Interviews, Nancy Stohlman, Uncategorized

For the Love of Practice: Chatting with Jeff Burd About Baseball, Hybrids and High Altitude Inspiration

Kathy Fish and I are excited to work with Jeff Burd this summer at our High Altitude Inspiration retreat in Grand Lake, Colorado. Jeff and I chatted with me about teaching, hybrids, and baseball as a metaphor for writing.

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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?

Jeff Burd: I’m fortunate enough to be a high school teacher, and I’ve taught a creative writing class for the past 13 years.  I am many times writing along with my students, and sometimes use their insights in the editing process.  I am frequently surprised by what they come up with.  So that helps me find time somewhat consistently.  Otherwise, I keep a writing date for myself at a certain time and in a certain place throughout the summer.  Beyond that, it’s catch as catch can.

Nancy: I can relate–sometimes being a teacher is the best way to also be a writer! Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?

Jeff: I’d start with my relationship with poetry.  I’ve spent countless hours over the last fifteen years studying poetry, writing poems, transcribing poems, none of which is to say that I’m a particularly good poet (or even average).  But the skills I’ve developed feed directly into my writing of flash.  The two genres share a lot of common ground, and I’ve found a lot of joy in working in a hybrid form.  I’ve been working lately on transforming old poems into prose poems and microfictions.

Nancy: Yes, there is a lot of crossover, which is so exciting! What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Jeff: Two pieces, actually:  1.  Ray Bradbury said to have fun writing your first draft, because drafts 2-11 are going to be hell; and 2.  Jack Ridl says you have to love practice if you’re a writer, the same way a basketball player loves to be in the gym or merely shooting baskets in the driveway.  Everything you write is but practice anyhow, so if you’re not loving it, why do it?

Nancy: I especially love that quote by Bradbury–perfect. What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

Jeff: I wouldn’t say it’s the one I’m most proud of, but this microfiction is one that is probably most significant since it opened a door for me and got the ball rolling with some very nice success I’ve experienced in the last two years.  I purposely wrote one of the most obnoxious things I could think of and was going to chalk it up to fun and practice when the final image came to me in yoga class the morning after I had written the first draft.  I sent it off to a handful of publications on a whim, thinking “fuck it if they don’t like it, I had fun with it!”  It was picked up for publication within 12 hours.  You can find it here:

http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue8/BurdLastTime.aspx

Nancy: Congratulations! Now since I know you are a baseball fan, react to this quote by Babe Ruth as it pertains to your writing : “Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!”

Jeff: Krikey, I’ve “struck out” 95% of the time with my writing!  If I was in fear of that, I could never write.  But there are reasons to play the game other than publication.  My  goal has always been to be the best writer I can be, so even the strike outs get me closer to that goal I can never really reach.

Nancy: Have you ever been to Grand Lake before? What are you most looking forward to?

Jeff: I haven’t been to Colorado for a long time, so I look forward to returning and spending some time there and enjoying the beauties of nature.  I will be stand-up paddle boarding the titular lake at Grand Lake a few times, and probably head to Red Rocks for a concert one night.  I hope I find the time to write!

Nancy: Oh there will be time to write, I promise! Last thing: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Jeff: I won The New Yorker cartoon caption contest #377, waaaaaay back in 2013.

Nancy: Ha! Thanks so much for chatting with me, Jeff! We are looking forward to retreating with you in Colorado this summer!

Jeff Burd is a graduate of the Northwestern University writing program. His publications include The Baseball Research Journal, Imitation Fruit, BULL: Men’s Fiction, KYSO: Flash, Mount Hope, Soliloquies Anthology, Third Wednesday, and Dislocate. He was judged a winner of the First Memorial George Dila Flash Fiction Contest, and his nonfiction writing A Familiar Problem, a Familiar Face was recognized by Mensa as Best Unpublished Novel.  Mr. Burd lives in Gurnee, IL, where he spends his time exercising, reading, writing, working in the kitchen, cheering for the Chicago Cubs, and watching Tottenham Hotspur. He works as a Reading Specialist at Zion-Benton Township High School in Zion, IL.  

UPDATE: There are 4 spaces left for our High Altitude Inspiration in Grand Lake retreat! Find out more

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High Altitude Inspiration: Four Days in the Rocky Mountains with Special Guest…..

 Join us in August 14th – 18th, 2019 for

High Altitude Inspiration:

Four Days in the Clouds in Grand Lake, Colorado

Just Announced: Special Guest Randall Brown!

