KAREN LENTZ: Our First Writer at 360 Xochi Quetzal


KL1Karen Lentz was the first resident writer at 360 Xochi Quetzal. We just acquired a new space in Chapala that seemed perfect for a writer looking for solitude but with all the comforts of home. Karen was here in October 2013 along with our visual artist, Yuki Siroi, who ended up doing a mural on the building where Karen was staying. They both appreciated the growing sense of community that we are building at 360 Xochi Quetzal. – dek


Give us some background about yourself as a writer and why it was important for you to attend a residency at this point in your career.

I am writing a book around the subject of work, which shapes people’s lives in profound and often unexamined ways.  My “day job” in the technology field is demanding which means that I work on the book in leftover time, so progress is steady but slow.  The residency came at a particularly opportune time — I was about 80% finished with the manuscript, and what I needed most was dedicated time to flip the priorities and put my creative project first in order to accelerate the time it was taking and bring the work to fruition.

How did you structure your time during your writer’s residency?kl4

I would focus on writing one chapter each week, and I also spent a day every week working on submissions of earlier pieces so I could get some of my other work out there.  

Starting early worked best for me. If I got in a good morning’s work, I felt good about the day even if I didn’t accomplish anything else. I often kept going through the afternoon or evening.  Working primarily in the morning also allowed me to enjoy a siesta in the heat of the afternoon.  

How did you hear about 360 Xochi Quetzal and why did you choose to apply to a program in Mexico?

I heard about 360 Xochi Quetzal via the Alliance of Artists Communities (http://artistcommunities.org/).  I was starting to apply for residencies, and thought the setting sounded perfecta:  a place to disconnect from the usual daily distractions and also a rich place to experience.  I used to go to Mexico a lot, and had always wanted to spend more time there, so it was an optimal combination.  

kl3Your residency was in Chapala, a small town in central Mexico. Tell us about how you found your way around and explored the town.

Exploring new places is one of my favorite pastimes.  I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many parts of the world, but it is different when you live someplace.   I noticed that carrying groceries home makes a person look like a local – when I did that, people stopped looking at me like a tourist. Chapala is a small enough town that, after awhile, people recognized me and I recognized them.  I got to feel a part of the place in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.  

I never had much of a plan as far as finding my way around – I just ventured out every day and little by little, figured out where things were.  Some of my favorite spots in Chapala were the Centro Cultural, and the trail up to the top of the hill overlooking the town.  I also developed a habit of visiting one particular ice cream vendor – I really miss that!

kl5What can you share about your writing process during your residency? What ideas were you exploring? How did this time focused time influence your work and thinking?

I am used to writing in short bursts, and the time in Chapala was the opposite.  I got used to working in a more continuous way, being more immersed in the subjects over the course of a day or a week.  Usually I’d write for awhile and then sometimes I’d go out walking and think about what I was doing, or sometimes I’d do some research for a chapter.  So even when I wasn’t writing, I tried to direct all my activities toward the particular piece I was working on.  

In a way, it felt odd to be working on this book about a fast-paced, high-tech lifestyle in the middle of a town where that lifestyle doesn’t exist.  I think (I hope) that might have ended up making some of the writing more meaningful because I was very aware of the context of the larger world, even while I was examining what might be considered a particular American subculture.

What were some of the highlights of the residency for you? What parts were hard for you?kl6

One of the highlights was getting up in the morning, having breakfast out on the patio, and then sitting down to write, as if this were my job.  I can think of so many mornings where I’ve wished I could do just that.  Getting to live the life of a writer was really satisfying, even though there were plenty of frustrating writing days.  Restoring myself to a natural sleep schedule was also great, and I loved meeting so many interesting people.

The first few days were absolutely the hardest part for me, to be taken out of a routine and suddenly dropped into a new life.  I was assailed by doubt about what I was doing and whether it was a good use of time, whether I could actually accomplish what I was planning to accomplish.  I guess you’d call it culture shock, but by that I don’t mean the culture of Mexico, I mean being in a totally unfamiliar state where every minute wasn’t already packed with demands that told me what I had to do next.  It took me a week or so to get acclimated to that, to get my bearings and start to feel somewhat normal.

