Category Archives: prompts

New Latitude, Episode 3: Mouse in a Boat

If you follow “New Latitude,” my ongoing saga about moving, you were left with a cliffhanger last week. Would my mortgage application be approved? Well, the short answer is: Yes! It was!

But the long answer is: Yes … but I want to wait until I can get the COVID-19 vaccine before driving cross-country (or flying, if that’s what I decide to do) … which might be March or even later … so I don’t know yet when I can move … and I can’t even start packing yet!

I feel a little like a very small mouse in a fragile paper boat, about to set out on a wild journey without a compass, a paddle, or a companion (other than a slice of cheese). Actually, I don’t feel that way entirely, but the picture was so cute I decided to build my entire blog post around it! And in case you missed it the first time, here it is again!

Artist: Victoria Borodinova via Pixabay

In order to deal with the stormy seas of moving, I’ve discovered a few ways to stay afloat:

– music

– cooking

– TV-watching

– daily walks, and

– writing.

If you happen to be moving, remember to take a step back from all the planning and immerse yourself in something relaxing instead.

As far as writing goes, I’ve recently discovered a new Facebook group, “The Isolation Journals.” If you’re interested in writing prompts, or just want some interesting topics to ponder, you may want to join the group. It’s described as “an artist-led journaling community founded by Suleika Jaouad.” (Ms. Jaouad is a writer associated with musician Jon Batiste. I only know of her because I Googled Jon Batiste one night after watching him on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. That’s another way I maintain my sanity. Watching The Late Show, that is. Not Googling. Although that helps, too.)

I dipped my toe in The Isolation Journals a bit late (not until prompt #123, actually). Here’s that prompt:

How can your presence enhance the growth of your community?

I hastily scribbled a response and posted it to the group. I’ve already received two likes. Hey, maybe Jon Batiste will read my post!

Do you keep a journal? Have you moved or are you moving? I’d love to hear about your journey.

Happy winter solstice, everyone! And be sure to follow my blog so you won’t miss the next exciting episode of “New Latitude”!

Grandma’s Friendly Village

My grandmother Angeline was born in central Sicily, in a small village with the beautiful name “Villarosa.”

In 1910, at age 8, she emigrated from Sicily to America with her own grandmother, got married at age 16, quickly had five bambinos, and was widowed at 30. She later remarried and had a good life, but she never got to see Villarosa again.

Here she is at about age 30 (I’m guessing).

Grandma Armenia

I liked going to Grandma’s house. She always seemed cheerful, and she served us plenty of macaroni, ice cream, and raspberries, saying the word “mangia” practically as soon as we’d walked through her door. Her house was decorated with colorful starched doilies that she’d crocheted herself. I wonder if she crocheted the collar in the above photo. I have a special memory of the two of us sitting in a summer garden next to some pansies while she taught me to crochet.

Although Grandma never talked about her childhood (probably because I never asked), I’d always wondered what Villarosa was like. About a month ago, I finally got to see it for myself.

I’d signed up for a 5-day Italian language immersion program in Taormina, Sicily, mainly so I could learn about my Sicilian roots and visit Villarosa. Luckily, our group leader and two other students also were interested in seeing more of Sicily, so we rented a car on day 6 and headed for my grandmother’s home town.

Villarosa (pop. 4,824) is on the outskirts of Enna. The two cities couldn’t appear more different. Enna (left), seen from a distance, was a glittering city on a hill, while Villarosa (right) was its poor, dusty cousin. But Villarosa, as it turned out, was AMAZING.

I’d Googled “Villarosa” the day before we set out and learned a surprising fact: It’s kind of well known for its man-made lake, a popular fishing destination. And the man-made lake was the result of the building of Ferrara Dam. OMG, I thought. Grandma’s maiden name is Ferrara!

Here’s the dam, the lake, and me:

After parking in town, we looked around, hoping to find a place for lunch. Directly across from our car there was a restaurant, complete with group of Italian men deep in conversation. It looked like something out of a movie. Then I noticed the sign above the doors: F.lli Ferrara (Ferrara Bros.). And on the doors, the initials “LB.” Grandma’s maiden name, and my initials!

