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 Review, Cleaver, 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.
Kathy Fish and I are excited to work with Jeff Burd this summer at our High Altitude Inspiration retreat in Grand Lake, Colorado. Jeff and I chatted with me about teaching, hybrids, and baseball as a metaphor for writing.
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?
Jeff Burd: I’m fortunate enough to be a high school teacher, and I’ve taught a creative writing class for the past 13 years. I am many times writing along with my students, and sometimes use their insights in the editing process. I am frequently surprised by what they come up with. So that helps me find time somewhat consistently. Otherwise, I keep a writing date for myself at a certain time and in a certain place throughout the summer. Beyond that, it’s catch as catch can.
Nancy: I can relate–sometimes being a teacher is the best way to also be a writer! Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?
Jeff: I’d start with my relationship with poetry. I’ve spent countless hours over the last fifteen years studying poetry, writing poems, transcribing poems, none of which is to say that I’m a particularly good poet (or even average). But the skills I’ve developed feed directly into my writing of flash. The two genres share a lot of common ground, and I’ve found a lot of joy in working in a hybrid form. I’ve been working lately on transforming old poems into prose poems and microfictions.
Nancy: Yes, there is a lot of crossover, which is so exciting! What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
Jeff: Two pieces, actually: 1. Ray Bradbury said to have fun writing your first draft, because drafts 2-11 are going to be hell; and 2. Jack Ridl says you have to love practice if you’re a writer, the same way a basketball player loves to be in the gym or merely shooting baskets in the driveway. Everything you write is but practice anyhow, so if you’re not loving it, why do it?
Nancy: I especially love that quote by Bradbury–perfect. What piece of your own writing are you most proud of? Where can we read it (if it’s available)?
Jeff: I wouldn’t say it’s the one I’m most proud of, but this microfiction is one that is probably most significant since it opened a door for me and got the ball rolling with some very nice success I’ve experienced in the last two years. I purposely wrote one of the most obnoxious things I could think of and was going to chalk it up to fun and practice when the final image came to me in yoga class the morning after I had written the first draft. I sent it off to a handful of publications on a whim, thinking “fuck it if they don’t like it, I had fun with it!” It was picked up for publication within 12 hours. You can find it here:
Nancy: Congratulations! Now since I know you are a baseball fan, react to this quote by Babe Ruth as it pertains to your writing : “Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!”
Jeff: Krikey, I’ve “struck out” 95% of the time with my writing! If I was in fear of that, I could never write. But there are reasons to play the game other than publication. My goal has always been to be the best writer I can be, so even the strike outs get me closer to that goal I can never really reach.
Nancy: Have you ever been to Grand Lake before? What are you most looking forward to?
Jeff: I haven’t been to Colorado for a long time, so I look forward to returning and spending some time there and enjoying the beauties of nature. I will be stand-up paddle boarding the titular lake at Grand Lake a few times, and probably head to Red Rocks for a concert one night. I hope I find the time to write!
Nancy: Oh there will be time to write, I promise! Last thing: Tell us something we don’t know about you?
Jeff: I won The New Yorker cartoon caption contest #377, waaaaaay back in 2013.
Nancy: Ha! Thanks so much for chatting with me, Jeff! We are looking forward to retreating with you in Colorado this summer!
Jeff Burd is a graduate of the Northwestern University writing program. His publications include The Baseball Research Journal, Imitation Fruit, BULL: Men’s Fiction, KYSO:Flash, Mount Hope, Soliloquies Anthology, Third Wednesday, and Dislocate. He was judged a winner of the First Memorial George Dila Flash Fiction Contest, and his nonfiction writing A Familiar Problem, a Familiar Face was recognized by Mensa as Best Unpublished Novel. Mr. Burd lives in Gurnee, IL, where he spends his time exercising, reading, writing, working in the kitchen, cheering for the Chicago Cubs, and watching Tottenham Hotspur. He works as a Reading Specialist at Zion-Benton Township High School in Zion, IL.
UPDATE: There are 4 spaces left for our High Altitude Inspiration in Grand Lake retreat! Find out more
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 beforeand 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.
Here in Colorado, the Rocky Mountains are still covered in what feels like endless snow, but underneath all that snow the spring flowers are actually stirring…we just can’t see them yet.
This “stirring” is a potent metaphor for our own creativity: Sometimes we cannot see the fruits of our labor yet, but underneath the surface new life is growing still. And just like spring, one day we will look around and ask: Where did all these flowers come from all of a sudden?
But the artist knows that it never happens all of a sudden.
I love this quote by Cynthia Occelli: “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
So hang on! The rupture of your best work may be working its way to the surface right now!
That also means that now is the perfect time to start planting your creative seeds for the spring/summer: What creative flowers do you want to bloom this year? Do you want to send out more submissions? Enter a contest? Finish a manuscript? Maybe you want to get into a daily writing routine? Try a new form (like flash fiction!)? Get your website going? Network with other writers or go on a writing retreat with us?
Whatever your goals are, now is the time to put those seeds in the ground and let them stir–invisible but moving–towards fruition.
“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.
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.
What 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.
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.
We loved it so much we are going it again next year!
Our next Writing Wild in Costa Rica Retreat will happen March 21-27, 2020!