I love reading Sol Stein’s “How to Grow a Novel”. I’ve been reading it for quite some time. It’s one of those books you pick up, read a few pages (sometimes even just a few paragraphs) then make a mad dash for your keyboard. It’s like diving into a literary Sudoku! Last time I read this book, I determined to spend a minimum of one day per month “observing”. I even had all sorts of idea-stimulating places I wanted to go–the mall, a coffee shop, the city market, a park. Anywhere where my mind, and thus my pen, could be stimulated with original sights, sounds, eccentricities (like that odd man with rubber-band lips eating that overly-ripe banana while driving down the freeway. Seriously, have you ever watched people eat? Giggle, giggle.) And yet, for the most part I’ve remained inside my nice little air-conditioned (for the most part) house, hidden behind a computer screen relying on istock photo and Google Earth to navigate the world.

But now that my novel is done (minus a little fine-tuning here and there), I’ve decided to spend a little time playing with words before jumping on to my next one. I thought it would be even more fun if you all would like to join me. Obviously, we can’t take a sensory field trip via cyberspace (okay, so maybe we can, but I’m really not in the mood to argue. Just go with me on this one.) But I thought that perhaps by posting a unique or intriguing photo once in a while it might stimulate some great brainstorming sessions. Wanna join me? I’d love to hear your ideas, thoughts or creative tellings of this photo. I’ll add a few prompts, and maybe some ideas of my own and you can either post yours in the comments or email them to me and I’ll publish them as a separate post. My email address is slattery07@yahoo.com. Please make sure to put “creative writing” in the subject heading, otherwise you’ll be sent to my trash pile. 🙂

Here’s the photo:

Here are some questions and thoughts to get you started:

1. Notice details. What type of clothes are these people wearing and why?

2. There is a dark spot on the child’s arm. Is that a bruise or a splotch of dirt? Why?

3. How old is this woman?

4. The children are clinging to her, and yet her face is angled forward, one hand is under her chin and the other appears to be in her lap. What might this say about her?

4. Where are they? What has led to this moment?

5. Is it morning, evening or night?

6. Based on the clothing and the tarp over the woman’s legs, it appears to be cold out, and yet, their hair is still so there doesn’t appear to be any wind. Are they inside or out?

7. What is the woman looking at?

It was bitterly cold, despite the steady stream of sunshine poking through the holes in the tarped roof. Mary Lou’s jaws ached as she fought to keep her teeth from chattering. For the children’s sake. Raylon’s breath was warm and moist against her neck, and for that she was glad. And yet, the very thought of taking comfort in the huddled breath of her child brought enormous guilt.

Angry voices seeped through the canvas walls of their make-shift home–men fighting, women yelling, hungry children crying out to their mothers–reminding her of how precarious her situation really was. True, they didn’t have food inside their thread-bare shelter, and the warmth of the many fires lit through out the camp failed to penetrate the icy air within, but at least here, they were safe. For now. And yet, one glance at young Ida’s cracked and flaky lips told her she’d have to venture out soon enough, and make her way past the hateful men with hungry eyes and grabbing women ready to claw a child’s eyes out for the tiniest crumb of bread. Waiting for nightfall wouldn’t help, for that was when the men gathered around the fires with home-made liquor flooding their foul-breathed mouths. She’d heard they had a still somewhere full of fermenting potatoes. One of these nights, or early mornings, she would find where it was,  and grab a few spuds for her girls. They said only the rotten ones were used, but what did she care. Rotten or no, it would fill her girls’ bellies. Maybe even give them the strength to make it through the winter. Yes, that was all that was needed–something to help them survive this bitter season. Once spring came and her husband returned everything would be made right again. Wouldn’t it?

Okay, now your turn. 🙂 Wanna give a little background on the people in this photo or maybe write a sample paragraph or two? Just for fun?