Snowstorm


Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash

The woods rose up all around me, towers of dead trees and bare branches that grasped my clothing and hair as I ran. I took no notice of their thorns as they scratched through my sleeves and left strands of hair snagged on their limbs.

It was after me, and the dread that fueled my escape was like nothing I had ever felt. I dared not to look back, driven onward by the fear of being caught.

I followed no path yet instinctively darted around the trees, leaping over fallen logs and exposed roots. A half-moon was overhead, an impartial observer to this chase between predator and prey. It offered only a dim reflection of the snow, aiding not only my vision but also that of my pursuer.

The deathly silence of the forest was only broken by the sound of my boots striking the snow and of my own breath, frantic gasps that left trails of condensation in the cold winter night’s air.

The slope of the earth below me changed, and I was soon running downward into a section of trees that thinned out and were easier to see through. At the other end of this section of trees, I saw the house, a rectangular structure that was lit up from within. I ran the final paces, barely striking the ground like a rabbit leaping to its burrow, and upon reaching the porch, I knew I was finally safe.

I had reached sanctuary. I was now aware some boundary existed between this house and the woods, between me and it. It could no longer follow me; it would go no further than the woods.

I turned and faced the creature for the first time. It remained at the edge of the treeline, barely visible in the pale moonlight and forest shadows. I could see it was part human and part beast, bearing the head of a deer with fearsome antlers crowning its image. The upper torso and arms were that of a human, but the rest of it was the form of a deer with four cloven hooves.

We stared at one another, caught in a stalemate. It had lost the hunt tonight, but it was only one of many. That we both knew. The deer creature reared on its hind legs and thundered back into the woods, kicking up slivers of ice and snow behind it.

I opened the front door and walked inside the house, met with the warmth and welcoming light of the fireplace someone had left burning for me.

This passage was based on a dream I had last winter. It occurred during a major winter storm and has stuck in my mind as one of the more unsettling dreams I’ve had.

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Writing Exercise: A Pocket Watch, a Flea Market, and a Bit of Time Travel

Photo on Visual Hunt
Tentes

Can objects haunt us? I considered this question today when responding to a writing prompt. The answer I came up with turned into the beginning of a science fiction story, which you will find a little further below.

The prompt comes from the Shut Up and Write group, an international writing community that is (despite the harsh name) a friendly group that gets together to write for an hour or two. I joined a local chapter and have received e-mail prompts every day in January, including this one:

“You’ve heard rumors that a flea market in a nearby town is selling something that sounds suspiciously like a family heirloom that went missing years ago. As you carry the story forward, ask yourself:

  • What is this object? Why was it important to your family?
  • Do you (your character) find it?
  • Does the vendor explain how they got it?
  • Is it your family’s long lost heirloom? And do you get it back?”

The passage I wrote in response to this prompt is below.

It wasn’t a matter of luck or common coincidence that I saw the lost pocket watch in the newspaper advertisement for your Flea Market this morning, Sir. You might be inclined to think of it as such before knowing the family history, but as you are not a member of the family, I wouldn’t expect you to understand outright.

It’s like this. Of course a person hears tell of lost hounds finding their way home halfway across the country, their owners having lost sight of them while vacationing hundreds of miles from home. Or those birds that, in winter, leave their nests in the north to fly south on a month-long flight to Mexico. They return north the following spring, where they find their way back to those same exact nests that they left months prior.

I suppose our family pocket watch might equate to one of those lost hounds or migrating birds, despite the fact it has no wings to carry it home nor nose to sniff out a trail. Yes, come to think of it, that’s exactly how you might begin to understand the whole issue, it being such a curious matter and all.

You see, I was not in the least surprised to find the pocket watch in your advertisement because it wasn’t I who found it. Rather, it was the other way around: the pocket watch found me.

The pocket watch always finds us – my family, that is. We have tried to lose it countless times over the years. Generation after generation of Templetons has dropped it in rivers, hoping it will float far away downstream. My great-grandfather left it on a railroad track all the way out in Amarillo when he was there on business, praying a passing train would crush the watch into smithereens, and that would be the end of all the trouble.

