Interviews

Writing & Striving for a Happier, Healthier Lifestyle: A Chat with Lucy Merklee

Lucy Merklee will be joining Nancy and me (along with her husband, Bill) for Writing Wild in Costa Rica! Lucy comes from a corporate background and looks to explore creative writing, particularly the flash fiction form, with us this January.
Hi Lucy! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. Have you ever visited Costa Rica before? What interests/fascinates you about that part of the world?
I have never visited Costa Rica, but I have heard so many wonderful things from friends and family that have been. It is supposedly gorgeous and has wonderful weather year-round, so I am very excited to travel there with my husband for the retreat.
You are relatively new to creative writing. What got you interested? What do you enjoy writing about?
What interests me as a writer is anything that helps me grow as a person and enables me to get inside and really feel whatever the character is experiencing.
What comes to mind when you think of the word “retreat”? And how do you find ways to make time for yourself and your own creativity in your day to day life?
Two years ago as I was approaching my 50th birthday, I decided that I wanted to make healthier choices and live a happier lifestyle. So I engaged a life coach and he really helped me see things from a different perspective. I have lost 70 pounds and have never felt better. I still do have some weight to lose before I get to my goal, however my clothes fit and I feel great.
I really enjoy coaching other people on how to change the way they look at things, because then things change the way they look. I also love to give unsolicited advice, but no longer take it personally if people aren’t open at that moment to what I’m saying. Sometimes all it takes is the right person, saying something in exactly the right way, at the right time when you are ready to hear it. I strive to be that for everyone I encounter.
Now that my kids are grown, I am able to focus on what I want my second chapter to look like. I volunteer every week for two hours at the local animal shelter working with the dogs and the cats, and I absolutely love it. It’s incredibly fulfilling. I also mentor at risk high school students via a program through work, and I have received the president’s volunteer service award for the past three years because I volunteer over 100 hours a year.
Most of the writing I have done has been corporate in nature, as I have a Masters Degree in corporate communication. I also dabble in shorter stories and have an idea for something I want to work on while at the retreat in terms of flash fiction.
Oh, I’m excited to see your flash idea come to fruition in Costa Rica, Lucy! Can you share something about yourself (a memory, anecdote, coincidence, special/weird talent, etc.) you’d like to share with us?
I enjoy all forms of exercise including swimming (we have a pool, so I usually swim about a half a mile every day at lunch), walking, running (in the cooler weather I usually do about two miles a day), yoga, tennis, pickle ball, you name it, I am up for it! I also enjoy needlepoint, Reading, gardening, and can hold my own with the best of them on most TV shows.
Thanks so much, Lucy!
BIO: Lucy Merklee is a full-time working mother of two amazing adult children. She has worked at AT&T for 28 years in a multitude of roles and will stay as long as they’ll have her. Lucy lives in Wanaque, NJ with her wonderful husband Bill and two awesome cats. If anyone is looking for three hermit crabs, she would be very happy to rehome them with all supplies, as they were left behind by her daughter when she moved out.
Note: Does Writing Wild in Costa Rica this January sound appealing to you? A very few spaces remain! Find more information HERE.
Interviews

Pura Vida! A Closer Look at Peace Retreat in Costa Rica with Owner, Kevin McQuillan

Nancy and I are so excited for our upcoming “Writing Wild in Costa Rica”retreat at the stunning Peace Retreat in Playa Negra! Very grateful to owner and founder, Kevin McQuillan, for taking the time to give us some background and a sense of the place for those who will be joining us there in January.Kevin smile

Hi, Kevin! Can you tell us a bit about your background with Peace Retreat? How did you get into this work? What drew you to it? 

I established Peace Retreat in 2011 with a dream and a commitment to create a retreat center founded on the principles of learning and wellness. The intention was, and is, to offer guests a tangible improvement in their inner and outer flexibility and strength.  It’s a long way from my roots in Canada, where I had a career in civil law enforcement which ultimately led me to discover yoga. As my connection and fascination of yoga grew so did my yoga studies which ultimately led me to co-found three yoga studios in Calgary before setting my sights on Costa Rica.

i-fzDVWhm-MI was ultimately determined to create a space in an environment inherently nurturing that would facilitate healing and well-being on all levels. 

