Teachers Write 7/25/13 Thursday Quick-Write with Anne Marie Pace

Good morning! Our guest author for today’s quick-write is the lovely & talented Anne Marie Pace!

Anne Marie  is the author of VAMPIRINA BALLERINA and its just-released sequel, VAMPIRINA BALLERINA HOSTS A SLEEPOVER, both illustrated by LeUyen Pham and published by Disney-Hyperion.  She has also written A TEACHER FOR BEAR and NEVER EVER TALK TO STRANGERS for Scholastic Book Clubs.  You can find a wonderful teachers’ guide for VAMPIRINA BALLERINA at Anne Marie’s website, http://www.annemariepace.com.

You’ll have to forgive me if I seem dreamy; as I write this, I’m physically at home, jotting notes down between driving kids to activities and doing laundry, but my head and heart are still walking along the shore of Folly Beach, South Carolina, searching for a perfect shell.  For a variety of reasons, it was our first family vacation in four years.  My vacation week has inspired this quick-write exercise for you today.

Choose a character, either one from your work-in-progress or a character you create just for this exercise.  Don’t feel you need to answer these questions one at a time.  Read them through with this character in mind, and then write something in response:  a letter, a poem, a journal entry, a descriptive paragraph–whatever flows.

First: Has this character ever gone on a vacation?  If your character is from the type of family that takes yearly trips, what was the favorite?  Why?  Does she go on the same trip every year?  Who is there?  What does she like to do there?  Is it boring or comforting to go to the same place?  How does she feel if that trip changes?  Or is it a different trip every year?  If so, how does she feel about changing it up all the time?  Does she like exploring new places or does she regret being unable to return?

At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps your character has never been on vacation.  Why has she been unable to vacation?  Is it financial or is there another reason?  How far has she been from home?  Are there any events she looks forward to during summer?  Does she have friends who are able to vacation with their families? Is she jealous?  Is she happy for them?  Would she be scared to leave home?  Does she have a dream place to vacation?  Is there something she could do to make a vacation possible (win a contest, win the lottery, convince a neighbor or friend to do something that relieves parental stress)?

Note:  These questions are somewhat slanted towards contemporary fiction.  If you are writing in another genre, feel free to replace “vacation” (in our contemporary sense) with “travel.”  If the setting of your story is a world you have built, how does that world deal with a desire to travel and/or rest?  How does your character feel about those societal customs or expectations

Now:  Think about what you have discovered about your character.  What part of that person is illuminated? Is there a parallel between your character’s experiences on vacation and what she is facing today? How might this revelation develop or connect to your plans for your work?

29 Replies on “Teachers Write 7/25/13 Thursday Quick-Write with Anne Marie Pace

  1. Thanks for this prompt! Memories of vacations and trips will be a rich resource for writing ideas.

  2. I wrote a narrative poetry piece on a young boy who loves to build and explore, but in revising I think I might have to try it in another genre format. He’s young…4 or 5…and I have to admit I’m struggling with the idea of voice for him. I haven’t written anything, I’m only mentally struggling. I think I’ve got the personality, down in the family vacation, but trying to balance the voice between my natural inclination to describe and what a child would see was definitely more difficult. It amazed me how many changes and re-starts I needed for just this small piece.
    There were sticks everywhere! At home there were only a few sticks on the lawn after a big storm, but here… Our trip home was surrounded by the forest and the water. “I’m making a museum! Will you come see it when it’s done? You’ll have to pay me a quarter to come in. Mom?!”
    She looked up from her chair, finally, “Will I see anything I’ll like in the museum?”
    My eyes looked at the sticks I could see from the edge. “You’ll see snakes, guns, swords, toads…” There were so many sticks.
    Thank you, Anne Marie, for this worthwhile challenge, making me think through so much in such little time.