Men

We didn’t want to interrupt the men (OK, maybe we did feel a little intimidated) so we walked on down the block. Seeing a small, elderly man nearby, one of our group asked (in her newly-learned basic Italian) where we could eat. The man pointed down the street and rattled off directions in Italian. Then, probably realizing we didn’t capice, he escorted us all the way to tiny “Casa Mia.” It wasn’t open yet, but they welcomed us in. No one who worked in the restaurant spoke English. I ordered bruschetta and risotto (in Italian).

Suddenly, a family of about 20 people entered. It was an 80th birthday party! We smiled and nodded at them. A woman (angel?) from their group approached our table and asked (in English!) what had brought us to Villarosa.

“My grandma’s from Villarosa,” I said. “I was hoping I might find some family here.”

I’m an interpreter!” she said, handing me her business card. “I can help you.”

After I provided my Grandma’s name, and what I was pretty sure were Grandma’s parents’ names, she made a few phone calls, and within an hour I was sitting across the table from Gaetano Ferrara, owner of the Ferrara Bros. restaurant that we’d seen before lunch. His grandfather and my great-grandfather shared the same first and last names. It’s possible we’re cousins.

Gaetano spoke no English, but, with the help of the interpreter, I was able to ascertain that his brother, Pietro, owned a gelato/cannoli shop in town, and would be there at his shop to meet us! Mamma mia! It doesn’t get much better than that. But then it did. On our way out of the restaurant, the owner treated us all to shots of grappa and limoncello, on the house.

When I learned that the limoncello was homemade, I asked if they’d be willing to share the recipe … and they did. And yes, that alcohol is 90-proof.

The hospitality didn’t end there. When we got to Pietro’s store, we were all treated to free gelato and cannoli. Here I am with Pietro Ferrara, another possible member of my family tree.

Connolo Cousin

After returning home, I discovered that Ferrara is a common name in that part of the world, so I’m not sure if Gaetano and Pietro are my cousins, but it doesn’t matter. It was an amazing trip, one I’ll never forget. I’m so happy to know that my roots include such a warm and welcoming town. And I’m still in touch with that lovely interpreter, who has offered to translate a letter for me so I can get in touch with the folks at the Villarosa town hall to learn more about my relatives.

For now, ciao until next time!

P.S. This is my first post for the 30-day November blogging challenge known as NanoPoblano2019. Our challenge is to write for 10 days, read others’ posts for 10 days, and share our posts on other blog sites for 10 days.

Please click this NanoPoblano2019 link and read some of the wonderful posts from other members of our little writing group.

nanopoblano2019 Badge

 

 

Diversity Song

Yesterday, I walked to a little park near my apartment. It was a beautiful day. People of all ages, shapes, and sizes were out walking and riding bikes. A gray-haired woman sat on a bench in the sun next to a young woman with Down syndrome. A bald man on a recumbent bike sat quietly next to a statue, a memorial to children in the community who have died. Children played on a rainbow-colored slide. I noticed that it was also a rainbow-colored variety of children; their hair was black, brown, and yellow. It got me thinking about America.

It’s hard NOT to think about America these days (especially if, like me, you happen to be an American). We’re in the news every day, and most of it’s downright embarrassing. But at the park, I started thinking about what I believe truly makes America great. To me, it’s our diversity.

Maybe this Thanksgiving, Americans should make more of an effort to give thanks for our diversity. And maybe we should celebrate it this Fourth of July, too.

Tonight, I’ve written some lyrics about diversity in America. You might want to sing them to the tune of “America the Beautiful” while sitting down for your Thanksgiving dinner this year.

DIVERSITY

Oh beautiful for this our home
For mountains, rivers, trees
For buffalo so plentiful
Fish swimming in the seas
For Native people living here
Respectful of the land
The beans and corn and squash adorned
That perfect feast so grand

Oh brave the many immigrants
Who faced the ocean storms
With hopes of finding better lives
Wishing to be transformed
And braver still the stolen ones
Robbed of their liberty
Our country’s been a melting pot
Though not completely free.

