15 Blogging Prompts

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Bloggers, have “theme days” or regular “feature articles”.  It will help you stay on track, as it’s easier to write a continuing series than a stand-alone piece every single time; this will also help you blog purposefully, rather than simply posting whenever inspiration sparks (as inspiration doesn’t always happen on a regular basis).  Serious bloggers should blog at least twice a week, or no less than once, and preferably on the same days.  Make your own deadlines, and meet them.

If you’re not on a regular blog schedule yet (which I highly recommend) with “themes” filling in the slots on certain days, here are some blogging prompts to get you started:

1.Query letters:  I believe these are an art form in & of themselves, and should serve as an appetizer to the main work.  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/01/17/query-letter-to-missouri-life-magazine/

2.Rejection letters:  The good, the bad, and the funny.  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/05/08/an-interesting-rejection-letter/

3.Book reviews:  Analyzing a book and articulating why you liked (or didn’t like) it strengthens your critical thinking skills, which helps you become a better writer.  A well-written book review can often be as entertaining as the book.  If you’re praising the book, try to “sell it”; if you’re not, then state exactly why you didn’t like it. “It sucked”, or “it was stupid”, will never suffice.  Beware of spoilers—think of a book review as a movie trailer.  Whet the appetite, but don’t satisfy it.  https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/30181323-sarah-lea-stories.

4.”Blog your book”.  That said, don’t post 1000-word chapters at a time.  300 (or less) is perfect.  For a 60K word book, at 300 words per post, you will generate more than 260 posts, which you could stretch out over two years time.  However, read this (http://www.rachellegardner.com/should-you-blog-your-novel/) before doing that.

5.Author tribute.  This is different than a book review in that it “reviews” an author’s entire body of work.  As great as it is to find a good book, it’s even greater to find a good author and read everything they’ve read (as many authors are hit-and-miss).

6.Take something cute (or not) & turn it into something dark & sometimes inappropriately funny:  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/02/12/linsey-gordon-had-a-hatchet/

7.Haiku, limerick, or even a 6-word story with a stunning photograph; posts don’t have to be long, just good.  (A great suggestion I once read is that the first two lines of a 3-line poem should be opposites, and the last line should be a surprise that ties the two opposites together in a surprising or unexpected way.)  I often like to do short pieces in series of 3:  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/03/02/nonet-poems-my-geography/

8.Short, personal essay (300 words):  Myslexia (https://mslexia.co.uk/nonfiction/) does this using the ABC’s, which I thought a cute idea.  It’s easier to mine your life for material when it doesn’t have to be a full-length piece.

9.Writing tips:  I share these on my Facebook page Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday:  https://www.facebook.com/sarahleastories/?fref=ts

10.Writing prompts:  I appreciate these, as they are ideal for freewriting practice.  https://sarahleastories.com/2016/03/06/writing-prompt-the-memoirs-of-others/

11.Writing products you like (software, pens, free Kindle books, etc.): https://sarahleastories.com/2016/02/06/5-really-cool-things-about-kindle/

12.Favorite writing blogs (or Twitter accounts).  Mine are (so far):  https://twitter.com/WriterlyTweets, https://twitter.com/GHowellWhite1,  https://twitter.com/tablopublishing, https://twitter.com/writerswrite, https://twitter.com/Grammarly, https://twitter.com/AgathaChocolats, https://twitter.com/WritersDigest

13.Life Lessons:  A list of 10 life lessons (serious or silly) you have learned.  I consider this a “column piece”.  These are so “notebookable”.

14.How-To Article:  Did you know Microsoft Word can “grade your work”?:  https://sarahleastories.com/2015/03/20/writing-tips/

15.One Book, Many Forms.  Every Friday, I post a set of #novelines or #micropoetry from my book  (https://twitter.com/KatrynNolan).  Not every noveline is a true noveline because of Twitter’s character limitations, and the micropoetry is brand new–all of which I am going to repurpose into a pocket book called “Mormons on the Beach”, as part of my book promotion package.  Though you should always keep at least half of what you write under lock and key (until you become Stephen King and can charge for it all), make sure everything you put out there is your best work.

And here is 40 more from an author who has great content and isn’t just all about selling her books:  http://writerswrite.co.za/40-types-of-content-that-will-make-your-life-easier

 

Poem-a-Day 2016 Writer’s Digest Challenge #4. Theme: Distance

Years ago, I wrote an epic poem for the Gulf Coast “Let’s Write!” literary contest, winning first place in the fiction category.  I’d gotten the idea from my English teacher, who was doing a Greek mythology-themed class for the year.  (We even had to wear togas while reading Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”.)  It was with much glee that I shared my good news with that teacher, who had given me a C on the poem.  “Too creative,” had been her justification.

