Holly Lyn Walrath on Tuning Out the World & Staying True to Your Artist Self

Holly Lyn Walrath will be joining us this summer for Rendezvous in the Rockies in Breckenridge. She graciously allowed me to ask her a few questions to find out a bit more about her life and writing and her forthcoming poetry chapbook, Glimmerglass Girl, from Finishing Line Press (available for pre-order April 9th!).

We’re so thrilled you’ll be joining us for a writers’ retreat in Breckenridge this summer! What are your thoughts on honoring creativity and/or creative play? How important are these to you?

I think a lot about Ursula K. Le Guin’s speech at the National Book Awards ( where she says “Resistance and change often begin in art.” Honoring creativity to me means staying true to who you are as an artist and not chasing the market. This is so hard to do, because as writers we need to self-promote. But to me, the moment when we break free of the external world and instead let the internal world guide our process is the moment when we are capable of true art that will enact change.

When I feel a piece is enacting change in myself, that’s when I know it’s working. That’s what I strive for in creativity—break through, surprise, unsettling, resettling, a quiet dawning of realization.

You described your recent (amazing) flash in Fireside Magazine, entitled “knick knack, knick, knack” as one of your own favorites. Can you talk about the process of writing it and why it’s one of your favorites? I love that first line by the way…

I think the title of this piece is one of the best I’ve written so far, a nod to the old children’s rhyme, This Old man. Conceptually, I was inspired by the work of Hayao Miyazaki and his use of the Japanese tree spirits called Kodama, which appear in his film Princess Mononoke. But the piece is mostly drawn from the personal experience of struggling to put aside the demands of a parent. I’m interested in stories that put a new twist on the Mother-Daughter story. My own Mom has pretty much never known how to handle my creative side. I wanted to acknowledge that we don’t all have great relationships with our mothers, we don’t all want to follow in our parent’s footsteps.

Respond to this quote by Dani Shapiro: “If I dismiss the ordinary — waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen — I may just miss my life… To allow ourselves to spend afternoons watching dancers rehearse, or sit on a stone wall and watch the sunset, or spend the whole weekend rereading Chekhov stories—to know that we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing — is the deepest form of permission in our creative lives.”

Oh man, how do I struggle with this! Lately my schedule has been cram-jam full of lovely writing-related things that make me happy and give me a deep sense of purpose. But I’ve found it really hard to turn off lately, to explore the small, quotidian pieces of life that make it worthwhile on a deeper level.

The only way I’ve found to recapture this lately is going out canoeing with my husband. We paddle out on Armand Bayou and there’s always a moment when the water quiets, we slip away from the shore where people are picnicking and playing with their dogs, and everything we left behind sinks into the stillness. Cranes and vultures circle the sky, gators lurk in the shallows, and that’s how I turn off the rest of the world.

Anything else you’d like to share? Something we probably didn’t know about you?

Pre-orders for my first chapbook, Glimmerglass Girl (Finishing Line Press), start April 9th. This chapbook is a series of illustrated poems about femininity. Information on my website: Holly Lyn Walrath

If you’re a writer, check out The Weird Circular, my free e-newsletter full of curated submission calls and writing prompts.

I have subscriber-only content on Curious Fictions if you want to leave me a tip! 

A lot of people don’t know that I worked in finance for three years. My mother is still disappointed that I quit that job, ha. Now I’m a freelance editor, but I still get random phone calls from my family asking for advice on money matters.

Well, we’re glad you pursued writing (and editing) instead! Thanks so much, Holly, and best of luck with your upcoming poetry chapbook!

Holly Lyn Walrath is a writer of poetry and short fiction. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Magazine, Liminality, Crab Fat Magazine, and other places. She is a freelance editor and volunteer with Writespace, a nonprofit literary center in Houston, Texas. She currently resides in Seabrook, Texas. Find her on Twitter @hollylynwalrath or at


Jayne Martin: On Hummingbirds and Trusting Our Wings



*In anticipation of our upcoming retreats, Kathy Fish and I have been getting to know our participants here, asking playful questions and sharing stories. Jayne Martin is not only joining us this summer, but she has been part of planting this seed that is now coming to fruition. We’re so excited to welcome her here!

Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?

