Thursday Thoughts: Trans-Genre

June 26, 2014  Prompt #55

Instead of a prompt today, I’m posing a few writer’s questions. Think about them yourself, ask other writing friends, or discuss your ideas here.

  1. Do you write in more than one genre — for instance poetry, fiction, and essays?
  2. If you write in more than one genre, do you consider yourself, for instance, a fiction writer who dabbles in poetry? Or a poet who writes the occasional essay? Or do you feel equally comfortable in a range of forms?
  3. Are you able to be more playful in the genre that is not your official form?
  4. Within a given genre, do you practice or experiment writing in different styles. For instance, if you write literary fiction, have you tried literary mystery or speculative fiction?

 

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Double Double (Toil and Trouble?)

June 25, 2014  Prompt #54

DSCN5693_2 DSCN5693

Sometimes, a successful story is the result of careful planning, clear outlines, and a well-conceived structure. Other times, random play generates surprising results. For today’s prompt, we are going to play.

Instructions

  1. Choose a section of a story or essay you’ve written that is about a page long. Or choose a single piece of flash fiction or a short to medium-length poem.
  2. Reprint it or rewrite it by starting every sentence on a new line AND leaving two blank lines between sentences. See example below.
  3. In the white spaces between the lines, write new sentences. They can be a logical extension of the existing work or something less directly connected.
  4. Don’t over think this one. But do have fun.

====================================================

Original Paragraph:

“When does a Jew become an adult?” Mrs. Glickenstein asked. “Twenty-one? Eighteen?” Clarissa Wallach and Yackov Winpool raised their hands, but I hesitated.  It didn’t matter: Mrs. Glickenstein answered her own question. “Thirteen. Thirteen is when a boy becomes a man.” Every Jewish kid knows this. Thirteen is the age of Bar and Bat Mitzvah, after which boys are counted in the minyan and can read from the Torah in front of the congregation. For girls, nothing changes, but, let’s face it, Bar Miztvahed boys aren’t adults either. It’s not like anyone of us can drive a car, vote for president , or buy beer the day we turn thirteen.

 

Prepared Paragraphs for the Writing Prompt

“When does a Jew become an adult?” Mrs. Glickenstein asked. “Twenty-one? Eighteen?”

 

Clarissa Wallach and Yackov Winpool raised their hands, but I hesitated.

 

It didn’t matter: Mrs. Glickenstein answered her own question.

 

“Thirteen. Thirteen is when a boy becomes a man.”

 

Every Jewish kid knows this.

 

Thirteen is the age of Bar and Bat Mitzvah, after which boys are counted in the minyan and can read from the Torah in front of the congregation.

 

For girls, nothing changes, but, let’s face it, Bar Miztvahed boys aren’t adults either.

 

It’s not like anyone of us can drive a car, vote for president , or buy beer the day we turn thirteen.

====================================================

Further Writing

  • In the blank spaces, write from the point-of-view of a different time period. For instance, if the existing story takes place in the past, write a parallel story in the present. Or write a parallel story from 50 or 100 years earlier.
  • In the blank spaces, write an interior voice.
  • In the blank spaces, write in a distinctly different style.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. On index cards, write down feelings or emotional states. (For example: doubt, joy, sneakiness, outrage, enthusiasm, uncertainty, distrust, drunkenness, or despair.)
  2. Choose an emotion from the pile and rewrite your sentences in that style. In other words, shift the tone or mood of your original piece.

 

Considerations

Read over what you’ve written, then make note of anything you’ve learned from the prompt.  For instance, you might discover ways to add depth to your original work. You might realize your original piece needs more sensory details (or fewer) or more summarizing (or less summarizing) and so on.  Overall, prompts like this shake up your work and, in the best of circumstances, give you fresh eyes for revision.

 

 

 

Thirteen

June 13, 2014.  Prompt #44

IMG_1208

 

In honor of Friday the 13th, here’s a lucky writing prompt.

