Poem-a-Day 2016 Writer’s Digest Challenge #29. Theme: Haphazard

Life with Griff

Dollars into dimes,
fast food made slow,
pots and pans instead of
plates and bowls.
That was life with Griff.

Random lunchbox items—
Almond Joys and Handi-Snacks—
and dinner often burned,
which even the dogs spurned.
That was life with Griff.

Mixing flat Coke with fresh,
the creator of the 10-second rule,
showing up at school in high-water shorts
and black knee-socks, all out of sorts.
That was life with Griff.

Matching sheets, an unnecessity,
clocks that didn’t synchronize
were not a problem for him,
for time was often improvised.
That was life with Griff.

Flipping out when a car got behind him,
taking the road not meant to be taken,
but always managing to “recover his fumble”,
with Mom hollering, “Hells bells, Griff Graff!”
That was life with Griff.

Trips to the Wag to do number two,
when the toilets were on the blink,
throwing whites in with darks,
all coming out motley, wrinkly,
and somewhat less stinky.
That was life with Griff.

The endless making us guess,
making everything a test,
the telling of a joke,
only to forget the punchline,
leaving us all in a poke.
That was life with Griff.

Mopping without first a-sweeping,
CPAP mask while a-sleeping,
every scrap of junk-mail a-keeping,
and long trips to the loo
with a binder or two.
That was life with Griff.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2016-april-pad-challenge-day-29

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

Thoughts on Writing, on Books

Dante

  1. A $6 book will provide about a 3 more hours of enjoyment than a $3 cup of coffee, but they are a match made in Heaven.
  2. You can still learn from reading bad books, even how to write a bad book, who will publish it, who will read it.  It’s okay to write horse puckey, because it sells.  Horse puckey might help keep you eating so you can write that Great American Novel.
  3. The author of a memoir is the most unreliable narrator.
  4. DVDs are clutter, books are décor.
  5. Books don’t change.  Perspective does.
  6. Stories mean something.  Even Jesus spoke in parables.
  7. Great writers don’t need to steal.  They simply find inspiration in the work of others.
  8. A great plot will keep you reading to the end; great characters will keep you re-reading.
  9. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you usually can by its synopsis.
  10. The mark of a great writer is being able to engage all of the senses.  http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/07/humans-have-a-lot-more-than-five-senses/
  11. Less is more (especially when it comes to smut and profanity).  Too much can dull the senses and be distracting.
  12. The advent of the selfie has made the whole “one picture is equal to a 1000 words” false.

5-Minute Memoir to Writer’s Digest (former submission)

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The Writer’s Mind—A Literary Vitamix

I love blends. I don’t like pure cotton, because it shrinks. I don’t like plain chocolate–I like to have some nuts thrown in there (I don’t like pudding for the same reason, I like assorted flavors and textures). I love the new Coca Cola machines I see in fast food restaurants because I like Coca Cola and I like cherry, and I don’t want to have to choose.

I’m the same when it comes my writing, which makes it hard for me to pigeonhole whatever it is I’m working on (besides the broad category of novel, poem or short story). Me, I’m “V.C. Andrews meets Mormonism”, or “Fractured Fairy Tales” twisted with Biblical allegories. I even came up with a Shaggy God story told from a grown-up Alice (of Wonderland fame).

Blending genres starts off as an art (like cooking) and ends up being a science (like baking). You not only have to have the raw materials, you must make sure they’ll work together. If writing is painting with words, my palette is the Crayola 64-count.

What helps me most with novel writing is to make a full outline (and back story, though you must be careful with this—a reader is supposed to get to know the characters as they would a real person, a little bit at a time), and make sure something happens in each chapter. Each of my chapters is like a mini-short story, instead of just a continuation of the previous. That keeps me on track, and it’s also helpful if you want to have a cache of short stories on hand for contests (before the book is being considered by an agent).

Though it’s still a challenge to convert chapters of a book into stand-alone short stories, this way makes it easier.

