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.


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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.)





Ryan Stone on the Magic of Flash Fiction: A Perfect Five-Minute Escape From the World

I’ve been working virtually with Australian Ryan Stone for several years, so I was thrilled to learn that he has decided to take the plunge and fly halfway around the world to join Kathy Fish and I in Grand Lake, Colorado this August!
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?
Ryan Stone: I still haven’t figured that one out! My writing is a series of staccato bursts, squeezed in around everything else. A common story, I guess. Nearly all of my writing starts while I’m running with my dog through the rainforest beside my house. He’s developed his very own ‘here we go again’ face that he pulls each time a run pauses so I can tap out a note or two on my phone.
I’m lucky enough to have my own room with a view, filled with my electric guitars, books, and music. On the rare occasions when I find myself in a quiet house with nothing else demanding my time, my favourite thing to do is to tuck myself away, put some vinyl onto my record player, and start revising all the drafts I’ve jotted down over the last few weeks. I find Metallica, Pink Floyd, Concrete Blonde, and The Doors work best when I’m writing.
Nancy: Ha! I can’t imagine revising to Metallica! Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?
Ryan: I think I’ve always been a flash fiction writer, I just didn’t know it until recently. I’ve spent the last few years writing poetry. I’ve always had a particular fondness for haiku, senryu, and 5-7-5 as I love working within those tight constraints where I’m forced to focus on every single word. I’ve written a few short stories, and some longer ones, but I always feel like I’m padding in places. Since I stumbled across flash, I’ve pretty much written it exclusively. To my mind it’s the perfect middle ground between a poem and a short story. I love reading it too – such a magic form to provide a complete escape from the world for 5 minutes.
Nancy: YES! I can’t agree more. Now what is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
Ryan: I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but my interpretation is, a draft is a beginning— revision is what makes good writing great. As silly as it sounds, for a long time I viewed my first drafts as almost-finished pieces. It wasn’t until I read that that I was able to view my drafts as a way of getting ideas out onto the page, and the revision process as the real honing and shaping that turns an idea into something more. I’m about as sharp as a bowling ball most days!
Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?
Ryan: In the fairly short time that I’ve been writing short stories and flash, I’ve been fortunate enough to win a few competitions and get some of my writing published. The piece I think sums up my writing style the best, and one I enjoy re-reading myself, is called Catching Tigers. It was a winner of the 2018 Scintillating Starts Contest at WriterAdvice.com, and has also appeared in a few of other places in different guises. The WriterAdvice version is my favourite:
Nancy: I’m so excited for you–congratulations! Have you ever been to Grand Lake before? What are you most looking forward to?
Ryan: No! Attending this retreat in Grand Lake combines two of the things on the top of my “must do” list. I live in Melbourne, Australia, and have always held a deep fascination and love for America. I’ve completed a couple of online courses with Nancy but have been dying to attend one in person, as well as travel to America. A perfect combination! I’ve been on a couple of surfing trips to Hawaii, but this will be my first visit to Colorado.
There are so many things I’m looking forward to on this trip that it’s hard to narrow it down to a single one. I love the outdoors, hiking and trail running, so one of the top things on my agenda is to get up early and explore a new trail or two while the world wakes up.
Nancy: Colorado is so beautiful–you have picked a perfect American spot to land, I promise! Speaking of travel then, react to this quote:  “We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.”
–Jonah Lehrer, “Why We Travel,” Panorama Magazine (Deccember 2009)
Ryan: Wow! That sums up my thoughts in a far more articulate way than I’ve ever managed. After finishing a 3 year stint in the army, I surfed my way around Australia for 18 months. I discovered the truth in that quote for myself when I returned home. I wish I’d written it.
Nancy: Ha! Me too. Okay, last thing: Tell us something we don’t know about you?
Ryan: I have a good friend coming to this retreat whom I’ve never met.
Nancy: So exciting! And I look forward to meeting YOU in person as well! xoxo
My short fiction and poetry have appeared in publications including Eunoia Review, The Drabble, Algebra of Owls and Silver Birch Press, and won prizes in a number of competitions at venues including Grindstone, Writer Advice, Goodreads, Writers’ Forum Magazine and Poetry Nook. I’m a 2018 Pushcart Prize nominee and live in Melbourne, Australia.

