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. 

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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. 

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Total Lunar Eclipse in Costa Rica During “Writing Wild” Retreat Jan 20, 2019

How cool is that??

During our Breckenridge retreat we were visited by the Elusive Red Fox Totem Writing Spirit–right up to our front door!

Looks like we will be having a lunar visitor during our Costa Rica retreat this time:

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Read more about the January 20, 2019 eclipse here.

moon

Timetables for Costa Rica according to here:

Capture

Bring your binoculars!

Love, Nancy and Kathy

Interviews

Cath Barton on Saying Yes! to the Challenge of Writing

Author pic.CathBarton

Cath Barton has not only released her first book, The Plankton Collector, but she will be joining Kathy Fish and I in Casperia, Italy, in May! Cath and I chat about novellas, flash fiction, and the beauty of a good writing challenge.

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?

Cath Barton: I am actually lucky – I retired from the day job some years back so my time is my own. My challenge is to discipline myself! Sometimes I get up very early to write, though the pressure of a deadline can have me writing at all hours. My husband (who is also a writer, and also coming on retreat next May) built a wonderful room at the bottom of our garden – when I really need to focus on a story I’m writing I work down there on a laptop with no internet access.

Nancy: You are no stranger to flash fiction. How have you seen it evolve since you first started writing it?

Cath: Gosh, there is so much flash fiction being written now, and so much that is so good. And yet you’ll still hear people – writers even – asking – What’s flash fiction? Of course it covers so much, but one thing I’ve learnt is that if every word counts in a short story, every word that’s understood counts in a flash. I really got that from your Sculpting Flash Fiction course, Nancy.

Nancy: Aw, thanks for saying so, Cath. It was such a pleasure to work with you! And congratulations! You have a novella just out, ‘The Plankton Collector’. Tell us a little about the impetus for the book.

Cath: Thank you! At the beginning of 2015 a fellow member of a local writing group came out with a challenge for the group – Who’s going to write a novella this year? I found myself putting my hand up, even though I hadn’t thought about such a thing before that moment. I do like a challenge! So I did it.

Nancy: Wow, I love that! The Plankton Collector is your first book – so exciting! What advice would you have for another writer working on their first book?

Cath: It is exciting! And I’m so fortunate to get a book published. I entered my novella in a competition and won, with part of the prize being publication. The thing is though, that if you love to write, that needs to be your primary impulse, rather than the hope of publication. I read this just yesterday – “In the end people will judge you anyway, so don’t live your life impressing others, live your life impressing yourself.” I do so agree with that.

Nancy: React to this quote by Joseph Chilton Pearce: “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”

Cath: If you are moved to create, the thing you create is neither right not wrong, it just is. You have to work to make it your best of course. But no-one else can create that thing – that story, in the case of a writer. Only you can write your story. We each have to find our own voice, and learn to trust it.

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

Cath: I’m not a very manually dexterous person, but I love doing origami, creating little boxes and other 3-D forms out of sheets of paper – it’s magic.

Nancy: Wow. The things we find out in these interviews! Anything else you want to add? 

Cath: Just that I’m really looking forward to writing – and eating, and drinking!  – with you all in Italy next Spring! Perhaps I’ll slip some origami paper into my luggage too…

Nancy: Please do!

Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. Her prize-winning debut novella The Plankton Collector is published by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. Cath is on the 2018 Literature Wales Mentoring programme, working on a collection of short stories inspired by the work of Flemish artist Hieronymus Bosch. https://cathbarton.com @CathBarton1

(BTW Read Kathy Fish’s review of The Plankton Collector’s here)

Join us in Italy this May!

Interviews

Nancy Stohlman Interviewed at New Flash Fiction Review

Meg Pokrass recently interviewed Nancy at New Flash Fiction Review regarding her two stories in the New Micro anthology, her terrific, soon-to-be released book, Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities, our flash fiction retreats, and more.

Below is an excerpt:

MP: Congratulations on your new collection, MADAM VELVET’S CABARET OF ODDITIES! Can you tell us why the world of circus life, the world of clowns, and side-show oddities and performers became your focus?

NS: Thank you! And so many ways to answer this question! So, I’ve been on stage since I was very little in one way or another. Actually my very first memory is of being wheeled around the Barnum and Bailey circus ring (with some other kids picked from the audience) by clowns. I remember the feeling of spotlights so bright I couldn’t see my parents in the audience at all, and I remember the clowns talking to each other like regular people and it occurred to me that they were regular people. Then when I was about 10 my mother actually became a clown (she was nothing like the clown in the book) and used to recruit us to come “clown” with her: at the retirement community, at the town picnics and parades and such. I loved recognizing my friends from school and realizing they had no idea who I was when I was in clown makeup.

But maybe the biggest impetus to write this book was the years I spent traveling with the Renaissance Festival. It was a weird and wonderful American pastoral time—I was in my early 20s, I lived in a van and traveled all over the country, city to city—I’ve been to 47 states. And I’ve tried to write about those years many times—I wrote a bad (unpublished) novel called American Gypsy years ago. But as I said earlier, I have an aversion to telling a story straight—I have to come at it slant. And considering the reality of this/that life is pretty crazy to begin with, it took me a long time to find the right back door into the material.

You can read the rest of the interview HERE.