Teachers Write 7/2/13 Tuesday Quick-Write with Jeannine Atkins

On Tuesdays & Thursdays during Teachers Write! Virtual Summer Writing Camp, we’ll be sharing quick-write prompts, designed to get you free-writing for a few minutes in response to a question or idea. Some of these will feel like writing memoir, some will focus more on fiction or nonfiction or poetry. Some of them will just be hard to categorize. Many will be prompts that you can bookmark and share with your student writers later on.

Our Tuesday-Thursday quick-writes can be used as a simple free-write, brainstorming, warm-up activity OR as a way to deepen your thinking about a work-in-progress.  So feel free to approach the prompt in whatever way works best for you, even if that means ignoring it and writing about the other thing that sprouted in your head when you sat down to do the quick-write. Okay… got your keyboard or pencil ready?

Tuesday Quick-Write with Guest Author Jeannine Atkins

Jeannine Atkins writes books about history for children and teens, including Aani and the Tree Huggers (Lee and Low) and Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters (Holt).  She teaches Children’s Literature at UMass-Amherst and a graduate course in writing for children at Simmons College. You can learn more on her website at http://www.Jeannineatkins.com.

In the Garden

If we were all together in a room, I’d give directions for this three-part exercise pausing for everyone to write one section before beginning the next. If you’re disciplined, and like surprises, please try responding to the first prompt, then going on to the next. Since reading is usually quicker than writing, personally I’d have a hard time not skimming all the prompts, but writing always surprises me more than thinking, so the exercises should still lead you someplace new.

1. Interesting characters have problems. Creating a character on the spot or taking one from a work-in-progress, state a major problem for your character.

2. Leaving that conflict behind, take your character and imagine her or him as being young enough to find her face near at least some flowers and blooms. For older characters this may be a memory of a garden where she feels free to roam around and peer close into blossoms. Write what she sees, smells, and touches? Are there particular plants, trees, or bugs that capture her attention? Describe them. She might stop to have a tea party with leaf plates and acorn cups. Does she talk to any birds or animals? Do they talk to her? Write down the dialogue! When she looks up, does she feel rain or sun? Describe the sensation. Does she find secret messages among rocks, violets, beetles, or the shade of an oak?

3. Please write what your character learned from her time in this garden. Can she use this to help solve the problem you described at the beginning of the exercise? Try writing a scene that brings the problem and the old garden together.

Note from Kate: Thanks, Jeannine!  Campers, if you’d like to share a few lines of what you wrote today in the comments, we’d love that – and promise that all our comments will be friendly and supportive.

And today, we’ll be giving away a copy of Jeannine’s beautiful book BORROWED NAMES to one person who replies to someone else’s writing in the comments. 🙂

179 Replies on “Teachers Write 7/2/13 Tuesday Quick-Write with Jeannine Atkins

  1. I had started writing a piece in my writing institute 2 weeks ago. My character lives in a town that was just closed off from the rest of the world by a large wall. He is now closed off from his extended family and he may have lost his job (I haven’t decided yet). With this exercise he is thinking about his parents on the other side and he remembers a time he visited a garden with his parents. He wandered off and remembers looking up at the tall trees that seemed to enclose him. He panics and calls for his parents.

      1. It is the beginning of a short story inspired by a talk about the Berlin Wall. Though my story isn’t necessarily about that.

    1. You’ve set up so many rich settings to explore. The time of safety under the trees could set a great contrast with waving limbs of living trees versus the unmoving wall. But also the foreshadowed fear you describe, when he feels enclosed by trees. Setting can really add to the tension and feeling here. I hope you keep going!

  2. First part of the prompt: Create a character with conflict.

    – Conflict: Mom trying to be the best she can be at being a mom, but still keeping house, being a good wife, taking care of work, being a part of charity work, etc.

    Second part: Take your character to a memory of a garden and describe, describe, describe.

    -When the world got too busy, she often thought back to peaceful childhood memories. One memory, in particular, took place in the garden at her childhood home. A short walk from her front door was one of her favorite places–the family garden. It was beautiful and peaceful. She smiled happily as thought of helping her dad plant the garden. The earth was cool and soft as they pushed seeds into it. Soon, the garden would be a kaleidoscope of vegetables: potatoes, carrots, peppers, corn on the cob, and others. She loved helping her dad here. It was their special place. Near one of the corners stood their apple tree, sweet tasty apples adorning the branches. Along another side of the garden stood a row of lilac bushes. She had always loved the lilacs. As she would lean in to smell their rich purple blooms, she was swept away to a peaceful place. The strong, heady scent filled her nostrils and instantly calmed her.

    Third part: Bring these two together. What can the character learn about her time in the garden.

    -Remember the time in her childhood garden, the young mom realized that she was doing all that she wanted to do for her daughter and for herself as a person. Just as she remembered spending time with her dad, she knew that her own daughter would remember the many times they spent together. She knew those memories were good ones and would bring her daughter joy. She also knew that she couldn’t feel guilty about the other parts of her life. She never, ever put anything or anyone above her daughter. However, she wanted her daughter to know that it was healthy and wonderful to be a well-rounded person, to go after things you love and are passionate about, and to have a career that makes you complete. The only way to teach her these lessons about life was to show her. She must lead by example.

    1. Powerful words. I could feel what the mother was wanting her daughter to know and learn. You could tell that she had felt those same emotions with her father which meant he had tried hard to pass that message on to her, and it seems he was successful. Great job!

    2. I can totally relate to your character, especially feeling overwhelmed by what is not being done rather than focusing on what is being accomplished. Pushing seeds into the cool, soft earth and the heady scent of the lilacs (which are my favorite!) instantly gave me a sense of calm. These little details make the garden come alive for me. I think gardens are a natural place for reflection, and tying the happy garden memories with her dad to her relationship with her daughter helps the character reflect on her current state as a mom and start to figure things out.

    3. I also loved the kaleidoscope of vegetables—nicely done! really paints that visual picture for us. I relate to your MC for sure—

    4. I like the way the memory brings the mom, who we can all relate to, a sense of the importance of simple time that’s shared. In part three, along with the good thinking, it might be nice to add a picture of the mom and daughter together, to reflect or differ from the garden of part two. Are there still lilacs, a kaleidoscope of vegetables? Or does the sharing look different?

    5. I can relate to the conflict here very well! I love you used the garden to teach/remind her of the time that her father spent with her and to justify the direction she takes in her life. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sara, I can practically smell those blooms in your garden! Beautiful sensory words. Hey Shannon, your story is just itching to be told. Love that he is thinking of his family on the other side.

  4. Here is my response to second question, which sort of merged with the third. It took on a life of it’s own – creating it’s own little scene.

    My hand trails along the tops of the goldenrod, turning my hand all yellow and powdery, but I don’t sneeze. I know better than to tempt fate and bring my hand anywhere close to my nose.
    The sounds of dry summer heat grow. The whine of the locusts, louder and louder like an electrical buzz. I look up and the glint of the blue glass on the poles reminds me of grandma’s canning jars drying in the sun. Canning jars that would soon be filled with peaches and jams.
    I pluck a few pieces of goldenrod, long as my forearm. It would only keep it in the vase for a day or two, but the color was worth it.
    “Once it starts to dry and the pollen falls you’ll need to take it outside, dear. It will make you sneeze.” Everything beautiful makes me sneeze. All my favorite places are filled with dust, the barn, the fields, the attic full of Grandma’s old clothes. If I was like Beth Anne and loved the sterilness of a downtown shop I would probably be just fine.
    A redwing blackbird pauses on a long blade of grass, cocks his head at me. “Oh, I’m not coming for you,” I say, “I just want this here little sweetpea.” They are grandma’s favorite. Hidden little pockets here and there across the fields. No one, not even Grandpappy knew how they got there. As grandmamma says, “They’s just a happy surprise. Some years they are there where you expect them, sometimes further on, but always there, little bits of purple.” Then she’d lean in close and whisper to me, “It’s God’s way of showing us he remembers. Always putting something in a little special for his people to enjoy.” Then she’d chuck me under the chin like one of her hens and say, “You just have to look for it.”
    Then, Beth Anne would snort and say, “Them aren’t sweet peas, just some kind of wild weed. You only call ‘em sweet peas cause you couldn’t tell the difference when you were small.”
    Didn’t matter. They would always be sweet peas to me and Grandma.

    1. You must have been writing about my grandmother. That is what it felt like. I could definitely identify with your character. It made me feel like I was her and I was walking and remembering. This has been a great exercise. All of your writings are bringing back happy memories.

      1. I was 14 when we moved to Florida. I grew up on a farm so this exercise brought back fond memories. However I had to look up info on line because I couldn’t remember growing seasons for lilacs since we can’t get them to grow in my area. You are right this is a great exercise.

    2. The descriptions of the garden really gave me a sense of the sights and sounds of the place. I feel like we are getting to know a little about your character’s personality as she doesn’t care if the goldenrod makes her sneeze or that picked it will only last a day – she plucks some anyway (btw, love the word pluck.) Also, I’m already curious about Beth Anne – feeling some tension here. Your writing held my interest and left me wanting to read more. I like this character!

    3. “Everything beautiful makes me sneeze.” I love that simple, surprising combination. Thanks for sharing!

