Interviews

On the Expansion & Resonance of Flash & More: A Chat with Chelsea Stickle

Photo by Gail Werner

Nancy and I are excited that Chelsea Stickle will be joining us for our High Altitude Inspiration Retreat in Grand Lake this August! Thanks so much, Chelsea, for taking some time to chat with me. First, what attracted you to the idea of coming to the retreat in Grand Lake?

I can get mired in the day-to-day and sometimes a shake-up is exactly what’s needed. I’ve only been writing flash seriously for about a year, so four days filled with writing and instruction sounds ideal.
What do you love and/or find challenging about flash fiction?
As a reader, I love feeling like I’ve experienced a whole life, a whole world in less than 1,000 words. There’s a feeling of completeness, expansion and resonance that hits harder. As a writer, I love getting to the point. You can’t mess around in flash fiction. You’re in it. How are you going to get out?
What piece of your own writing are you most proud of? Where could we read it (if it’s available)?
I have a story called “Household Extractions” in Five on the Fifth. I spent years trying to tell this story and I kept failing to get it right. I took a Bending Genres class with Bud Smith that was about writing in short bursts, which forced me to stop over-thinking it. I ended up writing for much longer than I was supposed to, but I finally wrote the story I wanted.
Wow, I love this. You allow the strangeness of it to just be. You don’t pass judgment or editorialize for the reader. That makes it all the more effective to me. I’m so glad you linked it as I’d not seen it before. No wonder you’re proud of it! Very strong writing. 
I’d be interested in your thoughts on this Amy Hempel quote, Chelsea:

“I have an increasingly open sense of what a story is. Why not make room for more instead of being restrictive? There are so many kinds of stories! Any time you hear someone say, ‘That’s not a story,’ I think you should question the person, not the story.” ~Amy Hempel

I’ve been reading slush, so I have to admit that I’ve said, “That’s not a story” recently. Which isn’t to say that it couldn’t be a story, but that it isn’t a story yet. There has to be something that differentiates it from an anecdote or a detail. A list of errands can be a story, but there has to be an emotional, core need pushing through. (For example, a post-breakup to-do list would be very revealing.) If you can do that, then anything can be a story.

Totally agree and I bet Amy Hempel would too!
Is there anything strange/funny/quirky/odd/special about you that we wouldn’t know and that you’re happy to share? 
I have loose ligaments, which means the joints that hold my bones aren’t as firm as they could be. So my bones slip out of place. Something’s almost always partially dislocated. It’s not the kind of thing you can see when you look at me, but my joints can make a lot of noise. I could write a symphony with all the cracks, clicks and thunks. So hiking sounds cool, but I’m going to stay inside.
Ah, “somethings almost always partially dislocated.” We won’t make you hike then! But very much looking forward to working with you in lovely Grand Lake this summer, Chelsea.

Chelsea Stickle writes flash fiction that appears or is forthcoming in Jellyfish ReviewCleaver, The Nottingham Review, After the Pause, Five on the Fifth, Crack the Spine and others. She lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.

Note: A few spaces remain for our August High Altitude Inspiration Retreat in Grand Lake Consider joining us and allowing yourself to be inspired and energized in a gorgeous setting. 

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On Happiness & Choosing the Creative Path by Chris Bowen

Writer/chef Chris Bowen joined Nancy and me for our first ever flash fiction retreat last summer in Breckenridge. (Read Nancy’s interview with him here.) We’re thrilled he’ll be joining us again in Grand Lake this August. We thank him for sharing his reflections and insights on his creative path since Breckenridge.

 

It was nearly a year ago I took part in Nancy and Kathy’s inaugural Breckenridge, Colorado writing retreat. It’s been three or more years since Nancy invited me to Denver for the first time, reading for the FBomb reading series then and even further back, it’s likely been ten years or more since I first met her at a reading in NYC.

But life wasn’t always this much fun. Just recently last year, I lost faith. I lost faith in my career as a chef, living and working in an isolated part of Pennsylvania at a college for almost three years, having left my family and anyone I knew two hours away in Cleveland for corporate salary.

Life isn’t always fun, but it damn well better be meaningful.

Moving home to Cleveland then and taking less responsibility with my employer last fall, I was determined to ‘take a step back.’ I had turned to Nancy in Breckenridge even that summer on where my life was going, the fact that I was so unhappy and had been for awhile. I still remember the gray, weather-worn wooden picnic table we sat at in the mountain backyard when I told her that, the kind you look for rusty nails sticking out of before you sit. The heat of the afternoon sun. I had joined the retreat to cook for authors and attendees and aside from sitting in on a couple craft talks between prepping meals, this conversation was the only thing I ever needed.

