Prolific flash fiction writer Paul Beckman is joining Nancy and me for our Rendezvous in the Rockies writing retreat in Breckenridge, Colorado in August. His most recent collection of stories, Kiss Kiss, published by Truth Serum Press, is arguably his best to date. If I counted right, there are no less than 78 new flashes compiled here and each one is a tiny, glowing gem of a story, with characters you’ll not soon forget.
Not included in this collection, Paul’s story, “Healing Time” is illustrative of his craft and was one of the stories most often called out and admired in reviews of Best Small Fictions 2016 edited by Stuart Dybek. There, he perfectly conveys the best and worst of a family confronting a crisis. Paul’s gift is the honesty and relatability of his stories and his people. He finds the moments that convey a lifetime. Human dynamics distilled and potent.
One of my favorites from Kiss Kiss is “Birthday Beer” which opens compellingly and deliciously:
“My wife called and told me to come home. I finished my birthday beer and drove home and the driveway and yard were filled with cars. Some surprise birthday party. I grabbed a drink from someone’s hand and walked around the gathering. I look and these were not my closest friends, in fact, not my current friends at all but people I’d played tricks on, rolled over in business deals, and spoken against to others. They climbed the deck stairs and I was people-pushed into my living room and told to stand in a square taped onto the floor.”
Paul is one of my favorite flash fiction writers and he just keeps getting better. Read this collection for lessons in style, voice, concision, and emotional honesty, but mostly read these stories to be entertained. I promise you will be.
We are delighted that Chelsea Voulgares will be traveling from Chicago to Colorado this August for our first Flash Fiction Retreat! So happy to welcome you to the Rocky Mountains, Chelsea!
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?
Chelsea Voulgares: It’s difficult sometimes to find the time and energy to write. I have a nine to five administrative job, but I’m very lucky to have my own office at home. My partner Rob and I bought a cute Chicago-style bungalow two years ago, and I was able to claim one of the small bedrooms on the first floor for myself. I spend a lot of time in there on the weekends, and each weeknight I try to write for at least an hour, right when I get home from my day job. I also try to use a few lunch hours per week to write. A closed door and some earplugs, that’s my retreat most of the time, and it’s usually pretty effective.
Nancy: Yes–being able to close the door to your own writing space is so important! Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?
Chelsea: I started reading flash regularly after Amelia Gray published her amazing collection Gutshot. I think I’d written a few micros before that. Once I read that book, I started following the online magazines that publish flash, places like Corium and Cheap Pop, and quickly realized it was a genre with a lot of energy. A big group of extremely talented writers were crafting these gorgeous, fast, heartbreaking pieces. I read more, started trying to replicate what I saw, and then began sending out my own short-shorts. My first published piece of fiction ever was a micro-fiction I placed in Literary Orphans.
Nancy: I love Literary Orphans! What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
Chelsea: A few years ago I attended an Anthony Doerr lecture at the Tin House Summer Workshop, where he discussed something he called “Two Placed-ness.” I’m going to butcher this, but his idea was that the most interesting stories always occupy two spots of space-time. So, for example, the main character is eating a sandwich in the present, but she’s also remembering how her mom always put pickles on peanut butter sandwiches when she was growing up. Those two moments exist together in the story. That idea of “two placed-ness” really cracked fiction writing open for me.
Nancy: Wow, I love that idea of “two-placed-ness.” What piece of your own writing are you most proud of and where can we read it (if it’s available)?
Chelsea: I have the most fun writing work that has a silly or humorous side. I’m really proud of a piece I wrote in another of Kathy’s workshops called “Berta.” It’s about a teenager who works in a Halloween-themed ice cream shop with her sister, with whom she’s fighting. The shop’s mascot is the titular “Berta.” You can read the piece online at Bad Pony magazine.
Nancy: React to this quote: “This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” ~ Alan W. Watts
Chelsea: Wow. I feel like I could learn a lot from Mr. Watts. I’m constantly distracted, not zen at all. I recently began writing longhand—that helps immensely with direct engagement, but I tend to approach everything very seriously, as if it’s all work. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy writing—I love it—but I tend to be very rigid with it. Not very playful.
Nancy: Oh I’m happy to introduce you to Alan Watts! I put a video at the end in case you want more. Now tell us something we don’t know about you?
Chelsea: A lot of people may already know this, but I love love love horror movies. My favorites are Alien, this indie horror film called Teeth, and the original Halloween.