    4. I’m totally hooked and want it to continue. I love it—and feel a bit like a sneeze is coming on!

    5. I’m glad you took the prompt and made it your own. I always tell my students that: a prompt is just a prompt, not a test question to answer correctly or not.

      I love the goldenrod and canning jars, and like others, the comment about everything I love makes me sneeze. The shared love of wildflowers shows a nice bond that Grandma’s quote at the end brings to the surface at a well-chosen point.

      1. Thanks for sharing your “a prompt is just a prompt not a test question.” That really hit home to me and I will use it with my students.

    6. This is just beautiful. I loved the same parts others did, but I also loved the cicadas. That sound really brought me to the garden. I can’t wait to read more. You have something special here.

    7. This drew me in right away. The voice is clear, and I loved “the color was worth it” as well as the vivid images. The tension between Beth Anne and the narrator is set up nicely, even without any preamble. You know right away that she loves wild beauty and identifies with her grandma. Lovely.

    8. I really liked this and would love to read more of this story. Really appeals to my love of nature and wildflowers/weeds.

    9. Kimberly, I loved this snippet. It reminded me of Patricia Polacco’s stories about her grandmother and how she’d always say “It’s a miracle” about things she attributed to God. It reminded me of my own grandmother, too, who canned peaches and jams. And lilacs – I could smell the purple ones that grew on the bush in the yard where I grew up! It brought back such memories!

    10. I love the richness of the language in your dialogue. Writing their vernacular speech brings their characters to life. Love it!

    11. I have you to thank for inspiring me to write about my grandfather. I’m completely pulled in by the narrator’s voice and how well you create the various relationships.

  5. Great exercise to use in my classroom! The main character in the story I am writing owns a nursery, so this was a helpful exercise for me too! Thank you!

  6. Wow! what a wonderful exercise. It gave me another side to my character and explained some things. Thank you for this writing prompt.
    1. Jacob is a PK, also known as a preacher’s kid. He has to live up to what he feels is an unrealistic set of standards that his dad has created because he is a preacher.
    2. Jacob loved his grandmother’s garden. She had a rock path laid out that wound throughout the garden. She not only had a green thumb but was very creative, for inside her garden was an area she had created just for her grandchildren. Jacob found himself hiding under one of her mushroom sculptures. His back leaned against the stem. It was hidden from site by a large purple lilac bush. Its fragrant flowers sent a shower of petals raining down on him when the wind blew. Here he would watch the bees flit in and out taking what they needed from the flowers. He watched the viceroy butterflies with their orange and black wings flutter around. He often wished he could be like them and fly away. It usually only took five or ten minutes in the garden to wash away the dark clouds that he felt followed him constantly. He stood and looked up at the sun drenched blue sky and walked toward the house for the snack he knew his grandmother had waiting for him.
    3. Jacob thought back to being a child when he first began to understand his dad’s standards for his life. He decided he needed to visit his grandmother before the move. He called her and told her he was on his way. Jacob rode his bike the few blocks to her house. He knew the garden would not look the same. March was still cold, but he could see signs of life creeping to the surface of the garden. He walked the path carefully looking at each stone his grandmother had placed there. He realized he had never noticed the words on them before. Words such as breathe, relax, inhale, life, sunshine. He realized they were there to help bring about a peace of mind, a calming to the soul. He walked to the lilac bush and was met by his grandmother. She handed him a cup of coffee. She smiled and spoke softly to Jacob. “This is where I always came to calm my spirit. It’s not easy living with a preacher.”

    1. You have created a character who feels real and who I find myself wanting to know more about. The way your character and the garden come together is so believable. I’m wondering if Jacob is a teen or adult. He is a PK, but there are hints in your writing that he is now an adult? And I’m wondering why he is moving- is it for his dad’s new job or his own? Was his grandmother married to a preacher? Is there an expectation that Jacob become a preacher? I love the description of the lilac petal shower. I can picture the butterflies and Jacob watching them and wishing to fly.

      1. Jacob is a teen and they are moving because his dad was hired in a church in Florida. Yes grandmother was arried to a preacher. Jacob has no desire to ever become a preacher. Thanks for your input. You’ve pointed out areas I need to clarify.

    2. I get a voice right in the fist line – a PK – a preacher’s kid. I want to know more about this character! There is such potential here – all the issues that come with being a PK (still love the acronym!) and the adolescent identity crisis that implies. Wow.

      1. I grew up in the church. Every kid I knew whose fathers were preachers referred to themselves as PKs. They took one of two paths as a teen. They were very rebellious or else they were very compliant when it came to following all the rules.

        1. as the daughter of 2 PKs (yep, we called them that, too) I can attest to this truth–My mom was the rule follower and my dad was the bad boy 😉

    3. He walked to the lilac bush and was met by his grandmother. She handed him a cup of coffee. She smiled and spoke softly to Jacob. “This is where I always came to calm my spirit. It’s not easy living with a preacher.” OH, so right! As the daughter of 2 PK’s I say “Amen!” to this line! I love it—really love the grandma in this, too—

      1. My father was a gospel singer and my mom was involved in everything possible in the church. I was at church 3-5 times a week. That was not easy. I understood PKs. My mom lives with me now and it is like being a child again in her presence. In reality my solace was found in that lilac tree in our front yard.

    4. I love the way Jacob feels understood at the very end, and so true that as adults we see things we never noticed as children. I like his earlier connection re being a butterfly. Would you consider playing with that image for a few sentences to make it even more vivid?

      1. This is what I came up with:
        He often wished he culd fly away with them They seemed to float on the breeze, free to go where they wanted and do whatever their hearts desired. They were free to e the beautiful creature they wre. No one expected them to turn into something they were not. Nature accepted them as they were. Oh to be like that butterfly and to be accepted as the teen he was inside.

    5. As a PK, I was toying around with making my main character one. The jury is still out on this detail about her but I can say that growing up as a PK is more difficult – not necessarily because of the preacher being in your house and having higher expectations, but because everyone in the congregation and community has higher expectations for you. I was a pretty good kid – as was my brother – but boy did my dad get phone calls if we stepped one toe out of line! I’m looking forward to seeing what happens as this develops!

    6. Thank you for sharing. I’m very interested in Jacob’s story. I liked the connection between him and his grandmother and that they meet in the garden. She instantly understands him. When I was rebelling against my parents, I also felt instant understanding and comfort in my grandmother. 🙂

  7. The massive door opened with a slow, ancient creak–more like a great yawn than anything. I stepped out into the moonlit garden. Oh, but the innkeeper was right! The scent of jasmine filled the air and the glow of the moon made everything in the garden seem otherworldly and magical. It didn’t take much to imagine the midsummer celebrations that had taken place here over the centuries, or the lovers, young and old, who had met here with hushed whispers of longing and love.
    Strolling along the cobblestone path taking in the absolute loveliness of the blossoms and the heady fragrance of all the night blooming flowers was like being amongst the fairies. It wouldn’t have surprised me at this point to see Bilbo, either, (or Legolas, please dear God let me see Legolas) walking to meet me on here in this Eden behind walls.
    I came upon the lily ponds, filled with the most gorgeous blooms. Most of the night blooming flowers were white, but oh, the water lilies were a gorgeous rich red. The Nymphaea Red Flare, the innkeeper mentioned earlier, if I remembered right The frogs croaked their happy sounds from the pond and it reminded me of back home for a split second.
    And in that second, surrounded by showy moonflowers and heliotropes and still with the luscious jasmine wafting through the gentle night breeze, halfway across the world from my home and my regular life, I was struck with the realization that I am still here. The me that was the dreamer; the little girl that believed in magic and adventures is still here. I only thought she was lost, but she, like this lovely old garden, was only hidden away; hidden like a treasure waiting to be rediscovered.

    1. The names of the fauna in the garden were lovely, adding to the beauty of the image. I like how the character uncovered a former part of herself in the garden.

    2. What a moving ending. I liked how you showed a garden at night. Changing the usual time in which we see a setting can often make it stronger, and that’s what I felt here. I’m not sure why we smell more at night, but you took me to that awareness.

    3. That mysterious magical moment when we rediscover some of our favorite things about ourselves couldn’t be in a better setting. Powerful! Thank you

    4. This is really beautifully written! I, too, enjoyed the specific names of flowers and the ending realization of still being a dreamer. Oh, and the opening of the doors with the opening of your piece was powerful! I walked into the garden with your MC. In all of its adult reflection and night-time beauty, I enjoyed the hobbit and elves references and laughed out loud and the longing to see Legolas!

      1. thank you all so very much for the wonderful comments—they really inspire me to move forward!

    5. “The me that was the dreamer; the little girl that believed in magic and adventures is still here. I only thought she was lost, but she, like this lovely old garden, was only hidden away; hidden like a treasure waiting to be rediscovered.”

      What a wonderful gift this line is to your reader. We all want to rediscover our adventurous spirits! It’s easy to connect to your writing.

    6. “It didn’t take much to imagine the midsummer celebrations that had taken place here over the centuries, or the lovers, young and old, who had met here with hushed whispers of longing and love.” This line made me envision so much more than the garden you describe. I saw stone walls, a fountain with a statue poised in the center, I heard the trickling of water… and on and on. I’m glad that the description you wrote left this open for me as a reader. And I’ll be rereading your work to ask myself, “How’d she do that!?!”

