by Betty Auchard
I am obsessive about making lists for story prompts, and have more than I can possibly use in a lifetime. Most of my ideas spring from letters I write.
Long ago I started a file called Stories in Letters
, and it’s so large now that I have files within files. A few of the subtitles are Mom, Grandkids
, and Teaching Junior High
(I’m renaming that file My Gin and Tonic Period
). Other categories are Menopause, Raising Teenagers, Mating the Dogs, Living with 12 Men, Catechism Classes, Escape from Las Vegas, Jury Duty, Student Teaching at 40, College Graduation at 42
, and To Make the Bed or Not to Make the Bed
. I get such a kick out of just reading my ideas that I’ve often thought of putting the lists together and sharing them with other writers in a program called Lists I Love
In addition to computer folders, I have a drawer full of spiral notebooks filled with first drafts and notes about writing. Some notebooks are completely full and others contain many sheets of clean paper. (Does any of this sound familiar?) When I get an idea that I don’t want to lose, I grab a half full tablet, make sure I put the date on my new notes, and then start writing by hand. One tablet I grabbed recently is dated December, 2001. The date on the next page is January 1, 2011. The note read, “I am not
making resolutions this year—period!” I love reviewing these entries. Some became published stories.
There’s also a Ziploc freezer bag full of stuff that is just as much fun to sort through as the notebooks. The bag is an odd assortment of first drafts dated 1998, thoughts I didn’t want to forget the year my husband died. These old drafts are written on all kinds of paper—used envelopes, napkins, the white margin of a torn out hunk of newspaper. I scribbled on scraps and journaled on junk. Writing kept me afloat.
One item I cherish from that plastic bag is a white paper placemat from The Fish Market. An idea struck and I just had
to get it down. I pushed my almost empty plate a little to the left and wrote on the placemat over stains of tomato sauce and salad dressing. The shape of the story is curved like the plate on the left and straight at the edges on the right. I cried privately while writing, glad that I had already eaten most of my food. That story ended up in my first book.
Idea lists are precious. We might want to mine them for stories more often.
* * *IPPY Finalist Betty Auchard is a popular speaker and the author of two memoirs. She lives and writes in northern California. Blog with the author at http://www.bettyauchard.com/.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
This time of year thoughts about creating a safe and inviting classroom fill our minds. This is one of my favorite things to think about. Today I shifted the question slightly and began thinking about writers specifically. How can we make writers feel welcomed? Here are some ideas I’m tossing around. More importantly, I can’t [...]
Writers' notebooks are personal, valuable, essential. Somewhere to jot down thoughts as they occur before they disappear back into the ether. They contain the germs of ideas, solutions to problems, plots and titles that never went anywhere - a nostalgia-fest for the writer and a boon for literary biographers and critics in the case of the famous. Reading them is like looking into lit, uncurtained windows on a winter night, especially those in the backs of houses passed on the train. They give a privileged insight into the interior life - the writer in the wild, roaming his or her territory unaware of observers.
I've been using a facsimile of Bram Stoker's notebooks for Dracula while researching my own vampire series, Vampire Dawn (Ransom, March 2012). They look familiar. Spattered with odd jottings that are hard to interpret later, but also with longer pieces meticulously copied or summarised from books and conversations. There are typewritten notes and annotated bits of typescript as well as pages of handwriting (thankfully neat in his case). They offer a fascinating glimpse into the process of composing Dracula. The bits he didn't use are just as interesting as those he did.
He was very thorough. He went to Romania and interviewed local people. He wrote long lists of Romanian words he might use. He researched boats that had sunk off the coast of Whitby and boats that carried their cargo to shore. He recorded any odd episode or story he could use. Just as we all do.
I have two types of notebook. There's always a general notebook that is carried almost everywhere, and filled with odd ideas, observations, scribblings of any kind. Those are a chaotic jumble that probably make little sense to anyone else. Then there are specific notebooks for each project. These show the genesis and evolution of a book. It's interesting later to see the bits that never made it, the ideas that look really stupid later, and how far the final book has wandered from the original idea or plan.
My notebooks will never be of real interest, like Stoker's, but I can't show his as the facsimile is copyright, so here's a peek inside mine as a poor substitute for the curious.