Instructions

  1. Write about a superstition that you believe in, don’t believe in, or are on the fence about.
  2. Write for 13 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Make up a superstition. Give it history or cultural background.
  • Write convincingly why we should believe in a superstition that, in reality, you don’t take seriously. Or the opposite.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. On index cards, write a short description of an existing superstition or one you’ve constructed. For instance, It is unlucky to walk under a ladder. It is lucky to see two magpies together. If it rains on your eighth birthday, you will be prosperous in life.
  2. Place the cards face down. Choose one randomly and write about a character who challenges the superstition. Write for 13 minutes.
  3. Research superstitions from cultures not your own. Write about one for 13 minutes.

13ballFinally, if you drop your pen while you are writing, spin it 3 times on the floor while repeating the word “demiurgic” the entire time it is spinning. This will welcome back the creative spirits.

 

Twelve Black Shoes

 “Shoes have tongues, but cannot talk.”

When I was twenty-three,  I bought my first pair of black leather shoes. Sleek with skinny black laces, they sat in the window of a shop that catered to dancers, rows of leotards—black, navy blue, bright red—lining its walls.  Work boots and Wallabees had dominated my snowy, soggy college years: these shoes were trim and lithe. New shoes. New me.

The tap-tap of their tan leather soles leant an air of purpose and import to my day, announcing my presence as I walked the eight blocks to my job at the art supply store, as I ambled down Boulder’s bricked mall, off to watch foreign films.

Months passed. When the shoes became scuffed, I polished them. When I wore through the soles, I re-soled them. When I wore out the heels, I re-heeled them. After six years, though, as my feet pushed against the leather (and the shoes in turn pinched back), I decided it was time to buy a new pair.

This was not an easy feat. The dance shop had closed and the few shoe stores remaining in town didn’t carry anything like them.  This was, to clarify, twenty-five years ago, before Boulder boasted a Famous Footwear, before the expansive Flatirons Mall was built two towns away. This was, suffice to say, before Zappos.com.

So I made do with black sneakers. Comfy, yes, but they didn’t offer the authority of a well-heeled shoe. I continued looking, to no avail.

A few years later, my friend Lori pulled a box out of the back of her car. “Are you still looking for black shoes?” she asked. “I found these in Westminster. They seemed okay when I tried them on, but they’re really too tight on me.”

shoe #2 LoriThey fit me perfectly. Black Shoes #2.

Once again, I walked around distinguishably-shod. True, shoes #2 didn’t have a leather sole (thick rubber instead) and their toes were more rounded, less tapered than my former pair. Still I admired their clean slope, how simple and handsome they were against the hem of my cords and blue jeans. I smiled as I walked.  I left messages on Lori’s voice mail:  “Have I told you how thrilled I am with these shoes?”

I wore Black Shoes #2 for years. When their soles split, I drizzled rubber cement in the gaps, pressed them tight, let them dry over night, then laced them up once more. A few months later, the soles cracked again, but I kept them anyway.  Except for when it rained or snowed, they worked just fine.

Meanwhile, the shoe industry was evolving.  Keens appeared on the scene, specifically at our local Pedestrian Shop, where a black pair with chic asymmetrical white stitching was tagged 40% off in the “Last Pair” bin.

shoe 3 ped shopSize six, but running small, they were tight. As I ran my finger over the soft leather,  traced the track of the stitching, style stomped sensibility and I found myself at the cash register, handing over my debit card.

Black Shoes #3 weren’t good commuter shoes but were excellent after-work, night-on-the-town shoes, especially when visiting homes at which shoes remained in the foyer anyway.

Such was the case, one night in early 2007, when I was lacing up my tight yet classy Keens after dinner at a friend’s house.

“Hmm,”  Elizabeth said, peering down at my feet. “What size shoe do you wear?”

“Six, six-and-a-half. These are too small but I fell in love with them anyway.”

She walked upstairs and returned with another pair of Keens. Slightly worn, they were black, glossy, and had extremely cool laces— black stippled with white. Her eldest son had outgrown them in a matter of months.

shoe 4 wilson“Try them on.”

They fit like a glove. Black Shoes #4, tied on, and out the door.

Years ago, in one of his children’s poems, my grandfather wrote, “Shoes have tongues, but cannot talk. ” Maybe shoes can’t, but I sure could, happily embellishing the tale of my #4’s.  “Boosted them from a 12-year-old,” I’d say when friends asked, before dutifully conveying the unembroidered version of the story.