How did the natural surroundings influence or affect your work?

I had a favorite spot by the lake at Parque de la Cristiania in the morning when there weren’t many people around.  These moments were all about serenity — listening to the wind in the trees, following the birds in the marsh, watching the fishing boats on the lake.  Although my book isn’t focused much on nature, these times were lovely and nourishing.

kl2Some writers come to a residency with a particular creative game plan. Others just arrive open to whatever inspires them at the moment. How did you approach your residency and how did your creative time compare to what you anticipated?

For me, this was precious time, and I wanted to make sure I used it well.  I had a pretty specific game plan which I didn’t follow exactly, but having it helped me become more productive.  I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere just being open to anything, but then I had a very concrete goal in finishing the book.  Of course, plans are always somewhat ambitious, so I didn’t finish everything I wanted to, but I got close, and I definitely left satisfied with what I accomplished.

What else can you share about your residency experience? Were there any surprises?

I really appreciated my fellow resident Yuki Shiroi (see Yuki’s interview on our website), who shared the adventure and painted some amazing murals.  Every day in Chapala was a surprise, really.  I would love to come back.

To read excerpts of Karen’s work, please download here: Download The Sounds


We were new to Mexico and had no idea what to expect from the Residency or Chapala. Both were delightful! I was able to work successfully on two projects that have been germinating for some time, and also enjoy the friendly, lovely and accessible town with its many colors and flavors. Our casita was comfortable, spacious and nicely furnished. It included a studio, patio and a private balcony perfect for an end-of-day cocktail. Deborah, Christian and colleagues were the perfect hosts who fostered a very satisfying creative experience in an environment that was at once stimulating and restful. Muchisimas gracias!

Diana Leidel, Visual Artist Brooklyn, NY

Our residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal was more than we had hoped for! The time and space to work, think, and explore–without deadlines or requirements–opened up our practice in a way we had not imagined. The town is lovely, easy to navigate, with everything within walking distance. The locals were so welcoming; we felt at home right away. Our accommodations in Lopez Cotilla were clean, comfortable and allowed both of us to have our own studio space. We really enjoyed quiet evenings on the patio watching the sun set over beautiful Chapala and meet ups with the other residents. Muchisimas gracias!

Suzanne Stroebe, Artist Bernard Cousins, Musician Brooklyn, NY

After a beautiful and adventurous journey from Europe, we found ourselves in a taxi descending the hills of Sierra de San Juan Cosala with the full moon reflected in the lake. The word “magia and maravilla” crossed my mind and I got goose bumps.

Chapala is indeed a magical place, colourful, charming and very safe with friendly people everywhere. We were blown away by the bird life, vegetation, architecture, which are so different from ours in Hungary.

Our casita was a for us: comfortable, well-equipped and authentically Mexican. The Residency Handbook answered all our questions before we even asked them. Cobra and Christian are very attentive and kind, and their hospitality was unmatchable.

Zsuzsa and Istvan visual artists from Hungary, Europe

As painting and writing residents during 2017, we both would like to thank you for the opportunity to be able to focus and collaborate on a project, entitled Immigrants. We had been thinking about it, had discussed it, but never quite got around to doing it until this residency. The atmosphere, encouragement, feedback and like-mindedness of all involved in Chapala gave us both the inspiration to move forward.

It was a productive and great experience for us both and we thank you.


Joyce and Hector DeCordova

I visited the 360 Xochi Quetzal Artist Residency in Chapala, Mexico for the entire month of April 2017.  It was a perfect retreat for me.  I loved watching the cowboys ride in on their horses.  My work flourished, inspired by the other visiting artists and the tranquil nature of the town.  I went to Ajijic and attended figure drawing and portrait sessions up to three times per week.  I made new friends and felt encouraged in my writing and art making.  I am so glad I had a chance to participate in this program. Chapala is a perfect place to get your work done with little distraction.