If I can ever find a copy of “Nova”, I will post it on here, but the story I am sharing today was a piece I submitted to the L. Ron Hubbard’s “Writer of the Future” contest.  (L. Ron was the founder of Scientology.)  I entered the contest because it was free (free writing contests are like the Holy Grail of writing contests), and because I had a story I’d written that was too long for the Gulf Coast contest.

I’d just read the notorious short story, “The Lottery”, by Shirley Jackson (which I found more interesting than good), and had just written an essay for my “Health Care Law” class on a controversial news story that even the Pope chimed in on.

I’ve always said I’d never like to go into the future—the unknown is always more frightening than the known—yet neither would I want travel into the past, because I might alter my future (the movie, “About Time”, is great on this).  I’d rather be able to travel over distance…to be able to wrinkle my nose like Samantha Stephens (I always thought the ph should have been a v—it looks cleaner), and pop, I’m in Iceland or Australia.  The future of science and medicine, of technology, of food, and even social relationships, has always fascinated me.

Because I do enter so many contests, and submit without ceasing, I do find myself occasionally having to somewhat “mine” content from other works, like turning a short story into a poem, a chapter of a book into a stand-alone short story, etc.  Sometimes the new piece will take a completely different direction, which is always fun and exciting, not to mention rewarding, because it means you have created something new.

And so, here is my poem (based on the short story below it):

A Glimpse into The Distant Future

For whosoever needed a part,
be it a kidney, a lung, or a heart,
could have it for a price–
even as Jesus had bought
our whole beings with such–
the price a lottery ticket.

For those who needed blood,
with its magical properties
(for had not the blood of Jesus
once shed grace on Thee?),
the United Nations Blood Bank
had become a place of withdrawal for the rich,
of deposit for the poor.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2016-april-pad-challenge-day-4

~

The New Lottery

“I bought you a ticket,” Julie said.  She handed Jenna, her eleven-year-old daughter, the pink slip.  It was the color of the flamingo, signifying Florida, though neither had ever seen one in Pensacola, or L.A. (Lower Alabama), as the natives called it).  Pensacola was more Florabama than true Florida.  However, it was warm year round; if one wanted snow, they had to go to Canada now, as snow no longer fell in the United States.

“Thanks, Mom,” Jenna said, trying not to get her hopes up—all the while thinking that winning this lottery would buy her heart’s desire.  She had never had the opportunity to go to Disneyworld.  Maybe if she won, she would get the chance.  Though many of the rides of the past had been banned because of safety issues, she’d heard the simulations were just as good.

Julie smiled a smile she didn’t feel.  So many were in need out there, so what good did it do to pray to the gods, except make the praying person feel better, give them some peace—a semblance of control over the Fates?  Even the Greek gods and goddesses of ancient times could only do so much—they couldn’t control Fate.

If she held the winning ticket, her daughter would have so many opportunities that were closed to her now.  She would be able to go to the gifted Common Core school, she would be able to have a dog, she would be able to eat a banana—a rare fruit which only the very rich enjoyed.  Preceding the Great Blight, her Cajun grandmother, in lieu of a cake, would make Bananas Foster every year for her birthday.  Even though Banana #5 had been created by AgriTech as an addition to tofu, it lacked the subtlety of the original fruit.  Though Banana #5 didn’t go bad for months, it could not compare to the creamy bananas of Julie’s childhood.

“Do you mind if I go for a walk?”  It wasn’t even close to midnight, so she wouldn’t be breaking curfew.  She rarely left her daughter alone, but she needed this time to herself.
“No, Mom, go ahead, I’ll be fine.”

Julie smiled, and walked outside, where the breeze from the Gulf commingling with the humidity made it damn near unbearable.  At least she didn’t have to worry about getting the flu.  There had been a monstrous epidemic ten years ago in which about two percent of the population had died, but now everyone was vaccinated, except for the few thousand who lived off the grid in the mountains of West Virginia.  Not exactly a mass exodus.  All the children there were homeschooled, for they weren’t allowed to remain in civilized society, and neither did they receive any benefits from the State.  Julie wasn’t sure how they were able to survive without Food Vouchers or modern healthcare.  They even supposedly drank milk from a cow, which she found rather distasteful.

