feel of what I was aiming for. I purchased several packages from her with the idea of using her art in other promos and with the new website. I asked her for some customizations and she also designed the new lassoed carrot for a simplified Carrot Ranch LLC logo.

      But here’s the unanticipated twist. I could not pay her for the customizations so she offered them to me as add-ons to her marketplace packages. I was curious why I couldn’t pay her. Turns out, she’s a Russian designer and because of the war and sanctions, she has no way of receiving the money. I realized how unfair this is for Russian citizens, punished for their wicked leader. Russians are people, too. It makes me think of the calls to “stand by Ukrainians.” I think it’s just as important to humanize Russian citizens, too. Yet, despite this designer’s plight, she created the artwork for me in times of war. How incredible is that? I hope to fully compensate her one day.

      I use Canva to create brand elements and I’m a branding nerd who loves to design typography, color palettes, and promotional materials for fun. I used Canva to turn her unicorn art into a logo. Thanks for mentioning it! My inner nerd is smiling that you like the logo!

  18. H.R.R. Gorman

    I’m catching up on a lot of reading, and holy hand grenades, Batman! THIS IS SO EPIC!!!

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