July Prompt: Start at the End

By Carrie Conner

The end is the beginning. 
 –  T.S. Eliot

A struggling young actor wrote himself a check for a cool $10 million for “acting services rendered,” and post-dated it, “Thanksgiving 1995.” When his father died in 1994, Jim Carrey was earning over $10 million in yearly income. He placed the check in his father’s casket.

“I always knew I’d be a millionaire by age 32,” said Oprah Winfrey in 1987. “In fact, I am going to be the richest black woman in America.” Not only did she become the richest black woman in America, but one of the richest people in the world.

Ansel Adams captured some of the most iconic nature photographs in history. He studied his subjects from different perspectives: in a variety of light, seasons, weather conditions and times of day. Before he even clicked the shutter, Adams had a clear image of the photo he would shoot.

The common thread in these stories is that each of these successful people began with a vivid image of the outcome.

If you don’t know where you’re going you might end up someplace else.
Yogi Berra

When you set out on a trip, build a house or cook dinner, your goal is clear. However, when you start writing, unless you are one of those hyper-organized, outline-or-perish types, your ending may be a bit murky – or completely MIA. You end up fumbling around in the dark, like a teenager in the back seat of a car on prom night.

Screenplay writers and many novelists use a simple technique to keep storylines from skidding off track. They write the ending first. Knowing the end before you begin acts as a compass, guiding your writing as it unfolds into its inevitable conclusion.

John Irving (The World According to Garp, Cider House Rules), swears by this backward approach to writing. Irving begins a novel by creating the last lines first. Once he has his final lines, he types them up on postcards he sends off to close friends.

Margaret Mitchell wrote the final moments of grief and loss in Gone with the Wind first. “I left them to their ultimate fate,” she said of the conclusion.

J.K. Rowling said she always knew Harry Potter would be a seven-book series. She wrote the ending of her closing book before completing the first chapter of the opening novel.

See if thinking backward can help move your writing forward.

The first step involves only your imagination.
Close your eyes and visualize ways for your work of non-fiction, fiction or poetry to end. This is the time to explore different points of views and a range of outcomes. Allow it to unfold as if you are watching a movie.

Make your movie as vivid as possible.
Use all your senses to flesh out everything you or your character can see, feel, taste and smell in the scene.

Now work backward.
Ask yourself, “How did you/your character get here?” Consider every idea you get, however briefly. You are playing with possibility.

Next ask yourself, “And then what?”
Work backward. Keep asking the question.

Trust your gut.
You will know when you have hit the “right” path because you will feel it in your body.

Start writing.
Now put down your ending and everything you discovered from your exploratory “movie.”

Repeat the process as many times as you wish until you feel the connection of beginning to end.

This approach may uncover images or storylines you never expected, and give you the wisdom of hindsight in creating.

“You cannot connect the dots looking forward,” said Steve Jobs, “You can only connect them looking backward.”

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 This prompt is the last of Carrie’s bi-monthly series. We warmly thank Carrie for her inspiring and creative prompts. We greatly appreciate her enriching the VoiceCatcher community website with her contributions. Thank you, Carrie!
– The Editors

*  *  *

An Invitation from VoiceCatcher
Willing to share what this prompt inspires you to write? Each month we might publish some responses to the VoiceCatcher prompts. Contact us to submit the writing the prompt elicits from you.

*  *  *

 Carrie ConnerA friend once asked Carrie Conner why she writes. “Because I have to,” she said. “You mean like publish or perish?” he asked. “No,” she said, “It’s more like … breathing.” Carrie has spent 20 years as a staff and features journalist and freelance copywriter for a variety of publications and companies. One day, while interviewing an emerging novelist about her new book release, she realized she was done writing about other people’s accomplishments. She is currently putting together a yet-untitled collection of short stories and a screenplay.

June Prompt: Arrested Development

by Thea Constantine

At the heart of every great piece of writing, there is a voice, and that voice has a character. It can be far in the background speaking to us through imagery in poetry, or up-close in a first-person narrative. Getting to know the voice of the characters in our work can be tricky, but once we connect with them they often take us by the hand and lead us into an entirely new world.

