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Friendly Prompts, Day 6: Natalia

7 Apr

Red DoorMy friend Natalia Sarkissian did a Daily Shorty week in early March. She loves writing prompts and sent me a handful. I chose a photo of a red door (similar to the one pictured here) that I couldn’t get out of my head. In fact that red door took up so much of my brain space that it took me many, many tries to get anything on the page that would hold. Finally I was able to get something out before falling asleep in the wee hours. It’s got some promise but I had to force an ending that doesn’t work. Maybe it will grow into something better one day. If the staying-power of that photo is any indication, it will. Many thanks to Natalia!

Working Title: Red
1st Sentence: The audience wants her to choose the red door.
Favorite Sentence: He lets his eyebrows climb his forehead, throws his arms up in a dramatic display of don’t ask me, mugs at the audience and the camera.
Word Length: 308

Photo by Si Griffiths 3/2005.

Back to Pulling Teeth

11 Mar

LeavesOh, the heartache of finding this story. Finally pulled it out but left some gaps. I think it’ll be a keeper when I can get back to it, though. This marks my last day of a week of prompts using the Wikimedia Commons picture of the day. These images were very, very good to me.

Working Title: Now Is Too Late
1st Sentence: All these years his complaint has been that she is too orderly, too scheduled.
Favorite Sentence: These wide-eyed writers of such sincere prose seem to think that if we all did yoga a couple of hours a day, if we burnt our daylight meditating on a multisyllabic word of your trendy choice, if we ate nothing but oats, mortality itself could be slain.
Word Length: 480

Photo by Diego Delso 4/2012.

Picture of the Day, Day 6

10 Mar

Lisbon BridgeIt took a long time for this one to arrive but once it did, it wrote itself. So, another gift in a tough week. I can’t tell how good this shorty is but I like it because I played with allusions to the old fairy tales about trolls guarding bridges. Inspired, of course, by the Wikimedia Commons picture of the day posted here.

Working Title: On the Other Side
1st Sentence: All of it, all of it—the years of crunching numbers and running out of staples and replacing toner and unjamming the copier.
Favorite Sentence: He stands before me, his legs in a wide, martial stance, his white face smooth as river stone, that slender red smile twitching at the corner.
Word Length: 526

Photo of Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon, Portugal, by F Mira (1/2009).

Picture of the Day, Day 5

9 Mar

MacawThis one came to me very easily, which felt like such a gift in a very, very tired week. It’s odd and maybe a shorty only I can love, but love it I do. Love, too, this Wikimedia Commons picture of the day that inspired it.

Working Title: Bird Story
1st Sentence: Everyone has a wounded bird story.
Favorite Sentence: A ragged crow with a mangled leg, clinging to a branch of the tree behind the house, cawing, its red eyes blazing.
Word Length: 428

Photo by Luc Viatour / 7/2009.

Picture of the Day, Day 4

8 Mar

Space ShuttleSo this is the fourth time I’ve traveled during the DS challenge. I left Wednesday first thing for Boston, where AWP is holding its annual conference. I’d forgotten how hard it is to be in a different place and keep up with my story-a-day promise. Ergh. Anyway, if I can figure out what this piece is missing, maybe I’ll make some progress on how to write good stories that are fewer than 250 words. The shorty is almost good but… isn’t. And I have absolutely no idea how I got from this Wikimedia Commons picture of the day to a short story that has nothing whatsoever to do with space, science, NASA…?

Working Title: Closet Habit
1st Sentence: When he was eleven, his mother found him in a coat closet, where he had retreated after a fight with his older brother.
Favorite Sentence: He didn’t mind being discovered sitting in a puddle of shoes in an armoire in his freshman dorm room because he got a few instant friends for being bizarre, and everyone else circled wide around him because they’d heard he was a nutjob.
Word Length: 207

Photo of a silhouette of the space shuttle Endeavour by NASA/crew of Expedition 22 (2/2010).

