Speaking of flash fiction, thanks to Jeff Rutherford for inviting me to return as a guest on the Reading and Writing Podcast!
On this episode we talk about the changing landscape of flash fiction, the re-release of Going Short, and what it was like to narrate an audiobook in one day! We also have a lively discussion around the emerging flash novel as a form–one of my favorite topics, especially with After the Rapture releasing for pre-orders at the end of the summer!
It’s always wonderful to welcome new retreats to House of Light, and in June, we are delighted that award winning author, professor and performer, Nancy Stohlman, along with Kathy Fish will be bringing their group of writers, to dive into their creative flow of words for the Open Your Heart Open Your Art retreat.
Thank you Nancy for taking the time to share more about you and your work… we can’t wait to meet you and Kathy in person!
When did you first discover your love for writing and performing?
I’ve been reading, writing, and performing since childhood (as many future writers do). Growing up on military bases in Europe meant television in English was often not an option, and because we moved so often I became childhood best friends with authors and their books instead. Performance has also been part of my life for as long as I can remember–my parents were folk musicians (I was playing guitar and writing songs by age 10) and my mother started a Spanish clown troupe and recruited all of us (yes, I was a child clown). So…it’s in my blood.
So, what does Flash Fiction involves as a writer?
Flash fiction is all about compression, elimination, and the literary acrobatics required to tell a complete but compelling story in a small space.
I love novels, but as a writer (and reader) it’s a very different experience to tell a story when you have endless room to stretch out vs telling it in a restricted space. In that way I think flash fiction lies at the crossroads between the novel and poetry–we can tell epic stories with the skilled precision of language and white space, and the results are stunning.
Nancy reading at Salon Night in Iceland
Your bio describes you as a ‘rabble rouser’… tell us more!
I love to think out of the box and stir things up. I think that’s the job of all creative and visionary peopleto: envision possibilities where no one else sees them…yet. It’s really a sort of magic. And not only does this happen for me on the page, but also in the world. More than 10 years ago I started the Fbomb Flash fiction Reading Series–the first and longest running flash fiction centered reading series (it now has several spin-offs!) Around the same time I also started FlashNano: 30 stories in 30 days during the month of November. Last year was our 10th anniversary and we had over 2,000 participants! And of course five years ago Flash Fiction Retreats was just an idea I dreamed up with Kathy Fish–what if we could take writers to exotic places and give them the gift of just writing for a week? And now–poof! Here we are.
the whole gang on retreat in Colorado
What do you love most about hosting your writing retreats… what’s the most fulfilling part of your work?
I love hosting writing retreats! Kathy Fish and I have often remarked that every retreat has its unique flavour: not only is each location unique, but each group that coalesces has its own signature. And honestly, the best part for me is creating a safe, nurturing, and inspiring container for other writers like me. I know well how challenging the day-to-day of writing can be–it’s solitary work by its very nature, and alone we can find ourselves in a rut, bogged down by real life and uninspired. Travel has always been my way out of ruts–forcing me out of comfort and back into the space of novelty. To be able to give others that same experience–not only travel, time, and novelty but a real creative community welcoming you on the other side–feels like the gift I needed to give myself. Watching others walk away rested and inspired, with new stories and a reset on their lives (even just a week of catching up on sleep!)–it’s a gift I feel lucky to be able to give.
some cafe writing post-retreat in France
What are you looking forward to most about coming to House of Light?
I’ve been admiring your space and your vibe for SO long now that it already feels like it will be a homecoming. I can’t wait to eat Ceri’s cooking, sit in those hammocks, and just be in Spain. And those yurts! Those views! Can I sit on your terrace and write all day, please! Plus I’ve never been to southern Spain–so I’m excited about that. But mostly I’m looking forward to meeting our group in person and engaging with all the brilliance they will inevitably bring to the table–we have a mix of new retreat participants and old retreat friends, so I’ve been extra inspired (and excited!) as I prepare my brand new workshop materials. It’s like the first time every time!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Yes, we have 3 spots left, so if you are curious about flash fiction and/or want to commune with other writers for an amazing week of creativity, inspiration and renewal, then I’d love to chat with you! And if you want to know more about flash fiction, my book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, is re-releasing as an audiobook on March 15–it’s a wonderful primer for newbies and a valuable resource for flash fiction veterans.
And of course: thank you for having us and for your hospitality! We can’t wait to give real hugs soon!
It’s been one year already! I’ll be celebrating and looking back all week and sharing some of my favorite “SHORT” memories along the way. Thank you to Ad Hoc Fiction and everyone who has been on the journey with me! Remember this book trailer??? (Below)
“A fun and eminently useful literary treasure map.”
