Interviews

The Fellowship of Other Creatives: Onward to Italy with Beth Gilstrap

Nancy and I are so looking happy that Beth Gilstrap will be joining us in Casperia for our Springtime in Italy Retreat this May! Beth generously took some time to chat with me. 

 Hi Beth! First, will this be your first visit to Italy? 

 This will be my first trip to Italy. I’ve been to Turkey, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Scotland, Canada, and Mexico but never Italy. I am so excited as it’s a long time dream to visit.

 What are you most hoping for, for the retreat this May? 

 Travel and getting out of my comfort zone are always great for generating new material. I hope to focus on starting a new collection and building relationships with fellow writers. I live in Charlotte, NC, which though it has its perks, isn’t a great city for writers. Anytime I can take a break and bond with my people, I find it helps me make it through the rest of my time spent in a banking town.

 We’re gathered at Palazzo Forani, a bunch of writers from all over the world, communing over pasta and freshly baked bread and local wine…who is your dream guest or dream ghost that’s there with us?  

Oh goodness. Aside from an Italian grandma who I’d beg to adopt me and teach me her ways, I’d have to say Anthony Bourdain if we’re talking ghost. And if we’re talking guest, Samin Nosrat of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. I’m obsessed with words and food and would follow those two anywhere though I doubt they’d want me as a sidekick since I’ve been vegetarian most of my life.

 Ah, great choices. What fun Anthony Bourdain would be. I’m sort of obsessed with Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat too! Switching gears now, I’m interested to know what’s your favorite story, poem, essay, flash, that you’ve written and why?

I still love this old one about the kind of fellowship you only find amongst other creatives. It’s calledSpaghettification.” I love to read this one because the rhythm becomes almost feverish.

Beth, this is gorgeous. I love this:   

Now…can you tell us something about you that’s wonderful, weird, unique, funny, endearing…whatever? 

One time I volunteered for a local cat shelter. I bottle fed some orphaned kittens and wound up keeping them. I have four cats and two dogs and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Aw, I love it. It says a lot about you, Beth. We’re so looking forward to seeing you in Italy this May. Thanks for chatting with me!

Beth Gilstrap is the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Man’s Wild Laura (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. She serves as Fiction Editor at Little Fiction | Big Truths and a reader at Creative Nonfiction.Her work has been selected as Longform.org’s Fiction Pick of the Week and recently selected by Dan Chaon for inclusion in the Best Microfiction Anthology. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Minnesota Review, Hot Metal Bridge, and Little Patuxent Review, among others.

Note: Our “Springtime in Italy” Retreat is sold out, but we’re taking registrations for our Flash Fiction Summer Camp in Grand Lake, CO this August and have just opened registrations for Writing Wild in Costa Rica in March, 2020! We’d love for you to join us!

Interviews

Of Communion and Co-Creation in the Rockies: A Conversation with Kristinha M. Anding

Nancy and I are very excited that Kristinha M. Anding will be joining us for our Grand Lake “Flash Fiction Summer Camp” in August. Kristinha is a fascinating person and I very much enjoyed our chat.

Hi Kristinha! First, have you been to Colorado before? 

I did a wilderness vigil last year in Colorado. I spent four days and four nights alone on a mountain, fasting and leaning into the slow, resilient conversation of stone and pine and sky. I came away feeling humble and heartbreakingly welcomed.

Wow, that sounds amazing and so beautifully put. And what do you most look forward to at our retreat at Shadowcliff Lodge?

I am eager to listen to the work of others and co-create the shelter of a temporary human writing community, informed and supported by the larger ecological community of the Rockies.

Yes. I love the sorts of connections that are forged in this way, too. It’s one of our “missions” for these retreats actually.

So in your reading life, what sort of stories so you find yourself drawn to?

