I must say I’m very excited about this particular Mum Life Success Story. I’ve had the pleasure of featuring some truly beautiful, amazing and inspiring Mums through these Mum Life Success Stories and each one of them has had a unique and special story to tell, but never have I featured someone as well-known and accomplished as Nancy Stohlman.
I have to admit that when I received an email from her publicity manager, about promoting her new book Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction I didn’t actually know who she was. That is due more to my lack of time to read and search out great authors (because I’m busy with work, family and this blog) than it is about Nancy’s reputation. Once I googled her name, and announced the upcoming interview on twitter etc, I realised that Nancy was fastly becoming a household name.
After just a little research I discovered that Nancy was not only a talented performer, writer and professor, but that she was juggling it all with motherhood and so naturally, I had to request an interview for the next ‘Mum Life Success Story’ feature. Nancy happily obliged and answered all my probing questions about life, success and family and how she navigates it all. I was truly inspired and knew without a doubt that all of you would be inspired too. If by some off-chance you don’t know who Nancy Stolman is, let’s start with a bit of backstory direct from her publicity manager.
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Who is Nancy Stohlman?
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 F-bomb 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, is forthcoming from 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 lives in Denver Colorado and dreams of one day becoming a pirate.
Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction
Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction is Nancy’s latest contribution to the world of literature. Writer and Teacher Kathy Fish describes it as “The definitive, and appropriately concise book on the flash fiction form”. I have read some of the book myself and I can say Kathy is right, If you’re a writer (as many of my readers are) or want to start writing, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction is a resource you want to have on your bookshelf.
Mum Life Success Story
With Nancy being the seasoned writer that she is and needing no help from me to tell her story, I decided to publish this feature in interview format rather than the story form I usually employ. First I asked Nancy to tell us a little bit about her family.
Tell us a little about your family?
I have two kids—Maiya is 22 and just got her first apartment; Felix is 15 and just got his learner’s permit (yikes!). My partner Nick and I have been together almost a dozen years. We’re all creatives: Nick is a classical pianist and Maiya is a visual artist, so I’m proud to have passed down a family value of artistry. My own parents were also creative; I remember musical jam sessions, a lot of clowning in my household growing up.
When did your love for writing begin?
I remember I was 10 years old on the bleachers at a soccer game when I announced I was going to become an author. I was a voracious reader, of course. I grew up on military bases overseas, so books were my constant friends through all the moving and the various cultural and language barriers. After my author announcement my mother let me use her electric typewriter and I wrote a musical: Superman, The Musical (ala Christopher Reeve). I felt so important as I sat there clicking the keys, feeding in the paper. I don’t know what happened to the musical, but I still feel the magic when I sit down to write.
What inspired you to write your upcoming publication ‘Going Short’?
I was inspired to write Going Short about 10 years ago, when students and fellow writers kept asking me to recommend flash fiction craft books. I didn’t know what to recommend—there were almost no craft books aimed at this growing genre (nor by women). So I decided to take it on myself. I thought it would be easy, something I could write in a year or two. Ha. It took me almost 8 years! But I’m extremely proud of the result—I hope this book becomes a friend to the writers and readers who fall in love with flash fiction.
Are there any major obstacles you’ve had to overcome to get where you are now?
Oh yes. Self doubt. Fear. Creative deserts. Jealousy. Self-sabotage. It’s not easy to go for your dreams. There’s so much risk. Every step you think you might be crazy. Every step you expose yourself to…all of it. Not everyone is rooting for you, so you have to cheer yourself on no matter what. It’s not always easy. It takes courage and bravery, not just one time but every time. Over and over. So my challenge is to reach deeper and keep finding that courage. It’s either that or give up—which keeps me motivated on the hard days.
Are there any funny, intense, or inspiring stories you can tell us about your experiences in writing and/or publishing?
For years I fantasized of spending “three weeks on an island all by myself just writing.” Sounds magical, right? Then, last year, I decided to do it. I was already in Italy co-hosting a flash fiction retreat (so amazing), and when it was over I found a super remote island in the Adriatic, rented a renovated wine cellar for $150 a week, and went on my own sabbatical. And I wrote every day. Every blissful day. I mean, I woke up, I wrote, I walked to get coffee, I wrote. I ate gelato, I walked to the empty beach. I wrote. It was magical, and I discovered what I call Holy Boredom. And because of it, I finished this book.
What would you say is your biggest challenge with balancing family life with your career? How do you find balance (if you do)?
Funny, but I think this question is part of the challenge—if I were a man I would likely never be asked this question. Because I’m a woman, there’s an expectation (even from myself) that I can and will do it all: be a loving mother, chef, teacher, partner, friend, housekeeper, nurture all my relationships…oh, AND write books, teach on campus, run retreats, and attempt to dream my own inspiration into being. And, because all women are amazing, we do it. All of it. But I like to envision a world where men are asked this question, too.
The short answer of how I balance it all? I fail. I succeed. Then I fail. I do my best. And sometimes I schedule a weekend to myself and that’s important, too.
How does your experience as a Mother help with your writing and vice versa?
Once I had kids I knew the luxury of waiting for the muse, was over. If I really wanted to be a writer, I had to begin now—there was a little person watching me. So I wrote during nap time and in the evenings after bedtimes. I mean, I wrote entire books during nap times, during pre-school. Later I wrote on trains and buses while commuting to campus. I learned to seize THIS moment, imperfect but available, because the perfect moment is just an illusion. So in a very real way my children forced me to get serious and make it happen.
And writing makes me a better mother, too, because I’m honoring that creative part of myself. I’m more present for my family when I’m present for myself. Put on your own oxygen mask before you help others.
What advice can you give to other women (mothers in particular) wanting to chase their dreams of becoming a professional writer?
Just begin. The perfect time, the perfect location, the perfect idea—you could be waiting forever. The real day-to-day of writing is messy—there is nothing idealized about it. And yet, allowing yourself to be creative is amazingly, imperfectly perfect. On a good day, it’s still just as magical to me as that first time at my mom’s electric typewriter.
Plus, the very best thing you can do for your children is to show them what it looks like to not give up on yourself. They will be watching and learning from your actions far more than from your words.
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