Children, War, and Memory

sirIn her book Sir, HR Hegnauer writes with quiet, stirring, and at times hilarious power about her grandfather (Sir) and her grandmother (Mrs. Alice). Her rich glimpses of the past reveal how her grandparents formed and informed her childhood and young adulthood.

Sir is about human connection and disconnection, about bodies and gender, and, largely, about memory—its ability and its fallibility.

On page nine, Hegnauer writes about war:

I learned about war for the first time in the first grade. We had just started fighting in the Persian Gulf. Mrs. Thom said that we wouldn’t hear any bombs, but that they were real, and they were dangerous — more dangerous than anything we’d ever hope to know. I remember her telling me that we had never lost a war before, and that this was something to be proud of. When I walked home from school that day, Matt told me that not only had we never lost, but that we had never actually been to war until now. I told Sir that we had never been to war before, and now we’re in the Gulf, but don’t be afraid because we won’t actually hear any bombs. I told him like I was an expert on the politics of war. He said, then what the hell was I doing in 1944? I said, I don’t know. Maybe it was only a battle and not actually a war. Sir looked at me. I remember this look for sure like he’s looking at me right now.

Writing Prompt: Write about your earliest memory or understanding of war.

Considerations and Suggestions
As Hegnauer does above, include conversation or dialogue between yourself and another child and/or yourself and another adult.

• Include concrete details, accurate or not.
• Infuse doubt.
• As always, experiment with form and point-of-view.
• Write for 20 minutes.

For more about Sir and HR Hegnauer’s writing, click here and here .

HR Hegnauer
Portable Press @ YoYo Labs
2013, 96 pp., 6″ x 9″
$16.00 Paper, 978-0-615-23100-6
Cover illustration by Brenda Iijima

Thursday Thoughts: Out Loud

For Thursday, July 17  Prompt 74

IMG_0607Do you read your work out loud as you write and edit?

If so, how does it change what you write?

If not, try it. See if it affects your word choice, sentence length or dialogue.



City Sidewalks

For Wednesday, July 16, 2014  Prompt #73



Write about an encounter on a city street.

Writing Tips:

  • This can be an encounter between two people, a person and a sign,  an older person and a toddler, three dogs, or some other combination.
  • Balance observation, description, and dialogue.
  • Write for 15 minutes.

Book Suggestion: Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City.

Summer Solstice Ritual

June 21, 2014.  Prompt #51

Summer-Solstice-Stonehenge-1024x380After dinner with friends tonight , I marked this longest day of the year with a walk to Wonderland Lake. There, redwings chattered, the foothills reflected themselves in the water, and two mallard chicks paddled behind with their mother. On the path home, I nearly bumped into a mule deer. I like to celebrate the cycles of the year: solstice and equinoxes; full, new and blue moons; lunar and solar eclipses. I revel in a colorful sunrise and sunset.


  1. Write about an annual, monthly or even daily ritual that you (or a character) observe.
  2. Your ritual can revolve around a holiday, a seasonal occurrence or something societal, such as the last day of school, the opening of hunting season, or the homecoming football game.
  3. Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Write about a very personal ritual, not connected to society as a whole.
  • Invent a ritual for yourself or a character.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. On separate pieces of paper, each member writes a one-sentence description of a ritual they partake in and a second ritual that is entirely made up.
  2. Place the papers in the middle of the table and read the descriptions out loud.
  3. Guess which rituals are real (that it, one that someone in the group or someone they know actually observes) and which are entirely imaginary.
  4. Choose one description — real or fictional — and expand on it. Add back-story, details, and conflict as needed. Write for 20 minutes.

Looking ahead

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.


Developing Character

facesJune 20, 2014.  Prompt #50

To write effectively about characters, it’s crucial to thoroughly develop their fictional lives. Once you have a clear sense of who they are, you’ll be able to better write dialogue for them and describe their gestures, expressions, and habits. How does your character entertain herself, how does he dress, what does she like to eat? Even though you won’t directly incorporate every fact you develop for your character, establishing a strong background deepens all facets of your story.


  1. Choose a character from a story you are writing. This exercise can also work for a non-fiction essay.
  2. In a few words or single sentence, answer the 20 questions below about your character. Feel free to change pronouns or details accordingly. Write for 20 minutes.
  3. Here are the questions:
  • Your character’s most prized personal possession is
  • Your character’s favorite color
  • Your character’s favorite holiday
  • Person he loves the most
  • Friends she most respects
  • What people like about her
  • His greatest fear
  • Cruelest thing she has ever done
  • What he most regrets
  • Is she a planner or spontaneous?
  • Her fantasy is to…
  • The most damaging this that ever happened to him was
  • How much money does she have in her savings account
  • He brags about…
  • She is afraid that people will find out…
  • He lives in an apartment, condo, tract house, farm house, restored bungalow, on the streets, or ….?
  • What he most dislikes about his appearance
  • Her most treasured memory
  • He drinks what kind of beer, wine, or juice?
  • The only thing she ever stole was…

Further Writing

  • Expand one of your answers above. Write a 10-minute short prose piece.
  • In your short prose piece, circle 20 words that stand out for you.  Shape these words into a poem, adding additional words as needed.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Each writing group member writes down two questions about a character at the top of a blank sheet of paper. For instance, What is the one thing your character does secretly? Describe their pet. or She will lie when…
  2. Mix up the papers and then choose one at random.
  3. Write a one paragraph response to each question. Write for 20 minutes.