If we are looking for clues to help discover our characters, why not do what the experts do and create your own rap sheet. Here is one of mine:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Birthplace
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Eye color/hair color
  • Alias
  • Identifying marks and scars
  • Address/Current Location
  • Marital status
  • Driver’s license
  • R/L handed
  • Past residences
  • Occupation/SS #
  • Known associates

Laying all these details out gives us a simple and concrete look at our subject. It is a clear, stark view. Once you get it all down, you can begin to be more creative and more specific.

When looking at “birthplace” for instance, might we discover that not only was the character born in New York, but he made his debut in the back of a taxi, or maybe in a home for unwed mothers, or perhaps in a townhouse with doctors, nurses and doulas standing by?

If the piece is more esoteric –  a poem about an incredible field of spring flowers or a police beating, for instance –  these things still have an origin. Were the roses wild? Did the little purple flowers start out in a park as seeds eaten by a bird who then flew across the country, depositing them right there? Or, ask yourself: in what type of place did the victim grow up? Was the cop married? Did he have a squint?

Now you are ready to take your character on a journey. In many ways, just laying out the details can help build an unforgettable voice. For a beautiful example, I leave you with: “won’t you celebrate with me,” by Lucille Clifton.

 *  *  *
This prompt is the last of Thea’s bi-monthly series. We warmly thank Thea for her inspiring and creative prompts. We greatly appreciate her enriching the VoiceCatcher community website with her contributions. Thank you, Thea!  – The Editors

 Thea ConstantineThea Constantine is a writer and certified AWA facilitator with PDX Writers. Her short stories have most recently appeared in In Focus, the quarterly magazine of the PEN Cyprus Center; Stellazine; Roving Writers; “On the Yellow Line,” a weekly column for Street Roots; and an original serial for the online magazine The Black Boot. Her work has been included in a number of anthologies. She won 1st Place Short Story in the maiden edition of the Watercress Journal. She is currently at work on her first novel, Stumptown.

May Prompt: Becoming Unconscious

By Carrie Conner

What The Subconscious is to every other man,
in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse.
– Ray Bradbury

Who can forget the chilling scene in the movie The Shining, when Wendy flips through reams of paper to discover her husband’s novel contains the endless repetition of one innocent adage, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

It turns out, Jack was right. Like those epiphanies that come to us in the shower, the most creative ideas emerge when we silence the conscious “thinker.”

Albert Einstein had some of his greatest flashes of inspiration while playing the piano. Suzanne Collins conjured The Hunger Games while channel surfing in bed. The plot for Misery sprang from a nightmare Steven King had while flying on the Concord.

When we work at trying to solve a problem, we automatically default to the conscious mind. However, the conscious mind only registers what we experience in the present moment – the chair we are sitting on, the bee bumping against the window or a rumbling belly.

Accessing the subconscious or unconscious is like striking the creative gold mine. The subconscious is our brain’s Girl Friday. Our thoughts, feelings, ideas and dreams might be found filed away in the vast storehouse of the subconscious. The problem is, the subconscious mind has the ultimate form of job security, as it is the only one who knows the filing system.

“Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different,” opined William James (brother of novelist Henry James), the American philosopher and psychologist who first coined the phrase “stream of consciousness.”

To sneak by the gatekeeper of the conscious we have to do essentially nothing – nothing that grabs the attention of the brain’s command center, that is. Tapping into the unconscious is that feeling of freedom we find when we are “in the zone.” Time, to-do lists and our surroundings disappear in this space. To the subconscious mind, they do not exist.

Stream of consciousness writing is one of the best ways to coax the subconscious out of hiding.

Technically, stream of consciousness is a literary device used by poets and novelists at the beginning of the 20th century to put readers inside the heads of their characters –  authors William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying), Virginia Wolf (Mrs. Dalloway), and James Joyce (Ulysses), to name a few.

Contemporary writers such as Jonathan Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and Jack Kerouac (On the Road) use stream of consciousness to create raw, intimate character portraits and story plots.

