Nancy Stohlman and two Flash Fiction Events coming to Portland Nov 19-20!

Nancy Stohlman is coming to Portland for 2 Flash Fiction events next week!

Tuesday, Nov 19, 7 pm: Figures of Speech Reading Series with Nancy Stohlman and Kirsten Rian
In Other Words Feminist Community Center
Corner of N Killingsworth and Williams
web site:



Wednesday, Nov 20, 6-8 pm: Flash Fiction For Poets Workshop

Flash forms have arrived as backlash to genre boundaries and flash fiction is leading the pack, redefining how we tell stories. By embracing the compressed form, writers are cultivating a new set of skills and creating an entirely new kind of story. In this workshop we will generate original flash pieces, examine what makes successful flash fiction, and try to differentiate flash from its cousin, the prose poem. This workshop is open to writers with all levels of experience in the form.

World Cup Coffee Meeting Room.
World Cup is located on the corner of NW Glisan and 18th ave.
Web site is:

Limited workshop spaces. To register email:




Launching Your Book Into the World


Individualized Coaching To Help Your Work Succeed!

spotlight (1)You wrote the book…so you’re done, right? Wrong. Whether you are self-publishing, traditional publishing, or still undecided, today’s market requires that writers build and sustain their own readership. But how? Who are your readers? Who needs your book? And how do you find them? Personalized coaching can help you uncover blocks to self-promotion, give you practical skills to approaching the market as a professional, and help you understand and take the necessary steps to not just writing a book but building a long term audience for your work. Individualized coaching will explore:

• The difference between an amateur and a professional
• Who are your readers and how do you find them?
• Self-promotion: Are you avoiding it? (You’re not alone)
• Publication—is your manuscript ready to send into the world?
• Building a long-term fan base
• Creatively marketing your work
• What’s keeping you from taking the next steps?

Your work is worth it. Give your book the greatest chance of succeeding!

4 and 8-week individualized coaching packages tailored to you and your work.

Contact to discuss your needs.

To your success!


“The Hostess”

Flash fiction by Nancy Stohlman

The hostess decided to throw a small dinner party, just the neighbors and a few friends, just something to lift her spirits. She made pot roasts and French Onion soup from scratch while he retreated to the basement.

There was a few weeks truce, an uneasy truce for the sake of the children, and then another all-night battle followed by a series of murder mystery parties, complete with costumes, wine tastings, realistic weapons rented by the hour, and yucca whipped into small hills as light and fluffy as French pastries.

By the end-of-summer-Hawaiian-luau, the hostess was holding back tears through her fake eyelashes and long, black wig as he moved his things into the spare bedroom: You invited them, you entertain them! he yelled, slamming the door. The guests tried to keep her glass filled with an assortment of specialty rums and freshly crushed papaya mixers.

Soon the invitations started going unanswered; the guests found excuses for not attending the 1950’s sock hop, the M*A*S*H party, the “1001 Arabian Nights” celebration complete with whole roasted goat. Come spring, the 25-foot-tall Maypole looked desolate, pastel ribbons hanging limply like unwashed hair.

But today, the sound of hammers. It would be the greatest party she had ever thrown. Everyone would come. A crew of a dozen was sawing, hammering, painting, and creating a to-scale facsimile of the Titanic. Another crew was bringing in 500-gallon tanks of water that would, at the appropriate moment, be released into the back yard, while the guests, in full pre-World War I formalwear (as specified in their invitation) would get into actual lifeboats and attempt to row themselves to the safety of the house. A caterer was reconstructing an iceberg two stories high, and, at 11:40 pm, the gong she rented would sound, the string orchestra would begin to play, the water would begin to rise and the guests would file into lifeboats, of which there would, of course, be too few.

Originally published by Pure Slush. Read original here.

Nancy StohlmanNancy answers The Hue Questionnaire:

What is your favourite colour? Why?

Red. When I was 10 I was told by the Avon Lady that I was a “winter”

Do you wear this colour? How often and when?

As often as I possibly can. Lipstick. Boots. Red sparkles if I can get away with it.

What does the colour suggest to you?

Wonder Woman at a voodoo German sparkle party.

What does it not suggest to you?

Barfing out the window of a moving RV.

How long has it been your favourite colour?

