Interviews

Learning Flash in Exotic Costa Rica: A Chat with Writer, Professor, Geneticist Margaret Nowaczyk

Nancy and I are thrilled that accomplished writer and geneticist Margaret Nowaczyk will be joining us for our second Writing Wild in Costa Rica Retreat. Margaret graciously agreed to chat with me about the March, 2020 gathering, the writing life, and more.

Hi Margaret! What are you most looking forward to at Writing Wild in Costa Rica?

Learning how to craft flash fiction. In my writing, it seems that it takes me three quarters of the story to get to the beginning and another half to find the ending. Yes, I know it doesn’t add up—hence my problem. I adore pithy, punch-you-in-the-gut flash fiction yet writing that seems to be completely beyond my reach. And comprehension as to how it’s done. So far, I have written one short-short story (400 words) but nobody likes it enough to publish it. I have bought several books on writing flash and short fiction I had hoped would help, but no such luck. I wonder if I ever get the gist of things.

And, of course, I am looking forward to seeing the jungles of Costa Rica and swimming in the Pacific. But, wait! Are there snakes there?!

Flash fiction is definitely challenging to write well. Nancy and I feel really good about the program we’ve developed for our retreats.  I’m confident you’ll come away from the retreat armed with some great new skills. And oh, I think there might be snakes but I never saw any. I did see a beautiful, shy, slow-moving green iguana though. : ) Margaret, could you tell us a little about your writing life? 

Not sure that I have a writing life. I have a full-time job so my writing takes a back seat to that. I am also a mother to two almost grown sons (18 and 22). I write whenever I can: early mornings, evenings, weekends but there are days when I can’t seem to be able to pull myself together to put anything on paper. I have published several short stories and essays in literary magazines and, last year, defended my MFA thesis. Right now I am trying to finish and publish a memoir and oscillate between nice productivity and sheer, paralyzing terror. I am a sucker for writing retreats and how-to-write manuals: between the trips I have taken and the volumes on my shelf, my last name should be Atwood by now!

Ha! Well, I have to admit I’m a sucker for these things too. Favorite book or story?

 Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is my life-long favourite.

Oh I love that book. I read it in French in high school and was so moved. Is there something funny, unusual, interesting whatever about yourself that you’d like to share?

Nah. I’m just a little bit crazy, ehem, colourful.

Aw, I love that! Can’t wait to retreat with you in Costa Rica, Margaret. Thanks for chatting!

Margaret Nowaczyk MD, received her MFA from University of British Columbia in 2018. Her short stories have been published Numero Cinq, Broken Pencil, The New Quarterly, and Prairie Fire who nominated her short story “Cassandra” for the 2017 Journey Prize. Her non-fiction has appeared in GeistThe Antigonish Review, Grain Magazine and Pismo and, in translation, has twice won a national contest in Poland. She is a clinical geneticist and a professor of pediatrics and pathology at McMaster University. She is currently completing a collection of short stories and a memoir about her work as a pediatric geneticist. She lives in Hamilton, Ontario with her husband and two sons.

Note: Spaces remain for Writing Wild in Costa Rica! (See the glowing praise for our past retreats.) Nancy and I are excited to return to lovely and exotic Peace Retreat in March and hope you can join us!

Interviews

Going with the Flow: A Conversation with Writer, Francine Witte

Writer Francine Witte will be joining Nancy and me in Grand Lake for our High Altitude Inspiration Retreat. We’re so excited to have her! Francine took some time to chat with me about all things flash.

Hi Francine! First off, I’m interested to know if you’ve ever visited Colorado before.

I have been in Colorado several times. The first time was when I hitchhiked cross country and stayed in a commune in Boulder for a few days. My boyfriend and I broke up there, and I certainly didn’t want to hitchhike back alone, so my parents wired me money, and I took my very first airplane ride.  Most recently, I was in Denver for the 2010 AWP conference. Colorado is so beautiful, and I am looking forward to returning this summer.

You have a fascinating history with the state then. What do you hope to get from our upcoming retreat?

Living in New York City, I am seldom around nature and open sky. So there’s that. And I am really looking forward to having nothing to think about but flash, flash, flash for a couple of days. I am also going to welcome the community of other flash fiction writers. I know many poets in my not-virtual life, but most of the flash fiction writers I know are from Facebook and Twitter. It will be nice to speak in more than 140 characters. (Though with flash, who knows?)

What is a favorite flash of your own?

I like my flash “How to Teach Your Cat to Talk.” It appeared in Jellyfish on October 8, 2018.

Ooh, I love this flash, especially:

“Place his little cat paws against your throat. You don’t like anything touching your throat, but get over it. Your husband is hundreds of miles from here. Make sounds so that your cat can feel the vibrations. Tell him that this is what talking will feel like. Compare it to how the house felt, shaking like a fist.”

What lessons about writing did you learn from being a high school teacher for 20 years?

I learned to write quickly and in small bits. As a teacher, you learn to “monitor and adjust.” There’s a fire drill in fifth period, so your lesson has to change. Half the class is on a field trip, so your lesson has to change. Nobody understood what you were talking about yesterday, so… Well, I learned to apply that to my writing. Go with the flow. Your stories can change right there in the middle. You might only have ten minutes to write. You just always have to monitor and adjust. This is one of the things I like best about flash. You can do a lot in a short amount of time, and flash allows for sudden changes.

That’s so interesting about learning to “go with the flow.” Seems like that would transfer nicely to all aspects of life, including flash writing. Thanks so much for chatting, Francine. We look forward to seeing you in Grand Lake this summer!

Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks, two flash fiction chapbooks, and the full-length poetry collections Café Crazy (Kelsay Books) and the forthcoming The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books)  Her play, Love is a Bad Neighborhood, was produced in NYC this past December. Her Novella-in-Flash, The Way of the Wind, is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Press. She lives in NYC.

Note: A (very) few spaces remain for our beautiful Grand Lake Retreat. We’d love to have you join us for four days of writing and workshopping and inspiration in the Colorado Rockies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviews

On the Expansion & Resonance of Flash & More: A Chat with Chelsea Stickle

Photo by Gail Werner

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 ReviewCleaver, 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.

Note: A few spaces remain for our August High Altitude Inspiration Retreat in Grand Lake Consider joining us and allowing yourself to be inspired and energized in a gorgeous setting. 

Interviews, Nancy Stohlman, Uncategorized

For the Love of Practice: Chatting with Jeff Burd About Baseball, Hybrids and High Altitude Inspiration

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.

Jeff B

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:

http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue8/BurdLastTime.aspx

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

Interviews

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!