  8. Joe walks into the backyard, which is where he goes when he needs to think. He will miss this place when his family moves. It’s small, snug actually, which is part of what he likes. With his steps, he traces the edge of the faded wood fence, his fingers sometimes brushing the wood slats. A shaggy lilac bush blocks his way, and he walks gently into it. Leaves and branches tickle his face, his arms. Pale purple perfume tickles his brain. He flares his nostrils, opens his mouth, stretches his lungs, and brings as much of the air inside himself as he can. He fills like a balloon. He stays like this until his eyes wink with starbursts. Then – whoosh – he lets everything go. He feels the solution to his problem rush in, filling the space emptied by the sweet air.

    1. Amazing that your character like so many find solace in a lilac bush. I believe we write from our souls and our experiences. So happy to see many here who relied on that lilac bush in their life. Great description of that brief moment. I can definitely relate to it.

    2. Another lilac fan! I’m on the porch looking at the brown remains of the blossoms on mine, missing the scent. Jerry Griswold writes about how snugness is a great theme in children’s lit, and I like how you bring it out.

    3. I love “Pale purple perfume tickles his brain” and the idea that he can keep some of the serenity and place with him if he breathes it in and holds his breath! Great image!

  9. I don’t have a WIP, so this exercise was a little bit intimidating. I’m not posting all of what I wrote- it sort of turned into a scene that meshes together bits from all 3 parts of today’s exercise. I liked writing it, even though it felt a little uncomfortable. I’ve left out a chunk from the middle of the scene and some from the end as well. Ok here goes:

    Nina stood at the window and watched her parents’ car back slowly out of the driveway, listening to the crunch of the tires on gravel. Tears trickled down both cheeks and her throat grew hot and full and tight.

    ” Nina, would you please come out from under the covers so I can see your pretty face?” Nina pulled back the comforter, holding tight to Pinky, and looked up to see her grandmother standing in the doorway.
    ” Have you ever made a fairy garden? You know they’re much more likely to visit if you have a spot for them to rest.”
    Nina looked blankly at Gramma, her throat still too full to talk.
    ” Well,” she continued, “I think we should. Follow me.”
    And with that, her grandmother turned around and headed down the hall. Nina sat up, tucked Pinky under her arm and slid down from her bed. By the time she got to the back door, Gramma was already out in the garden, under the big oak tree where Nina’s swing hung, crouched down and peering at the ground.

    1. Lisa, Oh I want to read more! I want to know why poor Nina is sad and why her parents left. I love the grandmother already. I also happen to love fairy gardens, so I’m excited about that aspect. Are there going to be real fairies in this story? More! More! 🙂

    2. Liking writing and feeling a bit uncomfortable — that’s pretty much how my day goes, so congratulations! You have a mix of sweetness and sadness, which would make anyone jumpy, as well as a beginning that begs for more. Interesting that you have Gramma telling Nina she needs a place and the fairies will come. Seems like you’ve created a place for your characters to come to.

    3. This is absolutely charming! I love this grandma and my heart breaks for the little girl. I have hope for her. You did great.

    4. Thank you so much for responding and encouraging. It is so scary to share. After I posted this I sat and wrote a reflection about how I’d felt the need to preface my writing with an explanation of sorts. And I see/ hear kids do this all the time. I was reminded that I should take time to listen to those prefaces and respond and help the writer feel safe in sharing his or her writing.

    5. You said you didn’t have a WIP, but I think you do now! I’d love to read more of this and see where it goes! I’ve been to hesitant to share my own work yet, but the more I read from others, the braver I start to feel. Thank you!

    6. Bravo! You may not have a WIP – or perhaps you are just discovering one now. I like this character. I am rooting for this character and her strong, sensible grandmother. I would read about this character. (And my daughter would, too.)

    7. “Gramma was already out in the garden, under the big oak tree where Nina’s swing hung, crouched down and peering at the ground.”

      I love the suspense you build with this line. I want to read more!

    8. I also believe you may have a work in progress now. My heart breaks for Nina , and I want to know what is wrong. I also love the connection with the grandmother and am waiting to see the fairy garden!

    1. Holly – I appreciate your thoughts and reflections. It is so true about those days. One email from a disgruntled parent or several mishaps in the morning can really put you in the wrong frame of mind. It’s sometimes very difficult to recover from that and put on your teacher face and care for your students. I will think about your post the next year when something sends me away from where I want to be. I also appreciate how you took inspiration from the quick write ideas and found your voice. Thanks for sharing.

  10. The baby was sleeping. Then, why could she still hear the echoes of her cries? Why couldn’t she quiet her head? She wanted to be a good mother. But she wasn’t sure if being a good mother meant leaving her alone in the other room to make her way, or picking her up to give her a safe place. There were so many things to get done. This was the time to do it. She should be jumping into the shower, putting in a load of laundry. But she needed to quiet her head. The garden. Maybe sitting in the garden would alleviate her anxiety.

    She glanced through the door wall. All the wonder of green and purple, polka dots of blue and pink, flashes of orange, waited for her to come. When she opened the door the heat swept in through the air conditioning. She stepped through, slowly and quietly pulling the screen on the track so she could still hear the baby if she woke. There was a little border of shade from the shadow of the eaves of the house. She crept cautiously across the threshold toward the spot of sun in the center of the garden. As her body became covered with light, the heat healed her buzzing senses. The sun was honey poured over her body, warming her eyelids, her ears, hugging heavy on her shoulders. She was the one crying inside, screaming for a saving hand. How did she thing she could possibly raise a child alone? Why was she giving up the hours of reflection she treasured? Adopting a child from Haiti was not a goal she had set for herself in graduate school. When did she become a mother so suddenly? How did watching the news after the earthquake become this? Standing in the garden, feeling like she needed her own mother, now two months passed away.

    1. I love the conflict you set up that so many of us have felt re what we do with the gift of brief solitude. So many important questions toward the end. It looks like you have a big project ahead, and I hope that sounds like good news to you. Thank you for stepping forward with this.

    2. I had to pause and re-read this lone over and over:
      “The sun was honey poured over her body, warming her eyelids, her ears, hugging heavy on her shoulders. ” It was a beautiful way to turn to the next, conflicted, part of the scene. Well done!

    3. In the first part your character is someone I can relate to. And that feels good as a reader. But it\\\’s your second part that hooks me- now you\\\’ve got someone who is bigger and braver and more daring and I want to know more. I would definitely keep reading your story.

  11. This was a challenge for me as I tend to write more personal narratives (probably because that\’s part of what I teach), but I decided that I would force myself to try everything this summer. Here is a draft of this morning\’s quick write. I just let my mind go. I found that I really enjoyed writing fiction (at least this piece) and am excited to see where this might go.
    Life was hard enough as a teenager. The pressure to do well in school was overwhelming not to mention keeping up withwhich clothes are in and which trends are so yesterday. Going to a school with only 50 people in your graduating class made Trina feel she was already living under a microscope in the small Texas town. But when Trina saw her mom in the arms of one of the town’s most notorious bullies and her father’s enemy number one, she didn’t know what to make of it. instead of taking her usual route home from school, Trina headed to the place she knew would help her to sort through her thoughts. Lost in her thoughts and questions about her mother’s strange behavior, she soon found herself laying among the wild flowers next to her father. She turned on her side and through the blooms she could see her reflection in the headstone. The spitting image of her dad, people would say. She had his high forehead, almond shaped eyes, and full lips. But her coloring belonged to her mom. “Oh Daddy…” she sighed. “Why did you leave us? Why were you standing next to your truck in the middle of the night?” She recalled the story the officers had shared with her and her mom. She traced the path of a ladybug as it made its way up the stem of a bluebonnet. Her dad had stopped his truck on one of the back roads for some reason. He was on his way home from checking the far gate on his property. The police couldn’t find anything wrong with his truck so they aren’t sure why he had pulled over to the side of the road unless he saw something that caused him to get out. It just didn’t add up. Why would he pull over, much less get out of the truck on a dark road. His headlights weren’t even on when the police found him face down in the ditch. Knowing her dad, he probably stopped to help some animal. But, why weren’t his lights on? Did he hit his head and roll down the hill into the water? Her gut just wouldn’t let go of all these questions. The ladybug found her finger and Trina watched as it crawled up and down her fingers opening and closing its wings. Obviously, her mom had let go and was moving on. Trina rolled back over onto her back, the flowers encircled her head like a veil. She realized that the sun was much lower than when she had first collapsed. Her mom would worry if she didn’t get home soon. She reluctantly stood up and threw her backpack over her left shoulder and headed into the remaining sunlight. She had hoped she would find some answers here with her dad, but now she was leaving with more questions than answers.

    1. Yay for trying new things! I liked that you picked a cemetery as the garden, and loved your use of ladybugs and bluebonnets. You’ve set up a good sense of mystery — I really want to know why her dad stopped that truck. I hope you go on, and I’d like to know more about Trina’s feelings, too. I was a bit surprised she was concerned that her mom would worry if she was late, because I thought she might be angry at her mom. She’s a teen, and her mom is hanging out with a bully!

      1. Good point about her feelings toward her mom. I think I was thinking she didn’t want to explain where she was. In my mind, she is more of a even-keeled kid and more stand-offish, but that certainly gives me something to think about in developing her character. Thank you so much!!!!

