Interviews, Nancy Stohlman, Uncategorized

On Finding Time to Write: A Conversation with Nancy Ludmerer

 

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Kathy and I are thrilled that Nancy Ludmerer (and her husband, Malcolm) will be joining us for our French Connection Retreat in June 2020! She shares some of her thoughts about writing (and some of her beautiful stories!), flash fiction, thankfulness for deadlines, and even a surprising fact below:

On Finding Time to Write and Creating a “Retreat” to Do So
For 20-plus years (beginning when I was 40) I pursued writing while I was also a single mom practicing law full-time. During that period, it was hard to find time to write. I frequently took weeklong workshops (away from home) where workshop participants would produce one or more pieces daily, whether flash fiction or the beginning of a longer work. Those workshops gave me drafts that I could then work on “in my spare time” when I returned to my life as a lawyer and single mom. When work was lighter, or my son was at summer camp or visiting his dad, I still found it hard, given the number of distractions, to sit down and write. What kept me in my chair was deadlines. Self-imposed ones worked occasionally but the best was a competition or a workshop or a deadline set by a journal (whether for a theme issue or simply “the quarterly issue”). Those deadlines forced me to carve out the time to get the work done.

Now – as of April 2018 – I have retired from the law (and my son is 33), but the need to set deadlines hasn’t really changed. I DO have more flexibility than I used to in that I can work for five uninterrupted hours if I want to – although distractions remain. (For some reason, the refrigerator has become a major one, and in our one-bedroom apartment, it is barely a few feet from where I work.) For me, developing the discipline to write every day remains my biggest challenge. I let myself “off the hook” on days when I am polishing or submitting work, or reading in order to write. But the challenge remains.

My Relationship with Flash Fiction
My relationship with flash fiction began in the mid-1990’s in a workshop taught by Pam Painter at the University of Vermont summer school. I had heard that Pam was a terrific teacher and the course she was teaching happened to be in flash fiction (and was held while my eight-year-old was at summer camp), so I said, why not? Pam was indeed a wonderful teacher and mentor and the students were engaging and smart. The next summer I followed Pam to the Kenyon College summer writing program, where I would return year after year, frequently after that to study with Nancy Zafris. The discipline of having to turn out one or two flash fictions a day was hard and exhausting but also confidence-building, as were a number of acceptances that followed. After that I would explain my affinity for flash fiction by observing that as a full-time lawyer and single mom, I could still manage to polish and perfect a piece of flash fiction, whereas this was much harder for me with a 15 or 20 page story. I love conciseness in story-telling and particularly enjoy the challenge of taking a story of however many words – 1500 or more – and reducing it to 300 or 500 or 750 words for a competition or flash fiction journal. Some of my favorite short-story writers are masters of these short forms (as well as longer works) – from Chekhov to Joyce to Kafka to Paley to Lispector to Tillie Olsen– so I take inspiration from these writers as well as my contemporaries.

Best Piece of Writing Advice
Here I must give a shout-out to Sonia Pilcer. Sonia happens to be one of only two people in the world whom both Malcolm and I knew BEFORE we knew each other. (The other is a judge in NYC.) Malcolm actually dated Sonia for a while (I did not) before becoming the godfather to her son, but both of us met her when she was teaching classes in the writing program at our local YMCA, the West Side Y. Sonia would assign weekly prompts to the students in her class and on the first day of class, write on the blackboard in huge letters: WRITE. WRITE STUPID. WRITE UGLY. WRITE. Both that advice, and the sheer volume of stories that I was required to produce in classes taught by Pam Painter, Nancy Zafris, and others (including Sonia), helped to dispel the feeling that you had to produce something “good” every time. It is still nerve-wracking to be among a new group of writers, especially writing to prompts. Will I produce anything “good”? Will they think I am “good”? But I try to cling to that advice, understanding that writing is a craft that you get better at by doing, even doing “badly” – whatever that means.

