“The Coyotes” by Nancy Stohlman in Flash Fiction Festival IV Anthology

The Coyotes

by Nancy Stohlman

          I was kidnapped by the coyotes when I was 15, when my breasts and hips were soft enough to distinguish me as a woman. Not that they hadn’t been watching me before—they had. I remember the friendly neighborly warning—you should be careful letting her out, he said to my mother. A coyote has been watching her. In the daytime? Oh yeah, they don’t care if it’s day or night the neighbor said, tipping his hat. My mother didn’t pay attention, saying it was ridiculous. Coyotes don’t even like little girls she said.

          The night I was kidnapped she tried to call me back inside but I was already wild, I’d already jumped through the tear in the screen door and out into the gorgeous summer night, the air thick like black cake. The last thing I heard was—fine then, stay out there. I was smoking a stolen cigarette on a stoop still warm from August, my long body stretched out and barefoot, when I heard the first scuffle, the hiss of a cat. Then the shadow moving up the sidewalk, eyes locked with mine.

          I wonder what my mother heard. They called it a nervous breakdown in those days.  Could she hear the scream, the quick silencing pounce, the way we folded into the sewer drain? Did she cry for me, my mother, or was she still grieving her own life when the coyotes came for me, when the full smell of coyote hit my face, tufts of black fur still stuck to the sides of his mouth when he reached for me, followed by a nauseating tingle through the tip of my right breast that I would never, ever be able to scrub off?

          Strange, but what I remember most from that evening was how beautiful it was to be alive. The sweetness of lightning bugs. The silent, witnessing stars. The crickets, pausing when we passed. My last breath of free air and my final glimpse of the world, framed through the circular sewer pipe and bluish with the moon. Watching. Complicit.

          Did she finally put it together from her bed, the doctors asking who did you leave watching her? the doctors telling her to get home quickly, the doctors telling her it might be too late. What did she do when she found me already gone, my skin left suspended in the air like dust particles stirred up in a sunbeam?

****

Buy Flash FIction Festival Four Anthology here:

Spain Flash Fiction Retreat 2022: Nancy Stohlman talks with House of Light in Andalucia

Costa Rica 2022

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! 

Nancy Stohlman and Kathy Fish

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!

Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction

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!

Find out more about facilitator Nancy Stohlman

Find out more about facilitator Kathy Fish

My embarrassing writer moment, or Why I sobbed over a cake….😂

This story does have a happy ending, but here it goes:

When Going Short was first released as a print book in 2020, I knew the decision to release it in a quarantine year would mean some sacrifices: no live events, no release party, no fancy cake with a picture of my book cover on it. However, I felt strong enough that it was the right book at the right time that I embraced the virtual book tour and all the wonderful virtual events (and I don’t regret it!)

BUT…here’s the cake story: The night before the official release, I was in the kitchen, thinking about that cake with my book’s picture on it that I wasn’t going to get and I just lost it. All the self pity and all the fears of 2020 just bubbled up and out and I was found by my partner, sobbing at the dining room table about how I never get to have a cake.

So, like any good partner, Nick went on a mission to end this sobbing immediately (and for anyone reading this, if anyone in your life is ever sobbing over cake–heed this course of action!) 

As the story was later relayed to me, he went to the nearest grocery store bakery, but since it was already 10 pm, the bakery was closed, and the decorators were gone. However, the teenagers on the night shift, wanting to be helpful, (and maybe having had a sobbing cake episode in their own lives) suggested they could let Nick into the kitchen with some frosting tubes and he could decorate the cake himself.

The situation was of course, desperate. 

When I woke up in the morning on the official Going Short release day I saw this cake in the fridge:

And honestly, it’s my favorite cake ever.

So now, two years later, it’s a thing. This past weekend, in preparation for the Going Short Audiobook release, I still haven’t hugged most of you or had a pre-2020 style release party, but I’m eating cake. All week.

And I’m hoping you not only love the new audiobook (and my narration debut!) but that you eat a piece of cake with me! There’s no way I would rather celebrate than to eat virtual cake with you! For real!

Thank you all for the many years of support, inspiration, and friendship. If I’ve learned anything in these last two years, it’s to cherish your tribe in all the ways, hug them when you can, and always know they are eating cake with you, wherever they are.

Let the cake-eating begin!! 
xoxoxo Nancy

(Yes, I know this is a St. Patrick’s Day cake! I’m not good at this cake thing!!! xoxo)

AND Presenting….
GOING SHORT: THE AUDIOBOOK!

Listen exclusively on Audible NOW

For New Audible members: Listen for $0.00

Seriously!

Happy Reading and Writing (and Listening!)

P.S. Tell me what you think!! Nervous!

P.S.S. Head over to @apparelforauthors on Instagram this week, where I am talking all about writing and fashion!

