Friday, March 30th, 2012

Writing Prompt: Planting Seeds, Tending Gardens

Stinky Bradford PearsSpring has sprung!

And it’s not always sweet. Anybody live around those horrible Bradford Pear trees?

(They’re native to China and Korea and were brought to the states in the 1900s. As far as I’m concerned, they should have kept them!)

Spring has me thinking of gardening, so today’s prompt is all about planting, sowing, and tending.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write about turning soil, the underside of leaves, worms in the dirt, pulling weeds, finding hard-packed clay, grubs, or dirt under your fingernails.
  • Write about being transplanted.
  • It’s a hot summer day, and you’re in the garden…
  • His gardens next your admiration call,
    On every side you look, behold the wall!
    No pleasing intricacies intervene,
    No artful wildness to perplex the scene;
    Grove nods at grove, each alley has a brother,
    And half the platform just reflects the other,
    The suffering eye inverted nature sees,
    Trees cut to statues, statues thick as trees;
    With here a fountain never to be play’d,
    And there a summer-house that knows no shade.
    ~ Alexander Pope
  • Take the word “flower,” or the name of a specific flower (rose, tulip, daisy, narcissus, chrysanthemum) and quickly jot down a word for each letter in the flower’s name. Now write a story, poem, essay or journal entry using all of the words.
  • “Morning, Glory!”
  • Write about the scents of night flowers, being alone in a midnight garden.
  • “Unseen buds, infinite, hidden well…” ~ Walt Whitman
  • What grows in a garden of earthy delights?
  • True or False:

    There is no unbelief;
    Whoever plants a seed beneath the sod
    And waits to seee it push away the clod,
    He trusts in God.
    ~ Elizabeth York Case

  • If aught possess thee from me, it is dross,
    Usurping ivy, briar, or idle moss;
    Who, all for want of pruning with intrusion
    Infect they sap, and live on they confusion.
    ~ Shakespeare, Comedy of Errors. Act II. Scene 2
Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Writing Prompt: Make Up Your Own Holiday

U.S. Army Celebrating Asian Pacific Heritage MonthMonday, March 26 is “National Make Up Your Own Holiday” day.

(This is another one of those oddball ‘national’ days that has no basis in fact. It’s supposed to be supported by the “Wellness Permission League” of which I can find no verifiable data on the intranet. Although, I did find this self-typed news story which mentions the League.)

Sometimes it’s an easy thing to create a holiday: in ancient Rome, conquering generals arrived back at the gates and were often rewarded with a day of celebration in their honor. No brainer.

When you’re creating a holiday as part of world building in your story, it may not be so easy (unless some general arrives at the city gates…)

Keep in mind: Not all holidays are a cause for celebration. They may be a cause for mourning. Others may be celebrated differently in different places. St. Patrick’s Day is a case in point: in the U.S. celebrants eat Irish Food, drink green beer and party. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s day for some is a solemn affair made up of church-going and prayer.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  1. Consider the reason for your holiday. Is it based on a military event? A national movement? A religious miracle? What time of year did the event take place? Was the ensuing event a local one? Does it remain so, or has it grown? What is the history of the celebration?
  2. How is the holiday celebrated? A reenactment of the original event? (Fireworks on July 4th) A religious service or blessing? Do celebrants wear anything special to celebrate? (Green on St. Pat’s.) Are traditional foods eaten? (Hamantashen) Prayers said? (Novenas) Parades held? (Ticker tape for welcoming home.) Are there any special props needed to celebrate, or which show observance? (Decorations.)
  3. Does the holiday include any human or animal sacrifice? (Disclaimer! We’re making up a fictional holiday here, not practicing it. Do not sacrifice any humans or animals in the creation of your holiday, please.)

    Sacrifice has long been associated with celebrations. We keep the symbolism of sacrifice in our modern celebrations: burning candles, giving something up (Lent), donating money or time, etc.

    Does your holiday include any other kind of sacrifice?

  4. Is the celebration held inside a building, or outside in the open air? (Time of year will likely have something to do with this choice.)
  5. Are there special symbols, writings, speeches, holy books, etc.
  6. What is the exact date of the holiday? Is it the date the event happened, or the birth date (or death date) of a principal participant? Perhaps it’s the date the event was thought to occur (if the celebration comes into being years or decades after the ensuing event.)
  7. What governing faction decided there would be a holiday? Why? What gives them the right to declare it such?
  8. Are there people who don’t celebrate this holiday? Why not? What happens to those people (if anything) if they choose not to participate?

