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!
Sometimes you just need a creek. Especially when this is what you've been staring at for two days straight. You're juggling opinionated biographies:
The narrative and the comments between you and your editor:
And a story map that's helping you see everything of-a-piece.
It's dizzying. Time on a Sunday afternoon to put down the laptop, close the notebook, and head for the soothing sounds of someplace wilder than the story in your head and under your fingertips. A place where the ferns grow and the water slips between the rocks, where an old paper mill once stood and a covered bridge crossed the creek. The mill is a place of ghosts and the bridge is no more, but the water remains, and there are wading and sitting places galore. Roll up your pants legs and stick your feet into the stream. Find a place to listen. There are so many stories here.
Then return, refreshed, to the page. Read the comments that keep you going, and realize how close you are to the very, truly end. Count on it. And... keep going.
Here it is. The 1962 Novel has a playlist. Here are the songs mentioned in the book, the songs that are the soundtrack of my heroine Franny's life. You'll recognize Broadway, film, political polemic, humor, poetry, hymns, marches, jazz, rock, pop, R&B, country folk, anthems, classical pieces, spoken word (including a snippet of JFK's Cuban Missile Crisis speech and the Duck and Cover PSA) and a hint of the British Invasion to come.
You'll also read a snippet of the novel with each song listed, as a taste of what's to come next May when the novel is published. We'll also make this playlist available on iTunes at some point, so readers can download the songs that appeal to them and follow Franny's life (and the novel) in song.
Most recordings are orginal to the era. Three I've snuck in there anachronistically, because I took some artistic license. Can you tell which ones?
What is the soundtrack of your young life? List it, in your notebook, download it, sing it, act it out, dig up photos of that time and remember how that soundtrack defined you then... defines you now.
If you were 11 years old in 1962, your playlist might look something like this:
1. You'll Never Walk Alone from Carousel by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, sung by Shirley Jones in the 1956 film version.
I am eleven years old and I am invisible.
2. How the West Was Won (Main Title) from the film of the same name, soundtrack by Alfred Newman 1962. John Wayne played General William Tecumseh Sherman.
He's standing with his big hands on his hips like he's John Wayne in a cowboy movie, saying Don't worry, ma'am, it's just a coyote.
3. I'm Just Wild about Harry by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle sung by Ethel Smith (and Eubie). Harry Truman chose this as his campaign song.
From Biography 1: He had dreamed of being a great soldier when he was a boy and suddenly he had a chance, because in 1917, America began fighting in a war in Europe.
4. Happy Birthday Mr. President vocal by Marilyn Monroe, spoken word by John F. Kennedy.
"Gale's going to be Marilyn Monroe for Halloween," says Margie.
5. Jose the Astronaut by Bill Dana
Drew interrupts. "I'm going to be an astronaut!"
6. Where Have all the Flowers Gone? c. 1961 by Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson adapted from an old Ukranian folk tune, sung here by Peter, Paul and Mary.
Heavens to Murgatroid, Uncle Otts.
7. In Flanders Fields written by Lt. Col John McCrea, read by Anthony Davies.
Nothing's wrong with him! I want to scream, but that's not true.
8. Que Sera Sera by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans sung by Doris Day from The Man Who Knew Too Much 1956.
Mom is wearing her party apron at the sink. "Where have you been?" she asks in her Spanish Inquisition voice. Mom used to sing when she washed the dishes. Not anymore.
9. Somewhere by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim sung by Jimmy Bryan and Marni Nixon in the film West Side Story 1962.
Jo Ellen cried when she took me to the movies and we saw West Side Story, but she's not a crier by nature.
10. Johnny's Theme (The Tonight Show) written by Paul Anka, performed by Doc Severensen and the NBC Tonight Show Orchestra.
They talk about things I can't understand and I fall asleep to the sounds of my parents shutting up the house and listening to The Tonight Show on their black-and-white television in their bedroom, which is next to my bedroom.
11. Solidarity Forever written in 1915 by Ralph Chaplin, sung by Pete Seeger.
From Biography 2: Pete loved their songs -- Solidarity Forever! -- and he liked their ideas. He signed on to do whatever he could to help the workers of the world. He wasn't a worker yet, so he couldn't be a Wobbly; he became a member of the Young Communists.
