Fiction Writing Prompt: Take a Walk

In lieu of this week’s Sandbox Notes, here is a writing prompt that my thesis advisor, Rita Banerjee, gave to me, and I’d love to pass it forward.

***

If you are feeling stuck in your fiction, take a walk and embody your main character(s).

Time: At least 20 minutes.

Where: You can walk anywhere you like! It can be around your neighborhood, a downtown area, a nearby park. Make sure to walk the same route for every character. The environment is your control variable in this experiment.

What: As you walk, take notice of how you transform into your character. Note how you (as your character) walk. Which gestures give you comfort? What do you smell, taste, touch, see, hear as you travel through the world? What stops you or keeps you walking? What pops into your brain? What are you preoccupied with or worried about? Do you talk to yourself? Do you make eye contact with the people around you, or do you stare at the ground?

Once you’ve completed your walks, write a 1-2 page scene, in which all your character does is go for a walk. Try to incorporate as many of the details from your own walk as possible.

***

Pro tip: Last week, I tried this exercise with my novel’s three main characters, and at times, I felt like I was forcing behaviors or thoughts onto them. In those moments, I tried to break out of character and become myself again. It’s funny I had to remember what it was like to be a living, thinking human. I made myself aware of what thoughts naturally come up in a mind. I should write to my grandmother. I said this thing to so-and-so, and are they still thinking about it as I am? Should I have soup or more oatmeal for dinner? Once I was able to identify what I, Cammie, was thinking about, I was then able to categorize “types” of thoughts and decide which of my characters were more likely to have a similar thought.  

Take what you need from this exercise! Let me know how it goes for you, and if you choose to adapt it in any way. Walk on!

 

The Serious and the Silly of December

A glimpse into the last month of the year:

  • Making progress on my thesis/novel—though considering a bit of a plot restructuring!
  • Read Bianca Stone’s The Möbius Strip Club of Grief and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee both in one sitting. Stone’s book is doing all the subversive maneuvers I strive for in my own poetry. Even better, she will be teaching a class on “Meaning, Sense, & Narrative in Poetry” at VCFA in the spring! And don’t even get me started with Dictee. Holy wow—I didn’t know a book could look, sound, or read like that.
  • Began an epic watching of Monty Python’s Flying Circus from start to finish. I had seen random sketches here and there, but I’ve never seen the whole series straight through, and I just felt like a phony, calling myself a fan without seeing the entirety of the show! I watch about 15 minutes each day with my breakfast, so I’m not too far through yet! I’m currently in Season 2—just finished “Scott of the Antarctic,” which was pure plasmatic gold.
  • In the spirit of the holiday season, my friend Aaron Wyanski and I have co-authored a list of literary holiday carols. Enjoy the whimsy and feel free to add your own in the comments below!

Jingle Bell Jar
Baby It’s Sharon Olds Outside
Graham Greenesleeves
The Picture of Dorian Sleigh
Robert Frosty the Snowman
Lewis Carroll of the Bells
Little Saint Nicholas Nickleby
Up on the Bleak Housetop
Have Yourself a Merry Little Women Christmas
It’s the Most Wonderful Wrinkle in Time of the Year
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree in 80 Days
Alice in Winter Wonderland
Twelfth Silent Night
Deck the Wolf Halls
Ding Dong Merrily On High Fidelity
Santa Claus is Coming to Our Town
(There’s No Place Like) Maycomb for the Holidays
Go Tell It On The Mountain
The Holly Golightly and the Ivy
Joyce Carol Oates to the World
Love in the Christmastime of Cholera
Ruefle the Red Nosed Reindeer
Hark! The Herald Angels in America Sing
We Wish You a Mary Shelley Christmas
O Little Town of Macbethlehem

Isn’t it nuts that it’s already December? At least the world outside looks like an Emancipator album cover and there are pine-scented candles and the sounds of Vince Guaraldi’s jazz brush beat and lots of spiced tea!