If you have imagination, you can find the extraordinary in the ordinary. You won’t even need to look, because writers see what non-writers see. When I see an apple, I don’t just see a red, green or yellow (or candied) apple, I see Eve’s curiosity, the legend of William Tell, the story of Johnny Appleseed…

Sometimes just one word can be an inspiration. Think acrostic poetry.

Other times, a person, no matter how small, can be one of our greatest inspirations. Before my child was even born, I wrote her a nursery rhyme, which inspired me to write forty-nine more for a collection. Rather than putting my fifty eggs in one basket, I’ve been trying to publish them individually (while seeking a publisher who would consider publishing them as a book). That inspiration led to writing personalized nursery rhymes for my friends, who have been having babies.

Building up and then breaking down (whether it be books into chapters, or collections into individual short stories or poems), that’s what I do. You must be flexible that way. I’ve had novel chapters that make better short stories.

Like poetry, I used to think short stories were waste of time (at least commercially), but then I read an article where many big movies had been made from short stories. Even if no one else reads them, Hollywood does. Look what Tinseltown has done for Nicholas Sparks.

As a writer, I go through phases—I went through a Harlequin romance phase, then a creative nonfiction phase, and now I’m going through a poetry phase. I love having lots of different projects going on at once, which is ironic, as I can only read one book at a time.

Though many authors are known for one genre, I must stay versatile, or I get bored with my own writing, and if you’re bored writing it, “they” will be bored reading it.

http://www.writersdigest.com/submission-guidelines

 

Writing Prompt: If I was the title of a book…

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Me–Between Two Worlds:  My Life as a Former Mormon in the Buckle of the Bible Belt

My 8-month-old daughter–Drool and Raspberries

My husband–Spaghetti and Swedish Meatballs (my husband is Swedish and Italian; Italian Sausage and Swedish Meatballs was my original title, but one might get the wrong idea)

My mom–Split:  The Personalities of Babs

My dad–How to Jackleg Anything:  Memoir of an Unhandyman

My brother–Starving Artisan:  A Musical Life Stuck in a Horror Flick

My maternal grandmother, Bernadean–Nana Dearest (if you knew my grandmother, you’d understand)

My maternal grandfather–In His Shadow:  My Existence as Billy Graham’s Doppleganger

My paternal grandfather–The Man with the Strawberry Nose (I’m guessing rosacea)

My paternal grandmother–Dancing with the Man with the Strawberry Nose (my grandmother always said she’d rather dance than eat)

My friend, A.M.–Uncommonly Cored (as she is a teacher against Common Core)

My friend, Lori–Six Kids and the Beard:  Mormon Life in the Redneck Riviera

My friend, Mandy–The Cavegirl Diaries (as she is a Paleo/primal eater)

*What is a title that would apply to you, or someone you know?

 

Categorically, some of the best books I’ve read (thus far)

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LDS (Mormon fiction):  Shannon’s Mirror, by Luisa M. Perkins

  • I think a girl/woman of any age can enjoy this book, LDS or not.  Thirteen years ago, a friend of mine mentioned this book; the title stuck in my head until I finally bought it a few years ago.  It is a very beautiful, but very sad story, about how the quest for perfectionism (which I, as a former LDS woman, struggled with) can lead to heartache and destruction.

Christian fiction:  Any books by Linda Hall

  • This is the kind of Christian fiction I like–where Christians are real people who question things.  Rich in character, and description, too, but in a way that paints a picture as you read rather than slowing the momentum of the story.

Harlequin romance:  Redeeming Claire, by Cynthia Rutledge

  • Good Harlequin romances are as hard to find as an adverb in a Stephen King novel (or so I’ve heard), but this one is a gem because again, Christians are portrayed as regular people, not holier-than-thou or square as Wally Cleaver.  And it’s actually funny!

Mainstream romance:  Small Town Girl, by LaVyrle Spencer

  • I’ve read this book several times, and will read it several more.  It’s about a country music star who goes back home to help her mother and ends up falling in love with the one boy, now a man, whom she taunted all through high school.  The fact that Poplar Bluff, Missouri, the little town I was born in, was mentioned, was a bonus.