This is a Moleskin softcover brown notebook. On the cover is a printout of an early version of one of the covers of the series (the first cover we fixed on).
I always stick a picture on a notebook or folder as it's the quickest way to see which is which.
Inside... these are bits printed from the web. I needed to know exactly how a guillotine works and the position of the body of the victim just before execution. This continues on further pages. In case you ever need to know, there is a tilted bench that the beheadee lies on.
If you are a regular reader, you know a lot of my thinking lately has been about writing process, and specifically nudging third grade writers into more traditional drafts. Today’s post is a collection of my thoughts about drafting. I hope it is applicable to a range of writers — not a specific grade level. [...]
Defrosting the Deep Freeze
by Karna Converse
Two or three times a year, I sort and organize the contents of my deep freeze; once a year, I defrost it. Many of the contents are unrecognizable due to ice crystals or the white of freezer burn, and I throw much of it away. But I usually find something that’s worth keeping, and sometimes, a treasure or two: a container of chili that’ll feed two -- perfect for a meal when only half the family is home. A package of sweet corn or a frozen fruit cup that brings a taste of summer to a cold, winter night. A chicken casserole that simply needs to be reheated. A roast I’d forgotten I’d purchased.
I do similar exercises with the contents of my writing files.
Some of the writing I find is truly awful and I send it to the trash bin, but some—rejected from a first round of publications--meet the guidelines of a new publication I’ve recently encountered. Like the casserole or container of chili, these pieces simply need to be defrosted and reheated. I’m re-energized by these discoveries, but the ones that bring the biggest smile to my face are the pieces I’d forgotten about, the ideas I’d begun to develop but never completed. Most are journal entries, and they’re begging to be thrown into the crock pot.
I had no particular plans for the notes I started scribbling notes into spiral notebooks 12 years ago. I was a stay-at-home mom with young children, and to be honest, didn’t have time to develop them into full-fledged pieces. I just knew I needed to capture the moment. Some entries filled a page; others, only a few lines. A few entries were written in response to a writing prompt but most are simply notes about the particular day’s triumph or disaster; a parenting-related news story or controversy; or the questions and funny comments my children made.
Now, as one of Literary Mama’s blog editors, I’m expanding these random thoughts into short essays for readers who understand and can appreciate them. My “For Your Journal” writing prompts connect a parenting issue with a personal experience and encourage readers to keep a journal about their own parenting experiences.
Even though my children are now in high school and college, I continue to make notes in a journal. I’m not sure when, or if, I’ll develop them into longer pieces but I know I’ll be glad I’ve captured the moments. So, I encourage you
to pour a cup of tea, settle yourself into a comfy chair, and defrost the contents of your writing deep freeze. You might be surprised at what’s already simmering in the crock pot.
Don’t have a spiral notebook? Get one. Now. Jot down the funny things your friends and family say, the experiences that make you proud, the conflicts that make you angry. Write about the family pet, a favorite board game from your childhood, the first time you tried to teach your child how to cook, the role religion plays in your life, the childhood events that influenced your present-day relationship with a sibling.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a character for your next short story or a theme for a narrative essay. Or maybe you’ll use the idea to create a special holiday card or photo album for someone in your family . . . Or maybe the memories will simply be captured, to be defrosted months—or years---down the road.
* * *
3 Comments on Friday Speak Out!: Defrosting the Deep Freeze, Guest Post by Karna Converse, last added: 10/17/2011
We've had the best rain this week. Thunder, darkening skies, steady showers, even downpours, then clearing and the sun shines again. For a drought-weary city, this rain has been a blessed relief. The garden lives again (no amount of watering helps a parched garden, especially when watering restrictions are in effect), and there are indoor things to do.
A rainy evening calls for cookies. Thanks Hannah.
A rainy afternoon calls for a cucumber/tomato salad... the last of the farmer's market produce this week. We eat in Irene and watch the rain sluice all around us, like a curtain. The smell of rainwater on dry earth is exquisite. My Aunt Mitt used to say, "Just smell the earth! I like to think God washed it!"
A little hula hoop practice is good for the rain-bound soul.
