Fiction Kitchen Berlin is more than just a reservoir of beautiful flash fiction. We want to get to know the people behind the great work that comes our way, those stories that make it on our menu. Today we are opening the Kitchen to the wonderful Nancy Stohlman, who hails from Denver, Colorado. Her story, Courtesy Call, appeared in the Kitchen in July 2020 and was also featured in our journal of that year.
Hi Nancy! It’s a huge pleasure to have you back with us in the Kitchen. These are crazy times we are living through at the moment. What are you doing these days to keep your spirits up?
I’m happy to say that my spirits have stayed relatively high. There are two things I started implementing last March that have made a huge difference: I dress up everyday–I’ve been known to wear leather pants on my class zoom calls (don’t tell!). And I’ve also taken a walk every day, regardless of the weather. I’m lucky to have a lake just walking distance away, so I visit it every day and take pictures. It’s been amazing to pay such close attention to the seasons, the changing color palettes, the subtle shifts, the oceans of movement that happen from week to week. You can see many of those pictures and my walking thoughts about writing over on Instagram @nancy_stohlman
I’ve also declared 2021 The Year of the Student. As in me: becoming the student again. It’s good for me to go back to my roots and remember the joy of beginner’s mind.
Your latest book, ‘Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction’ (Ad Hoc Fiction), really is a must read for all writers of flash fiction. What was your inspiration behind writing it?
Thanks so much! My inspiration? I wanted this book to exist and it didn’t. I wanted to recommend this book when people asked and I couldn’t. So…I wrote it. And at first I thought it would be “easy”–I’m a professor, a teacher, and a long-time writer and advocate of flash fiction. I was wrong: it turned out to be the hardest (and most rewarding) book I’ve ever written.
Going Short is my love letter to flash fiction, the form that changed how I write forever. To see the book finally out in the world, making friends with other writers, is so fulfilling, a long-term vision come to fruition.
And….I’m happy to say that Going Short just won a Readers View Award!
Which, in my opinion, is really a win for flash fiction.
Congratulations on winning a Readers View Award! But tell us more about the writing process. Did you experience any challenges along the way?
Challenges? Yes! Doubts creeping in at every juncture? Oh yes. Imposter syndrome? Regularly. I abandoned the project many times over the 10 years it took me to finish. But I never really gave up. I reckoned with it and coached myself back to it many times. And the longer I worked on it, the more important it became to get it right. I was constantly adjusting and rewriting as I became a better flash writer and teacher. And I’m sure if I kept working on it it would continue to change. One of my favorite quotes by Picasso: “A painting is never finished, it just stops in interesting places.”
Speaking about challenges, do you ever experience doubts as a writer? If so, how do you overcome them?
Ah yes. See above. If I’m in the middle of a project, I fear no one will want to read it. When I finish a book, I fear no one will publish it, or I’ll never find my next idea. Add in the daily fear that the magic won’t work this time, or what I’m writing is trite. And then there are the fallow periods, that shadow of the valley of death between books where I’m hanging, suspended—finished with one idea but not yet ready for the next. Those are the worst.
I try to remember that the creative process has seasons, and like the seasons around my lake—they change. Fallow periods end. Inspired periods end. It’s an ebb and flow, and when I feel small I try to remember the big picture. Most importantly that I’m lucky to be living a life of creative audacity and radical inspiration–we all are.
Do you have any writing blogs or podcasts you would recommend?
I’ve really enjoyed Pigeonholes Lessons From a Distance series (and if you’re looking for more prompts, Kathy Fish and I created a whole month of Quarantine Prompts on the Flash Fiction Retreats website). I feel very fortunate that I’ve been introduced to and able to collaborate with many amazing venues this year. I love Writer’s Digest, CRAFT, and Jane Friedman has some wonderful posts. And podcasts rock! I finally bought a real podcasting microphone in order to hang out on some amazing ones, including Good People, Cool Things, Speaking of Travel, Reading and Writing Podcast, and Writer Types.
Ok, we want to know something you haven’t shared with the world yet! What behind-the-scenes titbit in your life would probably surprise your readers the most?
Ha–I’m a cornucopia of surprising alternate lives. You might not know I grew up in Germany as a kid. My dad was in the military, and we were stationed in Bitburg when it was still in West Germany. I finally visited Berlin 5 years ago and fell madly in love with Berlin. Living overseas ignited my passion for travel and instilled in me from an early age that the world is big, and my culture/language is just one of many beautiful others.
What else? I was runner up for Miss Nebraska when I was 18, and in my 20s I traveled around the country with the Renaissance Faire and lived in a van with a cat. Actually two different vans, and two different cats (and two different boyfriends)–but who’s counting? I visited 47 states that way and learned important skills such as old fashioned sand pewter casting and how to speak all day long with a convincing English accent.
And lastly, I have to ask: you are a writer, a professor of writing and rhetoric, a dancer… but when are you finally going to take that damn plunge and become a pirate?
Well, Shane…while you’ve been distracted talking to me, my comrades and I have been looting and pillaging Fiction Kitchen Berlin. I’m officially taking over this interview and this space. Nothing personal, of course. Now where do you keep your treasure?
Ha! If you find some, it’s all yours! Thanks again Nancy for sharing this time with us! Wishing you the best of luck with all your future writing projects.
Thank you so much for having me. Viva Fiction Kitchen Berlin!
Nancy Stohlman is the author of four books of flash fiction including Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (a finalist for a 2019 Colorado Book Award), The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014), and The Monster Opera (2013). She is the creator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series and FlashNano in November. Her work has been anthologized in the W.W. Norton New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, Macmillan’s The Practice of Fiction, and the Best Small Fictions 2019. Her craft book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, has been published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2020. She teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of Colorado Boulder. When she is not writing flash fiction she straps on stilettos and becomes the lead singer of the lounge metal jazz trio Kinky Mink. She dreams of one day becoming a pirate.
- Website: Nancystohlman.com
- Facebook: Nancy.Stohlman
- Twitter: @Nancystohlman
- Flash Fiction Retreats: Flashfictionretreats.com
- Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series: Fbombdenver.com