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Random Acts of Writing: When Miriam McNamara met the Breadbox

images-1In 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’m posting 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. If you haven’t yet, try running with this one!

images 5.15.23 PMHere’s one from Miriam McNamara. 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.

Birdie ran the last few yards, curiosity getting the better of her. The box was tucked neatly in the rotted out base of an oak tree, fitting so neatly that it almost seemed as if the tree had grown around its edges—but the box was freshly painted bright blue, it’s little sliding metal door closed neatly, the metal smooth and undented—it couldn’t have been there long. An round area the size of a dinner table was cleared in front of it, and marked off with rocks.

“Who’d put a mailbox here?” said Birdie. It looked neat, actually—a post office for squirrels, or fairies. Her fingers tingled as she put her hand to the cold knob on the door. What would be inside?

“That’s a breadbox,” said Izzy, wheezing a little as she caught up, and Birdie felt bad that she’d left her behind, even for a moment. “Ms. Gershwin’s breadbox, I’ve seen it on her counter. Gus must’ve made off with it for one of his games.” Izzy leaned on her cane, her skinny back rounding as she took the weight off her bad leg, but she looked unfazed. 

Maybe all Mom’s insistence was right. Maybe Izzy would get all the way better. 

Mom was never right, though. It had been three years since Izzy’s fall. If she was getting all the way better, it would have happened by now. She wasn’t right about Daddy, either. But everything was black and white with Mom—either you were sick, or better. Either you were here with your family, or you were dead and gone.

Birdie slid back the tin door and knew Izzy was right. A set of marbles, and a set of jacks, all jumbled together in a colorful heap at the bottom of the tin. The cleared ring must be where Gus and his friends came to play. She frowned at the hijacked breadbox. “Stealing and gambling, at eight years old! Maybe we should tell Ms. Gershwin.”

Izzy stepped to the edge of the circle and gingerly sat down, her left leg straight out to one side, cocked at an ever-so-slightly off angle. She looked up at Birdie. “Care for a game, my de-ah?” she said, in her best fancy accent.

Birdie cracked a smile. “I’m quite sure fancy ladies like use wouldn’t know the first thing about playing marbles,” she said, but she reached in and scooped out the bright bits of glass and metal. Her fingers caught a corner of paper, and she pulled it out. She unfolded it. It was a picture, creased inkless along the pleats.

It was Daddy’s Jenny.

She recognized the picture instantly, and her heart was in her mouth. That was Daddy’s plane, she knew it. The image was black-and-white but her mind painted it canary yellow, the star on the wing red, white and blue. 

DONT FAIL TO SEE
MERRIWETHER’S FLYING CIRCUS!
AERIAL INSANITY! DOGFIGHTS, THE DIP OF DEATH, THE SPIRAL DIVE!
FEATURING the INCREDIBLE HAZEL, the DEATH-DEFYING OSCAR “The Wizard of the Air”, and “AIRDEVIL” CHARLIE! 
COME SEE THE MOST STIMULATING SHOW YOU’LL EVER SEE! LOOP-DE-LOOPS! FLYING UPSIDE DOWN! DEATH-DEFYING AERIAL ANTICS!
Time: 3pm. Place: Coney Island. Admission: 25 cents.

“That looks like Daddy’s plane, doesn’t it?” said Izzy faintly, peering over Birdie’s shoulder as she sank to the ground beside her.

“It is Daddy’s plane,” said Birdie. His “baby,” he called it. The only baby he took with him when he left. 

“It can’t be,” said Izzy, her voice small, close to tears. She believed Mom, that Daddy was dead. But Birdie didn’t. 

That was Daddy’s plane on that flyer. She had to go to Coney Island and bring him back home.

Headshot Miriam

Miriam McNamara has her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is currently deeply involved with an historical fiction manuscript featuring double lives, star-crossed romance, and lady pirates. She lives in Asheville, NC.

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Random Acts of Writing: Mary Whitsell, the Breadbox, and Magic Spells

foundpaper4In 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’m posting 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. If you haven’t yet, try running with this one!

images 5.15.23 PMHere’s one from Mary Whitsell. 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.

Bailey wouldn’t have seen the box if she hadn’t tripped over it. She could trip over stuff that was barely even there—shadows, pieces of twine, shallow piles of leaves—and she probably wouldn’t have turned around if Jenna hadn’t laughed. 

“Klutz,” Jenna said, shaking her head. Jenna never tripped over anything.

One corner of the box was sticking up, a hard, square shape you could just make out. Bailey poked it with the toe of her sneaker, then leaned down for a better look. “There’s something buried here,” she said. “Some kind of box.” She glared at Jenna. “That’s why I tripped.”

Jenna started to roll her eyes, then saw the exposed corner and frowned. “Huh.”

Bailey heaved and pulled at the box until her arms ached. “You could help,” she muttered, glaring up at Jenna, who stood watching, her arms crossed over her chest. Then there was a great sucking sound and the mud released its buried treasure. 

It was bulky, about the size of Dad’s drillbox and every bit as rusty and unused-looking, caked with mud, flaked with old paint or peeling enamel—you couldn’t tell which. 

“What is it?” Bailey whispered.

“I think it’s a bread box,” Jenna said. “Carly’s mom is into retro stuff—she’s got one. Anyway, come on—I’m going to be late for ballet.”

But Bailey had already pried open the cover. 

Bailey squinted at the sudden brightness—a flash of something, like gold or emeralds under sunlight. Green and dazzling—so different from the dull brown world around them, or the ugly dull cover of the box, for that matter. Jenna’s mouth dropped open. She put her backpack down and bent over for a better look. 

“What’s that?” she said, pointing at a slender white tube. She snatched it up and began to unroll it.

“Don’t!” Bailey cried, despite herself. Jenna ignored her. 

“Listen to this,” Jenna said, reading out loud:

By my hand ye’ll not be fed
Here is not your daily bread

Treasure or reject with scorn;
Through this vessel be reborn

When the lessons have been learned
This container must be burned

All the changes it has wrought
Will remain if they were sought 

“Huh,” Jenna said, crumpling the piece of paper and tossing it back into the box. “That’s weird.” She picked her backpack up and shrugged it over her shoulders. 

“Now let’s go,” she said.

Mom had a thing about them coming home separately if they were going through the woods, so Bailey had no choice but to hurry after Jenna, dodging roots and holes and stones all the way home. And weirdly enough, she never once tripped, for a change. But Jenna did. Twice.

Mary WhitsellMary Whitsell has spent over half her life as an expatriate, living and teaching in other countries including Japan, the Netherlands, Scotland, England and Cyprus. She currently resides in China, where she teaches English as a second language. Whitsell writes fiction for adults and children, creative non-fiction, and poetry, and her work has appeared in places such as Creative Non-fiction, Flashquake, Eclectica, Prole, Vagabondage, Glassfire, Burst, and GreenPrints.

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Random Acts of Writing: Amalia Gladhart versus the Breadbox

imagesIn 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!

images 5.15.23 PMHere’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.

Gladhart_Amalia-2-200x300Amalia 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.

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