Interviews

Poetry & Journaling One’s Way into Story: A Conversation with Lisa Trigg

Nancy and I are delighted that Lisa Trigg will be joining us for our Writing in the Blue Zone retreat in Costa Rica this March. I enjoyed Lisa’s responses to my questions below:

Lisa, thanks for your time! Have you ever visited Costa Rica before? And what attracts you to Costa Rica?

Never been to Costa Rica but it’s been on my list for years.  I’m attracted to the geography, the people and their politics.  If I can learn Spanish,  I will consider retiring there. If I retire.

What are you most looking forward to in our upcoming retreat?

Learning something new about writing/flash.  Getting inspiration, tips. Sight seeing/R & R, meeting new and interesting people.

What do you find yourself writing about? What themes and/or writerly obsessions? 

I’m presently engaged in planning/writing a series of “cycle stories” in the fashion of Ellen Gilchrist about the life and times of a young to elderly lesbian named Hazel Currie whom I’ve been collecting notes about since I was about 20.  I have drafts of 2 stories from that series and notes on more.  I think there might actually be 2 books worth of short stories, but one never knows how these things turn out.   I dictate notes on Hazel in a Day One journal throughout the day as I have thoughts about her.

I have a small series of flash stories that come to me as I do my work with people with serious mental illness in crisis.  These have social justice themes and are about hurt, broken people making their way in this world.   I’m very careful about writing these stories because I do not want to turn their lives in to entertainment, and because some of the stories are so distinctive that I have to be careful about violating HIPAA laws.  I work with a writer/writing coach who is also a trauma expert/therapist, Kay Morgan, PhD, to help me navigate these issues. So far, I’m more worried about it than she is. The best of those stories, “A Day’s Work,” I had published in a little ezine junoesq which is  now defunct, It’s about a homeless mentally ill man, Janik Muro, who works various strategies to get off the street for a few days because someone is killing homeless people in the camps around the city.  It has morphed into a not bad short story that needs more work and gave me ideas for a novel based on the main character in the story. That project is fermenting and I’m not actively working on him right now except for the little notes I dictate about him into my Day One journal when thoughts occur to me.

I might be obsessed with using technology to organize my very busy thoughts about my characters.

Your works in progress sound so compelling! And I’m going to look into Day One. I’m eager to read more of it when we gather at Peace Retreat. Please respond to this quote?

“When I think of the wisest people I know, they share one defining trait: curiosity. They turn away from the minutiae of their lives-and focus on the world around them. They are motivated by the desire to explore the unfamiliar. They are drawn toward what they don’t understand.”  Dani Shapiro 

Great quote and I agree with it wholeheartedly. I hope someone says this about me someday!

Would you like to share something about yourself that is interesting, moving, weird, funny, unusual?

I’m a lifelong writer/journaler, having focused on poetry in the past, but for the last 1-2 years exploring fiction, which was my original goal.  I was derailed into poetry after a Centrum Workshop where 7 beautiful woman poets performed their work each morning back in the days when they held the performances first thing in the morning.  When I got home, I was thinking in verse and wrote poetry for many years.  I think that writing poetry improved my language and has made me a better fiction writer.  I have many pets, am an avid ballroom dancer, and my idea of camping is Motel 6.  Still wake up excited to get to my job every morning and don’t plan to ever retire.  I once had a dream where I was disembodied, out among the stars, with a spotlight on me, and a deep voice boomed “And Lisa Trigg is the Homecoming Queen of the Universe!”  I’m pretty sure that Hazel is going to have this precise dream sometime during the travails of her 20s.

Love all of this, especially that dream! And I have found that the best flash writers have some background in poetry. We’re so eager to meet you in Costa Rica, Lisa, and getting to know you and your writing better. Thanks so much for your time!

Note: Some spaces remain for our Writing in the Blue Zone retreat in Costa Rica this March! Please consider joining us. We’d love to have you!

