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Rising Stars: Meet Nancy Stohlman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nancy Stohlman.

Hi Nancy, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
Any creative story is a life story, no? I was volunteering in the library by age nine, and I knew I wanted to be an author by age 10 when I finally figured out someone must have the job of writing all those books! But I didn’t get serious about writing as a calling until 20 years ago after I became a mother.

Something about having little kids who are watching you, plus all the life-upending joys and realities of that vocation, made two things very clear to me: 1: I no longer had the luxury of waiting for the muse to arrive or imagining my creative life happening in some future iteration–my life was happening now. Now is always the right time to begin. And 2: I now had a little person watching me, should learn how to say yes (or no) to a creative life and what was possible through my example.

So… I sat down and got to work. At about the same time I started taking my writing seriously, I also began working in the field, first as a freelance manuscript editor, then in academia, both at the community college and eventually the university level. But my favorite way to be of service is as a mentor/coach.

I don’t love giving grades; I love engaging with the creative birth process, whether that is in my online community, one of my workshops or Masterminds, or at a live writing retreat August 15-20, 2023 we will be returning to one of my favorite venues in Grand Lake, Colorado.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Of course, there’s the “sitting down to write” part, and there’s everything else. Including the very real work of getting good at it! Which takes plenty of effort, and I, like everyone else who embarks on this journey, had to write a lot of tripe before I wrote anything good–I wrote three practice novels before I even knew what I was doing! So there are all those years of pouring yourself into projects that may not get off the ground (no matter how badly you want them to) but grow you as an artist.

And each book is a unique relationship–a gorgeous, terrifying, life-transforming relationship that will turn you inside out and crack you wide open. But what a glorious ride. I think that’s the key to the whole game–do you view obstacles as part of the game, or do you let them wreck you? Do you engage with them creatively? Do you use them as an opportunity to level up? The Dalai Lama said, “Sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
For about 15 years I have been working in the House of Flash Fiction, a place where narrative and storytelling meet beauty and compression, a place of creative challenge and paradox–how do I get this entire story in this tiny little space? You can’t just tell it quickly–you have to reinvent HOW to tell it. You have to use a different lens.

I’m also a lover of the novel, the long-term, complex story you can live and grow with. So my work over the years has always been gravitating toward that juncture between compression and the swag vision. My first solo book, Searching for Suzi, was published in 2009, and as my first book it holds the blueprint for the writer I would become, but only in the way that a childhood photo can show just the glimmer of the future adult.

Since that first book my work has been getting stranger: more absurd, playful, surreal, satirical, bizarre, and. I appreciate realism, and I have historically spent much time there, but it was only when I embraced the surreal and the absurd that I found a space where I could, ironically, let my guard down.

If you look at my fiction books in chronological order you can see that change–starting with Searching for Suzi in 2009, The Monster Opera in 2013 (which was also scored and performed), The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories in 2014, Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities in 2018 (which was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award)… all the new book, After the Rapture, coming out next month–perhaps my strangest yet.

In 2020 I also released what I call my 10-year treatise on flash fiction–a craft book that synthesized my years of writing and teaching flash into a companion book for the flash-curious and the veteran alike.

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
I moved to Denver in the late 1990s, after several years traveling ng with the Renaissance Fair. And you know what they say about the curse/lure of the Rocky Mountains: once you have fallen in love with them, you will return. So I returned. I remember walking down Larimer Square on a sunny November day with the gorgeous purple mountains to the west and thinking: wow.

Fast forward and now I’ve spent half my life here, had babies here, birthed books here, and Denver runs in my veins.

I love how it feels like a city of possibility–not too big that it swallows you up, but big enough to dream and create.

I’ve always been able to live out my fantasies here–whether to start creative communities (The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series is celebrating its 10th anniversary!) or bring other artistic projects to fruition

Oh, and all that sunshine. What do I like least? Well, there’s no ocean. So that’s real. And while I love living in a gorgeous, progressive hub of the city hub, many people have fallen in love with her, too. In recent years there’s a feeling that everyone in Denver is from somewhere else. The traffic, rents, and overall infrastructure have struggled to stay relevant.

How does a city retain its fingerprint, its unique identity, amid popularity and growth? Some cities, unfortunately, lose themselves in the growth explosion. Other cities, like Paris, never seem to lose their identity no matter how many people walk through their doors. So I see Denver navigating these growing pains now… dealing with its fame and deciding how to define itself and keep its integrity in the face of so much (mostly positive) change.

But that’s all part of living in a dynamic place, and no matter how much or far I travel I always return to Colorado. I factored in hosting flash fiction writing retreats up in Grand Lake each summer, and I think someone falls in love with the mountains. It’s magical every time.

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Image Credits
Felix Kachadourian, Lynn Hough, Ryan Stone, Laura Alexander, and Ian Anderson

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