12. Guantanamera music attributed to Jose Fernandez Diaz, lyrics from a poem by Cuban national hero Jose Marti, sung by Pete Seeger. Cuba's best known, most beloved patriotic song.
From Biography 2: And all the while, Pete scratched down the songs he heard, collecting them. Singing them. Recording them. Sharing them. Bringing people together in song.
13. Johnny Angel by Lyn Duddy and Lee Pockriss, sung by Shelley Fabares, number 1 on the Billboard pop charts April 17, 1962. Stayed in the Top 100 for 15 weeks.
Jo Ellen has the world's best 45-rpm record collection.
14. Side by Side by Harry MacGregor Woods sung by the Mitch Miller Singers on Sing Along with Mitch 1961-1964. Mitch Miller is still living at this writing and is 97 years old.
I forgot to sweep the kitchen floor and Mom had a few choice words to say when she came downstairs to find me following the bouncing ball with Daddy and Mitch Miller, singing "Side by Side."
15. Stars and Stripes Forever composed by John Philip Sousa performed by the Boston Pops.
Before I can even sit up, "Stars and Stripes Forever" blasts me out of bed.
16. Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill, American folk/work song composed in 1888 by Charles Connolly and Thomas Casey, sung by The Galliards.
"He looks fine," I insist, But he doesn't. He looks like the workers do in that song we're learning in music, "Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill."
17. I Am The Greatest written and performed by Cassius Marsellus Clay.
From Scrapbook 2: Sonny Liston KOs Floyd Patterson in round one to claim the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World! - September 25, 1962.
18. James Bond Theme by Monte Norman, performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic, arranged in 1962 for the first James Bond film, Dr. No, starring Sean Connery.
Uncle Otts drops his voice and speaks in secretive tones. "There's spies among us -- everybody knows this. We don't know who we can trust."
19. Green Onions written and performed by Booker T. and the MGs (Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Lewis Steinberg, Al Jackson, Jr.), entered the Billboard Top 100 in September 1962 and stayed there for 16 weeks peaking at number 3.
"What's that record?" I ask.
"Green Onions," she says. "Do you like it?"
20. The Air Force Song by Captain Robert MacArthur Crawford, performed by The United States Air Force Band.
We're in, just like that, because we've got a sticker on our car that proclaims: This is the car of Major Philip Chapman, Korean War veteran and now Chief of Safety of the 89th Sam Fox Squadron, the Squadron that Flies the President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy! This is the car of the Greatest Jet Pilot in the Air Force!
21. The Spinning Song by German Composer Albert Ellmenreich and appearing in John Thompson's Modern Course for the Piano, Third Grade Book.
Up and down the scales I go, over and over, louder and louder, and then I practice "The Spinning Song." It's too hard for me, but I want so much to play it. Everyone wants to play "The Spinning Song."
22. In The Garden composed in 1912 by C. Austin Miles, sung by Garrison Keillor and Meryl Streep in A Prairie Home Companion.
I start with my favorites, "In the Garden" and "Love Lifted Me," which is almost too hard for me.
23. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing written by Robert Robinson, sung by psalterbook.
Melodious sonnets and flaming tongues! I feel great!
24. When You Wish Upon A Star by Ned Washington and Leigh Harline, introduced in the 1940 Walt Disney film Pinocchio and used as the theme song for The Wonderful World of Disney until 1962.
Sometimes we eat TV dinners on TV trays on Sunday nights and watch TV, but it's too early for Disney so we eat at the kitchen table.
25. Camelot words and music by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederic Loewe, sung by Richard Burton in the original Broadway cast also starring Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet 1960.
From Biography 3: Jack and Jackie were full of pizzazz. They moved their two small children, Caroline and John-John, into the White House with them, and soon there was a pony on the White House lawn, and a tree house, and a swimming pool, and two children jumping in the Oval Office, playing with their father, while a photographer from Life Magazine took picture after picture for all America to see.
26. Runaway by Del Shannon and Max Crooks, a Billboard Hot 100 number 1 hit on the pop charts in 1961.
"Johnny Angel" has a yellow label, "Twistin' the Night Away" has a tiny scratch at the beginning edge, and "Runaway," which is my current favorite, by my favorite singer, Del Shannon, has a heart drawn on the label -- by me. Jo Ellen doesn't know this yet.
