Tag Archives: writing

Story Prompt for Writers

man and boy story promptAre you trying to think of something to write? Use the picture and write answers to the following questions to prompt your muse.

Who are they?

Where are they?

Where are they going?

Are they related?

What does the man want?  What is his goal?

What does the boy want?

What is stopping both of them from getting what they want?

Set up a time limit for them to succeed.

What will happen if the time runs out?

Write the dark moment, the point of no turning back.

Have their desires changed?

What did they learn from what happened?

Will they remain together at the end?


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Food in Writing

Greek yogurtWhat does your story’s characters eat? Today at Jessica Barksdale’s retreat, she suggested we write about food for 20 minutes.

In Norman in the Painting, Jill wants to stall before going to her sister’s house. Viv, who has had too much to drink, tells Jill that the body of her colleague was found by the Marina and she wants Jill to come over right away. This is my food addition:

Jill fed Rocky, (the cat,) and when she put the remaining cat food in the refrigerator for Rocky’s breakfast the next day, she grabbed the quart of honey flavored Greek yogurt. The thunder that had roared over head earlier, rumbled a block or two away. The scoop of white yogurt enticed her as any vanilla ice cream could. She rolled a spoonful over her tongue savoring the smooth, cool texture and her tastebuds indentified the hint of honey.

The dead woman at the marina would never enjoy the taste of food again. Even criminals, before their execution could request what they wanted for their last meal. The attorney most likely didn’t have that priviledge.

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The Use of Diary Entries in a Short Story

diary-25157__180Paula Chinick, who wrote a mainstream short story called “Hidden Discovery” in my anthology, Written Across the Genres, used diary entries between narrative paragraphs. Jean, the protagonist, talks in first person about finding her mother’s  diary after she died.

“I found it a few months ago while forced to go through her things alone. Alone, because neither my brother nor sister would help. Big babies, I never can count on them when things get tough. It’s taken me this long to muster the courage to open it.” I flip open the cover than slam it shut. I take a deep breath, open it again, and read:

December 25, 1970

Dear Diary,

Isn’t that how you start these things. Sounds idiotic. But since it’s in ink I can’t scratch it out and start over. I’ll never use it again.

I received this journal for Christmas from my father’s mother, Nana. I’m not her favorite. Last year I received a blue-haired troll doll, a fad from the 60’s. New motto: Make lemonade out of a turnip.

I’ve decided to record meaningful events in my life. When I’m grey and wrinkled, I will reflect on whether my life held significance.

First entry–Got engaged Christmas Eve. At eighteen, is anyone ready for marriage?

January 2, 1971

Eloped! Never thought I’d go through with it but he’s a good man.

Out of the few who didn’t get drafted and sent to Vietnam.

When Chinick submitted this story I believed it was true. I asked her about putting it in the Memoir section and expressed how touching the ending was for me. The voice of the mother in the diary entries came through in strong contrast to Jean’s narrative. I believed that Paula changed her name to Jean to tell this amazing story. Chinick laughed and said it was all fiction.

How wonderful to unintentionally fool me into thinking it was a true story about her mother. When readers believe fiction is real, that is a sign of a successful writer.

To read Chinick’s story, you can order Written Across the Genres from you local book store, from Amazon, or on Kindle.

Paula Chinick published a thriller called Red Asscher–Living in Fear, available at Amazon and on Kindle:


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Mainstream Fiction

chisels-The first short story in Written Across the Genres, my anthology available on Amazon, is called “Valuable” by Arleen Eagling. Karen, the protagonist is a widow who is in a tool store where she brings “a starter set of six hand-forged chisels of different sizes, each slipped into separate leather pockets they’d lived in for three years.

“She liked how those tools didn’t shriek and tear wood the way power tools did. This store sold both kinds of tools. The heavyset owner stood at a u-shaped counter in the center of the shop but she avoided eye contact with him. She’d need to compose herself first.”

The genre for “Valuable” is Mainstream Fiction. Written Across the Genres has a variety of stories, essays, and novel excerpts, as examples of genres.

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Norman in the Painting Art Gallery Excerpt


Norman in the Painting Chapter Four: Jill visits Maggie, her best friend who is confined to a wheelchair and owns the only art gallery in town.

The next morning, Jill ran to the Apollo Gallery planning to arrive by 8:00 a.m. Maggie usually opened early, before Evelyn did. Several clients’ monthly bookkeeping had to be completed, but she wanted to talk with Maggie before customers came into the gallery. If anyone would believe Jill about the man in the painting, Maggie would.
Jill pulled on the door, but it was locked. Five minutes to eight. She’d wait. The morning air mixed with fog cooled her down to a shiver. Viv was right; the pink running jacket wasn’t warm enough when she stopped moving. She hopped in place, facing the  spot where Maggie had been hit as she crossed the street on her way back to the gallery after a quick lunch at the cafe. The newspaper printed photos and police contact numbers asking for witnesses. Numerous people described the speeding car and the absence of license plates. Artists made renderings of the man in the driver’s seat from what by-standers remembered. People around town speculated if the hit was on purpose. Maggie had no enemies, but she confided in Jill that she believed it was no accident.  Two years later, the case remained unsolved.

