Writing From Real Life Experiences

As promised, I’ll share with you the inspiration for another picture book I am writing. This one is a nonfiction animal rescue story.

Growing up in the country meant living in a place where wildlife lived both outside and inside the house. I had, and still have, the uncanny ability to know when an insect is near. It’s like having a built-in radar I wish I could disable.

I recall a hot summer night (frankly all summer nights were hot at my mid-west house. My parents never saw the need to install an air conditioner when a cross breeze through open windows offered relief for free.) I digress… I was about eight at the time, and in addition to my insect radar, I also had (and still have) the ability to hear coffee being picked across the world—OK, not quite. But I heard a sound much like a troop of ants invading a picnic. I flipped on the light and let out a neighbor-waking scream. My mother came running. Upon seeing an uninvited millipede sharing my pillow, she proceeded to calmly get the vacuum cleaner from the hall closet and suck up the little bugger. “You live in nature,” she said, plugging the hose with a wad of tissues. Like that was supposed to bring me a calm, restful night. From that point on it seemed nature found a clear path into our home.

Yes, we had the rare, but common mouse sightings, but we also had a praying mantis infestation when my mother brought an ‘interesting’ cocoon into our house. “Isn’t it fascinating?” she said. A month later when thousands of babies hatched, she sang a different tune. Then a ladybug convention darkened our windows by their sheer numbers. ladybugsIn addition to the insects, we gave shelter and care to a variety of furry critters the cat dragged home within an inch of their lives.

But the animal which left the largest print on my heart was an injured mallard we found a mile from our home. Seeing the bloody, broken duck, my mother supposed it was attacked by a raccoon or coyote. It appeared clear the duck wouldn’t last the night, but being me… I cried. I cried for the pain the duck must have been experiencing. I cried for the fear the duck must have felt during the attack. I cried for the experiences the duck would not enjoy after her life was cut short. And my mother did exactly what I needed her to do. She brought the mallard to a wildlife rehabilitation center.

My hopes crashed when we were turned away because they had no space to care for one more animal.

We took the duck to the vet. My hopes crashed again when the vet didn’t give the duck a hope in the world of surviving. And again, my mother did exactly what I needed her to do. She brought the duck home. And what happened over the next four months touched me deeply—changed me. What happened next is what my nonfiction picture book is about. With hopes, after sending my manuscript out into the world of agents, I’ll gain the interest of one who will feel my story needs to be shared.  

As always, it’s hard to write with one’s fingers crossed.

All the best.

“Hiccup For Me.” The inspiration behind a story.

 

Most of the children’s stories I write, although fiction, come from a childhood memory or develop from some random remark my daughter makes. However, one of my favorite stories came about when our dog got a near-clinical case of hiccups.

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

Hiccups…. I pondered over a cup of minty tea. A dog with hiccups! That could be embarrassing. Hmmm… Do I know what it’s like to get the hiccups at an inopportune time? YES! My mind zipped back to my 6th grade history class. 6th grade—an awkward enough time in a kid’s life, but paired with Mr. McNab, my history teacher, 6th grade was intolerable. You see, Mr. McNab LOVED when a student in his class hiccupped.

He’d be droning on and on about the details of the Boston Tea Party when from some remote corner of the universe that was our classroom…

HICCUP!

Pausing his lecture to place his piece of chalk on the wood ledge, Mr. McNab rotated like a lighthouse beacon and faced his students. His eyes deliberately panned the rows, searching and waiting for the perpetrator to reveal him or herself. Ears cocked and alert, he waited.

HICCUP!

With the keen moves of a hawk, Mr. McNab sought out his prey.  Swooping in on his helpless victim, his large hands securely gripped the sides of the defenseless kid’s desk. Lowering his head to achieve direct eye contact, he demanded, “Hiccup for me.” Keeping his eyes locked on the poor kid’s quivering face, he waited for another hiccup.

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

“Come on…hiccup for me.”

Damn if that didn’t work every time! Pure humiliation is an awesome cure for hiccups. When the kid (whose name I’ll not reveal…) couldn’t hiccup, Mr. McNab resumed class with a smirk on his face as if he knew he’d won.

So, having that personal memory to fall back on, (woops…did I say personal?)  I had what I needed to write a fictional story about a dog who got the hiccups. Sink the hairy fellow in a totally embarrassing situation, and voila! I am sooooo ready to write.

Sometimes the most embarrassing moments in our childhood make for the funniest stories.

More of the stories that inspire my stories to come!

Let’s Go To Italy for Our Writing Warm-Up! – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-APhotographs make great jump-off places for story inspirations and writer warm-ups.  

Pour yourself a cappuccino and let’s get started!

Venice panoramaYour setting is Venice, Italy. Your main character could be a native Italian, an American traveling through Venice on business, or a young girl visiting her aunt for the first time. What if your main character is one of the many cats loitering between the buildings in this marvelous city, quietly aware of everything? Perhaps the water taxis are nowhere to be seen and the only mode of transportation is by gondola. Many options await you! The gondolier could misunderstand the address you give him and take you someplace else: a street fair, a cathedral, a museum, a bookbinding shop… The previous passenger could step out of the gondola in a hurry and leave a package, letter, or list behind. The gondolier could be a spy. He could also be related to one of your cousins. He could know the aunt your main character is visiting. Where will this photograph take you?