Good luck!

Photo Credit: The U.S. Army – West Point Asian Pacific American Observance Celebration. These guys look like they’re having a blast!

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Happy Vernal Equinox! Welcome, Spring!

Lilacs in the Front YardHappy Vernal Equinox!

Even though I’m bummed I didn’t get one really good snow day this past winter (am I the only adult I know who LOVES sledding?) I’m looking forward to spring.

I want to uncover my fig trees, dig in the dirt and watch the flowers bloom.

(I am now anxiously awaiting those precious few days when the lilac bush under my window is bursting with color and fragrance. Lilacs are my absolute favorite!)

I’m also getting that “spring cleaning” bug. Anyone else?

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Read My Latest Short Story for Free

On the Path by Kelly A. HarmonYou can now read, “On the Path,” for free if you participate in the Amazon digital lending program.

Here’s a link to it.

I’ve been sitting on the fence about the program until now. It sounds great in theory, but I don’t know how it will work in practice, so I’ve been “watching” it.

Though I have to say I didn’t add On the Path to the program because I’d heard anything good about it (or anything bad for that matter) – I just haven’t had any time to do anything else with the story.

I had these great aspirations to get “On the Path,” onto both the Smashwords and B&N platforms as well, but my spare time has been non-existent lately, so the story has been idling over at Amazon Kindle by itself for a few months.

(They just make it so easy, you know?)

Since my time is not going to free up soon, I’ve decided to put On the Path into the lending program for at least three months to see if the sales are any better than on it’s own.

Here’s the link again if you’re interested.

Please feel free to share the link!

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Writing Prompt: Check Your Morgue or Trunked Files

Virginia Pilot Ledger Newspaper MorgueMy background is journalism, so naturally I have my own morgue.

The “morgue” in newspaper parlance are the file cabinets holding all the research materials, notes and photos that went into producing a news story. All the pieces are usually filed together in a single folder by year or story. Sometimes the photos have their own morgue. Depends on the newspaper.

Pretty inefficient, really. While a lot of those records are filed electronically now, most of it still goes down the same way because who has the time to turn scribbled notes and library research into electronic documents when you’ve got to write the next news story?

And really, that stuff almost never gets looked at again unless it’s a really big story that has repercussions years later and needs to be referenced again. Or, the newspaper runs one of those “Five years ago, Ten years ago, etc. columns.

Writers tend to have ideas folders (stuff where they put ideas they’ve had, but aren’t ready to be written yet, snippets of overhead conversations, inspiring photos, etc.) and “trunked” files: a place for those stories that were written, but never got sold for whatever reason.

I have another file I keep, my “Culled from ‘XX Manuscript'” file: this is the place where I copy and paste the stuff edited out of my manuscripts. It contains idle scenes, verbose paragraphs, misplaced character thoughts in long and short phrases.

It’s a file that makes me feel better when I’m editing: I can take all that “hard work” which should never see the light of day, and keep a record of having written it. I tell myself I’ll go back there one day and make use of it.

I’ve never, ever done so (unlike my morgue or ideas folders…)

But this past week while I was doing some major edits, I realized that that file contains a lot of good stuff even if it wasn’t polished enough — or well thought out enough — to use in the current manuscript.

It’s plenty good for inspiring ideas when you need a kick.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Raid your ideas folder or junked stories for a snippet, phrase, paragraph, description, etc. to get your juices flowing: we’re not looking for an old idea to use here, we’re reading until you find a phrase that sparks a new idea. Find it and write.
  • Kill two birds with one stone: edit something that needs to be polished. Take all those words and phrases you cut away and save them into another file. Likely, they won’t be ‘sparkers’ this early: they’re too fresh in your mind. Set them aside for a few weeks and then revisit. In the meantime: you’ve polished up some writing. Send it out!
  • If you don’t have ideas folders, trunked files, or writing that needs some editing (Welcome, beginner!) pick a book off your shelf — something you haven’t read in a long time, or something you’ve never read — and open it to a random page. Read until an idea is sparked.
  • If none of these ideas appeal, here area a few very short phrases from my latest edits. Feel free to use them for your own stories:
    • “I’m damn tired of not getting my money’s worth.”
    • So, what did he want me to do about this?
    • It didn’t matter why the old man told him the story: he didn’t want to hear it.
    • …stiff and away from the window…
    • Chasing women was something he’d never had to do
    • Convinced he could do no more for the creature than make her comfortable, he…
    • The priestesses had long controlled the northern parts of the continent because of…

Good luck!