Jayne Martin: “Retreat” is my go-to state of being. I’m a card-carrying introvert. My biggest writing challenge is having too much time. I have always worked best with deadlines. Give me a short window of time to get a story done and I can summon the energy and focus of a hummingbird paused mid-flight. One television series I worked on required me to write two half-hour shows a week. I thrive under that kind of pressure. Without it, no one can piss away time like I can. That’s why I love your November 30-Stories-In-30-Days writing challenge. I also need accountability, because apparently I’m an undisciplined child. This I get by taking online classes and workshops almost constantly. So my challenge isn’t finding time to write. It’s getting my ass in the chair and focusing.


Nancy: You’re also a horse lover and your animals seem to be an important part of your world. Do animals also inform your work or are they separate for you?

Jayne: My animals are my emotional center, so I suppose in that way they inform my work. Mostly, they take me out of my constantly chattering mind, especially my horse. I’m never more present than when I am in his presence. I also live in a rural area high on a hilltop where red-tail hawks are currently teaching their fledglings to trust their wings. That’s what we must do as writers, isn’t it?


Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it?

Jayne: That would be “When the Bough Breaks.” It was originally written for Midwestern Gothic’s first summer flash, photo-prompt contest in the summer of 2015 where it placed in the top three published stories. The prompt was a photo of a little boy in a darkly-shadowed room, looking out a window and holding a flower. The piece went on to win Vestal Review’s VERA award in 2016. You can read it here. 


Nancy: React to this quote by Henri Matisse: “Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.”

Jayne: I have a problem with attempts to define people as anything. Henri’s opinion is not divine, it’s just his opinion. Am I curious? Well, I’m nosy. Flexible? Oh, God no. Hate change. Always have and I’m a total control freak. But maybe that’s what most writers are. Control freaks. How else does one account for our need to create characters and then make them do our bidding? Persistent? You betcha. And as tenacious as a tick on a hound’s butt. I was brought up by a single mother who couldn’t quite get the discipline thing down and so I learned to never take no for an answer. As it turns out that has served me well in both life and in my writing career. Independent? “I’ll do it myself” is my mantra. Spirit of adventure? Not so much. I like to plan ahead and know what’s coming (refer to “control freak”). Love of play?  Define “play.” On my horse, in my garden, reading a book? Sure.

My point is creative people are indefinable. A prisoner who figures out a way to escape is creative, though I doubt Matisse was thinking of that when he came up with this definition.


Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Jayne: I was the “SHOUT it out” lady. It was 1975. I was a young actress in Hollywood and I booked the very first commercial for SHOUT stain remover.

“How do you get a tough stain out?”

“I’d SHOUT it out!”

Yep. That was me. I lived off the residuals from that commercial for three years.


Nancy: Anything else you want to add?

Jayne: I have a tattoo of a hummingbird on my right shoulder.


Nancy: Jayne, we are so excited to work with you in person this summer!

Jayne Martin is a 2017 Pushcart nominee, 2016 winner of Vestal Review’s VERA award, and a 2018 Best Small Fictions nominee. Her work has appeared in Literary Orphans, Spelk, Crack the Spine, Midwestern Gothic, MoonPark Review, Blink-Ink, Cabinet of Heed, Connotation Press and Hippocampus among others. She lives in California where she drinks copious amounts of fine wine and rides horses, though not at the same time. Find her on Twitter @Jayne_Martin.

Join us in Costa Rica in January, 2019! We have 8 spaces left!


Playtime with Paul Beckman


Paul Beckman and I have been working together for many years on many projects. So Kathy Fish and I are jazzed that Paul is joining us this summer in Colorado–I’m always excited to get to see Paul in person!

Nancy Stohlman: Anyone who follows your work knows you are highly prolific. What is your secret?

Paul Beckman: I like to write and I like to read. I’ve always been a first thing in the morning writer and now that I’m retired I write for longer stretches of time.

How do you “retreat” from your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?

I grab my camera and go to one of our state parks and walk and take pictures of the bald eagles, herons and whatever else is around. I also do a lot of street shooting.

What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it?

Ordinarily I would pass on this question but my story ‘Healing Time’ was one of the winners in the Best of the Small Fictions for 2016. Besides being in elite company I’ve been fortunate enough for quite a few reviewers to pick out this story and comment on it. Reviews tell me things about my writing that I don’t see for myself. It’s like holding your arms out to read the small print and then one day you get glasses and there’s a new clarity. “Healing Time” can be read in the 2016 issue of Best of Small Fictions or you can listen to me read it:

React to this saying: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Jack, a product of a dull mother and a dull father, was a dull baby who grew into a dull toddler and as the years passed he grew into a dull boy. One day on his lunch break from his dull job he bumped into a dull woman and they spent their lunchtime together speaking of nothing interesting. The rest is history.