  3. Love this exercise! I jumped off the pier with a new character and let her say her piece.

    Josie on Vacation

    My only vacation is a school vacation, and it ain’t much of a vacation as I’m saddled with my little brother all summer long. I don’t even get why you’re axin’ us to write this dumb ol’ letter anyway. Any teacher who’s been here even half a year knows none of us ain’t never going anywhere – traveling or otherwise. You got a college degree. You read between the lines.
    Alright. I’ll throw you bone, since you’re new and all. Don’t want you going home crying on your first day, though you probably will. You are shaking in your little strappy heels. You know that? I can see your ankle spasm from here.
    Let me give you one piece of advice (and no, I know you didn’t ask for no danged advice, but you’re gonna get it anyway).
    You might want to switch to sneakers.
    Seriously. This school ain’t no place for no high-heeled teeter-totter.
    First off, unless you got some serious clout here, you’re gonna be jogging from room to room with the rest of us. It’s a city (thought I’d point that out to you ‘cause you lookin’ a little peaked like country folk usually do when they first get here). In a city we have stairs – lots of stairs, and there ain’t no separate staircase for teachers neither. That means you gonna be in the hallway with the rest of us, and that is no picnic, let me tell you. You about the same height as most of the kids in this room, even though you’re a teacher. You gonna get bumped and bashed like the rest of the fish in this stream. No one gonna take pity on you just ‘cuz you’re wearing a suit jacket.
    Can you even move in that thing? What if you wanted to get up and dance? Sorry. Got a little off track. You don’t look much like the dancin’ type anyway. Like my daddy says, you either born with the rhythm or you’re not.
    The second reason you might want to be switchin’ to sneakers is, Girl, sometime you got to move. We’re not the calmest folk here, and sometimes even we need a teacher to step in and stop us from killing each other. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Fights happen, and that’s when we turn to you folk the most. You see, it’s safe for us to fight here. There’s an end. You all here. You keep us from letting it go too far. You pull us apart, yell a little, let us save face and not have to end it another way. (Read between the lines, Teach!)
    All I’m saying, Miss, is you gonna need the sneakers. I hope you go and get them. We could use a teacher to stick around for a little while. Also, this is a little test for you. Our English teacher last year didn’t never read one line we wrote. I completed nearly every assignment until Roxanne said they weren’t being read. Ol’ Stuffy just dumped ’em the trash at the end of the day. She was right.
    Where do you stand, Teach?

    Your student (if you stay),
    Josie Cormick

    1. So much fun! So much attitude! Great show not tell! Let’s the teacher know she’s observant, smart & willing to work if the teacher is willing to put in the time. Who knew you could get so much out of a pair of strappy heels?

    2. You’ve done a great job with this piece! Josie’s voice is clear right away. She’s smart, honest, and funny. I want to know how she and her new teacher are going to navigate the turbulent waters awaiting them.

    3. Wow! I hope we hear more of Josie. She is smart, reflective, and (surprisingly) literate. I wonder if she is writing in her spoken dialect as a challenge to the teacher, or as a cover to protect her (possibly secret) literacy? It’s amazing how vivid and alive she became through just this one letter.

    4. I really enjoyed your piece. We do get a very strong picture of this character and the environment.

  4. Spanner’s temperament ran towards the North, but his family always insisted on going South. Every December when school went on break, that night, Cecil Spanner watched his parents cram the back of their minivan with motley luggage. The three of them and Spanner’s younger brother, Warren, set off the next morning from their home in Armonk, New York – barely visible in the rearview mirror thanks to all those bags. Their destination: Boynton Beach, Florida where two sets of grandparents, a great aunt and uncle, and one relative of undetermined connection all lay in wait. Spanner thought ahead to how those relatives would manhandle his cheeks (insufferable) and cluck over how tall he’d grown (not true). His shudder had nothing to do with winter’s sputtering efforts outside the car window.
    The departure day each year proved to be unfailingly gray, a few snowflakes floating around maybe, and this would make Spanner long even more for a trip somewhere else. If all went according to plan (and Mr. Spanner counted on having a plan), the journey would cover 1,265 miles over two long days.

  5. This was a great exercise! I’ve been working on the story of an 11 or 12 year old girl whose mother commits suicide. Everything I’ve written so far has been about Tracy, the MC, with just glimpses of their family life. This scene gives a clearer picture of what her family life was like

    “Tracy, wake up. We’re leaving soon,” her mother said as she turned on the lamp next to the bed.
    “What time is it?” Tracy mumbled.
    “4:30. Your dad wants to get an early start so we’ll have the whole day to get settled.”
    As she washed her face, Tracy felt her anxiety building. She hadn’t believed they’d really go on this trip. They’d never gone camping before, and her mother had resisted for months.
    “Why would I want to sleep in a tent on my first real vacation? I don’t even consider that a vacation!”
    Her father eventually came up with the idea of renting a cabin as a compromise, but her mother was still doubtful. And it cost more, so they wouldn’t be able to stay as long.
    Tracy remembered when the brochure from Mountain View Cabins arrived. There were lots of mountains covered in thick green pine trees in the photos. There was a picture of the lake, too. It showed kids splashing in the water and playing on the beach. But Tracy though it looked just like the beach at the bottom of the hill. She’d rather stay home and go to the lake with Karen and Debbie than go to Vermont and not have anyone to swim with.
    But her father got his way, as usual. So now they were packed into their old Rambler, on their way to Vermont.
    “We’ll stop for breakfast on our way,” said her dad as they pulled out of the driveway. “Bud told me about a great doughnut shop in Pittsfield.”
    Tracy’s mother turned the radio on and tried to find a station with something other than the droning voice of a newscaster. Finally she heard the familiar jingle of “77, WABC” and settled back in her seat.
    “Do we have to listen to that noise?” her father asked.
    “Would you rather spend the next three hours in total silence?” snapped her mother.
    Yes, thought Tracy. Yes. Anything would be better than listening to the two of them bicker all morning.

