Writing Prompt: We’ll Try Interrogation if Nothing Else Works

July 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s been hard for me to get back in the swing of things after coming back to Chicago from Prague. I had adapted to the work space and work environment there. I had nothing better to do than to write (in between the times I was sightseeing and traveling to other Czech cities), so that was what I did with myself.

Here, there is so much distraction. There are two other people in the studio apartment that I feel enough interest in to pay attention to, even when I don’t want to. There are tons of other activities I could busy myself with: cleaning, organizing, reading, painting, doing the laundry, anything but write. In Prague, I had what I brought with me: three books. Here, the shelves are filled.

So the subtle writing doesn’t seem to come as easily as it did. I know it’s just temporary. I know it’ll pass as I readjust, but for now I’ve got to find a way to cope. While sitting in the laundry room to get away from the activity in my apartment, I said, “Okay, just ask the characters your questions directly.” You can spend all day thinking about how you’d show that this man’s life was affected by the one time a girl turned him down for a date, the fountain in the background, the napkin in his pocket. But that takes a long time. And then after thinking about it, you have to write it down, too. And maybe it all doesn’t happen at once, so you forget about it by the next time it needs to swoop back in.

I needed to write and I needed to write right now.

So ask your characters the questions you want to ask them and see what unfolds. I got something good toward the end. It was something important to me, at least. What I found in this exercise as to remember that just because a character answers a question one way doesn’t mean that’s the way it actually happened or the way they actually feel. You’ll see. Try it yourself. Then post what you produce in the comments (or on your own blog and post the link in the comments) and let me know what you found out!

Dear Hyun, if you could find Eun-Byul again, what would you say to her?

I would have nothing to say to her. We had our moment and then it ended and with Eun-Ji I am happy.

Dear Hyun, why did you fall in love with Eun-Ji?

There is something that we can’t explain about a human’s relationship with a wild animal. I see them and I’m curious how they would act if they weren’t afraid of me. I don’t care about taming them. We have enough tamed animals, but i wonder what the world would look like if they were less afraid to rise up.

Dear Hyun, what do you think about abortion? I know, I feel it, too. This wall between us because I try to make you speak to me in English, but that’s not your language, not the way your thoughts naturally come. Would you prefer to sit outside or inside to have a conversation with the person you love?

Outside, especially in the country, whatever place feels more timeless.

Eun-Ji, is there a reason that I should admire you? Eun-Ji, Eun-Ji, can you hear me? What are you interested in? You are interested in something and I want it to be something I am not interested in because you are your own person, not just an extension of me. You are interested in one day owning a store. Maybe you don’t even care what kind as long as you own it and organize it, right? A clothing store with your friend from the other city? Maybe she talks to you about it. Maybe she’s the kind of person who takes a couple weeks out of the year and goes crazy producing designs and names and marketing strategies and calls you to follow her but runs out of gas and lets it fade back.

Eun-Ji, how do you love your father?

I remember that he would sit with me at the kitchen table and let me help him roll his cigarettes. I remember when he was done, he would sit and smoke one, and he would push the leftover tobacco toward me. It would line up against his finger and end up in rows, little walls across the table, so I’d try to spell out words in the tobacco by moving it like he did. It was hard with any 응 because the little circles were difficult to do.
I’d grab a little cup from my mother’s hand, still warm from the dish rack, and make little circles in the space beneath it by pressing it into tobacco hills, but still it was too hard to clear out space in the middle to make them look perfect. So I skipped my parents’ names and went to words like 사과 (apple) and 친구 (friend). He told me the secret of 사과, that when you want to apologize to someone and can’t find the words, you can give them an apple, the same word as apology.

I thought he was lying. I gave one to my friend after I took her hair band from her desk and wore it, but it didn’t help at all. Still, I felt calm when I would walk pas the door to my parents’ room and see an apple settled on the nightstand in the dark.

Dear Eun-Ji, did you ever give an apple to Hyun?