And a little administrivia. Web page building, email answering, work-related phone calls, and bill paying. All a distraction while waiting for the sun to come back out.
Thanks for all the anniversary good wishes yesterday! We had a wonderful day doin' nuthin' much.
What do you do on a day when you do nuthin' much? What do you do when it rains? Pull out your notebook and write one paragraph, one pomegranate, full of the most luscious details you can muster. Write with nouns and verbs.
Have a great weekend.
Pictured below is yesterday's haul at Book Nook in Decatur, Georgia. I almost never find anything affordable anymore at used book stores. Long gone are the days I rummaged through boxes of books on the side porch of a little thrift store in Vienna, Virginia and bought books there for a nickel a piece when I could afford the extra nickels.
I also bought my then-three-year-old daughter a nightgown for 45 cents, which stays in my mind for some reason -- even the very look of it I remember... it was soft, well-worn cotton, buttercream yellow with tiny lace trim on the sides and bottom. Oh, how A. wanted that nightgown.
It was 90 cents, and outside my very paltry budget that day, but the owner took one look at us, and especially at A., who had her hands clasped under her chin, longing for that nightgown, and said, "Today, it's half off." My daughter wore out that nightgown before she grew out of it.
I am partial to thrifting. Years ago, it saved my life. Even though that sounds like a drastic statement, it's true, and one day I will write about that life. These days, thrifting sports a different hue, but is no less important to me. Most of my home is furnished with thrifted items, and most of the clothes I wear are thrifted.
(Another aside: I once worked in an IRA symposium with the wonderful Naomi Shahib Nye, who boasted at the microphone (because she'd been introduced this way) that she had not bought anything to wear in over 8 years. "Share with your friends!" she said. Say it, Sister!)
Ahem. To the books. I love old cookbooks and gardening books, and old, odd books about keeping house and parenting. Yesterday at Book Nook, I found so many good ones on the half-price bookcases. The entire haul cost me $11.77, with tax, which is harking back to those good old days before thrift stores really knew how much old books could bring.
Maybe these books are important only to me. That's fine. This winter I will savor The Encyclopedia of Cooking (1951), Farm Journal's Cooking for Company, The Winter Garden, and sooner than winter I will try some recipes from Our Daily Bread along with the Chocolate-Orange Meringue Pie ("Light and colorful with grated chocolate as a garnish and a surprise layer of chocolate under the orange custard filling" p. 228) from Farm Journal's Best-Ever Pies.
Wanna come for dessert? A recipe isn't complete until it's shared.
I'm thinking about cooking lately since I have time to cook these days (have made time), and because I see what a community cooking and eating together creates.
Michael Pollan was interviewed on Fresh Air yesterday. It's a 20-min. interview worth listening to. He'll have an article in the Sunday New York Times worth reading about the same topic -- we watch cooking shows, but we cook less than ever. Why is that? He posits that it may well be that it wasn't fire or even language that grew us up into human beings. It may be the act of cooking.
And thrifting. :> Finding new uses for old discards. Or repurposing what we already have. Kids do this instinctively -- the couch cushions turn into a rocket ship or a cave.
What about you? What do you thrift or repurpose, and how do you do it, and why? What's the greatest, neatest, coolest, funkiest, funniest or most amazing thing you ever scored/thrifted/yard saled/repurposed?
Write about that. Short. One seed of the pomegranate. Just one story. Beginning, middle, end. Take a snapshot, draw a picture, give it some heart, make it a song. I'd love to see it, hear it, savor it. It will enrich my life every bit as much as that Chocolate-Orange Meringue Pie. Less calories, too.
It's why we're here, to share our stories with one another.
I spent the largest part of yesterday afternoon with daughter Hannah, gathering. We went thrifting and discovered a sixties lemonade pitcher with five glasses, as well as some old sherbet cups, perfect for all that ice cream we've been making. We visited the farmer's market in Decatur, where we bought eggs and bread and cucumbers. Then we picked up our first CSA box as well, full of tomatoes, green beans, okra, peppers, melons, potatoes and more.
