September 5: Story Challenge in 99-words

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.

September 5, 2023

It was inevitable. The carrot and the rabbit would join forces to do good in the world.

When I first met the artist known as TOJ, I also learned that Tammy Gajewski is a poet and was a prison guard. She owns Red Rabbit Studio and lives on Rabbit Bay on the south side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. After our first introduction and she learned of Carrot Ranch, we decided we’d “do something” together One Day.

Don’t you love One Days? Those moments when you realize that something you dreamed into existence is finally going to manifest in a tangible way?

TOJ had a heart to make nature and art accessible. Maybe it was all her years behind bars where she established a Leader Dog program and taught prisoners how to paint. TOJ kayaks Lake Superior, and bikes the backroads of the southside, something her prisoners could not do. Art and nature liberate the soul. The dual experience was something she wanted to make accessible.

Then, TOJ had a vision. Three years ago, a microburst hit the cedar bog behind her home and left a swath of downed trees. What if? TOJ began to dream about turning those trees into boardwalks across the glen. With the help of a friend who owned a portable sawmill, they worked an entire summer to clean the downburst, plane logs into lumber, and restore the bog. The next summer they built a winding plank trail through the woods, connecting her home on Rabbit Bay to a county gravel road behind her property. The trail was born.

All the time TOJ worked her land, she dreamed of an event where people would park on the county road and walk to her art studio through the cedar bog on a raised plank trail. It feels all at once, neolithic and new.

Two years ago, TOJ talked through her dream for an interactive art walk. I was excited because Canadian author, photographer, and Carrot Rancher Ann Edall-Robson had introduced me years ago to an intriguing artist collaboration in her community. In fact, her most recent submission to Voices and Visions 2023 features in a Canadian magazine. Ann put a seed in my dreamscape to One Day pair literary artists with visual artists. So, when TOJ pitched Red Rabbit collaborating with Carrot Ranch, I saw an opportunity.

Not only a chance to implement pairing 99-words to TOJ’s art but also to work with someone who shares my passion for accessibility. After all, Carrot Ranch exists to make literary art accessible 99 words at a time. Since then, TOJ and I have met numerous times to plan and implement over two years. It’s a joy to present the first-ever annual Keweenaw Interactive Art Walk.

While we are selling tickets locally to grow and sustain the event, we are also offering family discounts and scholarships so no one is turned away. We need to cover Porta Potty, signage, art supply costs, and continued development. We have local people donating refreshments, including a local Finnish artist who is famous for spreads and jams she makes from her garden. The trail will be strung with 20 works of art and their corresponding 99-word stories. Benches and stations will invite participants to reflect and create. They can submit a single-sentence reflection, haiku, or a 99-word story and paint rocks, driftwood, and coasters. All beneath the canopy of nature, surrounded by inspiration.

Where does the Carrot Ranch Literary Community come in? We get the chance to pair 99-word stories or free-verse to 20 of TOJ’s paintings. This is a community collaboration and an interesting way to involve literary artists beyond a small remote point of land surrounded by Lake Superior. Full disclosure — we are publishing a commemorative book to use to sustain the future of the walk. We plan to curate and publish the pairings, stories from this week’s challenge, and selected submissions from the participants.

If you want to participate in the pairing collaboration, please email me: wordsforpeople (at) gmail (dot) com to receive a photo of a painting to prompt a 99-word story or free verse.

If you want to submit this week’s response to the collection that will also go in the commemorative book, indicate your agreement to participate in the two temporary fields in this week’s form.

I know the Rabbit and the Carrot would be honored to showcase your writing talents in our community.

September 5, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that depicts the painting, “Southwest Pumpkins” by TOJ (from the introductory photo). Feel free to explore the nuances — do you focus on the art or seek a story? What vibes do you get? Who shows up to enter the image? What happens? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by September 11, 2023. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Thursday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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  1. Anne Goodwin

    Wow, Charli, this is so exciting.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s exciting to see it come to fruition, and to be collaborating in purely artistic ways. Thanks, Anne!

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Well done Charli! Well done Toj!
    We remember Toj as Twitch who visited the Saddle Up Saloon in Covid times. She created the Poet Tree sign, which is at the Roberts Street Writery, aka, Headquarters.
    This collaboration is very cool. May the weather that day be fair and the air mosquito free. It’s cool that you have more than one way for we Ranchers to participate, should we choose. I love the idea of the paired art, and walking through such a magical setting to see/read/interpret. Take photos!!!!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Hey, Charli? Is it too much to ask for you to put TOJ’s painting in again, maybe down by the prompt and without the banner? So we can see the entire picture…

      • Charli Mills

        Good idea!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Thank you for the larger print. It helped.

      • Charli Mills

        Great thing about collaborations is having different perspectives to make it work!

    • Charli Mills

      On the day of the event, I will take photos of the art and stories in situ on the trail to post a virtual art viewing/imaginary walk. At each activity station, I will post a photo and encourage DIY participation. Virtual participants can reflect, haiku, and add stories in the comments, too.

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Cucurbits a Kid’s Mind

    “Hey Kid. What’re ya thinkin?”
    “Thinkin this is a great c’laboration.”
    “Sure is.”
    “Also thinkin I’d like ta not be in D. Avery’s head.”
    “Thet feelin’s likely mutual.”
    “It’s jist that I’m too privy, if ya know what I mean. Kin you b’lieve she’s already worryin an wondrin if she kin manage this challenge?”
    “Oh my gourd, Kid. Souns like you!”
    “An she’s frettin that she ain’t got her books bout pumpkins anymore. Sometimes she likes ta research.”
    “Re-search an re-learn. She’s got a mind like a loofah. What bout you? Got any ideas?”
    “Eh. I keep squashin em.”

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Not sure I’d want my characters revealing the texture of my mind! But they know… Well, if we are re-learin’ we are yet learning! It’s hard to let books free in the world.

  4. Jules

    Dear Charli and Toj –

    Thank you for this opportunity. I hope we get the opportunity to see more art work. As well as write to it/them. I put my story in the submit form.

    Instead of the whole she bang; here is the title link; Nature’s Paintbrush

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for your enthusiasm, Jules! We will have a virtual Art Walk on the event page to invite broader participation and to post all 20 pieces of art and their paired stories. Love how you played with fruit names for desert hues!

  5. Sue Spitulnik

    Charli and TOJ,
    Thank you for another way to stretch our creative minds. How exciting to be involved in a new project without living in your community. I appreciate the opportunities you share with us.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Sue! I also appreciate the willingness of writers from all over to enliven a small remote community. We all gain from playing together!

      • Sue Spitulnik

        I have mentioned the idea to my veteran artists, but the plans never seem to get developed and put into action.

  6. Norah

    What an exciting collaboration, Charli. I love the sound of the Keweenaw Interactive Art Walk and wish I could be there to participate. Writing about a painting is an interesting challenge too. I’ll give it a go. Perhaps that’s the way I can participate from here.
    I wish you a successful walk and publication to enable many more such events in the future.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for joining in the fun of collaboration, Norah! You can take a virtual art walk up over from down under on the event page, too! It’ll post the day of the event!

      • Norah

        I’ll do that, Charli. I’ve been thinking of throwing my hat (or keyboard) in the ring.

  7. Ann Edall-Robson

    Charli, this is a great opportunity for all writers, especially those who are starting out. A feather in their cap to say they have their work included in this project and possibly published. Thank you for the shout out, as well. I remember seeing the glint in your eye as we discussed the project (Voice and Vision) I am involved in.

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