Journey to Planet Write: Happy Endings

(This is the final installment of Gay Degani’s wonderful series Journey to Planet Write”, which she has been hosting for 2 years. An excerpt is below; to read the entire article, go here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Journey to Planet Write: Happy Endings

by Nancy Stohlman

I asked Gay Degani if I could have the final slot in Journey to Planet Write series for two reasons—one, because I want to properly thank her on behalf of everyone who has appeared in and enjoyed this series. Gay has done an incredible service to our community and created a space where we can all shine. We are grateful to you, Gay!

But there is a second reason. Exactly one year ago I was scheduled to appear in this column when a drunk driver going 90 mph crossed the median on the highway and made other plans for me.

Instead of my Journey to Planet Write, you got my “Interrupted Journey,” a beautiful tribute that Gay and others put together. It meant a lot to me to feel so loved during that process of shock and recovery and now, one year later, it seemed important to not only bring it all full circle and give you that column that never was, but also to end this Planet Write journey on a note of celebration, healing, and hope.

I was 9 years old, living on a military base in Zaragoza, Spain, when I told my mom I wanted to be an author. I wrote my first creation, “Superman: The Musical”, on my mother’s electric typewriter, loving the clack of the keys and the feeling that I was doing something important. Though I attempted to cast it from my class of fellow fifth graders and rehearse in the carport, the musical (including numbers like Lex Luthor’s “I’ll Rule the World”) never made it to the stage, but my confidence in myself as a creative was born.

That same year I discovered the library, and on Saturdays I would volunteer at the check-out desk, stamping people’s due dates. Being a military family we moved a lot, so books became my friends. Nancy Drew was always waiting for me in every library from Spain to Germany to Omaha. Books were a constant in a world that was constantly changing.

Later, when life got harder, books became a way to disassociate; I could leave my body in the midst of everyday reality, escape family meltdowns and divorces and worlds I didn’t want to be in. In college, I read in the dressing rooms of go-go clubs, getting throughEast of Eden and The Trial while other girls were giving lap dances.

After I dropped out of college, I started traveling the country with the Renaissance Fair, living in a van, putting on a bodice and an English accent to sell turkey legs and pewter goblets. I discovered lyrical songwriters like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and I started journaling regularly with the idea that these were adventures I would want to remember and maybe someday write a book. Sadly most of those journals are gone. But when I eventually got off the road and moved to Denver to finish college, I did so as a writer.

This story is true. But it’s not the whole story.My upbringing taught me two very different things: My military father taught me self-discipline. My artist mother taught me that making art is worthwhile. This combination has enabled to become a rare breed: a disciplined creative.

This story is true. But it’s not the whole story.

Keep reading here:

(Photo credit Lynn Hough)

 

“Clown Car” in Funny Bone Anthology

Clown Car

by Nancy Stohlman

             I waited on the side of the highway. There were very few cars passing at this time in the evening and the ones that did switched to the far lane. I was afraid I might be sleeping in the bushes when a car came very slowly, headlights already on, and coasted to stop in front of me.

I jogged over not too fast not too slow. I saw the window being hand cranked down—the red nose barely visible in the darkening light. Do you have a lot of stuff? he asked.

Just this, I said, holding up my duffel.

Great he said. Squeeze in wherever you can.

The car smelled like rubber and greasepaint and I squeezed in between two giant sets of feet, a hairy man clown dressed in a diaper, and a mime clown. I could not see out the window at all.

We’re planning to drive through the night, the driver clown said, so we’ll take turns in the sleeping positions. Ever hour someone else has to be in the upside down position because Marty needs a break. And no tricks on the driver.

We puttered through the night that way. Just before dawn I was in one of the sitting up positions watching the way the night lightened until a seam of orange creased the horizon. A golden ball crowned and the morning sky turned rose.

Ah, sighed the clown sitting in my lap, smiling as the sun filled his eyes.