But, as it happens, just before the 6:05 morning train passed through Amarillo that day, a train-hopper looking to sneak a lift East was walking along those very tracks and picked the watch up. He put it in his pocket and carried it all the way back on the train ride to Charleston. He accidentally left the watch in the pocket of a coat he traded for a cigarette packet, offered by a fellow coming off the train as it stopped in South Carolina.

That cigarette trader happened to be my Uncle Clarence, who returned home that evening and pulled the watch from his new coat’s pocket as he was sitting at the dinner table. My great-grandfather, who had been home just two weeks by this point, was said to have shouted so loudly upon seeing the watch that the neighbors rushed over to see what the fuss was about.

Why go through all this trouble to rid ourselves of a pocket watch, you may ask, Sir? You won’t believe me when I tell you, but still, if I expect your assistance, I must try to explain.

This pocket watch is an instrument surely designed by the Devil himself. How else could it let my family members turn back the events of time and return to prior weeks, prior years even, allowing us to try to correct our past mistakes? You must be laughing now at such nonsense, but do try to understand.

Surely such power would be great; after all, how often does one wish for the chance to revisit the past? you might ask me if you were here before me, attempting to humor my perceived madness. Would this not be a delight for mankind, to amend the wrongs of history? you would ask me.

But you would be naive to think this. Our family has been driven to insanity with this temptation, incessantly using the pocket watch to return to the past and achieve different outcomes. We hope for different outcomes for our individual histories and even the world’s history, but never, never I stress, are we happy with the results. And yet, we are but human and still we continue to try.

And this is why, Sir, I beg you, please take this watch under your own supervision and guard it. Do not sell it to anyone at the Flea Market, as it will invariably return to our family’s hands. It seems to affect no one else, only us Templetons, and I implore you to let it not affect us any longer.

Book Review: “Translator, Trader” by Douglas Hofstadter


Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

I’ve just finished reading Translator, Trader: An Essay on the Pleasantly Pervasive Paradoxes of Translation by Douglas Hofstadter and am still trying to digest the big translation questions that the author raises in it. As you might discern from the title, this essay – which reaches 100 pages – is a playful description of a translator’s quest to faithfully translate a piece of work. What a quest it is!

Hofstadter takes us through his process of translating the French book La Chamade (by Françoise Sagan) into English. He states that the idea of his essay is to demonstrate “that high-quality conversion of a novel from Language A to Language B reflects the depths of the translator’s soul no less than Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter reflects the depths of Ella’s soul.” In a nutshell, that translation is an art form involving endless translation choices, numerous “trades” between the languages, and carefully selected words which go beyond simple literal translation.

Regrettably, I am not bilingual, but I expect that speakers of multiple languages frequently encounter the conundrums he discusses. Even as a monolingual speaker I was able to get an understanding of the difficulties he faces with translations.

Hofstadter supports a non-literal translation style as opposed to a literal one, which he characterizes as typically dry and often rendering the finished translation as “wooden.” He humorously defends his choice to translate La Chamade with his own “translator” voice, even admitting when he may have pushed the line just a little when translating a word or phrase.

His essay introduces various struggles related to translation that readers might not typically know exist. For example, he discusses the original French text making use of the two forms of the French second-person singular: the familiar “tu” and the more formal “vous“. How should a translator express this difference in English, or should they even attempt to do so?

While a literal English translation of the text might do away with any such distinction and simply substitute the word “you” for both tu and vous, Hofstadter makes the argument that the original author, Sagan, made a deliberate choice to distinguish between the two forms. To solve this translation issue, Hofstadter chooses to capitalize “You” when referencing the “vous” form and uses the lowercase “you” when referencing the “tu” form.

If this sort of thing appeals to you, you are in luck as his essay is full of subtleties in this regard. What could have been a very technical book is a fascinating read. One strong point of his essay is how passionate Hofstadter obviously is about his work as a translator. It is apparent that he loves the original text and I got the idea while reading it that he lost a lot of sleep in his effort to represent the original text as best he could.

