Flash Fiction editor Tommy Dean interviews Nancy Stohlman in CRAFT Literary Magazine

CRAFT’s flash fiction section editor Tommy Dean chats with Nancy Stohlman-Author about MADAM VELVET’S CABARET OF ODDITIES, flash fiction, craft, and more:

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EXCERPT

Tommy Dean: What was your process of crafting this collection together? There’s seems to be a shift from the constant narrator around page twenty-one to twenty-two with the list of circus performers. Was this intentional? What effect were you hoping for?

Nancy Stohlman: Oh yes, very intentional. And even more so in the work I’m doing now—I teach that there are many ways of approaching a collection. One way is to look at it like a “greatest hits” album of work in an order that is rhythmic and pleasing and that is perfectly alright. But I tend to go for the “concept album” approach instead, allowing the juxtapostions of story against story to create another layer of white space and give birth to a second layer of story. It’s my favorite part these days.

Read more:

https://www.craftliterary.com/2019/05/28/interview-nancy-stohlman/

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Saturday, May 25: Flash Fiction Featured Reading in Rome’s Otherwise Bookstore

When in Rome, Read Flash Fiction!

Flash fictions are complete stories under 1,000 words and they are increasingly popular around the globe. Come hear 14 visiting writers from the Ireland, U.K., Switzerland, Canada and the United States read their micro-stories at this one-time event!

Saturday, May 25

5:00-6:30

Otherwise Bookstore

https://www.facebook.com/otherwisebookshop

Outside Otherwise Bookshop.8dbb3d_64fe77135ca649da94edf8851a8fe164mv2

The evening features award-winning writers, publishers, and masters of the craft including:

Nancy Stohlman (U.S)

Jayne Martin (U.S)

Beth Gilstrap (U.S)

Bryan Jansing (U.S./Italy)

K.B. Jensen (U.S.)

Kim Samsain (Canada)

Jude Higgins (U.K.)

John Wheway (U.K.)

Cath Barton (U.K)

Oliver Barton (U.K)

Marie Gethins (Ireland)

Nicole Schmied (Switzerland)

Gina Headden (U.K.)

and musical guest Nick Busheff (U.S.)

 

https://www.otherwisebookshop.com/

 

So You Wrote a Book? David S. Atkinson

David S. Atkinson’s imagination is a beast unleashed! The stories in Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from My Pockets While I Sleep are bizarre and hilarious, taking us into a highly peculiar landscape with scenarios that leave me wondering: Where does he come up with this stuff? Narrated with his signature intellectual deadpan (think “straight man”) and featuring labyrinthian titles that unroll all the way to near slapstick, Atkinson leads us from one outlandish situation to the next without flinching, apologizing, or justifying.

David A

Nancy Stohlman: Finish this sentence: My book is:

David S. Atkinson: Let’s use predictive text on my phone for this one: My book is in a good time for sure but it’s just not like a lot. I think that covers it pretty well.

NS: Finish this sentence: If my book were a historical time period it would be:

DSA: A span of three minutes in which Warren Harding sneezed repeatedly just before lunch on July 27, 1921 during The Teapot Dome Scandal.

NS: Finish this sentence: If my book was a traditional cuisine it would be:

DSA: Various road food covered in Squeez-a-Snack cheese. That counts as a cuisine, right?

NS: Do you think absurdism is just silly? Or do you think the silly is getting at something deeper?

DSA: Yes.

NS: When does absurdism work and when does it fail?

DSA: I don’t know if there are certain conditions either way. I always look at each completed work and make that decision whether it’s working or not. It’s a gut thing, if I can feel that it’s working then fine. If I’m even a little bit unsure, it’s not.

NS: Have you ever written realism? Do you think writers can cover the same material in each or is it cut out for something specific?

DSA: Definitely. Bones Buried in the Dirt was completely realism, the only absurdity being the absurdity inherent in human characters. I’m not sure if absurdity and realism can always cover the same things or not. They definitely have different tools and uses, but it seems like they can each approach the same things in different ways. That being said, I have switched a piece from one to the other when it wasn’t working as was. Maybe it was better suited to one approach over another, or maybe I just hadn’t found the right way to make it work in the approach I had going.

