Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lion and Tigers and Hiatuses..Oh My

Or, Perseverance in the Face of One's Own Natural Inclination to Procrastinate.

Life has gotten to me, I admit. From a daily post, to a weekly-ish post to a roughly 2.5 month hiatus from posting which just sort of happened. Not in a bad way, just in quiet, withdraw-from-things-to-figure-out-stuff way.

Today, on the last day of 2009, I realize that I don't want to let go of Conversational Shoplifter...I like it, the idea of it and what it might grow into given half a chance. But there are other things that I have, in fact needed to let go of or otherwise change. And I have been....

And so, here's my reflection on 2009:

2009 as a year of Yeah, 2009 had a lot of change in it for me. Marital status, homeowner status, learning how to be a single mom, and 3, yes THREE different jobs. Losing beloved pets, needing to do major home repairs, change and adjustment, and lots of it. I seem to have processed through all of it relatively unscathed, even though there were many tears shed. I reminded myself repeatedly that change is an opportunity, and tried to experience it as such. On the whole, I did well enough that I am hopeful...2010 will likely offer its own array of change, but I am either no longer afraid of big changes OR I am just too tired to worry about them as much as I once would have. Some combination of those two is probably an okay thing.

2009 as a year of self-improvement: No, I don't mean I went to self-help seminars. Or a shrink (though I did do that at least twice). I mean in the sense of taking a long hard look at what I want in life and seeing what I could do to facilitate getting or achieving those things. And while I wasn't necessarily successful in completing all the things I wanted to, I was successful in moving away from or eliminating that which seemed to be holding me back. I let go of, in no particular order, habits, plans, control, useless emotional responses (such as bitterness or anger) and in a few instances, unfortunately, people whom I considered friends. The result seems to be a me who has far less trouble Getting Things Done, and since much of what I want in life requires this of me, this constitutes progress.

2009 as a year of progress: When we move away from things which do not work, we also move, by default, toward other things. Some of that which I am moving toward is clear to me, but much of it exists in some space too far out for me to see. E.L. Doctorow described writing a book like this: "It's like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." I think this can be a metaphor for life, not just for writing. I know there is fog -- I see it -- but I also know that on the other side is some destination which I desire, even if I do not yet understand what it is or where it is or what it will mean for me. This is progress.

I hope your 2009 was as productive as mine seemed to be, and that 2010 will find you able to achieve that which you wish to grasp.

The Final Snippet: "After you finish shopping for shoes, we really need to have a discussion." (man speaking on a cell phone, overheard at the mall)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Back from Breck

Two days back from my writers retreat in Breckenridge. Sigh. I miss having three gourmet meals a day magically appear, and I miss having someone guard my writing time as if it were incredibly important, shushing the other writers who have gotten chatty.

I miss looking out my window at Slope 8.

I miss being surrounded by other writers -- what a rare treat that was.

I do not, however, miss the altitude.

And truth be told, I have slept exquisitely well back in my own bed, in my own house, and am glad to be back around my miscellaneous family members and Colorado Springs pals. You can only run away from your life for so long.

But, incredible amounts of work got done, by me, and I would hazard by the other participants as well. I have been fielding email after email filled with good news -- so and so wants to read my entire manuscript! I solved the plot problem with my project! Time well spent, indeed.

My proposal will finally be completely done by the end of this week, based on incredible input and feedback I received while on retreat, and am happy to say it will go out to some agents who have requested it shortly thereafter.

I am fortunate to have been able to go on this retreat -- as I mentioned in previous posts, thanks are due and hereby proferred (again). But the takeaway lesson for me is always to find some way to retreat whenever possible -- whether by finding a coffee shop away from your regular routine, or by holing up in your home office wherever it might be, in order to truly shut out the world and concentrate on your work, your art, your story. Whatever it takes.

It doesn't need to be Breckenridge to be a retreat. All it takes is your determination to get away for a brief time and make progress.

I'm going to try hard to remember this and to do it...I challenge you to do so as well.

The Final Snippet: "Sometimes you shouldn't touch the buffalo." (no explanation)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


A while back, I wrote about change, and how even while it can be painful, it is ultimately a good thing.

So, I guess it's a good thing that I changed my plans?