This unique essay is a must-read for anyone who reads translated texts. Even if you don’t agree with every point he makes, you will gain a much greater appreciation for the artistry of translation. I plan to read the accompanying copy of Hofstadter’s translation of La Chamade (That Mad Ache) in the near future. I have no doubt that my experience will be all the more richer having read his essay about the translation process beforehand.

Have you had your own experiences translating texts from one language to another? Or have you read a book that you felt was particularly well-translated? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Writing Inspiration from a Dream


Photo by Marc Marchal on Unsplash

The search for story ideas is a constant in most writers’ lives, and every once in a while, the ideas are the ones that search us out. Night before last, I had an odd dream that felt so realistic and detailed I decided to write a short passage about it after waking up.

In the dream, I was a servant in a royal household. I was working in the kitchen when the castle was raided by an opposing force. Hearing the commotion coming from the other rooms, I hid in a cellar. After waiting for a period of time, I could soon only hear the voices of the invaders. Eventually, I realized I was the only member of the royal household who had not been captured.

I decided to experiment with this idea, and the section below is what I came up with.

The darkness seemed to grow thicker as the moments passed. It was cold in the cellar, and my hands grew numb as I kept them pushed against the door, praying for the strength to fight off any of the intruders who ventured down here. Who were these enemies of the King? How many of them were up there now, infiltrating our castle which, until moments ago, had felt so secure, so impenetrable? Surely our own kingdom had enough men to drive them out, so why had we not received the signal that all was safe? I heard none of the ten bugle blasts that were supposed to alert us when we were once again at peace and protected from the swords and arrows of the enemy.

My mind raced over the infinite possibilities for the delay as I listened for familiar voices through the ceiling. All I could hear were the muffled words of the invaders shouting orders at one another. I could not discern any complete sentences through the thick dirt ceiling, only a few words here and there suggesting that they were making rounds of the entire premises.

My heart slowly returned to its normal rate as time passed. Had it been only seconds, minutes, or even hours that I had been waiting alone in the black void of the cellar? With no windows to detect the moon and not daring to re-light my candle, I had no concept of time passing.

I sank to my knees and carefully turned my back against the door to hold it closed, being as quiet as possible. I drew my skirts in around me, keeping them from rustling as I attempted to warm myself against the dampness of the floor.

Where was Cook? I wondered. If she had not sent me down to the cellar for the extra carrots, I would have been up there with the rest of the kitchen women when the intruders stormed in. I would not have been able to hide in this little cellar extension that even our own kitchen members often forgot was here. I would not have been sitting here safely while they faced the invaders alone. Filled with guilt, I prayed that Cook and the others had been able to flee in time.

Reflecting on my own current predicament, I prayed that I, too, would find a way to escape.

How Living in a Small Town Has Helped My Writing

I recently moved in with my boyfriend and relocated to a very small town. While I am not sure I could manage long term in a mega city like New York City or London, I am definitely more of a city person and have gravitated to them in my adult life. I understand the appeal of small towns for people. They often have beautiful landscapes, less traffic, and a lower cost of living, but I have always cherished the floods of people in a big city.

For me, cities symbolize a mixture of ideas and resources. I love being surprised by who I might run into while doing my errands or what new restaurant might open up down the block. I also find it easier to connect with people who have similar interests, mostly because there are simply so many more people to meet.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I had a strong writing group last year in my former city. We met regularly (multiple times a week) and consistently asked one another for advice on next steps in our work. I still keep in touch with them of course, but I am no longer able to see them as often as I would like.

When I first moved, I worried I would lose the writing momentum that I had spent so much of 2018 building. I thought, how can I possibly meet other writers while living in such a rural place? I stressed about being out of a heavily artistic environment and worried I would involuntarily let writing shift from the forefront of my mind.

However, in the three months I have lived here, I have been surprised that I have been even more productive than I was last year! Living in a small town has actually aided my writing in several ways.

If you are a city person like myself, you might be wondering, how is that possible with a smaller writing network?