Picture of the Day, Day 3

7 Mar

Lighthouse EstoniaI’m always hesitant to say that I’ve learned any particular thing with regard to writing because I never know how the ground will shift tomorrow. But I think I can say that I have taught myself how to write very short. Not teeny-tiny, mind you—I don’t know that I will ever be able to write good pieces that are, say, 250 words or fewer. That is a feat I can barely comprehend. But I have now written a fat handful of pieces under 500 words that I like a lot. Given that I couldn’t do that at all before this challenge, I feel pretty excited. The shorty this picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons inspired is one of these very short pieces I like.

Working Title: Mountains
1st Sentence: For almost a year I’d been teaching at a school built into a bowl of land between two mountains.
Favorite Sentence: On a day when I wasn’t just wincing but dizzy, if I caught myself wanting to fling my body at all that hardness, to beat my fists on it, then I would plan an escape.
Word Length: 360

Photo of a lighthouse on the islet of Keri in Estonia by Andrus Uuetalu 5/2008.

Picture of the Day, Day 2

6 Mar

Russian PalaceThis photo of a Russian palace, the picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons, inspired thoughts of Anastasia, the Romanov princess at one time rumored to have escaped the massacre of her family.

Working Title: Anastasia
1st Sentence: If she had not been the sort of princess who, as a child, liked to trip her servants, would she be here now?
Favorite Sentence: Do you imagine, broken bird, that you brought Mother Russia to her knees because once, in a princess temper, you put your foot out, caught a ratty shoe?
Word Length: 349

Photo of the Church of the Grand Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, by Aleks G (10/2011).

A Week of “Picture of the Day”!

5 Mar

ButterfliesMy first sustained period of mental fatigue hit hard in August. I beat it back by using various kinds of story prompts for a while. Then I fell into the habit of a week of prompts, a week of no prompts, followed by a period of anything goes. I was feeling so exhausted as March began (I’m writing this catch-up post on March 19) that I reached again for prompts as a solution. My DS weeks begin on Tuesdays, so on March 5 I started a week using the “picture of the day” at Wikimedia Commons as my prompt each day. I have unreasonable affection for the story I wrote in response to this photo, partly because I was able to keep it so short but mainly because I worked in a (well, rather obvious) homage to the Ray Bradbury classic, “A Sound of Thunder.” (The insect is identified in the photo credit as a moth but I saw it as a butterfly, which is why I thought of Bradbury’s story.)

Working Title: Thunder
1st Sentence: She’d felt something brushing her forearm and because it was July and a cascade of insects greeted her whenever she left the house, she was conditioned to think mosquito or bee or gnat.
Favorite Sentence: After another moment of staring, she snapped a leaf from one of the maples that lined the path, and scraped the ruined butterfly from her arm.
Word Length: 266

Photo of the Madagascan sunset moth, two views of the same specimen, by Didier Descouens (2/2013).

Mystery Box Day 6!

28 Oct

It took this Daily Shorty project to teach me what a joy it can be to write in a parking lot. There’s something so… in between about that space, so not-place about it—it nicely empties your mind of whatever’s bugging you so story ideas can rush in. Now when I find myself in a parking lot, I see my time there as “found time” in the same way that I consider that five dollar bill I just pulled from the pocket of a jacket “found money.” I wrote today’s shorty in the lot of the local Hannaford while the husband, grateful to be free of my label-reading attention, restocked our pantry and fridge. My mystery box inspiration today was a black and white photo of a man in work clothes at a table covered in tools. Looks like he’s in a large space—a factory? And the photo looks period. Maybe the 1930s, 1940s? The tools inspired my story, so here I’ve put up a picture of a toolbox. One more day of the mystery box!

Working Title: His Best Level
1st Sentence: I’ve never seen my father without at least one tool on his person, excepting those few days in his life when he’s been forced to play dress-up—my sister’s wedding, mine.
Favorite Sentence: If you’re me, you don’t mind so much if you place a marble at one end of your kitchen and it rolls across the floor to disappear beneath the stove.
Word Length: 380

Mystery Box Day 3!