Peace Retreat serves a variety of groups. Have you had writing retreats there before? 

Although we have not hosted a designated writing retreat before, we have had many writers join us for some peace and tranquility as a way to support their writing projects. We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to offer a space where many feel the environment supports ease and clarity, allowing the creative juices to flow.

We are very excited to be hosting our first ever writing retreat with you! 

What is special about the area there? How is it different from other parts of Costa Rica?

Peace Retreat Costa Rica, is a holistic wellness and learning center located in Playa Negra, at the heart of Costa Rica’s extraordinary northwest Pacific coastline. Peace Retreat is an approximate 10-minute walk to the town center of Playa Negra, and an approximate 15-minute walk to the beautiful beach of Playa Negra. The black sand is what gives Playa Negra its name. With sand that glows in the sunshine and stretches far into the shallow, warm pacific water, Playa Negra is one of Costa Rica’s most celebrated beaches.

P1120255LRPlaya Negra’s beaches are pristine, opening to unique stretches of sand and volcanic reef around each ocean-side cliff. Beaches vary with white sand, black sand and sea shells. Sandy beaches, often lined with native trees and palms are interspersed with tidal pools formed from the lava rock. The Pacific tides swing substantially, so the beaches may go as far as the eye can see at low tide, and be mostly covered at high tide.

With some of the most consistent waves and surf breaks in the region, Playa Negra is a very popular surfer beach, made famous by the movie Endless Summer II. Surfers and non-surfers alike enjoy Playa Negra’s pristine, natural, and remote landscape. Its dark-colored sand is interspersed with rocky outcroppings and tide pools for exploration. To the beach’s southern end, there are protected areas for swimming and play.

One of the best ways to explore the breathtaking scenery in Playa Negra is through the multiple adventure tours available. Getting close to nature and experiencing wildlife, the landscape and the stunning surroundings happens locally.

The simple pleasures of the quaint surfing village of Playa Negra offer a unique experience of easy relaxation and tranquility.

This amazing location is the perfect setting for Peace Retreat.

What do people generally take away from their time spent at Peace Retreat? Do you get groups that come back year after year?

Our aim is to support our guests feeling cared for and contributed to in a way that aligns with their needs and our wellness practices. We are experts at what we do and love sharing our passion for wellness, nature and the pura vida lifestyle with our guests. We have a specific focus on creating an intimate setting whereby connections are made and relationships flourish with self, others and nature. We are deeply committed to developing meaningful and long-lasting relationships, and doing so in an environment that is inherently healing. As such, many of our guests leave feeling more aware, nourished, vital and connected.

Through our approach we have had the great pleasure to build and maintain relationships with group leaders and guests in a way that brings them back year after year. We love the experience of growing together!

Could you describe the unique sights, sounds, smells, etc. that our participants can expect from their time at Peace Retreat? (I realize I’m asking you to be a “writer” here, ha…)

A Day in the Life of a Visitor

Pura Vida! Translation: Pure Life. If you are reading this, you are likely wondering what it is like to be a guest at Peace Retreat… and really, the shape of your time here is entirely up to you! Many guests at Peace Retreat fill their days with curiosity and adventure, while other guests choose to use their time at YPR to experience a true sensation relaxation and rejuvenation…costa rica hammock

Continue reading for an outline of your most “typical” day at Peace Retreat…

Wake Up To The Sensation Of Nature

As a guest with us, you will find yourself falling asleep and waking up to the sound of nature regularly. In the mornings, as the sky begins to lighten and the soft breeze through the trees pleasantly warms the morning air, the wildlife surrounding the retreat’s location really begins to come alive. Wake up to the glistening sun beaming through your wide wooden window as the birds chirp and the monkeys howl, and enjoy the sensation of nature all around you as you slowly prepare yourself for the day ahead.

costa rica yoga spaceStart Your Day With Morning Yoga

Rise early and grant yourself the opportunity to attend our daily 7am yoga class. All classes at YPR are lead by knowledgeable and accredited international yoga teachers. Begin your day by connecting to your mind, body and soul, and step off of your mat and out into the world with an authentic feeling of refreshment and light-heartedness.

