In November I attended a writing conference where we met with some great authors, illustrators, agents and editors. It was a two day conference filled with writing tips, critiques, pitch fests and mini workshops. I had a workshop with Linda Oatman High, a successful children and young adult author. Linda was AWESOME. She shared stories of her road to success, offered advice and gave us a super cool writing exercise that I’m going to give to you today. At the end of this exercise, I will share the fiction story I wrote that day.
Grab a pen and get out a piece of paper (or your laptop). Are you ready?
Write down a symbol of hope.
Write down one or two difficult times in your life.
Write down something that recently made you laugh.
Now take everything you just wrote and write a short story. You might find yourself asking how they will possibly fit together but believe me you will come up with something. If you are willing, share with us your story. If you don’t feel comfortable or have time to comment with your story then maybe just comment with the answers you wrote for the prompts given above.
As promised, here is what I came up with.
*Symbol of hope-I chose a dove
*Two difficult times in my life
1. The death of my father
2. Being an overweight teenager
*Something that recently made me laugh – I wrote down “What If” scenarios and trying to apply makeup to my husband on Halloween (we had an idea that just wasn’t coming together, the more I tried to fix the make-up, the worse it became).
Here is the story I wrote.
Every dress I tried on made me look like an Orca. I succumbed to the fact that I was going to be the fat daughter standing at the casket. I don’t remember the drive to the funeral home but I do recall the half hour before the public came in to pay their respects. I stood above the simple wooden casket staring at my lifeless hero, stroking his cold forehead and kissing his cool cheeks trying to remember the warmth they once held.
Random memories surfaced as my face filled with tears. I don’t know how I could forget the car ride over but remember the fight we had one Halloween. My mother insisted he dressed up like the rest of us. “We are trick or treating as a family,” she yelled. As she scrambled about the house gathering our costumes my father sat patiently as my eight year old brother smudged my father’s face with paint from a kit purchased at a costume store. “You’re going to look scary but cool,” my brother said.
My oldest sister flew into my bedroom whining “I don’t want to go trick or treating. I’m a teenager for crying out loud,” she protested.
“Can I eat your candy?” I asked. All I was thinking about at that moment was chocolate, sugar and more chocolate. I followed her out the room continuing to beg for her candy (I knew regardless if she wanted to go, she was going to be forced to go). She ignored my pleading and headed down the steps. I raced behind her shouting “Erika can I eat your candy?” All I wanted was to hear her say yes. I skipped the last step to get to her sooner. When I hit the landing, I felt a crunch beneath my foot. My father still sitting on the floor getting his face done, looked up when he heard the sound. His face wasn’t cool or scary, it was ridiculous. I would have laughed at the blur of mish mash colors across his face if it wasn’t for the fury I saw swimming in his eyes. When I lifted my foot, I saw the remains of the shattered ceramic dove his mother painted for him when he was six years old, three years before she died.
It was usually on the mantle of our fireplace in its special spot but that day my father allowed my brother to take it in for show and tell. He didn’t put it back. “I’m sorry Daddy,” my brother mumbled before his eyes lowered. My father’s head shook. He looked at me “You should be giving away candy not trying to eat more,” he said. My heart crashed from his hurtful words. I knew at that moment that my father the only person in my world who never made a fat comment to me thought I was fat.
The memory faded as people from his life filled the small room. I took my spot next to my siblings and thanked the people offering condolences. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that as they were telling me they were sorry for my loss they were also thinking she’s the fat daughter.
When the night came to an end and the funeral parlor emptied. I kissed my father’s cheek and said goodbye once again.
I heard its call when I stepped outside. I stood paralyzed. Above my head on a telephone wire a dove cooed. I looked up at the bird. Its head nodded as if it was acknowledging me. It might have been nothing to someone else, but to me it was my father giving me a sign in the form of a dove. Perhaps he didn’t want that memory to occupy anymore space in my mind. I let the memory of the only hurtful word my father spoke to me during his life fly away with the bird.