We talked about happiness, France, doing things by and for yourself. Because anyone only has so little time. Between the talk, it was clear I needed to re-evaluate my life somehow. So, I ended up moving home to find retreat in the only thing strong I really knew I could: my family.

Six months in, I’m a part-time student finishing my bachelor’s degree, but more importantly,  have settled in Denver near those mountain. And writing.

There’s something intimidating about these vistas, how they were formed, how strong they are, how difficult it is to reach them as if ghosts just out of reach.

‘If you can’t inspire yourself, how can you ever expect to inspire others?’ they whisper to me.

I think of the ending to Robert Redford’s movie, ‘A River Runs Through It,’ his voiceover at the end:

“Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops, under the rocks are the words. And some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

I see mountains every day. They remind me of how little I am, how short of time we all are. I don’t know if I’ll live here forever or climb a mountain, but I do know whatever I choose, it will be because I wanted to and because it made me happy.

Christopher Bowen is the author of the chapbook We Were Giants, the novella When I Return to You, I Will Be Unfed, and the non-fiction, Debt. He blogs from Burning River and has traveled throughout the U.S.  

Note: A few spots remain in our August High Altitude Inspiration Retreat in Grand Lake. Consider joining us! We’d love to have you. 

Interviews

Author Jayne Martin on Fear & Self-Sabotage

Nancy and I were so thrilled when the lovely, funny, and talented Jayne Martin, who’d participated in our debut retreat last summer in Breckenridge, signed on again for our upcoming Springtime in Italy Retreat in Casperia. We’d interviewed Jayne before and thought this time we’d do something a little different, so we asked her to share some of her writerly wisdom with us here on the blog. Thanks so much, Jayne!

 

Let’s Talk About Fear

I haven’t been sleeping well. So last night I put an Advil PM on the bathroom counter to take just before going to bed. And I had a great night’s sleep.

Today I noticed that blue pill still sitting right where I’d put it. Never took the goddamn thing. But I believed I did and so my body acted accordingly. We create our reality according to our beliefs, which is great when those beliefs support our best interests. Not so great when they sabotage us.

Lately, I’ve been in a writing funk. Old demons long thought to be banished have arisen. In my case they’re saying, “You’re not good enough, so we’re going to keep you from embarrassing yourself by giving you a shitload of excuses to not write.”

You might know this particular demon. Or maybe you have one of your very own telling you:

“You can’t achieve your goals because your success will take time away from your family.”

“Other people get all the breaks. The odds are stacked against you, so why even try.”

“Look at all that competition! Damn! There’s not enough success, abundance (fill in the blank) to go around.”

Or the ever-popular, “You’re a complete fraud and you’re going to be found out.” Yeah, I got that one, too.

Recently, I called out another writer on what I saw as her bullshit excuses. I should know better. Not because of the obvious — I had no right to judge her — but because the Universe immediately held up a gigantic mirror and said “Judge not lest ye be judged, bitch.” And so I not only owe that other writer an apology, I owe her a big thank you and probably an expensive bottle of wine because now I’ve been forced to look at my own crippling crap.

I haven’t written a thing I’m proud of in months. The last two workshops I took I expected to choke and what do you know? Choke, I did!

The thing about these sabotaging beliefs is they lurk in the deepest crevices of our minds and then run our lives like little tyrants. We don’t even know they are there until what we don’t want keeps showing up in our lives instead of what we do want. “WHY THE FUCK DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING TO ME?!”

I’m not a religious person, but a good quote is a good quote:  “As you believe, so it shall be unto you” – Jesus Christ (before we made him a Superstar).

Today I was given three opportunities from the Universe to turn around my fears. The first, as mentioned, was the direction to look at my own sabotaging beliefs before I judged others. The second was an invitation from Kathy and Nancy to write this post to which my immediate reaction was, “Oh shit! What am I going to write about?” The third was the loving outreach from a dear writer friend encouraging me to take an upcoming workshop.

Our demons are constantly testing our vigilance. So, I’m going to take that workshop with expectations of only fun and joy, and that is the experience I’m going to create.

Jayne Martin is a 2017 Pushcart nominee, 2016 winner of Vestal Review’s VERA award, and a 2018 Best Small Fictions nominee. Her work has appeared in Literary Orphans, Spelk, Crack the Spine, Midwestern Gothic, MoonPark Review, Blink-Ink, Cabinet of Heed, Connotation Press and Hippocampus among others. She lives in California where she drinks copious amounts of fine wine and rides horses, though not at the same time. Find her on Twitter @Jayne_Martin.

NOTE: Our Springtime in Italy Retreat is now full, but openings remain for High Altitude Inspiration: Four Days in the Clouds in Grand Lake, Colorado (this August) and we’ve just opened registrations for our return to Costa Rica for Writing Wild in 2020! Join us!