I never asked him if he’d been taught the meaning. I enver wanted to risk it. He never got very upest during our disagreements anyway, so level-headed. I think an apology would have been an insult, assuming he’d held on to a feeling longer than he really did.

Hyun, why did you fall in love with Eun-Ji?

She is beautiful and I saw her taking care of some animals in the park a long time before our friends set us up. I never told her that I saw her, and I haven’t seen her do the same since, but i fell in love with the chance to have someone take care of me even when I was wild and would never give anything back to her. I felt like maybe she could understand me in that way.

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Writing Prompt: I Told You

June 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

People communicate with other people in a lot of ways. Sometimes we don’t even notice. Someone brought to my attention the fact that we so easily fall into step with the people we’re walking with. How difficult is it for a baby to recognize all the little signs of a person’s pace and keep up? We learn over time, but it’s never taught to us through words. I love that fantastic, unspoken communication. Spoken communication can be just a nice, however, and not necessarily easier to understand.

What if someone said to you: I told you not to tell anyone where I was.

Out of the blue. You had no memory of ever being asked to keep this secret. What would you do? Feel free to warp this prompt anyway you can. I did. Here’s my response, and remember to post your own in the comments!

Frankie had been her mother’s dog

There was a telephone line that hung down in front of the deli so that when Katarin looked out the window, ham or baby socks, sausage or linen shorts in her hands, she could see pigeons raising their tails and turning, turning, trying to decide which way to look on the telephone wire. The line had been knocked loose during the bad storm last week, and no crews had been by to fix it yet. 

Katarin kept one sign taped to the front register. It said “No checks, please” and “Finish with your cell before you talk to me, or the ham that you ordered goes straight to Frankie”. She didn’t know the rhyme didn’t quite settle, but she knew the threat was true. This was a business.  

Frankie was her small, yappy dog. He usually sat underneath the bench at the side of the room and woke up to snap at waiting customers who forgot he was there, when they slid their feet back under the bench and caught him in his stomach. Katarin filed his teeth down so they wouldn’t cut flesh, but they still pinched. People usually stood in Katarin’s deli. 

Margot made a point of standing when she came in the Tuesday after the storm. Katarin’s laundry was spread out over the top of the meat case in neat piles. Why waste time moving back and forth between the shop and the living room? 

“Could I have a pound of turkey, please?” 

Katarin winced to hear Margot because she knew that she had a cell phone, knew every time she came in, Katarin was tempted to ask to use it, ask for a customer to help her, do her a service. It would ruin the deli. It would make it go soft like a woman who realizes she’s old. Kids would hang out on the bench and tame Frankie. Maybe the meatballs would go mad. Who knows? She couldn’t have that.  

But she hadn’t heard from her mother since the storm, had no idea where she would be, embarrassed to ask after a homeless drunk she was unfortunately and blessedly related to. 

“Sure,” said Katarin. She took out a lump of what she’d shaved that morning, then grabbed more to bring it to a pound. “Anything else?” 

“No thank you. How are you by the way?”  

Katarin finally felt the chill from the cooler case on her thighs and closed the door, distracted by the paint that was chipping from the tiles across the room. 

“I’m okay,” she said, eyes turned to focus on the numbers that registered on the scale. “All your family do alright in the storm?” She wrapped the meat. 

“Yes, yes. Everyone’s fine. Seems like everyone in the whole town’s fine. Only damage was some flooding and of course you know about the power lines.” 

“Telephone lines.” 

“Yes. Could I actually have half a pound more? Thanks.” 

From the chill, as she pulled out more turkey, Katarin said, “Say, Margot…” The words were cut off from the rest in a big nervous slice. Asking about the storm was polite. Business. Authority. Using her first name was already too familiar. She remembered the last time she had seen her mother, dirty and curled around a toy stuffed duck, stroking her stringy gray hair like she was preparing to go out. 