Feed Your Soul (And Your Belly)

Following morning yoga comes a fresh and wholesome homemade breakfast. Breakfast specialties include; fresh fruit, avocado toast, banana pancakes, chia seed pudding, vegan muffins, scrambled eggs, quiche, and gallo pinto (a specialty Costa Rican breakfast dish). Additionally, offered daily is Costa Rican coffee made from 100% sustainable Costa Rican coffee beans, and of course if you prefer, tea.

Cool Down!

After the digestion of your delicious breakfast, choose to perhaps cool down with a dip into our quaint pool, bordered by beautiful palm trees and comfortable lounge chairs. The pool is a great place to spend the day, or if not, to reset and cool down between yoga classes and tropical adventures.Peace Retreat

Venture Wildly!

Take a walk through our marked jungle path, and find yourself within 15 minutes enjoying the dark sand and warm water of the local Playa Negra beach. Book a surf lesson, surf on your own (if you’re experienced) or take a stroll alongside the ocean’s shore to fully absorb the Guanacaste beach experience. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, adventure tours are available within the town of Los Pargos including hikes to waterfalls, zip lining, and more!

Settle Down With The Sun

As the sun begins to set, enjoy watching the beautiful colors of the sky change to nighttime as the surfers of Playa Negra catch their last few waves, or perhaps enjoy the luminescent pink and orange sky from the comfort of our property.

Starry Nights

As a traveler of Costa Rica, you will soon learn that the jungle life here does not stop. Not even at night. Some animals actually even choose the nighttime to do their most active “living,” as of course, in Costa Rica; the nighttime is cooler than the daytime. While winding down from your day, allow the sounds of the wildlife vibrating to be the soundtrack to your night. Take a moment to gaze up and get lost in the canopy of stars that fill the beautiful and open Costa Rican sky… And for most guests, to follow this, it’s time to sleep!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I, along with our team, are very much looking forward to hosting you, being with you, and supporting a very memorable experience together.

Until soon, be well.

Thanks so much, Kevin!

NOTE: A few spaces remain for “Writing Wild in Costa Rica!” Join us? More information HERE.

Nancy Stohlman, Uncategorized

Why You Need a Writers Retreat: The Dopamine of Anticipation

Recently I was gifted the use of an empty condo in the Colorado mountains for the weekend, a glorious three days with just myself and my writing. I’d been looking forward to my own mini writers retreat for weeks!

I bet everyone here can relate: Having a retreat or vacation (of any length!) to look forward to gives you an instant dopamine hit–the body knows something is coming and it’s already happy, already excited.

Ah dopamine. It’s that chemical that makes us feel good. It’s released when we fall in love, ride a roller coaster, win a prize for that story we wrote, and it’s also the culprit in all sorts of addictions, from chocolate to sex to the constant “ping” of our text messages. When dopamine is released we get the message that “this feels good” and we keep coming back for more.

But here’s something interesting: Researchers have found that it’s the anticipation of pleasure, rather than the pleasure itself, that gets those feel-good chemicals in our brains going. Meaning we are already feeling good BEFORE we even get the reward.

According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, vacationers already “started experiencing a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of the trip because they were looking forward to the good times ahead.”

Which means looking forward to pleasurable things is as good for your overall happiness and well-being as the actual experience of them. You are already getting that “hit” of pleasure every time you think about the exciting thing that’s coming.