27. October 22, 1962 speech to the American people (excerpt) by President John F. Kennedy about the discovery of armed offensive Russian missiles in Cuba.
I'd better wrap up everything while I have a chance. I crawl out of bed and get on my knees.
28. Duck and Cover. "This is a Civil Defense Film" (excerpt) by Archer Productions for the United States Government's branch of Civil Defense.
When the film sputters off and the lights go on, there is not a sound in the room. Not even a chair scrape. We are all officially scared to death, but we are going to go on with our lives because Mr. Mitchell tells us to.
29. Brassman's Holiday composed and performed by Arturo Sandoval, who was born in Havana in 1949 and defected to the United States in 1990.
Mrs. Rodriguez takes her metal pointer out of her desk drawer, extends it to its longest length, and slaps at the map, just under the state of Florida. "This," she says, and we all look at where the red tip has landed, "is Cuba."
30. A Summer Place by Mack Discant and Max Steiner, from the 1959 film of the same name, performed by the Percy Faith Orchestra.
She retracts her pointer, comes to the front of her desk, and leans against it. "Cuba is a beautiful country, full of beautiful people. Let me tell you about it."
31. Over There written by George M. Cohan, sung by Arthur Fields 1917.
I say it slowly, in a whisper, like a prayer. "What happened to him?"
Uncle Otts takes the picture from me like it's a baby and gently puts it back on his nightstand. "I killed him," he says simply.
32. The Loco-Motion by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, a number one Billboard hit recorded by Little Eva in 1962.
It's time to take matters into my own hands, that's all there is to it. Either that, or I'm going to have to go crazy with the rest of them.
33. Chain Gang written and recorded by Sam Cooke in 1960. The song hit number 2 on both the pop and R&B charts.
That's the sound of the men (and Franny) working on the chain gang.
34. Are You Lonesome Tonight? written in 1926 by Lou Handman and Roy Turk, recorded by Elvis Presley in 1960. It stayed at number 1 on the Billboard pop chart for six weeks.
Come home, Jo Ellen! Fall in love with me, Chris!
35. Hit the Road, Jack a Billboard number 1 hit written by Percy Mayfield and recorded in 1961 by Ray Charles.
Hit the road, Franny! And don't you come back no more.
36. We Shall Overcome excerpt from a speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." The song was written by Rev. Charles Tindley in 1908. Additional lyrics are copyrighted by Pete Seeger, Zilphia Horton, Guy Carawan and Frank Hamilton. All proceeds go to the "We Shall Overcome Fund" at Highlander School.
From Biography 4: The Delta land was as flat as a door as far as the eye could see. Every now and then, a tree grew in the middle of a field, like a scarecrow with eight or ten limbs, like arms, akimbo. "Hangin' trees," the sharecropper families called them.
37. This Little Light of Mine written by Harry Dixon Loes, sung by the Freedom Singers.
From Biography 4: "Find the lady who sings the hymns," said Bob Moses. The civil rights movement became her home.
38. In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46 by Edvard Grieg, performed by the Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra.
Miss Farrell played "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from the Peer Gynt Suite -- I'm asking for it for Christmas. It's my favorite classical record and Miss Farrell knows it.
39. When the Red-Red Robin Come Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along written by Harry Woods, sung by Bing Crosby and Al Jolson.
In Glee Club we're working on "When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' along," and the alto part is sensational. I sing it all by myself in the bathtub at night.
40. Do You Love Me? (Now That I Can Dance) written by Barry Gordy and recorded by the Contours. The song charted in the Top 40 in 1962.
"Come on, Franny! Do what I do -- and sing after me! Watch me now!"
41. Moon River written by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, sung by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961.
"I know. Thank you for letting me go, Jo Ellen. I promise I'll be back early."
And with those words, I begin the longest night of my life.
42. Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, recorded by Brian Hyland in 1960. It reached number 1 on the Billboard pop chart and sold over 2 million copies.
There are kids inside -- lots of kids. I feel like the lion in The Wizard of Oz: I'd turn back if I were you.
43. The Monster Mash written by Bobby Pickett and Lenny Capizzi, sung by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and his Crypt-Kickers. The song went to number 1 in October 1962, in time for Halloween.