 

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Check out stories from authors: Steve Almond, Alan Beard, Paul Blaney, Randall Brown, Mark Budman, Jonathan Cardew, Peter Cherches, Kim Chinquee, Sarah-Clare Conlon, Steve Cushman, Jon Davis, Lydia Davis, Wayne Dean-Richards, Roddy Doyle, Grant Faulkner, Avital Gad-Cykman, David Gaffney, Vanessa Gebbie, Ihab Hassan, Tom Hazuka, Kyle Hemmings, Tania Hershman, David Higgins, Allan Kolski Horwitz, Holly Howitt, Paul Kavanagh, Calum Kerr, Steve Kissing, Tara Laskowski, Michael Loveday, Sean Lovelace, Bernard MacLaverty, Paul McDonald, Kobus Moolman, Sally-Ann Murray, Nuala O’Connor, Pamela Painter, Nick Parker, Nik Perring, Jonathan Pinnock, Meg Pokrass, Pedro Ponce, Bruce Holland Rogers, Ethel Rohan, Katey Schultz, Robert Scotellaro, Ian Seed, Gemma Seltzer, Ana María Shua, Christine Simon, David Steward, Nancy Stohlman, David Swann, Matt Thorne, Kevin Tosca, Meg Tuite, Emily Vanderploeg, Gee Williams, Jeremy Worman, Shellie Zacharia.

 

Friday April 21: 29th Annual Podeo!

Join me and a host of amazing readers and performers for the 29th Annual Poetry Rodeo!

Hosted by SETH and Roseanna Frechette!

6 pm- 2am at The Mercury Cafe, Denver

podeo

Sculpting Flash Fiction workshop starts April 3–earlybird ending soon

APRIL 3-23, 2017

SCULPTING FLASH FICTION

Editing is the most important part of the writing process. As serious writers, you know it’s through the editing process that we begin to refine and sculpt our messages.But just as writing flash fiction requires a different set of skills, so does editing flash fiction.

article-2337449-1a32cffb000005dc-882_634x439In this workshop we will use the tools of ambiguity and implication; we will learn the different between chipping and chopping; we will learn how to shrink-wrap text. You will learn how to achieve the specific needs of flash fiction as I guide you and other participants to edit your real works in progress.

Participants should have a basic understanding of flash fiction and come to the class with flash pieces already in progress. Each participant will have the opportunity to submit 1-2 stories per week.

This will be a 3-week online workshop format class with limited availability.

*  THE CLASS IS NOW FULL THANK YOU AND WATCH FOR ME TO RUN IT AGAIN IN THE SUMMER.

Contact me with questions at nancystohlman@gmail.com

Loren Kleinman interviews Nancy Stohlman in The Huffington Post

Flash Vixen Nancy Stohlman Talks about Bible Stories and Fairytales

(read original at The Huffington Post here)

03/19/2017 08:46 pm ET

PHOTO BY LYNN HOUGH
Nancy Stohlman’s books include The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories.

Nancy Stohlman’s books include The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014), The Monster Opera (2013), Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009), Live From Palestine (2003), and three anthologies of flash fiction including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010), which was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is the creator and curator of The F-Bomb Flash Fiction Reading Series in Denver, a founding member of Fast Forward Press, and her work has been recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize

Loren Kleinman (LK): Talk about The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories. What’s your favorite story in the collection? Why?

Nancy Stohlman (NS): A mother loves all her children but The Vixen Scream is always going to be a favorite child. Many of the stories, including “Death Row Hugger”, “The Fox”, “Requiem for piano”, and “The Homunculus” came to me fully formed, either in dreams or in waking life.

As a professor, I have each of my classes free-write for 10 minutes each day. If I have four classes, that’s 40 minutes of writing for me. Often a story draft would begin and end in the span of one day, and after work I would type it up. This happened many, many times while writing Vixen. It was a very satisfying time to be writing.

