Author Jayne Martin on Fear & Self-Sabotage

Nancy and I were so thrilled when the lovely, funny, and talented Jayne Martin, who’d participated in our debut retreat last summer in Breckenridge, signed on again for our upcoming Springtime in Italy Retreat in Casperia. We’d interviewed Jayne before and thought this time we’d do something a little different, so we asked her to share some of her writerly wisdom with us here on the blog. Thanks so much, Jayne!


Let’s Talk About Fear

I haven’t been sleeping well. So last night I put an Advil PM on the bathroom counter to take just before going to bed. And I had a great night’s sleep.

Today I noticed that blue pill still sitting right where I’d put it. Never took the goddamn thing. But I believed I did and so my body acted accordingly. We create our reality according to our beliefs, which is great when those beliefs support our best interests. Not so great when they sabotage us.

Lately, I’ve been in a writing funk. Old demons long thought to be banished have arisen. In my case they’re saying, “You’re not good enough, so we’re going to keep you from embarrassing yourself by giving you a shitload of excuses to not write.”

You might know this particular demon. Or maybe you have one of your very own telling you:

“You can’t achieve your goals because your success will take time away from your family.”

“Other people get all the breaks. The odds are stacked against you, so why even try.”

“Look at all that competition! Damn! There’s not enough success, abundance (fill in the blank) to go around.”

Or the ever-popular, “You’re a complete fraud and you’re going to be found out.” Yeah, I got that one, too.

Recently, I called out another writer on what I saw as her bullshit excuses. I should know better. Not because of the obvious — I had no right to judge her — but because the Universe immediately held up a gigantic mirror and said “Judge not lest ye be judged, bitch.” And so I not only owe that other writer an apology, I owe her a big thank you and probably an expensive bottle of wine because now I’ve been forced to look at my own crippling crap.

I haven’t written a thing I’m proud of in months. The last two workshops I took I expected to choke and what do you know? Choke, I did!

The thing about these sabotaging beliefs is they lurk in the deepest crevices of our minds and then run our lives like little tyrants. We don’t even know they are there until what we don’t want keeps showing up in our lives instead of what we do want. “WHY THE FUCK DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING TO ME?!”

I’m not a religious person, but a good quote is a good quote:  “As you believe, so it shall be unto you” – Jesus Christ (before we made him a Superstar).

Today I was given three opportunities from the Universe to turn around my fears. The first, as mentioned, was the direction to look at my own sabotaging beliefs before I judged others. The second was an invitation from Kathy and Nancy to write this post to which my immediate reaction was, “Oh shit! What am I going to write about?” The third was the loving outreach from a dear writer friend encouraging me to take an upcoming workshop.

Our demons are constantly testing our vigilance. So, I’m going to take that workshop with expectations of only fun and joy, and that is the experience I’m going to create.

Jayne Martin is a 2017 Pushcart nominee, 2016 winner of Vestal Review’s VERA award, and a 2018 Best Small Fictions nominee. Her work has appeared in Literary Orphans, Spelk, Crack the Spine, Midwestern Gothic, MoonPark Review, Blink-Ink, Cabinet of Heed, Connotation Press and Hippocampus among others. She lives in California where she drinks copious amounts of fine wine and rides horses, though not at the same time. Find her on Twitter @Jayne_Martin.

NOTE: Our Springtime in Italy Retreat is now full, but openings remain for High Altitude Inspiration: Four Days in the Clouds in Grand Lake, Colorado (this August) and we’ve just opened registrations for our return to Costa Rica for Writing Wild in 2020! Join us!



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’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, Uncategorized

Oliver Barton on Intuition, Inhibition, and Listening to Your Inner Creative Child

Oliver Barton

Oliver Barton will be joining Kathy Fish and I in the beautiful hills of Casperia, Italy, next May! I got a chance to chat with Oliver a bit about his writing process and how to stay in touch with the creative inner child and a sense of play while making art.

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?

Oliver Barton: Time is not the real issue with me; my enemy is prevarication. One way I combat it is to repair to a café. There I can sit in the isolation of the babble of voices and lose myself in whatever I’m trying to write. I like to write in longhand there so as to be entirely divorced from the temptations of the web. Otherwise, there is the time before getting up, lying in bed letting a story unfold…

Nancy: You said to me recently, “A wonderful thing about writing is you never quite know what’s going to emerge from the miasma of your brain!” I love it! Tell us more about your relationship with writing and flash fiction?

Oliver: In a writing group we run, as an exercise, we give ourselves ten minutes and a more-or-less randomly chosen trigger, and simply write. No time to have second thoughts or to plan, just to get going and see what happens. And nearly always people end up with a beginning, a middle and an end that they never expected. Wonderful! Let the right-side of the brain take over – is that it? It is no big deal if the piece is rubbish, it doesn’t matter. So we don’t worry about it and most of the time little gems and an extraordinary variety result!