Already to familiar, so she might as well sign it and seal it up. She could already see the surprise in Margot’s honeyed eyes. 

“Could I borrow your cell phone for a minute?” She kept her eyes down, at the turkey, as she arranged it, felt it slip and stick on her plastic gloves. Margo dug in her bag, “of course,” and set the phone next to a pile of hand towels. 

Katarin took the phone into the back room. 

She dialed the number of the pay phone where her mother was supposed to be, the number her mother had written on an old chip bag. 

It rang. It rang. It rang… 

“Thank you,” said Katarin, placing the phone back on the counter. She gave Margot her total, took her money, watched her leave, whistled at Frankie to get back under the bench. The sky outside was gray and hung close to the buildings like matted hair. 

Katarin went to try her ground line again, turned back to the counter, folded a shirt, went back again to check for a dial tone. She didn’t know which way to look.

Happy writing!

Writing Prompt: Praha 7

May 30, 2011 § 3 Comments

Yes! It’s true and it’s happened. I am in Prague in the Czech Republic and am getting ready to head to sleep for the second night in my lovely bed in my lovely apartment in my lovely hostel. I live in Praha 7, if that means anything to you. If not, it’s like a neighborhood or region of the city in the North, just a rather short foot-blistering walk away from Prague Castle, which is beautiful by the way. Europe is nice. I say this because it means something to me. I’ve only ever been to Asia, so I haven’t had the experience of Europe before this trip. Europe feels like this: drinking, smoking, graffiti, walking, old fancy-roofed buildings and potatoes and pasta. The Czech Republic especially feels like graffiti and unleashed dogs.

This is the street our hostel is on. You can see several different tags in this one picture, some faded or covered up by a coat of paint.

I loved this piece, though.

This is at the John Lennon wall, which was covered with all sorts of beautiful messages and even had a tiled space invader by Invader.

Click here to find out more about the Space Invader project.

So today’s writing post is inspired by graffiti, tagging, street art, whatever you want to call it. Think especially (if you’d like) about what you would write if you could, spray painted on a wall somewhere.

Here are my responses, just random little things. Yours can be longer if you want. What if you could take up a whole wall? What would you tell? Post your responses in the comments.

I once met your grandfather in the basement of a convenience store and he told me to buy the tomatoes in the back because he’d taken them from the chain grocery store and switched them out.

If antennas and planes were underground, do you think we’d have more room to fly through the air?

There is a tree by the river with our initials in it. I don’t know how they got there, but they’ll stay there and so will I.

Have you ever heard a bomb outside your window and the debris splashing up against the pane?

Happy tagging!

Writing Prompt: Country Lullaby

May 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s Rapture tomorrow, eh? It’s our last night on Earth, eh? I think we should fall asleep to a fantastic lullaby, in that case. Think about it: what would you want to be the last thing you ever heard. You could pick a song or a sound or a voice. Ah, good thoughts, aren’t they?

Okay, now let’s get to the prompt. I heard from a friend, in my recent “studies”, that drunk people yelling is the Czech lullaby. She also told me I probably wouldn’t have to worry about it because of the hostel I’m going to be staying at, but nevertheless, it got me inspired. I hope it’ll do the same for you.

The prompt is to think of a place-specific lullaby. Would that be a sound, a song that fits the town/city/country? Go big, go small. Maybe there are different lullabies for different rooms in your house. Maybe one sound lulls the whole world to sleep. While we’re busy thinking of our last night on Earth, let’s get some writing done.

Here’s my response:

Czech Lullaby

The night is darker in cobblestone cracks. I leak into them with every step. I think I heard someone say something about prom night when my big toe got lost in the crack and I say to her,

“I can’t go to prom without all my toes.”

She takes my hair in her hands and braids it, tight to my scalp. Her fingers press into the soft spots in my skull where I am still a newborn, haven’t learned how to hold my liquor, the places that make me wobble when I walk over Stone Bridge.