Memoir:  In My Hands:  Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer, by Irene Gut Opdyke

  • Though the subject matter isn’t unique, the voice was.

Biography:  Natasha:  The Biography of Natalie Wood, by Suzanne Finstad

  • I’ve been a fan of Natalie ever since I saw her as a little girl in “Miracle on 34th Street”, for she reminded me so much of myself when I was at that age.  She also personified physical beauty that did not come in blond hair and blue eyes (which I, and every other girl I knew, wanted growing up).  This book read like creative nonfiction.  I do think one would have to be at least a lukewarm fan to get pleasure from this book.

Chick lit:  Confessions of a Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella

  • Story and protagonist are hilarious (though I hope Becky learns her lesson by the end of the series).

Beach read:  The Sunday Wife, by Cassandra King

  • Though the author’s personal views are quite different from my own (and were presented in a very one-dimensional way), I enjoyed this because the friendship of two women was the focus, relegating the romance to the background.  Again, a bonus was that Pensacola, Florida (“The Buckle of the Bible Belt”/”The Redneck Riviera”), the town where I live, was mentioned.

Gothic horror:  Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews

  • I first read this book in high school and was hooked on V.C., till her ghostwriter became a hack.  I love this book because it’s just the kind of story I like to write.

Children’s book:  Many Moons, by James Thurber

  • I had read this book once, many years when I was in elementary school, and it stayed with me for almost 30 years, after I had my own daughter.  It epitomizes one of my favorite scriptures, “…and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

On writing:  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers:  How to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Browne, Dave King and George Booth

  • This book opened my eyes on how to break my stories up into scenes–how to show, rather than tell.

Best nonfiction/religious book (besides the Bible):  What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?:  The Positive Impact of Christianity in History, by Dr. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe

  • This was an enlightening book.  I’d never thought about how life might be different had Jesus not come yet.  Whether or not you’re a Christian, I think it makes for a thought-provoking read.

Query letter to “Missouri Life” magazine

Paul and Eleanor

(Above:  My grandparents, Paul and Eleanor Booker.)
(Below:  The query letter for the 5000+ word personal essay on the town of my birth.)

Dear Editors,

“Poplar Bluff” is a memoir of the fondest kinds of memories–those from childhood.  It is a juicy slice of small town American life, which includes a history of P.B., peppered with anecdotes and salted with sweet remembrances.

For several years, I spent all my summers with my grandparents in P.B., my aunt, uncle and cousins right next door.  I didn’t have that kind of luxury or history in Pensacola, Florida—the luxury of having family close by, and of a shared history in the place where I lived.

“Poplar Bluff” is also coming-of-age essay, where the memories are as golden as the tones in a vintage photograph, and the present is as stark as Technicolor.  It is also a love story of loss and moving on from loss.  Poplar Bluff, as I remember it, is representative of a simpler time, before Facebook and cell phones and other devices monopolized our hours, when kids played outside and entertained themselves.

It is a story of the wonders of summer through the eyes of a child.

 

My parents were into genealogy during those seasons of my life, and so I have them to thank for some of the more factual content, but the parts I believe that will resonate most is the story only I can tell.

I believe anyone who has ever called Missouri home, and those who have chosen it as their home, will find something worth remembering in what is simply titled, “Poplar Bluff:  A Memoir”.

 

A little about me:  I am married and the mother of a five-month old baby girl.  In addition to being a full-time, stay-at-home mom, I am the unofficial family storyteller.  I regularly blog on issues of freelance writing, marriage and motherhood.  My current project is a collection of children’s nursery rhymes, unofficially titled, “The Treasury of the Sara Madre.”  I am also a member of the local writer’s group, WriteOn! Pensacola.

 

Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Warmest regards,
Sarah Lea Richards

Grandma and Jacques

(Above:  My grandmother, as I remember her, and their dog, Jacques.)