January: A Prompt in Itself

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Prompt Others; Prompt Myself

I first used the word “prompt” when teaching high school English as an educational tool for students to jumpstart their individualized, brainstorm-like induced stories.

“I remember….” is an often-used prompt for fiction and nonfiction.

A photo of a man standing by a human-made wooden structure with artificial eagles perched by a real eagle’s nest is a visual prompt.

After I left the classroom and pursued my own writing, I joined a newly-formed writers’ group with two former students. I made the third and was happy to follow their rules of organization. We met every Monday at Tim Horton’s. We came with copies, read our work aloud and offered verbal comments.

The final act of every gathering was my favorite. Each of us received a small strip of paper on which to write a prompt right on the spot. We placed it in one of the writer’s fedoras and picked a prompt that wasn’t our own.

The following Monday, we shared the story coming out of the prompt in addition to anything else we’d written.

Just Because I Taught English

Just because I taught writing and wanted to write a novel, I wasn’t exactly schooled in how to accomplish 70,000+ words of engaging fiction.

Short stories were practices in creating beginning-middle-ends, in characterization, in dialogue and narration and in showing description.

I’d take my writers’ group chosen prompt and spend a week on it and have a full story completed by Monday.

After nine months, the group broke up, but I came away with a portfolio of several short stories in various stages of polish. Over the years, I’ve gone back to that file and tinkered with some and submitted some.

A Prompt From Anywhere

Out my window, a dingy white car with a noisy muffler makes its second of a minimum of three daily stops next door. My neighbor is an elderly woman and the mother of the daughter driving up the driveway to check on her.

Or is she?

Prompts come from anywhere and everywhere. As seeds, they bloom stories and stories and stories.

It’s January.

The first month of the year prompts us to make resolutions to rededicate our energies toward specific goals.

I am prompted to exceed my number of accepted story submissions.

Many good memories remain of that early writers’ trio. One of the most significant is realizing the power in the prompt.

I am never without story ideas. And if I get stuck somewhere along a story line, I look around me in hope of a prompt to lead me forward.

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”  ~Orson Scott Card

 

 

 

Being Mermaid: Creating Lore

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I’ve written a yet-to-be-published novel about a mermaid in today’s ocean whose story is as much about being a woman as it is about being a mermaid, maybe more. Being Mermaid: Creating Story

Worldbuilding is an element of the writing craft referring to the creation of an imaginary world within which the characters live. Today’s post is about lore, the accumulated knowledge and tradition held by a group that’s passed from generation to generation in the oral tradition.

Mermaid Lore

What is the history of my mermaids? How do they know where they’ve come from and what is important in their lives? How do they share their stories? express their beliefs? What are the traditions and rituals that set them apart, as a family of mermaids and as one mermaid from another?

Before I began to work out the answers to these questions, I knew for certain there would be no history books, journals, diaries, nothing written. Mermaids do not write or read.

What they would do is express music.

The Oral Tradition

The term “oral tradition” is a means of passing on one’s heritage only by word of mouth or example.

To specialize the oral tradition for my mermaids who, in part, stem from the mythology of Sirens Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea, I focused on music. Rather than talk about their past, mermaids sing, chant and use body movement.

“Subtle flips of her tail and twists of her arms and hands emphasized specific notes and images.” ~from When Oceans Sang (working title)

Every aspect of a mermaid’s life resonates music. The family sings praise as the sun rises and sings hope for a safe sleep when the sun sets and the moon rises. They have songs about the taste of sweet seagrass and enjoying freedom. Music reflects their moods and expresses their history.

A Mermaid’s Personal Lifesong

The mermaids of Mangrove Island know the lives of the past and present mermaids. How?

As a mermaid ages, she chooses from the experiences of her life and creates lyrics and movements to express them, called her lifesong.

“Her personal lifesong ebbed and flowed with her movements.” ~from When Oceans Sang (working title)

The song is as individualized as she is.

The Eldest female mermaid and the Elder male mermaid possess the longest repertoire of mermaid lore because they know the personal lifesong of each member of the family.

A lifesong is s key aspect of the death ceremony. As a mermaid’s body is taken to the bottom of the sea in a ritual I’ve described as “Born of the sea; given back to the sea,” the mermaids sing her lifesong in honor of the being she was among them and will continue to be thereafter.

Creative Challenge

The creative juices are at work here as I imagine a family who lives in the ocean and communicates through music. From conception until death, a mermaid expresses herself through song.

Music is the strongest link to mermaid lore.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”  ~Phillip Pullman (The Golden Compass)

 

 

 

 

Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea

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I’ve completed an unpublished novel about mermaids who live on an isolated mangrove island in the Caribbean Sea somewhere between Cuba and the Grand Cayman Islands.

The writing of their story has taught me the amazing power of fiction in its freedom to develop lives and places out of fact, legend and nothing at all.

The mermaid Tanis is one of those beautiful and mysterious females of the sea. She lives in contemporary times, though she doesn’t know what a minute is or a day; her life is counted in moon cycles and sun cycles and seasons. The size of her favorite fish, the tarpon, isn’t five feet but two mermaid tail lengths long. When she’s hungry, she eats seagrass, which is sweetest when its young.

I’ve made up basic facts like these about her life because they make sense for a family of ocean creatures.

I’ve also incorporate myth. Why not?  Myth serves a purpose in our lives. It must or it wouldn’t have endured since its origins during the eighth century.

Like Sasquatch and Yeti, mermaids are a part of mythology to me. No matter how outlandish a myth may be–Really, Hercules held the world on his shoulders?–there exists a kernel of truth in the telling.

One ancient myth concerns mermaid-like women called Sirens who use their seductive singing to lure sailors to their deaths. In Homer’s epic Greek poem, The Odyssey, Odysseus’s crew stuffs beeswax in their ears as they sail toward the land of the sirens. Unlike his men, Homer goes without the wax; he wants to hear the sirens’ enchanting sound. To survive, Odysseus’s crew tie him to a mast and promise not to release him no matter how he begs.

Like the Sirens, the mermaids on mangrove island are also musical; singing is their main form of communication. They resonate their emotions musically. Music is so vital, every mermaid creates her and his personal song throughout life. When mermaids die, their personal song lives after them. These intimate tunes are like scrapbooks and are sung again and again throughout the generations.

Tanis is a modern-day mermaid with an ancient background.