25 Oct

Today’s inspiration: a torn piece from a catalog. On one side of the page is a lovely young woman with long blond hair in a prettified out-doors-ey outfit that includes a fancy scarf. On the other side, a sweet, girlish, hand-crafty bracelet at top and a rockin’ pair of studded harness boots at bottom. I studied both sides of the page for something around 5 minutes, then wrote a story that included none of these things but did feature a photographer trying to take pretty pictures. My silly image at the top of the post is a goofy catalog-page-like decoration that I assembled from pretty pics of things similar to what’s on my page scrap.

Working Title: In All Things
1st Sentence: If you stare at a scattering of pretzel bites long enough—if the pretzel bites are studded with salt crystals, if their burnished surfaces are a rich cocoa brown with hints of mellow gold, if they rest on a plush, wine-red carpet—they become beautiful.
Favorite Sentence: Could he even try to love a woman who hates pumpkins?
Word Length: 628

Boots by Flickr user “Idhren” 9/2009, Bracelet by Vassil 7/2007, scarf by Scoopygogo 11/2010.

Last Pic of the Day: At Haystack!

24 Sep

I wrote part of this story during the 3-hour drive to Haystack. More on this beloved Maine institution very soon but for now I’ll just announce to the world that every delightful thing you’ve heard about it is TRUE. What an extraordinary treat. And amidst all the great pleasures of the day, I was able to find enough time to finish the story. My prompt was the photo of shells here, which I gazed at for a few minutes before packing the car. Then I meditated on my memory of the shells for a while and… wrote a story about Komodo dragons, of course!

Working Title: Komodo Killah
1st Sentence: By the time they began confessing their greatest fears, they had stopped slicing neat, narrow wedges and transferring the cheesecake to their plates, in favor of forming a tight circle around the platter and hacking off hunks that went straight to their mouths.
Favorite Sentence: If you’re walking along the street in a small town in Maine and the sound of a cat’s hiss makes you drop your latté and run shrieking to your car, and then your keys slip from your tangled fingers, twice, because you are so terrified that you’re being pursued by a Komodo dragon… yes, that irrational response rises to the level of phobia.
Word Length: 547

Photo of fig cone shell from Indo-West-Pacific by H. Zell, 3/2011, picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons 9/4/2011.

6th Pic of the Day: A Test!

23 Sep

This has been a very tough few days. Yet again I struggled to produce a complete story. Yet again I wrote a lot of words I had to toss. An easy one very soon, please?

Working Title: SAT Question
1st Sentence: Four friends and co-workers, Jenny, Elissa, Michael, and Fran, are due to attend an important conference, which takes place in a town that is roughly a three-hour distance from where they all live.
Favorite Sentence: She says absolutely not but this solution suits Fran and Jenny very well, so they agree with Michael and all three badger and badger Elissa, they just keep on badgering her, and maybe because she was the youngest of five children, she is used to capitulating to a slew of yammering voices, she is used to condescension, she is used to being told.
Word Length: 1,345

Photo: Portion of I-35W Mississippi River bridge after 8/1/2007 collapse, by Kevin Rofidal, U.S. Coast Guard, 8/2007, picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons 9/2/2011.

5th Pic of the Day: World Records

22 Sep

This one took 5 starts. That seems to be my limit—once I hit 5 my goal is to amuse myself. And I did. Long live Martha B. Kitchen.

Working Title: Martha’s Destiny
1st Sentence: For almost a year, now, Martha had held the world record for holding the most world records.
Favorite Sentence: She would put her sneakers on, pin her hair back, select shorts that wouldn’t chafe, and march right into her destiny.
Word Length: 500

Photo of Laugavegur hiking trail, Iceland, by Chmee2/Valtameri, picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons 9/1/2011.

4th Pic of the Day: Fish Sticks

21 Sep

Oh, the humble fish stick. When I was a kid fish sticks seemed special because they were so different from the standard dinners we ate all the time—hot dogs, fried chicken, tiny hockey-puck hamburgers, pork chops when we were lucky. My childhood love of crispy, fishy rectangles might have something to do with my adult passion for the grown-up version and a Maine specialty: fish and chips. Mmm, the fried haddock here in Maine. I do love a good lobster roll but I never, ever turn down fish and chips.

