A note from Emma
Today, I would like to talk about Nora Heiskell's quietly beautiful and incredibly moving novella, Get Myself a Rocking Chair, which we published in full in our July/August issue. There is so much I love about her novella—from the way she draws inspiration from Norman Blake's evocative song "Church Street Blues" to her transparent, careful sentences and perfectly paced plot.
But what I would like to talk about today is the way Nora has built her characters and their world. Both are so rich and full that as I read, I became convinced that the characters continued to live their lives, and the sun continued to rise and set in their world, even "off stage" (or rather, off-page). It's that feeling you get when you finish a great TV show or novel—that the characters are still out there and you are simply not getting the privilege of peeking in on their lives anymore. Whenever I have that feeling, I know a world and its people have been carefully, convincingly created.
This week, I would like you to carefully read or reread Nora's novella. As you do, think about this question of the characters and their world: what makes them so convincing? For me, it's largely a combination of the small, specific details she includes, the unique language each character uses—they all talk in distinct ways—and the way we learn about them through their interactions, rather than through exposition or summary. What makes them real for you? You might also think about one of your favorite novels or shows. What brings the world to life?
Finally, I would like you to invent a world and a set of at least three characters in it. Write up descriptions of the place and the people. Be as specific as possible. Then, write a short piece set in that world. Let all the details you invented surface, but don't force them into the story! See how having this background knowledge (rather than inventing as you go) adds depth to your writing.
If you read our submissions FAQ carefully, you will notice that we do not accept novella or book-length submissions during the year. Nora submitted Rocking Chair to our book contest, and we loved it so much, we asked her if we could publish it in the magazine. This could be you! Our book contest is ending soon, and we can't wait to read your work. And remember, we consider all submissions for potential publication.
Until next week,
Book Contest 2021
To submit your manuscript, please visit our submittable site.
Congratulations to our most recent Flash Contest winners!
Our July Flash Contest was based on Creativity Prompt #160—provided by Jane Levi, Stone Soup Director—which challenged participants to choose one proverb from a list of five ( “A stitch in time saves nine,” “The early bird catches the worm," “A problem shared is a problem halved,” “A leopard cannot change its spots,” and “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”), and write a story in which the opposite was true. As we have come to expect from our brilliant participants, the individuality, creativity, and outright quality of the work was breathtaking. Stories ranged from humorous to serious to heartbreaking, taking us on journeys to the animal kingdom, the times of Greek myth, a college campus, and much, much more! In fact, the breadth of quality apparent in this month's submissions was so great that we selected two stories—"The Early Bird May Catch the Worm, but it Is Never Too Late to Get in the Game" by Phoenix Crucillo and "A Vacation, an Idiom, and a Wedding" by Joyce Hong—to be published on the blog at a forthcoming date. As always, thank you to all who submitted, and please submit again next month!
In particular, we congratulate our Winners and Honorable Mentions, listed below. You can read the winning entries for this contest (and previous ones) at the Stone Soup website.
"Mortal Complex" by Arishka Jha, 12 (Redwood City, CA)
"The Early Bird Doesn't Get the Worm" by Nova Macknik-Conde, 9 (Brooklyn, NY)
"Absence Makes the Heart Grow Bitter" by Pranjoli Sadhukha, 11 (Newark, OH)
"A Trifle Shared Is... Big Trouble" by Daniel Shorten, 10 (Mallow, ROI)
"Weighing Threads" by Eliya Wee, 11 (Menlo Park, CA)
"Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder—or Not!" by Sinan Li, 11 (Allendale, NJ)
"All for a Root Beer Latte" by Yutia Li, 12 (Houston, TX)
"In Which Later Is Better" by Serena Lin, 10 (Scarsdale, NY)
"How the Leopard Changed His Spots (with Apologies to Rudyard Kipling) by Ava Shorten, 11 (Mallow, ROI)
"7 Days" by Chloe Yang, 12 (Cranbury, NJ)
Chosen for the Stone Soup Blog
"The Early Bird May Catch the Worm, but it Is Never Too Late to Get in the Game" by Phoenix Crucillo, 12 (Los Angeles, CA)
"A Vacation, an Idiom, and a Wedding" by Joyce Hong, 11 (Oakville, Ontario, CA)
Highlights from the past week online
Don't miss the latest content from our Book Reviewers and Young Bloggers at Stonesoup.com!
Margaret, 13, reviewed the 1973 memoir Farewell to Manzanar, written by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston about Jeanne's experiences in the Japanese internment camps during WWII.
Ismini Vasiloglou, our newest regular blogger, wrote an inspirational personal narrative "Reflecting on a Fault."
Calling all 9-14-year-olds to Virtual Summer Camp!
It's not too late to join our summer classes with Young Inklings–we have a few spaces left in all our July classes. Each interactive writing camp runs for two hours per day, Monday through Thursday, with plenty of prompts and activities for you to take away and use outside class, too. Have fun writing and learning with us this month!
July 19-22 (Starting this Monday!) - practice creative Food Writing with Jane
July 26-29 - learn from two generations who have started journals before in Start Your Own Literary Journal - with Stone Soup '20—21 intern Anya & Jane
July 26-29 - get a new perspective on Creative Writing Through Art with Jiang
By Nora Heiskell, 12 (Philadelphia, PA)
Lord I been hangin’ out of town in that low-down rain
Watchin’ good-time Charlie, friend, is drivin’ me insane
Down on shady Charlotte Street, the green lights look red
Wish I was back home on the farm, in my feather bed
The soft music of the guitar floated through the still air. Smoke from a chimney could be seen above the rooftops of town.
Peter McCumber was an odd man. He spoke to no one, but he sang and played his guitar as if he was all alone in his own world. Nobody could remember the last time Peter McCumber had gone to church, let alone to visit somebody. The townspeople all kept their distance, as if he were ill or crazy or something. My father was the only person that would speak to him.
I was interested in the old man; there were not many elderly people in Emerald Hills, where we lived. The only other one was Mrs. Gaffney, the milliner. But, like everyone else, I kept my distance.
Our town, Emerald Hills, consisted of two neighborhoods. I lived at the very edge of the smaller neighborhood, closer to the part of town where all the shops were. My house was a tiny one-story cottage with whitewashed boards and sky-blue trim around the windows. I lived with my father and our cook, Helen. My mother died when I was only four, and I hardly remembered her. Helen came shortly after Mother died, and she had raised me for most of my life.
I opened the kitchen door, and a wave of delicious scents hit me. Helen hardly ever made anything hot in the summertime, but today was Friday, and Grandmother was coming. Helen had cooked a whole chicken and made mashed potatoes, which were a special treat. She had roasted carrots and for dessert there was a large chocolate cake hidden in the cupboard.
“Smells delicious!” I exclaimed, dropping into a chair.
“It’s nothing,” Helen said with a smile. “But I could use some help. Go change and then help me set the table.”
“Sure.” I left the kitchen and went into my bedroom. I picked out the blue dress Father got me for my birthday. It was very lovely, but I hated dresses, and I wore overalls almost every day. But I knew that Father would appreciate it if I dressed nicely tonight because Grandmother was coming.
My father’s parents had died before I was born, but my mother’s mother was still alive. She was a stately old lady, and very old-fashioned. She did not really approve of my father, because my mother had run away to marry him. But with time she had grown to tolerate him, and after Mother died, she helped us in some small ways
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