All in all, a good gathering day. And, best of all, we gathered more than concrete things. We gathered ourselves together, too -- we confabbed, we reminisced, we shared the doings of the days, and we made some plans for the future. A celebration is in order. Our friend Richard has a new job -- surely this calls for cake and more ice cream.
Yesterday I got busy gathering the new book together as well. As I browsed the aisles of Kudzu with Hannah, as we talked about the coming season three of Mad Men, we'd hold up a find and say, "Oh, this is such a Betty dress!" or "this is so Joan!" and as the lemonade pitcher and glasses came home with us, I slipped back into the sixties.
Once we were settled at home and the produce was put away, I sliced a fat heirloom tomato for a tomato sandwich on two slices of Magnolia Bakery's cinnamon-raisin-pecan bread. I slathered the bread with homemade mayonnaise, layered in the tomato and salt and pepper, poured a glass of peppermint iced tea, and sat down to supper in Irene with my notebook.
I'm beginning again. I'm gathering to me the bits and pieces for a new book. I can see that I need to research again -- I'm making a list of books, DVDs, and music I need to read, re-read/watch, and listen to. The playlist is coming along. Soon I will pull out the art tablet I used for this second novel -- I know what this book is about, thanks to this art-tablet notebook -- I've kept lists upon lists of what I want to know, what I know, and where I think this novel is going.
It will surprise me as I write and revise, but today I expect these surprises. I'm ready to gather them to me as well, to gather together all the pieces and parts of 1966 -- what's in my head, and heart, along with the drafts I have discarded over the years. I'm ready to get to work.
As soon as I make a cake and a little malted milk ice cream. (Thanks, A., for the link!)
View Next 18 Posts
Home, friends. I am home. There's no place like it, and I'm glad to be here. Thanks for coming to the low country with me. I had no words last week, but I loved reading yours. Thanks for all the lovely mail. I savored every word.
And now... a return to our regularly scheduled program. I have breakfast with my editor this morning (Sunday). He's here for the Decatur Book Festival, so we will take some time to be together this morning, to meet face-to-face for the first time, and start getting to know one another in person.
If you've been reading One Pomegranate, you'll know that I lost my long time, beloved editor, Liz Van Doren, in early 2007 -- a devastating blow. We had worked together for 12 years. Over time, we had learned to complete each other's sentences as we talked about stories. We challenged each other. We made good books together.
Kate Harrison became my editor at that time. Within the year, she left Harcourt for Dial/Penguin, and I landed at Scholastic with Kara La Reau and David Levithan. The plan was that I would work on the first of the sixties trilogy with Kara, but eight months later, Kara was laid off, just as I was nearing the home stretch of a complete draft of book one.
David and I began working together less than a year ago. In that time I finished the draft, finished another, and another, and have gotten to know David through phone calls and email. He's a good editor. I don't know him well yet; we are learning to work with each other, and I understand that good working relationships take time and trust. It's not necessary for us to become friends, although that would be nice, but we are already colleagues in book making, and I am delighted by that.
At any rate, it will be good to have met face-to-face as we come into the home stretch of putting this novel to bed. There are a million things to talk about, to ask about, to learn. And to share. Many of them have nothing to do with books. I'm looking forward to breakfast. It's good to be home.
As for Charleston: we'll be back. It was good. Very good. And... I have a prompt for you (and your students):
Take a digital camera with you and take photos on a given day of objects that tug at your heart. Don't think too hard about why they tug, just trust your gut. Take as many photos as you want.
Then, take a look at your photos and select the four or five that can tell a story of that day in one word. That one word will be a theme, if you will. Let that one word title and those photos help you tell a story wordlessly. Let them evoke a memory, an emotion, a mood, a narrative. See what you come up with. You can use my posts from last week as a model or guide. This should be creative and fun -- and full of good ways to think about story.
I'd love to see what you come up with. It could be a notebook exercise. The photos, printed on computer or photo-quality paper, could be pasted into your notebook with your one word as a heading. (Conversely, if you are keeping a blog as scrapbook (One Pom is part scrapbook), you can easily construct this as a blog entry.)
So. Personal narrative in photos. I'd love to hear the discussion this engenders, too, and the ways that you adapt it for your own purposes.
And now: What to wear to brunch? It always comes down to the practical considerations, doesn't it?