Announcing our June 2020 retreat in…



The French Connection:
Fast Flash Meets the Flash Novel
June 7-13, 2020

After living in Paris, Vincent Van Gogh famously traveled from the gray city to southern France, having heard that the light and colours there were nothing like he had ever experienced.

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Together we will travel travel to the bucolic land of light, to the farmlands, vineyards, and sunflower fields of Yviers, France (near Bordeaux) for a 6-day flash fiction workshop and retreat in the heart of the French countryside. We’ll stay in a lovingly converted stone barn on what used to be a cognac-making estate, surrounded by open spaces and fields of maize and sunflowers. We’ll eat fresh French meals (and maybe a bottle of cognac!) prepared by the owners, who happen to be award-winning restaurateurs.

Join Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman in June, 2020 us for a one of a kind writing retreat in the French countryside where for the first time we will combine two popular online workshops: This “live” version of Kathy’s Fast Flash class dives even deeper into the nuances of the flash fiction story itself and Nancy’s Flash Novel class takes a wide-angle view of creating a larger book project. These generative sessions complement and build upon each other in a way that will take your writing to the next level.

AND we have scheduled our retreat to end approximately one week before the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol (June 19-21, 2020), so it’s the perfect opportunity to do both!

Find out more!


Sound and Light: Penny Johnson on Winter Inspiration and Writing on the Road


We are delighted that Penny Johnson is going to be escaping the winter and joining us in the Blue Zone, Costa Rica, in March for some fantastic flash fiction and so much more!

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?

Penny Johnson: Especially in the winter.  It takes determination to get up at 5 a.m. and put wood in the stove.  Take coffee to the computer.  Sit down and say:  I will write a sentence.  I cover up with a blanket, with slippers, with a stocking cap.   Once I can coerce my old, fat butt into the chair in front of the computer, my brain eases into the words, the sentences and I am not old, and I do not hurt.  By 8 a.m. the dark is shrinking off the snow and I need to go feed the horses, the goats but I want to write one more sentence…

Nancy: That sounds romantically amazing! And yes, you will definitely get to escape winter for a moment in Costa Rica! Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?

Penny: Before there were blogs or WiFi I was an over the road truck driver with my husband.  In the truck stops I unplugged the phone at the drivers’ tables.  I plugged in my laptop.  I used HTML to put photos in.  I used my former son-in-law’s server.  We started a truck driving blog that was called “Penny’s Windshield.”  The connection was really unreliable.  My husband fended off the truck stop waitress.  I would hold my breath until I got connected, typed the entry, sent the photo and it intertwined and posted.  Most of the time I’d loose the connection once, sometimes six times.  I wrote from hand written notes.  I started dropping every possible word.  I aimed for cryptic, concise.  Every word had to work….

Nancy: Wow–I bet you have some amazing pieces from that time–how unique! So what is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Penny: Drop all passive words!  This isn’t really the advice but it is what it morphed into.

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

Penny: “Memories of a Female Truck Driver” is a fictional memoir.  It is the long version of the no longer available “Penny’s Windshield”.  I put it on Amazon for ninety nine cents.

Nancy: Have you ever been to Costa Rica before? What are you most looking forward to?

Penny: Costa Rica is new to me.  I crave new.  I love discovery.  I need adventure.  And then:  yoga, good food, writing, company, sunsets and dawns, bird calls I do not recognize!

Nancy: You will definitely get all of that! Maybe howler monkeys too–ha! So finally: tell us something we don’t know about you?

Penny: I struggle with sounds and lights.  I have as long as I can remember.  Teeth scraping on a fork.  Mushy words like “mug.”  Sounds that hurt.  I turn off lights.  All the years I worked as a psychiatric nurse I turned off lights.  There was always somebody asking, “who turned all the lights off.”  When I got old, my co-workers would give each other a knowing glance but wouldn’t say a word because I was in the old-age category now!

Nancy: Wow. Amazing, and such a potent metaphor for writing, too! Kathy and I are looking forward to getting to know you better in March! 

Penny Johnson’s bio is like a wheel; all the images whirring together.  This far in life, maybe it’s the same for most of us.  We try things, some work out longer than others.  We learn to deal with problems.  There are concrete achievements that work as punctuation:  HS, marriage license, Haight Ashbury, children, AA degree, dissolution decree, RN, motorcycle license, marriage license, BA, dissolution decree,  truck driver license, marriage license, MFA, sales certificate for a thoroughbred failed-racehorse and then, from that one mare: she and I join up.  I lead my mare and she shows me the way… and on top of the wheel, blurring all the edges, all the colors, are the people who have come and gone, who entered in and saw fit to jump the hell back out!


How Travel Fills Our Creative Wells

*This post originally appeared on my website in 2018, but I found the lessons learned so fitting again this year that I am re-posting!

Traveling forces us out of what is familiar and makes our brains work differently. I think that keeps us young, vital, and full of creative juice and wonder. And what I continually learn every time I travel is also about “filling the well” and restocking the creative stores. So here are some of the things I’ve learned about my own creativity through travel (and the good news is you don’t have to travel to apply most of them!):


  1. Meet Your Writing Colleagues in Person

It’s so so important, in the internet heavy reality of our careers, to meet colleagues in person whenever possible. There is nothing that can replace looking people in the eye, giving them a hug, or sharing a meal (or a round of karaoke!), especially if you have “known” them online for a while.