NS: You’ve published several other books, including Apocalypse All the Time, The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, and Not Quite So Stories, which won a 2017 Nebraska Book Award.  How is this book different from your others?

DSA: This one is the first book where I’ve stuck with absurdist humorous flash. The others were novels or longer form fiction. It ended up both weirder and less weird, but definitely different in starting with a certain kind of flash form. I developed a certain technique that I was going to use for most of the stories, and then stuck with that. The results were pretty different from my other fiction.

NS: You credit FlashNano for some of the impetus for this material (thanks!) and I definitely notice some of the prompts like the 13-word story, which you took in your own unique direction of course! Do you usually work from prompts or is this unusual?

DSA: I almost never use prompts, other than something that gets stuck in my head and ends up germinating into a story, if you want to consider that a prompt. FlashNano is the only time I ever really went in for prompts, useful as they ended up being. I guess I just do enough prompt writing through that every year that I still don’t pick it up much outside then.

NS: Talk about your titles, such as: “If That Waitress Sprays Me with the Soda Water One More Time I’m Going to Move to Cedar Rapids and Study TV/VCR Repair with Rod Serling.” While you were always heading in this direction in your previous books I feel you took your titles to another level here.

DSA: I’m almost not sure where my approach to titles came from anymore, I’ve been mired down in it for so long and it sprung up so much on it’s own. I wanted something that mirrored the feel of the essence of the piece without retreading the same ground as the piece, and there was a bent appeal in doing longer and longer titles for deliberately short works. I wanted to kind of just run with them like I did the pieces, and have them have a certain rhythm (often what still is stuck on my head from trying to memorize the White Knight’s poem from Through the Looking Glass: I’ll tell thee everything I can:/There’s little to relate./I saw an aged aged man,/A-sitting on a gate./”Who are you, aged man?” I said,/”And how is it you live?”/And his answer trickled through my head,/Like water through a sieve…)

NS: What I like most about your stories are your endings—they are often really short (unlike your titles) and punchy and give your stories closure in an unexpected but really effective way. Talk about endings and how it happens for you?

DSA: I’m usually looking for a final strike that causes something to reverberate for me, something kind of like a punchline or one of those buddhist prayer bowls. Sometimes I have an idea where things are going, but I usually recognize the end when I happen upon it rather than planning to get there and then I see how the whole piece feels wrapped up that way. If it feels right, I stop writing. Otherwise, the actual ending may still be waiting.

NS: What is your favorite story in this book?

DSA: I’m horrible about picking favorites. It changes with my mood, presuming I could ever pick one at all. If I had to pick, I guess I’d go with the silly one.

NS: You’ve published several books with Literary Wanderlust Press. Talk about your publishing journey with this book?

DSA: Literary Wanderlust has been such a joy to work with. We’ve had such a good relationship with the previous books that they were willing to take this one on when I described it even though they weren’t completely sure what it was. They just trusted me, which is a rare thing. They worked really hard during editing too. With the kind of references I make and the kind of liberties I take, it was really hard to figure out when I’d made a mistake or when something was deliberate. It was a real challenge, but they kept at it and really helped out a lot.

NS: Advice to writers working on a book?

DSA: When you lift that flagstone in the deserted courtyard and descend the stone steps into the subterranean garden, don’t touch a single item of the treasure you see until you grab the enchanted tinderbox at the end.

NS: Anything else you want to add?

DSA: I would like to go on the record that I have never, whether at this time or in the past, supported the candidacy of John Dillinger in his campaign to become commissioner for janitors (emeritus) in lower East Lansing. Anyone who asserts to the contrary is a liar and should be brought to the attention of my attorneys immediately, presuming I ever get any attorneys. I promise to look into that when I get more time next week.

NS: David, you are the best! Thanks for playing along!

Links to book and other promo links:

https://www.literarywanderlust.com/product/roses-are-red-violets-are-stealing-loose-change-from-my-pockets-while-i-sleep/

https://www.amazon.com/Roses-Violets-Stealing-Change-Pockets/dp/1942856288

https://www.facebook.com/DavidSAtkinsonAuthor/

@DavidSAtkinson_

David S. Atkinson is the author of books such as “Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from my Pockets While I Sleep,” “Apocalypse All the Time,” and the Nebraska book award winning “Not Quite so Stories.” He is a Prose Assistant Editor for “Digging Through The Fat” and his writing appears in “Spelk,” “Jellyfish Review,” “Thrice Fiction,” “Literary Orphans,” and more. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/.