I’m pretty sure my placenta was red.

When does it work best?

Here’s the thing: Red is both celebrity and paparazzi. When a person walks into a room embodying red, everyone secretly feels better: Red has arrived. It’s kind of like when someone brings the Hot Damn Cinnamon Schnapps to a wedding reception. Maybe you wouldn’t have done it yourself, but you’re glad to know that someone else has, and you might crowd around that person and even take a swig because it will make your story better later.

When does it not work for you?

When I want to disappear. There are plenty of days I just can’t live up to the expectations of red.

How does the colour relate to you, or you relate to it? Are you this colour or is this colour you?

At my best, I am always red.

“I’m Being Stalked By The Avon Lady” nominated for The Best of The Web!

Flash fiction by Nancy Stohlman

At first it wasn’t so bad. She’d show up in her pencil skirts and French manicures and support hose and I just thought it was good customer service. But soon I started noticing little extras inside the plastic bags, weird hearts drawn next to her phone number, and then one morning I caught her peeking in my front windows when I didn’t have to be at work early. When I said “What are you doing?” she blushed and tried to hand me this month’s Birthstone Bracelet. It was green—August. I’m sure I’d never told her my birthday.

The next week she was back, delivering wrinkle creams in white paper bags. She rang my doorbell even though I hadn’t ordered anything. I stood on the other side of the screen suspiciously. I wanted to give you some samples of our new bath elixir bulbs, she said. Please. I cracked the door enough to grab one. You just put them in the bath and they are so fantastic. But her voice was shaky on the word fantastic and inside the bag was a note: Help me.

I thought about calling Avon Customer Service but I decided to follow her instead. She unlocked a normal looking two story home and I saw a tiny basement window turn on. I got close enough to see the floor piled up with undelivered books and empty plastic baggies. I could hear muffled screaming and then a glass tube splattered against the wall, its contents oozing to the floor.

I returned after dark and positioned myself again by the tiny window; I tapped softly on the glass and she came, wearing the latest shade of Sassy Tangerine lipstick. Take this she said, passing me a pair of 14 k Metallic Sweetheart earrings on sale this month only. Hurry, they’ll be back soon she said, pushing the earrings through the bars.

The next day I saw her in the neighborhood delivering Avon books out of a little red wagon in her faux leopard print pumps. She was wearing sunglasses, a dark spot on her chin that had been shabbily concealed with new Daywear Delight All Day Foundation. I found myself hating her, hating all her stupid lipstick samples and her childish gullibility.

The next week there was a new lady, a bright smiled woman wearing a fuchsia two-piece suit and last season’s Whimsical Woods body fragrance. What happened to the other one? I asked. She didn’t work out, the new Avon lady answered.

Originally published May 28, 2013 by Cease, Cows. Read original here

Self Promotion or Self Prostitution? Why We Resist Putting Ourselves Out There

Do you hate the idea of self-promotion? Do you tell yourself that you’re not good at it? That you shouldn’t have to do it? If you hate self-promotion, or even the prospect of self-promotion, you are not alone. No matter the genre, all artists seem to share a similar aversion. Most of us are still waiting for an agent/manager/publicist to come and rescue us from the prospect of having to promote…ourselves?

But why?

As artists, we have internalized certain agreed-upon stories, certain cultural mythologies that may be blocking our ability to put ourselves and our work out into the world. And since most of us agree that self-promotion is necessary, it’s worth taking a look at these stories and deciding whether perpetuating them is serving our art and our careers—or not.

1. The Starving Artist Story: “I’m not going to make any money at this, anyway.”

The-Lemonade-Stand1If we were running a company, a large portion of our budget would go to marketing, right? If we were selling shoes, our livelihood would depend on us getting out there and selling some shoes. Even if we were running a lemonade stand, we would understand that, in order to sell lemonade, we would need to make signs or hire neighborhood kids with megaphones to let people know that lemonade is available. If no one knows about our lemonade, then no one will buy it no matter how fantastic it might be.

But when it comes to our art, we’ve swallowed a toxic “starving artist” story, which tells us that we’re probably not going to make any money at this, anyway, so we don’t take the task of promotion seriously. In fact, most of us would probably do a better job promoting the lemonade than we would the art that we have poured our blood and souls into.