Sandbox Notes: Troglodytes is in the Name

 

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links:

-“Beefcake Paperdoll” is the name of the incredible painting by Xavier Schipani. You can find it on the cover of Thomas Page McBee’s memoir, Man Alive.

It’s a pig meowing! It’s a giraffe barking! It’s….Nixon bleating! (From Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 1, Episode 12, “The Naked Ant”)

-It doesn’t have “whale” in the name, but Tilly and the Wall is a very cool band that features a tap dancer as the percussionist.

Perhaps one day, I will be eaten by birds. 

 

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

Thankful.

Certain circumstances in my life this year have made me especially thankful for this life of mine. So…here is a gratitude list. It is surely incomplete and in no particular order:

  • My family and their undying support
  • Fuzzy animals (shoutout to Saki Finch)
  • Books
  • Every author I have ever met in person or met virtually through email interviews
  • Friends who have seen me in my best and worst states
  • Oatmeal – you have singlehandedly kept me alive this year with your nourishment
  • Vermont College of Fine Arts for giving me a safe space to discover myself, to find an encouraging and inspiring community of artists, and to challenge what creative writing can look like
  • Books
  • Art
  • My brain and heart for staying strong, even when I’m feeling down
  • The smell of my mother
  • Phones, for transporting faraway voices directly into my ear, wherever I may be
  • Smuttynose Brewing Company’s Old Brown Dog for reminding me it’s okay to let loose once in a while
  • Striped shirts
  • Fresh air
  • Tarsem’s The Fall
  • Everyone who reads my writing and this blog
  • Working on Hunger Mountain, which has made me realize that I want to work with authors on their writing and help promote amazing art for the rest of my life
  • Hibakusha Stories and the incredible work they are doing for our world
  • Music (particularly every song on this playlist)
  • Hugs
  • The ability to laugh

I lift my mug of tea to you. <3

 

Sandbox Notes: An Aerial Glimpse of Clunky Boots

 

*Bonus points for anyone who writes a short short story using the details from this plot map! Leave it in the comments below! I’d love to see it!

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links:

-Whose tradition (and history) are we celebrating (or ignoring) when we celebrate Thanksgiving? (Tommy Orange’s article via LA Times)

-I will never be able to think of a BB gun or a powder-blue suit the same, now that I’ve heard Alex Marzano-Lesnevich read from their award-winning book, The Fact of a Body.

-Why read today’s news when you can read Yesterday’s Print?

-In my class with James Scott, we’re thinking a lot about the inverted checkmark and how to structure a story.

-Some people call November 5th Bonfire Night, some call it Guy Fawkes’ Day, some people (like me) call it “Save John Watson” day (any Sherlock fans, here?)…here’s a refresher on The Gunpowder Plot.

 

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

Sandbox Notes: Unobscured Pluming Complex

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links:

-If you hope to live for a long time, think twice about watching this video. According to Monty Python, the creator of this joke—the world’s funniest joke—died laughing at it.

-Need an icebreaker when you go to parties? Here’s one: Oedipus with Vegetables.

-The world would be a better place if we all just put our legs up the wall already.

-I’m a fangirl of words that don’t exist in the English language. Here’s a new one for me: Setsunai (切ない).

-All I’m listening to these days: “Spine” by Plume. Beautiful to listen to with eyes closed and in the rain. Full of yummy notes that will make you melancholic and nostalgic all at once.

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

New Piece “Sad Animal Facts in the Style of Ikkyū” on Queen Mob’s Teahouse

I am overjoyed that my piece, “Sad Animal Facts in the Style of Ikkyū” was recently published online as part of Queen Mob’s Teahouse‘s collection of “Misfit” documents. According to Queen Mob’s, a Misfit Document is “a text that doesn’t easily fit into any genre or category. It’s not quite a poem or short story or novel excerpt or essay. Or if it is one of those things, it doesn’t quite qualify as “literary” or sci-fi or mystery or memoir or whatever.”