But perhaps most satisfying was when “The Fox” revealed itself to be more than a single story. The book cracked open at that point for me and became much more than a collage of stories. Incidentally, I have not seen a fox since I published that book. It’s like the saga ended for real.

LK: Discuss the Bible influence in The Vixen Scream.

NS: I was raised Catholic, including Catholic school for some years. So those stories are very familiar to me, and, like many beloved fairytales, many of them are also incredibly disturbing.

While working on the bizarre stories in Vixen, I noticed that those Bible stories were actually quite similar. Put side by side they started to compliment and inform one another. In one story a woman turns into a piano; in another story a woman turns into a pillar of salt. In one story a boyfriend lives in a tree, in another a man gets swallowed by a whale. I particularly liked how the Fox was able to make a cameo in “The Flood”.

Bible stories are some of the most clever allegories in our western cultural mythology. Some people think my Bible stories are meant to mock. They’re actually not. I felt compassion towards and wanted to humanize these characters and the bizarre situations they find themselves in. How does Lazarus feel about being raised from the dead? How does a man prepare to sacrifice his child? One of my favorite compliments was when a friend who is a minister used my story, “The Annunciation”, as part of his Christmas season sermon.

LK: What’s flash fiction and what writers should we check out?

NS: Flash fictions are tiny, complete stories under 1,000 words. And flash fiction is always telling a story, even if much of that story is implied.

While flash fiction is the most widely used term, and 1,000 words the most widely accepted word limit, there are other names: sudden fiction, nanofiction. Recently microfiction has become a subgenre for stories under 300-ish words, and there are journals and books that specialize in stories that are just 50 words, 100 words… even one sentence.

Obviously I would check out the seminal anthologies of James Thomas, Robert Shapard, and Tom Hazuka, who have been leaders in collecting and curating flashes written both before and after the moniker “flash fiction” was christened. I love journals like Blink Ink, Boston Literary Magazine, Flash Frontier, Metazen, Cease, Cows, The Airgonaut, 100-Word story, Vestal Review, Literary Orphans, and Connotation Press. Last year Bartleby Snopes hosted a “Women Who Flash Their Lit” forum, where I was invited into conversation with many of the great female flash fiction writers working today. You can check out the archives here.

The University of Chester in the UK has an incredibly comprehensive list of flash presses, books, anthologies and scholarly writings.

Some of my favorite individual flash writers include Meg Tuite, Kathy Fish, Robert Scotellaro, Len Kuntz, Robert Vaughan, Pamela Painter, Selah Saterstrom, Paul Beckman, Christopher Allen, and Teresa Milbrodt. But the flash fiction movement is a little like the Roman Empire—every morning I wake up and the territory has expanded. People are converting faster than I can keep up.

LK: What pisses you off about the writing scene today?

NS: I think we’ve lost many of our gatekeepers. Writers used to have to work very hard to become good enough for publication. Those works would then have to pass through additional gatekeepers before they were released to the public. You’d really have to go “through the fire” as a writer. But that fire and that process was part of the alchemy that made great writers out of good writers.

The ease of self-publishing coupled with the difficulty of breaking into the major houses has taken away the gatekeepers and the fire. Now a writer can publish a book without ever getting a single rejection. Publication has a price tag rather than being a meritocracy. Now that doesn’t mean that big publishers don’t publish bad books and that good work isn’t self-published. It just means that there are too many books out there that aren’t ready.

Most writers don’t like to hear that they will need to write a few “practice books” if they want to get really good; I personally have three practice books, and it’s a mercy that I was too poor to even consider self-publishing at that time, because I can understand the temptation to just get it out there. I see now that it was a blessing I had no other choice than to go through the fire. While it might be painful to hear that our book is not ready and needs more work, it can ultimately be the best thing that ever happens to us. Getting that rejection forces us back to the page, back to our work, again and again.

The Vixen Scream was published by Pure Slush Press, a small publisher out of Australia. I think small and mid-level presses are the future. Small press editors are truly the unsung heroes, still doing it for the love of books. Their decisions don’t have to be dictated by profits, but they also provide those essential gatekeepers, someone with “skin in the game”.