Nancy: Yes, I do something similar–creative play! What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

Oliver: Today, I think I’m most proud of The Signpost, (

Nancy: Wonderful! Now react to this quote by Edgar Degas: “Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Do you think it’s the same for writing? 

Oliver: A dreadful little rhyme we used to chant in the playground when I was very young and which we thought exceedingly funny comes to mind:
See the happy moron,
He doesn’t give a damn.
I wish I were a moron –
I say, perhaps I am.
As a child, anything goes until the great adult world says, ‘No, you should do it like this,’ and inhibition and embarrassment sets in. The lesson for me, and perhaps from what Dégas said, is to use your experience and knowledge and skill to present what the inner child wants to say.

Nancy: I love what you just said about inhibition and embarrassment as the real enemies to our inner child’s wisdom–I agree. Have you been to Italy before? What are you most looking forward to?

Oliver: Yes. Thrice to the Castello Sannazzaro in Giarole, where we sang Renaissance polyphony for a week, and a trip to Ostia Antica and Rome. What better place to let the writing flow, along with the wine! Who knows what will result.

Nancy: Wow!! Tell us something (else!) we don’t know about you?

Oliver: I once toured with an opera group playing the part of the Betrayer in the Guise of a Dog while suffering from Shingles.

Nancy: I adore opera. Maybe you’ll sing for us in that big castle in Italy??? Anything else you want to add?

Oliver: I have a website,, which currently is music that I’ve published (online), much of which I wrote and also houses archives of the Green Branch Opera Group.

Nancy: Thanks so much for taking the time, Oliver! I look forward to seeing you again in May!

JOIN US in Italy in May 2019! Find out more:

Oliver Barton used to write Computer User Manuals, but having retired, now prefers to replace writing facts that nobody reads with producing whimsical fiction that lots of people enjoy! In a previous existence as a Maths teacher, he wrote and directed two full-length plays, and he has composed a number of musical pieces, mostly for choir, which have received performances in widely-flung places around the world. They are freely available from his web-site, He and his wife Cath have published two slim volumes of stories and photos, available from Lulu – Candyfloss, and Candyfloss II. They run two writing groups, which keep them in trim as writers and provide inspiration and encouragement to other local writers. In his writing, he seeks to bring a wry touch to the commonplace activities of everyday life – “in the ordinary is the extraordinary.” Frequently, angels and bad-tempered mythical beings such as garden gnomes creep in, despite his best endeavours. He has assembled a collection “Away with the Fairies,” where they have taken over, and has a novel, “Mouse” currently maturing between revisions.

Cath Barton’s Award-Winning Novella, The Plankton Collector, Now Available!

Nancy and I are so excited that Cath Barton and her husband Oliver will be joining us at Palazzo Forani in Casperia for our Springtime in Italy retreat in May! Cath’s novella, The Plankton Collector, won the New Welsh Writing Award 2017: Novella Category. Congratulations, Cath!

I found Cath’s writing in this compelling and mysterious novella so rich and evocative. Here is an excerpt:

“No-one knows his name, or rather they know him by different names, depending on when and where they meet him. All he asks is to to be acknowledged and listened to but, like the plankton, he is a wanderer – though on land rather than in water – and is never in one place for long. He passes un- remarked in the crowd. He is the man at the next table in the café. The one drinking his morning coffee like any other. The one reading the newspaper. Or the one simply sitting and staring.”

Here is a description from the publisher, New Welsh Rarebyte:

“In this atmospheric novella, the mysterious Plankton Collector visits members of a family torn apart by grief and regret. he comes in different guises. For ten year-old Mary, he is Mr Smith who takes her on a train journey to the seaside. Her mother, Rose, meets him as Stephen, by her son’s graveside. Rose’s youngest, Bunny, encounters him as the gardener. For husband and father David, meanwhile, the meeting is with a love from his youth. And long-lost Uncle Barnaby takes the children for a week’s holiday during which their parents begin a reconciliation. All visitors are manifestations of the Plankton Collector who teaches those he encounters the difference between the discarded weight of unhappy memories and the lightness borne by happiness recalled.”

This debut has already received high praise:

‘Painterly… lush dreamy prose creates a vivid landscape, while its lyricism transports the reader. Cleverly creates a universe of new realities.’ Cathryn Summerhayes

‘A beautifully controlled mix of magical realism and nature writing about time, healing, trauma and the fluid, unreliable nature of memory.’ David Lloyd, co-judge of the New Welsh Writing Awards 2017

Cath’s novella is available for order HERE.

Check back for Nancy’s fascinating interview with Cath on Monday!