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Merry Christmas from our little Southern town.
Since we are fictional, I am happy to report that we have a foot of lovely snow and every resident is at home in front of a warm fire. All businesses are closed and since the crime rate is zero, even Sheriff Whittaker has the day off. Every belly is full and every heart is warm with the glow of the season.
Although he netted more than the coal he deserved, Virgil Creech is still dissatisfied with his Christmas morning haul and has vowed to reform. Yes, he intends to be good for the next 365 days in the hopes of earning Santa’s favor for next year. It has only been two hours, but as always, there is promise in the lad.
Faith, hope, and love are the order of the day. Kindness, hospitality, gentleness and understanding reign. And for this moment, there is peace on earth.
Oh, that we would work to make this our reality.
Merry Christmas and God Bless,
2015 marks the 17th year of The First Line. This online publication gives writers an opportunity to see one of their stories in print using the format of the same first line.
Here are the new first lines for 2015.
Spring 2015: Fairy tales hardly ever come true for quiet girls. (Submissions due February 1, 2015.)
Summer 2015: Laura liked to think she was honest with herself; it was everyone else she lied to. (Submissions due May 1, 2015.)
Fall 2015: The old neighborhood was nearly unrecognizable. (Submissions due August 1, 2015.)
Winter 2015: George pressed the call button and said, “Mrs. Whitfield, you have a visitor.”(Submissions due November 1, 2015.)
The First Line is available on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006XGLLSU
Today, three stories, followed by a few thoughts...
What would I do if I did not tell my stories? I might be “asleep” in life. But even in sleep my stories dance in my mind. They wait. They hear my “voice.” That “voice” is a part of them. Where soul and chance meet, in their midst are cinematic images. They must be given an account in […]Add a Comment
“Longing for a simpler life, famous Children’s Book Author joins a cult.”
“Penniless after years of rejection, Picture Book Author wannebe, dons a cape and mask to fight crime.”
“During the hottest summer on record, an out- of -work writer refuses to leave the bathtub.”
Are these tabloid headlines or stressed out writers looking for easier ways to earn a living? The answer to those questions just might be the basis of your next story.
The concept of THE AMAZING STORY GENERATOR is unique and simple. You choose a prompt from each of three sections set up in a flip-book style – a setting, a character, and a conflict. Written down, it becomes your “elevator pitch” and the start of a story, novel, screenplay or picture book.
This book is entertaining to read in and of itself. Passing it around among family members left all of us laughing and contemplating all sorts of possible scenarios. At its best, this book is a perfect when you need a jump start for a story, a new idea, or a way out of writer’s block. It’s a useful format for summing up your own stories or novels that are ready to be “pitched” to editors and agents. You can create thousands of different prompts and storylines. I found that practicing the format opens up endless ideas.
Here’s an example using one setting, one character, and several conflicts:
“Suddenly able to hear others’ thoughts, a spoiled teenager solves a ten year old murder, OR robs a series of banks, OR wakes up in a strange house.”
Do the same thing by varying the settings or characters and you can see the endless possibilities. Who knows, you could have the formula for the next mystery/sci-fi/YA thriller.
THE AMAZING STORY GENERATOR is the perfect addition to any creative writing program and should be part of every storytellers library.
“Inspired by THE AMAZING STORY GENERATOR, a children’s author writes the next bestseller.”
It could happen. Even if it doesn’t, think of what a great story it would make.
School’s been back in the swing of things for a couple weeks, and it has been bananas. But I’ve got this beautiful new space and some read-in-me-for-hours lounge chairs and the kids named our bright new sitting area The Birdhouse. This week: shelves and books. The heart and soul.
That’s why I needed to visit a book that is about all of those things: comfort and wonder and imagination and a very special place.
This book is the hope of yellow and the broken-in-ness of blue overalls and the loose lines of childhood. This book started with two masters but belongs to the rest of us. It’s root in the moodle of our head head heads.
They and I are making secrets
and we’re falling over laughing
and we’re running in and out
and we hooie hooie hooie
then we think we are some chickens
then we’re singing in the opera then
we’re going going going going ooie ooie ooie.
From the archives of the Portsong Guardian, dated May 1924:
A great loss occurred in Portsong today. Mae Wilkin’s cow, Flossie, took ill several weeks ago and poor Mae found her hooves up in her pen this morning. Since Flossie routinely slept in that position, Doc Harkins is not quite sure of the time of death as Mae can’t seem to recall the last time she saw her upright. The old doc is quite sure she has passed, though.