I love stories that involve mythic sensibilities and seem to emerge from the deep-time dreaming of the land, stories where you can feel the pulse of what Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls el rio abajo rio, the river beneath the river. Terry Tempest Williams, Jay Griffiths and Sylvia Lindsteadt are a few of my favorite writers. As we are in dire times climate-wise, I find myself increasingly drawn to works of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry that touch ecological themes in some way.

What is your favorite story of your own?

I write a lot and had a past life as a journalist, but admittedly stink at submitting my creative work. Here is something I did manage to get published:

http://unbrokenjournal.com/2018/04/deer-crossing/

Oh wow, I’m so struck by the rush of feeling in this piece. So beautiful and haunting:

“It doesn’t make sense Renee and I said barely meeting one another’s eyes and the couple behind us stopped now asking if we needed help telling us they had seen you too without them I wouldn’t have known this was real their witness the only thing keeping me from believing you had been a ghost at the edge of the road staring me in the eye before choosing collision teaching me something I have barely begun to hear leaving me holding nothing and everything.”

Thanks for sharing that, Kristinha. Is there something about you that you’d like to share that is surprising/funny/endearing/strange whatever? 

I don’t know why, but this completely random tidbit comes to mind: I used to have an unusually deep belly button. How deep, you ask? Well, there is a cave in Ireland called Oweynagat, whose engulfing maw is said to be a portal to the Otherworld. About that deep. Removing lint felt like an archeological dig. That deep. I held a severe interiority.

But that changed after my pregnancy with my second son, who extruded my abdomen and then emerged from me, 10 pounds of raw, reaching human. As my postpartum body settled into its new shape, I realized with a shock that my hallowed umbilical cave was gone. My child and this tectonic shift of motherhood had erupted me into an “outie.” (I think I’m still adjusting to that.)

Ha, I love it! Can’t wait to meet you in person in Grand Lake, Kristinha. Thanks so much for sharing!

Note: A few spaces remain for “Flash Fiction Summer Camp” in Grand Lake in August. More information HERE. 

Kathy fish, Nancy Stohlman

Costa Rica Wrap Up and Announcement!

50616267_10218337999185641_6498853807445770240_o

Kathy’s thoughts:

“I wondered about the explorers who’d sailed their ships to the end of the world. How terrified they must have been when they risked falling over the edge; how amazed to discover, instead, places they had seen only in their dreams.” ~Jodi Picoult

I thought of this quote on the flight to Costa Rica, wondering what lie ahead for us. Though Costa Rica is hardly the “end of the world,” I’d never been there before. I’d only seen pictures. Pictures and descriptions of the country and of Peace Retreat. Nancy and I took a huge leap of faith for ourselves and our participants, hoping we’d chosen well. We really wanted this 2nd outing for Flash Fiction Retreats, and indeed, our first outing outside of the U.S., to be a success.

My impressions:

Costa Rica is wild. And although there are resort towns and luxury hotels, Peace Retreat was neither situated in a resort town, nor was it a luxury hotel. And we didn’t want that anyway. We wanted, well, peace. We wanted to retreat somewhere that our group felt like it largely had the place to themselves (except for a handful of yoga students and teachers and some volunteers, we did). We wanted to feel immersed in a peaceful, exotic setting surrounded by nature. We got that. Each day, I woke up just before dawn, to the sound of the birds and the howler monkeys. For the first few days, the wind was powerful. We were surrounded by trees. We spotted iguanas, bright green parrots, horses along the road. A young piglet even came up to greet us on our walk to the beach.

We were lucky enough that there was a full lunar eclipse during our retreat. We stayed up late to watch it, binoculars tilted to the sky, on a beautiful windswept night. Another night, we participated in a solemn and unforgettable cacao ceremony led by a local shaman. 

Definitely a slower pace. Incredibly delicious meals. Fruit so bright and juicy and sweet it was like eating candy. Fresh vegetables and salads, fish, goat-milk dairy, rice, beans, eggs, and freshly baked bread. All of the Peace Retreat staff were so wonderful and kind. 