    2. Wow! This makes me want to read more. What did happen to your character’s dad? I’m already formulating theories about the town bully and the possibility of her dad being murdered. That may just be because my favorite thing to read is a good mystery. Regardless, I love the description and the bit about the headstone. Nice piece!

    3. I love the ambiguity of “she soon found herself laying among the wild flowers next to her father.” He is clearly still very much present for his daughter.
      This piece as a whole has a calm before the storm suspenseful feeling – perhaps it will become a mystery.

    4. I also think that it’s great that you tried something new and am wondering what happened to her father plus loving the connection she still has with him!

  12. As I participated in the exercise, I had a very descriptive piece. Then I looked at it, and everything written got in the way. So I decided to back away, and strip my writing of the journey and instead focus on what was learned.

    A promise.
    Toiled under difficult conditions, and did so because of the promise.

    Broken, wandering on the path leading to the footbridge, Broken, sitting on the edge, reflecting on what was not treasured.

    Surrounded by beauty, peace, and the energy of nature, looking ahead.

    The promised path is broken, and yet there are other paths to travel in which the only promise is to learn and grow. Trust remains elusive.

  13. I don’t have a WIP, and the character I thought of instantly was a middle-aged mom, struggling to keep up a crumbling old house, take care of aging parents, and manage her own family. Me! I am bogged down these days, and this exercise took me back to a time when I wasn’t. It helped me to think about handling my problems and obligations in small chunks, just like my six-year-old self delighted in her aunt and uncle’s tiny California garden. It commanded her full attention and left no room for the weeds of life!

    1. It’s so hard to get to that still small space, that garden. I hope you can give yourself ten minutes some days to that nourishing place that some of us find with words. Back to that six year old, just for a spell. Good luck.

    2. The weeds of life certainly encroach upon our peaceful time in the garden. What a beautiful memory to have in times when you need to slow down, breathe deeply, and relax.

    3. I also don’t have a WIP right now, so I tried the exercise as myself, my 3 year old and my 5 year old. It also brought me some laughs and clarity. Teachers Write! does work for everyone.

  14. Thanks for the feedback and the exercise. As a result, I see the balance between details and conflict. Building the background and focusing on the struggle.

  15. Caroline walks through a corridor of lush green and vibrant pinks, purples, oranges, and blues. She holds her arms out to each side and her fingertips graze the velvety petals. Dozens of butterflies flit between the purple blossoms of their own special bush.

    She walks deeper into the garden. A canopy of wisteria dangles above her head, some of the grape-like blooms drooping low enough to tickle her brow. She tilts her chin up to take in the intoxicating scent. Soft sunlight filters through the clusters of flowers. Ahead on the right is a particularly handsome hedge. Pom-pom-like blossoms in varied shades of blue dot a green landscape. Caroline produces a small pair of gardening shears from the pocket of her white apron edged in lace and snips several stalks. Gathered together, the blue mounds are snow cone tops, cotton candy tufts, ice cream scoops, in her hands. She sinks her nose deep into the foliage and they smell as sweet as her favorite treats.

    Caroline follows the flagstone path, careful not to snag her new periwinkle sundress on the yellow rosebushes that now line the walk. The verdant jungle that surrounds her creeps in closer on each side until she finds herself pushing aside the thin, floppy leaves of a lilac. She steps through the fragrant pink and green and into a clearing. The meadow is dotted with tiny yellow flowers and a small brook ripples in the distance. Caroline can hear the water splashing playfully.

    But it is what’s in front of her that truly captures her attention. A large white picnic blanket is spread out in the grass. A man sits on the blanket. Caroline has seen him before, but she can’t remember where. He looks friendly and she suddenly feels as if she has known him for years. He is tall. Caroline can tell because even though his legs are tucked beneath him, they still stretch onto the wispy grass. His hair is cropped short and is jet black and parted to one side. His skin is sun-kissed as if he’d been waiting for her in the sunny meadow for quite some time. Caroline feels safe. At home.

    She studies the man’s face a moment longer, notices the same teal blue and brown in his eyes that she knew she would see in her own if she were to view her reflection in the brook. He smiles and pats the blanket, inviting her to sit beside him. Caroline kneels down, fanning her dress around her. He offers her a glass of iced tea and a plate of sandwiches. Caroline holds out the bouquet of hydrangea stems. “These, I think, are for you.”

    “Don’t you remember me, Caroline? After all, it has been a long time. Outside of the garden, you are grown now. You have a child of your own.”

    Caroline breathed deeply–a mixture of freshly mown grass and the musky smell of his after shave.

    “Daddy?” Another familiar smile, even if she only really remembered it from pictures. “Where are we?”


      1. Thank you Jeannine. I enjoyed this quick write. You are certainly right–my writing really surprised me! Especially in the third part when connecting it to my conflict. Thank you for being generous in sharing your time and talent.

    1. Very well written! The ending was beautiful. After reading the ending, I had to go back to the beginning and read again. I really like this line – “Caroline follows the flagstone path, careful not to snag her new periwinkle sundress on the yellow rosebushes that now line the walk.” The description of the setting is thorough and can be visualized by the reader (What a sight!).

      Thank you for sharing!

      1. Thank you, Andy! It was truly an inspired quick write and a great chance to verbalize what I wish could really happen for me and my character!

  16. Believe it or not, I can understand Melvin’s interest in science. Not that it interests me now, but before the Big D problem, I loved being out in nature, loved studying all the insects. I could happily sit outside all day just watching an ant go from one leaf to the other. Seems like a dream now, those happy, carefree days. Everything seemed so innocent. And the best times, which I hate to even remember cause it hurts so much, was when Dad joined me. He knew so much about bugs and animals and plants. I would just stare at him in awe, I could listen to him forever. You don’t know how much I admired him, until you-know-what happened. My brain can’t put the old him and the new him together. I just can’t do it.

    1. Of course she can’t put the old me and new me together, which sets up great conflict. We will be rooting for her. And I’d love seeing more of those special moments from the past, hearing some of dad’s lore. A person who isn’t always one shade is intriguing, so great job!

  17. I wrote about this character for the first time last Thursday in response to Jo’s interview quick write prompt. I’ve only been thinking about her for a couple months, and she hasn’t told me her name yet. I’ve been calling her M. Her problem is that her mother committed suicide. My initial impression of her was that she was really angry, but she mostly just seems sad. She is definitely afraid that she is to blame for her mother’s death. Here is her garden memory:

    She remembers one afternoon when she and her mother were at her Grandmother’s house. It was so hot, the tiny house felt like an oven. She went outside to explore. There were hydrangea bushes in front of the porch, their branches arching over just so, creating a curtain of green and white. Behind this curtain was a space, the perfect size for a hiding spot. Her own secret place. She crawled under the branches and took a deep breath. Cucumbers! These fat, white flowers smelled like cucumbers. Looking more closely, she realized there were really hundreds of little flowers making up one big blooming ball. M sat perfectly still. She could hear the radio in the kitchen, Mama Cass urging her to “dream a little dream of me,” as the bees and crickets buzzed all around her.

    M wished she could hide under that hydrangea bush again, while her mother and grandmother sat in the kitchen shelling peas and gossiping about the neighbors. But they were both gone. The hydrangeas belonged to someone else now, and she was too big to sit inside a bush.

    1. This is sad, but in a way I think anyone could relate to. I love the contrast of the silence and the sounds of a particular song, insects, carefree voices, gone. Your character may just have to go through the sadness. Anger is hard, at least for me, to write, but so is sadness, and if you’ve got that tone down well. I’d consider trying out a name before too long, to see if she comes more to life; on the other hand, this writing is lovely, so your method must be working. Good wishes for bravely carrying on!

    2. Funny, but my character had a secret space, too! I love the particulars you chose to create it – all the sensory details that made the space peaceful and comforting.

    3. I have hydrangeas in my yard that are at the end of their blooming. I am sad to see them go. Your writing captures their beauty. We all yearn for the secret hiding space of our childhood. I hope you learn her name soon. She has a strong voice already.

    4. You can feel the emotion in the excerpt. The description of the setting is vivid and creates the mood, but the thoughts of the main character tell the story.

      Thank you for sharing.

    5. “Too big to sit inside the bush” really resonates with me. It’s a character who can’t go back no matter how hard she may want to. What a journey you have set up for her.

    6. Thank you for all your kind words. M kept me company at the eye doctor’s this afternoon while my eyes were dialating. I think her name is Tracy. I’ll keep listening.

  18. Ten-year-old Melody has recently moved with her mom from a house in the suburbs. Her dad kept the house and her two younger brothers. Melody’s mom is anxious, scared of the city, and doesn’t want to let Melody do much on her own. She gets home after seven on most nights so Melody is usually on her own until dinner time.

    Melody wants to spend more time with her friends. Cassie is going to have a sleep over for birthday with a trip to the movies as part of the treat. Melody’s mom “doesn’t feel comfortable” with the idea. She hasn’t even met Cassie’s mother! The one mom Melody has connected with is Mrs. McGrath, Megan’s mom. When she calls her and asks about the party, Mrs. McGrath says that her kids almost certainly have to go visit their father during the weekend, so they won’t be able to go.

    Melody isn’t surprised that Megan is stuck visiting her dad, but worries that if she backs out then Cassie will barely have any real friends at her party, and it would be all her fault!

