Category Archives: writing prompt

I tidied my library

20170810_183141The best thing about getting flooded last year is the fact that one of our sons’ bedrooms has now turned into a library. I’ve always wanted a library of my own and, being somewhat of a book hoarder, I’ve always dreamed of having enough space to organize my books. Of course, the fact that my library’s shelves are (in many cases) stacked two deep and two high (and bending) does make it a little hard to find anything. I lost Brooklyn. Then I found it and lost A Man Called Ove, which surely should have been next to A Long Way Down. Then I forgot where the Ursula Le Guin paperbacks had been filed, though hardbacked Malafrena and the Dispossessed were safe on the top shelf. While looking for them, I realized I now had Asian novels on two different shelves, mixed up with The Thirteenth Tale and Olive Kitterege. So… I tidied my library, again. Each book like a much-loved friend, long-forgotten, long overdue an email or a letter… each character reminding and begging me to read me again… each shelf ever heavier while I cleared all the volumes from the floor.

Oddly, the empty spaces on my shelves seem to grow and shrink with no perceivable logic. But at least space exists, so new friends can join the old. I love my library!

20180212_164333Then there’s that secret shelf upstairs, where I hide my dream that someone might file my books in a library one day. Novels of small-town characters together with Biblical fiction for kids and novellas mysterious and strange… short stories in anthologies… even poetry and picture books! Would they ever go on the same shelf as each other?

New characters beg me to write me again and I turn to the computer… Write a blogpost, write a novella, enter a contest at our local writers’ group… Open up a page and…

… well, this is what we did for our Writing Exercise at the Writers’ Mill …

  1. Write the number 1. This is the Beginning of your story. Ask who, what, where, and when is your character? What does your character’s heart want? (This is an exercise in character development.)
  2. Next write the number 5 (NOT 2) This is the End of you story – how will your character and/or world change? (How will your character develop?)
  3. Write the number 3. This is the Middle – how is your character struggling to effect that change?
  4. And now you get to write down number 2. How did your character get into this mess and why (internal and external reasons)? (And our writing exercise morphes into the realm of plot development)
  5. Almost done: write the number 4. How did your character successfully resolve his/her/its problem.
  6. And finally, put things back in the right order and WRITE, from beginning to end.

 

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What are your New Year Resolutions?

Last year–last December–my mum, aged nearly 90, crossed the Atlantic to spend her winter with us. One plane was cancelled; the rescheduled one was late; she missed her connection; she changed planes in half an hour; she struggled with middle seats because of her new schedule and finally played the “nearly 90” card to beg for an aisle seat; and she arrived 12 hours late! As we drove home in the car, my husband played a CD of Christmas carols and Mum, aged nearly 90, surely worn out from the longest day ever of hassles, sang Oh Come All You Faithful. It was nearly midnight–a midnight to remember!

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So now it’s 2018. Mum will stay with us until February, and we’re delighted to have her. I shall take her to see cats at a local cat cafe. We’ll visit the sea again with a friend. We’ll shop like mother and daughter–a treat since we’re so rarely together. We’ll enjoy discovering that Alexa is as obedient to Mum as she is to me. And we’ll laugh together when Mum says “You can’t print my story out; it’s only on my tablet.” “Mum, we have a printer downstairs.” Oh yes, and we’ll go to our local writers’ group–TOGETHER!

So those are my January resolutions. I know I’ll keep them. But as to February, that’s a whole month away, and the rest of the year even further. I’d resolve to catch up on book reviews, but I’m always getting further behind as I find new books I’m offered and “can’t wait” to read. I’d resolve to finish my next novel, Imaginary Numbers, but I’ll need my writers’ group friends to keep me on track. I’ll go to Mum’s 90th birthday party, come hell or high water, no matter how many planes get cancelled or delayed. And I’ll grow a year older–now that’s the sort of resolution I really should keep.

But maybe I should resolve to complain less, sing more in the back of the car, and enjoy the moment, like Mum! Maybe I should learn from her. And maybe we should all do something like that.