Looking ahead

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.


Picture {Postcard} Perfect

June 19, 2014.  Prompt #49

denver2Today’s prompt may take you to places unknown.

Have a marvelous journey.




  1. Do you have a collection of old travel postcards?  If so, choose one for this prompt.
  2. If not, in Google image, Flickr, or another image search, type “travel postcards.” Choose a postcard image from it.
  3. Write down thoughts and sensations inspired by the postcard. Write for 10 minutes.
  4. Rewrite your last line on the top of a new page. Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Postcards are known for limited space.  Write a haiku elicited by the postcard.
  • Imagine you sent this postcard. What would you have written on the back? Who would you have sent it to? What would you have told them to console them, to lure them, or to make them jealous?

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Postcards often offer a candy-coated version of what they depict. Write a short prose piece (200 words or less) either building on this lie or debunking it. Start the piece with three adjectives in a row.
  2. Bring a postcard to your group and have everyone write a poem or short prose piece based on it. Write for 10 minutes.
  3. Share your work. Do common themes emerge?
  4. Repeat the prompt with another postcard.

Next Week

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.


Streets and Neighborhoods

June 18, 2014.  Prompt #48

hettieI’ve been reading the intriguing memoir How I Became Hettie Jones.  A poet, story-writer, and the first wife of Amiri Baraka, Hettie Jones offers fresh, non-glorifying insights of her Bohemian years in New York City as part of the male-dominated Beat Generation. The book’s sections have titles such as Morton Street, Twentieth Street and Cooper Square, all neighborhoods in New York. For today’s prompt, we’ll look at your own personal history of streets and neighborhoods.



  1. Choose a street or neighborhood from your past. It may be one in which you lived or one you frequently visited. (Feel free to work with a fictional setting as well. It may strengthen your overall story, novel or poem.)
  2. For 10 minutes, write down words and short phrases that come to mind when you think of this home or neighborhood. Try to include a variety of recollections — from physical descriptions, to the people who frequented the area, to your state of mind when living there. In addition to the who, what, where, try to catch the vibe of this time in your life. For instance, if I chose my my second home in Boulder, I might write: University Avenue 23 years old. Intermittent irrigation ditch. Worn oak floors.  Four housemates. Minimum wage job. Endless notes plastered on the refrigerator. Walking the neighborhood that first summer evening, enchanted, alive. A time of great possibility.
  3. Read what you’ve written and circle three phrases that stand out for you.
  4. Write one of those phrases on top of a new piece of paper. Write in response to it for 20 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Describe how the home’s physical appearance mirrored or contradicted your experience there.
  • Write about your neighborhood during two different seasons or during two distinct time periods.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. Walk together in a neighborhood for a half hour, making notes of what you see and hear there. Bring in sensory detail, noting overall impressions and specific details, such as a red door, a broken branch, a water glass left on a stoop, a tricycle in a driveway, a woman weeding a patch of day lilies.
  2. Write a short, fictional account of an interaction of two people (or perhaps a person and an animal) in the neighborhood. Write for 20 minutes.

Reminder: Next Week

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.


By The Sea

June 17, 2014.  Prompt #47


I’ve been steadily editing a novel of mine that takes place at a beach. Even while I am typing away here in landlocked Colorado, much of my brain has relocated to a Jersey Shore beach town circa 1993.

For today’s prompt, therefore, we’ll work with words associated with oceans, bays, beaches and shorelines. May a wave of creativity wash over you.

(For those of you who have been reading this blog closely, you’ll see this is a variation on the post “Plant.”)



  1. Choose nine words from this list: bay, beach, boat, bob, breakers, bright, brisk, dive, dolphin, dunes, fish, foot prints, kite, life guard, nap, salt, sand, shell, shore, swim, tan, tide, umbrella, wave.
  2. Using the nine words and others of your own, write a nine line poem.
  3. Write for 9 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Use the same nine words and write a piece that has nothing to do with beaches. Write for 15 minutes.
  • Choose one of the verbs from the list and use it in a poem or piece of short prose nine times. Vary it at least three times, using different forms of the verb.  For instance, if you choose dive, try using also using dives, diving, dove, or diver. Write for 15 minutes.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. Choose one or two words from the list which are both noun and verb. Play with those combinations in a short piece. This is a chance to use repetition in a deliberate way. Write for 15 minutes.
  2. Choose words from the lists that have more than one definition, such as wave, bob, shell, or tan. Write a piece that makes use of their multiple meanings.
  3. Read your writing out loud. What do you notice about its rhythm and pacing?

Next Week

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.