Yeah. It is.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to spend a few more days at the amazing retreat where I have gotten so much work done in the last week or so. For this, I owe thanks upon thanks, upon thanks. Seriously. If there is such a thing as a karmic debt, which I doubt (and for which suggestion I will likely be lectured at for hours by a particular person who knows who he is), then I owe BIG.

However, this opportunity comes with a small price -- I've had to say goodbye to the writers and agents and editors with whom I have bonded over the last week, and prepare myself to find something in common with a whole new group.

I found what that thing is, or things -- we are people, and we all write, and we all love words.

And I must say, this new crew strikes me as quite cool and fun and interesting. They showed up with tequila, which, really, is the hallmark of all really cool people....Patron Silver to be precise.

And so, while it may continue to be a word party, a party of word slingers all slinging words, with tequila tossed in, I only see myself embracing this latest change, after welcoming it with open arms.

And for some of my compatriots who have gone back to their lives, I say this:

Naked Hot Tub Guy: Get some swim trunks
Ms. Gale: Yes, we do quite like our new arrival a lot, and on your scale he gets the elusive compound: sex and popcorn
Girl Robin: Even a low maintenance hairstyle is a hairstyle and I can't wait to live according to your theory
Ms. Randall: Your found poetry is only slightly less exquisite than your written poetry
House Hemmingway: Thanks for the pliers
Mr. Hoffman: Yes I will bear your math-genius children...SET!
Ms. Fairbank: limericks are always appropriate, as are gnomes
Ms. I Can Make Anything Sound Like Sex poetess: never have herbs been so...appealing
Ms. Musician: keep reading out loud and keep writing your heart.

And I remain: Deb, in the Kitchen, with the giant Potato Masher.

Wonder what impression the next crew will leave?

The final snippet: "Oh, my. I think I need rubber gloves for this..." (don't ask. Really. I won't tell anyway.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reaching Lofty Heights

The great thing about a writing retreat taking place at 10,000 feet above sea level is that it is extremely conducive to getting actual work done. Mostly because no one can breathe after taking a flight of stairs at the altitude (no one = me), and therefore are physically encouraged to find a nice quiet spot and bond with their computers, manuscripts or journals.

So, much work is getting done. By me.

I wondered before I came on this retreat if it wouldn't after all end up more like a really literate party than a working vacation thing, but have been really impressed at how much real work seems to be getting done by everyone. Lots of nooks and crannies here at the lodge for folks to hide away in. Still, plenty of socializing with like-minded folks is taking place, and what a treat that is. Whatever your 'thing' is in life, do not underestimate the power of like-minded groups -- to feel as if you have known people forever, whom you've actually just met, is amazing.

Plus, where else in life would one find a group of people who are familiar with the entire canon of Stephen King, and can discuss his short stories in depth?

I am a fortunate person indeed, to be in this place, at this moment, and at this point in my writing, and can only see good things coming from this time. Thank you's are owed, and are hereby proferred (and if you are an intended recipient, you already know who you are and how grateful I am).

I try to write every day, for at least a little while, and here, I have been putting in large chunks of writing time. When this interlude is done, I think I will find my small bits of writing will come easier, and I will, instead of looking for ways to avoid writing, renew my efforts to expand the time I can spend on it. Not because my committment is renewed -- but because I will feel a sense of loss at not doing it. It is addictive, with an almost physical response, seeing so many words flow so easily from myself when some days writing a grocery list can feel like pulling my own teeth.

Recently, I said to a friend, a self described word nerd, that while he likes playing with words (as do I), I like making them work as well. And right this minute, as I write this entry here, I know the joy of making the words work.

The final snippet: "All compliments shall henceforth be accompanied by a side of slaw." (From Matt, and also for Matt.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mountains and Writers and Snow...Oh My.

What do you get when you mix one mountain lodge, one gourmet cook, 16 writers and a hot tub?
A damn good time.

Also, you get intellectual, literary talk, wonderful personal narrative, any number of quirks to use as grist for the mill, and time to write. And encouragement to write. And an expectation that you WILL write, or be frowned upon for not using your time wisely. A bit like first grade, that, but the mere idea of disappointing one's fellow writers who are busy pecking away at their laptops, or scribbling away in their notebooks, is enough, if nothing else is, to make one (e.g., me) sit and get massive amounts of work done in spurts and chunks.

Very happy-making, this.

But then, it IS a writing retreat, and therefore, getting the heavy lifting-type writing done while I am here is part of the joy and the chore of what is really a working vacation.

