My first day in seventh grade, I learned I had Mr. ‘Dandruff’ Dan Hayden for second-period French and fourth-period English. Not good news—seeing as I was about as fluent in one language as the other and I couldn’t speak a sel lick worth of French. And, according to scuttlebutt, old Dandruff Dan wasn’t the understanding sort in any dialect.
During second period that day, I learned about my tante’s plume (aunt’s feather).
Okay. Maybe I could learn Francaise after all. But in fourth period I learned English wasn’t going to be such a walk in the parc.
We were barely fidgeting in our seats when Dandruff scanned us from over his Racing Form, sighed, shook his head, said, “Write a story about a door knob.” Then he went back to choosing losers. Heck, if he could choose winners, what the spittoon would he be doing at Roosevelt Junior High?
Story? Doorknob? Sixty-four eyes bulged and thirty-two twelve-year-old fly traps gaped open.
Without even looking up, Hayden said, “Times a-wastin’, maggots. Drop your papers up here when you’re done. We’ll discuss them tomorrow . . . when I’m good and hung-over.”
The next day, in second period, I learned French tantes write with feathers. Imagine that.
In fourth period, I learned I could write with a pen. Friggin’ imagine that.
The sound of the bell was still echoing down the long corridor when Dandruff said, “Which one of you maggots is Hill?”
Frig. I raised my hand about shoulder high, but tried to hide behind the fat kid in front of me.
Dandruff still found me. He stood and waved a paper.
“You write this, Shakespeare?”
My brain shifted into auto-defense.
“No. Yes. I dunno.” All of the above?
Dandruff walked toward me, very slowly.
“It’s got your name on it.”
I willed myself to vomit, but only managed to burp. The class erupted into laughter.
He ignored the commotion.
“The assignment was to write about a doorknob, right, Hill?”
I actually hiccupped. More laughter.
“I did it,” I pleaded.
He stopped in front of my desk. Dropped the paper on it. A sloppy red ‘A’ sprawled across the top.
“Yes, you did. But you also wrote about a counterfeiter cowering in his basement. You may not be as stupid as you look, Hill.” He turned and walked back toward his desk. “But I can’t say the same for the rest of you maggots.”
That was my introduction to writing prompts. And the beginning of a love affair with writing.
If you write, you’re familiar with prompts. Some maggots consider prompts a plebeian exercise. I, on the other hand, love them. The simple ones. Not the clever prompts that build a box, or telegraph a preferred genre. The best prompts, my friends, are those that provide an unfettered springboard for the imagination. The prompts that suggest something to work with, but give you nothing to work against.
Like . . . a doorknob suggests something on one side, something else on the other, but leaves everything else up to you. Hell, the knob doesn’t even have to be attached to a door, does it?
Or, a paper cup, which suggests nothing but impermanence. If I asked fifty real writers to pen a story based solely on a paper cup, I’d wind up fifty completely different stories, covering a wide range of genres.
What about something so universal as . . . breakfast? Are you up for The Breakfast Challenge?
N.K. Wagner has agreed to indulge me in this simple challenge. Send your 500 word (or less) Breakfast Challenge story here to Page & Spine by midnight EST, February 28, 2014. I will take my sweet time reviewing, but eventually I’ll declare a winner, at which time the story will be published here at normal P&S rates plus 5 bucks I generously kick in because, what the hell. Beyond that, N.K. Wagner and Page & Spine disavow all knowledge of my existence.
Lee's serious about this, writers. Send your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org subject line: Breakfast Challenge before 12:01 a.m. EST March 1, 2014. - N.K. Wagner
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