Photo Credit: A story about the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch newspaper morgue.

Monday, March 12th, 2012

A Smorgasbord of Books

SmorgasbordI had another major #bookfail this weekend, what with the local library hosting their winter book sale.

I was disappointed last year, having picked up only a few things, but this year, I got lucky. Or not. Depending on your point of view.

(The Husband of Awesome™ is, of course, shaking his head in resigned acceptance. He knows I can’t help myself. It’s a sickness.)

This year I picked up eight bags of books. I looked like a crazy person pushing my overflowing cart to the front counter to pay. And I was not embarrassed in the least when one of the bags spilled out all over the floor, and someone’s four-year-old stooped to help me pick them up.

Right on, Mama! I was thinking. Get the kids addicted from an early age.

I should note that several of the (ahem, 200+ books) are hardbacks which will be replacing some of the paperbacks on my shelves. And at least 30 of the procured books were picked up for other folks.

But what made this sale awesome was that someone had cleaned out their collection. Many of the books I purchased were wrapped in plastic, collector’s bags. They’re in fine condition and included several of the “Year’s Best” anthologies.

I’m in heaven. (When I’m not thinking that this collector has died, instead of switching over his collection to ebooks.)

Getting these books is a little like heading off on my monthly grocery shopping trip. You know the one: the trip necessitated by only having ramen in the cupboard and even the pickles and olives in the fridge are growing mold.)

What? You don’t shop every four-to-six weeks?

Well, ok, I do shop for fresh bread and cream for the coffee as needed, but the rest waits for The Big Trip.

The problem is, when I get home from a trip like that, I want to sample everything.

I want to make a deli sandwich on fresh bread. Eat fresh fruit. Break into the rice pudding. Eat some mint chocolate chip ice cream. Nibble on the vienna finger cookies. Boil some eggs. Open the chips and dip. And salsa.

You know what I mean? (Or am I just a crazy person?)

But that’s just how it’s been with these books. I’m taking a few off the top, some from the middle, and a few from deep down in the sacks and reading a chapter here and a chapter there.

They’re all so good, I don’t know which to put down and which to finish. I’m halfway through two of them. Three-quarters through another, and on the first two-to-four chapters in several others.

I hate to admit it, but there is one book that’s been sitting on the dresser in which I have only the last page to read. The last page! I got interrupted when I was reading and put it down, and haven’t finished it off.

At first, that was just funny, and now I’m trying to figure out how long I can stand it.

What about you? How do you go through your stacks of books? One at a time or several?

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Writing Prompt: Using Clichés as Story Starters, Scene Builders and to Chisel Your Way Through Writer’s Block

Cliched quotes from college applications.I’ve talked about cliches before in my “How to Write Like a Professional Journalist” post some time ago.

In that post, I stated that writers should work to eradicate clichés from their written words.

Clichés are shortcuts: a hackneyed phrase we use in a collective to get a point across very quickly. It’s easier to tell someone you didn’t come to work yesterday because you were “sick as a dog,” instead of going into detail about your fever, vomiting and chills.

Used in context, your friends will also “get” that you had the worst hangover ever if you let them know you were “sick as a dog,” after last night’s bachelor party.

In writing, however, clichés tend to make a writer sound like an amateur. (There are some exceptions to this, of course. I’ll get into them in another post.)

One thing clichés are useful for is giving your brain an immediate picture of what’s going on. If I use the term “man cave” to describe a guy’s office, some kind of image is going to flash into your mind.

The thing of it is, what I meant when I said “man cave,” and what you perceived (or saw) when you heard “man cave,” are probably two different things. So, in writing, you should take the time to explain things, rather than settling for the cliché.