Stanford biologist and neurologist Robert Sapolsky says from his studies with monkeys that “dopamine is not about pleasure, it’s about the anticipation of pleasure. It’s about the pursuit of happiness rather than the happiness itself.”

Want to geek out on the science a bit? Check out the 5-min clip fromRobert Sapolsky’s lecture on the Science of Pleasure below:

So what’s the takeaway here? The bottom line is that the anticipation of an upcoming vacation or artistic retreat is already releasing sweet, sweet dopamine into your system. Every time we think about it, talk about it, every time we look at pictures, every time we do research and tell others about it.

So…are you excited yet?
~Nancy

P.S. Join us on an upcoming retreat!

Interviews

The Zen of Writing, Literary Pilgrimages, & Retreating in Costa Rica: A Chat with Bill Merklee

Hi Bill! You’re joining us in Costa Rica in January 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?

I’ve attended the Gotham Writers Workshop in NYC and have taken some of their online workshops. Some of us from one of the online classes have stayed in touch and regularly read and critique each other’s work. I also took one of your Fast Flash classes and had a blast.

I mostly succeed at writing every day. It can be anything from a story to working on my novel to journal entries to writing exercises I set for myself. The exercises include things like sketches about ex-girlfriends, “letters never sent,” and writing down everything my dad ever told me about his life. The point is to keep writing. I’ve also slowly evolved into a morning person. I feel like I get more done in the early hours before the rest of the house wakes up.

Respond to this quote by Kurt Vonnegut: “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

Oh I love Kurt. I think Ray Bradbury said something similar, too. To me it means don’t over-think things, just jump in. I have to remind myself of that every time I start a new story. It also speaks to my going off to Costa Rica. I’ve never done anything like this, which seems as good a reason as any to do it.

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?

“Currents” is a favorite longer story that I’m still honing. It has some attempts at Vonnegut-like commentary and dark humor around climate change, and is also written for my father. He served in the Navy in World War II. He got very sick at one point and his ship had to leave without him. The ship was later sunk in battle with the loss of most of the crew. He always carried around a kind of survivor’s guilt about it. So in the story I try to give him some imagined closure, some absolution.

A favorite flash of mine is called “Portugal.” It’s my attempt at writing in second person. It got honorable mention in a Glimmer Train contest, but I have yet to find a home for it.

Oh wow. What a story about your father! That’s a great idea to write a story that gives that harrowing experience closure. And congratulations on your Glimmer Train nod!

Have you traveled to Costa Rica before? What are you most looking forward to as a writer retreating to this beautiful place?

I’ve never been to Costa Rica, but have heard wonderful things.

I’ve made literary pilgrimages to Mark Twain’s house, Carson McCuller’s house, John Steinbeck’s house, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house, Walden Pond, Indianapolis (Vonnegut), and Lowell, MA (Kerouac) hoping I would have these writing epiphanies. I once took a cross-country train trip for inspiration, thinking I would get all this writing done. It wound up being more of a four-day Disney ride through America (though it did become writing fodder later). I always come back to the line from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that says the only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there. In other words, the location is not as important as just putting your ass in the chair wherever you are and writing.

I’m sure I will love Costa Rica, and I’m excited to be on such an extended retreat. What’s more important to me is being in the company of other writers, and the chance to work with you and Nancy.

Well, thank you! And I get that regarding: Zen. That makes a lot of sense. I think there’s something to be said for receptivity and for inspiration to line up at the confluence of the right time in the right place. I feel like the Peace Retreat in Costa Rica is such a place. Nancy and I are excited too!

Bill, your wife Lucy is joining you on this trip. How did you get her interested in flash fiction?

I talk about flash all the time, and there are collections all around the house. Oddly enough, I only read excerpts of my work to her — I never show her work in progress. She’s done a lot of corporate writing, and I said flash might be a good way to try out fiction writing. Now she’s coming to Costa Rica. Talk about jumping off cliffs…

I think that’s wonderful! We’re really looking forward to meeting you both! Tell us something we don’t know about you that you are happy to share. : )

In addition to really short stories, I also enjoy really short films and really short songs. I’ve got a collection of 3,000+ songs that are each under two minutes long. I see a lot of similarities between a well-written flash and a well-crafted song that clocks in at 1:32.