Writers are Everywhere

Seriously, we are all over the place. If you strike up a conversation with any random stranger anywhere, there is a good chance that person has dabbled in some form of writing before. In my current town, I met a writer who lives just down the road from me. She is a teacher who is trying to make more time for writing and is interested in having an accountability partner.

Meetup groups are within easy reach as well. I might have to drive a little longer than I used to, but I am able to meet up with writers in the bigger cities around me, and there are plenty of groups to choose from. These groups have been a great way to build connections in the area, as I have written about in a previous post.

Less Options Mean Less Distractions

In a city, there are an infinite amount of excuses to not write. Maybe your favorite band is performing downtown that night or your friends are going out for dinner and trying that new fusion restaurant. Or maybe you are bored and just want to go window shop and pop into all the local stores.

If you have ever lived in a truly small town, you will know that it is not unusual for every business to close much earlier than their urban counterparts. If you have ever lived in a Southern small town, like I have, you will know that many businesses do not open at all on Sunday, often not Monday either.

So instead of finding excuses not to write, I have been less distracted and turning to my writing more often. More hours spent writing means more writing accomplished!

Establishing Connections Online

I have been talking about starting a blog for months but never got around to taking the time to make it happen. Now that I have had some downtime, I have been having a fantastic time working on Paper Crow Blog. Not only has this blog helped encourage me to write more often, but I have made connections with a lot of other writers (including my wonderful growing number of followers – thank you!).

Besides working on my own writing, I have also spent more time reading other people’s blogs and getting tips on improving my own. It is amazing how much writing information is out there, if only you have the time to sift through it all.

Coffee Shops – Homes Away from Home

There might be fewer coffee shop options in a less-populated town but most towns (even mine!) have at least one or two. When I need to get out of the house for a little bit, chances are, I head to a coffee shop to do some writing. What is nice about small town coffee shops is that there are less people in them, which means a quieter work environment and better access to outlets for charging your laptop.

Books are Less Expensive

Books, and most everything else, is less expensive in my town. I am able to buy more books, and consequently, read more books because they don’t cost as much as they would in a bigger city. Reading more helps keep me engaged with various forms of writing. With less distractions, I also have more time to read that pile of books, too. It is a win-win situation.

After spending more time in my new town, I have grown to appreciate the perks small towns have to offer. Sometimes, it almost feels like a writing retreat in itself since I am tucked away from the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan area.

How has your environment influenced your writing? Do you have any tips on building your writing community in a small town? If so, leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you!

Short Story Review: “The Red Room” by H.G. Wells

Isn’t the book jacket just awesome? The hardcover underneath has planets etched into the spine and front cover

Last night, I opened my copy of The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, also Selected Short Stories, a collection of works by H.G. Wells. I bought this delightfully vintage, 1963 edition hardback copy from a fun downtown bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina.

The bookstore itself is a two-story building with a coffee shop and champagne bar located within it, so if you’re ever visiting the area, I highly recommend stopping in. There are tons of good literary finds around the place, and when I saw this particular edition of my favorite science fiction author’s works, I had to buy it.

I’ve read both The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine in the past, and have them in mind for another reading in the near future (and hopefully, accompanying reviews!). Last night I was in the mood for a quick science fiction story before sleeping, so instead of going for the novels, I chose an unfamiliar work from the collection, the very short story The Red Room.

The Red Room turned out to be less of a science fiction story than a supernatural one, which is just fine by me. I hadn’t considered the idea before, but really, the genres are very closely related. Many of the typical science fiction tropes actually run parallel with horror themes. Unchecked technological “advances” turning society into hordes of misanthropic robots? Aliens from another planet destroying the earth with no regard for life? Science fiction yes, but still all fairly horrifying, in my humble opinion.

The Red Room opens with the narrator deflecting any idea that he is afraid of ghosts. At 28 years old, he makes it very clear this isn’t the sort of thing he believes in (unlike your faint-hearted blogger here). He is very adamant about spending the night in a room of Lorraine Castle, a place that three “old pensioners” (as he so kindly describes them) who live in the place believe to be haunted.

