Firefly Creative Writing flew into my life one afternoon when I was dreaming about finding a writing retreat. I was google-dreaming – searching things like ‘amazing writing retreat’ and ‘beautiful writing space’. Firefly appeared in one of the lists and I was immediately attracted to its light. Seriously. The font in the logo, the colours on the website. And, of course, the information that basically told me that this group of people, the founder, the writing coaches, and the place that is Firefly Creative Writing as well as the places they teach at elsewhere at these incredible retreats – made my writer heart weep with want! I joined their mailing list straight away, and each time a message came in, it was perfectly timed to what I needed to see and read and feel. But, I filed it away in my ‘dreams’ folder and that was that. Until a few weeks ago when I received another email, and I just had to respond and connect with the founder, Chris Kay Fraser. We immediately hit it off – and agree that we’re born from the same firefly cocoon! I asked her if she’d be interested in doing an email interview with me so I could then post it on my blog. She was game!
Now, I know I always have glowing reviews and ‘you-musts’ with each writer I interview – and believe me, the glowing is real and true! What sets Firefly Creative Writing (FCW) apart is that it’s like the mother load. It’s writers. It’s writ-ing. It’s a place to write. It’s a place to retreat. It’s inspiration. It’s open arms. It’s group work or one-on-one. And this is where I’ll be going next year at some point. I commit to it here and now. Because I want to gift myself this gift of FCW. And what a better time to start planning this dream the now – when the holidays are so close and the time for renewal and regeneration is at hand. We’ll have time to google dreams! And we’ll have maybe some extra cash or at least enough time to plan to have cash to choose a workshop or retreat to attend next year. I want to share the gift that is Firefly Creative Writing with you! Maybe we can dream together and head to a retreat together? Read on – and perhaps we can make it happen. I know I will!
Here is my interview with the director, founder, and writing coach at Firefly Creative Writing – Chris Kay Fraser!
VS: I’m including the link to the Firefly Creative Writing website because right away what comes up is this beautiful, heartfelt video showing what Firefly Creative Writing is all about. I think the video is sweet and smart! So readers, before you dive into the rest of this interview, please CLICK HERE, watch the video, then come back! And – GO!
VS:Chris, you’re the owner of this incredible business – this creative firefly! Tell us about when you first thought about creating this business – and why?
CKF: The business has many, many roots, but two of the huge ones were the both wonderful and terrible experiences I’d had in creative workshops and classes. It seemed to me like there were two ways a creative class could go. Either they’re critical and deflating, vulnerabilities masking as ego and competitiveness, with a sense that there’s one way to get this right, OR they are these exciting, electric, creative exchanges where everyone is elevated. The former was, sadly, much more common in my world, but I had just enough experiences of the latter to know it was possible. I loved that zone, and I wanted to build a life around it.
VS: How long as FCW been in business? And how is its strength in the writing community building. Meaning – share some stats on participation/who attends classes/workshop? And how do you and the team create new offerings based on the needs you see?
CKF: I started in 2005, so that’s almost 13 years now! It wasn’t Firefly Creative Writing back then, it was just me my living room running a workshop (somewhat awkwardly) for six women. There was no business plan, no website, no social media, no money to speak of, no plan. I certainly didn’t use words like “entrepreneur” or “sole proprietorship.” I’d just finished my Master’s Degree in Adult Ed which focused greatly on writing groups as a tool for building community and I’d been volunteering my time to run various groups for years. I was itching to see what happened if I just put up some flyers and began.
And now here we are, an amazing team of 7 women, a studio on the Danforth. I would never have guessed or even dreamed this big. I’m not a big fan of “visioning the future” because this story has always been more amazing than anything I would have imagined. I just keep moving towards what’s working and it keeps opening up and up.
It’s hard to say how many people have come through our doors, but over 2,000 for sure. We keep the groups very small, so our numbers aren’t massive, but what blows me away is the depth of connections we’ve created. When we hosted an open house for our new studio I was nearly in tears all night, people streaming in, feeling so happy to be there, to connect. A friend said later that it felt unlike any launch she’d been to because it was about the people, it was their studio, their launch. That felt so true to me. Firefly is mine, in a way — I need to make the decisions and write the newsletter, keep things in order — but it’s also not mine at all. Every step we’ve taken has been guided by the enthusiasm ad curiosity of the participants.
