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)