Oh I agree. I love short films too. Novellas. Art in miniature. Thanks so much for chatting with me, Bill! Here’s to Costa Rica in January!

Bill Merklee is a writer and graphic designer. His writing has appeared in Columbia, StoryBytes, New Jersey Monthly, and the HIV Here & Now project. He lives in the beautiful Ramapo Mountains of northern New Jersey with his wife and children and two very Zen cats. You can find some things of his at The Amber of the Moment and occasional outbursts on Twitter @bmerklee.

NOTE: A few spaces remain for our Create in Costa Rica retreat in January, 2019. Get more info HERE. Hope you can join us!

Interviews

From Ireland to Italy: Marie Gethins on Harnessing the Creative Life Force

 

marie

Welcome, Marie! Thanks for chatting with me today. Kathy and I are so excited that you will be joining us in Casperia, Italy next spring! It’s going to be magical!

Nancy: So 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?

Marie: I’m very lucky to have a little study of my own. For many years, I worked in a corner of our bedroom and since I’m a night person and my husband is not, it really wasn’t a great set-up. The downside is that I’m not very good at separating my medical writing from my creative writing time. A few years ago, when I was writing a novel, I took my laptop to a totally different space in the house, which was a great help. However, I haven’t been as disciplined since completing it.

For me the best driver is a deadline. I’m in a fantastic writers’ group that meets every two weeks and that pushes me to produce. So even if my professional life bleeds into my creative life, I am forced to carve out time for the creative.

Nancy: You’re coming to Italy from Ireland–what is the writing/ flash fiction community in Ireland like?

Marie: The literary scene in Ireland is amazing. There are ample opportunities to attend workshops, readings and interviews with high profile writers. However flash continues to be the poor cousin to the short story here. There are a few Irish lit mags that support flash: BansheeThe Stinging Fly has had a special flash issue,  The Incubator used to, but has moved onto longer form only. Also, there are a few nice competitions including Dromineer, Allingham, and Kanturk that have flash categories and Big Smoke celebrates National Flash Fiction Day in style every June. Nuala O’Connor/Ní Chonchuír is a novelist, poet, short story author, and superlative flash writer. ‘Yellow’  is one of my favourites of hers  but she has many fantastic flash pieces. She put out a wonderful short story collection last year, Joyride to Jupiter, with Irish publisher New Island. Of the nineteen stories, five are flash. When I hosted a flash special for the Cork monthly literary salon, Fiction at the Friary, Nuala was a guest (as well as another terrific Cork writer Denyse Woods, her winning flash ‘Wallpaper’ is here:  Nuala said that she sent many more flashes to the editor, but only managed to get those five into the collection. Danielle McLaughlin is a master long short story writer. She also does terrific flash. ‘Hook’ was an outstanding contribution to last year’s New Yorker flash fiction series. I’ve read at a flash event at the Cork International Short Story Festival and for Big Smoke a couple of times, but again, the longer short story form dominates here.

Nancy: Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?

Marie: I admit it is my first love and the form to which I continually return. I am a compressionist, so it’s a good fit for me and I adore the challenge it presents. Playing with structure, enabling the reader to add their own truth/interpretation through the unsaid, the precision it requires – these all are elements I enjoy. I worked out that 64% of my almost 70 published short fiction is flash, with many generated out of Kathy Fish Fast Flash workshops. Clearly, I spend a lot of my writing time working on it. However, my agent would really like me to focus on longer forms, particularly the novel, as flash is a hard sell (unless you are Lydia Davis).