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Rise above your normal vantage point. Put your head in the clouds. See what inspiration waits for you when you take the birds-eye view, perched above Grand Lake and nestled in the grandeur of nature and the majestic Rocky Mountains.  

Commune with your fellow writers in a rustic, peaceful setting. Clear your mind. See the big picture. Open yourself to inspired creativity and expansion. Take your writing to new heights with us this August in Colorful Colorado.

Join us for an all-inclusive four-day retreat with two group sessions each day (including craft talks, generative writing exercises, workshopping sessions and one-on-one mentoring as well as plenty of inspired individual writing time), three delicious locally-sourced meals per day, sunset group writes and a final evening literary salon in the stunning chapel overlooking the lake. 

Now with a special BONUS session with renowned flash fiction writer and teacher Randall Brown! 

Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in theBest Small Fictions 2015 & 2017 & 2019The Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction, and The Norton Anthology of Microfiction. He founded and directs FlashFiction.Net and has been published and anthologized widely, both online and in print. Recent published work includes the novella How Long is Forever (2018)the poetry chapbook I Might Never Learn (2018), and the flash fiction collectionThis Is How He Learned to Love (2019).  He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA from Vermont College.

Hope you can join us!

More info here:

Nancy Stohlman

Spring is Coming: Planting Seeds for The Rupture of Your Creativity

Here in Colorado, the Rocky Mountains are still covered in what feels like endless snow, but underneath all that snow the spring flowers are actually stirring…we just can’t see them yet.

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Grand Lake, Colorado, in winter

This “stirring” is a potent metaphor for our own creativity: Sometimes we cannot see the fruits of our labor yet, but underneath the surface new life is growing still. And just like spring, one day we will look around and ask: Where did all these flowers come from all of a sudden?

But the artist knows that it never happens all of a sudden.

I love this quote by Cynthia Occelli:  “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

frc3bchlingsblumen_im_schnee

So hang on! The rupture of your best work may be working its way to the surface right now!

That also means that now is the perfect time to start planting your creative seeds for the spring/summer: What creative flowers do you want to bloom this year? Do you want to send out more submissions? Enter a contest? Finish a manuscript? Maybe you want to get into a daily writing routine? Try a new form (like flash fiction!)? Get your website going? Network with other writers or go on a writing retreat with us?

Whatever your goals are, now is the time to put those seeds in the ground and let them stir–invisible but moving–towards fruition.

Happy planting!

Love, Nancy

Find out more about Flash Fiction Summer Camp in Grand Lake August 2019

Find out more about Writing Wild in Costa Rica March 2020

 

 

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K.B. Jensen: On Books, Bucket Lists, and Dreaming Big in Italy

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Kathy Fish and I are excited that fellow Denverite K.B. Jensen will be joining us in Casperia, Italy for our first European flash fiction retreat! I chat with K.B. here about books, bucket lists, and what it’s like to be bi-cultural, among other things:

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?

K.B. Jensen: To tell you the truth, I suck at that lately, which is why I’m excited to jumpstart my writing this spring with the Italy retreat. I definitely struggle to find the time to write these days, and I want to get back into the routine.

Writing a book is like putting together a puzzle, you have to keep chipping at it. The easiest time I ever had of it was when I was a stay at home parent and my kid was a baby and took naps. I never knew if I’d have thirty minutes to write or two hours, so I wrote my first novel like mad during her naptime. But now she’s older, and I work as a professional editor, publishing consultant and ski instructor, as well, so the writing time has become scarcer. What has been helpful has been to give myself permission to write and to write early in the day while my eyes are fresh. I recently literally wrote myself a permission slip for writing one hour daily. Lately, it has been mostly journaling and poetry, but it feels good, and it’s like playing the scales on a piano.

I also enjoyed doing challenges like FlashNaNoWriMo, where you write a short story a day. That was really helpful, Nancy. I love your prompts. Thank you for sending them daily in November.

Nancy: You are so welcome! And I relate SO much to the writing-during-naptime and I LOVE the permission slip! Can you tell us about your relationship to flash fiction?

K.B. I’m not married to it. I play with all sorts of lengths and genres. But I do love flash. It’s fun and playful. I also like writing concisely. I was a journalist for fifteen years, so I love brevity and getting to the point quickly.