As she walked, the soft soles of her shoes a dull thud on the sidewalk, she realized she was grateful for her life.  Cameras everywhere recorded her every move, and she felt completely safe walking the streets, even at this late hour.  The streetlights made it almost as bright as day.  Humankind had come a long way, banishing the darkness from the night.  It was a wonder those vagabonds up in the hills hadn’t died off by now.

So many diseases had been eradicated, and cancer was becoming rarer since sugar had been banned.  She remembered looking at pictures of people in modern history books, and thinking how strange it was that people had gotten that large.  Sugar was still traded on the black market, but if you got sick, you were found out.  She just didn’t understand people who wouldn’t follow the law, for whatever reason.

Julie was feeling particularly melancholy tonight, and it didn’t help that she didn’t have a lot of friends.  Jenna took up most of her time, but she did have one:  Bethany Douglas—a woman seven years younger than she, with whom she’d become acquainted at the Standardized Testing Center.  They both volunteered there as their contribution to society, helping children get placed in their respective fields so they could start training for the workforce as soon as possible.

Bethany had a rare form of brain cancer, possibly inoperable.  She had insurance like everyone else in the country, as it was against the law to be without, for all the good it had done her.  If only her parents had gone for genetic testing, Bethany’s life of suffering, her life itself, could have been prevented.

She passed Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, its stained-glass windows radiating from the inside.  People still gathered to worship their God there, for mention of Him could not be made in public.  It was considered a form of indoctrination, and anyone who was caught uttering the name of God outside the meetinghouses and the privacy of their homes would have to pay a fine for crossing the line between separation of Church and State.

A couple of drones flew by with packages.  John had surprised her with a Sphere just last week.  She’d been taking care of Jenna for so long that she no longer bought anything for herself.  The Sphere, though it hadn’t made her forget the reality of Jenna’s situation, had at least taken her mind off of it.

The Sphere was a new invention.  She could experience being at the beach, as it used to be, before the last oil spill, when all the seashells had turned black.  That had ended the use of fossil fuels, and the world had plummeted into a deep depression, until the State and the Clean Earth Police had taken over.  Through the Sphere, she could stand under the waterfalls of Niagara Falls, look over the edge of the Grand Canyon, and even experience Mars, which had become a popular tourist destination.

She thought about all these things, and then suddenly, she was at Bethany’s door.  She often went on auto-pilot like this.  Her mind always checked out when she was alone.

Bethany answered, the swelling in her face from numerous pain medications distorting her delicate features.  “Julie, how nice to see you.”  Bethany’s spirit, even while staring into the face of the Unknown after death, always lifted Julie’s spirits.

It was strange being in a house owned by someone other than the State.  Private property such as real estate was a thing of the past.  Some government rentals were better than others, but always, those in power lived in the plush ones outside the Centre.  Bethany’s family had owned the house for over two hundred years, but the taxes on it were becoming burdensome.

Bethany’s house was homey, and Julie loved being there.  There was even a fireplace in the living room, though no one used them anymore because of the pollution they caused.  However, Bethany always had several soy candles burning in the hearth.  There were no books or magazines to be found—Julie had held only a few books in her lifetime.  The idea of flipping a page rather than scrolling down was foreign to her.  There were no pencils or pens—only the Artists employed by the National Endowment of the Arts League used such tools.  Her eye caught sight of a pink ticket, and Julie looked at her friend in askance.

“I want you to have it,” Bethany said, catching her eye.

“But that’s not allowed.  The State keeps track of all that.”

“There are exemptions.  If you and John divorce before the lottery is called, then he is no longer part of the household.  I got it in his name.  That way, you have two chances.”
Julie noticed all the drapes were drawn.  There was no way a drone could be spying on them right now, though she had seen a few fly by on the way.

“I will tell John.”

Bethany nodded.  “There isn’t much time.  I want to teach Jenna the Art.”

Though the State had done away with teaching cursive writing fifty years ago, one scribe was allowed per district, and Bethany was it.

“Jenna can take over for me when I go,” Bethany said, “instead of someday working in that solar plant, like John.  Of course, he’s doing the greater good.  You know, Julie, I wonder what life used to be like, when art was so spontaneous, and everyone did it.  Seems strange, doesn’t it, that just anyone could be an artist.  Disposable art.  Now it means something when you’re an artist.”

“I suppose,” Julie said, having once thought she’d like to be an artist herself.  She had never pursued it, because it wasn’t one of the approved majors at the University.  Medicine, science, technology, engineering, education, mathematics, and business were the Magnificent Seven.