Flash Fiction as a Puzzle: Sarah Arantza Amador on Creative Confidence and Reclaiming Your Writing Time


Kathy Fish and I are THRILLED that Sarah Arantza Amador is joining us on our return to Costa Rica next spring! I chat with Sarah here about the reality of writing and having confidence in your work…oh and we talk about bugs, too!

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?

 Sarah Arantza Amador: This is such a tough one. When I was in college, I was dumbstruck by authors who detailed highly disciplined writing routines (“Up at 5am, write for four hours at a tiny desk in my bedroom, etc.). Back then I had the privilege of  youth and a lot of unstructured time day-to-day. Things have changed, as they tend to do, and I’m a busy lady with a full-time day job and other responsibilities and obligations, and I understand that need for discipline and routine more and more. These days, it takes me a combination of scheduled writing time (often when I take lunch at work, sitting at the little meeting table in my office) and being nimble and flexible, taking advantage of less structured time and “filler” time (commuting, walking, waiting in line at the post office, etc.) to “write” by recording audio notes and typing reminders to myself on my phone. I keep that writing time that I schedule for myself like I do time at the gym (better, even — not going to lie) or scheduled doctors appointments. Time is precious — and nobody is going to value your time more than yourself — so protect it!

Nancy: I can’t agree with you more–it’s so tempting to put our writing time last in a busy life. Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?

Sarah: I’ve loved flash fiction for a long time — but I didn’t always know to call it that! When I was a teenager, I wrote poetry and then vignettes  (and even self-published a chapbook of vignettes inspired by Bob Dylan songs!). In my freshman year in college, my LIT 01 professor introduced my class to Augusto Monterroso’s “The Dinosaur,” a perfect, one-sentence short story. Look it up — it’s incredible! I was amazed by that story and how a single sentence could have so much traction and trouble. I loved that it operated like a puzzle — that it and the reader work together to build a world, a series of possibilities, outcomes. I’ve been a big fan of microfiction and flash fiction ever since.

Nancy: I just looked it up and read it–amazing! What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Sarah: “Have confidence in yourself and your work.” This is easier said than done — I know because I’ve spent decades so far trying to follow it! With time and experience and self-reflection and genuine curiosity, though, it’s gotten a lot easier for me to discern what critiques and criticism serve the work and what I’m going to choose to ignore. It feels really good, really satisfying, to receive feedback that *could* sting, feel unfair or misdirected, and then hear a little voice within me say: “nah, I’ll pass on that feedback.” So, the second best piece of writing advice: practice resiliency, in writing and in life. Oh wait: they’re two parts of the same piece of advice, aren’t they?

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

Sarah: It’s difficult for me to choose one piece. I have more pieces unpublished than published, and every work, regardless of whether or not it has an audience yet,  is like a miracle. Last year, I wrote and published a piece of historical flash that helped me stretch my voice and my imagination, too: “In Dead Waters,” selected for publication in the always excellent FlashBack Fiction. I’m really proud of that flash piece (this one came together for me on a long, solo car ride — I memorized it while reciting it to myself on the road!) and I’m so pleased to have had it published by FlashBack, a journal whose work I really, really admire. Big shout-out to FlashBack editor Ingrid Jendrzejewski, whose thoughtful and careful feedback really helped me tighten and strengthen this piece!

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

Sarah: No, I haven’t been to Costa Rica yet! I’ve never been to Central America and I’m excited to see this part of my hemisphere. What I most look forward to: run-ins with iguanas, monkeys, and tropical birds; (daily??) beach swims; and falling asleep at night listening to the night sounds outside of my jungle cabina. I can’t wait to embrace my inner tropicalia!