And so, I shall report that another full revision of the non-fiction proposal will be complete this morning, and will be reviewed by the two on-site agents, from whom I expect a ton 0f insight and wisdom, but also, truthfully, I expect to have to do at least one more revision before the damned plaguing thing is actually done.

And until I get that feedback, I will work on the chapters that go with the proposal, and at the end of this jaunt, expect to have a submittable package. Have been pecking away at this thing for several weeks again, but have really been able to dig in the last few days.

Life...that thing that gets in the way when you should be writing.

For now, I am savoring the view (slope 8 at Breck), the sunshine filtering through the cold morning, the wonderful memory of going in the hot tub last night in 30 degree weather and getting lost in the universe of stars in the dark night sky. And I am glad for friends and fellow writers and creativity that feasts upon itself only to spawn more and better creativity.

And in a moment I will get more coffee, and smile and commune, and get back to it.

The Final Snippet: "I think I accidentally braised the chicken." (no explanation)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Author Extravaganza...and Me!

Am filling in for a colleague who is ill, and teaching two sessions at Author Extravaganza this Saturday in Castle Rock (Used to be called "The Castle Rock Writers Conference).

At 12:40, "Playing Spider: Enticing Your Web Audience," which will focus on the use of internet technology in a variety of forms as it can assist authors in promoting themselves...


At some point later in the day, time unknown, a teen-focused session "See It, Twist It, Write It," on finding inspiration for compelling fiction all around us. for more information on the conference

Monday, October 5, 2009

Random Overheards

"These boots were made for...kicking someone in the eye."

Yeah, there's a story behind it and probably it's not even funny unless you have the context, but I can't share it. Sigh. Suffice it to say that I broke my own eavesdropping rules to get the story -- I had to ask. And it doesn't suck.

"So, is your mother still a felon? Just curious..."

I have no idea, but there has to be a good story to go with this....

"It bothers me when you cry."
"Oh yeah? It bothers me when"

From an amazing and emotional poem read at Kinfolks in Manitou Springs, CO, on Friday, October 2.

I am officially on sabbatical and trying hard to devote as much time and attention as I can to getting my book completely done. Proposal edits are made. First two chapters will be revised and ready by the end of today. Have about three weeks of work to shape up what I have already done and finish the remainder.

Wish me luck.

The final snippet: "No, a stripper letting you buy her dinner does NOT count as dating..." (from Texts From Last Night, an amazing, vulgar, super-addictive website which you should under NO CIRCUMSTANCES visit. None. I'm serious -- I'll tell your mother if you do.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Deb Courtney: Performance Writer

People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it.
~~Harlan Ellison

On Thursday this week, I officially begin a stint as Writer in Residence for Pikes Peak Writers, an amazing writers organization with which I have been involved since 2000 when I moved to Colorado.

This is an honor, and also very good timing for me, as my day-job ends on Wednesday this week, and PPW has been kind enough to offer me use of their office at a local art school/gallery as one of the perks of the position.

In a perfect world, this would mark my transition to full time writer, but alas, I missed the bus to that world, and so, while I will use this assignment and the associated time wisely to finish several outstanding projects, I will likely be back in a day job before I know it.

In the meantime, as part of my position, I will be hosting several special events for PPW, including a NaNoWriMo-associated series of meetings (details to be announced) and hosting the PPW presence at Cottonwood Center for the Arts on the last Friday of each of the next three months.

If you are inclined, stop by. It's not every day you get to see a writer, well, writing. I will warn you though, it's unexciting, grind-work. I may ask a pal to step in periodically as announcer, which will perhaps liven things up a bit, but it'll probably be something like listening to the announcer at a golf game. "Folks, Deb is testing the waters with an introductory clause, and may be going for an adverb -- a daring selection indeed given the lay of this next paragraph. She needs to birdie this at least in order to make par for the day...and wait, she's going without the adverb, she's gonna go for it folks, and powerhouse right into the main idea...."

Yeah, on second though, I may pass on that announcer thing.

At any rate, I'll post my schedule such as it is, and would love visitors. Especially around lunch time, since I will be playing the role of starving artist for the next three months. Salads are good; burgers from South Side Johnnie's are always welcome (e.g., much better...).