  6. Melody is a secondary character in my WIP. She is the new girl in fourth grade at a school in the Bronx. Her fashion sense and recent travels bring her a lot of positive attention, but her new friends quickly realize that things aren’t as nice as they seem.

    Going to Disney World and meeting Cinderella, it seems so glam! And it was, and that’s what I tell everyone! The girls at school, my new school here in the Bronx, just can’t stop asking me about all the princess, Disney stuff. And it was amazing and wonderful, and awful. It’s been hard to tell them about the awful part.

    You see this trip really was the trip of a lifetime. My mom had to get away. We needed to break away from everything. My dad, I mean my own Daddy proved to everybody, in court and everything, that he was the only one who really took care of us. You see, my mom works. She has always worked, and sometimes even worked a lot! And my bros – my big brothers, they said they wanted to live with Daddy.

    So after all the papers were signed, and my Mom had promised not to move out of state or anything and that Daddy could see me – oh however much or whenever. Mom took our clothes and stuff and put most of it in storage. And then she said, “Melody, what these girls need is a real vacation.”

    So there we were, just like on TV! After the airplane, I got to shake hands with Cinderella, and for dinner we ordered from menus with glitter. There was so much to do, and wow! It really looks like a real fairy land. A fairy land amusement park actually. We were busy all the time. It was wonderful and amazing, and it feels just awful.

  7. I’ve had an image has been spinning around in my head with bits and pieces of a story attached to it. The image is on my blog page as an image that’s inspiring. Here is a true quick-write for that image.

    I can see them rising on the horizon. They still stand proud against the sky. As we get closer, I can feel them calling to me. Not by voice, but along the breeze. Ten Oaks Plantation. Of course, it got it’s name from the ten oak trees that line the drive. Most people see these trees as something stately, timeless, proud. I see them as something ominous, foreboding, and forlorn. Why we come here every year, I’m not sure. Family tradition? A place to call home? Arriving at the beginning of the summer, the heat hasn’t consumed everything yet, but the trees are starting to grow their coverings. At night, it gives off the spookiest look, but I know different. The creepy feeling is not from the moss, but from the trees themselves. These trees can somehow reach into me. They know my fears, my weaknesses, my sadness. Family reunion or not, when I’m old enough, I’m not coming back here ever again.

  8. Hi Anne Marie-
    Sorry I’m late to respond. Busy day…

    I’m finding this prompt to be challenging, but in a good way. I’m trying this writing passage with a “main character” in a non-fiction WIP, and it’s making me realize I have to do more research. I don’t really know enough about my main “character” to answer thoroughly. I can see that this is going to let me get to know this person better. I think this will help me have an authentic voice while writing this piece.

    This is really helpful and I look forward to pursuing the answers to your questions. Thank you!

  9. This is late, but it was good practice:


    As a kid, we took driving vacations. The two weeks in a car, fighting with your brother, no air conditioning, kind of vacations traveling halfway across the country. Not only do I remember arguing over the limited space in the back seat, but I remember the bickering about the radio station. Constantly. Dad wanted country, we wanted rock and roll, Mom wanted silence. It’s a wonder we went on more than one trip!

    Despite the traveling conditions, I do have good memories too. I remember the fall colors that greeted us in the Smokey Mountains one October, versions of which I was unfamiliar with back in Texas. I can see the park ranger in his green uniform laying the fire, preparing us to settle in for a long tale. I remember my mom, who had wanted silence, being drawn to the dulcimer music, so much that she found room to squeeze in one to take home.

    There were other trips to Civil War battlefields, overpriced gift shops, Mickey Mouse t-shirts. But none like the one we took when we moved to Saudi Arabia in 1978, a million miles away.