Meanwhile I’m persuading Mum to resolve to write again–an essay a month for those contests we run monthly at our writers’ group. This month’s challenge is to answer “Why am I here?” and Mum’s formula for a great essay is:

  • Think of someone else that you care about, and an event that might have taken them from you, or from the world.
  • Think of another someone else.
  • And finally think of yourself.

It seems a good recipe for a good attitude to life, or for new year resolutions! Thank you Mum.

How Soon Is Soon?

I was going to write a blogpost soon, but that was hours ago. I was going to advertize my new novellas soon, but that was days ago. My husband was going to choose paint colors soon, but that was months ago. And my next novel, Subtraction, was going to come out soon, but how soon is soon?

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Then yesterday I got good news. Subtraction has a tentative release date of August 1st. Hurray! So now I shall have to advertize soon, beg for reviews, try to get the book into stores… and dream. And definitely dream. Because Subtraction completes a trilogy begun with Divide by Zero and continued in Infinite Sum. Sure, I’m working on Imaginary Numbers now, but that will follows lives on different paths. Subtraction completes the arc of lives wounded by Amelia’s death. Subtraction follows the absent father, and places him very present on center stage. And I can’t wait to see how it will be received.

As to those novellas, perhaps they’ll be fodder for another blogpost, coming “soon.” But for now, here’s a taste of Subtraction, following the writing prompt.

Writing Prompt:

Our writer’s group’s experimenting with different points of view – it’s amazing how they can feel like different authors when you let them on the page. So…

  1. Imagine a teacher walking into a classroom. The students stare.
  2. Start the story in first person from the teacher’s point of view. “New class. New students. What do I do? Will they listen?” and write for just 5 minutes.
  3. Continue in 3rd person omniscient – what does the teacher look like? What about the students. What are they thinking? What does the teacher think? How does the lesson begin? 5 minutes again.
  4. Then finish with nothing but dialog between teacher and students, and see where it takes you.

When you’ve finished, meet Andrew from Subtraction, as he meets his new class:

Part 1

1

“Now children, today I will teach you to subtract.” Andrew marched to the front of the classroom, ready to start his second year with these kids. He frowned as he pondered whether addressing a middle-grade, special-needs audience as children might be insulting, but his mind seemed devoid of alternative words as it sank into more familiar mathematical terms. “Subtract,” he repeated.  To take away, abuse, discard, destroy…

Youthful faces, ranging from blandly accusing to sleepily bland, stared back at him, and clearly couldn’t care less if he frowned or cried. Faint groans arose, inspiring that familiar tightness in his chest. But these students, subtracted from their regular classes, weren’t rejects; not really; not yet; Andrew wasn’t going to fail them if he could help it.

“Sub-traction.” He spoke the syllables carefully and wrote the word with a purple flourish on the whiteboard. The pen squeaked louder than the nervous quiver of his throat while he half-turned to check the children were seated, and to see who was laughing.

A class clown bounced on his chair in the middle of the room.  “Is that like action that’s not acting right?” Beetled eyebrows wiggled, mimicking the bouncing of the tall boy’s limbs.

“Nah,” groaned the one known as Jonah the Whale, squashed like a deflated football in his seat near the door. The force of Jonah’s voice blew strands of sandy hair up like a helmet, and he clawed his armpits with stubby fists. “ Sub-track; it’s like acting subhuman, like what you do.” He pointed to the clown.

Andrew rapped a ruler on the desk. “No teasing in class,” he insisted. Then he repeated, slowly, solemnly—fiercely driving down the whimper of his new-year apprehension— “We’re studying subtraction.”

For a moment, the deep, cultured tone of his own voice distracted him. Who am I? he wondered, and who am I to teach them? But he couldn’t pause to evaluate the answer. “Subtraction is sometimes called taking away.” And what has been taken from me?

Andrew’s eyes wandered, taking in shapes, positions, posture, provocation and more. Meanwhile he pondered what these middle-school rejects might make of the phrase, taken away, they who’d never been given enough in the first place? Inhaling an unhealthy burst of dry-erase solvent, he dragged himself back to the present and began a slow walk around the room.