It’s crucial to realize that if you want to make a career out of your art, then you have gone into businesswith yourself. I am now the CEO of Nancy Stohlman, Inc., and my product is my work. If no one knows about my product, they can’t buy it. And then I am out of business.

But as long as we are stoking the starving artist story, then we’re going into the game already defeated. If we believe we cannot make a living out of our art…then we probably won’t.

2. The Overnight Success Story: “Once I’m famous someone else will do this.”

This is the story of the mythical artist who is catapulted into fame from obscurity with no promotional effort of their own. While this mythology is exciting, and the media loves to dangle it as some warped version of the American Dream, it’s also a bit like expecting to win the Powerball.

This overnight success story is a darling of artists and runs deep in our culture. But if you look carefully behind most successes, you will usually find a different story. Madonna made hundreds of demos with her own money and personally brought them to every DJ in New York City; Truman Capote sat for 8 hours a day in the lobby of the publisher who refused to see him. Even Rosa Parks, our favorite little old lady who wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus and thus triggered the Civil Rights Movement, was actually a veteran activist for 15 years when she was finally delivered to the right place at the right time.

Because that’s what it comes down to: “It’s not enough to be at the right place at the right time—you have to be the right person at the right place at the right time,” says musical agent Justin Sudds in his interview for “Take Your Talent to the Bank”. The truth of the overnight success story is that it is usually not overnight at all.

But what’s most problematic about the Overnight Success Story is that it is ultimately disempowering because it takes the responsibility for our careers out of our hands. Our careers become like playing roulette, and we feel powerless to affect real change. And I like playing roulette, but only with what I am prepared to lose.

3. “It’s Not Polite To Brag.” This country is still influenced by our Puritan roots, and so this story is the one that often paralyzes us into non-action.

Here’s the truth: Will some people be annoyed by your promotional efforts? Yes. But usually the ones who are annoyed, offended, or otherwise triggered by your efforts are the ones who have not yet embraced their own self-promotion. So it’s important to remember that their support or non-support for you and your work really has little to do with you and much more to do with where they are on their own path. It’s pretty hard to jump on someone else’s bandwagon when your own bandwagon is rusting in the garage. It’s pretty hard to muster up zest and enthusiasm for someone else when you haven’t put your own work out there in a big way, yet. So when you encounter this kind of resistance—and it can come from the most surprising places—be kind, and remember this quote: “Those who have abandoned their dreams will always discourage yours.”

But the rest of the people won’t care, and in fact they will be happy that you’ve made it so easy for them to support you and your work. It is said that a person needs to hear about something five times (yes, five!) before it sticks, and most people are happy for the reminders.

Self-promotion is not bragging. It’s asking for the support we need to make the careers we want.

In this Puritan society we are told that “it’s better to give than receive,” so we give, we give, we give…but most of us have a hard time receiving. And most of us have an even harder time asking for the support we need with clarity and confidence. If I want people to read my latest story—I have to ask. If I want people to come to my my website, my lecture, or buy my latest book—I have to ask. “Hey, I’d love it if you checked out my work and passed it along.”

In our everyone-for-himself society we have attached a stigma to asking for help. In order to get over this stigma, we have to remember that artists must exist in community, and in order to create and sustain a community, you have to put yourself out there with honesty and authenticity. Self-promotion is truly about asking for the support we need, and building relationships with those who are excited about us and our work. It’s the greatest thing you can do for the promotion of art outside of creating the art itself.

So when self-promotion starts to feel like self-prostitution, remember: We promote our work because we aren’t okay with the mythology of the starving artist; we respect our work enough to take control of its dissemination, not leaving it to the agent fairies to rescue us; we have both the confidence and humility required to put it out there in the world and ask for support.

Many of us don’t promote because we would rather fail privately than publicly  We fear rejection and ridicule; we retreat into craft instead. And yes, it’s true that Emily Dickinson did no promotion. But then again, she never got to enjoy the rewards, respect, and recognition of her work while she was alive.

I want more for myself and my art.

And I want more for you, too.

Friends vs. Fans: What’s the Difference?

Fans of German rock band Tokio Hotel scream during a concert in LisbonA friend loves you. A fan loves your work.

It’s as simple as that.