“I’ll take you,” she says, pushing her hand into my shirt and squeezing. I leak completely into the crack and stay there, looking up at the clouds that are ugly and smoggish.

“You’re ugly,” I say. She can hear me, even from inside the crack, but I think my voice echoes out into tangled tones. She gives up on translating street talk and walks away to the next pub.

When I look down to the bottom of the crack, I see that I’m not alone.

“You’re stepping on my foot,” the girl says, the one that is laying on the bottom of the crack in the cobblestone. I pick up my foot quickly, like she bit it through my yellow leather shoe. I don’t know why I am dressed the way I am.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her about the way I am dressed. She leans forward and says,

“Can you help me?”

Of course that’s what she says. She is dressed in crocheted white, holes around her nipples and her belly button and the freckles that make a line like Orion’s belt across her stomach. Of course she needs help.

“Yeah, sure,” I say. Now I’m starting to slur. Is there something in the air down here? .

“My cat is lost,” she says. She walks away from me and I sit up so that my chin can see over the top of the crack. I put my palms up and pull myself up and walk again on the cobblestone, trying to find my date because the clock tower says it’s close to midnight and I might turn into an air conditioner soon.

Sooner than I thought, sooner than I thought, I am laying in my bed and I am an air conditioner. I can hear myself whirring. I can hear her cat, on my chest. Whir, whir, and I put my fingers behind its ears.

“Who are you?” she asks. She is sitting on the floor next to the bed. It’s not my bed. This girl has purple eyes. I reach up and my hair is still braided.

“I’m fuckin’ sorry,” I say. I throw off her blanket and pull my pants on and stumble out the door frame. The knob won’t turn on the front door. I turn around and she is looking at me.

“Let me out,” I say.

“I am so glad that I found you, pretty kitty.”

Remember to put your own responses in the comments (or link back from your blog). Happy writing!

Writing Prompt: More Than One

May 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

Prage at Night

So, I’m preparing to go to Prague, CZ in exactly one week. In exactly one week I’ll pay my first visit to the O’Hare airport and take the ten hour flight to Poland, layover, and a shorter flight to my destination, get picked up by the driver, go the hostel, and… well, I know you don’t want the whole story, so I’ll stop there. I am, however, still preparing.

Yesterday, Adam and I went downtown to pick up the texts I need for the class I’ll be taking while I’m in Prague, and we meant to pick up a phrase book and guide book and sketch books to be my journals, but in the rush of trying to get to the bank before it closed and the pressure of getting a good pair of shorts before I left, we forgot. So that’s what we did today. I got a Lonely Plant Eastern European phrase book, and then went over to the “gifts for readers” section of the Barnes and Noble.

You know what the selection is like, don’t you? Some super pretty graphic filled journals, some huge, expensive, leatherbound journals, and a section of moleskine. Well, I wanted the most practical and useful sort of writing tool I could get, so I went over and checked out the three pack of regular, unlined moleskine journals. They were eighteen dollars. Then I checked the single journal of the same style.

It was twenty dollars.

It makes no sense to me. I don’t even want to get into it. Feel free to get into it yourself in the comments, if you’d like. I bought the three pack.

But it just reminds me that sometimes things are better in bulk. It’s better to get three 120-page journals than one 195-page journal, and it’s better to pay less for them.

That’s my prompt for today: What else is better in bulk?

People? Are people better in bulk? Not for everyone. Birds? In certain situations. Food, we like to buy in bulk, but what happens if we don’t eat all of it? And what if we had to buy pills one by one every morning instead of having a bottle in our bathroom cabinet?

Post your responses to this prompt in the comments! Here’s mine:

Perry thought of girls in terms of quantity and avoided taking Geography like it would kill him if he did. Maybe it would.