“In Going Short, Nancy Stohlman captures the true spirit of flash fiction, those brief narratives imbued with all the urgency of life itself. An extremely practiced flash fiction writer, Stohlman is also a veteran teacher. She knows the territory and takes us on a trip from getting started to the finishing line, and everything in between. It’s hard to think of a more thoughtful, adept, and enthusiastic guide.” ~David Galef, author of Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook
“Nancy Stohlman has written the definitive, and appropriately concise, book on the flash fiction form. You’ll learn what flash fiction is and isn’t, tips on writing it, tips on honing, sculpting, and polishing it, along with thoughtful discussions on the flash novel and tips for pulling together a flash collection. As a widely-published master of the form herself, Stohlman brings years of teaching experience and her own engaging voice and wit to this useful, encouraging, and entertaining guide. A must-have for flash writers of all levels.” ~Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life: Collected Works 2003-2018
“Going Short embraces the urgency and compression of flash in presenting specific, fresh suggestions for creating, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing both individual pieces and full collections. It’s a book that knows and teaches by doing. It is inspiring and insightful, a masterful craft book written by a master of the craft.” ~Randall Brown, author of This Is How He Learned to Love
“This book is an invitation to flash dance with Nancy Stohlman, an accomplished partner who will show you the steps you can take, the fluid moves you can make on the flash fiction studio floor. It is all about practice. She will spin you around and show you things you didn’t know you could do, and lead you to a kind of prose performance you didn’t think possible.” ~James Thomas, co-editor of the Norton Flash Fiction books
In Episode 54, we talk to writer Nancy Stohlman about her award-winning book Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, the power of flash fiction as a fully realized genre, and how to write and teach flash fiction.
This episode was recorded on March 15, 2021. Because we recorded via Zoom, there may be occasional audio hiccups. Our theme song is “4 am” by Makaih Beats. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher and follow us on Twitter @WritingRemixPod.
“What I really discovered, and was such a relief for me, was not every story is 60,000 words, and if you push it to try to make it cross that finish line so that you can call it a novel, then have you sold out your own idea, perhaps?” @nancystohlmanTweet
“It was so liberating for me to have permission to let my story decide how long it needed to be and not [let] conventions decide.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“Flash fiction is like when you’re at the airport and you are sitting next to somebody and they’re gonna get on a flight in 20 minutes and you’re gonna get on a flight in 20 minutes and you end up having this amazing conversation for 20 minutes. And then they go their way, and you go your way, and you never see them again. Is there anything less profound and wonderful about that 20 minute conversation versus if I was that person’s friend since childhood and knew every little thing about them?” @nancystohlmanTweet
“This is the kernel. This is the heartbeat here. And I can give it to you in this little flash fiction piece.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“Sometimes you want to go on the whole journey. But sometimes you just want to see the heart beating and just look at it and just realize how powerful that is.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“Poetry and flash fiction, they share brevity, but they also share complexity, and they share a lot of depth. A lot goes on in these tiny little spaces.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“Flash fiction is not just a little knock-knock joke on your way to work. It’s like a whole thing that’s going to be ringing in your head for the rest of the day.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“That’s one of the things I really love about the constraint of flash fiction […] You’re playing with the form. You’re pushing against it. It’s like air inside of a balloon.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“Knowing what the edges are in any form allows me to kind of create a shape that I may not have created if I just had all the room in the world.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“Are you writing what you think other people want, or are you writing what’s really in your heart screaming to get out?” @nancystohlmanTweet
“When you start listening to your own work and seeing yourself as being in service of the story–the midwife of the story–you’re not the creator. You’re the midwife, and it’s coming through you. So get out of the way, and it will tell you when it’s done. I think if that’s where we can position ourselves as writers, I think the best work will come through that way.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“So many of the lessons that I have in the book Going Short come from years and years and years of creating context for [my] workshops.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“I think that most writers or artists in general, just kind of feed off that novelty where everything is unfamiliar and I’m suddenly actually present in my body paying attention to the world in a way that I’m not when everything is familiar…I think that’s really what I love about being a writer who travels–is just forcing myself to slow down and actually not be sure of anything and notice everything.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“I think it’s important to remember too that our creativity [is] seasonal.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“Around 2010 or so, I was like all right, well, there isn’t this book [about how to write flash fiction], and there needs to be this book, so I guess I should write this book.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“Women have helped create [flash fiction] just as much as the men.” @nancystohlmanTweet
“Learning how to finish a book is just as important as learning how to begin a book, but we don’t practice that enough.” @nancystohlmanTweet