Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Telling Tuesdays 12/20/11

Telling Tuesday. Reminiscent of the days in school when I used to look forward to seeing what everyone brought for Show and Tell and inspired by an article on WriteToDone.com, called "How to Show (Not Tell): A Writing Lesson from John LeCarre."

It's one of the best articles I've seen on the rule all writers know--show, don't tell--because it doesn't just tell us how not to tell, it shows us some of LeCarre's very own examples.

" . . . descriptions can set the scene, convey the inexpressible, and turn the reader into a witness, instead of remaining a mere bystander." -- Mary Jaksch, author of the article

Each week, I give a "telling" prompt, then invite you to show us, to make us a witness, not a mere bystander.

Last week I drove by my old house in Tulsa. My old home. I lived in that house for 25 years - raised my two children in it. Because it is around the corner from my parents' house, I see it each week when I go back to Tulsa to visit them. That house became a part of me, and when I left it for the last time . . . well, here's this week's telling prompt:

Her mind filled with memories as she shut the door.
Following is an excerpt from Broken Dolls. In this scene, Sachi and her family prepare to leave for the internment camp, taking with them only what they could carry. I began the scene with a haiku I wrote, based on how I felt when I left my house in Tulsa:

My house is empty
But memories will remain
Echoes in my heart.

It was almost time to go. Sachi listened to Mama’s heels tapping on the floor as she rushed around the house for a final check before they’d leave for good.
Tap, tap, tap, tap. Silence.
What did Mama think about as she walked into the kitchen? The living room? The bedrooms?
Tap, tap, tap, tap. Silence.
Sachi did her own wandering, drifting from empty room to empty room, trying to gather memories to hold. Each footstep echoed on the hardwood floor, and she too stopped walking to remember: Getting mad at Taro because he kept winning at jacks. Watching Papa build a fire in the fireplace. Even practicing her dreaded dance lessons in front of the mirror was a good memory now.
The government might be able to limit the number of suitcases they could carry, but they couldn’t make her leave her memories behind.
The hollow echoes swallowed her. She paced around her bedroom, running her hands along the pink walls. Step, step, step, step – like the heartbeat of her home. When they left, the heartbeat would stop.
Mama called from the hallway. “It is time to go.”
Time to go? Time to go? Her heart ached. She didn’t want to leave her room. Her house.
Mama called again. “Did you hear me? It’s time to go.”
Nobu peeked into her bedroom. “Come on, Sach. It’ll be okay,” he said, leading her out.
When Mama closed the door behind them, Sachi squeezed her eyes and thought of all the times she’d heard that door shut before. The fall mornings when she left for school. The evenings when Papa arrived home from work. The afternoons she returned from playing and Mama told her not to slam the door.
Mama wouldn’t have to worry anymore. She’d never slam it again.

Your turn! I can't wait to experience your character's memories of a home.


  1. I love that. Both the scene you wrote, and the challenge. I'll try to write one up today. It'll be good for me, thanks. Nita

  2. Wow. It's just too bad if you don't want to hear that your writing is so rich with emotion, so human, so real. Just too bad.

  3. Here's mine. Not sure this is what you're looking for, but it's fun to experiment.

    The click of the latch snapped like a breaking heart.

    Mama, as loving and patient as always, had stayed in her chair near the fireplace, face pale, half-knitted sweater in her hands. The tears on her lashes caught the firelight like soft prisms.

    Outside, now separated from golden lamplight, warmth of the fireplace, and fragrance of supper still in the air, the girl headed into the cold darkness of the night. She left comfort and care, and wondered when, if ever, she'd return.


  4. @devotedtoquilting - I'll look forward to your scene!

    @mgmillerbooks - You twisted my arm. Those are real compliments, coming from you. Thanks, Mike!

    @K.D. McCrite - love it! So very poignant, and I like the way you used coldness and darkenss vs. warmth and light. Very nice.

  5. OK, now that I know I did the right thing, I won't feel weird making comments.

    Your post was lovely, Jan. I knew when I read that first chapter or two of your book last year that you had a good one! Poignant and heart-wrenching. I felt the pain of the move.

