In honor of NaNoWriMo, I’m spending the month of November offering you all some writing prompts! Here’s the game: A few times each week I’ll post a picture and a setup. Your task is to write 500 words or less. That’s about a page (single spaced). If you want, you can email me what you come up with (linda dot p dot epstein at gmail dot com) with “writing prompt” in the subject line and I’ll pick a few to post on the blog. Please don’t submit your writing in the comments section, I’m not posting them there. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, for the next few days I’m posting some of my clients’ writing on a picture/setup I challenged them with. Run with it, if you’d like!
Here’s one from Amalia Gladhart. The task was: Two people are walking in the woods and come across this object. Write a scene where they use the object. You can use dialogue, but it should be <50% of the writing. 500 words or less.
Her mother had stolen the breadbox in a backhanded stab at revenge against the antique dealer who had cleaned out most of the attics in town with far-fetched claims about charity auctions and the spiritual benefits of giving up worldly goods. Now the breadbox–dented (worse than she remembered) but still shiny, still with that definitive black lettering perfectly legible–was lodged between the roots of the oak tree Caroline had always considered her personal property, her refuge, sheltered as it was behind old Mr. Warwick’s unbroken string of NO TRESPASSING signs and barbed wire, a barrier no one but Caroline had been willing to cross until Sarah moved in down the street and shyly offered to join her on an afternoon walk. Caroline was glad of the company. She loved the shadows, the falling leaves, but the woods could be too quiet, sometimes, when she was on her own. Caroline hadn’t known Sarah long, but she needed a friend.
The box’s label faced the trunk. Even the thin sheen of green–algae? moss?–spreading over the lid did little to dim the turquoise glow of that enameled prize. Caroline wouldn’t touch it, but Sarah picked it up. “What is it?”
“It’s a breadbox. Says so right on the other side–turn it over.” Sarah did so, traced the clean, modern lines of the letters. Caroline said, “My mother planned to put my father’s ashes in it, or else the cat’s, whoever died first. She planned to sell it back to old Mr. Warwick, full.” Sarah dropped the box back on the ground, hard.
The lid didn’t budge in the fall. Caroline added, “She was happy enough to use it in the meantime. She had this whole theory about how homemade bread didn’t mold like store-bought, how you shouldn’t store it in the fridge.”
Sarah picked the box back up, tugged at the lid that had evidently rusted shut, turned it over to look at the bottom, as if there might be a trap door. Caroline felt compelled to explain, “She never did put ashes in it. That was years ago. I don’t know how it got out here.”
Her mother had been so proud of that box when she brought it home, had bragged about holding it behind her back and then tucking it under her coat and sidling out of the shop. It was hard to see how the antiques business had been as wildly and wrongly enriching as she claimed it had been, but old Mr. Warwick had the biggest house around, the only one with property attached, and Caroline’s mother died expecting that jackpot just around the corner–the lottery ticket, the first edition bought at a garage sale for a quarter, the priceless heirloom discovered in a closet.
Sarah shrugged. “It’s a sign,” she said, tucking the box under her arm. “A welcome sign.” She returned to the path, walking quickly. Caroline was a little out of breath by the time she caught up.
Amalia Gladhart is Professor of Spanish at the University of Oregon. Also a translator, Gladhart has published translations of two novels by Ecuadorian Alicia Yánez Cossío, THE POTBELLIED VIRGIN and BEYOND THE ISLANDS, and TRAFALGAR, by Angélica Gorodischer. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in The Iowa Review, Stone Canoe, Bellingham Review, Seneca Review, and she won the 2011 Burnside Review fiction chapbook contest as well as honorable mention in the 2012 Glimmer Train very short fiction contest.