Working Title: Fish Stick Family
1st Sentence: In conversation with friends, when he made references to her background, he liked to say that she came from a “fish stick family.”
Favorite Sentence: “You want your GODDAMN fiiiish tacos but you know what, you know what, you can shove that lobster therrrrmidoreshit right up the better part of your ASSHOLE,” she spat, and flopped over on her other side.
Word Length: 311

Photo of Red Rockfish by U.S. Fish Commission, 1906, picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons 8/31/2011.

3rd Pic of the Day: Sing-Song

20 Sep

I remember when I began to bust out shorties that I had strong affection for but that arrived in unfamiliar shapes and with endings that maybe weren’t endings. That started in July and all those unfamiliar shapes, as much as my busy days, have delayed my Story Facts and favorites pages for July and August. I just don’t know how to judge some of these stories. For now I think that must be a good thing—I have faith that I’m teaching myself something new. Or at least teaching myself how to wander into the tall weeds with less fear. Anyway, today’s shorty is one of these inscrutables, inspired by the photo above. I really like it, partly because two silly rhyming songs from my girlhood made an appearance. But is it good? I have no idea.

Working Title: Practicing Silence
1st Sentence: The retreat was supposed to teach me the benefits of solitude and silence.
Favorite Sentence: Spending all your time making cheese and pressing grapes, all to the good and no harm to Mother Earth, but she still beats you with her sun rays, Brother Hubert.
Word Length: 851

Photo of Sella Mountains by Dmitry A. Mottl, 2/2011, picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons 8/30/2011.

2nd Pic of the Day: Mute Fish

19 Sep

So frustrating! Yesterday I got the story like a whole gift dropped in my lap. Today I tried in the morning, then late morning, then early afternoon, then late afternoon, then early evening. I was so desperate from all the trying that when I got to early evening I wrote a half-page of material that I’d decided before wasn’t going to go anywhere but then I did something I occasionally do to kick-start myself: I hit return and wrote an absurd sentence. Then the husband took me to dinner. When we got back I went back to my absurd sentence and wrote the rest of the story in “make myself laugh” mode. The result is a very odd, very silly story that, yes, makes me laugh. Next!

Working Title: A Mother’s Work
1st Sentence: When Jess told me she’d named her fish Boxy, I said “Well that’s lovely, how did you pick that?”
Favorite Sentence: This was reminding me of the good old days, when we might sit in the living room and pluck a chicken together or set fire to cereal.
Word Length: 1,079

Photo: Clown anemonefish in sea anemone by Nick Hobgood, 5/2004 picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons 8/29/2011.

Pictures of the day!

18 Sep

UPDATE. The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts published this shorty as “But Yearning Still,” here. Many thanks to Managing Editor Randall Brown!

For five weeks now I’ve been using prompts for my daily writing sessions. Having something to focus on right away—as opposed to flitting around, looking for inspiration in my head—seems (most days) to take off the worst edge of the angst that surrounds my need to create a brand new story each day. On August 28, I went to the Wikimedia Commons archive of 2011 “pictures of the day” and selected the image highlighted on each 2011 day that corresponded to 2012’s week of August 28. If I was unsure whether I could use the image, I skipped to the following day’s selection. I dumped the photos into a folder in wait for “Picture of the Day” week. I’m starting this week with the photo here.

Working Title: Her Postcards
1st Sentence: Her postcards never said “Wish you were here.”
Favorite Sentence: I have no memory of what was just like a burnt raisin because what stunned me that day, and others, was not what my artsy, flitty, addled, moth-pinging-on-a-light bulb mother said, but what these big-eyed, fascinated, bated-breath hangers-on tried to make of it.
Word Length: 515

Photo of Jaral de Berrios in Guanajuato, Mexico, by Tomas Castelazo, 2/2011, picture of the day at Wikimedia Commons 8/28/2011.