Interviews

Paris, New York, Grand Lake…Taking Inspiration Where You Find It: An Interview with Jill Loomis

Nancy and I are so pleased to introduce you to Jill Loomis, who nabbed the last spot for our upcoming High Altitude Inspiration retreat in Grand Lake, Colorado. (If you missed out, but are interested in our other retreats, check out Writing in the Blue Zone, our March, 2020 retreat in Costa Rica!)

Hi Jill! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. We’re so excited for this August retreat in gorgeous Grand Lake. Have you been to Colorado before?  

I froze watching the Broncos at Mile High Stadium years ago.

Ha, sounds fun! What are you looking forward to in our time together in Grand Lake for this retreat?

Learning from experienced writers face to face.  Enjoying everyone’s company and the beauty of Grand Lake.  Gaining more confidence about my own writing.

How do you make time for writing in your life?

I wrote like a madwoman morning noon and night during two online flash workshops.  Didn’t make my bed or wash the dishes until I’d posted a piece or commented on another writer’s story.  On my own I might sit in the park and write, revising in the evening at home.    

What is the most inspiring place you’ve visited to date?

Lucky me I lived and worked in Paris, and I’m still besotted, but I love New York.  Here I get inspiration for characters when I’m riding the subway or just paying attention to what’s going on around me.

Oh wow, that IS lucky to have lived in Paris and now in New York! Both cities are beautiful and fascinating and great for people-watching. Now, I always ask this: Is there something fascinating / unusual / funny / great whatever that you’d like to share about yourself? 

 I was a ballroom dance hostess on a cruise ship.

Ah, I love that! Sounds like something that would provide tons of fodder for flash fiction writing!

Jill Loomis is a New Yorker and a newcomer to flash fiction.  She has the luxury of writing for pleasure after a long career raising funds for nonprofits.  Jill has been inspired by Meg Pokrass and the terrific writers in Meg’s online workshops, and she recently dared to submit several stories for publication.

NOTE: Our Grand Lake Retreat is now sold out, but spaces remain for our March, 2020 Writing in the Blue Zone Retreat in Costa Rica. We’d love to have you join us!

Interviews, Kathy fish, Nancy Stohlman

Flash Fiction Retreats: Interview with Christopher Allen at Smokelong Quarterly

Nancy and I were delighted to meet up with Christopher Allen in Casperia when we were there for our Creative Renaissance Retreat at Palazzo Forani. Interested in what we’re doing with Flash Fiction Retreats, Chris kindly interviewed us for Smokelong Quarterly. Here is an excerpt of that conversation:

Your latest retreat was at Palazzo Forani in Casperia, Italy. I just happened to be in the area on your free day, so I popped by and had lunch with you and your keen participants. We did a lot of eating and drinking. But what does a typical retreat day entail?

(Nancy): “Well, in Italy every day involved a lot of eating and drinking! But seriously, every location and every retreat has its own personality. The things that stay consistent is the general workshop schedule—most days we have a morning session with Kathy that is mostly generative and an afternoon session with me (Nancy) that focuses on revision and workshopping. We also have a final night “salon” where we all dress up and drink (more) wine and read our work. The salon ends up being one of our favorite parts and to prep for that I’ve been offering a performance class on the last day instead of a regular workshop session. So ideally by the end of the retreat participants write some new stuff, revise some old stuff, and read their work in public. You came on our free day (normally we will only have free half days) where participants can explore, take an extra long nap or dive more deeply into their writing. It IS a retreat after all—we want people resting and rejuvenating, not exhausted from classes all day.

But within that framework each retreat develops its own flavor. In Costa Rica we used the metaphor of the jungle as we designed our classes: “wild” writing, birdsong repetition, taking a machete to the overgrowth, etc. Last year in the high mountains of Colorado we were “mining” for silver and gold in our work; in Italy were drawing inspiration from the Italian Renaissance. We want our retreats to reflect and engage with the location. In Italy we were staying in a very old palace (palazzo) with all its creepy/romantic charm and Kathy did a special “ghost writing” session. In Costa Rica we were/will be staying in screened cabinas open to the tropical air and all the sounds of nature. In Grand Lake we will be in a big mountain lodge (think wood burning stove) overlooking a mountain lake.