Now if you’re lucky you will have both: friends who are also big fans of your work, and fans who become friends. But the distinction is important, and as artists, I believe our level of success is tied to how well we understand the difference.

And I’m not just talking to writers, here. I’m talking to all artists. For example, when Kinky Mink was in its infancy, we relied heavily on our friends to fill our audiences. This is normal—fans don’t just find you because you make a Facebook page after all, they have to be cultivated. And you do this by starting wherever you are.

But it’s a bit like your mother telling you how talented your death metal band is, or how your novel/sculpture/painting/play is brilliant. You’re always left with the lingering question: Does she love me or my work?

At some point an artist has to cut the umbilical cord and find his or her true fans. And I hate to break it to you, but these may or may not be your friends.

Don’t believe me?

Writers: How many of your friends bought your book but didn’t read it? Or read it but didn’t have much to say?

That’s because they are your friends, not your fans. They love you, not your work.

Think about it from their point of view: Imagine I have a friend who’s an amazing country singer. Well, I don’t like country music. So while I may genuinely wish her all the success in the world, and I may even go to some of her shows to show my support, I will never be a true country music fan. She may be brilliant, and I may be proud of her, but what she ultimately needs is a room full of country music fans, not a room full of others like me who would never attend if our friend wasn’t playing.

This is where many of us go wrong. During those early Kinky Mink shows when I was still relying heavily on friends, I would be hurt when certain friends wouldn’t come (and here’s a big loving shout out to all those who did!). Now when Kinky Mink plays I cast a much wider net, cultivating those who resonate with our music, not just warm bodies to fill the seats. This is true of literary readings, gallery showings, film screenings, and every other kind of event where an audience–live or not–is needed.

The truth is if we can’t expand our audience/readership/patrons beyond those we have a personal relationship with, then we aren’t reaching our full potential as artists. If you don’t find your fans, then you will be forced to make 10,000 new friends if you want to sell out an arena or a first-run of your book! Whew!

And this is why self-promotion is so important. If you continue to rely solely on your friends, you are doing everyone a disservice: 1. You are keeping yourself from finding your fans, and 2. You are keeping them from finding your work.

A true fan will resonate with your work whether they ever meet you or not. So thank your friends for holding down the fort while you got started (thanks!) and commit to finding your true fans.

And for every person who is (or becomes) both, consider yourself doubly blessed.

Ask A Flash Fiction Editor: Why Literary Bondage Is Good For Your Writing

The first thing Ellen Orleans said about her flash piece in progress, “How to Write The Name of God”, was: “It’s 1170 words—too long for flash?” The answer is technically yes (though I’ve seen flash defined as long as 1200 or even 1500, as a general rule it’s 1000).

tied handsWriters new to flash often find the constraint arbitrary and infuriating: Why such a stickler on the wordcount? So what if it’s a few words over? But having worked in this form for so long, I can say with confidence that the magic of flash fiction happens because of the constraints. Interesting things bulge against boundaries. From sonnets to writing prompts—even deadlines—many writers find they produce some of their best work when pushing against the wall of a constraint: you can only paint with the color green, you must finish a film in 48 hours, you have to write a story without using the letter E.  The famous Oulipo movement in Paris in the 1960s was made up of writers and mathematicians who suggested that using constraints created a new kind of writing.

Embracing the constraint is the true gift of flash fiction.

Working with flash will make you a very different—and I would say better—writer no matter what you write. You will cultivate a sharper eye to what is truly necessary in your work. So if you find yourself battling against the constraint, trying to make your story fit into flash fiction…relax. You’re going about it all wrong. Because once you “see” your story through the lens of the constraint, it ceases to become a battle and instead becomes about “freeing” the flash story from the longer work.  As Michelangelo said about his sculpture David, “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.”

So Ellen, let’s look at your story, “How to Write the Name of God” and make it fit the constraint.

First of all, I love this story. I love the sweetness of the character, how well I’m able to relate to her struggle, and how as children we all try so hard to make sense of a world that doesn’t always make sense. A child’s struggle is always a glimpse into ourselves, and I love your character’s honesty and transparency. Her dilemma is so pure.