  1. Eat Real Food

I’ve decided that’s the key to French food—it’s actual food. The dishes are deceptively simple but the ingredients are real—not processed, frozen, sugar added or factory farmed.

  1. Walk and take public transportation

Europe does this really well—whether it’s trains crisscrossing countries or metros within the cities, you can walk and take public transportation almost everywhere. I do this already in a limited capacity in Denver; not only is it ultimately cheaper, better for physical health, better for emotional health, and better for the environment, it’s also better for my creativity. My morning journals and first handwritten drafts now happen during my work commute.

  1. Dress up for no reason.

The French have this effortless chic style that I really dig—messy but beautiful and not overdone. But they put effort into looking nice for no reason. And when you look nice you feel nice.

  1. Don’t spend all day on the internet

Duh, right? But in Europe I didn’t have an international roaming plan, so I was inaccessible much of the day unless I was connected to external wifi. No surprise: I was much happier checking in with my online friends once or twice a day rather than all day long.

  1. Take more pictures

I’m a closet amateur photographer, and it was glorious to express myself visually for awhile rather than always with words. And It’s easy to take lots of pictures in an unfamiliar place. It’s good to take a break from your preferred genre and play a little.

  1. Learn another language

Seriously. It’s proven good for your brain as you age anyway, but as writers it reminds us of the plethora of new words out there. I speak mid-level Spanish already but I stared learning French on the Duolingo app in the spring and I highly recommend it. Just 10 mins a day—10 mins not on social media—and I usually did it on the train while commuting.

  1. Put away the phone.

Europeans have phones, and they will pull them out to text one another, but then they put them away. You do not see Europeans on their phones while sitting at cafes or on the metro. Even if they are alone they are watching the world go by. I felt self-conscious being on my phone in public there. I was happy putting it away.

  1. Eat slowly

I tend to eat very fast, like a starving wolf. I’ve justified this my whole life. I also burn the roof of my mouth regularly. I am now consciously slowing down, lingering and enjoying more.

  1. More cultural cross-pollination, please

Not only was I excited to read for new audiences, but I forgot the joy of also being a new audience member. Both in Paris and Bristol I discovered writers with different sensibilities, styles, and subjects. I felt for the first time ever like I was an “American” writer.

  1. Consume more art

When you visit a place like Europe there’s the unnaturally high consumption of art—daily museums, architecture, music. I consume a lot of art already but I’m lucky to get in one artistic outing a week.  Imagine how creative you would be if you did this as intentionally in your own town?

Happy end of summer! I hope to travel with you soon!



Writing in the Blue Zone: Eco-Flash Retreat in Costa Rica, March 21-27, 2020

Jungle walks ending at the untamed ocean. The sounds of parrots, iguanas and howler monkeys. You, barefoot and writing, writing, writing…

Playa Negra sunset

The Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica is one of five “Blue Zones” in the world, areas where people are healthier, happier, and live longer. And if that wasn’t enough, Costa Rica is also a world leader in environmental initiatives and action–surrounded by the beautiful wilds they have taken it upon themselves to be leaders in preserving and caring for their piece of the planet. According to Adventure Sports Network, Costa Rica is “paving the way  to sustainable tourism:”

”The land of “Pura Vida” produces 93 percent of its energy using renewable resources, and in 2017 it broke its own record by running for 300 days solely on energy from renewable sources. Despite being small in size, Costa Rica accounts for five percent of Earth’s biodiversity, and luckily 25 percent of its territory is protected by the National System of Conservation Areas. The country is forward thinking, and by 2021 it hopes to be the first carbon neutral country in the world.”

Join us for our return to Peace Retreat in Playa Negra, Guanacaste, a short 20-min walk to the Pacific Ocean (and one of the world’s rare black sand beaches) for an immersive experience of discovery, creation, inspiration and building community. You will gain perspective, respite, focus, time, camaraderie and the gift of prioritizing yourself and your art.

Find your inspiration and happiness in the Blue Zone as we write together in symbiosis with nature, breathe clean air, eat gentle, healthy foods, sleep to the sounds of the wind, shed the excess mental baggage and find our bare, creative hearts in the land of Pura Vida (pure life), all the while remembering that the care of our planet and the care of our our creativity always comes from our hearts.

Connect with your Creative Heart and discover the secrets of the Blue Zone with us in March.


Find out more


Saturday May 25: Flash Fiction Featured Reading at Rome’s Otherwise Bookstore

When in Rome, Read Flash Fiction!

Flash fictions are complete stories under 1,000 words and they are increasingly popular around the globe. Come hear 14 visiting writers from the Ireland, U.K., Switzerland, Canada and the United States read their micro-stories at this one-time event!

Saturday, May 25


Otherwise Bookstore


Outside Otherwise Bookshop.8dbb3d_64fe77135ca649da94edf8851a8fe164mv2

The evening features award-winning writers, publishers, and masters of the craft including:

Nancy Stohlman (U.S)

Jayne Martin (U.S)

Beth Gilstrap (U.S)

Bryan Jansing (U.S./Italy)

K.B. Jensen (U.S.)

Kim Samsain (Canada)

Jude Higgins (U.K.)

John Wheway (U.K.)

Cath Barton (U.K)

Oliver Barton (U.K)

Marie Gethins (Ireland)

Nicole Schmied (Switzerland)

Gina Headden (U.K.)

and musical guest Nick Busheff (U.S.)