Fair-haired Amy sat near clownish Zeke. She wrapped thin, freckled arms around the treasures on her desk. Her lips were parted as she muttered under her breath, “Not take away. Not take away.” The delicate voice reminded Andrew of the tick from an antique clock, from an antique home, from a life long lost. He leaned forward to offer comfort to the child. Doll-eyes blinked, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her gaze was fixed on some curious infinity. Her face, pink-cheeked and porcelain smooth, bore only the tiniest hint of unlikely concern, as if she were looking through a window at someone else’s lesson.

“Ah, Amy.” Andrew sighed. “Nobody’s going to take your treasures away.”

Three safety pins from a diaper set were arrayed in the middle of her desk. Buttons in multiple colors formed jagged hills beside them. A pencil with rainbow-colored point, and a pad of rainbow notelets were neatly positioned between musically drumming fingers.

“First we add things,” Andrew said, raising his voice as he marched toward the front of the room again. “Then we have a collection”—a collection of buttons perhaps, and did Amy know how many were lying there?—“and then we…”

“Takeaway! Like burgers!” brayed Julie’s rusty voice of triumph behind him.

Andrew turned. “Well, not quite, Julie,” he admitted, feeling the focus splinter.

“I want my takeaway. I want.” Loud thumps of threatening persistence on the desk accompanied Tom’s voice. Angry Tom, he was in his fourth special school for misbehavior and might soon be dropped out entirely unless teachers like Andrew could win him over. But chaos rumbled over other desks as well.

Andrew tensed, needing a clearer answer, before things fell apart. Then he felt a bubble of inspiration turn his frown to a smile. This was why he did this job. This was why he loved it.

“Yes. Yes. And yes,” Andrew announced, facing the class from behind his desk and pumping his arm with the words like a teenager. His tones turned increasingly valiant as his gaze slid across the sea of puzzled faces. “You’re right.” He pointed to Julie. “Tom’s right… And you… and you… Let’s order some takeaway, just as soon as we’ve got this done.” Then he started to count, pointing to the students each in turn. “Let’s order… seven, eight, nine burgers.”

“I want nuggets!”

“Nine orders of food.” Andrew corrected himself. “And I’ll be in charge of passing them around.”

He had their attention now, or food did anyway.

“I’ll set the box down on my desk, right here. And when I’ve handed one meal to Jonah… you tell me… how many more will be in the box?”

“Me first,” shouted Tom, ignoring the question. But others students waved fingers to count and tried to work it out.

Shy Amy’s head hung down as she continued to play with the buttons on her desk. Her fingers wove in hypnotically distracting patterns. Don’t look at her. Don’t watch. You’ll make her mad. But blue eyes focused suddenly on Andrew, cold as winter, distant as spring. Red-button lips pursed into words, spoked out in a quietly determined, uninflected voice. “Eight.”

“Very good, Amy. So then I give one meal to Amy.” Andrew waved a hand with the imaginary parcel. “Just wait a minute, Tom. And how many are left?”

Middle-grade mind needed a pause before answering, “Seven?”

“Then to Tom… “

“Hurray!”

“Six… five… four…”

The students completed the sequence at last, and Andrew announced in triumph, “That’s subtraction, class. When we take something out of the box, we’ve subtracted it.”

Faces shone back at him in that pause within the triangle of trouble, food and learning. Then Jonah the Whale bounced his chair, legs creaking scarily. “So, when can we eat?”

Whispers rustled, then Tom’s throaty voice rang out, combining threat and doubt. “Order it! I’m hungry.”

Andrew took out his phone. “What’s the number? Anyone know?”

Then food’s calm promise brought peace, giving Andrew a chance to spend more time in quiet discussion with Tom. He said all the right words, warning of all the right consequences, taking into account the rightness of Tom’s desire for burgers, and adding a reminder that the whole class needed to learn. Subtract a little bad behavior here and there, don’t shout too loud, look like you’re taking notice, and all will be well.

Meanwhile Shy Amy drew with her rainbow pencil, plus and minus signs entwined with whispering shades and colors on the rainbow page. Take away her autism, and who might Amy be then?

Take away Amelia’s autism…?