The final snippet: Every once in a while it's nice to get a few thousand feet closer to the moon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Overheard: Some Random, Some Not

It's probably not a good thing to have a reputation as a lifter of words, but it seems to be working out well enough for me. Not only do I continuously overhear things which are amusing and worthy of writing down, but now people are telling me or sending me funny phrases that they have heard, knowing that I too will be captured by the absurdity or whimsy or just plain silliness in that which people say.

Here are a few recent additions to my collection...

Said directly to me (no explanations, sorry).

"Of course, me and the Ayatollah disagreed completely."
"Do NOT answer the phone. I can tell by the way it's ringing that it's my mother...."
"I'd envy me if I weren't already me..."
"Texting Sarah Cooper" (good name for a screenplay, sorry Z)

Forwarded to me (seriously, I have an eavesdropping staff!)

"When it comes to sincerity, I'm very serious about it." (listed in a dating profile)
"Let's not get all conflictual about that." (said in a meeting)

Conversational Shoplifting really is contagious...and more fun than H1N1 too!

No final snippet today, but feel free to send stuff on to me....I try and use things overheard in my fiction projects whenver possible!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Color Outside the Lines

Grammatically, should of is a predatory admonition; as such, it is always used as part of a herpetological phrase. ~~Dave Barry

I read Dave Barry's quote, above, as a sort of knock against guerilla grammarians (grammar nazis?) who insist that all rules of grammar which were in place when said grammarian learned grammar must be followed, Perfectly. And. Never. Departed. From. Ever. Ever. Ever.

To them I say: Fiddle Faddle. B-O-L-O-G-N-A. Stuff 'n such.

By so asserting, said people negate a primary force of wordstuff, which is the migration of language. Which, by default, includes a migration of the rules which govern the constructing of sentences.

So, when I was a kid, I learned that one puts a comma after every item on a list. The four things which most interest me about writing are words, stories, publishing, and potentially making money. For instance. Today's convention is to leave off the final comma, in front of 'and'. I dunno why, or who made the change in convention, but frankly, the sentence makes sense without it, and I really care not, as long as I do that which facilitates communication.

Also, I learned that one MUST put two spaces after a period in a manuscript or in any business communication. It is my understanding that this is a typography convention, and in this day of insta-documents , the convention once used to really make sure someone knew you were at the end of a sentence is no longer valid. One space is fine. I still use two, because the muscle memory is so ingrained in me that I cannot do otherwise, but at some point I bet someone will start telling me I am wrong to do it.

Finally, the rules I learned pre-date the internet, chat, and text as common forms of communication. I've heard many an adult bemoan the fact that young people today write in a pidgin language, comprised of misspellings, single letter substitutions, and unintelligible acronyms. OMW, r u thr yt? Further I have heard that these forms have found their way into formal writing, such as classroom writing assignments. I am torn on this subject, having used certain of these forms myself, and having received many a text from the wretched teen employing same.

Perhaps the bottom line for me is whether or not communication is taking place. If it is taking place, then really there is nothing to snit about. Unless one is just a fan of snitting, or one plans on being one of those older folks who sits around deludedly reminiscing about the days in which things were perfect. Having said that, there is space to differentiate between formal writing and that which we use to communicate with pals -- slang versus the book stuff, and yeah, formal writing should likely employ the latter over the former. And there is much merit in learning the rules, and learning them well, in order to be able to toss them about and use them (and depart from them) with deliberation.

I wonder though what the wretched teen and his ilk would produce if not restricted to the formal version of language, and were instead set free to play with form and word and structure irrespective of the rules, and I posit that in fact we will soon see literature (whether or not you call it that) produced using the new conventions to great effect. In fact, I seem to recall hearing about a YA novel written entirely in text messages, so I guess it's already happened.

wd i lie 2 u? c 4 yrself.

At any rate, there are much larger, much more important things in the world to worry about than how grammatically correct someone's Facebook Status Update is, or whether it's okay to shorten words to single letters or numbers.

Of course, I still reserve the right to get snitty when people write loose when they mean lose, or lead when they mean led. Or your when they mean you're. Why? Because it's my blog, darnit. So there.


The Final Snippet: Silence is golden. Duct tape is silver. (no explanation)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Word Thievery is Contagious

I have created a monster. Its name is Zach, coincidentally the name of my son. Well, not so coincidentally, since it is Zach whom I reference.

