I have been featuring prompts from Josip Novakovich’s excellent book, Fiction Writer’s Workshop. I highly recommend it, if you are interested in the craft of writing. He demystifies the process of writing, from where to get story ideas all the way through completion of longer projects.
This next prompt is still from chapter one, sources of story ideas. I include these here in the beginning of Mai Madness, partly to show the incredible breadth of ideas available to us within our own lives. Of course, we can stretch and write about “stuff” outside of ourselves – which, as a science-fiction and fantasy author, I do a lot. But the old adage, “write what you know,” applies in many ways – not least of which, to actually write from what actually happened, expand and elaborate.
It’s kinda fun, too.
Mr. Novakovich credits writer-teacher Jim Magnuson for this next one. “Write ‘My mother never…’ at the top of a page, then complete the sentence and keep going. As you write, begin to fictionalize. Construct scenes. Take out sentimentality … and forget it’s your mother. Take yourself out, too.”
I found this exercise volatile, like handling nitro glycerin. I like the result, in that I surprised myself and was able to come up with a story in response to the prompt; but it was not easy.
My mother never understood what it was to be a mother. I think she thought it was like revision in school. You go to the husband-store, get one, then go to the offspring-store, get one (or two, or three), and voila. Insta-family.
She did the best she could with me. She carried me around by a papoose when I was little, because that was “good.” She didn’t breast-feed me, because in the early seventies that was not good, thanks to the Nestle Corporation’s propaganda. My mother was deeply suspicious of the women of La Leche League, so their message went right by her. When I asked her, once, what she thought of feminism, she got angry.
“I don’t want to whine about my lot, honey,” she told me. “It’s more important to me to just do the work. All those women are just complainers. They’re not really workers.”
That didn’t really sound right to me, but at the time I didn’t know how to argue. Now, we have a sign in my company’s lunch room: “In Illinois, a woman makes 71 cents for every $1 a man makes. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY IS THE LAW.” Guess she was wrong; sounds to me like feminism still has a ways to go.
We got in the truck one day to go in town. A beige Toyota Landcruiser, one of the early models first in this country she would proudly say, it boasted dark brown stripes on the sides and four-wheel drive. Surprisingly comfortable to drive, it wasn’t nearly as tippy as some of the other SUV’s on the road then – mostly Jeep Cherokees and Ford Explorers.
“Oh my God!” she burst out, then started laughing.
“What?” I squawked, coming out of my book with an almost physical sensation of moving. “What’s wrong?” I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and anyway, she was laughing so we couldn’t have hit something.
I followed where she was pointing, but couldn’t see anything on the windshield. After a moment, I realized that was a problem – where was the windshield wiper? I stared for a moment more and saw it, sticking straight out from the front of the car like it was pointing the way to town. “What the…” I didn’t finish the sentence. Swearing wasn’t approved of in the ‘perfect child vocabulary.’
“Buttercup did it!” my mom crowed, eyes merry. She glanced at me. “When she was in the paddock last night!”
“No,” I scoffed, looking back at the wiper. Sure enough, it was mangled all to pieces, unrecognizable. Even the metal frame was warped and bent in several places with what could only be teeth marks.
“I had the rig parked in there all night to get her used to the horse trailer,” she pointed out. “She must’ve decided it would be funny.”
“Yeah, but Mom, that’s on the side next to the fence! How could she even reach?”
“Well, she did,” my mom responded happily, pleased as punch that our horse ate her windshield wiper.
What was worse, the next day at school my friend Sandy ran up to me. “Did you hear the radio this morning?” she burst out breathlessly, interrupting my book.
“The radio!” Sandy repeated irritably, pulling my book out of my hands. “Your mom’s ad!”
My heart sank. “What are you talking about?” I tried to put on a brave face.
“Did Buttercup really eat your wiper?” Sandy asked me, laughing.
What was worse, Sandy made sure that everyone in fourth period, fifth, and P.E. all knew about it.
When I got home, my mom was in the kitchen, putting together dinner. As I walked by, she called out. “Honey? Can you do something for me?”
You guessed it. Not only did I have to hear about it all day, I got to replace the wiper that evening.
Buttercup just looked smug.