Piece(s) of Writing I Am Most Proud Of
This question is probably the single reason it has taken me so long to respond your interview questions. How can I choose? Isn’t it like asking someone to choose her favorite child? Moreover, it’s difficult to separate my own perceptions from the reactions of readers. I will answer with a few stories, and hope that’s okay. Among flash fictions, I am particularly proud of “How Are You?” (published in Vestal Review). Next might be “Learning the Trade in Tenancingo” or (most recently) “After Happiness”. I also have a special place in my heart for “Morris and Cleo” which was a runner-up for (and published by) The Brighton Prize; “Clementine,” short-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Prize in 2018; and “Tiffy” (Fish Anthology 2015); however, these appear only in print. It’s easier for me to answer this question for my longer stories: “A Bohemian Memoir” published both online and in print by Litro is probably the piece of writing I am most proud of that is not flash. It is told from the point of view of a wineglass. But I am so indebted to Kenyon Review for publishing “The Ham Theory” that I must mention that story as well. It was published in print and then republished by KR Online several years later. And I should mention one more story among the ones I’m proudest of.  Here it is, published on the Retreat West website as a runner-up for one of their themed competitions.

France
I’ve been to France four times: first, as an undergraduate; and then three times with Malcolm. The first two trips turn up in my fiction: my undergraduate experience is reflected (a bit) in a story coming out this month(!) in The New Guard review, a full-length story called “The Spirit of the Staircase”; and my first trip with Malcolm (to Normandy and Brittany) shows up in a flash fiction in The London Reader called “Honeymoon in Bayeux” (although in real life it wasn’t our honeymoon). I am looking forward to taking the workshop in exceptionally beautiful surroundings; to great food and wine; to finding new stories and new friends; and to exploring places in France where I haven’t been before, including Bordeaux, where we will stay for two nights before the workshop, and Arcachon, on the sea, where we will stay for two nights afterwards.

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect” ~ Anais Nin
Writing is definitely a way to give meaning to experiences that might otherwise seem random or meaningless. It is, as the quote suggests, a way of stopping time and turning what is hard-to-grasp and fleeting into something tangible and even permanent. Several of my stories have their genesis in my experiences as a single mom; others in the experience of caring for elderly parents. In each case, I hope to go beyond the experience itself “in the moment” to extract or uncover something deeper that, while not necessarily universal, will be relatable beyond my small sphere.

Something you don’t know about me
I practiced law at a large NYC firm for 33 years, where I was “technically” “part-time” (ie., Mommy track instead of partnership track) but worked very long hours. The “deal” was that I would not have to travel for cases, as many lawyers were required to do for weeks at a time. That meant that even if I worked late at night, I would be there in the morning when my son, Jonah, woke up. I found this to be even more important when he was a pre-teen and teen than when he was an infant and preschooler! Although many of my clients were large corporations or other lawyers (in later years, I specialized in representing attorneys accused of legal malpractice), my most satisfying cases were often my pro bono representations: representing prisoners with mental illness or their families, victims of domestic violence, immigrants, Holocaust survivors, and even a woman politician accused (wrongly, in my view) of conflict of interest. Law was neither my first love nor my passion, but it enabled me to raise my son comfortably while meeting and helping people of many different occupations and backgrounds.

Thank you for your patience in reading the above non-flash responses and looking forward to the summer!

Nancy Ludmerer’s fiction appears in Best Small Fictions 2016, New Orleans Review, Kenyon Review, North American Review, Cimarron Review, Masters Review’s ‘New Voices’ Series, Sou’wester, Litro, Flash Frontier, and other journals and anthologies published in Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands and Argentina as well as the U.S. Her flash fiction has won prizes from Grain, Night Train, Blue Monday Review, Retreat West, and River Styx, and three of her flash fictions have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her essay ‘Kritios Boy’ (Literal Latte) was named a notable essay in Best American Essays 2014.   She lives in New York City with her husband Malcolm and their cat Sandy, a rescue from Superstorm Sandy.

Our French Connection Retreat is now full but we have space available in our March 2020 Costa Rica or our August 2020 Colorado retreats.

Interviews

Nicholas Cook on Flash Fiction, Writing Retreats, & Creative Inspiration

Nancy and I are absolutely thrilled  that Nicholas Cook will be joining us in the French countryside for our French Connection Retreat in June. Nicholas took a few moments to chat with me about writing and writers, creativity, and flash fiction.

