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?



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. @CathBarton1

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

Join us in Italy this May!


#Breckenflash: Four Days in the Rockies with the Flash Fiction Crew

On August 10-14, 2018, we (Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman) officially launched Flash Fiction Retreats with #Breckenflash! Otherwise known as Rendezvous in the Rockies. Otherwise known as Mining for your Flash Fiction Gold. We were joined by an amazing group of writers, had perfect Colorado weather, and even some unexpected visitors!

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From left to right (top): Holly Lyn Walrath, Leslie Archibald, Chris Bowen, Jayne Martin, Pavlos Stravropoulos, Kathy Fish, Paul Beckman, Anne Weisgerber. From left to right (bottom), Jan Saenz, Annie Q. Syed, Nancy Stohlman, Chelsea Voulgares Not pictured: April Bradley, Sally Reno
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Photo by Paul Beckman

Kathy Fish: Whoosh! Just now coming down from our glorious time in Breckenridge! I’m so grateful for everyone who joined us for our maiden voyage retreat in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. I went in with few expectations and high hopes. I wanted each and every one of our participants to feel looked after and included. I wanted each of them to leave our retreat feeling inspired. I think they did.

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Beautiful Breckenridge Photo by Paul Beckman

Many thanks to Chris for keeping us well-fed throughout, with delicious meals and snacks. My favorite part of the retreat was our Salon Night, where everyone got a chance to read/perform their beautiful work in the stunning great room of the McWilliams House we stayed in. There were champagne toasts, terrific readings, and music provided by Nick Busheff. I myself felt so energized by working with everyone in the group: Anne, Sally, April, Paul, Chris, Pavlos, Annie, Holly, Chelsea, Jayne, Leslie, and Jan. Everyone was so engaged and wrote their hearts out. And I especially loved working one-on-one with each participant (as Nancy did as well). All in all, a wonderful time of great camaraderie and creativity in one of the prettiest places on earth. 

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Our good omen visitor welcomes us to Breckenridge Photo by April Bradley
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Paul Beckman and Kathy Fish among the aspens
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Our magical visitor Photo by Chris Bowen

Nancy Stohlman: Our maiden retreat in Breckenridge was so much fun! Our mountain lodge was quirky and very Colorado—wooden beams and wooden floors, rooms with names like “The Gold Pan” and “The John Wayne”, and a giant teddy bear that was bigger than a person! We had amazing views of the Rockies, an aspen tree canopy out front, and an abundance of little nooks inside for a writer to squirrel away with their writing. It was important for Kathy and I to strike a balance between structure and unstructured time for creative play—we wanted people to feel rested after retreating with us as well as inspired: that delicate balance between the scheduled instruction and the “timeless time” where we can get quiet and commune with our creative voices.

Annie Q. Syed with giant teddy bear

The evenings were full of laughter, stars (and the Perseid meteor shower!) and good mountain air sleep. The days were filled with plenty of nourishing food and camaraderie among so many different kinds of people—a stimulating blend of community and writing with many individual goals but all the same goal—to deeply commune with our work—whether in process or brand new. One participant said, “Even though I just met you all I feel like I’m with family.”

Yes, I felt that, too.

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Salon night! From left to right: Chris Bowen, April Bradley, Paul Weisgerber, Anne Weisgerber, Jan Saenz, Jayne Martin, Pavlos Stravropoulos, Chelsea Voulgares, Leslie Archibald, Holly Lyn Walrath Photo by Paul Beckman
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Now that’s a lot of pasta! Nancy Stohlman with participant and chef Chris Bowen

Deepest thanks to all our retreat participants who made the experience so special for us: Jayne Martin, Chris Bowen, Jan Saenz, Sally Reno, April Bradley, Leslie Archibald, Anne Weisgerber, Paul Beckman, Chelsea Voulgares, Pavlos Stravropoulos, Holly Lyn Walrath and Annie Q. Syed. We miss you already!

And YES! We DO have plans for a 2019 Colorado retreat so stay tuned! In the meantime join us in Costa Rica January 19-25, 2019, or Italy from May 17-25, 2019. We’d love to retreat with you!