One thing that remains consistent is that by the end of the week we have all bonded in a special way—writing partners and friendships that will last a lifetime.”

Many thanks to Chris! The rest of the interview may be found here at Smokelong Quarterly.

Interviews

Life, Chaos, & the Sublime: An Interview with Barbara Greenstein

Nancy and I are delighted that Barbara Greenstein will be joining us in August for High Altitude Inspiration Retreat in Grand Lake (Note: There is ONE room still available for one or two to share and we’d love for you to join us!).

  • Hi and welcome to our blog, Barbara! Regarding the upcoming gathering in Grand Lake, what are you most looking forward to?

I’m new to Flash Fiction – I’ve haven’t intentionally written in the genre.  But I’ve been writing small pieces for years, and I’m excited to be part of a gathering at 8000 feet all about words and stories and creativity.  Sounds like heaven to me. 

  • What are the themes or topics or images that seem to recur in your writing, i.e., what are your writerly obsessions?

My writing often deals with family, with illness, with trees and landscape, and with human interaction. I believe Grace Paley’s observation that a good story is found at the intersection of two stories.  I’m often looking for the intersection of the transgressive and the sublime.  I want to know what brings you to your knees.  One of my family members has had a serious chronic illness for over 25 years.  While I can’t change it, I can describe it, and be a witness. When my world becomes fraught, I try to take a step back and deal with the chaos in a writerly way. 

  • Wow, yes, I love that from Grace Paley (one of my favorite writers) and I love what you say here about “the intersection of the transgressive and the sublime.” It makes me eager to get to know you and your writing more! Now…Solitude vs. Community: what is your own perfect balance of these two when it comes to your writing life?

One week before the Twin Towers fell I had the great good fortune to join a weekly writing workshop.  Since then I’ve been meeting with the same teacher (Irene Borger) and largely the same people. We’ll listen to poetry, or sentences, or a particular approach, write for 45 minutes or so, and then read our work aloud. Speaking and hearing my own words, and getting immediate feedback always changes how I perceive what I’ve written. I’ve learned that I can be funny – because people laugh.  And of course we know each other so well by now, the group is infused with trust and love.  So I’ve benefitted greatly from having a writing community.  I’ve done a poorer job at creating my own space to write.  I’m hoping that the Flash workshop will open some floodgates, or at least doors. 

  • Oh, I know it will, Barbara! And you’re very lucky to have a regular writing group like that. Is there an author you’d love to meet someday? And why?

Barry Lopez.  Arctic Dreams changed the way I saw the world.  His latest book, Horizon, is stacked near my bed but as yet unread.  I love the way Lopez combines a deep look at the natural world with history and anthropology and biology and art and personal reflection. He draws threads from many disciplines to weave the world into something glittering and whole, all done in lyrical language.  I’d also place Robert McFarlane and Peter Mathiessen in this group.  And Rebecca Solnit, as a wide-ranging public intellectual, writing about landscape and art and humanity.  Any of them, give me any of them to meet, to listen to.   

  • Oh yes. I’m imagining a very large table with food and drink and favorite authors gathered. Heaven! Barbara, is there something about you that you’d like to share? 

I love baseball.  And so far it’s been a good year to watch the Dodgers, though I worry about their relief pitching.

This last spring I took two classes at UCLA on writers in early modern Italy.  In one class we read Dante, Boccachio, Machiavelli, and about Michaelangelo, Rafael, Leonardo, Galileo.  The second class was on women’s voices from that same period.  Reading primary sources (in English translation) of women from the 1400s – 1600s is an education in female intellect and oppression and how far we have, and haven’t come in half a millennium.  

  • What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

At the Port Townsend Writer’s Conference, 2004, from the poet Olga Broumas, at a craft lecture. “Rinse your words.  Hold up the page and let the words and the syllables you don’t need fall off the page.”  

Wow, I love that advice. Seems especially apt for flash fiction. Thanks so much for your time, Barbara! See you soon in Grand Lake!