We are going to use a looser definition of the term stream of consciousness. Let’s call it an unedited, free-flow of thought with no rules.

Grab a pen and paper (there is something about the physicalness of writing by hand that is not as linear as typing on a keyboard). Now, think about what you or your character wants more than anything in this world. Let yourself feel the sharp edges of wanting with every cell in your body. Set a timer for 20 minutes and start writing as fast as you can. Writing faster than your conscious mind can catch on helps keep your inner editor at bay. Do not worry about punctuation, grammar or capitalizing. Do not cross out anything. Do not worry if you think none of it makes sense or if you go off topic. Just keep writing. If the timer goes off and you are on a roll, keep writing. You can even keep writing until you run out of words.

When you are done, read it aloud. Circle or highlight the words, sentences or patterns you like. If you are working on fiction or non-fiction, turn it into dialogue by adding some he/she saids. You may find your character with insight or motivation you never dreamed of. If you are writing poetry, pick from the gems of your subconscious.

The more we play at writing, the more eager our subconscious will be to come out and play with us.

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity,” said, Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology. ”The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”

*  *  *

An Invitation from VoiceCatcher
Willing to share what this prompt inspires you to write? Each month we might publish some responses to the VoiceCatcher prompts. Contact us to submit the writing the prompt elicits from you.

*  *  *

 Carrie ConnerA friend once asked Carrie Conner why she writes. “Because I have to,” she said. “You mean like publish or perish?” he asked. “No,” she said, “It’s more like … breathing.” Carrie has spent 20 years as a staff and features journalist and freelance copywriter for a variety of publications and companies. One day, while interviewing an emerging novelist about her new book release, she realized she was done writing about other people’s accomplishments. She is currently putting together a yet-untitled collection of short stories and a screenplay.

April Prompt: Raised by Wolves or, Answering a Stupid Question

by Thea Constantine

Romulus and Remus were raised by a wolf.

Our language has so many unanswered questions, we hardly notice them anymore. The parental and authority questions include “Were you raised by wolves?” Some questions originated as jokes or riddles. “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

Rhetorical ones include “Is the pope a Catholic?” and, “Are you kidding me?” I rather like the ones that proclaim or challenge: “Who’s the man?” and, “What am I, chopped liver?” Many of these old chestnuts survive  because they come with wonderful mental pictures. The pope, the road, and the wolves – they all exist in my mind’s eye.

So grab a piece of paper and get busy answering the questions you have heard all your life. Answer them in your own unique way.

Here are some more to get you started:

  • What’s wrong with this picture?
  • You and whose army?
  • What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?
  • Who died and left you in charge?
  • Why buy the cow when the milk is free?
  • Why close the barn door after the horse is gone?
  • Were you born in a barn?
  • If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?
  • Who do you think you are?
  • Do you know who I am?

As always, please come back and tell us what you have found.

 

TThea Constantinehea Constantine is a writer and certified AWA facilitator with PDX Writers. Her short stories have most recently appeared in In Focus, the quarterly magazine of the PEN Cyprus Center; Stellazine; Roving Writers; “On the Yellow Line,” a weekly column for Street Roots; and an original serial for the online magazine The Black Boot. Her work has been included in a number of anthologies. She won 1st Place Short Story in the maiden edition of the Watercress Journal. She is currently at work on her first novel, Stumptown.

March Prompt: Just Making Conversation

By Carrie Conner

Oh, I could spend my life having this conversation –
look – please try to understand before one of us dies.

– John Cleese

What was the last piece of writing that seduced you?

You know, the one that hooked you late into the night until you fought to keep your eyes open and your partner again asked, “Could you turn out the light, for God’s sake?” and like a good junkie you said you would but were really thinking, just one more page.

It’s not your fault. You were lulled into the rhythm of brilliant narrative. Who of us hasn’t been there, longing to hold readers rapt with our own stories?

