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#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.

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

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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.

 

JOIN US IN COSTA RICA! ONE ROOM LEFT!

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Writing Wild in Costa Rica: Last Room!

Our Writing Wild in Costa Rica Retreat is now nearly SOLD OUT and we have just one room remaining (see below)! Join us January 19-25th, 2019 at Peace Retreat in Playa Negra, Guanacaste, a short 20-min walk to the Pacific Ocean, for an immersive experience of discovery, creation, inspiration and building community. You will gain perspective, respite, focus, time, instruction and the gift of prioritizing yourself and your art.

The Shine Room is the biggest room of Casa Yoga, and is on the first floor. It has one queen sized teak bed, two single beds (that can be set as bunk beds), a teak desk, and a private bathroom. This shared space is perfect for a group of up to three individuals wanting to be in the main lodge and have more privacy.

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Private bathroom in The Shine Room
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The Shine Room

This 7-day 6-night retreat will feature generative classes, workshops, craft talks, and one-on-one mentoring sessions as well as plenty of inspired individual writing time. All activities/classes are optional and participants can create a schedule that is supportive and nurturing to their process while finding just the right amount of motivation, guidance, and camaraderie.

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Peace Retreat main house

Find out more or register here.

These spots won’t last long so contact us with questions. We’d love to have you!

Love,

Nancy and Kathy

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Interview with Kathy Fish in New Flash Fiction Review

Tommy Dean interviews Kathy Fish about her stories in New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co, 2018)

kathy fishTD: How important is metaphor when writing something so short? Is it the key to pushing the reader to imagine past the white space of the story?

Metaphor is important when it arises organically from the piece. I don’t think intentionally writing to a metaphor works, generally. If you create a micro that’s dense and rich and deeply imagined, you invite the reader to experience its inherent metaphor and maybe that’s different from reader to reader.

TD: How important is the placement of information? Especially in relation to this line from  your story “The Possibility of Bears”: “After the ceremony he’d found some emails…”? Other writers might have placed this toward the beginning, but here it’s dovetailed with the ending, the metaphor of the bear. Did this line come out naturally here? Did you consider putting it earlier in the story?

Well, to my point above, I didn’t sit down and decide to write a piece in which a (possible) bear symbolizes the imminent demise of a new marriage. But, yes, it’s undeniably there!

KF: I see what you’re saying about that line. It’d be just the sort of reader-grabbing first (or early) line we’re instructed to write. But then everything that came after it would have already been explained to the reader.  To me this would have effectively cut the story’s engine.

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Going for the Throat: Chantal Ryan on the Profound Humanity of Flash Fiction

 

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Chantal Ryan is coming all the way from Australia to “Write Wild” with Kathy Fish and I in Costa Rica this January! We chatted about intimate rituals, overcoming distractions, the wilds of the forest and the lyrics of Eminem:

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?

Chantal Ryan: I have a three year old who I watch over all day every day. We call him “The Hurricane” for a reason. I’ve often read writers who are parents talk about how they always wake before their children in order to get some interruption-free work time in. Not me! Not even a hurricane can get me out of bed before eight in the morning. Instead, I know it’s time to punch the clock right after I tuck him into bed for the night. I guess you can say my solution to art and life is to work the night shift!

I do make an effort to read throughout the day, which I always think of as writing-adjacent. Sometimes when I’m doing chores I perform thought experiments on my stories, trying to solve problems I’ve encountered during the last writing session.

Nancy: Yes, as a mother I can relate! Can you tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?

Chantal: I’ve always written flash fiction – I’ve been writing it far longer than I knew there was a name for it! I’m partial to mood and atmosphere – anything that can move me, make me feel something different, take me to some other place for even a moment in time, it’s a special thing to me, and it’s the only thing I ever really want from a story. Make me feel. Of course, in kind, I seek to do the same for others. A few broad brush strokes of colour, some stark suggestive lines… that’s all we need. The rest can be so much fluff. I like things that go for the throat.