We stand for nothing if not this:
We are diversity
A land of many colors proud
That is our legacy
America, America
Our strength: our many shades
A garden where all flowers grow
Where every grain can wave!

© Lori Bonati

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Mice in the Moonlight

My NanoPoblano2018 post for today is a poem I wrote in response to a prompt by Jessie Stevens. On her blog site, Behind the Willows, Jessie posted a  picture prompt, a photo she took of a red gate latch, complete with a few mouse droppings. She said we could use the photo as a prompt to generate our own writing ideas, and I did. I’ve copied and pasted her picture prompt below, with her permission:

img_7595-2sm

So now, here’s my poem, with apologies to poet William Carlos Williams. (Be sure to read his famous poem, The Red Wheelbarrow.)

THE RED GATE LATCH

So much depends
upon

a bright red
gate latch

decorated with mouse
droppings

beside the
tall trees

for instance:

if it had been blue
or even green

would the mice have
picnicked there?

and if it had been
v
e
r
t
i
c
a
l

instead of F  L  A  T

where would they have put
their cheese?

and what about the
mouse music?

where would they have
sung their squeaky songs

and danced all night
to mini-violins

if not upon the flat red
dance floor?

where would they have
spun their partners?

twirled their tails?
and twitched their whiskers?

I like to think they
used the gate latch

as a stage, their
little crescent ears

casting furry shadows
on the bears and foxes

who watched them in
the moonlight.

 

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A Pepper and a Carrot Walked into a Bar

I’m excited today because I’ve only got TWO things on my to-do list. One has to do with a pepper. The other has to do with a carrot.

To Do List

  1. Write a blog post for Day 1 of NanoPoblano 2018
  2. Write the final revision of “Mudslide” for Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Today I’ll be able to check off both items on my list with this ONE blog post! And then I can immediately go back to sleeping adding more things to my to-do list.

About NanoPoblano

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to NanoPoblano (a daily blogging challenge that takes place every year in November), and I’ve decided that the key to a good month-long blog challenge is to write about something the READERS care about. I’m really looking forward to doing that.

So, in the comments below, please leave a word or two about what you’d like to read in my November blog posts. I’ll do my best to work all of your suggestions in.

About Mudslide

Mudslide is a story I’ve been working on for Carrot Ranch Literary Community.  It’s a writing challenge designed to torture inspire, educate, and motivate writers.

The Mudslide challenge began with a 297-word story about a mudslide, which then gets pared down — first to 99 words, then 59, and then an unbelievable 9 words, while experimenting with writing techniques such as changing point of view, analyzing important “nuggets,” and interjecting words of emotion.

If you’re interested, you can read those earlier versions by looking at my previous blog posts. Or, you can just read my final challenge below, a 495-word story about a mudslide, cascading all the way to the end of this page.

MUDSLIDE

I sat bolt upright and stared at the bright red numbers on the alarm clock. They stared back at me accusingly, unblinking. Two-fifteen. What had awoken me?

Slowly, it dawned on me. I’d just had that dream again, the one about the mudslide.

I’d had it four nights in a row, ever since moving in with Jake – the man I’d promised to spend the rest of my life with. I knew I should tell my shrink about the dreams, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what she’d have to say about them – especially if I told her the whole story.

I looked over at Jake, snoring softly beside me. I touched his shoulder; he didn’t move. What – or who – was he dreaming about, I wondered? But I needed to stop thinking like that. Who was I to be jealous? I lay down and tried falling back to sleep, but I was still haunted by images of the mudslide in my dream.

It was strong – a torrent of devastating mud, carrying everything in its path down with it into an infinite abyss. There was no escape.

What did it mean? Was it some kind of a warning? Did I have to start watching my back – again?

I was lying still, but I felt uncontrollably dizzy. Unable to stop my swirling thoughts, I got out of bed, tiptoed from the room, and pulled my phone from my purse. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to try an internet search of dream interpretation.