See, he caught me typing a note into my Blackberry during a conversation we had over dinner. He kept saying something I heard as 'corpse asparagus' and I could only imagine a new breed of the delightful veggie, or else, some Zombie Apocalypse reference which I was too doltish to get.

Turns out, he was saying 'corpseless burials,' which frankly, given that we were eating dinner, was an odd conversational choice on his part. Notwithstanding the actual conversation, he was much taken with my need to scribble (type) the phrase 'corpse asparagus' into a note in my phone, in case I needed the phrase for some future project (cool phrase heard but not recorded equals the memory of a cool phrase without the phrase itself...).

So, since then, randomly during conversations, he has asked me for my cell phone in order to take his own notes for things heard or said. A sampling:

~~"Guinea Pig Rescue" (under the category 'good name for a rock band', predicated on a fireman actually getting his guinea pigs out of his apartment which was damaged by a fire last week).

--"On behalf of my anxiety, I will ask you to refrain from crashing the car." (during the drive back from Red Rocks and The Monolith Music Festival. I refrained.).

--Wafting Horse Shit (also under 'good name for a rock band' upon scenting what was quite likely the wafting smell of horse droppings).

Hey, he's 14. Whaddaya expect, Shakespeare? Either way, I think it's uber-cool that I have given him this gift. Or curse.

The Final Snippet: "Most defense mechanisms aren't very good to eat." (heard at Biaggi's restaurant, during a discussion of squid ink pasta)

(also, apologies for the hiatus, which I feel compelled to explain but which I will not)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Change is good...right?

Nothing in the world is permanent, and we're foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we're still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy.
~~W. Somerset Maugham

My life seems a bubbling cauldron of change, with those Shakespearean witches chanting over me "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble..."

So much change over the last few years, and not the little changes that we are all used to -- major, catastrophic, life upheaval changes. Writing helps, but really, some of the changes are so raw and so painful, or at least so mortifying, that writing them seems like ripping a scab off to expose the wound....perverse, and as painful as getting the wound in the first place. Divorce. Death. Financial challenges. Teenagers.

However, change is a continuum, and like anything you have in your life long enough and often enough, one can get used to change. Even maybe begin to embrace it. The Somerset Maugham quote above spoke to me this morning, reminding me that change is part of the cycle, and maybe the most necessary part. If we do not change and grow, we stagnate and wither.

I have much growing to do, as a person and as a writer, and I embrace the chaos. More changes will come, but I will try now to anticipate them, guide them, welcome, and maybe even seek some out. After many years of doing the same things over and over, living the same life day after day with none of the results or rewards I would have liked, I see only possibility ahead.

Maybe those witches merely salt the broth, add the spice that is necessary to direct us, rather than to thwart us. Either way, bring it on.

The final snippet: These are the glasses I would have if I were in control of my life (from Matt, who thought I would want to write this down, and who was right).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Writing Out Loud

I read two short stories out loud, in front of an audience last night. What an experience.

A local gallery, Modbo, holds a BYOB Poetry Open Mic monthly, and I had heard that prose was welcome. I had planned to do this for the last several weeks, and in an effort to make sure I followed through, I actually told people of my plans. It's very easy to chicken out when no one expects you do do something; much more difficult after any level of public committment to same. So, I committed, out loud, and even dragged a few pals with me for moral support.

I am not a stranger to public speaking, and am not in the least intimidated by it, or so I thought. I had forgotten how frightening it can be to read my own fiction in front of a group of strangers. I was last on the sign-in list, not by choice, but rather because I was one of the last to arrive. I verified before I signed in that prose was in fact okay, and that I would be able to read both short pieces I had prepared.

Oh the words which were slung before my turn came around. About Colorado, about breathing, about ancient times, about love, about lust, and in so many voices, from Kerouac-style middle aged men to post-beat 17 year old teens, to a grandmother who needed a chair on stage. Oh. The words.

And too soon, it was my turn, and I worried -- were my pieces good enough, short enough, long enough, would they have enough voice, would they speak to the audience like the poetry had, was I insane, should I run for the is amazing how many simultaneous thoughts one can have while crossing 10 feet of a room toward a microphone.

But I smiled, and made myself cross the room, and shut off the inner critic and the inner fearfulness, and even cracked a joke while stepping to the mic about jacking the wonderful poetry with fiction and thank you all for the indulgence.