Are You Taking Care of the Talent? (or My Biggest Takeaway from Costa Rica)

Thanks to everyone that virtually retreated with us last month! (Missed it? See photos here). And before we get too buzzy with spring activity, I want to share with you my biggest lesson/takeaway from our time together in Costa Rica:

Taking Care of the Talent

This is an industry term in the performing arts, something I first heard while getting ready backstage before a performance. I had asked an employee where I could get some water, and one minute later he showed up with an armful of bottled waters for the whole Green Room. Gotta take care of the talent, he said.

Wow, I thought. The talent. How fancy.

Seeing yourself as “the talent” might feel awkward, but in show biz it’s an easy distinction: multiple people can fetch water, but only ONE person is going to sing the opera, play the concerto, dance the ballet, or perform the stand-up set . And if that person can’t do their job: sing, play, dance or perform-–there’s no show.

For some, this concept can be downright uncomfortable. Many writers feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of other writers out there; we don’t feel special, we don’t feel like “the talent”–we feel like an ant in a swarm of ants all vying for one dropped crumb. 

But (and this part is really important!): we are the ONLY ones who can write our stories. 

Which means in a very real way: we are the talent.

“Taking care of the talent” became our unexpected mantra in Costa Rica. We all arrived fried, covid-fatigued, travel weary, and desperate for the promised “renew, recharge, reconnect”. And almost immediately shoulders dropped, jaws loosened, naps were taken, yoga was done. There was writing–oh yes, LOTS of deep, gorgeous, profound writing. But the most unexpected takeaway was remembering this simple fact: we cannot do our best work, we cannot achieve the heights and depths in our art, if we don’t take care of the talent. 

Self-care is a buzz word these days. But creative care, i.e. caring for the creative person in order to do the creative work, is about nourishing the vessel from which ideas must bubble up and through. If we are a conduit, a lightning rod from ether to earth, the channel by which ideas get down on a page (canvas, music sheet, etc), then we need to do some regular maintenance on the instrument itself.

In this case the instrument is you. 

Sometimes we don’t give ourselves what we need until we are desperate. Sometimes never. But, rather than wait until we collapse from burnout, we can ask ourselves this important question: Am I taking care of the talent? 

Costa Rica retreat, 2022

It became clear for me in Costa Rica that the answer was no. And, if I’m honest, I really never teach anything that I’m not also learning myself.So this season I’ll be taking my own advice and doing my own deep work, caring for the vessel in ways that are easily neglected in the deluge of daily life, and knowing that honoring my commitments to my own creative process will make me a better writer, teacher, and person on the other end. 

HERE’S WHAT I’M COMMITTING TO THIS SEASON (oh, the accountability of sharing it!): 

Daily Walks: This is something I do already, but I am going to make sure that at least 50% of the time I walk alone, chatting with my own creative thoughts (no podcasts!).

Journaling: I already journal every morning, but I’m also going to start using journaling as a transition into the actual writing (right now my journaling time is separate from my writing time).

Artist Dates: I forgot all about these! I need them! We all need them. Even just once a month–something that would delight you. And remember: they should always happen alone.

Napping: Seriously! Sometimes the best thing you can do for your creativity is take a nap. And let’s not forget when you nap you give yourself not one but TWO chances to wake up and write your dreams. Which leads to:

Sleep More: Folks, I’m getting ready for bed  by 9:30 these days. #notashamed #sleeprocks

Move Your Body: I was also reminded of this in Costa Rica–it’s not just about exercise, which is great. It’s about spending some time moving your body and listening to it. Our bodies are full of creative wisdom, if we listen.

Eat Regularly: I tell everyone who retreats with me to eat more and sleep more. Why? Often on a retreat the body is repairing all the damage done in previous months (or years!) For me, in this season, it means eating regularly. It’s too easy for me to sit at my desk for hours, sometimes forgetting to even drink water! Once our blood sugar is wonky (either from not eating or eating too much crap) we are not doing our best work.

Creative Check Ins: I have several people I call regularly (usually while walking) that are my creative check-in people. We chat about our lives, yes, but mostly when the phone rings, I know we are going to be talking about our writing. Having that level of focus with another creative person is extremely motivating, and I highly suggest finding a Creative Check-In Buddy (or three!).

The bottom line, as we awake from our winter slumber is this: Are you honoring the needs of the instrument that is you in order to do your best work? The opera singer takes two days off between performances. Even football players don’t practice on Mondays. 

So much of the writing happens before we ever get to the page! So here’s hoping you give yourself permission to take care of the talent that is you in whatever way your artist needs this season. Write. Rest. Nap. Maybe even schedule a massage. 

If anyone questions you, tell them I said you could!
xoxoxoxoox

Nancy

P.S. If you want accountability–feel free to share how you are committing to taking care of the talent this season! Reply below or come let me know on FB or IG!