Another view of Venice.  

Two gondolas parked side by side.

Your main character observed the two gondoliers exchanging more than conversation.

Venice verticalThen the two men crossed the bridge and disappeared.

What lies beneath each canvas cover?

Where are the gondoliers?

For that matter, where have the Italians and tourists disappeared to?

A stillness has fallen over the city.

Where are the birds?

The shops are empty.

Windows are dark.

curtains are drawn.

Gelato stands are abandoned.

Or perhaps on a less gloomy note, it is early in the morning, the city is waking up, and the first day of your vacation awaits you.

As always, I wish you happy writing!

Leslie

Over 100 Ways To Awaken Your Childhood Memories – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-A

 

Tapping into childhood memories is an exercise, activity, and skill many writers turn to when generating a fresh story idea. However, after leaving childhood in the dust, the process of digging through the debris for a story-worthy gem is daunting.

How can we wake up our memories?

Sometimes a smell, a place, an event, holiday, or word can bring back a memory. Let’s try it and see what happens. For each word on the list that awakens a memory, write a sentence or two. Include such things as your age at the time of the memory, where you were, who you were with, what you recall seeing, and what you recall feeling emotionally.

Scents: Lavender, cinnamon, lemons or other citrus, pine, wet dog, fresh-cut wood, mowed lawn, chocolate, perfume, new car smell, peppermint, crayons, machine shop, roses, smoke, mildew, incense, popcorn, rain, people have smells, too – Is there someone from your childhood that comes to mind from a particular scent?

Places: Farm, city, train station, airport, grocery store, hardware store, camp, department store, shoe store, movie theater, relative’s house, friend’s house or backyard, garage sale, car ride, farthest place you traveled on vacation.

Holidays and events: Best Christmas because of: present you received, relative that visited, Santa encounter, new outfit, etc…), worst holiday gift you ever received, Valentine that surprised you, the first birthday party you can remember (What made it memorable? Who attended? Where was the party? What gifts did you receive?), sporting event you attended (Who took you? Did your favorite team win? Was the experience better than you expected?), recital, school play, county fair, contest, Halloween, school field trip…

Random words:  Can you think of a memory involving any of these? An alarm clock, dresser, back door, basement, attic, doughnuts, bacon, party, new outfit, new shoes, hand-me-downs, present, pet, insects, gardening, hamburger, rainbow, storm, wish, restaurant, stranger, zoo, peaches, carnival, circus, farm animals, lamp, museum, backpack, picnic, hiccups, sneeze, playground, stuffed animal, broken toy, broken bone, rain, stray animal, dentist, snow, first pet, photograph.

How about jogging your memory with some questions? Remember to make note of the place the memory occurred, who you were with, your emotions at the time, and any other details that crawl back. 

What is your earliest memory of trying a new activity like a game in gym class, a music lesson, flying a kite, swinging…

Who is the first friend you ever had? How did you two meet? Why did you like being friends?

Who was your favorite teacher? Why does this teacher stand out in your memory? What made this teacher the best?

Who sent you your very first letter? Do you remember how you felt receiving mail? Did you write back by yourself or with the help of a parent?

Did you have a pen pal? How did you get this pen pal? Where did he/she live? What kinds of things did you write to each other about?

What is your earliest happy memory? Feel free to list as many happy memories as you can. Were they happy memories because they made you feel good about your accomplishment(s), made you feel grownup, or made you feel listened to? Is the memory happy because you went someplace you always dreamed of? Or is it a happy memory because you received a great surprise or present you always wanted?

What is your earliest sad memory? Feel free to list other sad memories. Was the memory sad because the incident made you feel ashamed of yourself, sad because you lost something or someone, sad because you didn’t do well in school at an event or on a test, sad because a friend didn’t want to be your friend anymore?

Were you ever jealous of another child at school? What made you jealous?

What did you cherish as a child? (a person, a place, your privacy, time spent with a parent, walks, trips to favorite places, a doll or toy…)

What is your strongest childhood memory? What brings this memory back to you?

Did you ever leave something behind on a trip that caused you emotional stress? (a toy, book, a piece of clothing, etc…)

Did anyone ever surprise you with a great kindness?

What did you like to collect?

What was your favorite meal that your mom or relative made?

Describe your childhood bedroom. Did you have a desk? What did you keep in it? What could you see from your window? What toys did you keep on your bed? What books were your favorites and why?

Could you draw a floor plan of the house you grew up in? List as many things as you can remember being in each room. List as many activities or memories you have from each room. Which room(s) were your least favorites? Which rooms were your favorites?

I hope the words and questions unlock good memories for you. And if you are a writer, I hope those memories make their way into your stories.

Happy writing!