And I read.

I read "Small Details" a bit of short fiction about a counselor at a domestic violence shelter unable to keep her emotional distance from her clients. And then to offset the depressing tone of that story, I read "Fate is an Alpha Chick", a flash fiction piece which is frothy and silly and exactly where I wanted to leave people. And they drew breath in, my audience, when I spoke of the ugliness of domestic violence, and they also laughed in all the right places when they heard about Martin having been robbed of his pants, and when I was done, and paused for a moment, I realized my hand, the hand that held the pages, was shaking.

And then they applauded, and yelled and approved.

And yeah, I know I like that approval, but in this case it wasn't the liking of me which took my breath away for a moment, but the liking of the words...the words all worked, how I wanted them to, and those folks, who all love words too, went on my small word-based journeys with me, and I wanted to cry, but instead laughed and demanded a drink, because, well, that's what I do.

I would never presume to say that I, Deb Courtney, am brilliant, but can say this with some level of confidence: that experience was completely brilliant, and never mind the fear, I will do it again.

The final snippet: Yes, but I have a platinum card and there are Alpha Males in there (yes, from last night, when my dear friends were kind enough to want to buy me th edrink I demanded).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday, by the numbers....

New blades of grass in the yard: innumerable (yay!)
Pages written Thursday night: 10
Posts in this blog, with this one: 9
Sections completed in content plan: 8
Sections to be completed in content plan: 7
Days till I go to Vail: 6
Weeks until this contract is up: 5
Manuscripts in progress: 4
Novels read this week: 3
Stories I may read at Modbo: 2
Upcoming writing retreats: 1

Things I am thankful for: too many to put a number to
People I am thankful for: everyone (okay, almost everyone)

Happy Friday!

The final snippet: It totally looks like someone shot my shoes (overheard at a liquor store).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Memory Sector Overwritten

Narrative. This is a device many writers use in their writing, but as well in their lives. Storytellers tend to view almost everything and everyone in terms of the stories they are in, that they are telling through words or actions, or which they might have in them to experience or relate.

I not only collect stories, I use them to relate to other people. As well, when I people-watch or do character sketches, I am always looking for small clues to what a person's story could be -- a self conscious walk from a very attractive but incredibly tall young man suggests to me that he was at one time teased for his height, before his body grew into it, and he remains overly aware of people looking at him, equal parts pleased and uncomfortable.

Places hold stories too, through memories of events experienced or shared. To be in a place that holds a story or a memory, is to experience a duality for a moment, to be both where one is, and to be also in that memory, and it can be uncomfortable on many levels if the memory is bad or (if not bad) painful.

It occurs to me that this could be a useful thing to know while developing a character -- what places hold memories for them, and what do those memories look like? How do they feel? How would a character experience being in a place which holds a memory which was good when it was made, but now causes them pain? How would they go about overwriting that memory, in order to lessen its impact, or reclaim the ability to enjoy a place once loved?

Right now, I only know how I did it: by forcing myself to sit in those places, to experience the duality, to allow the pain to flow but not avoid it, and to overwrite the memory sector in my brain that held the original experience with the new one. Much like in computer memory, the old occupant of the sector doesn't really go away, but rather the new one is layered over it virtually, and becomes the predominant bit of information retreived when that sector is accessed.

Enough new memories and the old becomes a mere ghost of itself.

How would your characters manage this? And what are their stories?

The final snippet: I'm not looking at your cards, I'm looking at while playing poker, and yeah, the guy was actually looking at the woman's breasts).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hump Day Reflection

For a writer, one of the most amazing feelings possible is to see someone 'get' your work, to watch their face light up with comprehension as if some algebra problem has suddently made sense. It happens with fiction and non-fiction alike -- the person who is reading, or listening to you read, all of a sudden brain-shifts into a place which, if not exactly where you hope they will be, is a close enough analog to seem a small miracle.

Musicians have the benefit of re-interpreting and re-sharing their work on a regular basis, through live performance (my preferred way of experiencing music, by the way), but writers don't always have this opportunity. So often, we write, edit, polish then launch our words, sending them off to create the reader-writer contract on our behalf.

We can only hope that each time someone bothers to read our words, our words fulfill the writer side of the contract -- there is no opportunity to say a line out loud to make sure the emphasis is correct, or to read a passage with just the exact emotion we planned -- it all has to be there, and the reader must infer it and experience it without anything but the most vestigial sense of the writer on the page.