Anna Roach, Mixed Media-Seattle,WA

360 Xochi Quetzal was my first residency and I loved every bit of it. The opportunity to get away and single-task toward my writing instead of routinely multitasking was priceless. My studio was cute, clean, and well-equipped. Deborah and Sandra were very approachable, helpful, and I loved connecting with fellow-residents from different disciplines too. Most of all, the location of our residence across from the Malecón buzzing with artisans, vendors and restaurants offered to me just the right balance of isolation toward focused work and a community around. I hope to return soon.

Namrata Poddar, Writer-California

My time in Chapala was pivotal for me as a writer. You can’t understand the effect Chapala has until you arrive. Its splashes of color, rhythms and scenic beauty will inspire you. Scribbling away at Café Paris, locals ambling by, a cool glass of beer sweating on the table… I felt like Hemingway. This residency gave all that to me and more. It is a gift I continue to cherish; a feeling I look back on when in need of encouragement, inspiration, and motivation.

Sean Hammer, Writer – New York City

Everyone comes to the residency for different reasons. For me it was a time to reflect upon this whirlwind past year. I lead a hectic life and often feel like I run from exhibition to exhibition without time for contemplation. I really needed to slow down and think about the next direction for my work. I got that and a lot more! I finished two small projects and reveled in the beautiful environment. I was able see the Monarch butterfly migration and experience an indigenous fiesta with my fellow artists. I left the residency refreshed, with new friends and purpose!

Jenny Angus, Installation Artist - Madison, WI

I had no expectations when I headed to Mexico for a personal residency, and the entire experience was a wonderful surprise. I loved Chapala: its realness, its people, the lake, the restaurants, and especially my casita where I could work outside on the patio. I met wonderful people that made my trip even more enjoyable. I had no agenda as I worked, but I was pondering an exhibition for the following December.  I didn’t realize until I returned home and began working on the show in earnest how beneficial the weeks in Chapala were.  I will certainly return.  http://loribgoodman.com/

Lori Goodman, Artist – Eureka, CA

My personal residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal was wonderfully productive and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has a creative project that requires some quiet, focused time.  The casita was lovely – spacious, fully furnished, very clean and stocked.  The residency hosts, Cobra and Christian, are welcoming, fun and engaging.  My casita was steps away from the Malecón and within walking or bike riding to Ajijic.  The locals are friendly and engaging-quick to suggest a favorite taco stand or even invite you to join them for a hike.  I will definitely be back!

Lenna Minion, Writer-Dubai

The 360 Xochi Quetzel Personal Residency Program was a perfect place for me to focus on my children’s book. I wanted an authentic Mexico experience where I would be submersed in the culture and language. Chapala was easy to get around and affordable. The Lopez Cotilla casita was cool, breezy and comfortable. It had everything I needed. I woke up in the morning to hummingbirds buzzing around a tree outside my window. Sunsets were beautiful from the outdoor terrace and an occasional dramatic thunderstorm just to let you know who is really in charge around here. Muchas Gracias!!

Kristin Balouch, Writer-Brooklyn, NY

We have one word to describe the our experience here at 360 Xochi Quetzal, and that is MAGIC! The casita is very spacious, allowing for lots of room to create. It is very comfortable and clean, and has everything you could possibly need for your personal residency. We especially enjoy spending time on the relaxing balcony. Cobra and Chris are available and very helpful. The Residency Handbook in the casita addresses all of our questions in detail and offers suggestions for things to try around the area. You will often hear live music in the early evening from the Malecon. It feels very safe here, and even more secure having the Red Cross right across the street. It has been a wonderful experience, and Kristen and I  would like to return each year.

Orion Kugel, Photographer-New Hampshire

We have one word to describe the our experience here at 360 Xochi Quetzal, and that is MAGIC! The casita is very spacious, allowing for lots of room to create. It is very comfortable and clean, and has everything you could possibly need for your personal residency. We especially enjoy spending time on the relaxing balcony. Cobra and Chris are available and very helpful. The Residency Handbook in the casita addresses all of our questions in detail and offers suggestions for things to try around the area. You will often hear live music in the early evening from the Malecon. It feels very safe here, and even more secure having the Red Cross right across the street. It has been a wonderful experience, and Orion and I would like to return each year.