So You Wrote a Book? Matt Potter

Australian writer Matt Potter’s creative and publishing endeavors are many–he’s written and published fiction, non-fiction, textbooks, curated anthologies, and always seems to be pushing himself into new territory, always willing to try something new and ask “what’s next?” In his latest solo writing project, On the Bitch, Potter again shows that he’s a man of many skills, weaving his signature snark, wit, and always clever insights across the scope of a novella. With sitcom-like humor disguising something much more profound, Potter is truly a writer “without the wank”.

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Nancy Stohlman: Describe this book in 6 words

Matt Potter: Five adults talk, eat, argue, implode.

NS: This is not your first book. You have also published Hamburgers and Berliners and Other Courses in Between, Based on True Stories, Vestal Aversion, among others. How is this book different than your other books?

MP: Well, it’s a novella (apologies for being so obvious!) and the main plot is told in a very linear way, so there is a strong through line through the whole book.

Hamburgers and Berliners is travel memoir and Based on True Stories is a collection of short stories (some flash).

Vestal Aversion is a collection of short stories, flash, and short non-fiction.

I have also published two volumes of resources for English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers: all you need is … a whiteboard, a marker and this book! Books 1 and 2 … so all these books are different.

My interests are many and varied and this is reflected in the structures and subjects and genres of all the books. I know I have answered this looking at the question in a very concrete way but I do think they’re all, even the ESL resource books, much the same in tone and feel. There is a lot of fun and humour and absurdity in all the books.

Actually, all the books can be taken apart and chapters or sections exist on their own. Writing this I realise that again, cutting and shaping and picking up and putting elsewhere and creating a new whole from disparate parts is endemic to everything I do.

This is a much deeper question than I realised when I initially read it, Nancy! I think that is a skill of yours …

NS: Can you talk about the title? I was waiting to see the phrase come up in the book and it didn’t so now I have to know: Is this Australian slang? How did you decide to go with such an in-your-face title? (P.S. I’m pretty sure all the people on the train raised their eyebrows as I was reading!)

MP: Many Australians (of certain generations) instantly get the title BUT it’s not slang.

On the Bitch is a reference to Neville Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel On the Beach (published in 1957, original film released in 1959) which takes place in Australia.

The non-inclusion of the word ‘bitch’ in the book was deliberate: I had one in the book but it was so obvious I took it out. (There are plenty worse expressions used in the book anyway!)

And most of the novella is set on or near the beach at Port Elliot, a town I visit regularly and stay in once or twice a year. I had the front cover image for years – it’s a photo I took of the beach at Port Elliot – but the design was not working: the photo’s colours are muted but placing the title over the image was proving difficult. So I added a scrim over the image and experimented with the title’s font size. The excessively large font seemed to work best.

I do enjoy cover design. But that cover design took me a long time to bring together.

It never occurred to me the cover might make readers in public spaces uncomfortable (A.E. Weisgerber pointed that out to me) but the upside is, it is noticeable and sparks interest. (A.E. Weisgerber pointed that out to me, too.)

But bitch / beach also refers to Magda’s continual mangling of English, plus all the characters are not the nicest of people … ‘bitch’ could be referring to at least 4 of the 5 main characters.

But you could imagine Magda saying, “Hugh, I am just for twenty minutes going walking on the bitch. I will be taking my zapper to be zapping things.” (I had lots of fun writing Magda’s dialogue.) And you would be unsure if Magda deliberately made that mistake too.

NS: I hadn’t realized until the end that this book was started from prompts you solicited from other writers. Talk about that process. Did all the pieces included come from prompts or did it take on a life of its own at some point?

MP: I originally set myself the parameter of 500 words per chapter or story, each based on one of the prompts I was sent by other writers (and that I had asked for, to kickstart my own writing again). But those parameters started to prove limiting, especially as I realised the smaller stories could form one longer complete story. And the whole point of asking for the prompts (in 2012) was to get me back into writing.

So I abandoned the idea of 500 word limits and only using the prompts, and let the story develop. So some chapters are longer than 500 words; and some were inspired by the prompts, and some not.

