Interview with Kathy Fish in New Flash Fiction Review

Tommy Dean interviews Kathy Fish about her stories in New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co, 2018)

kathy fishTD: How important is metaphor when writing something so short? Is it the key to pushing the reader to imagine past the white space of the story?

Metaphor is important when it arises organically from the piece. I don’t think intentionally writing to a metaphor works, generally. If you create a micro that’s dense and rich and deeply imagined, you invite the reader to experience its inherent metaphor and maybe that’s different from reader to reader.

TD: How important is the placement of information? Especially in relation to this line from  your story “The Possibility of Bears”: “After the ceremony he’d found some emails…”? Other writers might have placed this toward the beginning, but here it’s dovetailed with the ending, the metaphor of the bear. Did this line come out naturally here? Did you consider putting it earlier in the story?

Well, to my point above, I didn’t sit down and decide to write a piece in which a (possible) bear symbolizes the imminent demise of a new marriage. But, yes, it’s undeniably there!

KF: I see what you’re saying about that line. It’d be just the sort of reader-grabbing first (or early) line we’re instructed to write. But then everything that came after it would have already been explained to the reader.  To me this would have effectively cut the story’s engine.

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Going for the Throat: Chantal Ryan on the Profound Humanity of Flash Fiction



Chantal Ryan is coming all the way from Australia to “Write Wild” with Kathy Fish and I in Costa Rica this January! We chatted about intimate rituals, overcoming distractions, the wilds of the forest and the lyrics of Eminem:

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?

Chantal Ryan: I have a three year old who I watch over all day every day. We call him “The Hurricane” for a reason. I’ve often read writers who are parents talk about how they always wake before their children in order to get some interruption-free work time in. Not me! Not even a hurricane can get me out of bed before eight in the morning. Instead, I know it’s time to punch the clock right after I tuck him into bed for the night. I guess you can say my solution to art and life is to work the night shift!

I do make an effort to read throughout the day, which I always think of as writing-adjacent. Sometimes when I’m doing chores I perform thought experiments on my stories, trying to solve problems I’ve encountered during the last writing session.

Nancy: Yes, as a mother I can relate! Can you tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?

Chantal: I’ve always written flash fiction – I’ve been writing it far longer than I knew there was a name for it! I’m partial to mood and atmosphere – anything that can move me, make me feel something different, take me to some other place for even a moment in time, it’s a special thing to me, and it’s the only thing I ever really want from a story. Make me feel. Of course, in kind, I seek to do the same for others. A few broad brush strokes of colour, some stark suggestive lines… that’s all we need. The rest can be so much fluff. I like things that go for the throat.

Nancy: “Going for the throat”: I love that. What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Chantal: My answer will probably change depending on the day, the struggle. But I’ll put a lyric from Eminem here – a true artist, a profound storyteller – that so succinctly demonstrated to me what it is to tell a story. The song is called Difficult, and it’s a tribute to his best friend who was murdered:

“And this may sound a little strange but I’mma tell it—

I found that jacket that you left at my wedding

and I picked it up to smell it

I wrapped it up in plastic until I put it in glass

and hang up in the hallway so I can always look at it”

And right there, that’s so real. That really happened, and it’s those tiny moments that are where the stories are, where the humanity lies. A grown man smelling the shirt of a man he loved and had to bury. The mundane becoming sacred because of what it represents. Our small, profound rituals. Those five lines remind me about everything present in good writing – saying so much with so little; invoking the senses; laying bare the intimate motions of our lives. Flash fiction, right? Going for the throat.

Nancy: I love that you quoted Eminem! What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  

Chantal: Hm, it’s a good question. You know we don’t like to assign favourites to our children. There’s a flash piece I wrote called “Hegira” that means a lot to me, for a lot of reasons. It’s full of everything I want from a story. Something that can be read straightforwardly, but reveals a different tale when the symbolism is interpreted. It ends with an uplifting message, which is rare for me – in my stories, someone or everyone always seems to die at the end. In this story, the death is at the beginning, so maybe that’s the trick.