Against their judgment, the narrator decides to spend the night in the room to disprove the stories of it being haunted. I won’t reveal the ending, but the narrator’s final conclusion of the events that take place leave for some interesting interpretation into the beliefs of humans.

I suggest this story if paranormal events are your thing. If you’re a fan of H.G. Wells, you’ll recognize his style of not naming the narrator and offering little backstory to the characters. This habit is actually one that I like about his writing. I don’t get bogged down by all the past baggage in his characters’ lives. He typically takes us straight into the story, immediately putting us in the character’s current frame of mind. The Red Room is a great option if you want a short, gothic read just before bedtime, but its theme will definitely have you questioning your own beliefs about the supernatural long after that.

Do you have any thoughts on the blending of science fiction and the supernatural? Or are you also a fan of H.G. Wells? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for visiting Paper Crow Blog!

Past the Outline But Before the Draft

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Today’s writing goal seems harmless enough: Begin the rough draft of a short story I’ve had in mind this week.

But as I begin, I start to rethink that adjective . . . harmless? “Mostly” harmless, after all (that is for you, Douglas Adams fans). Getting started is always the hardest part of writing, at least in my case. I am not a great decision maker, an annoying trait not just in my writing but my personal life as well (just ask my friends when we’re trying to decide which restaurant to eat at). When it comes to writing, I sometimes have trouble making all the decisions I need to in order to actually get started.

Today, for instance. I have my story idea, which should mean I am ready to go. I want to write a story about a woman who moves into a house in a small town. As time goes on, she is repeatedly mistaken for the prior occupant of the house, an elderly woman who died recently. She is much younger than the woman who died, but all around town, people inexplicably call her by the same wrong name and ask her about her family, confusing them with relatives of the deceased woman. Things begin to get strange for our dear main character, as you can probably guess. (If you’re wondering where I got such a strange idea from, I read this news story about an adopted woman learning her original birth name after inexplicably being called by that name for years).

I have my (mostly!) outlined plan for the story, but before I jump in and write that first draft, I’m trying to decide on a few things.

Point-of-View

Do I want to go with a first person perspective, with everything told through the main character’s eyes? What the reader is told is what she believes to be true. She could be sane, or unreliable, or somewhere in a realm in between both states, which offers some interesting possibilities.

Or maybe it should be written in third person, with some outsider or omniscient narrator presenting reality to us. A neighbor could be observing the main character from afar, or perhaps she confided in him during a moment of confusion, when she wasn’t sure what was going on in that town. Or possibly writing the story in a traditional format is best, with no fancy tricks up my sleeve, and I just present everything out for the reader as a standard tale.

Tone

When the idea for this story first popped into my head, I imagined it as a creepy story, a kind of chronicle of a woman’s descent into madness. But the more I thought about it, I began to consider maybe going for a less sinister tone and perhaps presenting the story in an absurd, dreamlike state, kind of a fantastical atmosphere. I’m imagining over-the-top characters, sort of a Big Fish, larger-than-life style. There are so many options, it is hard to choose just one, but I also want to be consistent in tone and not switch halfway through the story, as I am sometimes prone to do.

Ending

This part is where my outlined story turns into a “mostly” outlined story. What sort of ending do I want to leave finish the story with? A supernatural conclusion echoing Stephen King’s Carrie at prom or a total, edificial implosion of the house like in the final scenes in Poltergeist? Or maybe I want to end on a hopeful note. Perhaps the main character takes the initiative and exorcises the woman’s spirit from her house, or maybe takes an opposite approach, even befriending the spirit. Or she could flee the premises, leaving the house for someone else to deal with.

As you can see, my writing process can often be a weird mixture of both structured notes but also unplanned changes I make as I actually begin writing. That’s often the fun part of writing for me, believe it or not. I get an idea out of seemingly nowhere a lot of the time, but then I get to take the time to shape it into the form that I want the story to take.

Which is what I am going to do in just a few minutes, once I make a few decisions . . .

Spring 2017

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Do you remember Spring 2017

and the days you thought were your last,

how Mila’s dog would come to lie at your feet

and wait with you in the quiet?

Do you remember that Spring,

the one that failed you,

that left your life fallow

and let nothing grow within you?