Kristen Pobatschnig, Painter-New Hampshire
“Applying for the free Winter residency of Xochi Quetzal was the start of many positive transformations. The silence I found for myself during the residency, allowed me not only to write the best last chapter I can write at this stage of my evolution, it also granted me a most sought-after introspection moment during which I read my dreams and studied ancient Eastern writings. The serenity of the lake and presence of other artists inspired me to get mentally ready and organized for my future as a novelist. I am particularly fond of spending the holidays abroad with ‘strangers’. It always infuses me with these wild insights and whims. Our group was just lovely, the artists one by one very interesting. Cobra and Christian are warm and graceful hosts who made life easy. All in all, Xochi Quetzal was a weighty meditation, a poetic experience that carried me through the rest of Mexico in newness and will resonate long after.”
Heidi Souffriau, Writer-Brussels
“I was partly inspired to apply for the Xochi Quetzal residency by The Retro Cocktail Hour — a popular Saturday night radio show on Kansas Public Radio 91.5 that features exotica music (a form of tropical jazz).  My hope was for the palm trees,  lakeside sunrises, and culture of Chapala & Mexico at large to inform my creative process.  These elements did precisely that, and the generous hospitality of Cobra & her partner Christian provided me with a cozy composing environment.”
Note from Staff: Listen to the music created during Andrew’s residency -Winter 2016
Andrew Morgan, Composer-Lawrence, KS

Chapala is a safe, spiritually charged, beautiful place. Wild horses run through town.  It’s a place where you greet strangers on the street.

I walked along the lake in meditation a great deal. I hiked the looming cerro overlooking town. I biked all over the countryside. I wrote, documented, created composed soundscapes utilizing field recordings, and built small maquette light sculptures based on my experiences. I attended traditional temazcals, and sat alone in cathedrals.

It was pivotal for me in a spiritual sense more than a career advancing experience. I’m very grateful for it, and Deborah Kruger is a wonderful advocate to keep in contact with. I truly recommend the residency.

Justin R. Lytle, Sculptor-California

My residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal in summer 2015 was both restorative and productive.  I was inspired by the beautiful studio and the surrounding Chapala  / Jalisco region.  The setting worked well for me in terms of inspiring and completing new work, and learning the history and customs of the area.  The flexible residency requirements allowed an easy engagement with other residents, and encouraged me to participate in Chapala and Guadalajara communities.  There are many contemporary art venues in Guadalajara, which are an easy bus ride from Chapala.

Michael Pribich, Sculptor-New York City

“Not only was this residency situated in one of the most beautifully mystical, culturally resonant, and stimulating settings imaginable, it also managed to be both peaceful and galvanizing: the perfect combination for immersing oneself in a creative project without hesitation or distraction. Deborah and Christian’s home was an oasis. One of my fellow residents remarked to me that “this place has amazing energy for getting work done,” and I wholeheartedly agree: the atmosphere seemed to hum with a low-key, generative productivity, one that helped me get closer than I’d been in many months to actually fully realizing and finishing a long story. I wish I was still there among the bougainvillea, the jade vines, the dogs and the pelicans.”

Suzanne K. Rivecca, Author-San Francisco, CA

Chapala has become my home away from home. The Xochi Quetztal residency is run efficiently. Cobra and her team are friendly, accessible, and professional. My stay in Chapala is enhanced by the personal relationships I have developed with several of the team members. The casita I stay in is very well maintained and fully equipped. The studio area is large and ready for me to engage in art as soon as I arrive.  The weather is always fantastic. The lake, the town(s), the life, the restaurants, the view, the very friendly local people all call me back again and again. I love it!

Zahava Sherez, Sculptor-Oakland, CA

“This was the most work I’ve ever done in a single month in my life. I will never forget what an incredible experience this was and I thank you for honoring me with a residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal. The reference material I gathered throughout the trip to Chapala, Mexico is going to fuel my work for years to come. Thank you for everything! You run an incredible residency program!!!”

Santiago Galeas, Painter-Philadelphia, PA