Julie stayed for awhile, and they chatted over slices of square watermelon and seltzer.  “I wanted a child, too,” Bethany murmured.  “I’d thought about applying for a special dispensation, but there’s enough people in the world, I suppose.”

“Depends on who the donors are,” Julie said, and Bethany smiled.  They were thinking of Dana Kimberly, who had hosted a sperm-donor party, and ended up picking some loser’s because he was the only one she wanted to do it the natural way with.  The child had turned out to be subpar.  People just never learned.

Peace radiated from Bethany, and Julie marveled that someone who seemed so alive could be dying on the inside.  Perhaps dying with dignity did that for people.  Since it had become legal in all fifty-seven states, there was no more undignified dying.  Cases in which people chose to wither away in hospices, which were becoming increasingly uncommon, were rare.  Birth with dignity had only been around the last twenty years.  Women didn’t scream like some primitive animal when they had babies—they were grown in artificial wombs.  Women could watch their babies grow like a flower in a vase.  They had true reproductive freedom now.

The world had become a more civilized one.  Abortion had been done away with.  A woman who didn’t want a baby growing inside her didn’t have to have it anymore—she gave away rights to her embryo, though there were a militant few who didn’t want their biological child running around, and so there were places to go for that, though it was a punishable offense.  It was considered a crime against humanity, and treason against the nation’s future, for the fewer lowly beings being born, the fewer there would be to serve as soldiers in the armed forces and do manual labor.

“Knowing that I’m going to die free of pain and indignity has helped me enjoy what time I have left here on this beautiful Earth,” Bethany had said after her last, unsuccessful operation.  “It is my duty not to be a burden to my family.”

Just then, Adam, Bethany’s husband, came home, followed by Gus and Charlie Solarski.  “Hi, kid,” he said, giving Bethany a kiss on the forehead.  It was ironic that marriage equality, which was now free to anyone who wanted to marry, had become rarer than ever.  Gus and Charlie, two male nurses Bethany had met at the hospital, were exceptions, which made them rebels.

The only time Julie had been a rebel was to have a child the natural way, which insurance no longer paid for.  She’d trusted her Catholic faith that suffering brought one closer to Jesus, but it hadn’t, and so she’d left her childhood faith forever.

Adam went to the kitchen to place their dinner delivery orders while they polished off the rest of their seedless, and somewhat tasteless, watermelon.  Watermelons used to have seeds, her grandmother had told her, and how fun it had been spitting them out, but Julie wasn’t so sure.  Why should food be such a chore to eat?

“You know Jenna represents the little girl I’ll never have,” Bethany said as soon as Adam was out of earshot, “but that wasn’t the only reason I bought the ticket.  I also bought it out of love for both you and John.  I needed you to know that.”

Julie’s eyes misted.  She held Bethany’s hand and whispered, “Thank you.”  It didn’t matter that John and Bethany had once been very much in love.  They had shared a defective chromosome that would have resulted in a child born with a terminal illness; their marriage hadn’t been allowed because they hadn’t agreed to sterilization.  They had wanted children more than each other, and Julie had always felt bad for Bethany, for she had neither John nor children.  She could’ve chosen to be bitter, but she had chosen to fall in love with another.

“Do you love me like you loved Bethany?” Julie had often asked her husband.

“More.  Because you are the mother of my child.”

Children had become so precious—a commodity.  Even their little parts were precious.  One baby heart (from a defective fetus) could save the body of a great mind, a baby liver, the life of a productive laborer.

No, nothing was wasted.  Everything was reused, recycled, upcycled, and given new life.  Even the embryos and fetuses who didn’t make it were put to good use in the labs.  The American nation was thriving.  As this brave new world became more familiar, memories of what used to be faded into a silent spring.

 

When Julie got back, Jenna was resting comfortably.  She kissed her little girl’s forehead—her miracle child, she called her.  Most of the defective genes had died out, and the few babies born with Down’s Syndrome now were seen as strange little creatures, but they did make good laborers.  Everyone had a purpose in this life—it was a purpose-driven life.

A tear fell from her cheek onto the lavender coverlet.  Jenna had been a perfect baby, but Julie feared she would never fulfill her potential.

 

The weeks passed.

Jenna couldn’t attend Bethany’s slipping ceremony, but John and Julie were there, along with her husband Adam, and a few other close friends, as well as Bethany’s stepmother, who had raised her, her father, and half-sister.  Her father displayed pictures of Bethany as she grew up, with music by Damon Krauss playing in the background.  It was a celebration of her life, and a wonderful send-off to the life beyond.