Well-crafted dialogue transports readers into the story. When it is working, we know it immediately. It goes undetected. When it’s not working … well, it’s like introducing your new date to crazy Aunt Agnes who shows up for dinner with smeared coral lipstick and her wig on backward.

The problem is, great dialogue is tricky. Knowing why or how great dialogue works is about as easy as predicting the weather in Topeka during tornado season. If we wrote the way we actually speak, our pages would be filled with “uhms,” grunts, incomplete sentences and random topic changes. So, we get to make our characters smarter than real-life people – or at least more succinct. Authentic dialogue walks the tightrope between reality and artistic license.

Fortunately, we have some guidelines. If you look back through any writing you love, you’ll see the dialogue shares at least three elements:

  • Moves the story forward
  • Reveals something about the character
  • Has a distinctive voice for each character

Seamless dialogue helps flesh out our characters. Their choice of words reveals where they live, their age, sex, personality, education, religion … so choose wisely.

Our characters never have to wake up with, “Why didn’t I think to say that?”  Or regret they had said anything. They get to say the perfect thing at the perfect time.

“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” – The Princess Bride (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007).

In three short sentences we know who is speaking, a pivotal event in his history and his motivation. And we want more.

As we want, so do our characters. Unless you are as enlightened as the Dalai Lama, we thinking humans are natural wanting machines: wanting to be loved, understood and to feel safe is universal. Wanting creates tension. Tension creates conflict. Conflict creates a story you can’t put down.

Kurt Vonnegut knew this when he gave advice on writing dialogue. He said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

Now, think of two people you know well. They can be real, imaginary or even yourself. Give each a want. As fast as you can, write one full page using dialogue-only to create a scene of conflict between two characters. Don’t worry about quote attributions or any beats of action yet. Allow the conversation to flow stream-of-consciousness style. Just get it down on paper. When you have filled the page, reread your conversation and take out or rewrite any part that does not meet the three dialogue criteria. Finally, read it aloud.

See if you can distinguish who is speaking only from their words, keeping in mind the wise words of Mark Twain, “A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.”

*  *  *

An Invitation from VoiceCatcher
Willing to share what this prompt inspires you to write? Each month we might publish some responses to the VoiceCatcher prompts. Contact us to submit the writing the prompt elicits from you.

*  *  *

 Carrie ConnerA friend once asked Carrie Conner why she writes. “Because I have to,” she said. “You mean like publish or perish?” he asked. “No,” she said, “It’s more like … breathing.” Carrie has spent 20 years as a staff and features journalist and freelance copywriter for a variety of publications and companies. One day, while interviewing an emerging novelist about her new book release, she realized she was done writing about other people’s accomplishments. She’s currently putting together a yet-untitled collection of short stories and a screenplay.

February Prompt: Hear It Through the Grapevine

by Thea Constantine

“Whisper In My Ear” by Rennett Stowe, via Wikimedia Commons

While we all try our best to be ourselves, who we are in one place is not necessarily who we are in another. The persona we show co-workers in an office environment is different from the one we display on vacation, or at home with friends or family. We are not being phony or inauthentic, but we are definitely different.

Who we are to the other characters in our lives varies, too. The closer people are to us, the more they see. The co-workers in that office environment who see you from 9 to 5 will likely have a viewpoint with a focus different from that of your parent or sibling, who has seen you from the earliest days. A great way to explore any character is to listen to what others say of them.

One of the things I love about a good mystery is following the detective as he or she questions everyone about the victim. The ex-wife or jilted lover gives us the juicy details the one-time partner left out. The cop who pulls someone over for a DUI, or catches him shoplifting, may have a darker tale to tell than that of the devoted grandmother. Slowly but surely, we begin to build a picture of the victim’s character – even though he may no longer be able to speak for himself.

But you don’t have to be a mystery writer to make this work for you.

Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr – journalist, novelist, editor of Le Figaro and the man who gave us plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the original French for “the more things change, the more they stay the same”) – once said, “Every man possesses three characters: that which he exhibits, that which he really has, and that which he believes he has.”

