Interviews, Uncategorized

Tim Degani on Travel, Creativity, and Getting Out of Your Wheelhouse

Tim Stonehenge

Kathy Fish and I are excited that Tim Degani will be joining us in Costa Rica this January! We chatted about our mutual love of travel and why it’s so important…

Nancy Stohlman: I know you have done ton a lot of traveling-what have been some of your favorite destinations? Have you been to Costa Rica before?

Tim Degani: Yes, since I retired a few years ago Gay and I try to take at least one international trip a year.  One of my favorite places to visit was Peru, the food was fabulous and the vistas were unlike anything we have ever seen.  Machu Picchu is a place of stunning beauty and awe inspiring grandeur.  We were fortunate enough to stay at the Sanctuary Lodge which is the only hotel that borders the park, a place I would highly recommend.  There is a tremendous sense of tranquility and the orchids are just what one would expect in a tropical forest.  The altitude can be a challenge so take the oxygen and coca infused tea when offered upon arriving in Cusco.  The Inca craftsmanship and artistry cannot be ignored in their exquisite architecture and blanket weaving which can be found throughout the Sacred Valley.

We have not been to Costa Rica so I am looking forward to an amazing trip.

Nancy: Wow–I’m jealous! That sounds amazing. Creativity comes to people in different ways. How are you creative?

Tim: I spent my career in the aerospace industry working in various finance positions, so I am not considered a creative person and certainly not one as defined by the arts.  I am an engineer by education and my creativity, if it can be called that, is in solving problems and finding ways to accomplish projects that are functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.  I do enjoy all of the arts and am currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach California.

Nancy: I DO think solving problems is creative–I would also put the sciences into the creativity basket as well. Now you are coming to Costa Rica with your wife, Gay Degani, who is a writer. What’s it like being married to a writer?  

Tim: As long as I give her plenty of room to do her own thing, we get along great after 44 years of marriage.

Nancy: Ha! Exactly. What are you most looking forward to about your time in Playa Negra?  

Tim: I look forward to several days of relaxing in a tropical environment and partaking of some of the many outdoor activities offered.  I am thinking maybe horseback riding, snorkeling, riverboat cruise, or visiting a rain forest.

Nancy: Sounds perfect. You know that Playa Negra has some of the best surfing as well, right? Now react to this quote by the (now) late Anthony Bourdin: “Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, and moribund.”

Tim: I couldn’t agree more; in order to stay mentally agile you need to experience life and all it has to offer.  I don’t think I could or would go to the extremes he went to (like traveling to Iran), nor eat the more exotic foods he devoured.  I do enjoy going to and trying out new experiences that are outside of your wheel house.  It helps to put your life into perspective.

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

Tim: Well just about everything I suppose.  I am a native of Los Angeles, Ca, attended Hollywood high school and tried out unsuccessfully for the Dodgers.

Nancy: Wow! Anything else you want to add?

Tim: By now, you probably have heard enough from me.

Nancy: Thank you for your time, Tim! I’m looking forward to meeting you soon!

Want to join us in Costa Rica? We have 1 little cabina available: Find out more!

Uncategorized

How to Write When You Don’t Have Time to Write

Let me be clear—I’m writing this while sitting in the middle of class. My students are free-writing and I am writing with them–because I always write with them and because I get 10 minutes to write.

Maybe that wasn’t the answer you were hoping for. But it’s my reality. Week by week I take stock of my schedule and I try to designate and carve my writing time out. It changes every semester—sometimes it’s during office hours. Sometimes it’s before dinner. Sometimes it’s after the kids are in bed. But increasingly those times are now being swallowed up, too. Office hours and that hour before dinner are now gone with the 4:30 class and the commute. So what to do? Write only on weekends? Wait until Christmas?

3894044841_d3b7e9e0cb_z-580x386I’m sure you all have some version of this scenario. For many working writers the daily routine of writing is a privilege and a luxury. I have writer friends who just wait until the semester breaks and do all their writing then. That doesn’t work so well for me. I feel like regular contact–however brief—with my creativity is more productive than marathon sessions where the work feels like a stranger.

So how do I write? Here’s what I’m doing this semester:

Schedule my writing time. As in: write it down on the calendar every week just as I would schedule a doctor’s appointment or a conference call. And don’t forget the very important write it down part.

