Excerpt: Pen and Muse Interview with author of Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities, Nancy Stohlman!

Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up as a military brat, so I lived everywhere: D.C., Arizona, Kansas, Germany, Spain, Nebraska, and then a stint traveling with the Renaissance Festival before settling in Denver and getting serious about writing.

Tell us about your book? How did it get started?

I’ve been writing flash fiction (stories under 1,000 words) almost exclusively for the last 10 years, and have been championing the form for as long. So this book started like a mosaic–once I find myself with a deluge of stories I start collecting them together and seeing if the pieces are talking to each other. For what became Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities there was a lot of synergy happening, as I realized I’d been writing about performers and various aspects of identity (the narrator’s reflection is her own character, for instance.) Once I found the mortar between the pieces it was easy to create a cabaret on the pages.

How do you create your characters?

I don’t really create characters—I wait for them to show up and then I listen to them once they do. As a beginning writer I would try to “invent” characters, but they were always just composites of real people or they were idealized in one way or another (and therefore boring and cliche). Caricatures. Now I wait for characters to show up and I almost act as a journalist—letting them pull me around on their adventures while I take notes.


What inspires and what got you started in writing?

I’ve been writing since I was nine years old—I wrote my first screenplay—“Superman, The Musical”, on my mom’s electric typewriter and felt so important sitting there “writing.”

Now with my busy teaching schedule and all the behind the scenes things that come with publishing I find I have to actively guard my “timeless time” for writing. Once I have an idea I can write anywhere—much of my writing these days happens in the in-between spaces—while I’m commuting on the train, for instance (which is why I don’t drive). But the deep, original inspiration always comes from the timeless time—the space I allow for creative play with no expectation to the outcome. Consequently, I get a lot of my best ideas while walking or sleeping or cooking or doing something else.

Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)

It will sound unglamourous, but I write in bed, in silence, with maybe tea or coffee that has gotten cold. I think I need my feet off the ground in order to access my imagination. I have an office, and it has all the things an office should have—desk, file cabinets, bookshelves, pictures of writing heroes and other memorabilia—and I worked very hard to be able to have an office and I love my office. I have pictures of all my book covers hanging up in there. And I pay bills in there and I answer emails in there, but I don’t write in there.

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