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Norman in the Painting Quote

desk halfNorman in the Painting, Chapter Three when Norman disappears again:

“A strong waft of air swooped into the space. Jill, with eyes closed as her hair blew into her face, clasped the edge of the desk . She couldn’t hang on any longer and fell to the floor.”

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Quotes by Dorothy Sayers

Dorothy Sayers birth to deathDorothy L. Sayers was a novelist, playwright, essayist, and poet best known for her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. However, she considered her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy to be her best work. She was born on June 13, 1893. She was a good friend of C.S. Lewis. Here are some quotes by Sayers:

“Do you find it easy to get drunk on words?”

“So easy that, to tell you the truth, I am seldom perfectly sober.”

“Books… are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with ’em, then we grow out of ’em and leave ’em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.”
“Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.”
“The great advantage about telling the truth is that nobody ever believes it.”


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A Motif in Norman in the Painting

bronze foo dogs 2Foo dogs are a motif in my novel Norman in the Painting. Here is an excerpt from Chapter One. Jill meets Norman for the first time when he appears in the antique shop and asks Jill what she is holding. She answers foo dogs and he wants to more about them:

“They are believed to provide protection for you and your home, especially if you place one on each side of your doors.” She couldn’t shake the dizziness she felt since he spoke to her, but she visualized roots from her feet connecting with the center of the earth, which was her way of grounding.
“Those don’t look like dogs. Look more like lions.” The man leaned forward in his chair and then stood as if to see better.
Jill regained her equilibrium enough to move around Evelyn’s open-shelf divider. She stopped at the end of the desk and handed him one.
He turned the statue around in his hands. “Still looks like a lion to me.”
“Another name for them in Chinese is shi. It means lion, but here in the US they’re called foo dogs and have many different styles. Some look like dragons. Some are dog-like. Some even look like large cats with fluffy tails. These do look like lions.” Caution sent a fleeting thought not to be too comfortable talking to this man.
He handed the statue back to Jill and grinned. “Nice to learn something for a change. Are you a teacher?”
His grin sent a flip-flop flutter to her stomach, that same flutter she felt with Reggie when they were dating. What was wrong with her? She didn’t know this guy. “Not a teacher, I’m a CPA.” Jill took a step backwards and clasped the foo dog tighter. “Usually, there’s an older man sitting there. Are you related to him?”


Motifs are repeated through the novel. I like the power of three. The second time I refer to foo dogs is when Jill has a dream about them. She senses the dream predicts future danger. The third time, Jill takes a pair of foo dogs to her sister’s house to protect Vivian.

How do you use motif in your writing?

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Quotes by Graham Green

Graham Greene HateGraham Green one moment in childhood door lets future in

graham Green desert silence shoutsGraham Greene character does & is alive

Graham Green Vacancy filled with herGraham Greene journalists write fictionGraham Greene Ministry of Fear

Graham Green Quiet American book

“Eternity is said not to be an extension of time but an absence of time.”

Graham Greene was an English novelist and author regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Born October 2, 1904 in the United Kingdom and died April 3, 1991 in Switzerland.

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A Story from Coming of Age Croneicles by Ann Winfred

Ann's House on the Monte

My friend, Ann Winfred in Texas writes poignant stories. Here is one I reblogged from her site:  http://comingofagecroneicles.com/house-on-the-monte/

House on the Monte by Ann Winfred

When my editor at the CACTUS SUN TIMES suggested I cover the demolition of the old Carson house, I jumped at the chance to escape the office. I called my friend Margaret to join me and grabbed a camera on my way out the door.

“Jake,” the boss called. “See if you can come up with an angle out there, something like Last House on the Monte Devoured by Aliens.” The boss loved talking in headlines, the more theatrical the better.

As we drove, history-buff Margaret provided me with background notes. “The Carson is the last of a breed of ranch houses built in this area in the early 1930’s. Joe Carson and his wife, Betsy, ran about 200 head of cattle on 800 acres, a relatively small spread, but the ranching business was booming back then and they did well. They occupied the house and worked the ranch well into the late 60’s.”

“I had a dust-up with that old house back when I was in high school,” I said. “Me and a couple of the guys went out there one night to celebrate a big football win. Going up on the porch, I tripped on one of the steps and damned-near broke my fool neck. Weird thing is we all heard a loud bang come from inside the house at the exact instant I fell. We hauled ass back to town to finish our partying.”