Voices from the past ushered a host of memories in Andrew’s mind. Amelia was the girl long gone, long lost under green of trees and waving branches in a place called Paradise—Amelia, her mother, Andrew’s parents, Carl… all subtracted like numbers from his page. He let his gaze drift to the window, hoping the sky’s bright tones would wash his palette clean again. But who-am-I doubts combined with the whispering of leaves and chatter of children. He couldn’t forget. That long slow walk between Tom’s desk and the classroom door could take a lifetime, waiting for delivery’s knock.

 

How Many Shades Of Gray

So, the flood’s all dry, the floor is uncarpeted and gray, the walls are holey and gray, the cieling’s gray (don’t ask–the previous owners painted it that way!), the sky’s most definitely gray (and most probably raining), and my mood… well, my mood is distinctly gray too. Meanwhile we look at paint colors, floor coverings (not not not not carpet, never again!), light fittings and more. Dreaming, wishing perhaps? Meanwhile time goes on.

I can scarcely believe it’s almost two months since our basement flooded. Two months since the panic of stepping into water while something (yet unknown) banged and roared and electrical outlets sparked (I know, what kind of idiot steps into water without checking, but I was running downstairs to investigate the noise and I didn’t see the reflections). Two months since incredible sons carried tons of wet carpet outdoors. Two months since incredible friends took charge and pushed us into action. Two months since incredible neighbors waded in to help. Two months since…

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And since then I’ve studied many many shades of gray. A good friend who knows about color suggested we try not repainting in the dreaded worn-out white. “How about white with a touch of blue?” we asked. But it’s a big room. Anything too bright and white is going to glare at us. She suggests we try gray colors–gray with a touch of blue perhaps–and to explain she took me shopping where she found a sample card for me covered in many shades of gray. It’s slightly disturbing how many of the shades sport names like “summer rain” or “winter showers.” Torrents and flooded basements come to mind…

So, the flood’s all dry, the floor is uncarpeted and gray, the walls are holey and gray, the cieling’s gray, and we’re looking for better, brighter, more colorful grays to cheer up our lives.

My world is filled with shades of gray.

And my writing prompt for our writing group is very simple: Water water everywhere!

Let’s write

  1. What’s your favorite color?
  2. What might make water appear that color?
  3. Write a story where the color of water changes.
  4. Try to include the color of somebody’s mood.

New Year, New Edits, New Words?

I don’t make New Year resolutions on the grounds that I’ll always break them. But I do make plans, and this year I plan to work harder on writing and editing, read more productively, spend less time looking at or wishing I could create advertisements, and write fewer book reviews. 200+ reviews is just too many for one year, and too much time spent not writing.

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Peter’s Promise on Amazon

With all this in mind, and with my mum – my greatest fan and my best editor – still staying with us, I decided to start each day by editing a section from my upcoming children’s book, Paul’s Purpose. (It’s the sequel to Peter’s Promise, above.)

Of course, I know Paul had many purposes, and so do I: in writing children’s Bible stories I want to:

  • Show the stories of the Bible are set around real people in a real world,
  • Show that the world of history and saints wasn’t so different from the world of siblings and friends,
  • Encourage and entertain middle-grade readers – I want them to think, laugh, and turn pages; I want pre-school listeners to enjoy being read to as well;
  • Encourage and entertain middle-grade educators – I want them to be ready to give and find answers – to model looking for answers on Google, in the dictionary or in the Bible (or anywhere else);
  • Encourage and improve reading and language skills – I like to include some words my readers may not have used before, because the real world is filled with words we all might misunderstand, and
  • Encourage and improve critical thinking skills – I like my readers to ask questions, because without questions, the answers can’t make sense.

So …

After talking with Mum, I’d love to know your opinions.

  • Can I use such words as “erudite” “persistent” and “single-minded” in a children’s book?
  • Can I refer to “virility-fertility rites” (with no further explanation) when my characters complain about what goes on in pagan temples?
  • Is “God’s mark hurts” a sufficient explanation of why a boy might not want to be circumcised, or should I just avoid the whole question, though it seems like it was a pretty big question at the time?