Nancy: You will definitely “hear” the howler monkeys! We saw quite a few iguanas last year too. So then react to this quote:  “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

― Marcel Proust

Sarah: I like this quote because it reminds me that the brain is like a muscle — it responds so quickly and so well to exercise, training, new stimuli. You can flex that “muscle” — your cognitive functions, your memory, your imagination — in all kinds of ways, and travel, experiencing and responding to new sights, sounds, smells, and textures in new settings and circumstances, can be a great way to make that exercise — that work — really exciting and generative. I can’t really grow new eyeballs, but I can push and challenge the ones I have to see things with newfound imagination and wonder! Too weird?

Nancy: Love that answer. Last thing: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Sarah: I’m real squeamish around bugs. This may be my biggest challenge on this retreat, overcoming my tropi-spider fears.

Nancy: I promise it won’t be TOO bad–we aren’t deep in the jungle at least! Anything else you want to add?

Sarah: I am so looking forward to reclaiming my time (thank you, Maxine Waters!) with Nancy, Kathy, all my new flash friends (who still feel like mere twinkles in my eye?), and the exciting Costa Rican surprises in store for us in March!

Nancy: And we are so excited to meet you! Twinkle back!

Residing in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California with her dog Roscoe and person Richard, Sarah Arantza Amador writes about longing, ghost-making, the endearment of monsters, and the twists and turns of human loving kindness. Her work is featured in Best Microfiction 2019 and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She tweets @ArantzaSarah and sometimes blogs from www.saraharantzaamador.com.


Coming Home: Sarah Russell on Taming Words and Guarding Your Writing Time

Sarah Russell

I first worked with Sarah Russell in 2009 in the very first flash fiction course I ever taught (for real)! So much has happened since then, including many publications and much acclaim for Sarah’s work, so I was just thrilled to learn that she will be joining Kathy Fish and I in Grand Lake, Colorado this August!

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?

Sarah Russell: Everyone will groan when they hear my answer, because I’m a spoiled writer. Since I retired, I never plan any appointments or commitments before noon. That’s my time to write, rewrite, submit, rewrite, read, did I mention rewrite (?), and I guard it jealously. Plus, every morning my wonderful husband brings me breakfast in bed (which is also my desk and dog snuggling area) and then leaves the dog and me alone to work.

Nancy: That sounds dreamy! Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?

Sarah: I write mostly poetry, but sometimes the words sneak off and become flash. No short stories or novels though. You gotta keep words in line or they start breeding like rabbits, and no one has time for that.

Nancy: Ha! Love it. What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Sarah: It was from Ernest Hemingway who told me one day as we were walking through the tall grass of the savannah back to camp, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

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

Sarah: I wrote a piece called “Mother’s Last Wishes,” in a class Nancy taught long ago that was published in the anthology The Incredible Shrinking Story and was also picked up for Flash Fiction Funny, edited by Tom Hazuka. It’s available at https://sarahrussellpoetry.net/mothers-last-wishes/

Nancy: I remember the evolution of that story so vividly–it’s had quite a life! I still use it to teach found forms in my classes–such a good story. Now have you ever been to Grand Lake before? What are you most looking forward to?

Sarah: Yes, I’ve visited Grand Lake several times since I spend a lot of time in Colorado. It is one of Colorado’s gems — mountain views (and altitude) to take your breath away, a beautiful lake small enough to embrace, and even a funky little town to visit if you get an itch for coffee at a diner. A wonderful setting for the retreat.

Nancy: React to this quote:  “I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Sarah: That’s a great metaphor, certainly for my personal search during my restless early and mid-life, and for the peace I’ve found in recent years. I interpret Adichie’s coming home and finding yourself there as being unapologetically comfortable with who you are. I think I’m getting real close.

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

Sarah: I have a good friend coming to the retreat whom I’ve never met.

Nancy: That is so exciting! And I’m so excited to work with you again, Sarah!

Sarah Russell has returned to writing after a career teaching, writing and editing academic prose. Her work has been published in Third Wednesday, Kentucky Review, Red River Review, Misfit Magazine, and Psaltery and Lyre, among other print and online journals and anthologies. She was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. Her first poetry collection, I lost summer somewhere was recently published by Kelsay Books. She blogs at https://SarahRussellPoetry.net.


We have 2 spots left in our Grand Lake retreat!

Registration is also open for Costa Rica 2020!