The death of Flossie not only leaves an empty stall in Mae’s stable, it leaves a great loss to the farming community at large. In 1908, Mae’s late husband, Homer discovered Flossie had quite a knack for weather prognostication. While his peers mostly considered him a lunatic, Homer persevered in honing the skills of his heifer until he finally won over believers after she correctly predicted the great hailstorm of March 1910.
His description of her amazing talent was detailed in the transcript of a radio interview by noted Savannah broadcaster Edwin F. Teague:
EFT: How did you come upon the discover of her ability?
HW: I began to noticin’ she always worked her cud on the left. I thought that to be a might peculiar, so I asked her about it one day.
EFT: You talk to her?
HW: Why sure I do. I talk to all of ’em. It sooths ‘em to hear my voice. No good milkin’ ’em without talkin’ sweet to ’em first. They’d squirt out beans or nothing at all if they weren’t peaceful! Anyhow, she didn’t have no answer. But the nexday, just by chance, I noticed she were workin’ it on the right. On about noontime, the sky opened up and cut loose a fierce storm.
EFT: So you noticed a pattern after that day?
HW: Yesir. It happened thataway every time. In fact, when it got to be planting season, I went out to see which side she was chewin’ on before I did anythin’.
EFT: Did you have trouble convincing other farmers about this skill?
HW: At first. If I were at the feed store out yonder in Linkston, I’d tell ’em what the day held and they’d laugh at old Homer. But after I was right so many a time, they had to listen to me. When I told ‘em it were Flossie, they laughed at me until the big storm in 19 and 10 turned out to be the Mighty Hailer! They quit their laughing after that.
EFT: Yes, how did you get from rain prediction to a storm of such magnitude?
HW: Well, it goed like this. When I went out to the field that day to check the weather, she had her mouth filled triple full and slop were coming out both sides. So I know’d it were something unusual coming. I asked her if it were so and she just lowered her big, soft brown eyes to the ground and I knew. I went running around town tell folks to tie down the winders, ‘cause I knew a big ‘un was on its way.
EFT: She prevented a great deal of loss that day. Thank you for your fascinating story, Mr. Wilkins.
Ironically, directly across from the story on page 13 was the following advertisement:
Wanted: The Portsong Guardian is seeking a weatherman for immediate duty. Part time - morning hours. Pay commensurate with experience. Bovine preferred.
Today’s post comes from a fellow writer, Johanna “Jody” Staton about how she finds and keeps ideas for writing. Here’s Jody:
Even when we enjoy writing and want to do it, we always seem to have excuses not to be doing more of it: school, jobs, family plans and obligations.
For me, there was one more excuse: no ideas that grabbed me by fingertips and dragged me to the keyboard. Until I read a column in a writers’ magazine that suggested keeping an “idea dump.” So I started one.
I’ve always gotten a daily newspaper, a habit learned from my grandfather and reinforced in journalism classes. Skimming the headlines gave me a general idea what was going on in the world. If the headline hooked me and the lead paragraph reeled me in, a whole article gave me insight into people and stories I didn’t know about before.
My mother had frequently clipped articles that she sent to me in college. Off on my own, I rarely cut anything out of the paper, until I read that “idea dump” column.
Space was made in a file cabinet. Out came the manila folders, the scissors. My husband read the newspaper first, because it developed holes once I got hold of it. Magazines were divested of entire pages.
The folders multiplied like rabbits. “Characters” became a bigger hanging box-bottomed folder housing “Children,” “Teens,” etc. “Settings” got geographical divisions. For articles from the writing magazine, genres each had their own folder, as did various aspects of the writing craft.
The following outline is an example of just some of the folders in my “idea dump”:
people who work with animals
middle grades books
young adult books
my home town
point of view
Can I claim that each of those clippings resulted in a writings project—a story, an essay, an article, a novel? No. But what I do know is that once I followed the column’s advice and started my own “idea dump,” something must have gotten turned on in my brain, so that now I have enough ideas for novels to keep me writing forevermore.
How do you organize/sort/keep your ideas for possible stories?
Jody Staton first realized she wanted to be a writer when she was twelve, and won an award at summer camp for the best writing of the season, a paragraph titled “God’s Symphony.” She worked for her high school and college newspapers, and was an English major. She has a graduate degree in magazine journalism. Jody was also an editor at Jack and Jill magazine, and had stories and articles published there and elsewhere. She does freelance copy editing, and has written several middle grade and young adult novels, all in various stages of development. None are published yet, but some have gotten favorable comments from agents and editors. She is currently working on a horsey historical for upper middle grades.
I am so proud of Kylie. She was determined to write this and spent a good deal of time honoring her selfless, Godly mother.