It was more important to have a completed book I felt worked as a book, rather than a book that stuck to rules I had set myself, yet remained unfinished, or finished but incomplete because of some fancy, silly guideline.

NS: Do you often work from prompts? What do you see at the benefits/drawbacks of prompts?

MP: I don’t often work from prompts but I set them all the time for publishing projects.

Prompts are great! I especially love working around prompts. I have no time for writers who say, But prompts are so limiting. I don’t agree: they can be amazingly liberating. If you are a writer worth any amount of salt, a prompt can be incorporated into any story at all. Yes, any!

The best prompts are simple, often one word, that can be used very generally or very specifically. Here are some from this very paragraph that should get many writers’ juices flowing: limits, liberation, salt, incorporation, best, one, juice, flow.

But remember, a prompt is a prompt: it’s not the whole story.

NS: In one scene your character refers to getting sucked into “conversational quicksand”. In a way, I think the whole book is about getting sucked into various types of relational quicksand. What do you think your book is saying about relationships?

MP: Have you ever looked at a couple (straight or gay or any part of the expanding rainbow), completely unknown to you, and thought, What on earth do you have in common? What could you possibly see in each other? That used to happen to me all the time, observing couples and thinking, I don’t get what holds you together!

I still think that sometimes, but having just celebrated my 28th anniversary with my partner (and NO ONE is more surprised than me to have been in a relationship for 28 years! How did that actually happen?!) I realise that so often what holds people together is a mystery. It’s something only those in the relationship understand (maybe), and presumably, the benefits outweigh the costs. (Laughter is a biggie for me. Does he get the joke?)

What fascinates me about relationships (intimate relationships, family relationships, friendships) is this: what deals do you do with yourself to stay in those relationships? How do you manage it? What compromises have you made? What do you get out of it? What do you put into it?

I am not that great at compromising in a work situation – I’ve had a lot of problems at day jobs for not toeing the line, for being unable to mould myself into the person management wanted, or thought they wanted – which is much the same issue.

How have you compromised to lead the life you lead?

Beyond food, water, shelter and a sense of self-worth, what else is there in life that’s really important other than relationships?

I also worked a social worker for 20 years, and a lot of that work was about relationships and relationship issues.

Ultimately, On the Bitch is about the deals we do (with ourselves and others), and what we will put up with to lead the life we do, or want. What cost do we pay?

NS: There is a theme of “rich vs regular people”. Can you talk about how this theme and how it manifests in your work?

MP: While this may sound incredibly naïve or stupid, I don’t believe people should be rich.

It enrages me that Notre Dame Cathedral can burn down and a billionaire steps forward with all the money to restore it! To have that amount of money at your disposal is manifestly unjust. (I have no qualms with the cathedral being restored, however.)

If I were a billionaire (I know, dream on, dream on) I would give most of it away. I love that idea of giving …

It’s also about money not being able to buy you taste or sense or talent.

Money, serious money, can be a great blinder. That is what happened to Otto in On the Bitch: he has become blind to his own wealthy crassness. Or rather, his money has given him the self-belief that he can be as crass as he likes, because (in his world) money talks.

The only one who really appears to have it together is Kendalynn, who for a long time comes across as the silliest of the five main characters. She married Otto twice and then had lots of plastic surgery (another sign of having too much money). She even used her inheritance to get a facelift!

I admit to being prejudiced against people with lots of money.

(And I can’t take people who’ve had plastic surgery seriously either, unless it was life-saving or corrective. You should give the money for your next facelift to the poor.)

Yet nor does my writing preach that being poor is salt-of-the-earth wonderful … that’s a falsehood, and is used as a sop to keep poor people poor. Ah, we might not have money, but we have each other …

I don’t believe that money can buy you happiness but I do believe it can buy you ease.

I will never read a Harry Potter book but love and admire the idea of J. K. Rowling giving her money away for good causes.

Ultimately, my issue is with privilege, and the perception that money buys you privilege. But I also recognise that as a white, middle class, university-educated professional male living in mainstream Australia, I am enormously privileged.

NS: Being an ex-pat is another theme that comes up a lot in your work. In this book the ex-pat has come home, so to speak. Can you talk about being an ex-pat yourself and how that influences your writing?

