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.

Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

“Flash Fiction as Language Art” by Anne E. Weisgerber

One of my favorite sentence and language level writers is our own Anne E. Weisgerber, whom we’re delighted will be joining us (again) in Colorado this August for our High Altitude Inspiration Retreat (Note: There is ONE remaining room available for this & still time to register!). Below is an excerpt from Anne’s essay, “Flash Fiction as Language Art” which ran in Smokelong Quarterly:

I only attest that the act of forming sentences and scenes, the punctuation, the pushed and brushed pigment of vowels and verbs and slow-motion ninja gerund phrases has become a vocation. Flash is an artist’s medium; writing it places one where people care about art.”

“I realized I could craft flash miniatures that added up to something bigger if I intended them to, like dabs in a Seurat painting. In this way, my reader at novel distance will see the rose window, hear the orchestra, experience the video wall of calibrated gifs but within scenes, each pane, each cellist, each meme stands alone. A reader might experience my novel as a flash choir, or pointillism, or whatever it winds up being. Flash forces writers to have the nerve to say: THESE WORDS ARE BEAUTIFUL. So I find myself now writing a huge novel in meditative, colorful spoonfuls. I must remember to look at images my words create, both at the linseed tip of my nose and at twenty skeptical paces. Up close, I worry: How can I honor this life with my writing? At practical, admission-paying distances, I fret: What’s in it for my reader?

You may read the whole terrific essay here at Smokelong Quarterly.

A.E. Weisgerber is from Orange, NJ and has recent/forthcoming work in 3:AM, Yemassee, DIAGRAM, Matchbook Lit, Gravel Mag, and The Alaska Star. She is a 2018 Chesapeake Writer, 2017 Frost Place Scholar, 2014 Reynolds Fellow, and Assistant Series Editor for the Wigleaf Top 50. She is writing her first novel. Follow @aeweisgerber or visit anneweisgerber.com 

NOTE: There is ONE room remaining (for one or two) and still time to join us for High Altitude Inspiration in Grand Lake in August. Join us!

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

On the Expansion & Resonance of Flash & More: A Chat with Chelsea Stickle

Photo by Gail Werner

Nancy and I are excited that Chelsea Stickle will be joining us for our High Altitude Inspiration Retreat in Grand Lake this August! Thanks so much, Chelsea, for taking some time to chat with me. First, what attracted you to the idea of coming to the retreat in Grand Lake?

I can get mired in the day-to-day and sometimes a shake-up is exactly what’s needed. I’ve only been writing flash seriously for about a year, so four days filled with writing and instruction sounds ideal.
What do you love and/or find challenging about flash fiction?
As a reader, I love feeling like I’ve experienced a whole life, a whole world in less than 1,000 words. There’s a feeling of completeness, expansion and resonance that hits harder. As a writer, I love getting to the point. You can’t mess around in flash fiction. You’re in it. How are you going to get out?
What piece of your own writing are you most proud of? Where could we read it (if it’s available)?
I have a story called “Household Extractions” in Five on the Fifth. I spent years trying to tell this story and I kept failing to get it right. I took a Bending Genres class with Bud Smith that was about writing in short bursts, which forced me to stop over-thinking it. I ended up writing for much longer than I was supposed to, but I finally wrote the story I wanted.
Wow, I love this. You allow the strangeness of it to just be. You don’t pass judgment or editorialize for the reader. That makes it all the more effective to me. I’m so glad you linked it as I’d not seen it before. No wonder you’re proud of it! Very strong writing. 
I’d be interested in your thoughts on this Amy Hempel quote, Chelsea:

“I have an increasingly open sense of what a story is. Why not make room for more instead of being restrictive? There are so many kinds of stories! Any time you hear someone say, ‘That’s not a story,’ I think you should question the person, not the story.” ~Amy Hempel

I’ve been reading slush, so I have to admit that I’ve said, “That’s not a story” recently. Which isn’t to say that it couldn’t be a story, but that it isn’t a story yet. There has to be something that differentiates it from an anecdote or a detail. A list of errands can be a story, but there has to be an emotional, core need pushing through. (For example, a post-breakup to-do list would be very revealing.) If you can do that, then anything can be a story.

Totally agree and I bet Amy Hempel would too!
Is there anything strange/funny/quirky/odd/special about you that we wouldn’t know and that you’re happy to share? 
I have loose ligaments, which means the joints that hold my bones aren’t as firm as they could be. So my bones slip out of place. Something’s almost always partially dislocated. It’s not the kind of thing you can see when you look at me, but my joints can make a lot of noise. I could write a symphony with all the cracks, clicks and thunks. So hiking sounds cool, but I’m going to stay inside.
Ah, “somethings almost always partially dislocated.” We won’t make you hike then! But very much looking forward to working with you in lovely Grand Lake this summer, Chelsea.

Chelsea Stickle writes flash fiction that appears or is forthcoming in Jellyfish ReviewCleaver, The Nottingham Review, After the Pause, Five on the Fifth, Crack the Spine and others. She lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.

Note: A few spaces remain for our August High Altitude Inspiration Retreat in Grand Lake Consider joining us and allowing yourself to be inspired and energized in a gorgeous setting. 

Uncategorized

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.