    Melody remembers her last birthday party in her house on Dwyer place. Her mom had set everything up on the picnic table in the garden. Each girl had a pretty painted vase filled with water next to their plate, and a pair of scissors for cutting flowers. After the table was set and before her friends arrived Melody walked through her mom’s flowers, carefully only stepping off the path to stand on one of the flat stones. Little tiny, honey smelling sweet alyssum tickled her toes and there was a lazy hum of bees not quite drowned out by a lawn mower further down the street. The warm sun heated the sequins on her sparkly blue shirt and the new skinny jeans she had picked out especially for her birthday. She looked at her mom’s special pink roses. The silky-soft petals, like perfect skin, shaded from almost white in the center to threads of dark pink at the edge. It had a spicy, nutmeg sweet scent all its own.

    The garden was the one thing that absorbed all of her mom’s attention when she wasn’t working. Normally Melody would never pick flowers, especially her mother’s roses, without special permission. But this was her birthday, and she and her friends were each to make a special birthday bouquet. She would start with this perfect rose. She cut it right above a group of three spiky leaves. She touched the tip of the surprisingly pliable pink and green thorn, bending it thoughtfully before cupping the flower to catch the spicy sweet aroma and brush her cheek with the warm, soft petals.

    The sound of a car driving up to the house brought Melody back to the moment. She put the flower in the vase by her plate and around to the front of the house to greet Emily and her dad.

    Melody snuggled next to her mom on the sofa. They were watching Wheel of Fortune on the living room TV. “Mom,” Melody started, “remember my birthday last year?”

    Her mom gave Melody a squeeze and kissed the top of her head.

    “My friends liked to visit our house, and they loved your garden!.” She hugged her mom’s arm, but her mom’s eyes were closed and her mouth tight.

    Melody wanted to say that she had friends here, too. But she couldn’t figure out how to get past the fact that now she didn’t have a house or a garden for her friends to visit.

    The phone rang three times before her mother answered it. “Yes, yes…just a minute” She cupped the phone in her hands, sighed, and said, “Melody, it’s for you, one of your friends from school.”

    “Hello,” Melody wondered if it was Megan or Cassie.

    “Hi, Melody, this is Jenny.” Jenny quickly explained that her mom was taking her and her little sister to the Botanical Garden on Saturday. Would she like to come? Her mom could come too if she liked.

  19. You create a great visual. You leave me wanting to read more…what is the solution, what is the problem?

    1. Thanks Kristen – Your comment shows me that I could be clearer about a character\\\’s needs even when they are not being clear or even honest.
      Melody is a secondary character from my WIP – I think she is working on spinning out into her own story. If I asked her, she would say her problem was that her mom won\\\’t let her visit her friends houses let alone go for a sleep over. However I think her problem is that both she and her mom are mourning their old life before a bitter divorce took house, brothers, and community. Will a trip to the Botanical gardens be a solution? Maybe for Melody, a step towards the desired sleep-over. For the bigger issues – not so much.

  20. This was such an interesting writing task, Jeannine. I approached it as though I was in your class, and was expected to write on the spot – no revising, editing, thinking through. I guess I took your words: “writing always surprises me more than thinking,” to heart. At first, I did not think that the prompts would lead me anywhere into my character, but they did. The focus of the problem to begin with opened me up to the free rein you provided with the garden – who doesn’t find themselves opening up their interior lives within the solitude of a garden? It allowed me to create a scene with the problem as its center but not its focus…and that led directly to the last prompt and the beginnings of a resolution to my story. So, all in all, a very productive and enlightening writing exercise – thank you Jeannine! Here’s a snippet of the garden part:
    Maggie shut the back door quietly, so as not to be heard by anyone in the house, and made her way into the garden. There was a harvest moon tonight, and their back yard was bathed in a soft, golden glow . Even their dilapidated, old swing set, rusty and broken down, looked magical and inviting. “Thank you, moon,” she whispered. She needed this gentle loveliness so much, right now. Maggie found her favorite rock, the one grandpa had rolled all the way from the other end of the yard because he thought it would be perfect for her if it were right under the willow tree, and sat down, tucking her nightgown under her cold, wet, toes. The moon, the willow, her rock – Maggie felt safer than she’d felt in days. Right here, right now, she could breathe deep and big – letting the cold night air rush into her body, and the sad-mad air rush out. She peered through the willow’s lacy tendrils; “What should I do, moon, please tell me what I should do.”

    1. Teachers who are used to giving directions are often great at following them, too, so good for you following through. It’s not about being fussy with the rules, but giving directions orally leaves us open to surprises. I like hearing people gasp a little, then dive in. The surprise can just nudge our minds to a new direction.

      I like this moonlit scene, capturing the strange safety, and a little danger, of the night. Love those cold, wet toes, and we learn so much about Grandpa because of the way he rolled that rock to the willow. I know I like him! Lovely mystery at the end. What does Maggie want to know? Does the moon reply?

      Nice to see you here, Tara! Hope your summer has lots of reading and writing and cold drinks in the garden.

    2. This is a beautiful peaceful scene. I was right there with your character. I love that she looks to the moon for advice, as if the moon is a sacred being. Your scene is real and believable. (If only I was good at mental math so I can post this comment!)

  21. These are existing characters in a new scene inspired by the prompt this afternoon. I hope the excerpt isn’t too long–

    “Hey, Iz,” Sonya called from the kitchen door as Isabel passed. “Can you go and see what happened to Maya? I sent her out for some herbs a while ago and she hasn’t come back! I should have known better- she had her camera with her.” Sonya laughed softly, indulgently, Isabel thought, and Isabel was instantly annoyed.

    She walked back to the kitchen and stood in the doorway, making eye contact with the cook.

    “What did you want, Sonya? I’ll get it. It’ll be quicker that way.” Her cousin was such a flake. Send her off to do one thing and she’d end up doing something completely different. And obviously Sonya needed these herbs now or she wouldn’t have asked her to get them! Sonya rattled off a list of herbs as she expertly chopped a bell pepper and Isabel walked out of the restaurant with purpose, ponytail swinging.

    A wall of heat met her at the side door and she blinked in the bright light. Isabel couldn’t see Maya from where she stood, maybe she wasn’t even at the garden, but she let the door swing shut behind her planning to just get the herbs and go. Isabel walked deliberately to the basil at the closest edge of the herb garden and pinched some leaves quickly. She moved on to the cilantro. As she broke the tops off of a few of the leggier stalks, Isabel noticed movement out of the corner of her eye. She paused.

    Maya was crouched down in the garden among the pots of mint, carefully balanced on a couple of slabs of slate which marked a path through the center. She had a silver sprig of lavender tucked in her kool-aid-magenta hair, and her long, black skirt puddled at her feet. She was concentrating, 35 mm camera to her face, lens trained on something Isabel couldn’t see. She must have been holding her breath because after she took the picture she sat back and she released it with a gentle hiss. She trailed her hands through the mint in front of her, rubbing gently, and brought them up to her face, breathing in with a smile. She shifted her weight slightly and bent back down to photograph something else, lower down.

    Isabel was going to call out to her cousin and remind of her of what she was supposed to be doing, but she was distracted by the sudden scent of basil and cilantro clutched in her own hands and her mouth watered. She lifted them to her nose and inhaled. All at once she heard the bees buzzing and a pair of goldfinch trilling back and forth to her right. Somewhere a woodpecker laughed. Somehow the sunlight wasn’t as dizzying or as hot as when she had come outside. She ripped off a bit of parsley and popped it in her mouth, chewing slowly, tasting the curly green freshness. She bent to get a better look at the frizzly young shoots emerging from the dirt. . .

    1. I liked the dialog you started off with, and how I could swear I smelled those herbs. Smelling is supposed to be one of our deepest senses, or stirs the most memories, and that herb garden made a great setting for the visual focus of photographs.

    2. “I love lines like this: her kool-aid-magenta hair, and her long, black skirt puddled at her feet.” Right then, you have a fix on the character in such a real, immediate way.
      Well done!

    3. WOW! I love it! The excerpt has such vivid description and I love the line, “Her cousin was such a flake. Send her off to do one thing and she’d end up doing something completely different.” – excellent description of the character. Sonya, Maya, and Isabel all sound so real.

      Nicely done and thanks for sharing!

  22. July 2

    The Problem:

    Talented Kyra likes to play the piano, but she also wants to play outside like other eight year-olds.

    In the Garden:

    Kyra felt the silky fluff of the blue hydrangea beneath her hand. Tiny raindrops dotted the leaves and flowers. She spied a red-brown chipmunk coming out of the drainpipe. “Is that where you live?” she asked. He didn’t answer but skittered along on his daily business. She watched a yellow butterfly drift from flower to flower. It was so quiet and the breeze was slight and soft on her face.

    What she learned:

    I can play the piano, and I can come here, too, she thought. I am happy here in this garden-world.

  23. Exercises like this one work well to take me out of the regular and make me imagine something new, shedding new light on my character.
    The bluebonnets tickle my knees.
    I sat cross-legged holding infant Benjie in my lap posing for our Easter photo.
    I placed a tiny blossom into Benjie’s folded fingers.
    I looked into the cloudless sky as the bright spring sun beamed down.
    I threw back my head to catch the warmth and announced to the sky, “I am beautiful and I will never die.”
    Today, death came to disturb the peace, and I saw this blue image in my mind’s eye, reminded that joy will come again when the sun rises and the bluebonnets bloom again.