Nancy: Anything else you want to add?
Chelsea: Yes! Two things, actually.
First, I run a literary magazine called Lost Balloon that publishes fiction, nonfiction, and prose poetry of 1,000 words and under. I’m always looking for submissions by talented flash writers. We have an open submission period the first week of every month, and our guidelines are on the website.
I also have a chapbook-length manuscript of flash fiction, and I’m looking for a publisher. It placed as a top-five finalist this year in the Gold Line Press Fiction Chapbook contest, and a different manuscript of mine (with a few of the stories from the current book) placed as Runner-Up in last year’s chapbook contest from Split Lip Press.
Nancy: Congratulations, Chelsea! Here’s wishing you success finding the right publisher and everyone check out Lost Balloon!
Chelsea Voulgares grew up in a Rust Belt town in Ohio, trapping lightning bugs and singing in the show choir. Now she lives in the suburbs of Chicago, where she edits the literary journal Lost Balloon. Her fiction has appeared recently in Passages North, JMWW Journal, Bad Pony, and Jellyfish Review. You can find her online at www.chelseavoulgares.com or on Twitter @chelsvoulgares.
NOTE: Want to join us on a Flash Fiction Retreat? Colorado is sold out but check out COSTA RICA and ITALY Retreats!
Nancy and I are so excited that the wonderful April Bradley will be joining us for Rendezvous in the Rockies this August in Breckenridge, Colorado! Here, April chats with me about her writing life and her story, “Little Wake,” which is my personal favorite.
You’re coming to Breckenridge in the summer 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?
Along with several workshops with Kathy Fish and thematic ones on the craft of flash and revision offered by Nancy Stohlman, I’ve taken two hybrid writing workshops, one each with Robert Vaughan over at Word Tango and Jonathan Cardew with Bending Genres. I took a workshop on Surreal Flash from Meg Pokrass as well.
I met Kathy while taking Hannah Tinti’s fantastic workshop over at One Story. Last summer I began my MFA program and had my first academic fiction workshop at the Sewanee School of Letters with Jamie Quatro.
I read like a lunatic regardless if I am actively writing. I love the idea of honoring one’s writing. That’s so much better than feeling guilty about not writing.
Respond to this quote by Dani Shapiro:
“Writing saved my life. Writing has been my window — flung wide open to this magnificent, chaotic existence — my way of interpreting everything within my grasp. Writing has extended that grasp by pushing me beyond comfort, beyond safety, past my self-perceived limits. It has softened my heart and hardened my intellect. It has been a privilege. It has whipped my ass. It has burned into me a valuable clarity. It has made me think about suffering, randomness, good will, luck, memory responsibility, and kindness, on a daily basis — whether I feel like it or not. It has insisted that I grow up. That I evolve. It has pushed me to get better, to be better. It is my disease and my cure. It has allowed me not only to withstand the losses in my life but to alter those losses — to chip away at my own bewilderment until I find the pattern in it.”
This is such a wonderful expression of what writing can do for the life and mind of writer, and some of it articulates my own experience. I did not start writing fiction until I was in my 40s and found different ways of attaining and experiencing what she describes, mostly through my own graduate work in philosophy and theology and though my experiences in motherhood. Creative writing, however, pushed me in ways I’ve never imagined. I’ve cried, walked away from a story, swearing I was done with it, only to sit down and work with it more. Writing has been that only thing as Shapiro writes, “…has allowed me not only to withstand the losses in my life but to alter those losses…” Writing has revealed things to me about human nature I didn’t expect. It has revealed things about my own life and past I did not recall. Writing is closely related to reading and to other writers. Writing and reading opens up new worlds for me, allows me to me to express more fully the different aspects of myself but when it reaches others, and when readers tell me something I’ve written takes on meaning for them, there is the gift.
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?
My favorite is “Little Wake.” CHEAP POP published it last year, and I was thrilled. I managed to convey a moment in time and expand it to something so much more and capture the emotion I felt in that moment, that sense of magic, bittersweet loss, love, even a childhood fascination and an adult crush. I can still hear the frogs croaking along to Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da when I think about that story. Got lucky on that one.
Tell us something we don’t know about you that you are happy to share. : )
I meet people I know in unexpected, surprising places like in Venice or New York, in airports, concerts, interviews, courtrooms, emergency rooms. Neat things like that happen to me, and I love it.
Love that! And thanks so much, April. See you in Breckenridge in August!