Take a look at the characters in your pieces. What do the other characters say about them? Do they notice unusual details? These details can go a long way to help you flesh out your characters and fill their veins with something more than ink. You can use this for memoir, too. You may be surprised, for instance, to discover what the people in your life notice about the way you react to stress or challenges.

Exploring as many of these aspects of your characters as possible can help answer not only your questions about who they are, but also help your plot or dialogue. Grab a piece of paper and make a list of everyone close to the primary character in your story, poem or memoir. Now ask each of them to describe that person, tell a story about them, or perhaps write them a letter. When you are done, take a peek at who’s looking back at you.

 

TThea Constantinehea Constantine is a writer and certified AWA facilitator with PDX Writers. Her short stories have most recently appeared in In Focus, the quarterly magazine of the PEN Cyprus Center; Stellazine; Roving Writers; “On the Yellow Line,” a weekly column for Street Roots; and an original serial for the online magazine The Black Boot. Her work has been included in a number of anthologies. She just won 1st Place Short Story in the maiden edition of the Watercress Journal. She is currently at work on her first novel, Stumptown.

January Prompt: Child’s Play

by Carrie Conner 

Children, like animals, use all their senses to discover the world. Then artists come along and discover it the same way all over again.
– Eudora Welty

My 7-year-old niece is writing her first book. She plays at it, scribbling away in her notebook for hours at a time. Julia doesn’t worry about impressing anyone, whether or not her work will sell or even if she’s doing it “right.” She just dives in, losing herself in the pure joy of creating a story.

Children have the gift of noticing. They see or experience something for the first time and are filled with awe and wonder. As adults, we speak of this as mindfulness or being present, but usually we have too much to do to remember to be “in the moment.”  We lose the ability to notice.

In her book Bird by Bird (Anchor Books, 1994), Anne Lamott says she believes the goal of writers is to help others have the sense of seeing ordinary things in fresh, new ways – ways that surprise us and make us become present to the moment – the way a child sees his world. On page 100 of Bird by Bird, Lamott writes:

Try walking around with a child who’s going, ‘Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house! Look at that red sky!” And the child points and you look, and you see, and you start going, ”Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny little baby! Look at the scary dark cloud!”

Kids never worry about not knowing. They ask why. They ask how. They ask what. We adults believe we already know, or think we should know, so we stop asking questions. But what do we know exactly? Do we honestly understand what causes redwood trees to grow so tall, why an airplane can fly, or how come Uncle Benny has such a big nose?

Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer has a pretty good idea why we stop questioning our world, and suggests ways to help us re-cultivate our curiosity. She’s been studying mindfulness for more than three decades. On December 1, 2014, Langer was interviewed on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show” about her most recent book, The Art of Noticing.

“Part of the problem at least is that we’re taught in schools and by our parents to seek facts. Facts are situated, but they’re given to us as if they’re absolute,” Langer said during the interview. “As soon as you know something absolutely, there’s no reason to pay any attention to it.”

According to Langer, the solution is so simple it almost defies belief.

Once we recognize that we don’t know –  and nobody knows, so it’s okay not knowing –  then we try to find out. We notice. As we notice, it shows us that we didn’t know the thing we thought we knew as well as we thought we did, which leads our attention back to it. This simple noticing is the key to everything as far as I’m concerned.

Langer ran a study in 1981 where eight men, ranging in age from late 70s to early 80s, were placed in a time-controlled environment for five days. After watching movies from an earlier time in their lives, being surrounded only by its icons and memorabilia, the subjects developed improved vision, hearing, memory, strength and even looked younger.

Now, open your memory to a time in your childhood. Use all your senses to recall the experience, then write or rewrite a work of fiction, nonfiction or poetry from the point of view of a child.

It may take a little practice to remember to forget what you think you know now. As Pablo Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

*  *  *

An Invitation from VoiceCatcher
Willing to share what this prompt inspires you to write? Each month we might publish some responses to the VoiceCatcher prompts. Contact us to submit the writing the prompt elicits from you.