Don’t discount the 10-min slots. A lot can happen in 10 mins (see my old post here). And don’t forget: I’m drafting this article in class while the students are free-writing for 10 minutes. And also don’t forget that 3 classes with 10-min free-writing sessions each equals half an hour of writing. It adds up.

Write everywhere. Not only can you write in 10 min bursts but you can do it everywhere. The 10 mins you waste on social media while waiting for someone in the car, during the bus or train commute, waiting in the doctors lobby—always have a notebook with you ready to go.

Keep a list. Keep an ongoing list of all the stories you want to write. Keep it on your phone or in your wallet and add to it every time you get a new idea—this will allow you to jump right into an idea when you find yourself alone with 10 mins rather than floundering and wondering what to write.

Write it down now. Don’t wait. If the idea is coming, go to the bathroom and write in the stall if you must. Because if you think you will remember this great idea when you get home…you might not. I’ve lost a lot of good ideas this way.

Use voice memos. Sometimes the idea won’t wait for you to find a pen. When you are without paper, speak your writing into a note on your phone.

Block out a weekend or a whole day whenever you can. This requires some planning, so don’t wait. Do it now and write it on the calendar and guard it like date night, like your creative relationship depends on it (it does).

Set yourself up for success. Some people approach writing like exercise—they think they have to work out 3 times a week or it doesn’t count. But it’s easy to falter under such high expectations. Don’t set yourself up for failure with an unrealistic goal.

Be realistic but committed. Have you ever learned an instrument? Carving out just 15 mins a day to practice is powerfully cumulative. And fifteen mins of writing every day will make you and your work progress. It’s not easy, it’s not glamorous, but it will work.

And finally try not to be jealous of those with wide open writing schedules. Assume they’ve paid their dues in other ways and be grateful to be a writer, dammit! It’s truly a gift to be here!

To your writing success!

PS: Do you have other tips? I’d love to hear them! (I really would!)

PSS: Maybe you should join us for a writing retreat in 2019?

 

Interviews

Cath Barton on Saying Yes! to the Challenge of Writing

Author pic.CathBarton

Cath Barton has not only released her first book, The Plankton Collector, but she will be joining Kathy Fish and I in Casperia, Italy, in May! Cath and I chat about novellas, flash fiction, and the beauty of a good writing challenge.

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?

Cath Barton: I am actually lucky – I retired from the day job some years back so my time is my own. My challenge is to discipline myself! Sometimes I get up very early to write, though the pressure of a deadline can have me writing at all hours. My husband (who is also a writer, and also coming on retreat next May) built a wonderful room at the bottom of our garden – when I really need to focus on a story I’m writing I work down there on a laptop with no internet access.

Nancy: You are no stranger to flash fiction. How have you seen it evolve since you first started writing it?

Cath: Gosh, there is so much flash fiction being written now, and so much that is so good. And yet you’ll still hear people – writers even – asking – What’s flash fiction? Of course it covers so much, but one thing I’ve learnt is that if every word counts in a short story, every word that’s understood counts in a flash. I really got that from your Sculpting Flash Fiction course, Nancy.

Nancy: Aw, thanks for saying so, Cath. It was such a pleasure to work with you! And congratulations! You have a novella just out, ‘The Plankton Collector’. Tell us a little about the impetus for the book.

Cath: Thank you! At the beginning of 2015 a fellow member of a local writing group came out with a challenge for the group – Who’s going to write a novella this year? I found myself putting my hand up, even though I hadn’t thought about such a thing before that moment. I do like a challenge! So I did it.

Nancy: Wow, I love that! The Plankton Collector is your first book – so exciting! What advice would you have for another writer working on their first book?

Cath: It is exciting! And I’m so fortunate to get a book published. I entered my novella in a competition and won, with part of the prize being publication. The thing is though, that if you love to write, that needs to be your primary impulse, rather than the hope of publication. I read this just yesterday – “In the end people will judge you anyway, so don’t live your life impressing others, live your life impressing yourself.” I do so agree with that.

Nancy: React to this quote by Joseph Chilton Pearce: “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”

Cath: If you are moved to create, the thing you create is neither right not wrong, it just is. You have to work to make it your best of course. But no-one else can create that thing – that story, in the case of a writer. Only you can write your story. We each have to find our own voice, and learn to trust it.

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

Cath: I’m not a very manually dexterous person, but I love doing origami, creating little boxes and other 3-D forms out of sheets of paper – it’s magic.