I’d just Googled the words “mudslide dream” when Jake startled me, coming up behind me without a sound and kissing my neck. I jumped and dropped the phone.

It started buzzing as soon as it hit the floor. I quickly reached to pick it up, but Jake beat me to it. He stared at it a second and then held it out so I could see the screen. Caller ID said “SLIM DUDE.”

The phone continued to buzz in Jake’s hand. Finally, it stopped.

“Who’s ‘Slim Dude’?” Jake asked, not expecting what I said next.

“My husband,” I said, feeling ashamed.

“You have a … HUSBAND?!” Jake said. He’d started out whispering, but his words were choked at the end.

My mouth went dry and I couldn’t answer. Instead, I saw a vision, flashing like a neon sign in my brain. It was my husband’s nickname, the one he’d gotten in prison, the eight letters in SLIM DUDE tattooed on his fingers.

I knew then that SLIM DUDE would never stop calling me, never stop haunting my dreams. SLIM DUDE wouldn’t rest until he’d found a way to worm his way into my head again, scrambling up my happiness, and converting my life into a MUDSLIDE of despair.

And now the worst had happened. Jake knew the truth. I took one last look at him and said goodbye forever to my happy life, giving in to the power of the mudslide.

nanopoblano2018-notrim#NanoPoblano2018
#NaBloPoMo2018
#teamtinypeppers

A Nine-Word Story

What’s the shortest story you’ve ever read?

This week’s challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community was a doozy. I needed to shave my shrinking story, Mudslide, down to 9 words! (It’s already gone from 297 to 99 to 59.) Not only that, but I was required to write an emotion into the story.

A 9-word emotional story? “Nein!” I insisted furiously. But since I don’t speak German, I ignored my outrage and took up the challenge, using the following 9-step program:

  1. I told myself I could do it. (Critical step!)
  2. I made a first draft and thought I was done:

SLIMDUDE’s call had turned Rachel’s life into a MUDSLIDE.

  1. I re-read the rules and smacked myself in the forehead. “You forgot!” I scolded myself. “The challenge was to write two stories, and they each need to include an emotion!”
  2. I then wrote this version (emotion shown in brackets):

SLIMDUDE’s call turned Rachel’s life into a disappointing MUDSLIDE. [disappointed]

       I could see now that, by comparison, my first emotionless version was pretty boring.

  1. I rewrote the sentence using a second emotion:

SLIMDUDE’s call pushed Rachel’s life down a disgusting MUDSLIDE. [disgusted]

       I couldn’t stop there.

  1. I changed it again:

SLIMDUDE’s devastating call swept Rachel away in a MUDSLIDE. [devastated]

  1. I tried making it even more emotional:

SLIMDUDE’s haunting call hurled Rachel down an infinite MUDSLIDE. [terrorized]

  1. Then, just for fun, I rearranged the structure and ended up with:

Rachel was shocked by SLIMDUDE’s call. Welcome to MUDSLIDE! [shocked]

  1. I took 9 minutes to reflect on how many different ways there are to write a 9-word story, and how important emotion is in writing.

I wonder if anyone’s ever written a 9-word novel. Just think of the trees that could have been saved by editing War and Peace down to these 9 words:

“War: What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Peace.”

 

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The Phantom

This week, Colleen Chesebro‘s challenge was to write a poem in one of the formats she lists (haiku, senryu, haibun, etheree, etc.). It was time for me to try a haibun, which is a titled piece written in first person singular, present tense, minimal words, which combines prose and poetry. (To learn more about haibun, see the link to Colleen’s site above.) Also, this week’s writing had to include synonyms for the words “ghost” and “hollow.” I chose the words “phantom” and “empty.”