Originally posted on Smiley For Kylie:
I love you very much, but I haven’t been able to show it because I’ve been feeling so bad. But in between my naps and moods I have watched you strive to make me happy. And when I feel terrible you’re by my side with some sort of medicine to make it better. But when I thought deeper I realized that those recollections were just from this week, so I thought back further. I realized that you haven’t left my side since before I knew this was cancer because one day we went to get a MRI, and then that weekend you told me we had to spend a few days in the hospital and I was terrified. But you were there for me, even when the “few days” turned into a month. Guess who didn’t leave the hospital once: you…
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“Come, Henry,” Colonel Birdwhistle called as he shouldered his cane pole. “We should be on our way. The day is ending and your mother will be spreading supper soon.”
“But we didn’t catch nuthin’” replied the glum boy.
“We didn’t catch ‘anything’, you mean. And catching fish is but a small portion of our purpose here. We are here primarily to enjoy each other and the beauty of creation. If a fish should happen to find our bait attractive, that, my boy, is simply a bonus.”
Unconvinced, Henry pulled at his pole hoping for a nibble that would keep them a little longer. Receiving nothing for his trouble, he reluctantly stood and followed the Colonel toward home.
The two had not gone far when they heard the sound of an approaching horse. Soon it came into view as it galloped their way. Noting its speed, they moved well off of the path. When horse and rider came alongside the pair, the man on top pulled back on the reigns bringing the chestnut to a stop in a cloud of dust.
“Hello there,” called the rider from atop his mount. “Is this the way to Warbler’s Ridge?”
“I believe it used to be…” began the Colonel.
“I’m in an awful hurry,” interrupted the man. “I have urgent business at the paper mill there. This must be the right way, it was given me by the sheriff. I believe Whitaker was his name.”
“Yes, Hub Whitaker is the local sheriff. But as I was saying, this road…”
“Big fella, your sheriff. I’d guess you don’t have to worry much about crime here with a huge man like that minding the wall.”
“No sir,” answered Henry. “Things are pretty quiet round here. But…”
“That’s good, son. Real good,” cut in the stranger. “Well, I ain’t got time to sit around here talking. Like I said, I’ve got important business in Warbler’s Ridge. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on my way.”
With a click of his tongue and flick of the reigns, he urged his horse forward while Henry held up an arm in protest.
“Mister, wait!” called Henry in futility, for the horse was gone. Turning to his companion, he asked, “Why wouldn’t he listen?”
“Henry, you have just learned an important lesson,” returned the Colonel. “Some people don’t understand that having a conversation means listening as well as talking. If he had taken a moment to close his mouth and open his ears, what would he have learned?”
“That the bridge he’s headed toward fell into the river a long time ago,” answered the boy slowly.
“I believe he should figure that out for himself any time now.”
As if on cue, a loud splash could be heard from the direction of the river. The old man and his young friend ambled quickly to the river and past the horse to help the fallen rider out of the water.
“You okay, mister?” asked Henry.
“Why didn’t you warn me, son?” inquired the dripping stranger.
“We tried, but couldn’t get a single word past all of yours,” returned the Colonel. “You missed a turn a ways back and need to follow the river a mile north to get to the nearest working bridge.”
Once more on his horse, the humbled rider continued on his way with every intent of listening for an answer the next time he asked a question. Henry and the Colonel headed home for supper, laughing the entire way. They may not have caught a fish, but they netted a good story to tell.
Today, a word from the Reverend Josiah Crane, who has been the preacher of the Goose Creek Country Church in Portsong for as long as anyone can remember. He’s a masterful orator of the Scriptures, but could be described as somewhat distant when it comes to the shepherding side of his calling. In his own way, he cares for the souls of his flock very much.
I see you there.
I know you are squirming in your seat and I know why. What I just said hit close to your wandering heart…that is what the bead of sweat on your forehead tells me. A more compassionate man might offer you his handkerchief to mop your brow. But I say, better a little sweat now than hellfire for eternity!
So while you think I am speaking to the back wall, know that both God and I have you in our sights. Neither of us is oblivious to what goes on in these holy pews. For example:
1. I know the children count the number of times I hit the pulpit every week and even play a little game with it. While I don’t condone wagering, I have stacked the odds for a couple of my favorite little lambs over the years.
2. I know precisely what time it is. If you think repeated checks to your wristwatch will give me a subtle hint, understand that it only makes me slow my pace. You’ll get to your precious lunch, even if the Lutherans beat you there.
3. You cannot hide your dozing off – see point one, that’s why I pound the pulpit. When your head bobs up and down, I assume you are agreeing with me, which stokes the fire of my verbosity.