There are two ways of shrinking a story: chipping or chopping. The trick to writing flash fiction is learning to chop rather than chip, looking at the story in sections rather than trying nitpick. When we are picking at the story, checking the word count every 10 seconds to see “if it’s under 1000” yet (yes, we are all guilty), the final result feels moth eaten and thin.

When chopping, it’s important to pay less attention to what is being eliminated and more on what is going to be left. You are trying to figure out how to remove the excess so that what is left becomes more prominent. My instinct on your story is to take a healthy swipe at the beginning, landing us inside the classroom as soon as possible. Imagine your story begins like this:

How to Write the Name of God

If you are an 11-year-old at Temple Beth Shalom Hebrew School, you write it G-d or G*d, or maybe just Gd, but never all the way, God.

With this chop you would now drop us right into your story and also tie your title to your first sentence (I also changed “spell” to “write”). You would suck us into the narrative and cut 241 words—enough to land you in flash territory in one swipe.

To clarify: does this mean I don’t like your current opening with all the names? Actually, I do, and I think you should put some of that into the story later, as the character is trying to figure out what to put into the box. And frankly if your story were only 500 words, you might just leave it.

But again the beauty of constraints is that they force us to look at our work with a more discerning and sometimes brutal eye—and for most of us that is actually a good thing. And something mysterious happens when we kill our darlings: Like a faint pencil mark that can’t be completely erased, those phantom darlings are still there, still delivering their messages in the spaces we’ve cleared away.

Thanks, Ellen, and Happy Writing!

~Nancy Stohlman

(Feel free to join in on this or any other conversation, and if you have a flash piece in progress please find me on Facebook or message me at

How to Write the Name of God

By Ellen Orleans

God, we learn, has many names, including ElohimHa Shem, and Adonai.  Elohim means Mighty Ones, which is no surprise except that it’s plural.  (The Rabbi says this multiplies God’s power.)  Adonai doesn’t have even an English translation. It just means God, my  Hebrew School teacher says, tired of my questions. Ha Shem means The Name which is confusing but also kind of cool. His name is The Name. There’s also El Olam: “the world,” “the universe” or even infinity or eternity. “Very trippy,” as my sister would say.

Another name is El Echad which means The One. “One with a hundred names,” I think, “How ironic.” I am eleven and nothing is more clever than irony.

In English, God’s names are Almighty, Master, Highest,  Father, Lord, Ruler, and King. Also, Most Powerful One. If God is so great, I think, why is he so insecure?

Years later, in a congregation led by a female rabbi, infused with liberals and sprinkled with queers like me, I will  hear new names for God:Creator, Spirit, Beloved, Shekhina. But by then it will be too late—the white-haired, scowling judge man will be seared into my imagination.

Anyway CreatorSpirit, and Beloved are years off. Now it’s 1971 and the biggest question here in fifth grade is not who is God, what is God, or even “Can God create a rock so big that even he cannot push it?” but “How Do Spell God?”

If you are an 11-year-old at Temple Beth Shalom Hebrew School, you spell it G-d or G*d, or maybe just Gd, but never all the way, God. Because if you write down God, then that piece of paper, like all the prayer books with God printed out—all its letters, no dash, no asterisk, no missing “o”—that paper cannot not be thrown away.  It is sacred.

Which is exactly the point when Baruch Benson, who’s Bobby Benson in real life at Burnet Hill Elementary school where he sits two rows behind me making armpit noises, whose Hebrew name means Blessed One even though that’s the last thing Bobby is, when Baruch Benson in the final minutes of Monday afternoon Hebrew School, writes GOD, all caps, all three letters, on a piece of notebook paper and shoves it into Kenny Graulich’s back pocket.

“Have to keep it forever,” he sing-songs as the bell clatters, our high-pitched punishment before freedom.

In the hall, Kenny yells “Glenn! You’re it!” and slaps the God-paper into Glenn’s hand, where it stays until Glenn passes it to Shimon, who’s always off in dreamland anyway until Cheryl, thinking it’s something else, grabs it, giggles, and pushes it off onto Debbie. By now we’re in the parking lot, waiting for, looking for, our carpools home.  Before running into the sea of parents, station wagons and sedans, Debbie passes the damp folded-unfolded-refolded note to Lynn Becker, who rolls her eyes and gives it to Nurit, who’s new and from Israel and doesn’t get the game. That’s when I take it because, unlike Lynn, Debbie, Cheryl, Glenn and Kenny, I know want to do with the name of God.

