Kathy Fish and I are thrilled that Jan Saenz will be traveling to Colorado this August to retreat with us! I chatted with Jan about writing, flash fiction, and collecting weird objects:
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?
Jan Saenz: It used to be so easy. I’d put the kids to bed, kiss the husband goodnight, sit on the couch and write like mad. The night would disappear and before I knew it, the sun was up and I was driving the kids to school in a stale, zombie state of mind. Those were the days.
I don’t know if it’s age or pressure or what, but nowadays retreating involves so much more premeditation. Literally. I have to sit and stew before I write. Coffee is a much. Quiet helps. I see writers in coffee shops on their laptops and I’m like, How are they doing that? And how do they manage to look cool while doing it? I look like a psychopath when I write. I talk to myself. I suppose that’s my most common retreat, mentally playing out scenes throughout the day. Listening to the flow of dialogue, saying it aloud. It’s looney.
Nancy: Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?
Jan: I was a crap student in school. Slow reader. Bad speller. Creative writing was something I could do, but was never encouraged to do. I don’t remember teachers or professors ever saying, “Be brave! Forget the rules, ignore standards—write like you are in a dream.” Maybe that’s why I like flash. It feels free and rebellious. And the limited word count has a way of making the story feel almost dream-like. There’s a real art to it. I like working in the attitude of flash. Do what you want, but be picky about it. Say it all, but be brief. I love Puberty by Kat Gonso. V-Card by Meghan Phillips. The Hollow by Kathy Fish. That’s just a few.
Nancy: What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
Jan: “Write the book you want to read.” It’s a common quote, but for good reason. I went through a (miserable) phase about two years ago. For some reason, I could not write anything without first considering what a reader would want. I would change certain details in my stories so they would be more “acceptable” to a wider audience. I cut curse words. Toned down sex scenes. Worried about female likability. That shit did nothing but kill my writing. Nowadays, I try to focus more on editing the execution, not the personal taste. Because the taste is mine. Haha.
Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of? Where can we read it (if it’s available)?
Jan: Paper Darts recently published one of my pieces. It’s the weirdest, coolest feeling when editors you greatly admire come back and say, “Hey, I really liked this.” Like, wait what? You get so used to rejection, acceptance starts to feel foreign. You can read it here:
Nancy: React to this quote by Frank Capra: “A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.”
Jan: I think most artists have a certain intuition when it comes to their craft. When inspiration pops up, they automatically recognize it. They study it. Obsess over it. And if they’re lucky, they’re able to follow through with it. Make it into something special. But there’s got to be a back-up plan, you know? I can’t sit around waiting for “hunches” or creative intuition to set in. I’ve got to live my life and experience things outside of writing. Otherwise my work suffers. It doesn’t evolve.
Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?
Jan: I collect things. It’s weirdly therapeutic. Chess boards. Religious items. Afghan blankets. Old photographs of horses. Teeth. The list goes on, and yes it gets weirder. My best friend and I are really passionate about aesthetics in homemaking…that sounds so pretentious, but I swear we’re just giggly moms who geek-out at Goodwill. We have an IG account called Hoardhouse Vintage. If you like eclectic home decorating, check it out:
Jan Saenz is a writer and serial thrift shopper. She has work in Paper Darts, Bending Genres, and is currently working on her third novel, a dark comedy about amateur drug dealers and the female orgasm. She has a doctorate in useless pop-culture facts. For more information, visit www.jansaenz.com or follow @jan_saenz