We had a pretty swimming pool with deliciously cool water. Bugs? Yes, a few. We were told “this is their home” and indeed it was. Some ants. A scorpion. A few mosquitos (but not nearly as much as we’d expected). This part of Costa Rica (the northwestern coast) is HOT and dry and a bit dusty. Certain of the trees actually defoliate this time of year, so was surprised to see these bare trees, which had their own strange beauty. But there was also a proliferation of swaying palm trees and others, lush with green foliage. Flowers and flowering bushes.

Situated on the equator, the Costa Rican sunset occurs around 5:30 year-round. The sunsets on Playa Negra were breathtaking. Walking back to Peace Retreat at dusk with a fat full moon rising and surrounded by the new writer friends I’d made felt so special, auspicious. I feel so honored to have spent time with this incredible bunch who wrote their hearts out and were so generous and encouraging with each other. I can’t wait to go back. 

Green Iguana

 

Nancy’s Thoughts: 

sand 1What a wild adventure! We saw iguanas, parrots, scorpions, hermit crabs. We heard the eerie, hard-to-describe sounds of the howler monkeys, saw a lunar eclipse, and watched the sunset on the ocean almost every evening. We got to take part in a traditional cacao ceremony, walked along the beach looking for a bonfire (didn’t find it!), and met the locals who set up a spontaneous bazaar at the Peace Retreat. We ate wholesome and fresh food 3 times a day and some us us did yoga in the mornings. I slept like a baby in my screened-in cabina, immersed in the sounds of the jungle.

50596031_10216594192980045_6870270037899345920_o
“Editing Flash Fiction” photo by Laura Alexander

Oh–and we wrote! A lot. Oh yes, we found perfect, breezy nooks for writing, reading, and in the afternoons my editing class was such a hoot. We had both brand new writers and veterans, but the synergy of the group allowed everyone to get into that perfect workshop balance–a combination of praise, useful suggestions, and inspirational group think brainstorms.

Our final night salon, under the twinkly lights and palm trees with the blessed humidity warming up our winter bodies and the staff of Peace Retreat were our perfect audience.

Eco-friendly Peace Retreat is the perfect blend of authentic Costa Rica with just enough creature comforts to make it relaxing without sacrificing the true experience for the sanitized resort version. Simple, loving, comfortable, perfect. We are so grateful!

A huge THANK YOU to everyone that took that leap of faith with us! Our writer participants were amazing, creative, genuine, and brought their full game to the Costa Rican adventure. We became like family for a week and the Peace Retreat staff became part of that family. A perfect place for some warm, tropical inspiration, meeting new writing friends, mentors, and bonding in a jungle adventure.

50956259_10216610357398571_802320584045232128_o
“Salon night” photo courtesy of Laura Alexander

We loved it so much we are going it again next year!

Drum roll….

Our next Writing Wild in Costa Rica Retreat will happen March 21-27, 2020!

Information and Registration opens March 1. 

Read what our participants had to say about our debut Writing Wild in Costa Rica Retreat and consider joining us for 2020!

Interviews

Meet Jason Lee Norman: Canadian!

Jason 11Nancy and I are excited that writer, editor, and publisher Jason Lee Norman will be joining us for Rendezvous in the Rockies, our 2nd Colorado retreat. Jason recently took the time to have a quick chat with me.

KF: Hi Jason! Have you visited Colorado before?

JLN: I have not been to Colorado before. Not even the airport. Never had a Denver omelet.

KF: You are in for a treat. And Denver omelets are great! Tell me, what do you most look forward to at our retreat at Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge?

JLN: I’m really looking forward to meeting you and Nancy and learning from you both. It will be an honor. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken time away to devote to my own writing so doing so at this beautiful spot in the mountains will be time well spent I’m sure.

KF: It’s a lovely place to rest and commune with nature and hopefully get a lot of writing done. So, as a reader, what sorts of stories do you find yourself drawn to?

