Negotiating Bliss: Tea and Time Travel with Sally Reno

Sally Reno small.full

Disclaimer: Sally Reno and I did not actually have tea during this interview, but we have had tea many, many times in more than a decade of work together. Sally is one of the most insightful writers I know and my go-to for feedback on my own work. So naturally Kathy Fish and I are just thrilled that she will be joining us this August in Breckenridge for our first flash fiction retreat!

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?

Sally Reno: A workshop retreat to a gorgeous spot, a solitary cabin in the woods, a house-sit with views, a borrowed beach house—all are bliss. But for me, to negotiate effectively with Time, writing must also be a daily fact of life. I write most of first drafts in my head and keep stacks of notebooks around for impulsive scribbling. Whenever I can, I write in my sleep.

Nancy: You’re one of the co-producers of Blink Ink, a tiny print magazine publishing exclusively microfiction stories of around 50 words. What is your biggest learning from this endeavor?

Sally: We are always  amazed by the  surprising and wonderful things people send us and the lovely circumstance that we can always find new things to try. The Big Learn has been how expensive it is to produce a quality print lit mag, even a ‘tiny’ one.

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

Sally: It’s probably just a quirk in aid of forward motion but I’m always most excited about what I’m writing right now. I do still like some oldies. Most of my published writing is in print, so I have fewer links to offer. You can read my first Pushcart nomination (in under a minute) here:

Nancy: React to this quote by George Santayana: “To the art of working well a civilized race would add the art of playing well.”

Sally: Since I’m not a fan of civilization, I would say: No sane society, or one with any potential for joy, would make a distinction between work and play. Only a slave culture, like ours, segregates work from life and makes of that ‘work’ the only respected effort.

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

Sally: I am a time traveler.

Nancy: Anything else you want to add?

Sally: Thank you for inviting me here. I had fun.

Sally Reno’s fiction is widely anthologized and s been among the winners of National Public Radio’s 3-Minute Fiction Contest and Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Review’s Prosetry Contest and has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and Pushcarts. Her microfiction has won Vestal Review’s 7-word caption contest, Fast Forward’s 6-word story contest and Radar’s 5-word movie review competition. She lives in a vapor cave with a big snake and serves as Pythoness for Blink Ink Print and Haruspex for Shining Mountains Press.

Join us! Check out our retreat offerings here:


Kathy fish, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

50 Random Sentences or How to Face the Blank Page

blank pageWe all have experienced that frozen feeling when faced with the blank page. This is an exercise (originally published in Lascaux Review) I have used often and it’s never failed to produce a piece of fiction:

Your goal is to write fifty sentences as quickly as you can. The sentences needn’t be connected in any way. In fact, it’s better if they aren’t. Allow yourself to write whatever comes to mind no matter how weird. You’ll want to number them as you go to keep track. You may start out with a bang, then flounder around sentence #20 or so. Don’t stop. If you have to, go ahead and write a few very simple sentences, like “the car is red” just to keep the words flowing.

When you have finished, go back and read the sentences aloud. Listen for the ones that have the most juice. Where does your voice falter? Which sentences evoke strong emotion? Which ones have their own peculiar beauty? Which demand further investigation?

Highlight these. 

Now write each good sentence at the top of its own fresh sheet of paper and write new sentences beneath it. You want to follow a line of thought if you can. Move forward into a narrative if it feels right, but don’t force it. Write whatever emerges without judgment. I promise, at some point you’ll feel a sense of urgency that tells you: There’s a story here. Now tell it.



Where You’ve Been, What You’ve Seen: A Conversation with Gay Degani

The lovely Gay Degani is joining Nancy and me for Create in Costa Rica in January. We’re so excited to work with her and everyone! (Note: Though it’s filling up, some spaces in the Costa Rica retreat are still available.)

Hi,Gay. You’re joining us in Costa Rica in January to write, commune, rest, explore in an exotic space. We can’t wait! Can you talk a little about how you honor your writing time and your creative life in other ways? (it’s okay to talk about how you struggle with this too if that’s the case!)

2017 was a difficult year for me and I don’t think I’m alone in my reaction to the political situation, the number of shootings (my daughter was at the Las Vegas concert), and the sexual harassment revelations. Also for me, my desire to write another novel has made me come up against my own brand of angst.

However, being part of the online writing community has been a writing “life-saver” for me. It saved me in 2007 and it’s saved me in 2017. What I’ve tried to do to counter my lack of productivity last year is to make certain the same thing doesn’t happen in 2018 by signing up for classes on-line and retreats like the one you and Nancy Stohlman are putting together. With a Barrelhouse class and one with One Story completed, I’m already hard at work in 2018. It’s important, I think, to surround myself with as many like-minded people as I can, and writers make up my tribe.

Respond to this quote from Natalie Goldberg:

“Writing practice brings us back to the uniqueness of our own minds and an acceptance of it. We all have wild dreams, fantasies, and ordinary thoughts. Let us to feel the texture of them and not be afraid of them.Writing is still the wildest thing I know.”

I love Natalie Goldberg. Her books and tapes (yes, back then it was audio-tapes) gave me permission to be a writer. For so long I believed being an writer was a god-given gift and if you had that gift, you couldn’t help but write, no matter the odds.

Spending time to write always felt selfish to me. Something I would, of course, make myself do if I had that “GOD-GIVEN GIFT.”

But I always had other things on my agenda and they seemed so much more vital to my everyday life–kids, a husband, lists of errands–and I did them. The result was very little time to write, and since I didn’t feel irresistibly compelled to put words down, I thought I must not have that “GOD-GIVEN GIFT.”

But this concept is so so wrong. Yes, a person does need some amount of natural talent, but so much of developing that talent is believing you have a right to spend time honoring it, letting it breathe, and accepting that what you write doesn’t need to be perfect the first time around, and that it’s okay to let the act of writing take up chunks of your life.

Natalie Goldberg helped me see how to negotiate around my two great lacks–of confidence and of craft–by doing “morning pages.” Performing this early communion with myself allowed me to wrestle with questions on paper rather than in my mind where I could so easily push them into a dark corner. I owe as much to her as I do to the on-line writing community.

What is your favorite flash you’ve written (not “best” or “most successful” necessarily, but the one you love the most) and why?

I don’t know if I can really answer this. Each one that finds itself written is a little piece of my heart and my life. They are like children, some easily delivered and others full of pain.

And I never know what will resonate with others. Some of my pieces I feel are struggling so hard to grow up and I worry and nurture and almost give up, but then they do something to make me proud–like getting published. The ones I sense will go out there and slay dragons come back defeated. Like many mothers, I can’t pick favorites. Each feel special to me in their own way.

Is there something we probably don’t know about you that you’d like to share?

I feel as if my life is an open book. If you read my stories, you will glimpse many different aspects of “me,” though none of those are all of me. You are what you believe in, where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, what’s hurt you, what’s made you stronger.

A jungle walk ends at the ocean in Costa Rica
Oh, I love that. It’s so true and wise. What are you most looking forward to in Costa Rica?

You, Kathy, and Nancy, and being with other writers on the trip. This is what I need and crave. What most writers need and crave: To be with their tribe, if only for a short period of time.

Gay Degani is the author of a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She’s had four flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. She blogs at Words in Place.