Even Judy James sings, and I don't care. What I care about is that I'm in the circle.
44. Please Mr. Postman written by William Garrett, Brian Holland, Robert Bateman, and Freddie Gorman, recorded in late 1961 by the Marvelettes. The first Motown song to hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It hit number 1 on the R&B chart as well.
I croon to the ceiling, right along with the Marvelettes and my friends. When the record ends, we keep on singing until we realize how bad we sound with the Marvelettes, which makes us laugh - oh it feels fine.
45. Night Train written by Oscar Washington, Lewis P. Simpkins, and Jimmy Forrest, recorded in 1962 by James Brown and his Famous Flames. The song reached number 5 on the Billboard R&B charts and number 35 on the pop charts.
All I can do is hang on for dear life.
46. Wonderful World written by Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert and Lou Adler, sung by Sam Cooke. The song reached number 12 on the Billboard pop charts.
Chris appears, still in his Superman costume. I brought help, his lips say, but I don't hear him. I telegraph him the question: Is this what happens when you die? He doesn't answer me.
47. I Vow to Thee, My Country from a poem by Cecil Spring-Rice, music adapted by Gustav Holst from a section of "Jupiter" from his suite The Planets, this beloved song has been sung at Armistice Day ceremonies as a response to the human cost of World War I.
"All right, troops!" says Uncle Otts, waving the back of his hand in their direction.
"Time to fall out! Time to move on!"
Chris clears his throat. "Sir?"
"Private?" replies Uncle Otts.
48. Telstar written by Joe Meek, recorded in 1962 by the Tornadoes. Telstar was the first single by a British band to reach number 1 on the Billboard top 100 pop chart.
And, while Uncle Otts ties a snug knot, it comes to me that I will go on to grow up now -- I feel it. I will grow old, like Uncle Otts, with all kinds of stories to tell, all kinds of days to remember, all kins of moments I will live, and choices I will make.
What do you think?
The ingrate. Just look at him, belly on the cool wood floor, little right foot sticking out so coyly. We rescued him from the bushes two years ago, when he was just a few weeks old, nurtured him to health, spent a bazillion dollars in vet bills -- he was always getting torn up outside by some thing or some other cat. We cooed to him and coaxed him and played with him and educated him and lovingly encouraged him to love us right back even as he chewed on our fingers and nipped at our ears -- hahahahaha. Our mistake.
Here is Cleebo, named for the same character in The Aurora County All-Stars. Cleebo the Clueless, I called that character. But this Cleebo is not clueless -- he's wily and crazy like a fox.
He stays away for months at a time. Yes, months. He returned at Christmas after an absence of a month, and we rejoiced. He sauntered in, chowed down, and waltzed right back out the door. He was gone for over two months this spring -- we were sure the coyotes that live across the way had gotten him. But here he came on the Fourth of July, still wearing his collar and name tag (with our phone number on it), loping down the driveway like he'd never been gone a day, right past me as I stood in the garden and watched him, my hands full of weeds.
We were overjoyed to see him the first time he came back. We had been so worried about him and had missed him so much. Now, when he shows up again, we hardly move. Someone says, still lovingly (we are suckers for Cleebo, we can't help it), "you ingrate..." as he sashays past us heading for the food bowl. Then I make sure he has his flea meds and is up to date on his shots before he can get back out the door.
He has been in and out since July 4, and I don't know if he intends to stay for a while or not. I've thought about writing about this cat, making up a story for a picture book, but I don't have a strong attachment to that idea, and I need that strong pull to the heart before I can make any story successful, so I'll pass on using Cleebo as a story idea.
So I won't write about Cleebo, and I don't write about my children or grandchildren or even the present day. I tend to plumb my young life for stories instead. I always go where my heart leads me, in trying to tell a story. The craft can and must come later. But if my heart's not in it, if there's not something strongly and steadily pulling me toward writing a story whether or not it ever becomes a book, then I leave it alone -- it's someone else's story to tell.
I've got four or five stories clamoring for my attention right now. I've got to turn my full attention to book two in the sixties trilogy soon, but I think I can work up one of these shorter pieces now. Which one is yakking the loudest? Time to sit down with my notebook and see.
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.