Interviews, Nancy Stohlman

Gorgeous, Fast, Heartbreaking: A Flash Fiction Conversation with Chelsea Voulgares


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 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!



Max Hipp on Writing, Retreating, and “Getting Messy”

Hi Max! You will be joining Nancy & me for Create in Costa Rica in January. Thanks! We’re so excited for this retreat. What, if any, 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?

I did a Barrelhouse Writer Camp last summer in rural PA (Barrelhouse does great work for writing culture—not only do they publish a journal and many books, they also offer a grant for up-and-coming lit journals!). A creek ran through the property and we’d all get together, a few dozen writers and editors, to eat dinner and watch a terrible movie. I was able to get a lot done.

I make time for writing every day, at least a couple of hours. If I can’t do that, if I don’t have time to even sit down, I’ll write things on my phone. Even if it’s just a paragraph or an idea.

Respond to this quote by Brenda Ueland: “So you see, imagination needs moodling – long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”

This is from one of the four million books on writing I’ve read that I wish I owned. Of course I agree. Personally I’m trying to spend less time “dawdling and puttering” so more of it has an end result.

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?

The truth is my favorite piece is whatever I’m working on. I’ve got a few new things bouncing around, though, that I think are pretty good. Even though nobody has taken them yet, the rejections from journals have been complimentary and specific rather than boilerplate, so that’s somewhat encouraging.

Tell us something we don’t know about you that you are happy to share. AND/OR What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming retreat in Costa Rica?

I write songs, short stories, flashes, and aborted novels. I used to compartmentalize the forms because I was thinking they should all be made so differently. Now I get messy and let them leak all over each other.

I’m looking forward to a community of writers in a new place. It helps so much to read works in progress with other writers and editors–people who are great readers–and just talk about what you’re making.

I love what you say about allowing different forms to “leak all over each other.” And I agree wholeheartedly about the value of community for writers! Max, thanks for taking the time to chat. Nancy and I look forward to creating in Costa Rica with you!

NOTE: A few spots remain for Create in Costa Rica in January! Join us!

Bio: Max Hipp is a teacher and writer living in Mississippi. His work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, New World Writing, Unbroken Journal, and Five 2 One. Follow him on Twitter: @maximumevil