It was a peaceful transition.  Bethany had called Julie to her and in her hand was the ticket.  “Did you get the divorce?” she whispered.

“Yes,” she said.  She and John had decided it was the right thing to do, and it had taken all of an hour online, where most pastors and government officials resided.  Julie couldn’t help the niggling thought that Bethany, in the end, had separated her from John.

She and John walked home together.  Few cars passed them.  Not many people could afford the kind of cars that were around today, but the world was much safer than it had been when cars powered by gasoline were everywhere.

“Do you ever ask if you’re happy, John?” Julie said as they walked arm in arm.

He was quiet for a minute, and Julie assumed he wasn’t going to answer, but then he spoke up.  “I don’t like to think about it.  Somehow, it makes me feel less happy.”

Julie nodded.  Somehow, she understood.  If anyone was her soul-mate, John was, and somehow, being divorced from him felt wrong, even though they were doing it for their daughter.

“If being at peace is being happy, then I am that…like Bethany,” she said, and John broke down then.  They grieved together, and in so doing, it brought them closer.

“I wish I could’ve been there,” Jenna said when her parents came into her room that night.

Julie ran her fingers through her daughter’s fine hair—hair that was like fairy wings and angel dust, like starlight and moonshine.  At least that was how Bethany had put it.  She had always tried to inject a little magic into Jenna’s too-realistic life.  “Bethany understood.  Bethany always understands,” she told her daughter as she drew her into her arms.

 

Three weeks passed, and then the winning number was called on the big screen in the Towne Square.  The President was in charge of calling for each of the states.  John and Julie held each other, holding their breaths, knowing their daughter was watching from her room.

When John and Julie Esh returned to Jenna’s bed, John was behind her as Julie told her, with tears in her eyes, “You won, Jenna.  You’re going to get a new heart.”

 

 

 

Writing Prompt: On Memoir Writing, and Finding Their Voices

If you ever get writer’s block (which can happen if you’re just working on one project at a time; I tend to work on at least seven, and in a variety of forms and genres), writing prompts might help you get unblocked.  Even better, you might come up with a great, publishable piece that you otherwise would have never written. 

  • The Wife of Brian.  (About not losing your identity, but rather, becoming more of who are you through the marriage relationship.  This would definitely have a Christian chick-lit vibe, as I am not the queen of oversharing.)
  • Second to Fluff:  Growing Up with Pet Parents.  (My mom’s story of having to compete for affection from her mom and dad, who liked to say that “dogs were easier to raise than kids”.)
  • Life with Griff.  (Told from my P.O.V. about growing up with a dad who is an unintentional Lucy Ricardo.)
  • Twice Upon a Time in Pensacola.  (My husband’s story of us, and how we crossed paths before we knew each other.  Love and Serendipity.)
  • Hannah Banana of Florabama.  (Though I had already written this as a nursery rhyme about my daughter, I am going to write another in the form of a fairy tale.  It is easy to take any story, and turn it into a fairy-tale:  https://sarahleastories.com/2016/02/12/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-340-theme-finally-or-at-last/)

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  • The Huntsman of Poplar Bluff.  (My Uncle Bill’s story of his “countrified” life, juxtaposed against the lives of his “citified” children.)
  • Jasper Vizsla:  The Hot Dog of New York.  (Based on Dana Perino’s dog of the same name.  A tale/tail? of New York Life, from a dog’s perspective.)
  • Santa Claus:  The Before.  (A fable or legend about how Santa Claus started his trade/calling.  Maybe this has already been done by L. Frank Baum, I don’t know, but I can have my own take.)
  • Before Laurie Nolan:  A Prequel.  (Laurie Nolan is a character in my book, “Because of Mindy Wiley”.  https://sarahleastories.com/because-of-mindy-wiley/)   Mine your writings for characters who still have their own story to tell.  You may even end up with a series of short stories to promote your primary work.
  • Lila Caddy’s Second Family.  A poignant narrative (from the P.O.V. of a twenty-five year old Cadillac named Lila).  Lila was my and Brian’s first car together.  She was more than just transportation–she was our freedom to go wherever we wanted.
  • House on Cottage Row.  The story of a house with heartwarming and heartbreaking secrets.  (Think of all the stories Tara, from “Gone with the Wind”, could tell.)
  • Pensacola:  The Dark Paradise.  Think “City Confidential”.  Every town has a story to tell.  I told mine in “The Ghoul of Whitmire Cemetery” (which was published in an anthology sponsored by the Saturday Evening Post, and was based on a true story).  https://sarahleastories.com/2015/12/06/more-good-news/

I believe these prompts will also help you to write in other “voices”.  I have found that almost all of my main characters are extensions of myself, and so I am in bad need of an “out-of-body” experience.