JLN: I’m really loving flash fiction right now. I love these stories that can be so brief and pack such a punch. Generally I love stories that try a lot of the things that is attempted in flash fiction. Usually it’s just a unusual premise that the writer has to keep upright as long as possible like a surfer riding an enormous wave.

KF: That’s a perfect comparison. I love that. And what is one favorite story of your own?

JLN: What a question! I have a soft spot for a few stories for sure. One that I haven’t checked in on in awhile is called Beautiful Girls. I sent it to PANK and they published it online forever ago. Even in 2011 I knew that it meant a lot to get a compliment on your story from Roxane Gay. It’s sustained me for nearly a decade now. I can’t believe it was that long ago. I’ve written good stories since then. I promise!

KF: Terrific story. No wonder Roxane snapped it up. That’s definitely something to feel good about. Is there something about you that you’d like to share that is surprising/funny/endearing/strange whatever? 

JLN: Well I haven’t told anybody this one thing about me in a long time but I’m Canadian, eh?

KF: Wow, that’s the weirdest answer we’ve ever gotten to that question!

Thanks so much, Jason! See you this August in Grand Lake!

 Jason Lee Norman publishes Monto Books and edits Funicular Magazine. He writes and eats in Edmonton, Canada. 

 

Note: Spaces still remain for Rendezvous in the Rockies, Part II! Join us!

 

Kathy fish, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

A Remedy for When You’re Stuck: Inserting the Unexpected Detail

unexpectedOne of the many reasons we find ourselves getting “stuck” when drafting a new story is that we have unwittingly written ourselves into a very boring place. How did this happen? We had such a great idea!

The answer likely resides in your descriptions. 

Consider your “go-to” descriptions of settings and characters. What do you think of when you see the words “hospital room” for example?

“antiseptic” smells

the beeping monitors

a nurse in a “starched white uniform” (not sure they even wear those anymore!)

How about a waitress in a diner?

She’s wearing a name tag, of course. Maybe her name is Candy. She has a pencil behind her ear and she is chewing, no “smacking” a piece of gum. 

Do you see where I’m going with this? These descriptions write themselves. In the process of drafting, if you find yourself falling into these clichés, the rest of the writing will likely follow suit. You begin to bore yourself.

I urge you to make every single part of your flash fiction so fresh and new and interesting that your reader (or slush pile reader) sits up and takes notice from beginning to end. With fewer words at your disposal, the description you do include needs to be strong, palpable, and carry a lot of emotional or narrative weight.

With this in mind, you should also consider how you describe ordinary things. Can you look at those things with fresh eyes? In Susan Minot’s connected collection of stories, “Monkeys,” she shows a character plunking down a crumpled up napkin and saying that it “bloomed” on the table. Can you see that? I can and it’s perfect. What a thrilling, fresh description!

The following is an exercise I use in my online workshop, Fast Flash, and it always results in strong, fresh, original pieces of writing that surprise even the writers themselves. We writers need ways to overcome our natural tendency to write scenes in the way they have always been written. This exercise is designed to give you a new way in to your material.

I want you to imagine a scene in a commonplace setting. One you’ve seen in fiction many times. A hospital room, a bar, a dining room, a park, a school yard, whatever. No doubt your brain already conjures up certain images and descriptions just by reading those words.

Now, I want you to insert some unexpected detail. Don’t give this too much thought and don’t worry about making sense, just insert the strange detail.

Examples: a clown at the train station, a daisy growing out of the sidewalk, an old man walking backwards, an animal in a hospital room, etc. 

Perhaps the odd detail will drive the scene forward or perhaps it will remain in the background, but what this exercise does is trick your brain into writing a scene in that setting that has, I promise you, never been written before. You have given yourself permission to write outside the box. You have “primed the pump” of your subconscious and now all bets are off.

***Consider also describing something ordinary within your setting in an extraordinary way (like the napkin that “bloomed” in the Susan Minot story).

You might also try this on a story you’ve been stuck on! Have fun!

~Kathy