MP: I lived in the UK for a year in 1983, the year I turned 17, and my family and I were continually confronted with the old culture vs. new culture dilemma: we just do it this way because we’ve done it this way for hundreds of years. It’s just the way we always do things here! (It’s another side to “If your best friend jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?”)

PLUS, we went from living in a city of a million people (Adelaide) to a town of 6000 people (East Yorkshire), which was perhaps a bigger shock.

(Living overseas also made me feel more at home in my own culture … but that may also be simply about growing older, and maturing.)

And then I lived in Germany for much of 2008 to 2010. As a man in his 40s, a native English-speaker with many tertiary qualifications and much experience, I was the next best thing to being a native German. BUT it was still damned hard to navigate, not being from that culture.

But, you can take the best from both worlds if you can work it that way …

Coming back to Australia is always difficult when you’ve been overseas, though that’s not unique to being Australian. Every culture has its pluses and minuses and again, it’s the deals you do with yourself that make a situation tenable or untenable. How much will I put up with before it becomes too much and I have to return home … or leave home again?

Perhaps my writing is often about trying to make sense of your world, and your place in it … which is universal for all people. Isn’t it universal for writers, too?

As an ESL teacher (as I have been), living overseas and learning another language is invaluable. You can view the world (and your world) a little differently.

CODA: Hamburgers and Berliners was published in 2015 (though written 2008 – 2009) and On the Bitch was published in 2018 (though written mostly in 2012) so while the ex-pat was alive and well in my writing when I wrote those books, the ex-pat is probably much less likely to feature in my writing now … if I was writing anything.

NS: You have a scene where the characters are going to Sunday lunch served by nuns, and this is referred to as something “Australian”—is this a real tradition?

MP: I had to look that up in the book to answer the question! … so, no, nuns are not part of the traditional Sunday lunch, that was a joke, but the roast lunch on Sunday is very much a tradition for many Australians (Anglo, mainly).

Well, for some Australians it’s a tradition and for some it’s a myth, but it’s more about gathering together with family on a Sunday, for lunch. I’m from the mainstream culture in Australia so I understand the Sunday roast is very much a mainstream tradition.

As to being served the lunch by nuns, no … now I have images in my head of Australians across the country being served a Sunday roast at home by an army of nuns! As far as I know, I’ve never had nuns serve me lunch … though I did eat a crêpe made by nuns at an amusement park in Mulhouse in France in 1983!

NS: You write both fiction and nonfiction—can you talk about truth in writing? How does fiction/nonfiction serve to tell truth and or vice-versa? Do you have a preference?

MP: I prefer writing fiction because ideas just pop up in my head, often titles or expressions or a bizarre situation that begs explanation. Though writing about my life is basically dull for me (yes, even though I wrote a travel memoir!) I much prefer reading non-fiction for my own personal reading. So I have a dichotomous relationship with fiction and non-fiction. I love just making things up but also believe that truth really is stranger than fiction.

But I acknowledge that in some ways you can tell the truth better in fiction because writers can veil themselves behind many layers (and hopefully, avoid causing offence).

In non-fiction you are bound by the truth … but I believe it has to be 100% true, otherwise it becomes ‘based on …’. Now, the interpretation of what is true – your truth or my truth? – can differ, obviously.

Though all fiction comes from some grain of truth, somewhere.

(An aside: my collection Based on True Stories is 99.9% fiction!)

NS: This book was published by Truth Serum Press, which is an imprint (I believe) of other presses that you manage—a spiderweb of publishing from down under. Has Truth Serum replaced the other imprints or does it exist alongside? Explain.

MP: In its simplest form:

Pure Slush began publishing online in 2010.

Pure Slush began publishing in print in 2011.

Pure Slush online and Pure Slush in print were run quite separately, with about .0000001% crossover, even though I managed both.

Truth Serum Press was established as an imprint in 2014. I specifically wanted an imprint where there was no expectation of online companion-publishing.

Everytime Press was established as a non-fiction imprint in 2016.

Pure Slush ceased online publishing in 2017. (Basically, I was bored with publishing online: neither my heart nor head were in it anymore.)

The differences, as they exist now are:

Pure Slush Books only publishes (multi-author) anthologies.

