On Happiness & Choosing the Creative Path by Chris Bowen

Writer/chef Chris Bowen joined Nancy and me for our first ever flash fiction retreat last summer in Breckenridge. (Read Nancy’s interview with him here.) We’re thrilled he’ll be joining us again in Grand Lake this August. We thank him for sharing his reflections and insights on his creative path since Breckenridge.


It was nearly a year ago I took part in Nancy and Kathy’s inaugural Breckenridge, Colorado writing retreat. It’s been three or more years since Nancy invited me to Denver for the first time, reading for the FBomb reading series then and even further back, it’s likely been ten years or more since I first met her at a reading in NYC.

But life wasn’t always this much fun. Just recently last year, I lost faith. I lost faith in my career as a chef, living and working in an isolated part of Pennsylvania at a college for almost three years, having left my family and anyone I knew two hours away in Cleveland for corporate salary.

Life isn’t always fun, but it damn well better be meaningful.

Moving home to Cleveland then and taking less responsibility with my employer last fall, I was determined to ‘take a step back.’ I had turned to Nancy in Breckenridge even that summer on where my life was going, the fact that I was so unhappy and had been for awhile. I still remember the gray, weather-worn wooden picnic table we sat at in the mountain backyard when I told her that, the kind you look for rusty nails sticking out of before you sit. The heat of the afternoon sun. I had joined the retreat to cook for authors and attendees and aside from sitting in on a couple craft talks between prepping meals, this conversation was the only thing I ever needed.

We talked about happiness, France, doing things by and for yourself. Because anyone only has so little time. Between the talk, it was clear I needed to re-evaluate my life somehow. So, I ended up moving home to find retreat in the only thing strong I really knew I could: my family.

Six months in, I’m a part-time student finishing my bachelor’s degree, but more importantly,  have settled in Denver near those mountain. And writing.

There’s something intimidating about these vistas, how they were formed, how strong they are, how difficult it is to reach them as if ghosts just out of reach.

‘If you can’t inspire yourself, how can you ever expect to inspire others?’ they whisper to me.

I think of the ending to Robert Redford’s movie, ‘A River Runs Through It,’ his voiceover at the end:

“Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops, under the rocks are the words. And some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

I see mountains every day. They remind me of how little I am, how short of time we all are. I don’t know if I’ll live here forever or climb a mountain, but I do know whatever I choose, it will be because I wanted to and because it made me happy.

Christopher Bowen is the author of the chapbook We Were Giants, the novella When I Return to You, I Will Be Unfed, and the non-fiction, Debt. He blogs from Burning River and has traveled throughout the U.S.  

Note: A few spots remain in our August High Altitude Inspiration Retreat in Grand Lake. Consider joining us! We’d love to have you. 


Flash Fiction as an Explosion of Emotion: Insights from Leslie Archibald

Hi Leslie! Nancy and I are so excited that you’ll be joining us in gorgeous Breckenridge in August for our retreat! What has been your writing workshop/retreat experience in the past? How do you find ways to honor your writing in your day to day life?

 I am so excited to meet Nancy and work with you again, Kathy. My workshop experience has always been positive and nurturing. I feel like the most important feedback in critique groups is not the editing issues (there are always a couple editors in the group), but content feedback where a particular aspect of the piece may not be clear to the reader. I appreciate when someone takes the time to really read the piece and says, “I wasn’t sure about this thing” or “maybe this could be clearer.” This feedback gives me the opportunity to go back and think about changing or adding (even one word) to clarify and make it readable. I feel like I have become a better reader through this experience, and I try to give feedback as a reader, not an editor. The best way I can think of to honor my writing is to keep coming back to it. Making time to write and to continue to develop the craft of writing. I take quite a few workshops specifically to make time to write.

I agree so much that the best way to honor one’s writing is to keep coming back to it. And the huge value of peer feedback as well! Please respond to this quote by Martha Graham:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” 

I love this quote. I feel like action comes from engaging others. Whether it is literary, visual, or performing, art engages and creates a connection within. Words evoke empathy and emotionally connect a reader to the piece. Empathy inspires action. I just finished the novel Forgotten Country, by Catherine Chung. The depth of her characters was so engaging for me, I became emotionally invested in the family. I think that is why I write Flash. Flash, to me, is like an explosion of emotion that stays with you long after you have experienced that initial moment.

Flash as an “explosion of emotion.” Wow, I love that, Leslie. Thank you! Can you tell us what is your favorite story that you yourself have written (“favorite” doesn’t have to mean “best” or more successful or whatever). And why is it your favorite?