Hi Nicholas! Have you ever done a writing retreat before? And what are you most looking forward to in France?

I did a workshop in Taos, NM last year with Robert Vaughan and Meg Tuite. It was a blast, and I made some good friends and even managed to get a story from the workshop published. As for France, I’ve never been before so I’m looking forward to all of it, but mostly the chance to work with Kathy and Nancy, especially as I am interested in flash novel(la)s.

What inspires you creatively?

I find reading other peoples works inspires me the most. Otherwise, music, walking the dog, traveling, re-reading books.

Aw, I love this photo of you and your dog. I get the same creative boost when I’m out with my dog as well. Can you share a piece of writing of your own that you especially love and/or feel most proud of (and talk a bit about why?)

“The Eclipse” which was published in Lost Balloon in 2017. This story was a finalist for the 2018 Best Small Fictions and a Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction contest honorable mention. This is still one of my favorite stories of mine and one of the few I can go back and read and not cringe over. The story came together easily and was inspired heavily by the story Pool Night by Amy Hempel, who I was re-reading for the hundredth time. I like it because the voice and character are very different than what I usually write.

I love this story, Nicholas. I remember reading it when it came out. It does remind me of Amy Hempel’s work, quiet but powerful. No wonder it was recognized. What books or short stories have you read many times, and what draws you back to these works?

I will re-read every piece of flash written by Claudia Smith until the day I die. She was one of the first flash authors I really “got” over a decade ago, and her work still resonates with me (the voice, simplicity and economy of words, and emotion). Other flash authors I love are Cathy Ulrich, Kathy Fish, Kim Chinquee, Meg Pokrass, Tiff Holland, Casey Hannan, Robert Scotellaro, and so many more. As for novels, “Why Did I Ever” and “One D.O.A…” by Mary Robison are essential reads and I re-read them in some form once a year. Mary Robison has one of the most distinct and captivating voices and is a huge inspiration to me. I find I think like a lot of her characters (although maybe not so exaggerated, I hope).

Thank you for the mention! I feel the same way about Claudia Smith Chen’s, work and Mary Robison is an all-time favorite writer of mine, too.

Forgive me, but I always ask this question: Is there something funny / interesting / weird / wonderful about you that you’d like to share? 

I’ll have been traveling around Europe prior to and after the workshop as I’ll be on a twelve week sabbatical from my job. I’m excited to see what inspiration that brings! Maybe I will stop writing about the southwest and deserts.

Nicholas Cook’s fiction has appeared in Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, Unbroken Journal, Bath Flash Fiction Award, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for Best Small Fictions 2018. He lives in Texas.

Note: Our French Connection Retreat sold out very quickly (you may get on the wait list for it though!) Check out our other upcoming retreats in Costa Rica (there’s a VERY special limited time discount you might want to jump on) and Grand Lake, Colorado. 

Interviews, Uncategorized

A Virtual Gallery Exhibition: Jeffrey Spahr-Summers interprets Grand Lake 2019

Creative people are usually creative in multiple ways. On many of our retreats, we are lucky to have amateur or even professional photographers and other visual artists sharing some of their non-word-related creations as well, and in Grand Lake we were thrilled to have the artistic eye of Jeffrey Spahr-Summers interpreting our mountain sanctuary. Below you’ll find our first “Virtual Gallery Exhibition”, which represents only a small sliver (link to more below). I find it visceral, trippy, surreal, sometimes seeming to actually vibrate, in moments channeling Van Gogh and Monet. Truthfully I can’t find an adjective that really sums it up: gorgeous, stunning, amazing…none of these do it justice.

When I asked Jeffrey if he wanted to caption the photos he said, “Let them speak for themselves.” So…without further preamble: ENJOY!

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And a slideshow!

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Check out more of Jeffrey’s work (including his amazing words!) at

 

Jeffrey Spahr-Summers Photography

And join us August 19-23, 2020 for our return to Grand Lake, Colorado!

Interviews

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

(Note: Lisa will now be joining us in France for our French Connection Retreat in June.)

Hi Lisa, first question, have you ever visited Costa Rica before?

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.

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.

 

 

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!