After 15 years I landed an agent last year. She is currently shopping my new manuscript, Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities, to mid-level publishers that have been out of my reach so far. But that means I will be getting lots of rejections again. And if you aren’t getting rejections then you aren’t in the game. If everything you submit gets accepted, it’s time to take bigger risks.

LK: What inspires you?

NS: Watching writers go through that fire and get better. Watching their work break open. Watching them get dirty. Every morning I have a social media feed full of writers who are publishing stories, winning contests, being featured at readings, getting nominated for awards, and getting their books accepted by agents and publishers. Not to mention that nearly every morning I see a story published that I helped the writer edit and shape. It’s very satisfying for me to see those successes.

I like it when writers are rooting for one another, sharing in each other’s celebrations. I think the best way to promote yourself is by promoting others, and in the flash fiction world there is a lot of generosity in that way. Success for one is success for all. One day we’ll all look back at flash as a defining movement of literature and say: “We did that.”

LK: Why should readers care about flash fiction?

NS: Just as the Impressionists changed painting, or rock ‘n’ roll changed music, flash fiction is changing literature. Readers have discovered something delightful and poignant in these little spaces. Every sentence, every word takes on a new significance if only for the limited number of them. And the stories, far from trivial or lazy, have their finger on a new and necessary kind of urgency.

Future writers will point to this moment as a crucial pivot. Flash fiction is creating a brand new lens through which to write, changing how we tell stories. Writers are cultivating a new set of skills and writing a different kind of story. It’s inspiring for me to be on the front lines of such a movement, throwing rocks that will ripple into the future of literature.

Reading at Innisfree this Saturday

Saturday, March 18

BOULDER
JunkTank Reading and Book Release
Innisfree Poetry Bookstore
1301 Pennsylvania Ave
2-4 pm
Book Release: Matt Clifford, Ballad of Todd Last Year
Also Featuring: Nancy Stohlman and Malcolm Watson, The Barefoot Violinist
Hosted by Jeffrey Spahr-Summers
(Suggested donation of $5 for Planned Parenthood)
Junktank.2017-1

Five Years of FlashNano: A Conversation With Nancy Stohlman

Flash Frontier Feature Interview

Read original in Flash Frontier 

FlashNano, created in 2012, is an annual flash fiction challenge happening in November in solidarity with National Novel Writing Month. FlashNano participants are challenged to write 30 stories in 30 days, with prompts provided daily. We caught up with Nancy Stohlman to ask a few questions about FlashNano, its origins, challenges, successes, and her goals for the future of the project.

Nancy Stohlman: Five years, huh?

Nancy Stohlman: It’s hard to believe!

NS: So how did FlashNano begin?

NS: Truthfully when it started back in 2012 I didn’t have a long-term vision for the challenge. In fact, it was a casual conversation with fellow flasher Leah Rogin-Roper that started the idea – November was approaching, and while we both loved the novel-writing frenzy of Nanowrimo, we were both too immersed in writing flash fiction to switch gears and write a novel. I suggested we write a flash story every day as an alternative, and she said, “I’d do that if someone sent me a prompt every day.” And from those humble beginnings Flash Nano was born.

That first year I posted a daily prompt on my Facebook wall, and by the end of the month I noticed there were a lot of writers playing along. The following year writers were asking me to do it again. Each year the challenge has attracted more participants; by 2016 I was emailing prompts to a list of over 200 participants as well as daily posting on Facebook, Twitter and my personal website. I also created a Facebook event page where participants can share their work if they want to.

NS: How do you come up with your prompts?

NS: I like a prompt that’s not overly prescribed, that has a lot of room for interpretation. If a prompt takes more than one sentence, it’s too long for me. A prompt like “Write a story where something turns brown” leaves lots of room for interpretation.

