The Prompter Room

For Friday, June 29, 2018:

 

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that make a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”

John Steinbeck, STEINBECK: A LIFE IN LETTERS

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The Prompter Room

 For Tuesday, December 26, 2017:

 

Dare to dream! If you did not have the capability to make your wildest wishes come true, your mind would not have the capacity to conjure such ideas in the first place. There is no limitation on what you can potentially achieve, except for the limitation you choose to impose on your own imagination. What you believe to be possible will always come to pass – to the extent that you deem it possible. It really is as simple as that.

 Anthon St. Maarten, found on Goodreads

 

 

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, January 10, 2017:

 

What an astonishing thing a book is.  It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles.  But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years.  Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.  Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of different epochs.  Books break the shackles of time.  A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

Carl Sagan

The Prompter Room

For Friday, February 12, 2016:

 

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.  Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

Roald Dahl

Today in Vermont is what I call a ‘glitter day.’  The temperature is creeping up to zero degrees (F), the sun is coming up, there’s snow on the ground, and there’s a fine snow in the air.  That’s where the glitter is: look in the direction of the sun and the snow catches the sunlight and falls through the air as tiny prisms.

These are the days when I feel like I’m in a snow globe.  It’s as if Tinkerbell’s fairy dust is all around me, and I can almost hear its magic ring out from each microscopic flake.

Even though I am not much of a winter person – I don’t ski or skate or snowboard, for instance – there are some good things about it and I wait for glitter days every year.  The thing is, it must be quite cold for them to happen.  If you’re outside, you can’t feel the glitter snow, but you can breathe it in.  As ephemeral as the snow is, that icy shaft of air going into your lungs really wakes you up.

It took coming to Vermont for me fully to appreciate the wonders of winter.  My family moved here 20 years ago in one of the coldest and snowiest winters in decades, and it was then that I first experienced the magic of glitter days.

Since then I have made it a point to look for the secrets of winter, the cold, the snow.  I love the footprints the birds and creatures leave in the snow, especially those who come in the night as if they move about in silence.  More than a few poems and vignettes have appeared as a result of ‘reading the snow’ and stitching together the stories the prints leave for me.  We can see farther into the woods without leaves on the trees, and sometimes we glimpse a fox trotting through, intent on going back to her den, or a porcupine climbing a tree, or a moose or deer staring back at us.  A flash of flame can be either a cardinal or the crest of a pileated woodpecker.

The thing is, we have to look for them in likely and unlikely places.  We have to ready ourselves to watch for them.

As writers, we have to watch the whole world.  Most of us don’t live in snow globes, and there is much in the world that is difficult to look upon.  There is, however, a lot of magic still to see and watch and be a part of.  Where can you find, how can you make your own glitter days?

The Prompter Room

For Thursday, January 7, 2016:

 

“The power of imagination makes us infinite.”

John Muir

A friend on Facebook shared an article this morning from The Atlantic that makes some important distinctions between British and American children’s literature, and I want to share it with you because it’s so good.

Entitled ‘Why the British Tell Better Children’s Stories,’ the article notes that ‘pagan folklore,’ fantasy and magic are the primary sources and cultural experience of the British genre, whereas American stories tend to emerge from the ‘Protestant work ethic’ and a ‘day-t0-day realism’ of survival in a new country.

Do check out the article here .  Even if you don’t write children’s stories, you’ve read them (I hope), and your children and grandchildren.  As she compares and contrasts the two canons, author Colleen Gillard explains how and why each country’s stories engage our imaginations in markedly different ways, and she lists many of the classics from both sides of the pond, with pertinent examples from some.

(On a personal note, I am surprised she didn’t include the UK’s late Terry Pratchett.  I was introduced to him only a few years ago, but ever since then I take every opportunity to read new-to-me stories.  His imagination is boundless and fun, and both young people and adults will enjoy his books.)

After reading the article, I understand now why I so enjoyed the Harry Potter books, and why the series became a worldwide phenomenon.  Whatever genre we write in, and whatever age we are, this is an important resource to undergird our work.

The Prompter Room

For Saturday, December 12, 2015:

 

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

William Butler Yeats

One of the best ways I know of to hone one’s senses is to read and, especially, to write haiku.  If you’re not familiar with haiku, I suggest you start with Basho, the undisputed master of this ancient form of Japanese poetry.  His later years were spent in pilgrimage around Japan in search of what I call ‘haiku moments,’ and sometimes he would distill a whole day’s travel into seventeen syllables or less.

Once we start training ourselves to look for the moments of magic, or something that makes us stop and wonder or appreciate or question, we start to see the whole in the smallest things.  Raking leaves we unearth a tiny orange newt that glistens in the shadows.  We bend down and watch as she navigates the enormous tree roots before her.  Driving around a mountain curve at sunset, a distant red barn merges with the multi-colored hues of a sugar maple tree.  A cricket symphony ushers in a thunderstorm.   Three sun-gilded slugs sleep atop a tawny mushroom.  Frozen trees crack like gunfire in midnight woods.

Most people think of haiku as nature poems, and to some extent that’s right.  But they’re more than ‘just’ nature poems.  They’re poems about how we humans interact with nature and vice-versa, how we grow within the nature around us, the spiritual moments that bring us up short and take notice.  (The related form called senryu is more human-focused: how we and other human beings live and interact with each other.  It has the same 17-syllable format.)

Classic haiku is different from today’s modern form.  The ancient practice calls for no punctuation – the poems were, and some still are, written in vertical lines on a rice paper scroll, and the Japanese have particular words that serve as punctuation instead of our periods, commas, dashes, etc.

Another part of the classic form is to write of the seasons without using seasonal words such as snow or summer, and the like.  (Can you tell what seasons I wrote about two paragraphs above?  A couple are pretty obvious, which is not a good thing in a haiku, but they give you a general idea.)

So if you have a few minutes every day, take some time to unplug and sit or walk outside, if you can.  Pay attention to the small things.  What do you hear or see?  Is there something out of place – a rusty, dented beer can in a glade of violets, for instance?   I’m trying to craft something about the dearth of the little grey juncos this time of year.  They’re almost two months late coming down from the hills.  I’ve never known them to be this late, but it is unusually warm in the Northeast for this time of year …

There is a lot of magic out there waiting for us to find it or to consider.  Sometimes all it takes is seventeen or fewer syllables.