I haven’t published the story. Though some who have read it told me it helped them find solace, or touched them to tears, and that’s all we ever really want, right? For a piece of us to touch a piece of someone else in some shared numinous space. A stranger wrote me an amazing message about that story and how it had moved them. When I finished reading it my hands were shaking. Art, man.

Nancy: Wow. It’s so special when readers take the time to reach back to us. So on that note, react to this quote by Toni Morrison: “We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such a big A-plus for that.”

Chantal: It’s interesting you bring her up, I’m actually reading Beloved by Toni Morrison right now! It’s so wonderful. It’s been a while since I read a novel that moved me so. Her mind, it’s a scalpel that moves with perfect grace.

When looking at our society as a whole, I believe she’s correct. Art is work as much as play, it contributes as much, it should not be relegated to second fiddle. But our western society undervalues art and encourages, or even forces, us to spend our time doing all sorts of busywork, sending unending obligations our way. Our communities are fractured, we don’t help each other as much as we could or should, and as such we’re all bearing a lot of burden, especially burdens of time. I don’t begrudge people falling by the wayside in terms of allowing their creative hearts to wither when we’re under such a cascade of distractions.

But as a society, certainly, creative work should not be “slipped in between”, like a naughty bit of play. It should be as much part of our survival work as meeting physical needs like hunger and shelter. So many of us have forgotten how to use our hands and our hearts. We need to encourage each other to keep them active. Take pride in our soulwork.

Nancy: We will be using our “hands and our hearts” in Costa Rica for sure. Now you are coming all the way from Australia! Have you been to Costa Rica before? What are you most looking forward to?

Chantal: I am! And I haven’t been to Costa Rica before, but it’s one of the places my spirit lies, I’m sure. I’m a dendrophile, so the notion of visiting such a biodiverse place makes my heart swell just to think about it. Throw in an ocean I can swim with the sea creatures in and a group of people whose minds manifest just like mine and I’m probably going to be so overjoyed I’m just going to go supersaiyan. So I guess I’m looking forward to the spiky white hair.

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

Chantal: Some defining fact, huh? When I was five my favourite movie was Child’s Play and my favourite toy was a Chucky doll I carried around with me everywhere. Five year old me delighted in throwing it in the bath with my younger brother to scare him. I guess you could say horror runs in my blood. Funny thing about that doll – my mom swears she got fed up with my brother-traumatizing antics one day and tossed the doll in the trash. Says she left the room and when she came back, it was on the dining table, facing her. Now, I obviously can’t vouch for this story as I wasn’t there, but I will say my mom is not the jokester type.

I will say I think the world is a more interesting place than we give it credit for.

Nancy! Ha! Anything else you want to add?

Chantal: Please recycle!

Nancy: Yes! I’ve enjoyed getting to know you so much here, Chantal, and I can’t wait to meet you in person!

Chantal Ryan would rather be in the forest. But when she’s not, she settles as a letter-witch: words become incantations, prayer-attempts get to those thudding places amongst the roots–and maybe take you with.

*We have 3 spots left in Costa Rica this January–Join us! Find out more

Pura Vida! A Closer Look at Peace Retreat in Costa Rica with Owner, Kevin McQuillan

Nancy and I are so excited for our upcoming “Writing in the Blue Zone”retreat at the stunning Peace Retreat in Playa Negra! Very grateful to owner and founder, Kevin McQuillan, for taking the time to give us some background and a sense of the place for those who will be joining us there in January.Kevin smile

Hi, Kevin! Can you tell us a bit about your background with Peace Retreat? How did you get into this work? What drew you to it? 