Grab Bag Day 5: Wiki Photo

15 Sep

This photo was the “picture of the day” at Wikimedia Commons. I have been particularly low-energy since Wednesday, so I took the whole day off and waited until midnight to even start this shorty. That puts a lot of pressure on the need to write a complete story just before turning out the light, of course, but the freedom to radically change my routine is the only thing that’s kept me going on this project. Sometimes I just can’t work on the story… until I absolutely have to work on the story. Anyway, I was totally stumped on this one. Then an old silly exercise came to me (see my “Try This” post above) and that saved my Daily Shorty butt.

Working Title: What Happened
1st Sentence: All the people you know and half-know and just barely recognize, the people milling in and out of your universe, those people, accept it now, will make up their own story about what happened.
Favorite Sentence: And when he gets to the more, the really funny stuff, the unbelievable ape-shit-crazy stuff, it will be hard to hear, knowing that you are the woman this story is about, you are the Lucille Ball of this hilarious anecdote, you are the punch line.
Word Length: 507

Photo of Hurricane Isabel taken by Astronaut Ed Lu from the International Space Station 9/2003.

Grab Bag Day 3: Trip Photo

13 Sep

Another personal photo as shorty prompt, this one of the outrageous bed in our room in an Ogunquit B&B. I laughed in glee when I saw that thing and snapped my first picture of the trip before de-pillowing. It took a good 20 minutes to find out-of-the-way places to store all the pillows on that bed. As for the shorty, good idea but poor execution, despite much, much time invested. Next.

Working Title: Meatloaf Night
1st Sentence: Saturday Glen was schmoozing clients all day—at least that’s what he’d said.
Favorite Sentence: He would feel the earring with his tongue, pull it from his mouth, and hold it out to her in shock, and she would say, “Oh, that’s Jessica’s,” like, whatever, of course her earring is in your dinner.
Word Length: 1,665

Photo Hartwell House, Ogunquit, Maine, Polly Reed room, 9/2012.

Grab Bag Day 2: SPARK

12 Sep

Well, I’m very sad as I write this. I’m participating in this round of my friend Amy Souza’s project SPARK, in which writers and artists inspire (spark) each other to create something new within a span of 10 days. I knew I’d be using my SPARK partner Rachel Morton’s art as my writing prompt for the day’s shorty, which is why I’m doing a grab bag of prompts this week. All good. But Rachel’s piece (pictured here) inspired by far the saddest story I have ever written—and I go dark easy, believe me. I think it’s a very good thing that I will be forced to create something new tomorrow and the next day and the next. It will prevent me from living too much with this character I (and Rachel) have created. He makes me weep.

Working Title: Welcome Home
1st Sentence: That expression he used to get on his face—when he was thinking back, we just knew he was, to those lost years.
Favorite Sentence: The boy held his breath and studied those boots, framed in the oval of rough fabric, so close he could see the exact shape of each ragged drop of red.
Word Length: 952

Photo by Rachel Morton of her work.

Last Day of Photo Series!

20 Aug

Saying goodbye to Week 16, but I’ll have to delay my virtual treat by one day in favor of posting the picture I used for today’s shorty. This story came to me very quickly and whole, so was fun and easy to write. And I like it. Overall I consider my week of photo prompts very successful. The stories came out odd but I like that. I sometimes had trouble going deep but don’t I always.  I do think starting with the photo stripped a layer of effort or pressure from the shorty mission. To sum: I will do this again.

Working Title: When I See Her
1st Sentence: I want her to come to me in beautiful, blessed moments.
Favorite Sentence: Once when I was at a wedding party and a young woman in a scarlet dress dragged her partner to the dance floor, where they flung each other in circles, stamping their feet, the skin of her legs flashing, her skirt like whirling flame, I thought, there, in all that life, in all that breathless movement, she will emerge.
Word Length: 521

Thanks again to Cynthia, who posed for this picture on the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine (July 2012), and let me share it here.

Day 6 of Photo Series

19 Aug

Another really tough one and again, doesn’t match up to my vision but there’s hope for when I can come back to it.