*  *  *

 Carrie ConnerA friend once asked Carrie Conner why she writes. “Because I have to,” she said. “You mean like publish or perish?” he asked. “No,” she said, “It’s more like … breathing.” Carrie has spent 20 years as a staff and features journalist and freelance copywriter for a variety of publications and companies. One day, while interviewing an emerging novelist about her new book release, she realized she was done writing about other people’s accomplishments. She’s currently putting together a yet-untitled collection of short stories and a screenplay.

December Prompt: It’s beginning to look a lot like “Eat a Red Apple Day”

by Thea Constantine

December is the height of the holiday season. With Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanza, there’s something going on for almost everyone. We are well aware the holidays have provided a wonderful setting and inspiration for countless stories and poems throughout the ages. But maybe we are just a wee bit tired of the same old, same old?

Time to take a second look. A quick search on the World Wide Web brings up a wealth of unusual celebrations for you and your characters to participate in come December.

More than twenty are totally dedicated to food, including: National Fritters Day, December 2; National Cotton Candy Day, December 7; National Noodle Ring Day, December 11; National Bouillabaisse Day, December 14 (or the second Sunday of the month), and National Lemon Cupcake Day, December 15. All five take place within the first two weeks. Choose between National Roast Suckling Pig Day or Bake Cookies Day on December 18, if you haven’t exhausted yourself on National Chocolate Covered Anything Day on December 16.

I am partial to the ones where the festivities are not too cut and dried, such as December 4’s Wear Brown Shoes Day or the very next day, Bathtub Party Day. It is anyone’s guess how to celebrate December 8, which is Take it in the Ear Day. If all else fails, you can return to gorging, as that is also National Brownie Day. For the musically talented there is Violin Day, December 13, and for those who prefer crafts, there’s National Make Cut-out Snowflake Day on the 27th.

To my knowledge, no one has begun a coming of age novel with the family seated around the table on Card Playing Day, December 28, or busily sipping soup on the 29th, which is Pepper Pot Day. Why not be the first? There are endless poetic possibilities on the 19th. Even Mary Oliver seems to have forgotten Look for an Evergreen Day.

If it all seems like too much, remember December 30 is National Bicarbonate of Soda Day.

TThea Constantinehea Constantine is a writer and certified AWA facilitator with PDX Writers. Her short stories have most recently appeared in In Focus, the quarterly magazine of the PEN Cyprus Center; Stellazine; Roving Writers; “On the Yellow Line,” a weekly column for Street Roots; and an original serial for the online magazine The Black Boot. Her work has been included in a number of anthologies. She just won 1st Place Short Story in the maiden edition of the Watercress Journal. She is currently at work on her first novel, Stumptown.

November Prompt: Intentions

by Carrie Conner

If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.
– Yogi Berra

 “What do you do for a living?” asked the woman at a recent dinner party. The inevitable question – and the almost inevitable comment when I say I’m a writer: “Oh, I’m not creative. I could never be a writer.” Each time I hear this I want to laugh – and cry.

The idea of being uncreative and unable to write is a story this woman tells herself – possibly developed after seeing her second-grade essay bloodied with red pen.

Creating is what our human brains do best. Fed by our emotions, we spin tales out of thin air. In the process of walking from the porch to the mailbox, I can weave a Homeric saga, starring me as the reluctant hero battling the evil mortgage-banking empire in its plot to take over the universe.

The Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California estimates that we have a thought roughly every 2.5 seconds, or up to 70,000 per day. Unfortunately, most of these thoughts are unconscious, running unchecked like a herd of bunnies, propelled by raw emotion, fearing what we desperately want to avoid.

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.
– Henry Ford

Intentions give the subconscious a roadmap, indicating where we would prefer to end up. Consider them a call to action for your unconscious mind. If it’s going to gnaw on something anyway, why not let it mull over the outcome you would actually prefer?

Here is a list of intentions I set down before writing this column:

  • I allow my column to be entertaining and useful.
  • I allow my writing to flow freely with ease.
  • I allow myself to have fun.
  • I give myself full permission to write total &$#@ if that’s what wants to come out.
  • I allow myself to hit my deadline with ease.