April Bradley is from Tennessee and lives with her family outside New Haven, Connecticut. Her short fiction has been recently nominated for The Pushcart Prize as well as The Best of Small Fictions. Her writing has appeared in CHEAP POP, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Narratively, NANO Fiction, and Smokelong Quarterly’s “Why Flash Fiction” Series, among others. She has a Master’s in Ethics from Yale Divinity School and is an MFA candidate at the Sewanee School of Letters.
Holly Lyn Walrath will be joining us this summer for Rendezvous in the Rockies in Breckenridge. She graciously allowed me to ask her a few questions to find out a bit more about her life and writing and her forthcoming poetry chapbook, Glimmerglass Girl, from Finishing Line Press (available for pre-order April 9th!).
We’re so thrilled you’ll be joining us for a writers’ retreat in Breckenridge this summer! What are your thoughts on honoring creativity and/or creative play? How important are these to you?
I think a lot about Ursula K. Le Guin’s speech at the National Book Awards (http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Index-NBFMedal.html) where she says “Resistance and change often begin in art.” Honoring creativity to me means staying true to who you are as an artist and not chasing the market. This is so hard to do, because as writers we need to self-promote. But to me, the moment when we break free of the external world and instead let the internal world guide our process is the moment when we are capable of true art that will enact change.
When I feel a piece is enacting change in myself, that’s when I know it’s working. That’s what I strive for in creativity—break through, surprise, unsettling, resettling, a quiet dawning of realization.
You described your recent (amazing) flash in Fireside Magazine, entitled “knick knack, knick, knack” as one of your own favorites. Can you talk about the process of writing it and why it’s one of your favorites? I love that first line by the way…
I think the title of this piece is one of the best I’ve written so far, a nod to the old children’s rhyme, This Old man. Conceptually, I was inspired by the work of Hayao Miyazaki and his use of the Japanese tree spirits called Kodama, which appear in his film Princess Mononoke. But the piece is mostly drawn from the personal experience of struggling to put aside the demands of a parent. I’m interested in stories that put a new twist on the Mother-Daughter story. My own Mom has pretty much never known how to handle my creative side. I wanted to acknowledge that we don’t all have great relationships with our mothers, we don’t all want to follow in our parent’s footsteps.
Respond to this quote by Dani Shapiro: “If I dismiss the ordinary — waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen — I may just miss my life… To allow ourselves to spend afternoons watching dancers rehearse, or sit on a stone wall and watch the sunset, or spend the whole weekend rereading Chekhov stories—to know that we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing — is the deepest form of permission in our creative lives.”
Oh man, how do I struggle with this! Lately my schedule has been cram-jam full of lovely writing-related things that make me happy and give me a deep sense of purpose. But I’ve found it really hard to turn off lately, to explore the small, quotidian pieces of life that make it worthwhile on a deeper level.
The only way I’ve found to recapture this lately is going out canoeing with my husband. We paddle out on Armand Bayou and there’s always a moment when the water quiets, we slip away from the shore where people are picnicking and playing with their dogs, and everything we left behind sinks into the stillness. Cranes and vultures circle the sky, gators lurk in the shallows, and that’s how I turn off the rest of the world.
Anything else you’d like to share? Something we probably didn’t know about you?
Pre-orders for my first chapbook, Glimmerglass Girl (Finishing Line Press), start April 9th. This chapbook is a series of illustrated poems about femininity. Information on my website: Holly Lyn Walrath
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A lot of people don’t know that I worked in finance for three years. My mother is still disappointed that I quit that job, ha. Now I’m a freelance editor, but I still get random phone calls from my family asking for advice on money matters.
Well, we’re glad you pursued writing (and editing) instead! Thanks so much, Holly, and best of luck with your upcoming poetry chapbook!
Holly Lyn Walrath is a writer of poetry and short fiction. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Magazine, Liminality, Crab Fat Magazine, and other places. She is a freelance editor and volunteer with Writespace, a nonprofit literary center in Houston, Texas. She currently resides in Seabrook, Texas. Find her on Twitter @hollylynwalrath or at hlwalrath.com.
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 Prizeand 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!
Annie Q. Syed is a reader and writer who studied law and then went back to teaching full time to inspire students to read and write. She has called many places “home” and currently resides in New Mexico, United States. Her stories, Collection of Auguries, were published in 2013. You can find more here http://www.anniesyed.com or connect here: @so_you_know