Most of my pieces are based in memory so I have a close connection to each. I have recently tried to focus on complete fiction. I have found that adding a fantasy element into a real situation gives me an opportunity to stretch my mind. I have recently written a piece about a siren who falls in love with a human who dies, of course, and she is left to live alone. I focused on the emotional element of loss and anger but also added the mystical elements of a Siren.

Have you been to Breckenridge before? What are you most looking forward to as a writer retreating to this incedible place? 

I have not been to Breckenridge and am looking forward to the scenery. I hear it is beautiful. Mostly, I am looking forward into immersing myself into writing. Living the life of a writer without the distractions of the day job. Many times I will feel a need to write that is stifled by the day job.

Is there something we don’t know about you that you’re happy to share? 🙂

I love sappy 70s songs (Andy Gibb, The Carpenters) and Murder She Wrote.

Ah, this is great! Thanks so much, Leslie! August can’t get here soon enough!

Leslie Archibald is a graduate of the University of Houston, majoring in English, Creative Writing with a minor in Women’s Studies. She currently works at a full-time office position while continuing to write and edit part time. Leslie is the volunteer coordinator at Writespace, a local Writer’s organization in Houston, Texas and is the winner of the 2017 Spider Road Press’s Spiders Web Flash Fiction Prize for her piece “Sherry Baby.”

NOTE: Our Breckenridge retreat is sold out, but some spaces remain in our upcoming Costa Rica and Italy retreats. Check them out! We’d love for you to join us.


Getting Back to Creative Play: A Chat with Annie Q. Syed

Nancy and I are thrilled that the lovely Annie Q. Syed will be joining us in Breckenridge this summer for our debut retreat offering, Rendezvous in the Rockies. Annie and I spoke a little about creative play, Annie’s favorite story of her own, and an early quiz show experience: 

Hi Annie. Can you talk a little about what it means to make time for your creativity aside from going on retreat? In what ways do you make your writing a priority?

In the Fall of 2017 through AWP’s Writer to Writer mentoring program, writer Gail Hosking choose to work with me for my non-fiction essays. Thanks to her suggestion, I now carry one of those expanding file folders in which I have several pieces that need revising. Ten minutes for looking at verbs, another thirty for tinkering with a paragraph or a sentence, one minute to review the sheet with notes from a writing pal. I have tried my best to make writing a priority by attending to it every day, for however long, instead of imagining there should be a set time during the day when it is a priority. I don’t have the writing schedule that I once did when I could write through midnight and sleep in or write in the mornings and then take a nap.

It’s taken me some time to get used to the idea that even ten minutes is plenty on those exhausting days. I try to spend at least ten minutes on my writing a day. Once I am in that space, the ten minutes turns into thirty and sometimes, if I am really lucky, into several hours. But by creating those ten minutes, I know I have honored what it means, at this stage, to write every day.

Respond to this quote: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” (sometimes this quote is attributed to Albert Einstein) i.e., how much does “play” impact your creative work?

I love words: definitions, etymologies, how they can be used to express analogies, how they create meaning and how we assign meaning, not to mention words lost and gained through translation. I believe engaging with language and sound is play. However, in the last few years, when I decided to become “serious” about the craft of writing, I lost sight of playing. I suppose it happens to all of us at some point. I am happy to report that I feel comfortable to play again; it is essential to creative work.

Annie, what is your favorite story that you’ve written and why? (if it’s a published story, could you provide a link?)

One of my favorite stories is “Watch Yourself Burn”. I created it in one of your Fast Flash workshops. I love the authentic details and movement in it; the whole piece moves back and forth through time in few words. It is currently longlisted for the Reflex Fiction Winter 2017 Prize and regardless of the outcome, I am pleased it will be in the anthology in great company.

What’s something about you that we probably didn’t know?

That when I was kid in New York, my junior high had us take some quiz. It so happened that I was exceptionally good at geography. Apparently, it was a test to qualify to be on that show—if you know this show, it will show your age! —called Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Once on the show, I was so nervous about lights, cameras, audience, that I didn’t bet enough in the last round and didn’t win first place although I had the right answer! It was pretty cool when it aired on T.V.

Anything else you’d like to talk about briefly? 

I am so thrilled to be attending this writing retreat in Breckenridge, Kathy!

It’s taken me some time to navigate what works for me as a writer. Community is important, no doubt, but what that means varies for each individual. Although a happy extrovert, I am pretty much a helpful lone wolf. I love my solitude and enjoy exploring on my own. A retreat like this is a dream come true for someone like me who enjoys people and their stories but prefers to work alone.

Thanks so much, Annie!