Saturday, June 21, 2008

What Is A Catbird and Why Do I Want His Seat?

I was posting a note to a friend recently in which I used the term "catbird seat." She admitted to having to look it up. Well, I know where I first heard the reference, but I didn't know exactly what a catbird was. So of course I did what every writer does these days - as opposed to going to the library years ago - I Googled it.

There is an Australian bowerbird that is also known as a catbird. The male catbird will go to great lengths to build an elaborate structure that he uses to attract his mate who will then sit on the strutcture. The catbird seat has come to mean an enviable position.

I first read "The Catbird Seat" by James Thurber when I was in college. I believe it was freshman English, but that's hard to say. It was The Sixties. All that time kind of runs together for me now. Anyway, I found the story again (thank you,Google) and I just read it. Now I'm struck by how it reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Lawrence Block. I've been reading him some today because I was flipping through some of his books on writing in preparation for this week's class.

Here's a link to some Thurber works that contain the short story.

You can actualy Google the title and find the story copied on someone's blog, but I'm not sure that's in accourdance with copyright laws, so you'll have to do your own Googling if you want that one. I'm not linking to anything that takes a royalty away from a writer.

But if you come across the story, maybe in an old college textbook or something, you should give it a new read. I promise you'll enjoy it. Then we can all wave to you when you're sitting in the catbird seat.

Have a great day. Read a book.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

This Is for My Writing Class

So tonight was the first class of Writing Popular Novels at USF. I was telling the eager fresh faces that NOW is not too soon to begin your blog. Then I realized, something like a knife to the gut, that I haven't blogged in oh, roughly this year. So I'm blogging for you tonight, Chad. And you Kimberly, Kallie, and Jeannie. And for you too, Linda and Vanessa.

Here's my automatic writing:

She picked up the book and threw it across the room. She'd have preferred to throw it at Brad, but he was in Bolivia, wasn't he? Bolivia! Who even goes to Bolivia? And for what?

There she had been, cruising along in this relationship as if it were THE ONE, expecting nothing less than white lace and promises in the next year or so when BOOM - Brad says he's going to Bolivia!

Emerald mines, he tells her. Deep in the rain forest there are emerald mines. Rich green stones as big as your fist just lying around for the picking. So of course, he had to go pick some, didn't he?

And never mind about the curse.

Oh, he'd been pretty slick the way he'd laughed that off. Just a stupid old myth, he'd told her. That's why she'd gone to the bookstore and bought the book. Ancient Curses of the Bolivian Rain Forest. She eyed it now, its thick dark cover almost luring her from across the room. The gilt-edged pages seemed to glitter in the pool of light from the Tiffany lamp.

She should go over there and pick it up. She should do it. Slowly, she stood up. Why was she afraid? It was just a stupid book. A heavy book, yes. And old, it seemed.

She'd been surprised to find a book that looked like it came from someone's grandmother's attic neatly shelved there in the upscale big box store between the double lattes and the smooth jazz CDs.

Maybe someone had bought it, kept it for a while, then returned it. Or maybe the publisher knew a spooky cover was more marketing tool than design.

Whatever, the book just sat on her hardwood floor, as if it would not be ignored. She walked slowly across the room and picked it up.

Okay, that's it for tonight. Don't forget your homework!