In less than three weeks it will be summer. Last I knew, it was winter. Or so it seems. Methinks that time thieves are on the loose again.
The good news is that I’ve been preparing to give a workshop for the Writers Federation of New Brunswick via Zoom titled The Power of Prompts. Just revised the ppt presentation for the nth time. I’m excited! (And, gulp, it’s today!)
I’ll be giving a similar workshop as part of the Birchdale Writer’s Retreat later in August that Heather White and I host here in SW Nova Scotia. (Lodge and log cabins; no electricity, phones or Internet!)
Heather’s leading a session titled “How to Evaluate Your Work.” If memory serves, this is our 7th year. The retreat is really unstructured save for the workshops, mentoring and group yaks about the writing life (all optional), so there’s lots of time to write, read, sleep, paddle, take photos or do nuttin.’ One thing we all do is eat well.
Back to prompts. I recall a guest post Ginny Boudreau did here on that topic two years ago (May 2, 2020) … how using prompts can release our creativity and provide fodder for story. Worth backtracking to read, as Ginny’s had several poems and CNF pieces—birthed from prompts—accepted in literary journals. She’s such an inspiration.
Speaking of Ginny, we did a series of prompts last year based on the alphabet. A is for … B is for … etc. Individually we’d come up with a bunch of words for a letter, select one, and fly with it. Then we’d share what we wrote.
Many of my alphabet stories were silly ditties like this one:
P is for potty-mouth
“Swears like a pirate.” That adage would have been an apt description of me in my twenties. Not sure why pirates got such a bad rap. In fact, I doubt that they lowered themselves to my standards which at best could be understood as potty-mouth. Of course, I could also be Saint Sandra and keep my words as clean as Kleenex. The odd thing is that I objected to other people swearing—yet it seemed OK for me to sling obscenities.
* * *
…. Gets worse from there. Ugh.
But, once in a while, a gem surfaced. For example, when I saw the letter W, Whiff came to mind and a couple of scenes popped into view. Kaboom! The story pretty well wrote itself. Short piece hovering around 245 words. Here’s my latest revision. (No doubt there will be more, but I think it’s a keeper.)
The musky Eastern Hay-scented Fern along the path between the meadow and the meandering river reminds me of my father. He is smoking a pipe in the den, reading an Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
Papa is short and stocky, with thick black hair parted down the middle. His bushy mustache always looks lopsided—like his life. A well-loved surgeon who performs miracles in the operating room, he’s also a crack deer hunter, loves smelly Stilton cheese … and cheats at poker.
My father smokes a pipe, preferring Field & Stream —the woodsy blend of Cavendish and Virginia tobaccos he discovered after returning home from the Second World War. Papa’s also partial to Absolut Vodka. In a drunken stupor, he grabs my braids and throws me against the kitchen wall. Or so I’m told. I have no recollection of this scene at age three—only the lingering aroma of his pipe.
Another day, another walk, another scent of smokey crushed hay. I inhale the past and recall my sixteenth birthday. Mama gives me a set of pearls. Papa presents me with a 16-gauge Browning shotgun, acknowledging my skill at Trap & Skeet shooting, a sport he introduced to me at age thirteen. Was the gun—something I’d yearned for—penance for the past?
I just turned seventy-seven. The heady smell of tobacco has never been as strong as this musky November morn. I stand still on the edge of the now-golden meadow, whiffing my father back.
* * *
I sent the latest version to Beautiful Things (River Teeth). It was rejected. But I’m not giving up on it. Recently, I went through the personal essays I’ve written over the past couple of years. I have about twenty ready for submission, varying from 250 words to 4000 words. Around eighty percent pf these stories evolved from prompts. Now the challenge is to find the right literary markets and submit!