I established Peace Retreat in 2011 with a dream and a commitment to create a retreat center founded on the principles of learning and wellness. The intention was, and is, to offer guests a tangible improvement in their inner and outer flexibility and strength.  It’s a long way from my roots in Canada, where I had a career in civil law enforcement which ultimately led me to discover yoga. As my connection and fascination of yoga grew so did my yoga studies which ultimately led me to co-found three yoga studios in Calgary before setting my sights on Costa Rica.

i-fzDVWhm-MI was ultimately determined to create a space in an environment inherently nurturing that would facilitate healing and well-being on all levels. 

Peace Retreat serves a variety of groups. Have you had writing retreats there before? 

Although we have not hosted a designated writing retreat before, we have had many writers join us for some peace and tranquility as a way to support their writing projects. We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to offer a space where many feel the environment supports ease and clarity, allowing the creative juices to flow.

We are very excited to be hosting our first ever writing retreat with you! 

What is special about the area there? How is it different from other parts of Costa Rica?

Peace Retreat Costa Rica, is a holistic wellness and learning center located in Playa Negra, at the heart of Costa Rica’s extraordinary northwest Pacific coastline. Peace Retreat is an approximate 10-minute walk to the town center of Playa Negra, and an approximate 15-minute walk to the beautiful beach of Playa Negra. The black sand is what gives Playa Negra its name. With sand that glows in the sunshine and stretches far into the shallow, warm pacific water, Playa Negra is one of Costa Rica’s most celebrated beaches.

P1120255LRPlaya Negra’s beaches are pristine, opening to unique stretches of sand and volcanic reef around each ocean-side cliff. Beaches vary with white sand, black sand and sea shells. Sandy beaches, often lined with native trees and palms are interspersed with tidal pools formed from the lava rock. The Pacific tides swing substantially, so the beaches may go as far as the eye can see at low tide, and be mostly covered at high tide.

With some of the most consistent waves and surf breaks in the region, Playa Negra is a very popular surfer beach, made famous by the movie Endless Summer II. Surfers and non-surfers alike enjoy Playa Negra’s pristine, natural, and remote landscape. Its dark-colored sand is interspersed with rocky outcroppings and tide pools for exploration. To the beach’s southern end, there are protected areas for swimming and play.

One of the best ways to explore the breathtaking scenery in Playa Negra is through the multiple adventure tours available. Getting close to nature and experiencing wildlife, the landscape and the stunning surroundings happens locally.

The simple pleasures of the quaint surfing village of Playa Negra offer a unique experience of easy relaxation and tranquility.

This amazing location is the perfect setting for Peace Retreat.

What do people generally take away from their time spent at Peace Retreat? Do you get groups that come back year after year?

Our aim is to support our guests feeling cared for and contributed to in a way that aligns with their needs and our wellness practices. We are experts at what we do and love sharing our passion for wellness, nature and the pura vida lifestyle with our guests. We have a specific focus on creating an intimate setting whereby connections are made and relationships flourish with self, others and nature. We are deeply committed to developing meaningful and long-lasting relationships, and doing so in an environment that is inherently healing. As such, many of our guests leave feeling more aware, nourished, vital and connected.

Through our approach we have had the great pleasure to build and maintain relationships with group leaders and guests in a way that brings them back year after year. We love the experience of growing together!

Could you describe the unique sights, sounds, smells, etc. that our participants can expect from their time at Peace Retreat? (I realize I’m asking you to be a “writer” here, ha…)

A Day in the Life of a Visitor

Pura Vida! Translation: Pure Life. If you are reading this, you are likely wondering what it is like to be a guest at Peace Retreat… and really, the shape of your time here is entirely up to you! Many guests at Peace Retreat fill their days with curiosity and adventure, while other guests choose to use their time at YPR to experience a true sensation relaxation and rejuvenation…costa rica hammock

Continue reading for an outline of your most “typical” day at Peace Retreat…

Wake Up To The Sensation Of Nature

As a guest with us, you will find yourself falling asleep and waking up to the sound of nature regularly. In the mornings, as the sky begins to lighten and the soft breeze through the trees pleasantly warms the morning air, the wildlife surrounding the retreat’s location really begins to come alive. Wake up to the glistening sun beaming through your wide wooden window as the birds chirp and the monkeys howl, and enjoy the sensation of nature all around you as you slowly prepare yourself for the day ahead.

costa rica yoga spaceStart Your Day With Morning Yoga

Rise early and grant yourself the opportunity to attend our daily 7am yoga class. All classes at YPR are lead by knowledgeable and accredited international yoga teachers. Begin your day by connecting to your mind, body and soul, and step off of your mat and out into the world with an authentic feeling of refreshment and light-heartedness.