Nancy: I love that term “compressionist”! What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

Marie: It’s a bit of a cheat after waxing lyrical on flash, but the piece I am most proud of is ‘The Fog Harvester’ a longer story that was commended in the 2017 Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Prize. In flash, I am quite proud of ‘Here Be Monsters’ recently published by Synaesthesia Magazine with a beautiful illustration by Moko. Also, I was quite pleased that my flash venture into Edgar Allan Poe territory ‘The Old Manwon the Dorset Fiction Award last spring. I do a fair amount of quirky stuff, which is hard to place, so I was thrilled when NANO published ‘Mammoth Task.’ It’s hardcopy only, but the editors kindly asked me to record the piece as well, so you can hear me reading it here:

Nancy: React to this quote by dancer Martha Graham: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”

Marie: One of my undergraduate degrees is in Modern Dance, specifically in Graham Technique. UC Berkeley is one of two dance schools globally that Martha Graham sanctioned to teach her style. Obviously I’m delighted that you chose this quote. A dance instructor at Berkeley, Marni Wood, who had been a principal dancer in the Graham company, told me that Martha Graham was still choreographing in her 90s because she had to – it was a creative compulsion.

I think many emerging writers fear that someone may ‘steal’ their idea. I’ve seen this in workshops—a reluctance to show work. As Graham notes, ‘expression is unique’ and I think that’s incredibly valuable to remember. Just as every reader’s particular life experience weighs in on her/his interpretation of a piece, every writer has an individual approach to a subject. While some topics many seem tired and overused, a fresh angle or perspective can transform interpretation. When this happens in a flash, it can be amazing and intense.

I find that writers often have talents in other creative areas (music, art, dance, crafts, etc) and I wonder if this ‘energy’ that Graham describes will find another path, unless you actively suppress it. In this respect, I disagree with the last part of this quote. Creatives can use many mediums to express their ‘life force.’

Nancy: I had NO idea you had studied Graham technique before giving you that quote! Funny how the world world works! Speaking of the world, have you been to Italy before? What are you most looking forward to?

Marie: Yes, I’ve been to Sardinia. Sicily, Florence, and Rome, with plans for Venice later this year. My grandmother was from Piedmonte. She and my father always spoke a dialect at home. Unfortunately outside of food, my Italian is pretty weak. (The important stuff – I can order a glass of white wine in five languages. J) Coming from a very Italian household during my childhood, I love the combination of familiar and unfamiliar each time I’m in Italy. I think it touches all of the senses: warmth of sun on your skin, scent of flowers and wild herbs, taste of a morning cappuccino,  seeing time-worn architecture, hearing gentle rolling Rs and easy laughter. I can’t imagine a more stimulating and yet, relaxing setting for a flash workshop!

Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Marie: For a short stint, I showed Toy Poodles in full lion trim . I can back-comb with the best. If you ever want to adopt Marge Simpson’s hairstyle, I’m your woman.

Nancy: Anything else you want to add?

Marie: Just that  I am incredibly excited to meet you and Kathy in person next spring and work on flash in a great setting with a bevy of outstanding writers. It sounds like the perfect opportunity to harness that creative ‘life force’ Graham talks about.

Marie Geth­ins’ work has fea­tured in The Irish Times, National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, NANO, Jellyfish Review, Litro, The Lonely Crowd, Wales Arts Review, The Incubator, Firewords Quarterly, Banshee, Synaesthesia and others. She won or placed in the British Screenwriters Awards, Dorset Fiction Award, The Short Story, Tethered by Letters, Flash500, Drom­i­neer, The New Writer, Prick of the Spindle, and others. Additional pieces listed or commended in The London Magazine, Australian Book Review, Boulevard Emerging Writers, Bath Short Story Award, Bristol Short Story Prize, Brighton Prize, Fish Short Story/Flash/Memoir, RTE/Penguin com­pe­ti­tions and others. Marie is a Pushcart, Best of the Short Fictions nominee and a recipient of the 2016 Frank O’Connor Bursary mentorship under Zsuzsi Gartner. She lives in Cork, Ireland and has a Master of Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford.

JOIN US IN ITALY? More info here