Interview with Courtney Essary Messenbaugh: Runner Up in the 2015 Summer Flash Fiction Contest
Although she’s a true introvert and claims to be shy, she also knows that an interesting life makes for interesting writing. Because of this, she likes to try new things and meet new people. Her hobbies include travel, music, movies, and books. She hikes, does pilates and yoga, and also meditates.
Visit her site to sample her writing and be sure to check out her contest entry, "The Tales We Spin."
WOW: First of all, congratulations on placing in the contest. You came into writing after working as a bond analyst, nonprofit project manager, waitress, library clerk, documentary film producer, and political fundraiser. In what way was all of this preparation for your career as a writer?
Courtney: I’m curious about lots of thing. I took a circuitous path to where I am today. It was like throwing noodles against the wall and seeing what sticks.
I did all of these things but when I had my first child I realized that the creative part of my brain had been slowing atrophying. I needed to do something with it, so I tried my hand at writing. I’m a big observer of people. I like to sit and watch, and I take mental notes on the things I see around me. This has worked really well for me as a writer.
With my jobs, I’ve taken a bit from each of these varied experiences to inform who I am, what makes me tic. This has also helped me be more in tune to what makes other people tic and what makes the world go round. It all feeds into my writing.
WOW: The bulk of your published writing ranges from automotive to lifestyle articles. What is it about flash fiction that appeals to you when you could be working on nonfiction?
Courtney: Short fiction is a new endeavor. I’d been working in politics full time. Through networking I fell into automotive writing. Women have a huge impact since our purchasing power is big in so many consumer markets. Because of this, I was able to get into automotive writing in a fact based, fun way. Then I moved into lifestyle and parenting.
The fiction is fun but it is really different. It is a piece of you on the page. It gives me butterflies to think that anyone would read it. I haven’t shown my husband any of my fiction. I haven’t shown my parents. But I can show it to you and everyone else out there in the WOW community because I don’t see you on a daily basis. With WOW, there are a group of other women like me, pursuing a dream, pursuing this really cool journey. I like being part of that community.
WOW: What was the inspiration for “The Tales We Spin”? I can’t help but notice that, like you, the main character is a story teller. Are other elements of the story autobiographical?
Courtney: To a certain degree. I’m a mother. I have two daughters but I also have a son. I implied that there might have been abuse or trouble and I’ve never been in a situation like that.
For me the two themes that came out in the story were the power of women and the fact that we all use story telling. We tell ourselves stories and other people stories for different reasons. It might be to make us feel better or to entertain. That is part of my story, but so is the theme of power. No matter how difficult life can get, you can get through it with strength and perseverance.
I like writing from an emotion driven stand point. I think we are all fighting our own tiny little battles and they are all relevant. I connect with that emotion in the story.
WOW: How did this story change and grow during the revision process?
Courtney: I wrote the first draft or two with more certainty and more hard detail. I initially went in with details and backgrounds. I didn’t go in thinking I would write a hopeful story about bad things happening.
As I rewrote, I ended up using more ephemeral detail. You don’t know if the father has gone away or if he’s dead or if he went back to work. There’s no talk of outright abuse although there are implications. There are illusions to big problems.
Leaving details out of the final story lets the reader’s mind wander a bit and go deeper into the story. There’s subtler detail about how the characters respond to the events in their lives. With these details, the readers come up with different thoughts about specific points in the story. It creates a more profound experience.
I think that’s why I like the short form. You have to leave some of the detail out because of the word count. I’ve seen films like this. At the end of the film, you aren’t entirely sure what happened, but then you think about it some more.
I like that with any art form whether it is painting or sculpture where you have to make up a part of the story. I like the interactive-ness.
WOW: What advice would you have for someone who is considering entering a WOW flash fiction contest?
Courtney: Sit down and give yourself five minutes to write something, whatever it is. Don’t stop writing until the five minutes is over and then see what you have at the end.
When you’ve done this, submit something. You can give it to your friend, your husband, or enter it in a contest. Put it out there.
One of the neatest things for me was to discover this community of people who are writing. The internet can be used for so much community building and sharing. I can go online and follow the paths of women and men who have been doing this for longer than I have and I learn how to write from them.
Learn but also write. Jump in head first. Don’t be scared. We’re all scared. You’ll realize that the water is just fine. I’m going to keep writing, to keep trying, and I hope everyone else does too.
Congratulations again to Courtney. Don't forget to visit her site to sample her work.