    1. Very poignant account of the past and present touching. I liked the bloom in the small folded fingers. Because I’ve heard of bluebonnets, but they don’t raise a picture in my Massachusetts’ eyes, I’d love to see a closeup or maybe a wider view of where they might bloom. (this is so not fair! when people wrote about lilacs I could re right there — but just a suggestion — I should have asked that of the lilac lovers, too!)

      I’m glad the garden worked to bring you into another view of your character, and one that’s short but suggests a lot.

      1. Thanks so much for the suggestion. I just read Catherine’s piece about hydrangea and could see it clearly. But is that experience or her details. Bluebonnets grow in Texas. My sister lives there and every year poses her two children in a field of them. I will definitely use your suggestion. What can be so clear to the writer needs to be as clear to the reader.

  24. This is a response to Prompt 3:

    They were lost. It was a fact she could no longer deny. Miles out of their way, utterly and completely lost. And it was entirely her fault. She should not have trusted her instinct so completely, set out so impetuously. Amanda buried her face in her hands and closed her eyes. Above her an owl called and the clouds shifted. The thinning moon was high in the sky. How many nights had she spent at night in her garden back home staring up at the different phases of the moon? How many nights with the delicate fragrance of the night flowers scenting the air, feeling a calming breeze on her skin? And she thought of what was left of her garden with no one to tend it. The weeds would take over, those stubborn weeds that kept growing no matter how many times she pulled them up.

    A breeze rustled the trees and the owl flew. Amanda lifted her tired head and thought of the weeds. She would never give up. She would never stop trying, no matter how lost she got. There had to be a way, there had to be someone who could help. As long as she kept going, as long as she was still trying, there was still hope.

    1. I like the way that she’s lost, and the memory of the garden seems to give her renewed courage and hope. And the night breezes and owl and other images gives it all a very real and lovely context.

    2. Beautiful writing! You have captured me as a reader and I want to know more! I love how you tied her memories of weeding to whatever it she is trying to do now–great metaphor! I really connected to this line: “She should not have trusted her instinct so completely, set out so impetuously.” How many times have I felt that way about a situation in my life or something that I said! You have voiced those feelings perfectly. Thank you for sharing!

  25. Jane Johnston was not adapting to life in Ireland after having been raised in an outpost in the Northwest in the early 1800’s. Her family and friends in Ireland assumed that life in the wilderness was an uncultured life. But Jane knew that wasn’t true. She knew her mother knew the ways of the Ojibwe and could do many things that these people could never think of doing.
    Jane sat in Aunt Charlotte’s garden and it brought memoires of her mother, Neengai’s garden. Then she remembered that Neengai had asked her to return with plants from Ireland so that she could use the herbs to cook Father’s favorite dishes. Jane looked around but didn’t see anything she wanted to bring to Neengai. All she wanted to do was return to their home and leave all of Ireland behind her.
    After sitting among the mint and bee balm, their smells took Jane’s mind back to her family home on the St. Marys River. Then she began to realize that Sault Ste. Marie would always be her home, no matter what her Irish relatives thought about it. Home was near the river of blue that flowed past their home. Home was not made by fancy houses with giant stairways to ball rooms. Home was the smell of their garden and the fire that always burned in the fireplace.

    1. What an evocative ending. And it is well led up to with ideas about what we carry and what makes a home in a nation with so many people of different backgrounds. I can imagine lots more to do with these characters and hope you keep going. So rich!

  26. The blue hydrangeas tickle Leni’s cheeks. She sniffs in, but her sense of smell is dulled, like her hearing. She can still feel, though, and she does, tracing the ridges of the lilacs to their very tips. The sunshine streams down onto her face but all she notices is the itchy material on her knees. She scratches.
    “Leni? You out there?” Mom calls. Leni’s taken out her hearing aides, but she can still hear the edges of Mom’s voice. She jams her fingers by her ears, not in them. She doesn’t want to damage them any worse than they are.
    Mom stands in front of her. “Leni.”
    Leni’s drooped like a soggy daffodil. “Dad.”
    “Oh, Leni, I know you think you’re going to find him, but he’s lost to us. As lost as… as… a hydrangea petal.” She points down to the petals on the ground. She goes back to the house, and Leni taps each petal to make sure it isn’t Dad.

    1. I love the specific flowers you name. It truly helps the reader be in the story. And as a mom of a hearing impared son, I love the character.

  27. This was a very interesting prompt. I do not have a work-in-progress, and so I felt frustrated at first, coming up with ideas. Part of me wanted to just skip it, but then I realized that is why I am doing this. I want to work through frustrations and really write, because that is what I ask my students to do every day. So I kept going, and I was surprised where my writing went.

    The writing in previous posts is just beautiful. I am so impressed by how gracefully all of you write, and how subtly brilliant it is! I am terrified to put my work up here with the rest of you, but I am doing it for my students! Here goes!

    Response to part 3:

    “Mom, do I have to?” whined Olivia. Her mother’s eyes widened in surprise.

    “Livi, I thought you would be thrilled! You love going camping, especially to Eagle Rock!” Olivia looked down, avoiding her mom’s questioning look. She sucked in a fast breath, trying to push down the lump forming in her throat.

    “I just…it’s just that…oh, you don’t understand!” she sputtered. Olivia turned and raced into her room, slamming the door behind her. She let out a loud breath of hot air and pressed her hands to her had.

    When did life get so hard? I do love camping, Olivia thought to herself, or at least I used to. But if I go, I’ll miss Jenna’s pool party, and everyone will find out why, and they’ll laugh at me.

    “Nobody understands me!” she grunted to the room. Frustrated, she flung herself down on her bed and closed her eyes. The wind blew the curtains in the window, throwing glimmers of sunlight onto her face. She breathed in the familiar scent of cattails, fish, and algae, and a memory came floating into her thoughts.

    She was six, running through the flowers near the pond in their backyard.
    “Livi! Come out, come out, wherever you are!” called Mom’s voice. Olivia giggled and ducked into the tall grass. She plopped down and dug her fingers into the damp soil.
    “Ooo, a roly poly!” she squealed as she watched the small, silver creature crawl over her fingertips. “Hey, Mr. Roly Poly,” she whispered, “don’t tell Mom where I’m hiding.

    1. This was really nicely done! (I know, it is taking a risk, isn’t it? I felt the same way. Phew! But maybe it gets easier- it’s certainly a kind audience!)

      I could see your scene very well, with the stomping and flinging of Olivia onto the bed. The emotion and frustration were real. I’m curious to know more about this embarrassing camping trip. Why would others laugh? Livi’s flashback is sweet, too. I loved her talking to the roly poly! Will the flashback make her connect back to her mother who played so affectionately with her when she was little? Maybe she’ll decide she can confide her fears in her mother after all. I hope you keep going!

    2. This worked really well! The two scenes fit together in a natural and cohesive way. The vivid pond memory really gives Olivia’s character more depth.

    3. Yay for being brave! Doing it for your students –yes! And I like that you chose a character who\’s facing and pushing limits, and agree with Jennifer, that the glimpse of the past adds depth. Maybe this won\’t be a character and situation you\’ll choose to stick with, though I see lots of potential, but wonderful that you took the prompt today and ran with it. Some will work better than others, and the main thing is just to try, as you bravely did!

  28. I was already working on part 2 without even knowing it…

    As she walked along the road she pondered her future.
    It seemed so hopeless, so cut and dried. Change would
    never come, and she wanted change so much. She didn’t
    realize how her posture revealed her despair until an old
    gardener called to her from his yard, “It can’t be that bad!”
    Embarrassed she scurried faster down the road. The road
    was lined with pale blue chicory plants, and forever
    after the memory of her despair and the beautiful blue
    flowers were tangled together.

  29. What a great prompt! I don’t have a WIP, so my character was created on the spot. I am so glad I didn’t read all the prompts before I began writing. I think I would have tried to control where my story was going. As it turned out the garden didn’t solve my character’s problem, but it did help illustrate it. Nervous to share, but here goes!

    Danny walked across the grass to where the ball had landed, directly in the middle of some purple-flowered bush his mom was always gushing over. As Danny stooped over to reach for the ball, one of the flowers tickled his nose. Out of nowhere a memory came rushing over him.
    He must have been only two or three. His mom had taken him outside so she could pull the weeds that were “threatening to take over,” as she always liked to say. Back then, the garden had seemed a magical place full of wonder. He had especially liked all the brilliant colored flowers and their fragrance that filled the air. In his mind he could see his toddler self kneel down in that way that only little kids can, bending his knees so his body appeared to neatly fold in thirds. His pudgy fingers grasped the sturdy green stem and pulled the bloom directly against his nose. A deep breath visibly expanded his chest and a smile spread across his face. It wasn’t the flower, however, that made him smile. Something else had caught his eye. A small red ladybug had landed on the pink rose to his right. Before he could reach for it, though, a shadow passed over his face, drawing his attention away from the ladybug and the flowers and toward the bright blue sky with the puffy white clouds floating lazily by. There, right in front of him, hovered a hummingbird. Bird and boy considered each other carefully for a moment. Except for the rapid flapping of wings that rendered them almost invisible, neither one moved. Time itself seemed to stand still and envelop the beautiful little green-blue bird and the little blond-haired, blue-eyed boy. Then, with a slight nod of its tiny head, as if to say, “nice meeting you,” the hummingbird darted away and disappeared from view. The boy clapped his hands and squealed with delight at this close encounter with what he was certain was the most amazing creature in the world.
    “You used to love playing out here.”
    His mother’s now gentle voice startled Danny, instantly shutting down the scene playing in his head.
    “Remember that time the hummingbird hovered right in front of you? It was like it was checking you out, wondering what strange new creature you were.”
    Danny was surprised that his mom remembered that. He noticed a soft smile on her face. Briefly he wondered how she could look both happy and sad at the same time.
    “I was just thinking about that,” Danny replied. Then he remembered the rest of the story.
    After the hummingbird had flown away, his mom had scooped him up and twirled around and around with him in her arms. “Did you see that, baby? Wasn’t that amazing?” They had laughed and danced together there in the garden, the colors swirling around them as the sun bathed them in golden light. Everything had been perfect then.