Working Title: Perpetually Undecided Woman
1st Sentence: I know why she picked me.
Favorite Sentence: But now she’s gone and I’ve got Daddy and Sam and Liddy, each one a double-stitched, double-dipped Delta Blue who can’t bear the thought of Mama going to heaven gnarled and black and unable to walk the gold-paved streets or eat the sugared oranges because she’s a piece of char.
Word Length: 983

Photo taken on Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine, July 2012.

Day 5 of Photo Series

18 Aug

I really like my vision for this but it didn’t come out so well. Hopefully I can ramp it up in revision.

Working Title: When It’s Over
1st Sentence: He can’t be lucky forever.
Favorite Sentence: I listen with my ears, sure, but with my closed eyes, too, my fingertips, my nose.
Word Length: 854

Photo taken outside the Breaking New Grounds coffee shop at the end of Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, July 2012.

Day 4 of Photo Series

17 Aug

Had to fight hard for this one but wound up with something I really enjoy.

Working Title: Lobster Dinner
1st Sentence: The word “spectacular” kept coming up.
Favorite Sentence: Jim had special-ordered fish and chips because he was horrified by the look of a lobster and refused to try it, which was just like Jim and just like our marriage.
Word Length: 1,575

Photo taken in Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, July 2012.

Third time’s the charm.

16 Aug

Three starts today to get a shorty. And this is the third in my experimental “photo series” and today I’m really pleased with what I wrote. If forced to think like a critic I’m not sure how highly I’d rate this story but I went deep today, something I haven’t been able to do lately. You know when you’ve written something that matters. Not all stories that matter will be publishable, but in the end “publishable” is someone else’s lookout.

Working Title: Mr. Half-Caf
1st Sentence: You know the rule never to date where you work?
Favorite Sentence: And you know well that you should never eat popcorn around someone who doesn’t already love you, because there’s something about popcorn, you’ve never been able to eat it neatly, you are compelled to grab great fistfuls of it and cram it into your mouth and chomp it like a horse, your hands already digging around the bucket for more before you’re even close to swallowing.
Word Length: 914

Breaking New Grounds is a lovely coffee and tea shop at the end of Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine. I took this picture of their logo inside the shop in July 2012.

Day 2 of Photo Series

15 Aug

Well, here’s what I can say so far about this experiment with photo prompts: Both yesterday and today I did come up with a shorty pretty quickly and I wrote each with relative speed and ease. They are both odd, and I like that. But both lack… depth and feeling. Of course it’s not like I never have that problem otherwise. And maybe the photo series shorties will get better. On to the next!

Working Title: Coffee Break
1st Sentence: Diane pulled her purse out of the lower desk drawer as she watched the digital clock rewrite the time from 9:59 to 10:00.
Favorite Sentence: The day Diane McCluskey doesn’t march out of the office at exactly 10:00 AM to fetch a café au lait is the day long-dormant volcanoes erupt, continents split, the heavens rain bullfrogs.
Word Length: 872

Photo taken outside a restaurant in Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, Maine, July 2012.

Trying Something New

14 Aug

In the last few weeks I’ve been finding ways to defeat an increasing sense of mental fatigue. More on some of the tricks I’ve developed another time, but here’s my latest: I’ve brainstormed a list of types of prompts I can use to inspire shorties. On a given week I will use a particular kind of prompt every day. I fear that my mind will not love this kind of constraint and the overall quality of the shorties will suffer. But for now I want to see if using prompts reduces at least one kind of mental work by relieving me of the burden of creating  a story idea out of nothing and everything. My Daily Shorty weeks start on Tuesday so today I began a week-long story series using 7 selected photos from my recent trip to Ogunquit, Maine.

Working Title: Foot Eulogy
1st Sentence: Science can have everything but my foot.
Favorite Sentence: That’s not a problem with a flip-flop but since when would I (literally) be caught dead in a flappy, flat, half-assed parody of a shoe?
Word Length: 943

Thanks to my friend Cynthia, who let me take (and now post) this picture of her foot.