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


Everyone comes to the residency for different reasons. For me it was a
time to reflect upon this whirlwind year. Like many, I lead a hectic life
and run from one exhibition to the next with little time for
contemplation. Even if I hadn’t made a single thing during my residency,
I would have been satisfied because what I really needed was to slow
down and think about what direction my work might take. I reveled in
the environment – the lake and mountains – as well as two trips, one to
see the Monarch butterflies and the other to a fiesta in an indigenous
village with my fellow artists. I left the residency refreshed, with new friends and purpose!

Jennifer Angus, Installation Artist
“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
“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, Musician

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, Sound Artist & Sculptor

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

“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

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

“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