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

K.B. That’s like choosing between children. I’m really proud of my books. Painting With Fire is more popular generally since it’s a murder mystery, but A Storm of Stories is probably my favorite child of the two. Both represent different times in my life with Painting With Fire drawing from all the crime stories I wrote as a newspaper reporter, talking to all those cops, neighbors and family members of victims. It is fiction, but it’s true to life.

A Storm of Stories is definitely more literary, poetic and metaphorical. It’s a complex book. I didn’t even realize I was writing it the way I was, but the themes just fit together into a bigger story. It’s a novel full of short stories with two strangers trapped in a car in a whiteout storm telling each other stories to stay alive. The stories all have the themes of love, craziness and impossibility. And then there’s the story and mystery of the two storytellers, as well. The things our stories reveal about us, what’s real and what’s made up. Storytelling can be so intimate and revealing. These main characters don’t know each other, but they do.

I also have an award-winning short story that’s speculative fiction about a woman who turns into her grandmother overnight, but I haven’t actually published it yet. You can find samples of A Storm of Stories and Painting With Fire on Amazon, if you want to get a feel.

Nancy: Since you have published several books—what are some of the most important things you have learned from that process?

K.B. Don’t publish in a vacuum. Never publish alone. I didn’t make that mistake, thankfully. I had a lot of help. I know a ton about publishing now that I wish I knew when I first started. I could write a whole book on that question. To sum it up? Go big. Dream big. Market big. Have a team.

I also learned to not be so scared. Weirdly enough, even after working as a journalist for magazines and newspapers, I used to be terrified of people reading my fiction. When my first book came out, I told myself no one would read it and that made me feel better. It was comforting. After 70,000 people downloaded it, I freaked out a bit, then let that fear go. So I have learned not to be scared of sharing fiction. I am still nervous about sharing poetry though. I guess I have it weirdly compartmentalized. At my first live-lit event years ago, my hands shook so badly, you could see the paper flutter. Hard to imagine now.

Nancy: That is such amazing advice, especially about fear. I agree–fear only holds us back. So proud of you and looking forward to seeing more in Italy. Have you been to Italy before? What are you most looking forward to?

K.B. I have always wanted to go to Italy. It’s been on my bucket list, but this is a first for me. I’m looking forward to meeting some cool fellow writers, getting some writing done, refocusing and being inspired by a beautiful country.

Nancy: React to this quote by Richard Branson: “The most talented, thought-provoking, game-changing people are never normal.” Are you “normal”?

K.B. Hell no. I’m definitely not normal. That’s a nice quote in that it spins it so positively.

Maybe that was why I was so afraid of sharing my fiction for so long. I was afraid people would read it and think I was crazy or weird. Then I realized, I am a little crazy and fairly weird, and that’s okay. Who wants to be normal? I like weird people too. Interesting characters.

Nancy: I agree! Okay, finally: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

It’s strange, in America, I feel Danish. In Denmark, I feel American. My dad hails from Copenhagen. He didn’t teach me any Danish as a kid. Maybe he wanted me to be American. I rebelled and learned it in college. After I learned, I recorded my grandfather’s World War II memories on tape on long distance calls, but they are all in Danish. I’d like to do something with those stories, as well one of these days, but the prospect of translating all that Danish is intimidating. One day. Another item on the bucket list. Maybe it will be historical fiction or true vignettes about his experiences. I’m not sure.

Nancy: Thank you so much for chatting with me, K.B.! I’m counting the days until our Italian retreat! Until then, where can we find your books?

K.B. You can find my books at:

A Storm of Stories

Painting With Fire

K.B. Jensen is an award-winning author, fiction editor, and publishing consultant with My Word Publishing. Her first book, Painting With Fire, an artistic murder mystery, hit the bestseller list for crime novels on Amazon and has been downloaded more than 70,000 times. Her second book, A Storm of Stories, veers into more literary territory with themes of love, craziness and impossibility. K.B. grew up in Minneapolis and moved from Chicago to Littleton, CO., with her husband, daughter and rescued border collie/lab mix. In her spare time, she enjoys teaching downhill skiing, writing poetry and traveling the world. For more information, visit www.kbjensenauthor.com.

P.S Our Springtime in Italy retreat is Sold Out, but we have room in our Flash Fiction Summer Camp (Colorado) and our just announced Writing Wild in Costa Rica 2020 retreats! Find out more:

Flash Fiction Summer Camp in Colorado: August 14-18, 2018

Writing Wild in Costa Rica 2020: March 21-27, 2020