    1. Yay for being brave. And it’s great that the problem wasn’t solved, but illustrated. Something complex takes time. The ending is moving, and the details within of red ladybug, pink rose, blue sky, and green-blue bird. Which all help us get to know and like Danny.

    2. I like what you put together a lot. Your last line, “Everything had been perfect then” has such story potential. Instantly my mind went to, what has happened since then that seems to have made both Danny and his mom seem so sad and reminiscent. I would love to see where your story goes if you decide to continue you it. Great work!

    3. This is lovely, Amanda. I can picture the bird and boy considering “each other carefully for a moment.” Like Renee, I’d like to know what’s happened and where Danny is headed.

  30. TW is my first experience writing so…I may have bitten off more than I can handle with this exercise – I liked the twist of the Garden — it created an interesting perspective. I look forward to learning to edit.

    Chloe was only five when she left her home in Arlington. Now she is fifteen, sitting on the plane, tears streaming down her face, sad to be returning to the U.S. for good. She doesn’t want to go back “home”. Singapore is her home, her stomping ground where all her friends are – where she’s been longer than anywhere else. Besides she doesn’t remember anything about her life in Arlington.

    She does have one memory. She remembered the day in the Botanical Garden, some day right before her family was going to board the plane to Singpore.

    The Botanical Garden had a topiary display with an Alice in Wonderland scene. Skipping down the tulip lined path Chloe stopped to sniff a red one – she squinches up her nose when she discovers there is no smell. Her nose then pokes into every flower she comes upon – the floppy pansies, the bunches of scentless daisies and festive yellow and white chrysanthemums. As her nose brushes a soft pink petal, Chloe lets out an “Ahhhhhh!”
    Finally! A flower that smells like a flower. As she looks up she saw smoke – Chloe noticed it came from a big bush that was in the shape of a teapot. “I’m late, I’m late for a very important date.” A young man dressed in a rabbit costume and carrying a huge, fake pocket watch and ran by Chloe figured if a rabbit could talk maybe this little girl shaped bush would be her friend.
    “Hi, I like your blue apron.” Chloe exclaimed.
    “I have an apron like that. At least I get to take it with me. I bet you get to say here forever – you even have roots. I have to leave behind my swing set, my sandbox and my wooden blocks. You see, little bush girl, I’m moving to the other side of the world – to Singapore. Tomorrow! Chloe hugs the Alice topiary and lets out a surprised yelp, “You’re prickly”

    1. No one would guess you’re new to this! I like the small drama leading up to the flower that smelled like a flower, and the intersection with Alice and Wonderland, and the underlying metaphor of what it feels like to be in a new place. Great theme!

  31. Tuesday Quick Write by Nora Ziegler
    1. A piece of writing I did when I took my Institute class over a decade ago still haunts me and can bring me to tears. It was about my great grandmother, Anna, who came from Austria in 1892 to join her husband, Joseph, here in America. She brought a one year old baby with her. She left everything she knew, including most of her possessions and her parents and siblings, behind. What strength these immigrants must have had! Leaving must have been a major problem for Ann, and made her so sad.
    2. Anna needed a break from her chores, so she took Francis by the hand and they went for a walk. Spring had finally arrived in Pennsylvania, and with it Francis’s second birthday. He was a happy little boy. Leaving home last fall seemed an eternity ago now, with all of its fears and doubts. As they walked up the path, Anna stopped to admire some flowers and share them with Francis.
    “Look Francis, some daisies!” She stopped to show him. “See the white flowers? White, Francis. Flowers.”
    “Wet?” said Francis. “Wet?”
    “No, Francis, w – i – t , white. It’s a color, Francis. Look up – the sky is blue! Look at the trees – the leaves are green! Look at the dirt, here where the flowers grow – the dirt is brown! Look at all the colors, Francis! Aren’t they beautiful?!”
    Anna laughed and picked Francis up in a hug and twirled him around. She didn’t know she would ever feel such happiness again last year when she had left her homeland. But here she was, in a new land, with her husband and precious child, and happiness had returned to her! Just noticing those daisies, like the ones that grew by her front door back in her homeland, had brought her this happiness.

    1. That is so touching. The theme of being in a new land, trying to bring home there. I know some women going to the wilderness used to sew flower seeds into their hems, and I loved what Patricia MacLachlan did with gardens in Sarah, Plain and Tall. In a short space, you convey a lot of those themes of continuity and our need for beauty and hope.

    2. You set up the struggles of what she left, but with the daisies, and the word choice, you ended with a positive outlook for a bright future! Great job- I enjoyed reading it 🙂

  32. Kimberly, I loved this snippet. It reminded me of Patricia Polacco’s stories about her grandmother and how she’d always say “It’s a miracle” about things she attributed to God. It reminded me of my own grandmother, too, who canned peaches and jams. And lilacs – I could smell the purple ones that grew on the bush in the yard where I grew up! It brought back such memories!

  33. Yay for being brave! Doing it for your students –yes! And I like that you chose a character who\’s facing and pushing limits, and agree with Jennifer, that the glimpse of the past adds depth. Maybe this won\’t be a character and situation you\’ll choose to stick with, though I see lots of potential, but wonderful that you took the prompt today and ran with it. Some will work better than others, and the main thing is just to try, as you bravely did!

  34. This was a harder one for me. I’m not too sure why, but I couldn’t get my character there. After some pondering and writing here and there throughout the day, here’s what I came up with for my 17 yr old MC.

    I remember one time when I was just out wandering and I came upon this almost secret place. It was so quiet, peaceful. I never told anyone about it. Once when I was there, I decided to lay down on the soft warm grass and just breathe. The sun seemed so bright that day. I remember the breeze, like it could carry me away or hide me in this safe place. There was a magnificent tree there, it’s branches stretching out as if to cover the secret it was keeping there, me. I knew that in this place I could be anything I wanted, do anything I wanted, just be me, and I would be safe. As I laid there under the protective branches, the wind seemed to pick up. I remember thinking it was strange because the leaves weren’t rustling. It was like the breeze was only there for me, almost speaking to me. I relaxed even more and closed my eyes. I began to feel like I was floating on this breeze, that I didn’t have a care in the world. Nothing could bother me. My body felt so light, it was as if even my soul was at ease. When the breeze paused, I opened my eyes. To my astonishment, I was sitting on a high branch of this stately tree, completely hidden from view. I finally felt safe.

    I remember that field and that tree. It had seemed to call to me that day. I couldn’t take any more of the strange looks from my neighbors. I couldn’t take feeling like I didn’t fit in. So I had left, walking, going anywhere that I could, just to get away. I wonder if I went there, would the same things happen? I was just 9 or 10 the first time, but I haven’t been back there since I turned 13. That was a magical place. Feeling secure, safe – those things don’t happen any more. Now I get more stares, avoided, whispered about. Am I really that different? Does walking around with a book all the time make me so weird that no one talks to me anymore? It’s not like I’m ugly or smell. Even my own parents, in my own home, make me feel like an outcast. sigh Maybe one day, I will get the chance to find that place again. Maybe.

    1. It doesn’t seem surprising, after reading what you wrote, that it was hard to get your character to this safe place. Clearly, it feels hard for her, and you were that close to her. I’m so glad you tried the exercise though — even though some exercises really might not fit, and it’s okay to change them to whatever works. But I like where you ended up. It’s going to take this girl more than a few paragraphs, I think, to know where she fits. Good luck with her!

    2. I like the tension of feeling safe in a relatively risky space. I am terrified of heights, but can relate to feeling safe when I can see and not be seen (or feel watched under the microscope of another’s judgment.)

  35. This is a little snippet from a short story about Jaybee, who is all alone in a strawberry patch wishing for the companionship of a lost friend and yearning for closeness from her family. The war brings loneliness and anxiety into her life.

    “Would you like me to help you in the garden today, Mother?” Jaybee asked, hoping they could work together.

    “Yes, yes, that’s fine, just don’t be a pest,” Mother replied, as she ushered Jaybee out the back door, letting the screen door shut tightly between them. The familiar, painful lump grew in Jaybee’s throat and her eyes began to swim.

    She didn’t want to be alone.

    “Maybe I could stay in with you and help in the kitchen instead,” Jaybee called through the screen door, her nose pressed against the wiry mesh.