Nancy: Wow. The things we find out in these interviews! Anything else you want to add? 

Cath: Just that I’m really looking forward to writing – and eating, and drinking!  – with you all in Italy next Spring! Perhaps I’ll slip some origami paper into my luggage too…

Nancy: Please do!

Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. Her prize-winning debut novella The Plankton Collector is published by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. Cath is on the 2018 Literature Wales Mentoring programme, working on a collection of short stories inspired by the work of Flemish artist Hieronymus Bosch. https://cathbarton.com @CathBarton1

(BTW Read Kathy Fish’s review of The Plankton Collector’s here)

Join us in Italy this May!

Uncategorized

Cath Barton’s Award-Winning Novella, The Plankton Collector, Now Available!

Nancy and I are so excited that Cath Barton and her husband Oliver will be joining us at Palazzo Forani in Casperia for our Springtime in Italy retreat in May! Cath’s novella, The Plankton Collector, won the New Welsh Writing Award 2017: Novella Category. Congratulations, Cath!

I found Cath’s writing in this compelling and mysterious novella so rich and evocative. Here is an excerpt:

“No-one knows his name, or rather they know him by different names, depending on when and where they meet him. All he asks is to to be acknowledged and listened to but, like the plankton, he is a wanderer – though on land rather than in water – and is never in one place for long. He passes un- remarked in the crowd. He is the man at the next table in the café. The one drinking his morning coffee like any other. The one reading the newspaper. Or the one simply sitting and staring.”

Here is a description from the publisher, New Welsh Rarebyte:

“In this atmospheric novella, the mysterious Plankton Collector visits members of a family torn apart by grief and regret. he comes in different guises. For ten year-old Mary, he is Mr Smith who takes her on a train journey to the seaside. Her mother, Rose, meets him as Stephen, by her son’s graveside. Rose’s youngest, Bunny, encounters him as the gardener. For husband and father David, meanwhile, the meeting is with a love from his youth. And long-lost Uncle Barnaby takes the children for a week’s holiday during which their parents begin a reconciliation. All visitors are manifestations of the Plankton Collector who teaches those he encounters the difference between the discarded weight of unhappy memories and the lightness borne by happiness recalled.”

This debut has already received high praise:

‘Painterly… lush dreamy prose creates a vivid landscape, while its lyricism transports the reader. Cleverly creates a universe of new realities.’ Cathryn Summerhayes

‘A beautifully controlled mix of magical realism and nature writing about time, healing, trauma and the fluid, unreliable nature of memory.’ David Lloyd, co-judge of the New Welsh Writing Awards 2017

Cath’s novella is available for order HERE.

Check back for Nancy’s fascinating interview with Cath on Monday!

Interviews

Nancy Stohlman Interviewed at New Flash Fiction Review

Meg Pokrass recently interviewed Nancy at New Flash Fiction Review regarding her two stories in the New Micro anthology, her terrific, soon-to-be released book, Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities, our flash fiction retreats, and more.

Below is an excerpt:

MP: Congratulations on your new collection, MADAM VELVET’S CABARET OF ODDITIES! Can you tell us why the world of circus life, the world of clowns, and side-show oddities and performers became your focus?

NS: Thank you! And so many ways to answer this question! So, I’ve been on stage since I was very little in one way or another. Actually my very first memory is of being wheeled around the Barnum and Bailey circus ring (with some other kids picked from the audience) by clowns. I remember the feeling of spotlights so bright I couldn’t see my parents in the audience at all, and I remember the clowns talking to each other like regular people and it occurred to me that they were regular people. Then when I was about 10 my mother actually became a clown (she was nothing like the clown in the book) and used to recruit us to come “clown” with her: at the retirement community, at the town picnics and parades and such. I loved recognizing my friends from school and realizing they had no idea who I was when I was in clown makeup.

But maybe the biggest impetus to write this book was the years I spent traveling with the Renaissance Festival. It was a weird and wonderful American pastoral time—I was in my early 20s, I lived in a van and traveled all over the country, city to city—I’ve been to 47 states. And I’ve tried to write about those years many times—I wrote a bad (unpublished) novel called American Gypsy years ago. But as I said earlier, I have an aversion to telling a story straight—I have to come at it slant. And considering the reality of this/that life is pretty crazy to begin with, it took me a long time to find the right back door into the material.

You can read the rest of the interview HERE.