Another thing clichés are good for — since they deliver an immediate picture postcard of the idea – is to use them as story starters or scene ideas.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Search your current writing for a cliché and re-write that passage to say what you really meant. (If it’s in dialogue, leave it alone. Dialogue is one of the exceptions!)
  • If you want to write, but feel like you’re blocked, find a hackneyed phrase you like and see what it conjures up. Spend fifteen minutes free writing a journal entry, the beginning of a short story, a scene from a much larger work, or a poem.
  • Do the same if you’re writing your memoirs, letters or working on genealogy: use the phrase to prompt a memory, then write what you recall.

If you can’t think of a phrase, the ClichéSite has a tremendous list of clichés. Wonderful!

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

I Can See it Happening Here: A New Scottish Law Will Curtail Book Readings

Undated Map of ScotlandAn amendment to a Scottish law going into effect April 1st (no joke!) is going to severely handicap authors — and others — from providing free readings and other entertainment to the public.

The new law requires that any event to which the public is invited, now be licensed. The license may be purchased at a flat rate of £245 (Today’s Conversion Rate: $285 USD).

In the past, free events were not required to be licensed. Apparently, non-free events licenses could be licensed on a sliding rate.

Scottish politicians are trying to spin this as “people control” and “crime deterrent,” but it’s clearly a mechanism to increase cash in the government’s pocket.

I got my information via the blog SUBROSA. You can read the full story here. The blogger talks about how a writing group she’s associated with is going to be hurt by the new law.

I encourage you wander over to SUBROSA and read the comments. Folks bring up the fact that affected events now include such things as Easter Egg Hunts and Yard Sales (I gather it’s large charity sales, such as those for Scouts or other clubs which are included, not personal yard sales).

One author mentions that it will be cheaper to take a train out of Scottland to do a reading, then to pay the flat rate fee.

How much do you want to bet that Scotland sees a dearth of free public events rather than an uptick in the fees collected for such?

It’s scary legislation. SUBROSA calls it “insidious.” I agree.

Unfortunately, I envision it happening here soon.

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Writing Prompt – Anapestic Tetrameter: A Tribute to Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss' NerdHappy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Theodor Seuss Geisel, writer and illustrator of many of my favorite stories, was born March 2, 1904. Even as an adult, I enjoy reading Seuss books (and can quote verbatim from several)!

Most of Seuss’ books are composed of rhyming couplets of simple words, making them easy for children to read, and learn to read. But they’re fun, too, which makes them all the better. Many times, Seuss made up his own words to make the rhymes fit.

(In fact, Dr. Suess created the word nerd, though with a different meaning than we think of it today. The word’s first known existence is in his book, “If I Ran the Zoo,” in 1950.)

The couplets Seuss wrote are the type “anapestic tetrameter,” which is often used in comic verse.

A few definitions:

meter: the rhythm of a line of poetry, composed of feet

foot: a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables

anapestic foot: a pattern of three syllables, of the form: unstressed / unstressed / stressed

Since “tetra” means four, each line of anapestic tetrameter verse contains four instances of an anapestic foot (or twelve syllables total).

A good example of anapestic tetrameter is from Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle:


On the far-away Island of Sala-ma-Sond,
Yertle the Turtle was king of the pond.
A nice little pond. It was clean. It was neat.
The water was warm. There was plenty to eat.
The turtles had everything turtles might need.
And they were all happy. Quite happy indeed.

You know what your prompt’s going to be, right? Below I’m going to tell you to go write some anapestic tetrameter.

I know some folks might feel intimidated by the challenge. So, I offer the following advice:

If you don’t think you can write anapestic tetrameter on your own, take a line from Seuss and change all the nouns and verbs.

For instance, instead of the first couplets above, you could write:


In a kitchen fantastic, in the dead of night
An egg-frying ghost, gave me a terrible fright.
Transparent, and shimmery, and nearly not there
He flipped the eggs with one hand while munching a pear.
He read from, “On Writing,” by the great Stephen King
And had just turned the page when I heard the toast ding.


Dr. Seuss' Green Pants With No One Inside Them

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a poem in anapestic tetrameter. Don’t feel constrained to make it silly. Try a horror poem, or romance, or science fiction.
  • I you’re feeling ambitious, write an epic poem — or short story — in anapestic tetrameter.
  • If the words don’t flow, draw a whimsical picture like Seuss might have done. Remember: it doesn’t have to be silly! Seuss drew ‘scary’ pictures, too, like those “pale green pants, with no one inside them!”