Truth Serum Press publishes single author books, and just a few (multi-author) one-off anthologies.

Everytime Press publishes travel, memoir, resource, and other non-fiction books.

This diversity means I get to publish a lot of different things, which makes it much more interesting for me … my 77th book as a publisher is just around the corner …

Over the next few months:

Truth Serum Press will release short story collections from Australian writers Steve Evans and Lewis Woolston, and Canadian writer Salvatore Difalco; and a poetry collection from US poet Alan Walowitz.

Everytime Press will release an armchair philosophy book by Australian writer Paul Ransom.

Pure Slush Books will release the anthology Pride 7 Deadly Sins Vol. 7.

Truth Serum Press is currently calling for prose submissions (fiction and non-fiction) for Stories My Gay Uncle Told Me: https://truthserumpress.net/submissions/anthology-submission-guidelines/stories-my-gay-uncle-told-me/

NS: What advice would you have for other writers wanting to write a book?

MP: You have to sit down and actually write. You don’t need a computer, you can use pen or pencil and paper. It might seem old-fashioned but it’s often not as daunting as a blank computer screen, and it still works.

Write what you know.

Write what you want to know.

Write about what you don’t know, but then be prepared to research or imagine.

If the work you are writing is boring for you, odds on it will be boring for readers.

There are lots of rules and some are good and some are not. Work out which rules work for you and which do not … but also be prepared to change.

Writing is organic … sometimes you just have to go on the journey. You can always come back later to a fork in that journey.

Being organised is better than not being organised.

No publisher or editor likes a disorganised writer. (And no writer likes a disorganised publisher or editor.)

Discipline is great BUT you also need to live and experience. You really do need to go out and smell the roses (and the dogshit) and not just write about them.

Most writers, when they talk about their writing, are boring. Talking around their writing is usually much more interesting for all concerned.

Verbs are a writer’s best friend: get the verbs right and 90% of your work is done!

NS: Anything else you want to add? Links or other promo?

MP: Find On the Bitch in all formats here: https://truthserumpress.net/catalogue/fiction/on-the-bitch/

Find Truth Serum Press here: https://truthserumpress.net/

Find Pure Slush Books here: https://pureslush.com/

Find Everytime Press here: https://everytimepress.com/

On the Bitch by Matt Potter

Truth Serum Press, 2018, 170 pages

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-925536-45-4

eBook ISBN: 978-1-925536-46-1

Matt Potter is the author of a travel memoir, Hamburgers and Berliners and other courses in between; two collections of short fiction and non-fiction, Vestal Aversion and Based on True Stories; the ESL teaching resources all you need is … a whiteboard, a marker and this book! Books 1 and 2; and the novella On the Bitch. A former teacher and social worker, he lives in Adelaide, South Australia where he now works in childcare, and as a publisher and editor.

Summer Workshops! NEW Flash Flood: Write a Flash Novel, NEW Absurdism as a Way to Truth, and Editing Masterclass!

NEW Flash Flood: Write a Flash Novel

July 8-19
Do you have a large, book-length idea that you’ve been wanting to bring to fruition? Do you love the intensity of FlashNano or NaNoWriMo? Then get ready: In 10 days we will create a literal “flash flood” and you will leave the workshop with the bones (or more) of a flash novel.

Find out more

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NEW Editing Flash Fiction Masterclass (my most popular)

July 22-Aug 9
In this 3-week intensive 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 and swap 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.

Find out more

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NEW Opening the Back Door: Absurdism as a Way to Truth

August 23-25
Bending Genres Monthly Workshops
While realism in fiction has its place, some truths can be clumsy when faced head-on. When you cannot take the front door into your material because it’s too raw, painful, blunt or overdone—then you must find the back door. Absurdism (and the surreal) is that back door, a less obvious way into the material where The Big Truth can be revealed.
Find out more

How to Take a Mini Solo Writing Retreat

I’m a big believer in writing retreats. Even if you write every day, it’s important to periodically dive more deeply into your work for a sustained amount of time. But sometimes a week-long retreat isn’t possible or maybe it is possible but it’s too far away and your writing relationship needs an intervention right now.

What then?
Enter the solo writing retreat weekend.