VS: Do you get tired? Physically? Emotionally? What do you do to regenerate?
CKF: OMG YES. I adore Firefly with my whole heart, which means that if I’m not very careful, I give it my whole heart… Which means that I’m tired a lot of the time. I was talking to another small business owner the other day and I said, “Loving your job is a lot of work, isn’t it?” She just shook her head with a deep sense of dread and said, “It has a dark side.”
To regenerate, well, my sweet rescue dog helps. Walking, running, anything that gets me out of my head and into my body. How to be true to my huge passion for this work, how to meet the massive demands of my business, and how to maintain a calm and grounded sense of self…. That’s an ongoing conversation that I have with myself and not something I have mastered at all.
VS: What book(s) are you reading right now? Do you read for pleasure? For research? Both?
CKF: SO MANY! I just finished Roz Chast’s ‘Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant‘, a graphic novel about ageing parents. Brilliant. Speaking of graphic novels, I also just read ‘This One Summer‘ by Mariko Tamaki. I was completely enchanted by that book and I want to read everything she has written. Poetry wise, I’m consumed with Nayyirah Waheed’s ‘Salt‘, and Ronna Bloom’s ‘The More‘. For fiction I’m working my way through both ‘The Change Room‘ by Karen Connelly, which is sexy and fun and set in Toronto, and ‘A Fine Balance‘ by Rohinton Mistry, which is heavy and intense and set in India.
I do read for fun. It’s essential, especially when I’m not writing as much as I’d like which has been the case this fall. I always say that in order to exhale, we need to inhale. In order to create beautiful things, we need to consume them… And to slow down enough to really take them in.
VS: What writing projects (personal) are you working on currently?
CKF: I’m working on a funny (but also serious) novel from the perspective of my dog. It’s about love and paying attention, things my dog knows more about than me. It’s about the complexity of human domestic life. It’s about how we find each other from behind the chaos of everyday lives. It’s about anxiety and also commitment. I’m learning a lot from writing it.
VS: Conversely, what do you believe people thrive on creatively? Getting together in a group? Talking about process?
CKF: Well, this may seem pat, but I’d have to say that I think we’re all really different. Some people are tall, some people are short, some people need a lot of alone time to write, some people need a lot of community. Of course it also depends on where we’re at in the creative process. Getting started after a long break is much easier when there are other people around to inspire us and keep us accountable, but when we’re up to our elbows in editing we might just need to be alone.
Part of our job as writing coaches is to pay attention to people’s creative lives, to help writers understand themselves. People know if they’re tall or short, so they know what pants to buy and whether they need a step-stool to reach the top things on the shelf. But people don’t often know what they need creatively because often they don’t have the tools or the time to figure that out. For many people, that’s a group or coach can be incredibly helpful.
VS: Is there a retreat/place you dream of going to for your own writing life?
CKF: You know, I’m a very local person. Sun in the winter would be amazing, but mostly I just want a cottage in Southern Ontario, a view of a lake or a field, a cup of tea, the hush of a quiet morning. That’s my bliss.
If you live in the Toronto area or are intrigued and want to check out the studio for a workshop or a peek-a-boo, it’s located at 1898 Danforth Ave, just West of Woodbine station. Please note, they do require an appointment to be made for a visit, unless you’re taking a workshop/class. Otherwise, a peek-a-boo will have to happen!
I suggest subscribing to their newsletter, which you can do on the main page of their website, so you stay abreast (yeah, I just wanted the word breast in here…all these lovely ladies…come on!) of their incredible offerings.
They also have a writer-in-residence program. And writing times. I mean, really, they’ve got it ALL.
Thank you Chris and the FCW team for existing! For having the dream to start this magical place, and for working your boobies off to keep it alive and shining bright like a, you guessed it, like a firefly!