Feed Your Soul (And Your Belly)

Following morning yoga comes a fresh and wholesome homemade breakfast. Breakfast specialties include; fresh fruit, avocado toast, banana pancakes, chia seed pudding, vegan muffins, scrambled eggs, quiche, and gallo pinto (a specialty Costa Rican breakfast dish). Additionally, offered daily is Costa Rican coffee made from 100% sustainable Costa Rican coffee beans, and of course if you prefer, tea.

Cool Down!

After the digestion of your delicious breakfast, choose to perhaps cool down with a dip into our quaint pool, bordered by beautiful palm trees and comfortable lounge chairs. The pool is a great place to spend the day, or if not, to reset and cool down between yoga classes and tropical adventures.Peace Retreat

Venture Wildly!

Take a walk through our marked jungle path, and find yourself within 15 minutes enjoying the dark sand and warm water of the local Playa Negra beach. Book a surf lesson, surf on your own (if you’re experienced) or take a stroll alongside the ocean’s shore to fully absorb the Guanacaste beach experience. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, adventure tours are available within the town of Los Pargos including hikes to waterfalls, zip lining, and more!

Settle Down With The Sun

As the sun begins to set, enjoy watching the beautiful colors of the sky change to nighttime as the surfers of Playa Negra catch their last few waves, or perhaps enjoy the luminescent pink and orange sky from the comfort of our property.

Starry Nights

As a traveler of Costa Rica, you will soon learn that the jungle life here does not stop. Not even at night. Some animals actually even choose the nighttime to do their most active “living,” as of course, in Costa Rica; the nighttime is cooler than the daytime. While winding down from your day, allow the sounds of the wildlife vibrating to be the soundtrack to your night. Take a moment to gaze up and get lost in the canopy of stars that fill the beautiful and open Costa Rican sky… And for most guests, to follow this, it’s time to sleep!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I, along with our team, are very much looking forward to hosting you, being with you, and supporting a very memorable experience together.

Until soon, be well.

Thanks so much, Kevin!

NOTE: A few spaces remain for “Writing in the Blue Zone!” Join us? More information HERE.


Our Breckenridge Retreat is 1 week away!

Our “Rendezvous in the Rockies: Mining Your Literary Gold Retreat” is almost here.

Kathy Fish and I are excited to welcome our inaugural group of visiting writers for a “summer camp” of inspiration, contemplation, and camaraderie in the Colorado mountains. The retreat will be held in a mountain lodge home in the ski town of Breckenridge with a hot tub, alpine views, starry nights, and meals lovingly prepared by visiting writer and chef Chris Bowen.

breck (2)

We’ll be finishing at the infamous Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series in Denver on Tuesday, August 14 at 7:30–which means it’s going to be a fantastic night at the Fbomb–don’t miss it!

We will post updates. In the meantime, meet our visiting writers:

MEETAnne Weisgerber
MEETChris Bowen
MEETPaul Beckman & read about his book!
MEETJayne Martin
MEETApril Bradley
MEETAnnie Q, Syed
MEETHolly Lyn Walrath & read about her book!
MEETSally Reno
MEETJan Saenz
MEETPavlos Stavropoulos
MEET: Chelsea Voulgares
MEET: Leslie Archibald

*We plan to make our Colorado retreat a yearly event. But if you can’t wait that long, consider joining us in Costa Rica this January or Italy next May!