“Boys just being boys, huh, Jake?”

“Bunch of scaredy-cats, more like.”

Pewter skies and a seeping drizzle dampened any picnic-on-the-prairie fantasies Margaret and I might have entertained about the outing. Our sense of gloom deepened as we drove further into a ruined landscape of broken mesquite trees, mangled cactus plants and scorched prairie grass. The once vast, open land lay smothered under rows of houses packed together like fields of giant mushrooms.

The old Carson House finally came into view, floating on its tiny island of yesterday. Outside the yard, a Caterpillar bulldozer squatted on a flatbed truck surrounded by workmen, battered pickups, and mountains of equipment. I parked the car out of harm’s way at the far end of the caliche driveway, and we headed for the house.

“Mind that second step,” a voice shouted. Margaret and I stopped and looked around the porch and yard but saw no one.

“I’m sorry to startle you.” The voice was deep and raspy, like a rusty gate that hadn’t been opened in a long time. “Several years back some teenage hooligans came out here bent on mischief. When the first kid started up onto the porch, I pulled a board loose from that step and gave him a hearty thwack to his backside. Scared the bejeesus out of those boys, and I never had a lick of trouble after that.”

Margaret covered her laugh with her hand, and I pulled my jacket collar up over my neck. “Who – where are you?”

“I am right here, Mr. Avery. Welcome back. Please come on up. I trust you remember which step to avoid?”

Margaret’s laugh broke loose as she took my arm to guide her over the vigilante step. I busied myself taking pictures of the front of the house, the porch and the yard.

“Before my executioner over there on that flatbed truck carries out its commission, I would like to tell you a bit about myself. I am particularly proud of this porch Joe and I designed. It wraps fully around me to allow access from all of my rooms, a 360° panoramic view of the monte. Now, please step inside.”

The front door swung open with a creak, and we entered a spacious living room.

“What a magnificent room,” Margaret said. She ran her hand over polished wainscoting and petted the mesquite mantle over the fireplace. “Jake, come look at this workmanship. It’s exquisite.”

“Thank you,” the house said. “Joe was a crackerjack carpenter but depended on me for artistic imagination.”

I shot some close-ups of the mantle then zeroed in on the carved frames enclosing the eight-foot windows. That’s where I found the faded black and white photograph of a smiling young man and woman with two small children sitting on the front porch.

“That’s Joe and Betsy and me with the two kids taken the day they moved in. Would you mind putting it here on my mantle?”

I showed the picture to Margaret then did as the house asked.

“Thank you, now I can see it better.”

A burst of shouting came from outside as a workman drove the bulldozer off the truck. It crouched growling and belching gouts of black smoke at the far end of the yard.

The house raised its voice several decibels. “I’m afraid my firing squad grows restless.”

At the house’s suggestion, we toured the spacious kitchen then stepped out onto the back porch where I took pictures of a large yard of giant mesquite trees marked with orange spray paint X’s. A tire swing dangled from one of the condemned trees.

“I spent many comfortable years with Joe and Betsy Carson and their two children, save for the usual calamities of a broken arm or two, dislocated collarbone, droughts, floods, and teenage angst. After Joe passed away and Betsy moved into town, I stood empty for many years until an elderly woman came by, and I nudged my front door open for her. That was all the invitation she needed.”

The house had to shout to be heard above the cacophony of slamming truck doors, bellowing men, and whining machinery as more workers and equipment arrived. Margaret looked out the window. “Things are heating up out there, Jake. Maybe we ought to…”

The house spoke more urgently. “The old lady and I enjoyed two quiet decades taking care of each other and savoring the soft lights and changing colors on the monte. Sitting on my porch one evening at sunset, she passed away with a soft smile teasing her lips and the breeze gently ruffling her hair. I’ve missed her…”

A platoon of workmen fell into formation at the edge of the yard and advanced toward us, the bulldozer lumbering behind them.

“Jake,” Margaret said, “I think we should go – now.”

“Yes, I fear you must leave and do so quickly. Thank you for coming and listening to my senile meanderings.”

We started down the steps but turned back when the house spoke again.

“Look. The sun tore a hole in the clouds and uses its light to paint the tips of the grasses that soft yellow I love. The mesquites wave at me, and the breeze whispers in my eaves. Adiós mis amigos.”

Margaret gently touched the porch railing and looked up at the house. “Your story will be told, I promise,” she said.

We hurried down the driveway, dodging workmen, equipment and snarling machinery as the horde swarmed the house and yard. When the first bite was torn from the house’s side, it screamed once then fell silent.

Neither Margaret nor I spoke as we drove back to town through the weeping rain.

The boss wasn’t crazy about my headline, but he ran it anyway — “Old Carson House Dies with Dignity.”

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