Number four Keens became my go-to shoes. Go to work, go to the grocery store, go to readings, go to the airport.  An airport—that’s where I had my first professional shine, though the woman who attended to my shoes was perplexed by the their white stitching. She massaged carefully around it, black polish on her blue rubber gloves.  Ten minutes and one buffing later, their leather glowed.  Third life for these black cats.

I was spending a lot of time in airports in the fall of 2008, as my mother’s health was failing and I was flying back and forth to New Jersey every month to visit her. In late December, I flew home once more, this time for her funeral.  I planned to wear my go-to Keens for traveling, but it was my simple, sole-cracked, Black Shoe #2 that I wanted for the funeral. No stylin’ stitching. No fun laces. No attitude.  I unearthed them from the back of my closet and gently packed them in my bag.

A wet week in New Jersey, it was drizzling when we lowered my mother’s coffin in the ground. As we Jews do, I took my turn shoveling dirt, wet dirt, into my mother’s grave. The smack of wet dirt hitting a casket is somewhat like a car backfiring, is somewhat like gun shot, is somewhat like being punched in the stomach, which is to say, it is an awful sound during an awful day, and so who even cares if you sink your cracked-sole shoes into an inch of mud?

The next day, at my father’s request, my brothers and sister and I sorted the clothes in my mother’s dresser and closet, separating it into bags to be taken, tossed, or given away.

“Do you want these?” my sister asked. A pair of black shoes.

shoe #4 momSoft leather, low heel. Sides rising slightly above the ankle. Fine round laces. I realized I owned an identical pair in tan.

easy spirit

Easy Spirit, they said on the sole. Mom’s spirit? Mom’s soul?

I stepped into her shoes.

Back in Colorado the next week, the cemetery mud on my funeral shoes had dried red-brown. I put them back in the closet, just as they were.

My neighbors were good to me after my mother died. They brought me meals, they shared their stories.  In our community house one Saturday morning, my friend Karen asked, “What size shoe do you wear?”

Before I could answer, she lifted a bag from the floor. “I bought these for my aunt, but she didn’t like them.  I thought you might.”

She pulled a pair of shoes from the bag. Dappled leather with ivory stitching, they sported thick, cream-colored laces outlined in onyx.

bjorn top

b diamonds

Their elegant design was only outdone by their patterned soles, brown and taupe diamonds.  Black Shoes #6? Oh, yeah.

 

 

 

last born

“Børn,” the shoes said on their soles, a not-so-subtle sign from a blatant universe. Life ends. Life begins.

 
Shoes don’t talk or maybe they do. Telling us life continues, one step at a time.

Getting Started with Writing Prompts

Ready. Set. Write.
I’ve been leading writing workshops and taking part in writing groups for over 25 years. In that time, I’ve amassed a large, messy pile of writing prompts. My writing pals have urged me to turn the prompts into a book, but, this being the 21st century, I’ve decided to create a blog for them instead. (The book can come later.)

What is a Writing Prompt and Who Can Benefit From One?
A strong writing prompt offers a hand-up when you are feeling unfocused, unmotivated, or unsure. These prompts can be used individually or in a group. Try them as a warm-up unrelated to writing you’re working on or integrate them into a story, essay, or novel that’s underway.  These prompts focus mostly on prose, but poets and experimental writers should feel free to jump in. Above all, remember to

travel big

Most prompts will fall under one of these categories:

  1. Structure, Lists, and Fill In the Blanks
  2. Time, Place, and Memory: Prompts that Engage with the Passage of Time
  3. Sensory Prompts: Prompts that Work with Photos, Objects, Sound, Taste, and Even Smell
  4. On Their Shoulders: Work by Great Writers Serves As A Jumping Off Point
  5. Our Own Words: Tearing Up, Turning Over and Reworking Our Writing
  6. Reference Desk: Using Dictionaries, Manuals, Encyclopedias As Inspiration
  7. Wild, Random, and Utterly Free: Using Chance and Play to Loosen Up and Go Deeper

That’s the scoop.  Tune in tomorrow for your first prompt.

Write back at you…

Ellen