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’s Award-Winning Novella, The Plankton Collector, Now Available!

Nancy and I are so excited that Cath Barton and her husband Oliver will be joining us at Palazzo Forani in Casperia for our Springtime in Italy retreat in May! Cath’s novella, The Plankton Collector, won the New Welsh Writing Award 2017: Novella Category. Congratulations, Cath!

I found Cath’s writing in this compelling and mysterious novella so rich and evocative. Here is an excerpt:

“No-one knows his name, or rather they know him by different names, depending on when and where they meet him. All he asks is to to be acknowledged and listened to but, like the plankton, he is a wanderer – though on land rather than in water – and is never in one place for long. He passes un- remarked in the crowd. He is the man at the next table in the café. The one drinking his morning coffee like any other. The one reading the newspaper. Or the one simply sitting and staring.”

Here is a description from the publisher, New Welsh Rarebyte:

“In this atmospheric novella, the mysterious Plankton Collector visits members of a family torn apart by grief and regret. he comes in different guises. For ten year-old Mary, he is Mr Smith who takes her on a train journey to the seaside. Her mother, Rose, meets him as Stephen, by her son’s graveside. Rose’s youngest, Bunny, encounters him as the gardener. For husband and father David, meanwhile, the meeting is with a love from his youth. And long-lost Uncle Barnaby takes the children for a week’s holiday during which their parents begin a reconciliation. All visitors are manifestations of the Plankton Collector who teaches those he encounters the difference between the discarded weight of unhappy memories and the lightness borne by happiness recalled.”

This debut has already received high praise:

‘Painterly… lush dreamy prose creates a vivid landscape, while its lyricism transports the reader. Cleverly creates a universe of new realities.’ Cathryn Summerhayes

‘A beautifully controlled mix of magical realism and nature writing about time, healing, trauma and the fluid, unreliable nature of memory.’ David Lloyd, co-judge of the New Welsh Writing Awards 2017

Cath’s novella is available for order HERE.

Check back for Nancy’s fascinating interview with Cath on Monday!


#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

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.

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.

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!


Nancy and Kathy