4. I do not believe in alliterations or acrostics like some word game player. I’ve got the Scriptures on my side and I don’t even care for the little numbers that man added.
5. You are absolutely correct – I do, in fact, like to hear myself speak.
6. I will not tell you how old I am or what year I was born! Before you were, I was. No one is going to win that bet. You may as well put the proceeds into the offering basket. I am not older than dirt, but recall firsthand accounts of its creation.
So next time you think you are pulling one over on the old preacher, remember that I have been doing this a long time. Ecclesiastes chapter 1 and verse 9 tells us, “There is no new thing under the sun.” I’ve seen quite a few suns rise and fall. Further, I’ve seen all the tricks.
I hope the old Preacher will forgive me the edits I made to his submission. He sent me 3491 words that I condensed after dozing off a few times. If you have any memories of being terrified by an old preacher, then you can identify with my friend, Virgil Creech – who is more than a little afraid of the Reverend Crane.
It’s been several months since I’ve written for Two Writing Teachers. In December my son was born, and I was on maternity leave until a few weeks ago. Then, in March I pushed aside all excuses… Continue readingAdd a Comment
Some real words of wisdom in this post.
Originally posted on Drinking for a Lifetime:
When it’s my turn to die I wonder how I’ll take it…and what lengths I will endure to extend my time here on earth. If I’m lucky I won’t want to see it all end…but I will go with understanding and thankful resignation for everything I experienced. Even the not so good times.
The reality is that no matter how much I try to “get it all done” I will never finish all that I hope to see and do. Life is forever changing and growing and expanding and each new twist brings with it opportunities that weren’t visible before. That is when I wish I’d done a lot of things differently
I get the whole “be open to possibilities” thing now because I’m getting up in the years, however, if we have the patience to ride out the storms and we don’t micro-manage our preferred outcomes some truly amazing…
View original 98 more words
There once were two lovely young girls, sisters in fact, who lived in a spacious abode that seemed, too often, to close in around them. They were two of four daughters, not the golden-brown edge ones, but the soft, fair-haired, middlest sisters, mixed and squeezed together so much that they couldn’t get along. In fact, they bickered constantly.
They bickered near, they bickered far
They argued things trivial, humdrum, and bizarre.
“I’m sick of your manners,” one would often yell.
“I don’t like your meddling or dubious smell”
The other undaunted, her resentments would list
And sometimes erupt in a tirade of fists
Finally the lady of the manor (the loveliest, fairest maiden in the land) had had quite enough. She threatened, cajoled, and punished the two sisters. In frustration, she assigned them chores in the hopes of building teamwork. The clever mother’s schemes worked…but only for a season. For the enmity between the two sisters had grown as great and thick as their noble father’s ample chest hair.
He, the master of the house, was wise on his own account and took action to solve the embarrassing bickering once and for all. He tied the legs of the two sisters together with red silky ribbon, telling them to write down ten things each admired in the other. Only then would the ribbon be removed and their freedom attained.
He congratulated himself on his shrewdness and saw to the other important tasks of the manor, little knowing that the two cunning sisters conspired against him. Each composed a flowery list detailing their own most praiseworthy virtues, swapped scrolls, and beckoned their father back to their dungeon. So pleased was he that he released the two fair girls immediately with a tender kiss on each brow.
He boasted to his lovely wife in their bedchamber that night and wondered at how she could possibly resist his dashing charm. While choruses singing praise echoed inside his swollen head, the lady heard the familiar bicker, bicker, bicker from the other side of the door. The master and fine lady gave up! Would the two sisters ever be confidants or were they doomed to dwell in the moat of antipathy ever after?
Alas, one fine day, something came into their hands that brought the two together better than any silk ribbon ever could. It was warm, imaginative, and likable to both parties. They loved this thing, pondered it, and discussed it non-stop. Oft in the evenings, side by side they could be found on a blue, fluffy throne doing nothing but soak up the enjoyment of this thing…together. Yes, together.
An amazing light shone over the humble manor – the light of peace.
What was this wonderful thing of harmony, you ask? What could it possibly be? It was a book, then another, and another. It was literature that bound their squabbling hearts and imaginations together.
The lord of the manor, a brilliant novelist in his own mind, felt it important to pay tribute to one of the tomes that brought reconciliation to his home. To celebrate Divergent’s theatrical debut, I give you Virgil’s take on one of the wonderful works that put hatred asunder.
Not coming to a theater near you….