That Spring that let no ideas sprout,

no love bloom,

offered your hands only bare desert dust

everywhere you reached?

Do you remember Spring 2017,

with those days that shook their heads

at everything you tried to say?

A Spring that left you alone,

sitting in the winds of Hillsdale Trail

on a mountain facing the city,

that left you somewhere under the contrails of the passing planes

but still above the flat adobe rooftops,

not yet sure whether you were soaring or falling?

How I’ve Designed My Writing Schedule to Fit My Life


Photo by Gades Photography on Unsplash

One of the things we often talk about in the writing groups I attend is what a typical writing day looks like for each of us. Everyone seems eager to learn about other people’s habits and their strategies for getting the most writing done. If there is one common motivating factor I have uncovered through my discussions with other beginning writers, it is that we all feel like we could be writing more.

I have tried out a plethora of suggestions for writing times (i.e., writing early in the morning before work, writing on your lunch break, writing thirty minutes every day, etc.). What I’ve come to learn during all of these trial periods is that no one else’s schedule actually works for me. Of course, I have learned useful tips from others, but it is impossible for me to follow someone else’s writing strategy precisely, and I am sure they would have the same difficulty in following mine. What’s more is that a schedule that once worked for me in the past may not work for me at the present moment and vice versa.

So why is it so hard for me to stick to the same writing schedule?

My Sleep Habits Change

I have unearthed several of my own reasons that I find it difficult to keep the same writing schedule throughout the years. One of the main reasons is due to my age, and by default, my sleep schedule: I am not the night owl that I used to be. While I’m not lucky enough to be at retirement age quite yet, at nearly thirty I am also not young enough to pull the all-nighters that I once could when I was in my early twenties. It is hard to believe I could regularly write for hours past midnight or stay up all night finishing a college paper. These days, by nine or ten o’clock p.m., my brain is done for the day.

I’ve found that at this time in my life, writing earlier in the day is the way to go. My mind is fresher and I am able to focus even better than I could when I would over-caffeinate myself to stay up throughout the night in my younger days. However, this morning schedule would not have worked in that earlier time in my life, either. Trying to wake up to write before an 8:00 a.m. class would have been a fate worse than death back then.

Work is a Four Letter Word

My writing schedule also revolves around my work schedule. Work is a huge factor in limiting my writing time. One of the things I noticed after tracking my writing each day for a few weeks is that most of my writing ends up being done on the weekends. There is so much going on during a work day (week days, in my case), that I don’t usually have the time or energy to write after work. And that is okay!

There is a lot of information out there in writing communities stressing the importance of writing each day, but for me personally, that is not my most productive schedule. I’d rather write a couple hours straight for one day when I am relaxed and rested than try to squeeze in one painful, sleep-deprived hour late in the evening after work for Monday through Friday.

That being said, on those week nights where I do have some free time (the laundry pile has miraculously disappeared, there are no appointments, and so on), I make an effort to put in some time writing rather than watching a third hour of Blue Planet II (as wonderful as the show might be…).

Social Obligations

Yes, even writers are expected to participate in social situations. My writing schedule will vary depending on my family’s and friends’ circumstances as well. For example, if I know I have a wedding to attend, then I can be pretty certain trying to write between meal courses is fairly out of the question, and I’ll need to try to get in a good writing session before that date. Same thing for vacations or birthdays. I have learned to accept those days as work-free days and plan my writing around them to make up for lost time.

So what is my “typical” writing schedule at the moment? It varies. I try to fit in at least two evenings of writing weeknights after work. Usually, that time will be after dinner, around 7:30 PM onward. On the weekend, I like to start writing earlier in the day when the house is quiet and my mind is clear. I might pull out my laptop while I am drinking that first cup of coffee and eating a little breakfast around 9:00 or 10:00 AM. I often return to writing during those weekend evenings as well for a few hours, sometimes to edit what I started earlier in the day or to continue with a first draft.