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

The Phantom

Something’s rattling around downstairs. I can hear it from up here. I creep silently along the long, dark, empty hallway toward the open window. I’ll squeeze through it and onto the roof, drop to the ground, and run away. There’s no other way. I’m sweating as I reach the window. I feel a gust of wind behind me. I turn and see a phantom grinning in the shadows, as it moves swiftly toward me.

full moon
howling wind
shadows pointed
like batons
frenzied rhythm
then a hush
time’s up

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

 

 

 

 

 

The Incredible Shrinking Story

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’m involved in a writing challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. Part I was to write a 297-word story about a mudslide. Part II was to edit it down to two 99-word versions, each with its own POV. Part III (this week’s challenge) is to choose one of the two 99-word versions, reduce it to 59 words, and include a “nugget” from the other version.

But my two Part II versions were virtually identical — except for the pronouns! There wasn’t a unique nugget to be found! The lesson I learned from attempting Part III is that two different POVs are going to react differently to the same situation on an emotional, sensual, and rational level. When I wrote the two versions, it would have been more interesting to get inside of each “mindset” to truly experience the POV.

And now, a confession. In order to complete the Part III challenge, I cheated, going back to my 257-word Part I version, stealing a nugget, and hauling it into Part III. I think cheating is allowed here. If not, my next installment will be sent from the principal’s office.

Part III Version, 59 words (nugget in bold):

Two-fifteen. Four nights of mudslide dreams since becoming Jake’s live-in. A warning? Jake slept. Rising, I phone-googled “mudslide dream.” Jake, awake, kissed my neck. Startled, I dropped my buzzing phone, which Jake retrieved. It said, “SLIMDUDE.” “Who?” “My husband.” “Husband?!” I pondered my ex’s prison nickname. He’d always haunt my dreams, scrambling the MUDSLIDE my life had just become.

My life had just become” was the nugget I selected from Part I, because prior to the dreaded phone call, Rachel’s life was hanging on by a thread. It is now going downhill fast. This nugget of insight from the omniscient third person POV is now being keenly felt by the first person POV of Rachel.

Thank you, Charli (at Carrot Ranch) for the lesson!

Stay tuned for Part IV, in which the story will be reduced to just NINE WORDS!

 

 

 

The Mudslide Continues

If you read my recent post, Mudslide, you’ll know that it was only Part I of a literary challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. Part II of the challenge is to reduce our original 297-word flash fiction story to 99 words. Not only that, but we have to write two versions, one in the original POV (point of view) and the other in a different POV.

I’d never done anything like this before. Cutting out 2/3 of my words taught me an important lesson: I use a lot of unnecessary words! Wait, let me rephrase that: I waste words!

But the even more important thing I learned was that POV matters, and of the following two versions, I have a favorite. Which do you prefer?

Third Person POV, 99 words:

Rachel sat upright. It was 2:15. She’d had that mudslide dream four consecutive nights since living with Jake.

She touched him; he slept. All she could do was consider her dream. Was it a warning? She rose and Googled “mudslide dream” with her phone.

Jake, up now, kissed her neck. Startled, she dropped the phone. Jake grabbed it; it buzzed. The caller’s ID: “SLIMDUDE.”

“Who’s ‘Slim Dude’?” he asked.

“My husband,” Rachel answered.

“Husband?!” Jake sputtered.

No reply. Rachel pondered that prison nickname, his tattoo. He‘d never stop calling.

He’d always haunt her dreams, scrambling up her MUDSLIDE life.


First Person POV: 99 words:

I sat upright. It was 2:15. I’d had that mudslide dream four consecutive nights since living with Jake.

I touched him; he slept. All I could do was consider my dream. Was it a warning? I rose and Googled “mudslide dream” with my phone.

Jake, up now, kissed my neck. Startled, I dropped the phone. Jake grabbed it; it buzzed. The caller’s ID: “SLIMDUDE.”

“Who’s ‘Slim Dude’?” he asked.

“My husband,” I answered.

“Husband?!” Jake sputtered.

I couldn’t respond. I pondered that prison nickname, his tattoo. He‘d never stop calling.

He’d always haunt my dreams, scrambling my MUDSLIDE life.


In my opinion, first person makes the story much more immediate and threatening. Jake startles me, I drop the phone, I’m terrified of SLIMDUDE haunting me forever. Yeah. Looking forward to the next challenge. Or should I simply say: Excited!