Perry knew there was a limit to the population of the world at any given moment. Yeah, babies were being born all the time, but that’s where the second step came in. Perry knew that he’d most likely only date girls within a certain age range. He couldn’t think far forward enough to a time where he’d be old enough to date the babies born today, so he estimated he had about nineteen million girls to get through and he damn well wasn’t going to let a single one go to waste.

He had to touch them all.

Perry spent weekends on the train, brushing up against girls as they got off the train, as they got on, as they switched seats. He spent his time near the door, ear phones on but music off, so they would think he was distracted while he tried to figure out the best way to make contact with every single girl in the car. He didn’t have any time to waste. Who knew if he’d ever see these girls again? Nineteen million. In the United States.

“Nineteen million,” he said to Faye. “Nineteen million girls and you’re asking me to go see a movie with you?” She sat at the desk in front of him. She nodded.

“And sit next to you the whole time?”

She nodded again. “I don’t see what the problem is.”

“I have to touch everyone. If I go to a movie with you, we have to do it logically. See the one with the most people, and let me mill around by the door as people come in so I won’t miss anyone. But even then, that’s two or three hours wasted that I could be out in the lobby.”

“You can have two snack breaks.”

“Three?”

“Two and I’ll go to the bathroom afterward so you can stand by the door and wait for me.”

“That’s an awkward place to stand,” said Perry. He pushed the eraser end of his pencil hard into the top of his desk and chewed on a corner of his lip.

“Everyone,” said Faye, “uses the bathroom after a movie.”

“Fine. What’s opening this weekend?” asked Perry. Faye didn’t answer right away. She was staring down at where the pink nub bent like curled fat against the desk. Her mouth hung open and she took deliberate breaths.

“What?” Perry said.

“And you have to come to my house afterward,” blurted Faye. She looked straight at Perry. His legs felt antsy, but the shine in her eyes glued him to the moment.

“Okay,” he said, without thinking.

“Good,” she said. “I’ll find out what’s opening. And we can go really early to make sure you can touch as many as possible.”

“Wait, why?” He caught up. She had been smiling, relieved, but now looked away. The teacher came into the room. Faye turned around in her seat and looked at the whiteboard.

Perry tapped her on the shoulder, but she didn’t react. He tapped again. He tried again. Throughout the class, he couldn’t focus. Not that he could usually focus anyway. Why waste time in a class with the same girls week in and week out?

He kept tapping her shoulder, waiting for her to turn around. Tap. Tap. Touch. Touch, touch.

Don’t forget to leave your responses in the comments!

Writing Prompt: Pan-Flash

April 29, 2011 § 8 Comments

My boyfriend attempted yesterday to design his own business cards, which got me thinking about how I could make my own business cards stand out. Mind you, they’re not actual objects yet. But I did come up with an idea that I’m very satisfied with. Artists put their art on cards, right? I’m an artist, too, so why not put some of my art on my card?

So I decided to make a set of very, very short flash fiction pieces. I guess they call it micro fiction under 300 words. And I’ll put those on the backs of my cards! Let me tell you, though, this is no easy feat. I’ve started the first piece and it came out over 190 words the first time. It took me more than an hour (splice chatting, Tweeting, YouTubing in there) to cut it down to 138 words. I was aiming for 130 or less, since that would allow the text to be 12pt on the cards. But man, 138 seems like it’s good enough now.

Yes, yes! That’s my prompt to you. Write your own business card flash fiction (or poetry) in 140 words or less.

Here’s my first attempt. I call it Continuing Education.

The apples were too ripe.
As Magnum tossed the salad, the slices of gala turned brown.
Jenny had been with Magnum for eight years and some months. His hair had been chestnut. Now it was white, spoiling opposite of  apples. When he forgot dinner or misplaced his keys, she smiled. She liked his shaking hands.
No, it wasn’t the fraying she minded.
She slid the apple slices around on her tongue. Sticky sweet. He said “sorry”. She closed her eyes.
He’d cried when he couldn’t respond to her touch.
She decided that what strength was left to her would suffice to teach him what ruin truly felt like. There was time. He’d learn that, too.
Outside town, Jenny bought a salad at Perkins. The crisp leaves were hard on her dentures. She took the rest to-go.