I write each prompt from scratch when I wake up that morning. Sometimes the inspiration comes from something I read the day before or a dream I had or even the weather (“Write a story that takes place while it’s snowing”). November also has some holidays (in the US): Thanksgiving Day, Veterans Day, Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day and, this year, Election Day (“Write a story in the form of a speech”), so my prompts will reflect those moods as well.
Since FlashNano draws writers from all over the world, the non-US participants are often patiently waiting for me to wake up (as it can be evening or even the next day for them). Sometimes people will (kindly) email me to see if I’m awake yet and ask where’s the prompt!

NS: Do participants have to use the prompts?

NS: You don’t have to use the prompts. You don’t even have to write one story a day. This is between you and your god.

In general writers engage with the process in many different ways. Some like to post their stories every day (helps with accountability), other people will share sporadically and still others never share at all. This past year a group of writers made their own FlashNano support group. Another participant decided to write a haiku a day with the prompts. Others are attempting to link the stories. Not to mention there are an untold number of writers doing the challenge privately. I estimate last year had 400-600 participants but it could be many more.

NS: Do you write 30 stories yourself in November?

NS: Ironically, keeping the whole FlashNano machine running takes much of my creative juju in November, but I still usually manage to get out 5-10 stories. It’s not until December that I can go back and catch up.

NS: How has FlashNano evolved in the last five years?

NS: This past year (2016) was the first year that I started to see the project growing exponentially bigger, where people were using the term “FlashNano” without knowing me or the origins. This was also the first year that I started to wonder if this project would eventually become too big for me to handle alone. I guess this is a good problem!

NS: What has surprised you about this project?

NS: What continues to amaze me are the ripples that happen even when November is over. I regularly get follow-up emails throughout the year from writers telling me about publications and other successes they’ve had based on a story that was conceived during FlashNano. Lately I’ve had writers contacting me about larger projects they’ve started/completed actually linking all 30 stories and asking how they should credit me and Flashnano (in the acknowledgements is great unless you are including the actual prompts—then my name and website please!). And I receive many, many thank yous, which I really appreciate. I even had one writer create her own prompt delivery service after she missed the daily inspiration of November!

NS: Where can someone find past FlashNano prompts?

NS: You can find last year’s prompts on my website, but I only keep up one year. I’m compiling the archives for a future project.

NS: Why and how can someone participate in FlashNano 2017?

NS: The “how” is easy: Just decide to join us. If you want to “officially” sign up for email prompts, you can do that by visiting the FlashNano page on my website.

Why should you participate? Because ultimately it’s fun. And just as Nanowrimo does a great job of getting people away from their inner critic and writing lots of uncensored material, so does FlashNano. There are always writers that beat themselves up as soon as they “miss” one day. For me, this challenge has no losers. I say if you write even one story that you wouldn’t have written in the month of November, that’s a win.

NS: Any advice for FlashNano participants?

NS: Yes: Don’t be in a rush to publish those stories. Even if they could be accepted as is, I think all stories deserve time to marinate and go through the magical puberty of revision. Don’t cheat your work of this step.
In fact, I will plug my two upcoming workshops: For those who love the generative nature of FlashNano, I will be running my Writing Flash Fiction workshop in March, which is a class good for veterans and beginners alike who want to create more material.

For those who are ready to revisit and refine their FlashNano (or other) flash drafts, I’m offering my Sculpting Flash Fiction class in April. This class uses participants’ real stories in progress as catalysts for me to demonstrate flash editing techniques, and it is intended for writers who already have a basic familiarity with flash. Both of these classes have limited seating and I have early-bird discounts running now. For more info go to my website: http://www.nancystohlman.com

Nancy Stohlman talks to herself in Denver, CO, where she is a professor of creative writing and journalism and runs the Fbomb Flash Fiction reading series (fbombdenver.com). Her books include The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories, The Monster Opera and Searching for Suzi: a flash novel. When she’s not writing she sings lounge music on top of a piano. Find out more about her and FlashNano at www.nancystohlman.com.

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