Interviews, Uncategorized

“Writing Flash Feels New Again”: John Wheway on Surrendering to the Muse


I had the pleasure of meeting John Wheway in person at the Bath Flash Fiction Festival last July, and Kathy Fish and I are just thrilled that he will be joining us in Casperia, Italy, next May! 

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?

John Wheway: I have few claims on my time, so my challenge is to surrender to the muse rather than carve out hours. Writing happens mostly every day, at almost any time.   Writing in the bath, I hardly notice when the water that almost scalded my skin starts giving me wrinkles. Writing in the small hours on my iPad (favourite writing tool since typewriters disappeared) absorbs me like my childhood devouring of books under the sheets by torchlight.  On walks, the enticement to write can maroon me in the middle of a field. Surrender is the thing, being willing, any time, anywhere, to write.

Nancy: I love that, and I’m amazed that you can write in the bath! Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction. Have you always written short or is this a new endeavor for you?

John: At twelve, I wrote a 400 word prose piece. I’d never read anything of that length, so I guess I invented flash privately for myself. In my early twenties, I drafted an experimental novel which didn’t quite work, but from which I rescued and shaped fragments, which became ‘The Green Table of Infinity’ (Anvil Press, London, 1972). Like much flash, they sit on the fence between story and poem. After this, I neither wrote nor published for many years. When I felt moved to write again, one manual that helped was Roberta Allen’s ‘Five Minute Fictions,’ which prompted over a hundred pieces of Flash. But I didn’t revise, didn’t publish them. I turned to writing poems instead. Meanwhile, Jude Higgins, my wife, plunged into writing and promoting flash.  I peered over her shoulder, but it’s taken time for me to exchange the sentence for the line as the primary unit of composition. Seeing the spectacular things Lydia Davis and our friend Meg Pokrass could do with the form is a constant inspiration. Writing flash feels new again. In the book I’ve begun to write about childhood, poems and flash together will form the texture of the weave.

Nancy: “Writing flash feels new again”–I just love that. You are also part of the Bath Flash Fiction Festival, which I was thrilled to attend this past July. What has been your biggest learning as part of the team responsible for the success of such a dynamic gathering of writers? 

John: To be accurate, I wasn’t officially part of the Festival team, but being the director’s husband, I learned I must endure like Atlas.  I enjoyed hosting Meg Pokrass at our house, and also my young friend, David McCormick, a volunteer. And the festival each time has been like a garden coming into bloom.

Nancy: A beautiful garden, I might add! This is not your first time to Italy, or even your first time to the tiny town of Casperia! Can you share with the rest of us what you most liked/remembered about being in Casperia?

John: Wonderful eating places tucked into farms and hamlets – homely, hospitable, but each with its unique, exquisite antipasti. A terrace over a steep valley with cafes for watching people (and goats – were there goats?).  During wild days of thunder, lightning and deluge, holed up in our rented cottage, I dug out Saramago’s ‘All the Names’ from a bookshelf.  I read, deafened to the storm. By the last page, the storm-clouds blew away.

Nancy: It sounds so incredible–I can’t wait! So now react to this quote by Italian writer Italo Calvino: ” “Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” 

John: As for cities, so for ourselves.  Waking up is hard to do.

Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

John: I tend to think pride, like shame, disrupts the non-judgmental openness writing requires. I might be willing to say, I’m proud to persist at writing –  but edited, this comes out as ‘I persist at writing,’ which is an improvement, don’t you think?  I’m pleased and grateful to have learned recently that my poetry collection ‘A Bluebottle in Late October’ is to be published.  There are links to already published poems and flash on my website ‘‘ where you can also order copies of my vintage prose chapbook ‘The Green Table of Infinity’.

Nancy: That’s fantastic, congratulations!! Tell us something we don’t know about you? 

John: I’m probably two inches taller than Beethoven.

Nancy: Anything else you want to add? 

John: Many yet-to-be-written poems and fictions.

John Wheway’s poems have appeared in New Measure, Stand, Magma, The Warwick Review, Poetry Review, the Yellow Nib, Poetry Quarterly, the Compass Magazine, South Word, Agenda, and the High Window, in three Templar anthologies and in The Echoing Gallery from Redcliffe Press. His flash fiction has appeared in Flash Flood 2017, Flash Flood 2018, and Flash Fiction Festival One (Ad Hoc Fiction – 2017). Anvil Press poetry published his chapbook The Green Table of Infinity, and Faber and Faber published his novella Poborden. He has a Creative Writing MA from Bath Spa University. His poetry collection, A Bluebottle in Late October, is to be published in 2020.

Join us in Casperia, Italy, in May 2019~

Interviews, Uncategorized

Oliver Barton on Intuition, Inhibition, and Listening to Your Inner Creative Child

Oliver Barton

Oliver Barton will be joining Kathy Fish and I in the beautiful hills of Casperia, Italy, next May! I got a chance to chat with Oliver a bit about his writing process and how to stay in touch with the creative inner child and a sense of play while making art.

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?

Oliver Barton: Time is not the real issue with me; my enemy is prevarication. One way I combat it is to repair to a café. There I can sit in the isolation of the babble of voices and lose myself in whatever I’m trying to write. I like to write in longhand there so as to be entirely divorced from the temptations of the web. Otherwise, there is the time before getting up, lying in bed letting a story unfold…

Nancy: You said to me recently, “A wonderful thing about writing is you never quite know what’s going to emerge from the miasma of your brain!” I love it! Tell us more about your relationship with writing and flash fiction?