This is so hard, and the ability to get that vestigial sense of self onto the page (without bludgeoning the reader with our personality) often is what separates those who want to be published from those who will be published (among other things of course).

This musing comes from having shared two chapters of a work in progress the other night, and watching as the listeners shifted into that brain space -- all the listeners are talented writers, but for a moment, they forgot my request for a critique and instead inhabited that place where I as a writer had desired to take them. This is as close to a miracle as I have ever experienced, and I can honestly say that I lack the words to describe the feeling this gave me.

I am humbled and motivated all at the same time. Good place to be in on a Wednesday.

The final snippet: Let's not get all conflictual, here. (overheard in a meeting, where else)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When the words all work

Last night I spent several hours with some really talented writers, at PPW Member's Night at Poor Richard's Bookstore (Tejon, Colorado Springs). Sometimes member's night is a fun social event for all us kooky writer types, and sometimes some real work gets done.

Last night was the latter type.

It occurred to me as I listened to my compatriots, what courage it takes to sit in the middle of a bookstore with folk passing by, and read a work-in-progress out loud for all the world to hear. My projects really are my children, and while I am proud of them and want them to perform in public so all can see how amazing they are, I have also that fear of hearing that the child is ugly, or somehow less deserving of praise than you have heretofore thought.

But the character voices were strong -- from the Republican Vampire to the woman sending her husband off to war, to, well, me (who else stars in my work?) -- and the readers were fearless. And I think, all in all, the comments were productive, helpful, and frankly, inspired me to continue writing when I got home.

Even though it can feel threatening, sharing you work is a sure way to improve it, so that it eventually is ready for its intended audiences.

With whom do you share your work?

The final snippet: No thanks, I've heard wood whistle before (a statement made after being asked to move closer to a fire to hear odd noises coming from the logs, and met with much laughter).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Time to watch the grass grow

Random stuff:

-That's about as easy as sewing balloons (overheard, makes my brain hurt)

-The world doesn't just disappear because you close your eyes, now does it? (overheard, and true, though I think the late Hercules, my dog, felt otherwise on this one)

-It's as if a storm is on the way, yet there's no sign of clouds on the horizon. (lifted from my horoscope; makes me want to play with ambiguous statements which sound wise and meaningful and yet manage to say nothing at all )

-Install vinyl siding and kiss your worries goodbye (from email spam...who knew getting rid of my worries was so easy. I'd like a job writing that advertising copy please....)

The final snippet: I'm not a tech geek -- I just play one in my day job.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stuff. and Such.

Having committed to a blog entry a day, I now realize that rather than commit to exercising my writing muscles, I may have instead committed to adding more detritus and litter to the internets. And having to really think every day. Sigh.

However, a comittment is a committment ( just ask anyone who's ever been committed -- tough to talk your way out of the asylum), so something will be written in ths space today. Unfortunately, beyond this little musing, I am short on ideas.

Therefore, I will take refuge in the 'things seen' part of my blog-promise, and aggregate stuff which I know about, and which you may not. You know, for your edfication or amusement, or for you to ignore. Whatever.

For some excellent written humor, I recommend visiting On any given day, Becky herself can make me spit coffee at my keyboard, usually though my nose while I am covering my mouth to keep it from happening. While she is staycationing, she has had a few guest bloggers, also funny (though not necessarily spit-take-out-the nose funny), and worth your time as a reader.

If your sense of humor is more stick-figure oriented, try, which bills itself as "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language". It is drawn/written by the exquisitely brilliant Randall Munroe, whose children I might like to have just to see what laws of physics (or humor) they might blow up before they are six.

For something a bit more on the intellectual side, minus the potential spit takes, visit My pal Cicily Janus has completed the first draft of this book, has gotten it into her publisher on time (more or less), and in her words, "unless it completely sucks, may actually be able to get (her) first night's sleep in 437 days." Ths amazing book, due out in 2010, takes a look at the state of jazz though profiles of working musicians TODAY, with photography by the immensely talented Nad Radinsky.

Right. This is all I have today. Aggregation complete. Enjoy.

The final snippet: She couldn't keep a secret if you superglued her mouth closed.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

But what does it mean in Colombian Slang?