Meanwhile, since I always turn these blogs into writing exercises, here a

Writing Prompt

  • Think of something in the natural world – a bird, a stone, a river…
  • Imagine how it came into being – evolution, hatching from an egg, rain-clouds with dried fish-eggs waiting to hatch…
  • Then tell its story, from its own point of view:
    • One paragraph (or sentence) for the beginning
    • one for the middle, or the present day
    • and one for the end, or end of the world, or “Help! It’s raining fish!”

It’s raining ice here. Keep warm.

 

Where will your Christmas tree come from?

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Trees make leaves for pages of books, and needles to sew them together. Book fairs make places to sell those books. And returning from the Oregon Historical Society Holiday Cheer event makes a great excuse to see a Christmas tree. img_2000

See
Tree rings cry
for history and mystery inside;
The tree lays flat to die.
Trailer’s rings all jangling metal, dangling chains reply
So low, once high.
Road is ringed with winter’s cold, its shoulder iced with snow.
This tree can’t fly.
But now the crane is lifting, tree is gifted with new life—
A hopeful sight with silver rings, now lighted bright
against the star
struck night.
The tree stands proud and high.
Then tree of Christmas rings its bell
For history and mystery inside.

Oddly, there’s always a beer tent at the base of Portland’s Christmas tree on the evening of Holiday Cheer. So, cheers!

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And for writing exercise, just dream the ringing of the trees.

My Best-Selling Titles

Divide by Zero was a best-seller once. So were Genesis People and Bethlehem’s Baby. Tails of Mystery won an award from my publisher recently as another best-seller. Does that make me a best-selling author?

But my best-selling book at the moment is Heroes Best Friend, a very cool anthology in which I have one (best-selling?) short story, and from which I earn the occasional cent – it’s my best-paying book. Coming close second is the fourth volume of the Writers’ Mill Journal, from which I earn nothing – all online proceeds go directly to the library, since the journal is designed, written and produced by our local writers’ group. Then there’s my latest novel, Infinite Sum. I hope it sold some copies when it came out, but they don’t register on my Amazon author dashboard. And so I wonder, does this make me a worst-selling author instead?

Or perhaps I’m in-between. Thirty-nine books to my name. Sales that garner occasional payments in cents. And dreams that reach the sky. Plus coffee.

Meanwhile our writers’ group has just released volume five – find it soon in a bookstore online! We’re working on a Tails of Mystery fan-fiction collection as well (with permission from my publisher). We’ll probably call it Zeus and Bo and Fred and Joe and Co, since Fred and Joe were based on two beautiful dogs called  Zeus and Bo, and since the stories run the gamut of many animals.

If you’re looking for a writing prompt – and aren’t we always –

here is the menagerie now living with Fred and Joe. Look for a way to use all of these creatures, plus at least one more, in one story or poem:

  • Fred – a large dog
  • Joe – a small dog
  • Cat – a large cat
  • Kitkit – a small cat, kitten to Cat
  • Zombie – a canary
  • Squeak – a mouse
  • the child, still very small
  • the man, and
  • the woman

Now Write!

Then watch for A Nose For Adventure, coming soon. (But Zombie and Squeak won’t enter the series until later – I’m writing faster than I can best-sell!)

What Did You Read On Vacation?

I started reading The Girl on the Train, on a train. I read Signal Failure while riding the 20160801_110205 (2)Underground. I visited numerous London bookshops then settled down to enjoy Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. 20160804_173522The Eyre Affair accompanied peacefully timeless20160806_173543 (2) views of punts on the Cam. And I enjoyed happy days with my brother’s two dogs while reading The Dog Who Dared To Dream.20160724_154323 (2)In the days leading up to our wedding anniversary, I devoured The Daylight Marriage. Then we celebrated with a trip to the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Guilgud Theatre. A great time was had by all, my read-and-review book-list languished, the internet faded into 2G wilderness, and my mum enjoyed being one of the first readers of my second novel, Infinite Sum, hot off the press from Indigo Sea.