Emily Carr said, “Inspiration is intention obeyed.”  It is time to find your inspiration. Write a list of intentions for yourself or one of your characters, and use them, or any part of them, in a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry.

*  *  *

An Invitation from VoiceCatcher
Willing to share what this prompt inspires you to write? Each month we might publish some responses to the VoiceCatcher prompts. Contact us to submit the writing the prompt elicits from you.

 

Carrie ConnerA friend once asked Carrie Conner why she writes. “Because I have to,” she said. “You mean like publish or perish?” he asked. “No,” she said, “It’s more like … breathing.” Carrie has spent 20 years as a staff and features journalist and freelance copywriter for a variety of publications and companies. One day, while interviewing an emerging novelist about her new book release, she realized she was done writing about other people’s accomplishments. She’s currently putting together a yet-untitled collection of short stories and a screenplay.

October Prompt: I Read the News Today …

by Thea Constantine

Never before have we had so much access to so much media with so little effort. It’s actually harder to avoid the news than it is to find it. Television and the Internet stream and broadcast local and international news 24 hours a day in every language imaginable. All this input can result in anything from outraged muttering, eye-rolling and cursing at people you’ve never met, to finding yourself tearing up or cheering on total strangers living halfway round the world.

These images and sound bites that assault our senses daily can provide a rich source of material, a transformation of the Five Ws to something deeply personal. Here are two great examples, the first by VoiceCatcher author and poet Shawn Aveningo, the second by Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine:

Binders Full of Women

… and they brought us whole binders full of women.
– Mitt Romney, US Presidential Debate, 2012

It wasn’t until after the attack
I discovered the binder. Forty-seven

girls drugged, stripped, photographed,
raped. Page 48 sits empty, waiting

for the photo they took of me. Greek
Council enforced crackdown on hazing,

but for this, Sigma Chi had no such
policy. Buried beneath public

philanthropy and brotherhood, lie
bones of broken sisters, shattered souls,

shards of shame – a mosaic whose mortar
weakened year by year, one woman bravely

blowing the lid off the coffin.

– Shawn Aveningo, VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions, Summer 2014 issue

A Little Black

The children of Juarez have run out
of red crayons. There’s so much blood

in their eyes; the bodies of mules
dumped in their schools, hand & heads

by the road, blood in pools, blood
in stories of blood. Before I know it,

I’m planning my own crime, the worst
a poet can commit: to steal suffering,

call it mine. How vivid, I think, what
a strong detail on which to build.

I open my computer, the great self-
making book of our age, search for

more of the story, for the words, run
out of red crayons. I find children

out of red in Pakistan, in Haiti, no red
left in Afghanistan, none in Georgia.

The children of Sierra Leon have gone
through pink to purple, in Myanmar

they’re down to brown. I thought I had
something to add. I have nothing to add

but a little black, the color of the line,
color that consumes all others.

–2011 Brendan Constantine
This poem appears in the book Birthday Girl With Possum (2011 Write Bloody Publishing)

 Both pieces evoke a somber, dark mood, but as anyone who views the morning news is well aware, there are all kinds of absurdities out there just begging to be teased out by the right pen. That’s just the standard stuff, too. Many presses feature a “News of the Weird” column chock full of some of the strangest truths around. I recently clipped a story about a man right here in Portland who tried to strangle his lover using his dreadlocks – you really can’t make this sh*t up, but you can sure have a whole lot of fun with it.

See if you can find a few stories that call to you this month. October’s a wonderful time for weird – and if you’re feeling generous, please come back and share.

 

TThea Constantinehea Constantine is a writer and certified AWA facilitator with PDX Writers. Her short stories have most recently appeared in In Focus, the quarterly magazine of the PEN Cyprus Center; Stellazine; Roving Writers; “On the Yellow Line,” a weekly column for Street Roots; and an original serial for the online magazine The Black Boot. Her work has been included in a number of anthologies. She just won 1st Place Short Story in the maiden edition of the Watercress Journal. She is currently at work on her first novel, Stumptown.