Years ago, when I was a young mother and babysitter, I rode the bus with my son and my young charge - everywhere. What else do you do with two five-year-old boys with endless imagination and energy? We rode downtown, to libraries, to parks, to the next town over, to visit friends. We also walked and later, in the summer, we rode bikes.
Everywhere we went, we told stories. After reading William Steig's The Amazing Bone, we came up with a story about a talking donut. Every bus trip for a month or so, we added adventures about the donut and King Rupert, the donut's best friend.
And then there were the tales of Llewellyn the Lion, who worked as a late night radio host and rarely went out in the day. He rode a motorcycle and had a tab at the butcher's. He lived in fear that people would realize that he was not just a gravelly voiced, hairy recluse but a lion - a real lion. As time went on, Llewellyn told us of his friends - all graduates of the Philadelphia Zoo's secret Animal Intelligence project - and we met Llewellyn's teacher, Professor Freeman. The animals were tricked into a reunion and were drugged and kidnapped to become stars in a traveling animal act. Fortunately, one of Llewellyn's friends was a dainty gorilla. Along with the Jaguar, ocelot, rhinoceros, several lions, a seal and a rhinoceros, they all managed to escape.
I wrote that story up and shoved it into the glove compartment of my old black Impala. When the car broke down and we had it hauled to the junk yard, the story was lost forever. The rhinoceros - or was it the seal? - was a poet and some of her poems were in that story. They were haunting and surprised me. Stories can be pieced together. Poems evaporate.
And then there was Super Anders and his sidekick Critter Man. These stories were made up bit by bit of the things that my boys suggested, cartoon characters that they enjoyed. Danny Dunn and his friends got tossed in there, too, since we read every Danny Dunn book we could find. I liked these stories best of all. The boys were always trying to save Little Annie, the Orphan Apple Selling Girl from danger. But Little Annie just as often had to save our heroes.
I miss Llewellyn and his friends. I miss Critter Man, who ba-a-a-a-rked! And I miss King Rupert and his talking donut.
Perhaps, I will ride the bus for nostalgia sake and remember small boys, stories and a time when I was young.
Last week, for anyone who knows or cares about Ukraine, was one where reality outstripped most scary stories or fairytales.
Any story that was being told, of a choice between the European Union and Russia; of ultra-nationalists versus a democratically elected government; of a gradual exchange of power from president to parliament; of things reverting to normal once all the homeless bums realised they couldn’t live in protest tents forever and went back to whatever gutter they’d crawled from – whatever the story was, however coherent and persuasive the narrative, it was utterly overtaken by events.
Who could make up police snipers shooting down unarmed protesters with live ammunition? Or charter flights of the wealthy and well-connected with their suitcases of cash queuing nose to tail to take off for Russia or the West? That the tanks and soldiers allegedly heading to Kiev would never arrive? That the president would sign an agreement to hold early elections and then disappear? That next day his country residence would be open to the public to wander around and gawp at his ostentatious and thoroughly kitsch display of stolen wealth?
Truth stranger and more fantastic than any fiction. I’ve been making stories out of Ukraine for several years, both as a journalist and as a fiction writer. This last week I’ve just stared in horror, astonishment, awe, sadness, cautious hope. I could never have guessed what would happen, let alone made all this up.
|Barricades in central Kiev (photo by Max Bibik)|
|Memorial for those killed (photo by Max Bibik)|
Today’s post is part of a Choose Your Own Story written and hosted by T. Isenhoff and M. Isenhoff on their Storyboys blog. T. is in 3rd grade, and M. is in 6th grade. This story was their winter homeschool project. Travel over to their blog to start at the beginning. Have fun!
“We better get out of here,” Ed said.
Tony stood undecided. “It would be really fun to bust whoever’s in there,” he said.
“But if you get caught trespassing you could be off the football team,” Ed said.
“Good point.” They turned to descend the stairs.
Just then, the music went dead and the doorknob turned. The door opened and the muscular figure of a man appeared in the opening.
“Coach Theodore?” Tony asked in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
The coach smiled. “Didn’t you know Silas Walker was my great-great-grandfather? I own this house.” He closed the door behind him, but not before the boys got a look at a table filled with jewels.
“What was that?” Tony asked. “It looked like jewelry.”
“None of your concern,” the coach answered with a warning frown. “You boys get out of here and forget you saw anything.”
“Is that from Connie’s Jewelry Store?” Tony asked.
The coach glared. “Keep asking questions and I guarantee you won’t be on the team this year, Tony.”
Tony glared back. “I don’t want to play for a thief anyway.” And he turned to walk away.
“Tony!” Ed screamed. “He’s got a gun!”
Tony turned back in time to watch his coach pull a handgun from his jacket pocket.