Nancy: “Going for the throat”: I love that. What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Chantal: My answer will probably change depending on the day, the struggle. But I’ll put a lyric from Eminem here – a true artist, a profound storyteller – that so succinctly demonstrated to me what it is to tell a story. The song is called Difficult, and it’s a tribute to his best friend who was murdered:

“And this may sound a little strange but I’mma tell it—

I found that jacket that you left at my wedding

and I picked it up to smell it

I wrapped it up in plastic until I put it in glass

and hang up in the hallway so I can always look at it”

And right there, that’s so real. That really happened, and it’s those tiny moments that are where the stories are, where the humanity lies. A grown man smelling the shirt of a man he loved and had to bury. The mundane becoming sacred because of what it represents. Our small, profound rituals. Those five lines remind me about everything present in good writing – saying so much with so little; invoking the senses; laying bare the intimate motions of our lives. Flash fiction, right? Going for the throat.

Nancy: I love that you quoted Eminem! What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  

Chantal: Hm, it’s a good question. You know we don’t like to assign favourites to our children. There’s a flash piece I wrote called “Hegira” that means a lot to me, for a lot of reasons. It’s full of everything I want from a story. Something that can be read straightforwardly, but reveals a different tale when the symbolism is interpreted. It ends with an uplifting message, which is rare for me – in my stories, someone or everyone always seems to die at the end. In this story, the death is at the beginning, so maybe that’s the trick.

I haven’t published the story. Though some who have read it told me it helped them find solace, or touched them to tears, and that’s all we ever really want, right? For a piece of us to touch a piece of someone else in some shared numinous space. A stranger wrote me an amazing message about that story and how it had moved them. When I finished reading it my hands were shaking. Art, man.

Nancy: Wow. It’s so special when readers take the time to reach back to us. So on that note, react to this quote by Toni Morrison: “We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such a big A-plus for that.”

Chantal: It’s interesting you bring her up, I’m actually reading Beloved by Toni Morrison right now! It’s so wonderful. It’s been a while since I read a novel that moved me so. Her mind, it’s a scalpel that moves with perfect grace.

When looking at our society as a whole, I believe she’s correct. Art is work as much as play, it contributes as much, it should not be relegated to second fiddle. But our western society undervalues art and encourages, or even forces, us to spend our time doing all sorts of busywork, sending unending obligations our way. Our communities are fractured, we don’t help each other as much as we could or should, and as such we’re all bearing a lot of burden, especially burdens of time. I don’t begrudge people falling by the wayside in terms of allowing their creative hearts to wither when we’re under such a cascade of distractions.

But as a society, certainly, creative work should not be “slipped in between”, like a naughty bit of play. It should be as much part of our survival work as meeting physical needs like hunger and shelter. So many of us have forgotten how to use our hands and our hearts. We need to encourage each other to keep them active. Take pride in our soulwork.

Nancy: We will be using our “hands and our hearts” in Costa Rica for sure. Now you are coming all the way from Australia! Have you been to Costa Rica before? What are you most looking forward to?

Chantal: I am! And I haven’t been to Costa Rica before, but it’s one of the places my spirit lies, I’m sure. I’m a dendrophile, so the notion of visiting such a biodiverse place makes my heart swell just to think about it. Throw in an ocean I can swim with the sea creatures in and a group of people whose minds manifest just like mine and I’m probably going to be so overjoyed I’m just going to go supersaiyan. So I guess I’m looking forward to the spiky white hair.

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

Chantal: Some defining fact, huh? When I was five my favourite movie was Child’s Play and my favourite toy was a Chucky doll I carried around with me everywhere. Five year old me delighted in throwing it in the bath with my younger brother to scare him. I guess you could say horror runs in my blood. Funny thing about that doll – my mom swears she got fed up with my brother-traumatizing antics one day and tossed the doll in the trash. Says she left the room and when she came back, it was on the dining table, facing her. Now, I obviously can’t vouch for this story as I wasn’t there, but I will say my mom is not the jokester type.

I will say I think the world is a more interesting place than we give it credit for.

Nancy! Ha! Anything else you want to add?

Chantal: Please recycle!

Nancy: Yes! I’ve enjoyed getting to know you so much here, Chantal, and I can’t wait to meet you in person!

Chantal Ryan would rather be in the forest. But when she’s not, she settles as a letter-witch: words become incantations, prayer-attempts get to those thudding places amongst the roots–and maybe take you with.

*We have 3 spots left in Costa Rica this January–Join us! Find out more