Happy writing and happy telling! Post your own business card micro-fiction pieces in the comments.

Hannah

Writing Prompt: Birds in a List

April 26, 2011 § 2 Comments

Virginian Partridge

Google tells me that it’s John James Audubon‘s birthday. You know, the man who made all those fabulous paintings in our guides to North American birds? The paintings themselves are gorgeous and inspiration enough, so if you’d like to use a picture as a prompt, there will be no stopping you. For myself, I’d like to look a little deeper into the idea of cataloguing.

Definition courtesy of thefreedictionary.com: A list or itemized display, as of titles, course offerings, or articles for exhibition or sale, usually including descriptive information or illustrations.

Let that be your inspiration for today’s writing prompt, and see what you can bring up out of a list. Don’t forget to post your responses in the comments to this post.

If you’re interested in an oral prompt, hop on back to the first TELL me a story prompt.

Oh, alright. Here’s my response:

These are some women I know:

Janine:

She is short and fat and wears tight shirts that show off all the rolls of fat when she sits down in the chair and hunches over like she does. She has about six chins and I hate them all, but I will tell you something. She has very soft hands. We stood in the bathroom next to each other and danced our eyes away in the mirror. Oh, she looked at me, look at the soap dispenser, give a weak smile, focus on washing your hands, come on. Then she asked me if I had any lotion, and I told her that I didn’t, and she grabbed my hand which was still wet, and put it on top of her own. She told me to feel how dry it was, but through the water I only felt how soft it was, like a melting marshmallow, bending under my touch like a bed under lovers. She made me shiver and later I tried to see her fat rolls as just something soft, something vulnerable, but they still made me want to throw up.

Margaret:

She smells like fresh ink, that stink that gives you a headache if you stay around it for too long, like permanent markers, but more subtle so it seeps in instead of charging in. She smells like that. I wish that she didn’t, because she sits next to me on the bus every morning and gives me that headache before I get to work and they never open the goddamn windows on the bus. I almost like when the homeless man who lives down by David gets on and sits somewhere near us, because he seems to overpower her if he sits close enough.

I just wish that she didn’t smell like ink, but I know why she does: her fingers are stained black and she sits next to me and draws the backs of people’s heads and asks me if I know anyone with a gallery who’d be interested in making people come to see vaguely-round masses of hair. I get off the bus early and walk a little while longer to work.

Alexa:

She is small and sucks on the end of my thumb. One time, her mother let me carry her out into the playground so that her big sister could see her, so that Alexa could get dizzy from the whirl of bright plastic and in the air she’d never even know about the sharp woodchips below her. I held her up while her sister swung across the monkey bars and thought about walking away with her. Where could I keep her? It was weird to think of her like some kind of loaf of bread, a package, something to put on the entry table while I took off my coat and hung up my keys, and I wondered if that’s how it was going to be when I finally had a baby of my own: just another thing you have to set down to do anything, just another burden, a bag full of groceries.

Bethany:

She is the one who told me that my nose was crooked and after that I couldn’t stop touching it. I touched it especially whenever I saw her, walking up with her cute button nose, the kind where you can see a little of the nostrils, but it’s not gross, just calm, like it’s balancing out the nose with the nostrils. Also, she is the one who is slowly, slowly stealing away my boyfriend. I was friends with her before and introduced them and now they meet after work when I am still at home and talk for hours. He told me that one time they talked for four hours and I am afraid of her. I am afraid because she tells me where I am weak and at the same time, without speaking, shows me how she is strong and in what ways I am not worthy of my boyfriend. Every time I close my eyes, I see him running his finger down the bridge of her nose. I started sleeping on one of my sides, hoping my nose will bend down with gravity, but nothing ever seems to go the way he promised that it would.

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