A persona poem is another great exercise in this:  http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/the-many-faces-of-persona-poems

Creative Writing Prompt: Polar Bears in the Desert…

Or, in other words, write a story about someone who is at odds with their environment.  Some examples are a minister in a political race (okay, maybe not so much), a domestic goddess who switches places with a CEO (that one could really be fun), a Millennial hipster stuck in the sixties, to name a few. 

Living in the South, having to deal with Yankees who make a deal about my “yes sir” and “no ma’am-ing”, was the inspiration for this farcical piece.

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When Melissa Met the South

Melissa Caldwell blotted her temple with a handkerchief. It was so undignified to sweat, or perspire, as her aunt Addie would say.  Her aunt Addie believed every word had a gender—men sweated, women perspired, men tailored, women sewed, men were chefs, women were cooks.  She even still used the terms male nurse and lady doctor.

It had been more than twenty years since she had seen her father’s aunt. Even though she’d been five the last time she had been in Pensacola, Florida, she hadn’t remembered it being this hot.  The humidity made her feel as if she were walking through a steam room.  She stopped at a café to get a cup of coffee—iced, that is—then realized she was a couple of eggs short of hangry.

“Would you like grits with that?” the server, whose nametag read Mandy Claire, said.

“What are those?” Melissa asked, and this little pissant waitress had the nerve to look at her like she was stupid. Well, at least she wasn’t a waitress; she had gotten an education.

“Okay, never mind,” she said with a wave of her hand and a roll of her eyes. “Do you have anything gluten-free?”

“Gluten-free?” Again, the look.

Melissa blew up her imaginary bangs in exasperation. “You know what?  Just bring me an iced coffee to start.”  Mandy started to walk away, but Melissa called out.  “Oh, by the way, do you know where a good Jewish deli is around here?”

“Publix has a really good deli,” Mandy said, then scurried off before Melissa could ask what in the hell was a Publix.

Melissa took that as an opportunity to fish her cell phone out of her Prada bag and call her best friend, Marisol Fernandez.  Melissa spoke Spanish fluently, so she chose to be respectful of her friend’s culture by speaking in her language, garnering a few glares from nearby booths.  She loved the privacy of being able to speak in code, but she could’ve sworn had she been speaking English, she would’ve been ignored, so she transitioned.  Funny, how they were all about “speaking the language”, yet they couldn’t spell worth it a damn.  The funniest one she’d seen had been on a church sign that said, “Not haven Jesus in this life is hell on Earth.”

“So, how is Jennifer and Kathy’s wedding coming?” Melissa asked her friend.

The waitress gave her a funny look as she set down her coffee, topped with a copious amount of whipped cream. “Anything else, ma’am?” she asked, seeming reticent to disrupt the conversation.

“Ma’am?” Melissa said, mid-conversation. “Please, I’m not even thirty.”  Melissa dismissed her by resuming the discussion on hers and hers bath towels.

The girl looked confused, then went back to work.

~

A group of people were having some kind of Bible club behind her while she finished her coddled eggs (another thing Mandy had never heard of), and it was making her uncomfortable. She turned around, looking aggrieved.  “Would you guys try holding that praying jazz down?  It’s really offensive to those who don’t believe.  Thank you.”  That was how she always got what she wanted—assuming she would get it anyway.

“We’ll pray for you, Sister,” one of them called out, so she sucked down the rest of her coffee, leaving a ten dollar tip. As she looked back, she saw the waitress’s astonished expression.  The girl did need some dental work, after all, and Melissa’s inherited wealth was a bit embarrassing.  She was like the only one-percenter in this greasy spoon.

A young, Mormony-looking couple holding hands walked by her car, pointing and shaking their heads. “Coexist only works if the others don’t want to chop your head off or blow you up,” she heard the man say.

God, what the Christian hell is wrong with these people? They are so paranoid, Melissa thought. This part of the country bled red, so it was no wonder.  She couldn’t wait to get to Aunt Addie’s house.  She’d kept in touch with her lonely great-aunt for the past several years, and she’d always seemed like a fairly rational person, albeit old-fashioned.  She didn’t know how her aunt stood living in a place that was so damn American Gothic Horror.  It was like freaking Pleasantville.