I had recently created a series of hybrid, Frankenstein-stitched pieces—unexpected mashups from different sources—including this sequence which mixes Brooke Barker’s “Sad Animal Facts” with the poetic style of 15th-century Japanese Zen monk and poet Ikkyū (for this, I used Stephen Berg’s 1989 English translation of Crow with No Mouth). This sequence is original in the sense that no one has ever thought to pair these puzzle pieces together, but leans into the idea that all art is borrowed and all art is a commemoration of the art that came before.
.

(Puffins are called the clowns of the sea)

dignity

the lace-ruffled puffins want it too

A huge thanks to Reb Livingston at Queen Mob’s Teahouse for publishing it and being wonderful to work with!

Sandbox Notes: Tonight We Found This Body of Moon

Want to dig deeper into the sandbox? Explore more at these links:

A goze in 1912, photographed by Eliza R. Scidmore (who happens to be one of my novel character’s idols!)

-Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata was influenced by the Japanese oral literature: goze-uta (folk songs of blind female musicians). Learn more about the fascinating guild of goze here and here.

-A never-before-seen Sylvia Plath short story is slated to be published in January! (Article via The Guardian)

-While writing a new short story imagining a terrifying re-restriction of women’s rights in near-future America, I found myself enthralled by the stories of the Suffragettes – Alice Paul, Emmeline Pankhurst, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells, Emily Wilding Davison. We must always remember their bravery.

-OMG…Diana Goetsch. Saw her read live this weekend. Fierce. Fabulous. Must read more.

-For someone who loves Monty Python so much, how had I never seen The Mighty Boosh until this week! Now everything is moon this and moon that, moonmoonmoon.

About Sandbox Notes. Collections by Cameron Finch.

Contest – International Young Writers Prize

Back in August, I had the wonderful opportunity to Skype with six high-school-aged writers as part of the Youth Studio at Fuente Collective. While I mostly talked their ears off about Hunger Mountain, how to navigate the labyrinth that is Submittable, and how to be a fabulous literary citizen, I also asked them questions about what teens are looking for in terms of writing and publication opportunities. I listened and considered their advice, and brought my scheming ideas back to the Hunger Mountain offices. After a brief discussion, the vote was unanimous, and so…

I’m thrilled to announce that Hunger Mountain has a brand new annual contest: The International Young Writers Prize! Do you know a high-school-aged writer whose story needs to be heard and celebrated? This prize (deadline March 1, 2019) is now open to all young writers around the world. All genres welcome. For more information and full guidelines, click here.

This is especially exciting to me because it is my way of contributing to the mission of Write for a Bright Future, an international conference I attended in 2015 while interning at the Ministry of Stories in England. I wrote about the event in the blog I was keeping for the duration of that trip:

Write for a Bright Future was the first international gathering of organizations and projects that have been inspired by 826 centers in the United States (like 826michigan that I work with!) The Ministry of Stories hosted the event, which enabled them to let part of the week be led by children from its writing clubs. This was super important to us – if we are meeting for and about children, they should be represented at the event, too! There were 26 sessions over 4 days, which were attended by over 150 delegates and guests (all of whom I made the name badges for, so I knew everyone’s name!) The range of content included presentations and workshops by the various centers’ ambassadors,  panel discussions with writers, a walking tour of Hoxton, a literary battle and the launch of a book contributed to by over 200 children from across the world. (Read the full blog post here)

Working as the Project Manager Assistant at one of the most inspired weeks of my life, I vowed to continue to champion young people’s stories for as long as I am able. This prize is one such way to encourage young writers and give them an opportunity to be supported by the generation above them. I’m so thankful that my lovely team at Hunger Mountain holds the same values and beliefs as I do in our youth’s wisdom and creativity. The idea is not to promote competition between young writers, but to show them that adults care about their stories, that we will give our full attention to them, that we will listen. We are all in this crazy world together, after all. So, let us spin some flax-golden tales.