Tell us something we don’t know about you?

I’m not fond of heights but I like to go ballooning.

Anything else you want to add?

It would be nice if John Oliver would ask me to read some of my flash stories on his show.

Paul Beckman is the author of the collections “Peek” & “Come! Meet My Family and other stories, a novella, “Lovers and Other Mean People”, and a flash chap book, “Maybe I Ought to go Sit Quietly in a Dark Room for a While”. His story, “Healing Time” was one of the winners in the 2016 Best of the Small Fictions. Paul’s stories are widely published in print and online in the following magazines amongst others: Connecticut Review, Literary Orphans, Blue Fifth,  Litro, Playboy, Jellyfish Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Molotov Cocktail, and Thrice Fiction His blog is Paul hosts the FBomb NY flash fiction reading series monthly at KGB’s Red Room in New York and had a story picked for the 2018 Norton Anthology of Micro Fiction. He has a new collection of Flash and Micro Fiction, KISS KISS due out in late March. 


*Want to be part of the fun? Colorado 2018 is SOLD OUT but join us in Costa Rica 2019!



Getting Back to Creative Play: A Chat with Annie Q. Syed

Nancy and I are thrilled that the lovely Annie Q. Syed will be joining us in Breckenridge this summer for our debut retreat offering, Rendezvous in the Rockies. Annie and I spoke a little about creative play, Annie’s favorite story of her own, and an early quiz show experience: 

Hi Annie. Can you talk a little about what it means to make time for your creativity aside from going on retreat? In what ways do you make your writing a priority?

In the Fall of 2017 through AWP’s Writer to Writer mentoring program, writer Gail Hosking choose to work with me for my non-fiction essays. Thanks to her suggestion, I now carry one of those expanding file folders in which I have several pieces that need revising. Ten minutes for looking at verbs, another thirty for tinkering with a paragraph or a sentence, one minute to review the sheet with notes from a writing pal. I have tried my best to make writing a priority by attending to it every day, for however long, instead of imagining there should be a set time during the day when it is a priority. I don’t have the writing schedule that I once did when I could write through midnight and sleep in or write in the mornings and then take a nap.

It’s taken me some time to get used to the idea that even ten minutes is plenty on those exhausting days. I try to spend at least ten minutes on my writing a day. Once I am in that space, the ten minutes turns into thirty and sometimes, if I am really lucky, into several hours. But by creating those ten minutes, I know I have honored what it means, at this stage, to write every day.

Respond to this quote: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” (sometimes this quote is attributed to Albert Einstein) i.e., how much does “play” impact your creative work?

I love words: definitions, etymologies, how they can be used to express analogies, how they create meaning and how we assign meaning, not to mention words lost and gained through translation. I believe engaging with language and sound is play. However, in the last few years, when I decided to become “serious” about the craft of writing, I lost sight of playing. I suppose it happens to all of us at some point. I am happy to report that I feel comfortable to play again; it is essential to creative work.

Annie, what is your favorite story that you’ve written and why? (if it’s a published story, could you provide a link?)

One of my favorite stories is “Watch Yourself Burn”. I created it in one of your Fast Flash workshops. I love the authentic details and movement in it; the whole piece moves back and forth through time in few words. It is currently longlisted for the Reflex Fiction Winter 2017 Prize and regardless of the outcome, I am pleased it will be in the anthology in great company.

What’s something about you that we probably didn’t know?

That when I was kid in New York, my junior high had us take some quiz. It so happened that I was exceptionally good at geography. Apparently, it was a test to qualify to be on that show—if you know this show, it will show your age! —called Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Once on the show, I was so nervous about lights, cameras, audience, that I didn’t bet enough in the last round and didn’t win first place although I had the right answer! It was pretty cool when it aired on T.V.

Anything else you’d like to talk about briefly? 

I am so thrilled to be attending this writing retreat in Breckenridge, Kathy!

It’s taken me some time to navigate what works for me as a writer. Community is important, no doubt, but what that means varies for each individual. Although a happy extrovert, I am pretty much a helpful lone wolf. I love my solitude and enjoy exploring on my own. A retreat like this is a dream come true for someone like me who enjoys people and their stories but prefers to work alone.

Thanks so much, Annie!