  6. Beautifully written--as always. I really liked the part about Mama telling Sachi not to slam the door. It makes me wonder if Mama was thinking the same thing as she departed the house.

  7. Very good, Jan. Compelling. I've had those thoughts when leaving a house. Memories... BTW, you see your parents every week? Now, I feel guilty.

    K.D, loved yours, too. Great use of the senses. I could really visualize it.

    I can't play today. I have 16 more gifts to wrap and laundry to do, and, and...

  8. Here's mine.

    Wisps of smoke rose gracefully into the clear blue sky, carried in the arms of a gentle south breeze. Intermittent scenes from days gone by flashed through my mind like frames from an ancient movie projector. Baseball cards, sorted by team, lay scattered across the bed. The squeak of a wooden rocker as it sang “oil me, oil me, oil me,” to a sleeping baby. Potatoes hiss, crackle, and pop in the hot lard of a cast iron skillet. The aroma of fresh baked pies, cakes, and unforgettable cinnamon rolls fill the air as the percolator drums a steady rhythm, it’s little glass bulb dancing with glee.
    They’re all right there—in the smoldering remains of what once was my home.

  9. I didn’t want to come back here.
    That old saying, fought the idea tooth and nail. That about sums it up. When Dr. Adams suggested the idea, I refused. Ground my teeth until I broke a molar, gnawed my nails bloody.
    Stupid, really. You’d think I’d know by now, no matter how painful the memories, there’s no way forward but through them.
    I make it through the living room by refusing to look down into the depths of the burnt orange shag of the worn carpet. But then I stumble. It’s that damn clock that does it.
    Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.
    “Come on in, Sweetie. Your mama’s in the back yard. Hurry now. The little ole bird’s about to peek out, announce the hour just for you.”
    I run. Don’t stop until the door is slammed shut, the winter’s biting cold cleansing me of the memories inside that house.

    Okay. It's creepy. I know. Sometimes these things just rush out like bats.

  10. I always love your haiku, Jan. It amazes me how so few words can convey so much.

    The character in my wip Symbiosis can't remember home, but here is her telling:

    Home was just another partial knowing. A memory residing on the other side of the veil, out of conscious reach but close enough to tease relentlessly.

    Every time she saw a sunset where the light eased across the valley in a certain way, or when the water returned after being gone for months, gurgling happily as if to say “so and so said to tell you hello, and that she misses you”.

    These partial knowings did nothing but cause a sense of sadness. She longed to return to a home she could not remember.

  11. @clairecroxton - I think it was Mama's way of trying to maintain "normalcy." :)

    @Beth - Don't feel guilty. I'll bet my parents live closer, and they usually need help at least once a week. :) BTW - I'm doing laundry, too. And paying bills, and Christmas shopping and wrapping and . . . and . . . Maybe you can play next time. :)

    @Russell - oh no! I was enjoying the memories and then I got to the end. Very powerful!

    @Pamela - Wow. Creepy can also be poignant and powerful. Definitely a larger story in the making.

    Thanks, everyone!

  12. @Madison - That is beautiful. There is so much said in the fact that your character only remembers enough to make her sad. I love it! Glad you like my haiku - I sure enjoy writing it.

  13. ok,here I go:
    The oak door, warped with time and age, slams hard and still doesn't shut. The weeping willow tree in the front yard bows to the ground in empathy to the sagging roof and broken shutters. Strip everything--the window frames, the carpets, even the dull plywood floors. The house slumps old, rotten, condemned. An eye sore, a danger. Get rid of it. Never mind that children grew to adulthood under the protection of that roof.That laughter and love filled the now gutted rooms. That the scent of fresh baked apple pies, baby powder, and laundry washed in Tide is locked in every nook and crannie. Go ahead, bulldoze it down. It doesn't matter, for a house made of nails and wood decays and dies but the heartbeat of home lives forever.

  14. Pardon the off-topic comment, and I'm a fan of your blog, but I wonder if you subscribe to the blogger code described here:

  15. I didn't get around to writing this time. *hanging head in shame* BUT I did read all the others. Loved each and every one! Now that Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are over, I hope to be more consistent with my writing discipline.

    You ladies are great! I enjoy what you share.