    “No, no, please go pick the strawberries,” said Mother. She half-opened the screen door, handed Jaybee an empty tin pail, and shooed her down the back steps.

    “And please be quiet while I figure out what to make for supper. Remember now, Daddy is sleeping.”

    Jaybee was tired of being quiet. She wanted to make noise, and lots of it. She wanted to do cartwheels on the dry grass and run through the garden hose and eat shaved ice from the ice box and laugh with delight in the shimmery August sun. But she could do none of those things. She knew she had to be quiet in the yard. Daddy was still asleep.

    1. This is tender. I want to know Jaybee and why she feels so alone. The variety of your sentences makes for a lovely rhythm in the last paragraph here. Thank you for sharing this bit.

      1. Dry-grass cartwheels are the best. No wet dew to ruin the fall. 🙂

        Thank you, Catherine.

      1. Thank you, Jeannine. It’s hard to keep the writing concise but still get the point across. It is a skill I’ve been focusing on. Thank you!

    2. This is such a different way of looking at picking fresh strawberries. Your piece makes me wonder why they remain in such control, during an activity that is normally so joyful….beginning of summer, picking beautiful fruit, family time. It makes me want to read on!

  36. So, I haven’t written anything, but I am so excited for this idea: in my AP Lang & Comp classes we read Emerson who advocates letting nature be your teacher. The quickwrite today is a natural fit. I can use this to add some creative writing into my heavily persuasive course. Love it! Thank you.

    1. I love Emerson, and love a mix of creative writing with persuasive. Sometimes it’s the images in Emerson that knock me out. So glad it may prove inspiring!

  37. I decided to create a new character for this prompt.

    Fiona was a princess but no one but her seemed to realize it. Why just this morning, her mother told her to clean her room! Can you imagine? Doesn’t she know that princesses don’t clean their own rooms? When she reminded her mom of that fact, her mother said “Well, the princesses in THIS house do! Now go to your room and don’t come out until your room is neat as a pin!” She could tell by the way her mother said it that she didn’t believe that Fiona was a REAL princess. Fiona regally sulked off to her room. She flopped onto her unmade royal bed so she could look out the window to see if there was a prince or maybe fairy godmother in the neighborhood. Someone who she might convince to come in and clean her room for her. No such luck!
    As she looked out her turret window, Princess Fiona could see the beautiful garden of her castle. She saw a honey bee buzzing to each and every flower in the garden. She saw a robin working hard in the cherry tree building her nest branch by branch. She was too busy to notice that Princess Fiona needed help. Under the nearby cherry tree, she spied a tiny bunny with his fluffy cottontail hopping and stopping to nibble on clover. Maybe he’d turn into a prince if she kissed him. Or did that only work with frogs? She noticed that her sunny yellow dandelions had turned magically overnight into wispy wish balls. Oh, if only she could reach out and pick one. Then she would close her eyes, purse her lips, make a wish and blow….and her room would be magically cleaned up. She tried to pry open the window but it was locked.

    In the end Fiona realizes that princesses can make the decision to be a doer and ends up cleaning her room wearing her tiara of course.

    1. This is such a funny description, wonderful! I sort of wish she wouldn’t clean up her room in the end, I like her snooty, sense of entitlement, makes her interesting! Did you ever read Lulu and the Brontosaurus? One of my favorite books with another very entitled little girl.

    2. Fiona feels one part spoiled brat, one part Huck Finn. I wonder what would happen if a magical creature tricked her into cleaning or helping out with something in exchange for a wish?

    3. I love “regally sulked” and wispy wish balls” and the way the garden kind of brings her down to earth. Nice humor and a character we come to like.

  38. I took this prompt in a whole different direction and wrote a very long piece about my grandfather. Here is the first part.

    Grandpa cared for the rose garden like a doctor tends his patients. He knew their names, pedigrees, optimum soil conditions. He measured the water and fertilizer and kept a log noting weather conditions, evidence of parasites, number of blooms. An elaborate greenhouse shelter covered nearly forty varieties: variegated, delicate, and perfumed. Explosions of red, cream, yellow, sherbet, pink, peach, and white shot from stems with glossy, green leaves. When I was a child, it seemed the roses hovered at my ears like helium balloons. He would reach out his leather-tough fingers to gently bow a stem and lower a bloom so that I could dip my nose in it’s unfurled center and feel its cool satin brush my lips and cheeks. When we visited, my brothers and I knew we would find him dressed in an old golf shirt and mud-stained work pants, kneeling before some plant or another, sweat running down the back of his suntanned neck, ungloved hands soaked with mud. The soil in his garden was a special mix he worked by hand. The recipe included sand and topsoil, compost and fertilizer. And his heart. His hands touched every part that touched the rose from root to stem to leaf to bud to glorious blossom. He loved his roses and their healthy, happy growth was proof enough for me that they loved him back.

  39. I love “regally sulked” and wispy wish balls” and the way the garden kind of brings her down to earth. Nice humor and a character we come to like.

  40. 1. Interesting characters have problems. Creating a character on the spot or taking one from a work-in-progress, state a major problem for your character.
    – My character has internal conflict. She has been though a rough patch with dating the last 9 months or so, and has guys decide after a few dates and after sleeping with her change their minds about how much they like her and decide things wont work between them, or that they are “looking for different things” this makes her wary of letting go emotionally with her boyfriend. This also makes her take everything he says seriously and has left her with very thin skin, things that she could of before brushed off and took as joking around she finds herself crying over and questioning if he really does want her. Her insecurities also come from having two great loves in life end things after saying they want forever with her. From these two events she questions and worries that no one will ever want her for forever, and makes it hard for her to trust her emotions with her boyfriend. Because of all her insecurities and baggage she is having a hard time being confident in her relationship of three months. Her baggage and internal conflict sometimes cause conflict within the relationship because she wants and thinks she needs reassurance of how he feels about her on a regular basis.

    2. Leaving that conflict behind, take your character and imagine her or him as being young enough to find her face near at least some flowers and blooms. For older characters this may be a memory of a garden where she feels free to roam around and peer close into blossoms. Write what she sees, smells, and touches? Are there particular plants, trees, or bugs that capture her attention? Describe them. She might stop to have a tea party with leaf plates and acorn cups. Does she talk to any birds or animals? Do they talk to her? Write down the dialogue! When she looks up, does she feel rain or sun? Describe the sensation. Does she find secret messages among rocks, violets, beetles, or the shade of an oak?
    – The cool night air feels good on my hot sticky skin, summer is my favorite time of the year I think to myself. Laying down in the big open field gazing up at the millions of stars, hearing only the crickets and the frogs and the cicadas. That smell of rain drying, and heat and grass, and flowers that are sickeningly sweet, the way air only smells in the summer in the field. I look off into the trees and see the twinkling of fireflies, thousands of them, making it seem as if there is a light show happening in the trees just for me, one goes out another goes on, again and again, not even a second between them. I remember catching them as a kid and watching my hand glow before I let them free. Summer grass is soft under me, already dry from the afternoon rain and not yet wet from the due that would be there during the early morning hours. Here I feel free, in my own world, not alone but in control. The sounds are loud and yet there is a sense of quiet and peace in the field.

    3. Please write what your character learned from her time in this garden. Can she use this to help solve the problem you described at the beginning of the exercise? Try writing a scene that brings the problem and the old garden together
    I wake up with a sense of clarity the next morning. In nature everything is exactly what it is, there is nothing complicated about it. I like being in the field because I enjoy being there, it makes me feel happy because of how I feel when I’m there. This is not that much different then my relationship, he is with me because he likes me and he likes me because of how he feels when he is with me. The field and forest did not grow into what it was over night, or over a few months, it took time, and nutrients from the sun and rain. It is going to take time for me to trust this relationship and it is going to take time for it to grow into something long lasting and amazing. The flowers that bloom fast, also tend to wilt fast. I do not want my relationship to be a fast wilting flower, but a tree that took patience and time to grow big and strong and steadfast.

    1. I felt the sense of relief she did when she went to that garden. Really, we can always go back, at least for a time. And I like how she returned with a metaphor, too, that you use to end the piece!

  41. I’m working on a historical novel in verse set in 1873. This is Catherine, a teenager, lamenting that her father has taken her brother to town and left her behind on the farm.
    (what a fantastic community of writers – I’m loving reading all of these posts – much inspiration here!)

    The field was her refuge
    -since father won’t take me to town-
    She sulked down into the silkweed flowers
    to watch the butterflies pulse their wings
    once, twice
    before hiccuping along to the next clump of blossoms.
    Their flight wasn’t beautiful.
    so unlike the hawk’s sharp flight above, scanning the field for prey.

    No, for those red and orange wings flight was a stutter, a skip,
    like stones on the smooth Connecticut River,
    tossed just so when you were right level with the water.

    But when they lighted, when they paused, when she could see the pattern around their wings
    a bit of black and yellow and orange
    as delicate as the typeset of the printing press on fine, good paper –
    that was when the butterflies were beautiful.

    1. Hi, Heather! I’m happy you’re liking the community here. And happy you sent some poetry!

      I like this field, and the thoughts about what makes the beauty, finding her own particular version. I liked the comparison of two kinds of flights, and this “a stutter, a skip” with the stones bringing in a third sort of flight.

      (think there’s a typo — milkweed for silkweed?)