Barbara’s Bio: A degree in Anthropology.  Grad school:  Paleolithic archaeology, then primate behavior.  Six months in Puerto Rico watching rhesus monkeys.  Drop out with Imposter Syndrome.  Law school.  Work at the Santa Monica Rent Control Board, at Legal Aid, in the City Attorney’s Office.  Poverty law, landlord tenant, employment law.  Every case a story.  Join a writer’s workshop. Married with children.  A boy and a girl, now 35 and 33.  A husband with multiple sclerosis.  Retire after 30 years.  Two dogs, a fluffy white Marilyn Monroe of dogs, and a crazy Pekingese who talks to me.  A stint at the Getty Villa, immersed in myths and spells and ancient lore.  A house with a secret garden:  A tough job, watching the light, but somebody has to do it. 

Note: There is ONE remaining room available for our Grand Lake Retreat (for one or two to share). Consider joining us! We’d love to have you!

Interviews

Learning Flash in Exotic Costa Rica: A Chat with Writer, Professor, Geneticist Margaret Nowaczyk

Nancy and I are thrilled that accomplished writer and geneticist Margaret Nowaczyk will be joining us for our second Writing Wild in Costa Rica Retreat. Margaret graciously agreed to chat with me about the March, 2020 gathering, the writing life, and more.

Hi Margaret! What are you most looking forward to at Writing Wild in Costa Rica?

Learning how to craft flash fiction. In my writing, it seems that it takes me three quarters of the story to get to the beginning and another half to find the ending. Yes, I know it doesn’t add up—hence my problem. I adore pithy, punch-you-in-the-gut flash fiction yet writing that seems to be completely beyond my reach. And comprehension as to how it’s done. So far, I have written one short-short story (400 words) but nobody likes it enough to publish it. I have bought several books on writing flash and short fiction I had hoped would help, but no such luck. I wonder if I ever get the gist of things.

And, of course, I am looking forward to seeing the jungles of Costa Rica and swimming in the Pacific. But, wait! Are there snakes there?!

Flash fiction is definitely challenging to write well. Nancy and I feel really good about the program we’ve developed for our retreats.  I’m confident you’ll come away from the retreat armed with some great new skills. And oh, I think there might be snakes but I never saw any. I did see a beautiful, shy, slow-moving green iguana though. : ) Margaret, could you tell us a little about your writing life? 

Not sure that I have a writing life. I have a full-time job so my writing takes a back seat to that. I am also a mother to two almost grown sons (18 and 22). I write whenever I can: early mornings, evenings, weekends but there are days when I can’t seem to be able to pull myself together to put anything on paper. I have published several short stories and essays in literary magazines and, last year, defended my MFA thesis. Right now I am trying to finish and publish a memoir and oscillate between nice productivity and sheer, paralyzing terror. I am a sucker for writing retreats and how-to-write manuals: between the trips I have taken and the volumes on my shelf, my last name should be Atwood by now!

Ha! Well, I have to admit I’m a sucker for these things too. Favorite book or story?

 Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is my life-long favourite.

Oh I love that book. I read it in French in high school and was so moved. Is there something funny, unusual, interesting whatever about yourself that you’d like to share?

Nah. I’m just a little bit crazy, ehem, colourful.

Aw, I love that! Can’t wait to retreat with you in Costa Rica, Margaret. Thanks for chatting!

Margaret Nowaczyk MD, received her MFA from University of British Columbia in 2018. Her short stories have been published Numero Cinq, Broken Pencil, The New Quarterly, and Prairie Fire who nominated her short story “Cassandra” for the 2017 Journey Prize. Her non-fiction has appeared in GeistThe Antigonish Review, Grain Magazine and Pismo and, in translation, has twice won a national contest in Poland. She is a clinical geneticist and a professor of pediatrics and pathology at McMaster University. She is currently completing a collection of short stories and a memoir about her work as a pediatric geneticist. She lives in Hamilton, Ontario with her husband and two sons.

Note: Spaces remain for Writing Wild in Costa Rica! (See the glowing praise for our past retreats.) Nancy and I are excited to return to lovely and exotic Peace Retreat in March and hope you can join us!