Love, Nancy and Kathy

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Nancy Stohlman and Kathy Fish: Salon Night Photo by Paul Beckman

After 60 Years I Realized I’m a Writer: Getting Candid with Laura Alexander


Kathy Fish and I are thrilled that Laura Alexander will be joining us in Costa Rica this January for some rest, writing, and creative play. I chatted with her about flash fiction and becoming a writer later in life.

Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. Tell us about your writing process: How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?  

Laura Alexander: For me it’s always about discipline.  I am not very good at self discipline.  So, I have set aside two full days a week that I devote to writing.  I have to physically leave the house because I am so easily distracted.  One of the things I have  found is that when I am out and about I am always writing in my head.  I will see an interesting person or scene and start to describe it in my mind as I would if I were writing.  This gives me a chance to practice seeing things from a different perspective and using new vocabulary.  I also do a lot of self care now that I have time for that because I believe it is difficult to be creative if I’m not taking care of myself. I go for long hikes, paddle on the Bay, eat well, read a lot and every morning I write what Julia Cameron calls “morning pages” to just empty my brain.

Nancy: Yes, I’m a big fan of morning pages. You shared with me that you are just beginning your writing career at age 61–that’s amazing! What has been your life until now and what brought you to this decision?  

Laura: I have been a nurse for nearly 40 years and although I love my work as a nurse, I have always been a writer at heart.  I started a journal when I was fifteen when I had my first kiss and have been journaling ever since.  I have always loved writing letters and even with the ease of email I still hand write long, newsy snail mail letters to friends and family.  When I was going through challenging times in my life I experimented with writing poetry.   After 60 years I finally realized that I am a writer.  I recently went down to working three days a week instead of five so that I would have more time to devote to my writing.  This is my first foray into fiction.

Nancy: Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction. Have you always been attracted to short fiction or is this a new endeavor for you?  

Laura: Flash Fiction is a new endeavor for me.  To be perfectly honest I was not much of a fan of short stories until I started reading flash fiction.  I am most attracted to writing 100 word stories.  To me it is a huge challenge to write a story that resonates with people and brings out some emotion in just 100 words;  finding just the right words to be succinct and elicit some response.  But now I am looking forward to expanding my horizons a bit.

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

Laura: Costa Rica has long been on my travel bucket list so I am very excited.  I am a huge nature lover and am looking forward to being in a totally different environment than the ones I experience day to day.

Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?   

Laura: I have been writing a book for the past 5 years.  It is called “Letters to my Sons” and it is part memoir and part pearls of wisdom.  There are so many things that I wish I had taught my four sons before they left home and this is my way of doing that.   It includes stories of past experiences that resulted in my learning something about myself or the world.  I was hoping to have it completed about two years ago, but, well, you know how that goes . . .

Nancy: That’s a powerful impetus to write. Now react to this quote by Costa Rican writer Carmen Naranjo: ” “Stories break silence and nourish those who work, feel, and dream.”

Laura: Very often while I was raising my sons in an effort to communicate with them, especially when they were teenagers, I told stories to them either about something in my own life or a friend’s life.  These stories would “break the silence” and get us talking.  Everyone has a story to tell and it’s our job as fellow humans to find those stories and encourage the telling of those stories.  In doing so, we will all be nourished and our lives will be richer not only because we heard others’ stories but because we were encouraged to tell our own.

Nancy: You are so right–even in the real world we use stories to get at the difficult things. I love that. Now tell us something we don’t know about you?

Laura: My two favorite quotes are “When something goes wrong, the adventure begins” and “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  I am always trying to have new experiences, both large and small.  Whenever something goes wrong in my best laid plans I try not to panic.   Instead I say to myself, well, this will make a good story.

Nancy: Yes–it’s all writing material! Anything else you want to add?  

Laura: This is a first for me, to hang around with a bunch of writers in a beautiful atmosphere.  I am very excited to be joining you and look forward to meeting everyone.

Nancy: We are happy to meet you too, Laura!

Laura Alexander currently lives in San Rafael, California with her husband of 37 years and works as a Charge Nurse for an Ambulatory Surgery Center.  In her free time besides writing she is an avid photographer, video editor and beekeeper.  Three of her four sons live in the area along with her new granddaughter so she tries to get in as much family time as she can.