Oliver: In a writing group we run, as an exercise, we give ourselves ten minutes and a more-or-less randomly chosen trigger, and simply write. No time to have second thoughts or to plan, just to get going and see what happens. And nearly always people end up with a beginning, a middle and an end that they never expected. Wonderful! Let the right-side of the brain take over – is that it? It is no big deal if the piece is rubbish, it doesn’t matter. So we don’t worry about it and most of the time little gems and an extraordinary variety result!

Nancy: Yes, I do something similar–creative play! What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

Oliver: Today, I think I’m most proud of The Signpost, (

Nancy: Wonderful! Now react to this quote by Edgar Degas: “Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Do you think it’s the same for writing? 

Oliver: A dreadful little rhyme we used to chant in the playground when I was very young and which we thought exceedingly funny comes to mind:
See the happy moron,
He doesn’t give a damn.
I wish I were a moron –
I say, perhaps I am.
As a child, anything goes until the great adult world says, ‘No, you should do it like this,’ and inhibition and embarrassment sets in. The lesson for me, and perhaps from what Dégas said, is to use your experience and knowledge and skill to present what the inner child wants to say.

Nancy: I love what you just said about inhibition and embarrassment as the real enemies to our inner child’s wisdom–I agree. Have you been to Italy before? What are you most looking forward to?

Oliver: Yes. Thrice to the Castello Sannazzaro in Giarole, where we sang Renaissance polyphony for a week, and a trip to Ostia Antica and Rome. What better place to let the writing flow, along with the wine! Who knows what will result.

Nancy: Wow!! Tell us something (else!) we don’t know about you?

Oliver: I once toured with an opera group playing the part of the Betrayer in the Guise of a Dog while suffering from Shingles.

Nancy: I adore opera. Maybe you’ll sing for us in that big castle in Italy??? Anything else you want to add?

Oliver: I have a website,, which currently is music that I’ve published (online), much of which I wrote and also houses archives of the Green Branch Opera Group.

Nancy: Thanks so much for taking the time, Oliver! I look forward to seeing you again in May!

JOIN US in Italy in May 2019! Find out more:

Oliver Barton used to write Computer User Manuals, but having retired, now prefers to replace writing facts that nobody reads with producing whimsical fiction that lots of people enjoy! In a previous existence as a Maths teacher, he wrote and directed two full-length plays, and he has composed a number of musical pieces, mostly for choir, which have received performances in widely-flung places around the world. They are freely available from his web-site, He and his wife Cath have published two slim volumes of stories and photos, available from Lulu – Candyfloss, and Candyfloss II. They run two writing groups, which keep them in trim as writers and provide inspiration and encouragement to other local writers. In his writing, he seeks to bring a wry touch to the commonplace activities of everyday life – “in the ordinary is the extraordinary.” Frequently, angels and bad-tempered mythical beings such as garden gnomes creep in, despite his best endeavours. He has assembled a collection “Away with the Fairies,” where they have taken over, and has a novel, “Mouse” currently maturing between revisions.
Nancy Stohlman

Brilliant New Collection by Nancy Stohlman: Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities

“Step right up and meet a woman so determined to be a star she’ll try anything, including spray on Instant Fame! Meet her reflection, who dreams of a life of her own and manages to find love on the Internet! See the man desperately trying to earn a world record in the most bizarre way possible! Learn the origins of the Four-Legged Woman and the Human Skeleton! Clown mothers, suicidal ringmasters, cult leader who teach the cha-cha and Alaska Jackson’s Traveling Medicine Show…each one takes center stage in this vaudeville of flash fiction. Flash fiction, microfiction, short-short stories… regardless of the name, it’s all the same—a compressed story that packs a punch. Enter a cabaret of the weird, the absurd, and the bizarre with this bold and bawdy new collection.”

Well, readers, I promise you this collection is like none other you’ve read and I’m thrilled that Nancy’s Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities, published by Big Table Publishing, releases to the world October 26th. This latest is “pure Stohlman,” as Pamela Painter so aptly puts it.

Told in a series of connected flashes (actually microfictions, some as brief as one sentence), this book tells the story of circus clowns and sideshow performers, with Nancy’s inimitable style and wit and what James Thomas describes as “brilliant performance art on the printed page.”

The pieces are so inventive and daring, with a voice that leaps off the page. Nancy deals with deep truths in a way that bucks straight realism. As she puts it, she feels most comfortable telling her stories “slant.” One of my favorites is this mind bender:

Future Self

I was backstage. The crowd was applauding. I peeked

through the heavy maroon curtains and there was my Future Self

in the spotlight. She saw me and her face opened like a flower to

the sun.

I walked on stage and sat next to her. Then I noticed I was

sitting in a chair labeled “Before” as the audience clapped and


I love what Steven Dunn has to say about this collection:

“Nancy Stohlman’s writing is so damn sharp here. And each of these shards that make up Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities is connected by this silly-sad-hopeful-absurd-melancholic web that catches everything you do not want, and you’ll find yourself longing for what’s not caught. But you will end up caught in the web too, with all of that mess. I’ve never read a book like this, and I’m excited to hear all of the conversations surrounding it.” ​~Steven Dunn, author of Water and Power and Potted Meat

If you’re in the Denver area, why not treat yourself to the book’s official release and performance on Friday, October 26th at the Mercury Cafe ballroom? 

Read more about this collection in Nancy’s interview at Pen and Muse.

Watch the trailer!


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!


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?