Especially over the last year and a half, I have begun carving out dedicated times to write. I make sure to let people know that I am trying to finish a piece of writing or working on something specific so that they know I am not free at that time. Headphones help me focus and drown out background noise, or sometimes, even closing the bedroom door gives me the solitude I need to concentrate. I’ve learned that no matter where or when I am writing, I have to give my writing one hundred percent of my focus for those precious hours; otherwise, I will never finish anything.

As I mentioned earlier, I know my own shifting schedule wouldn’t work for everyone. I would love to know your own writing habits and suggestions, so please leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you!

Writing Prompt Exercise

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Today’s blog post is my response to a writing prompt from the site Reedsy. In the past, I have entered their weekly contest and while I’ve never won that $50 cash prize, I have produced a few short stories based on the prompts. This afternoon, I decided to give one a try not as a contest entry but as a blog post. My passage is based on a real-life incident in which a friend and I found a young woman’s diary which had been left behind in a park.

Definitely not my usual writing style/subject matter, but it was still a fun experiment.

Prompt: Tell a story through a shopping list.

I hadn’t noticed the notebook at first. It had slipped into a crack in the park bench and was nearly invisible between two slats of wood that formed the bench’s seat. Only when I inadvertently sat down on the notebook’s spine, ready to eat lunch on my break from the office, did it catch my attention.

Sliding the notebook out from the bench, I saw that it was small, more compact than the ones we had used for taking notes in school, maybe seven by ten inches. It was solid black with a cheap, faux leather cover and a length of ribbon poking out – a bookmark.

I glanced around for the owner, but the park was nearly empty, save a mother and father walking their golden retriever near the fountain at the park’s entrance. They were trying to keep up with their energetic toddler who was splashing water from the fountain onto a flock of unsuspecting pigeons. The weather was colder than the forecasters had predicted, and the park was much more vacant than usual.

I took a sip from my coffee cup and flipped through the book. It seemed to be a diary of some kind. A date was neatly printed in pencil in the corner of every page, and below each date was a bulleted list of items and goals. I could see that nearly three-quarters of the notebook were filled, containing what must have been seventy pages of lists.

Scanning through the book, I tried to find the author’s name or phone number scrawled somewhere within its contents so that I could return it. The first page was dated for September 17 and contained a short shopping list but no identifying information.

  • 8 ounces of heavy cream
  • Pound of sugar (granulated)
  • Milk
  • Cake pan
  • Gift for Justin (baseball tickets? vinyl? ???!)

On the next page was another list, a to-do list, dated for September 20.

To Do:

  • 9:00 AM – Gym
  • 11:00 AM – Drop off Justin at airport
  • 12:00 PM – Pick up prescription on way home from airport
  • 6:00 PM – Dinner with Janie
  • 7:30 PM – MOVIE!!! Finally!

The pages went on as such. I gathered from the handwriting and information in the lists that the writer was female, and Justin was apparently her significant other. As I continued reading through the pages, I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t really snooping, but only trying to find some sort of contact information.

October 10

To Do:

  • Stop thinking about Justin
  • Don’t call Justin
  • Don’t text Justin
  • Go to the gym tonight
  • Eat a salad! Jesus!
  • Call Janie

The mention of a salad reminded me I hadn’t yet eaten my lunch. I dug around in my purse and found the wrapped BLT I’d thrown in there that morning before I left the house. I continued reading as I ate, trying to piece together what Justin might have done to bring about a breakup. The girl had baked him a cake for God’s sake.

October 24

Three good things that have happened:

  • Lost 5 pounds
  • Submitted the anthropology paper
  • Still working on figuring out a third good thing…

One not-so-good thing that has happened:

  • Janie saw Justin with a new girl at the bar, already

Already! I thought. I compared the dates – Two weeks and the guy had moved on to dating some other woman at a bar. The thought of the scorned writer dieting feverishly in an attempt to deal with the breakup made me feel a pang of sympathy. At thirty-three, I had too many memories of my own that were filled with calorie counting and cardio exercises.

This entry was the last in the book, and the rest of the pages were blank. I continued eating my sandwich, the notebook still open in my lap. With no way to return the book, I wondered what I should do with it. After a moment, I had an idea.