~

When she reached her aunt’s beach house, she was in awe. The sand was as white as sugar, the gulf vacillating between emerald and sapphire.  A wrinkle in the sky divided land from sea, and the sea oats swayed like dancers in love at the end of the night.  She even though she saw a dolphin making a graceful arc.  There wasn’t anything like this in New York.  The Jersey Shore didn’t even compare.

“Melissa?” a sixtyish woman said, coming out in a tank, Bermuda shorts, and flip-flops. An ivory Virgin Mary blended in to the landscape, but the “Marriage is Between a Man and a Woman” bumper sticker did not.

Melissa had always been vocal about her beliefs and non-beliefs, but she had never quite pegged her aunt as a Christian conservative, and yet, here she was, welcoming her into the folds of her embrace like it didn’t matter. It was then that Melissa knew she was in very grave danger here—of losing her heart to this place where it was flip-flips and bikini tops all summer long, where it didn’t snow, but rained at Christmas, and where everything was fried (except peanuts, which were boiled); where there was a church on every corner, and a hobo or Bible-thumper on the other.

Yes, she was, indeed, afraid of falling in love with this lovely place.

 

Writing Prompt: The Desert (Inside of Us)

travel-857086_960_720Imagine a desert, and then a cube in this desert.  Describe the cube.  Then describe the ladder that you see.  Imagine a horse, then flowers.  A storm commences.  Describe everything as you go.  How do all these things relate to or affect one other? 

This was the first creative writing exercise in my creative writing class (the professor said it was based on an ancient, Middle Eastern philosophy, that reveals your inner self).  More in-depth analysis can be found at the link below:

http://oliveremberton.com/2014/how-to-connect-deeply-with-anyone-in-5-minutes/

Here was my attempt:

The desert is like scorched earth—dry, desolate, with nary an oasis in sight.  It’s like the life has been drained from it—evaporated in the air that doesn’t move, but is dead, like a radio gone silent.  It’s as if Mother Earth has been stripped of all her beauty…and flesh and blood.

In the center of this desert is a most curious thing.  It is almost clear, but not quite—a sort of milky pearl, except it is a square, like a lump of sugar.  It glistens under the hot sun, and there is a tiny puddle underneath it.

Adjacent to it is a ladder with 12 rungs, lying on its side.  Like a hologram, or a mirage, I move, and it is no longer visible.  As I move nearer, the cube becomes smaller, until I step on what I assume to be the bottom rung; it is only then I realize that I had to take the first step to be able to reach the oasis.  I had to acknowledge that I had a problem—this was the first step to sobriety, but that oasis was getting smaller the longer I waited.

I take the 12 steps and reach down to kiss the ice cube as if it is the Pope’s ring.

Twelve months have passed, and I look up to see this strange animal—a unicorn.  It is the only living thing besides the cactuses.  The unicorn is rainbow-colored, her tail reminiscent of Rainbow Brite—a favorite of my childhood.  Her horn is silver, and, upon closer inspection, I see it is a compass.  I pet the unicorn I have named Lavender, for she appeared in the twilight of my life.  I mount her, for there is a storm coming.  There is darkness ahead, but I know I can pass through life’s hurricanes if I just use the compass and carry on to wherever Lavender takes me.  I hold onto the horn and we pass through the storm.  When the clouds are behind us, I realize we have crossed over, for I see the Rose of Sharon—a single white rose—and Lavender stops, and asks, “Will you accept this rose?”

I answer, “I will”, and then I reach my eternal destination.

What each story element represents: 

Desert=worldview
Cube=you, self-portrait
Ladder=friends
Horse=lover, ideal lover
Storm=trouble, challenge
Flowers=things you nurture or create

What each story element (I surmised) represented to me:

Desert:  Hell on Earth, known as Pensacola (my surroundings)
Cube:  Oasis
Ladder:  My friends are my 12 steps
Horse:  At the end was my true love, leading me away/saving me from a life of drunkenness
Storm:  Addiction
Flowers:  I nurtured my faith, and my faith did not fail me; because of it, I shifted focus to the Living Water, not old wine

Creative Writing Prompt: The Object of the Story (or the story behind the object)

One thing I wanted to do on this blog (at least for the month of January) was to share some of the creative writing prompts I participated in last semester’s creative writing course.