But now I’m back. England is a happy memory and my American life is calling – overdue reviews, washing, cleaning and shopping, our writers’ group’s release of its fifth anthology, Bible studies to prepare … and did I mention 20160804_140752washing, cleaning and shopping? And pulling weeds. The dandelions defeated me before we left, so now I’m just going to mow them down instead of trying to extract them.

Meanwhile, that writers’ group continues to host monthly contests, and I need to come up with a prompt (my penalty for winning). Perhaps something about trains, bookstores, Venetian gondolas, dogs or marriages would work? August’s contest was inspired by someone else’s photograph. September’s asks what happens next after a disturbing opening sentence, and October’s is to write fan fiction based on Tails of Mystery. Perhaps November’s prompt could combine all three …

Writing Prompt

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  1. Here’s a picture, taken on my vacation
  2. What happens next?
  3. Please write it from the point of view of an animal (mammal, insect, fish or bird).

What would you write?

My Most Singular Venture

If I’ve been absent from the internet, or only minimally present, this last few weeks, I’ve had good reason. I embarked on a brand new venture, you see – in fact, “A Most Singular Venture,” which just happens to be the title of a wonderful new novel in the Elizabeth and Richard Literary Mysteries Series by Donna Fletcher Crow.

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As you’ll see from the cover, Elizabeth and Richard (a couple now pleasingly approaching my own age) are in London as this story begins. Elizabeth is researching locations visited by that well-known classical author, Jane Austen, while Richard is about to start teaching a summer class on Golden Age mystery authors. It’s a great combination, with tasks, characters and mysteries all dove-tailing into a plot that pulls the reader along: Explore London, learn literature, and look for a murderer, all within the covers of a single, enticing book.

But where do I fit in? And how did this singular venture keep me from the internet? Well… that’s where my own most singular and delightful venture starts, with author Donna Fletcher Crow inviting me to reawaken my editing dreams after reading my review an earlier novel in the series:

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How could I resist? I didn’t even try. The chance to read Elizabeth and Richard’s latest adventure before anyone else? The chance to get to know one of my favorite authors better? And, yes, the chance to call myself an editor again… I spread those wings with eager delight and had a most wonderful time.

Watch out for A Most Singular Venture, coming later this year to a bookstore near you. And get ready for the adventure with a thoroughly enjoyable Jane Austen Encounter. Then spread your writing wings and feather your quill for a writing exercise:

Get Ready

  1. Think of a famous person and a place that person is connected with.
  2. Think of reasons why a group of people might visit that place?

Get Set

Make a list of ways you can connect their visit with the person

  1. Do they go to sites your famous person frequented?
  2. Do they get involved in the same sort of business?
  3. Or perhaps they see a ghost?
  4. travel in time?
  5. read a book?
  6. endure the same problems?
  7. etc.

Now Write

A story, a paragraph, an essay, or even a novel… whatever you have time for. Enjoy!

 

I made a book

I made a story,

I made a book,

I made a cover,

and my publisher made a better one.

So now I know why I should stick to making stories. Thank you Indigo Sea, and I can’t wait to hold my beloved Infinite Sum in my hot little hands!

(The image on the left was what I gave them, but the one on the right is so much more better! I’d certainly pick that one up if I saw it on the shelf.)

Here’s the blurb for my book:

A slash of red; a slash of black; then Sylvia’s paintbrush turns beauty turns into terror and darkness again. Her youngest child is almost ten, but Sylvia’s world seems destined to fall apart. Her therapist believes the answers lie in her art, but will they be found among boxes and frames in the attic, or in the angry colors she pours onto canvases in class? As memories new and old pile ever higher, Sylvia learns life is more about the infinite promise of joys to come than the sum of things done. Even so, will her nightmares let her go?

And, since our writing group’s going to use an image for it’s writing prompt in… June? July?… here’s a writing prompt:

  1. Look at the picture on the left and list the things you see, in the order you notice them.
  2. Write a sentence that uses the first two things you saw.
  3. Continue writing, including the items you spotted in the picture, in the order in which you spotted them.
  4. When you’ve used all the items, find a way to finish your essay/story/poem.
  5. Read what you’ve written. Which bit is most important.
  6. Rewrite what you’ve written, so it revolves around that most important part.