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I’ve been doing mini solo writing retreats out of necessity for many years, and I like to think I have just about perfected the micro condensed, inexpensive yet highly effective solo writers retreat. Don’t get me wrong–while it’s absolutely amazing to give yourself the gift of an official retreat, MUCH can be done in a solo weekend or even daylong retreat if you do it right.

Here is my mini retreat formula and some guidelines:

1. You must get out of your house but you shouldn’t go somewhere too interesting. Some of my most productive mini writing retreats have happened at a friend’s empty condo or the cheapest Travelodge or Motel 6 I can find. The point is to stay in your room and write. Bad weather is a bonus.

2. You must be alone. No visitors. Non-negotiable.

3.  To really dive deep you need one entire 24-hour period, so I recommend you arrive at your retreat spot the day before if you can so you can wake up ON your retreat. If Saturday is my retreat day, I check into the hotel on Friday after work.

4. Take food with you lest you be tempted to go out exploring. Food should be simple, relatively healthy, easily available, and not overly interesting, food that won’t put you into a junk food/sugar coma (and needing a nap) but will keep you from needing to interrupt your work and go out to eat.

5. Try to avoid alcohol (and other substances), and sugar until you have FINISHED your retreat.

6: Beware of cable television and internet surfing, both of which are distractions on retreat as they are in real life. Consider only checking the internet during designated times (I give myself 10 minutes at the top of each hour).

Here is what a mini weekend retreat schedule looks like for me:

Friday: Take overnight bag and computer with me to work and drive to location right after. Check in. Go to closest grocery store and buy food for the weekend. That night: Spend 1-2 hours rereading my work so it’s fresh in my mind and percolating in my dreams. Go to bed early so I can wake up early and begin.

Saturday: Retreat Day
Morning: Wake up and start writing. Eat and do a good 2-3 hour chunk of writing before noon.
Lunch Break: (no more than 1 hour). Weather permitting take a quick walk to get the blood pumping.
After lunch: another 2-3 hour chunk of writing.
Late afternoon/early evening—At this point if the work has been going well I might take a few hours off. Take another walk or maybe eat a quick dinner out. Maybe take a nap if needed (but set alarm!).
Evening: Another 2-3 hours of writing after dinner.
Night: NOW watch bad cable, eat sugar, drink wine, and decompress. Sometimes if I’m feeling particularly accomplished I’ll go to a late movie.

Sunday: Wake up and get at least one more 2-hour chunk of writing in before checking out.
Go out to celebration lunch on the way home. *Very important to celebrate your successes!

If you’ve been doing the math, that’s somewhere in the range of 9-13 hours of writing in less than 48 hours! That’s A LOT of writing. And as a bonus you will probably also get good, extended sleep, lots of self-reflection time, and maybe a dip in the hotel hot tub. You will leave feeling accomplished and in motion with your writing and you will wonder why you haven’t done it before…and whether you can pull it off every month.

Maybe you can????

To your success!
xoxo

PS: Let me know how this works for you!

PSS: AND if you also want to come on a longer retreat with me and other writers, consider 4 days in the Rocky Mountains in August or a week in Costa Rica in March 2020!
Find out more

This Friday, May 3: Colorado Book Award Finalists Reading!

CBA

Friday, May 3, 7-9 pm

BookBar

4280 Tennyson St, Denver, Colorado 80212

So who knows how often I’ll be able to invite you to a reading of the Colorado Book Award?? Should be a hopping night and you can buy everyone’s book and have some wine. Madam Velvet is always fun to read and I might have a surprise or two up my sleeve!

*Be a part of the Colorado Book Awards! BookBar is pairing with Colorado Humanities to bring you finalist readings for various categories.
This week we celebrate General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Poetry nominees.

General Fiction:
Aimie Runyan – Daughters of the Night Sky
Elisabeth Hyde – Go Ask Fannie
Diana Holguin-Balogh – Rosary without Beads

Literary Fiction:
Ramona Ausubel – Awayland
Nick Arvin – Mad Boy
Nancy Stohlman – Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities
Tiffany Quay Tyson – The Past is Never

Poetry:
Diana Khoi Nguyen – Ghost Of
Bin Ramke – Light Wind Light Light
Julie Carr – Real Life: An Installation

COLORADO BOOK AWARDS