I, Deb Courtney, went out last night. As a fairly extreme example of an extravert, Going Out is a thing I am wont to do, and fairly frequently too. I get cranky when Not Enough Out is had.

It all started innocently enough, with some great music at Venue 515 (for samples of what I heard, visit and with a little tossed in for a bit of spice). Venue 515 is a great multi-function art/music space in Manitou Springs, and it was their grand opening (can you say free food and wine???).

It was perfectly lovely, though a bit smallish and acoustically not quite right for the great tunes, but I was all about listening to the music until I overheard a not-quite-heated argument behind me. Of course, I had to listen -- two older very caucasian women pretentiously arguing the meaning of a Spanish word, which I have forgotten except inasmuch as neither one was pronouncing it correctly.

Finally, one drew herself up and pronounced very dramatically, "Well, at least in Argentinian slang it means that. Now, I need more wine."

Out came my notebook. I can't begin to say where I will use that bit of wordfoolery, but it begs to be used. And I really wish I could remember what word they were aguing over.

Off to venue number two for the evening, which included a firepit, several large bouncers, an ambulance, and an arrest (no it wasn't me, sigh), where a friend started a conversation thusly:

"So my friend Ani, the narcoleptic librarian from Twin Falls, Idaho? Blah blah blah..."

I didn't bother listening to the rest of the thought as I was busy scribbling in my notebook. Again. And wondering about librarians who fall asleep at the reference desk and in the stacks and what story could be written with this amazing character who had just been dropped into my lap.

Maybe Ani knows what the word really meant in Argentinian slang, but I bet she falls asleep before she can tell me.

The final snippet: "That's just what I said, only with more syllables." (said to me by a friend while eating dinner at the Hornet in Denver)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sometimes a closet is just a closet

Sitting drinking coffee, I hear one man say to another:

"I saw you come out of the closet."

"You saw me come out of the closet?"


"Ah. But did you see me go into the closet?"

As a writer, I am much taken with the levels in this conversation, though in context it was clear the speakers were making no allusions to a metaphorical closet except maybe in that final line. Sometimes a closet is just a closet.

The final snippet: Will a firepit fit in your car? (one friend said to another apropos of nothing)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Eavesdropping for Fun and Profit

“There's nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head”
~~Thornton Wilder quotes

"And that's why I am single," ranted the aesthetically unpleasing hawk-faced woman, concluding what must have been a grand rant on the flaws of men, in a booming, masculine voice, shaking her head vehemently.

I wanted to run to her, to explain that whatever the contents of her rant had been, I could likely give her five legitimate reasons why she is single, none of which have anything to do with others, all of which had to do with herself, and all of which are likely fixable. (Hubris, anyone?)

But I didn't. I was eavesdropping, and one of the top rules of eavesdropping, after Do Not Get Caught is Do Not Engage.

As a writer, I am fascinated at the things people say in public, things which other people can hear. Sometimes I wonder if the speaker(s) are aware that they can be heard, or if they care. I tend to be loud when speaking and am sure I amuse people with that which falls unexpectedly out of my mouth, but on some level I am aware of this, and rarely ever say anything which I might find embarassing later. But some of the things I overhear....

Here's the thing: I steal that which I overhear. All the time. I scribble things down in a notebook, or if one is not handy, make a note in my cell phone as a reminder Not To Forget Funny Thing Heard At Coffee Shop. Sometimes these things show back up in stories I write, though not always in the same exact form.

In my cell phone notes right now, in fact, are two items said directly to me by a friend, to which I replied "I'm stealing that," and promptly wrote them down. I am happy my friends indulge me in this trait, which has been dubbed Conversational Shoplifting, by yet another pal, from whom I have lifted many interesting phrases, including the title for this blog.

Two stories I am currently working on, "Fate is an Alpha Chick" and "Dora Garcia Dreams" both started with phrases overheard -- that which I overheard served as inspiration for plot and character.

I find eavesdropping to be integral to my process as a writer, regardless of the fact that it is considered to be rude by many. I refuse to apologize for where the muse drags me. And the muse brought me to the Single Lady, who will likely show up in a story in the near future, in which I will likely be able as the writer to say all the things to her which I could not as eavesdropper.

What is integral to your process?

The final snippet: "You'll never guess what I got to smell!" (Overheard at Marlowe's on the 16th Street Mall in Denver)