 

Kathy fish

“Just Read” (from an essay originally published in Lascaux Review)

I’m often asked my advice to writers. Mostly I say, just read.

Read Flannery O’Connor. Read Joy Williams. Read William Maxwell.  (Please read  William  Maxwell.)

Read about the universe. Read about neuroanatomy. Read “On the Origin of Species.”

Read “Nine Stories.” Read Tolstoy. Read Carson McCullers. Read Edward P. Jones. Read Willa Cather. Read Yasunari Kawabata. Study atlases and maps. Read E.B. White. Read fairy tales.

Remember that “fresh new voices” can come from people over forty. Find those writers and read them.

Read Shakespeare. Read Amy Hempel and Lydia Davis. Compare. At least once a week, read a book published by a small press. Read, read, read poetry.

Find a book on Entomology. Learn the names of all the insects that inhabit your backyard. (Or make up names for them.) Read Freud. Read graphic novels. Read prose poetry and flash fiction. Study the dictionary.

Read a book about a place you never been to from a writer whose name you can’t pronounce.

Read naked. But not in public.

Find and read a newspaper from the day you were born. Or any old newspaper. Learn another language, then read a novel or poetry in that language.

Read “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” out loud with no children present.

Read philosophy.

Buy a thick notebook and write “Sentences I Love” on the cover. Fill it up and buy another one.

Read collections of short stories and flash fiction.

Read the history of the town you grew up in.

Read Jane Austen and Edith Wharton and the Bronte sisters. Read Katherine Mansfield and Shirley Jackson and Kõbõ Abe. Read Grace Paley. Read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Read long into the night until the characters walk around in your dreams. Read “The Dead” at least one winter afternoon a year.

Or don’t read any of these and just read whatever the hell you want. Whatever books strike your fancy at any moment in time. The only mistake you can make as a writer is not reading.

But should your mother or your aunt or your grandmother or grandfather want to tell you their stories, close whatever book you’re reading and listen.

~Kathy

 

 

 

Interviews

The Fellowship of Other Creatives: Onward to Italy with Beth Gilstrap

Nancy and I are so looking happy that Beth Gilstrap will be joining us in Casperia for our Springtime in Italy Retreat this May! Beth generously took some time to chat with me. 

 Hi Beth! First, will this be your first visit to Italy? 

 This will be my first trip to Italy. I’ve been to Turkey, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Scotland, Canada, and Mexico but never Italy. I am so excited as it’s a long time dream to visit.

 What are you most hoping for, for the retreat this May? 

 Travel and getting out of my comfort zone are always great for generating new material. I hope to focus on starting a new collection and building relationships with fellow writers. I live in Charlotte, NC, which though it has its perks, isn’t a great city for writers. Anytime I can take a break and bond with my people, I find it helps me make it through the rest of my time spent in a banking town.

 We’re gathered at Palazzo Forani, a bunch of writers from all over the world, communing over pasta and freshly baked bread and local wine…who is your dream guest or dream ghost that’s there with us?  

Oh goodness. Aside from an Italian grandma who I’d beg to adopt me and teach me her ways, I’d have to say Anthony Bourdain if we’re talking ghost. And if we’re talking guest, Samin Nosrat of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. I’m obsessed with words and food and would follow those two anywhere though I doubt they’d want me as a sidekick since I’ve been vegetarian most of my life.

 Ah, great choices. What fun Anthony Bourdain would be. I’m sort of obsessed with Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat too! Switching gears now, I’m interested to know what’s your favorite story, poem, essay, flash, that you’ve written and why?

I still love this old one about the kind of fellowship you only find amongst other creatives. It’s calledSpaghettification.” I love to read this one because the rhythm becomes almost feverish.

Beth, this is gorgeous. I love this:   

Now…can you tell us something about you that’s wonderful, weird, unique, funny, endearing…whatever? 

One time I volunteered for a local cat shelter. I bottle fed some orphaned kittens and wound up keeping them. I have four cats and two dogs and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Aw, I love it. It says a lot about you, Beth. We’re so looking forward to seeing you in Italy this May. Thanks for chatting with me!

Beth Gilstrap is the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Man’s Wild Laura (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. She serves as Fiction Editor at Little Fiction | Big Truths and a reader at Creative Nonfiction.Her work has been selected as Longform.org’s Fiction Pick of the Week and recently selected by Dan Chaon for inclusion in the Best Microfiction Anthology. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Minnesota Review, Hot Metal Bridge, and Little Patuxent Review, among others.

Note: Our “Springtime in Italy” Retreat is sold out, but we’re taking registrations for our Flash Fiction Summer Camp in Grand Lake, CO this August and have just opened registrations for Writing Wild in Costa Rica in March, 2020! We’d love for you to join us!