That said, the following prompt was inspired by a scholarship essay contest.  I had to write about scanners (of all things), and I thought, as I wrote, one could take any object and write a story about that object.  I could write about the remote control (and how my husband always manages to be in charge of it; I finally had to say something about him skipping over all the contestant interviews on “Wheel of Fortune”).  I could write about my car, and all the freedom it affords me .  I could write about my Michelle, the red-headed Cabbage Patch of my childhood, who I would drag around by the hair (my parents said I liked to “cuff around” all my dolls and stuffed animals, lining them up and yelling at them).  The possibilities are endless, for an object has little meaning, except for the meanings we attach to it.

So, when I had to write about scanners, I got creative, and ended up telling a true story about a childhood memory.

I would also like to hear from you–what objects (maybe in 140 characters or less) you would write a story about, and why.  (Looking at old photos can help with this.)

Scanners:  Reality in Real Time

The sometimes staticky crackle of police scanners brings back memories.  When I was a little girl, I spent every summer with my Grandpa and Grandma Booker in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.  Every night, my grandfather, who slept downstairs in the basement, would have the police scanner on—
what I like to call “blue noise”.

Poplar Bluff was a relatively small town back then (it still has only one high school).  I would sometimes open the door at the top of the stairs and listen to the sounds that made me think of walkie-talkies.  Sometimes, his snoring that was loud enough to wake undead would drown out the dialogue, or the cuckoo clock would pop out like an angry bird, scrambling my ability to decipher what was going on in the wee hours in P.B.  Listening to the scanner was like trying to see past the snow that clouded the premium channels.  It was a small source of fascination for me.

Turning the scanner on before bedtime was Grandpa’s nighttime ritual, like boxing and St. Louis Cardinal games were his entertainment during the waking hours; like watching the lightning bugs with their greenish-yellow glow in the evening, and noting the goings-on at the Slinkard house across the street in the afternoons.

Scanners are like an inconspicuous way of snooping one one’s neighbors—a gift for the lazy Gladys Kravitzes of the world; for ambulance chasers, and for those who like true reality, rather than the manufactured fluff, the alternate realities, made up for television.  What we hear on scanners is gritty, raw—like listening to a 911 tape.

My dad still remembers some of the stuff he heard.  There was a woman in Poplar Bluff who always spoke in a monotone and said, “Won’t start”, whenever a car had to be towed.  She would recite the address and that would be the end of it.  Sometimes there would be a weather alert.  There was also woman named Miss Wiley who was known at the time for always contacting the police about a prowler, the cops saying sarcastically, “Someone’s out there.”

Dad and Grandpa would listen to the Missouri Highway Patrol give license tags, always saying “B-as-in-boy” (I guess B-as-in-badass wasn’t acceptable), and, once in awhile, they’d hear the paramedics in ambulances give blood pressure readings (which seems like an invasion of privacy now).  Most of the time, scanners were a comforting background noise that didn’t distract like a television, flickering red and green instead of black and white.

Sometimes Dad would be lying in bed and the scanner would be completely silent, and then suddenly a BOLO alert would jolt them, startling them out of sleep or hurtling them out of semi-consciousness.

I remember when I came upon my grandpa’s old scanner with the silver antennae, and how I could make it go quiet when I pinched it between my fingers—that eerie sound of silence, like a blackout.  Scanners were as much a part of my childhood as Nick-at-Nite block party summers and the Hits Countdown with Casey Kasem.  Maybe someday, in my advanced age, they will become my white noise, lulling me to sleep.

Me and Michelle

Me and Michelle

 

Writing Prompt: The first shall be last and the last shall be first

“This writing prompt made me think of you. I would love to see what you do with it,” a Facebook friend challenged me.

Write a story that begins and ends with the same sentence, but make the sentence have a different meaning by the end.

It sounded easy, but in reality, it took some mental gymnastics to execute.  This is what I came up with.

cave-1149066_960_720.jpg

Tarquin was stoned.  He lay crumpled in a white-sheeted heap against the wall of the cave.  Some “toga party”.  He was freezing his giblets off, and it was dark, save for a single candle (potpourri scented), not to mention they’d taken his sandals.  He hadn’t bothered wearing underwear.  His heart was pounding, and yet, he saw everything with perfect clarity.

Kimberly, Andrea, and Dana had all lured him here for one purpose.  Well, they had had their way with him.

He was black and blue from temple to ankle and covered with lacerations–stripes for the sins of Tarquin Oliver.  He started to fade out, like he had when he’d given plasma.  Suddenly, nothing was clear anymore.  Tarquin was stoned.