You bury the name of God.

If I had liked Glenn or if he’d written God’s name in fancy calligraphy, I might have kept it, at least for a while. But GOD was just three awkward letters, smudged pencil on creased paper.

Still, it was God.

That night, in the back of my dresser, I found the white box that had held the velvet case that had held the gold Chai my grandmother gave me when she returned from Israel two years ago. The box, I decided, was good enough for God.  I covered the bottom with Kleenex, neatly refolded the paper and put it inside. Tomorrow, I’d bury it in the back yard. Ashes to ashes. Dust to Dust. It was a good plan.

I turned off my bedside reading light.

It was a good plan…except.

Would God get lonely there in the dirt?  I thought of the box, the tissue, The Name, underground for years and years, long after I grew up and moved away. And after that.  And after that. Eternity for Eternity. All Alone for The One.

What could keep God company? What was mighty enough for The Mighty One, what could befriend The Universe? More to the point, what would fit in the box?

In bed, in the darkness, I considered the tiniest occupants of my room. The glass cat with the chipped glass ear. The dollhouse tea kettle. The miniature ceramic mouse, looking up, about to pounce. My Grandma Moses postage stamp, cancelled. My Apollo 8 postage stamp, uncancelled. Nothing seemed like the right match or maybe I didn’t want to give any of them up. Not even for God.

For the next three days, I scrutinized the world for the perfect thing to put in the box with God.  A flower petal would shrivel up. An inch worm would die. Pine needles? Too much like a Christmas tree. A yarmulke wouldn’t fit and a loose thread from a Temple tallis, well, there weren’t any loose threads. I tugged at one and nothing came off. I could spill a drop wine on it, like my father spilled wine in the Passover Seder, a tradition from his father and grandfather, but that seemed more like a stain than a friend.

Half a Hanukkah candle? A clove from the spice box? Crumbs from last week’s challah? (Crumbs next to God? Definitely ironic.)

Ashes? Dust?

Walking home on Friday, thinking of God’s names, I remembered Elochim. Mighty Ones. Plural.

God needs God.

At home, on my best stationary with my best pen in my best handwriting I wrote

God   God   God

God   God   God

God   God    God

and folded it into fourths. I lay my Gods on top of Baruch’s God and taped the box shut.

As I walked behind our house—gardening trowel in one hand, the box in the other—I could smell our Friday night chicken baking.  We would be lighting the Sabbath candles soon. I hurried past the swing set to the garden bed where early violets and lilies-of-the-valley shared the soil with mossy rocks. The soil was damp and easy.

There are Hebrew blessings to recite when you hear thunder, feel an earthquake, or see lighting or a comet or a rainbow.  There’s a Hebrew blessing for when you see the ocean or lofty mountains or exceptionally beautiful people. There’s even a blessing for strange-looking animals.

But what do you say when you bury God’s name between violets and lilies? When you cover God with a blanket of dirt?

What you say, I realized, is Psalm 91, the Bedtime Prayer. Or at least, what you can remember of it.  I knelt in the garden bed, wet earth seeping into the knees of my jeans.

With my wing, I cover you.

Under my wings take refuge.

For you yearn for me, I shall rescue you.

Fortify you, because you know my name.


A former columnist and essayist, Ellen Orleans is the author of five books of queer humor, including the Lambda Literary Award winner The Butches of Madison County. She co-edited Boulder Voices, an anthology published in response to Colorado’s Amendment 2, an anti-gay referendum later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Her story “Outreach” won the 2007 Gertrude Press Chapbook Competition for Fiction. Her writing has appeared in the anthologies Primal Picnics, Milk and Honey, The Incredible Shrinking Story and, forthcoming, A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park. Excerpts of her book, Inside, the World is Orange have been published in The Denver Quarterly; Palimpsest; wigleaf; and Eccolingistics and performed as part of a Stories on Stage/Buntport Theater production.  Other work has appeared in Trickhouse, Blithe House Quarterly, The Washington Post, Rain Taxi, and the Lambda Book Review.  The former curator of  Boulder’s Yellow Pine Reading Series, Ellen now leads story hours for toddlers and builds cigar box art in her garage in north Boulder.