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Writing Prompt #18: Use a Quote

I hoard quotes in my journals.

Whenever I’m reading, and come across a quote that really moves me, or surprises me, or delights me, I write it down and save it to look over later. Some of these quotes germinate into stories, and some I save, thinking that maybe one day I will discover the perfect story that needs to be headed by them.

You might want to use a quote as inspiration, or you may actually want to include it at the front of your story. Maybe you have some already in mind, but here’s a quick list of a few of my favorites that I’ve been hoarding.

  • “The face of the city changes more quickly, alas! than the mortal heart.” – Charles Baudelaire, Le Cygne
  • “Only the dead don’t argue, and even then there are exceptions.” – Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl who Soared Over Fairyland
  • “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending.” – Tolkien, The Hobbit
  • “Faerie is never very far away, and there are a thousand ways of getting there.” – Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
  • “So?’ Bod said. ‘It’s only death. All of my best friends are dead.” – Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

A House Made of Stories

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When you love books as much as I do, you eventually start making lists: books to read in each season, book characters you’d be friends with, book places you would visit if you could, and the order in which you would visit them, and the book methods of conveyance you would take to get there…

Recently I imagined, if I could build a house, what book rooms I would put inside it, to live in. Would I rather have Mr. Norrell’s library, or Celia Bowen’s circus tent? The Gryfifindor common room, or Sara Crewe’s school bedroom from A Little Princess? My (sort of) final list is below, and I’d love to hear what rooms you’d build your own house with!

  • Bilbo’s kitchen (and larders) from The Hobbit
  • The Gryffindor common room from Harry Potter
  • Mr. Norrell’s library, from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
  • Quentin’s Brakebills bedroom, from The Magicians
  • The Gothic Bathroom from Little, Big
  • The secret garden from The Secret Garden

Writing Prompt #17: A Newspaper Article

Writing a story through a pretend newspaper article can be a lot of fun, and is a great way to get an idea started, or can even be worked into a longer narrative. I’ve seen several stories written through a series of newspaper articles, or incorporating them between passages. I first tried writing my own after reading a make-believe newspaper article written by J.K. Rowling, who often uses this form to extend her Harry Potter universe. My newspaper article is below, and I’d love to see yours if you try this!

Alice Crowned Queen of Wonderland

There’s a new queen in Wonderland.

After her notoriously unfair trail of the Jack of Hearts, the Red Queen was dispossessed, and her tyrannical reign of terror came to an end. The wise, far traveling Alice was called back to Wonderland to take her place as the new Queen. This quite upset the Playing Card Families, who had seen themselves as the rightful lords and ruling candidates. Alice, however, merely poo-pooed their objections, famously saying “Let them drink tea!” and signaling for the Mad Hatter to fill up their tea cups.

Once crowned, Alice immediately set about implementing reform. In Alice’s Wonderland, everyone eats tea cake every day, stories are told in the palace, during which anyone can ask as many questions as they like, and governesses and icky older brothers are outlawed. Most important for the people of Wonderland, there have been no more beheadings, although there has begun a new fashion of growing “nine miles high” (see pg 2), in honor of the new monarch’s heroic actions at that fateful trail of the Jack.

Remembering

There are stories that stick with you. One of those, for me, is a story I remember reading a really long time ago, about a magical handbag with a world inside, that someone’s relative or friend disappears into, never to be seen again. The handbag is somehow lost, brought to a consignment shop, and the image of the main character and her friends spending the rest of their lives searching through Goodwill after Goodwill to find the lost handbag and rescue their friend is one that has stayed with me for years.

I recently tried to find that story again. I’m currently writing a story of my own that uses a similar plot element, and I wanted to be sure that they weren’t too similar. From what I remembered of the story, I was sure it was a Charles de Lint story, and so I started searching his short story collections and the internet for any mention of it.

But here’s the thing: According to Google, the story didn’t exist.

A few weeks after finally giving up the fruitless search and starting to actually work on my story instead, I went to the library and picked up a copy of Kelly Link’s short story collection Pretty Little Monsters. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and just have never gotten around to. I opened it up in the library, and there, in the table of contents, was my lost story. It wasn’t a Charles de Lint story at all; it was called “The Faery Handbag,” and who knows where I read it because I don’t remember ever having read a short story by Kelly Link.

I took the book home and I reread the story. It was kind of the story I remembered. And it was kind of not. The story I remembered was partly my own creation, made up of my memories of the true story and what I thought could or should have happened in it.

The story I am writing is about memories. It’s about a girl’s Grandmother who has Alzheimer’s, and the stories she tells. It’s about the power of memories and stories to create new worlds, to preserve and to heal and to change things.

It’s strange, I had written in my story, the things you remember, and the things you don’t.

It’s strange.

My Top Three New York Bookstores

I’ve spent my first month in New York getting to know the city, and what better way than by visiting every bookstore in every Manhattan neighborhood? Here’s a quick list of my top three, with directions in case you want to visit, too!

1. The Strand

Not just a tourist attraction (Though be warned, they’re there. In droves. Dawdling in the middle of the aisles, blocking you in…), The Strand is probably my favorite New York bookstore. The Strand boasts “18 miles of books,” and features tall, maze-like shelving filling four large floors. They sell both new and used fiction, nonfiction, classics, children’s books, and rare books, plus there are carts of $1 – $3 books outside. In fact, there are so many shelves, that after three visits, I’m still not sure where everything is located. It’s the kind of bookstore you can get lost in for hours.

My favorite part of The Strand is their huge rare book room located on the third floor (and accessible only by the elevator). Unlike most collections of rare books, most of theirs are out in the open, letting curious browsers like me actually pick the books up and flip through them. Though there are books in there that can run into the thousands, there are also a lot of great finds under $50.

The Strand also has a really nice website, where you can reserve books, or order them and have them shipped to you.

The Strand is located in East Village, right by Union Square, at the corner of E. 12th Street and Broadway.

Visit The Strand

2. Argosy Books

Argosy claims to be New York’s oldest independent bookstore, and they’re the kind of cozy, cluttered, refined bookstore that old book lovers dream of, the kind with lots of dark wood and tall shelves and desks piled high with books to rebind. The kind that smells like old paper and leather. Argosy specializes in old and rare books, maps, and prints, though they have a basement of cheap, modern used books as well. The first floor is a warren of old and unusual (but mostly affordable) fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, and prints, while an ancient elevator (the kind that actually has an operator!) will bring you up to the print and map floor or the rare book room. While their rare book room is truly amazing, be warned that you’ll have to take up a curmudgeonly employee with you, and there is nothing you can afford up there. Nothing. Not a thing.

Argosy is located in Midtown, on E. 59th Street between Park Avenue and Lexington.

Visit Argosy

3. Books of Wonder

Yeah, it’s a children’s bookstore. And yeah, I got some weird looks in there. But this is probably the single most magical bookstore in all of New York, so who cares? Books of Wonder sells new, used, and rare children’s and teen’s fiction (along with some things I’d consider adult fiction, like The Lord of the Rings and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust), as well as original and print copies of children’s book illustrations.

The decorations and displays are beautiful and magical, there are two walls of gorgeous, framed original illustrations for books such as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Maurice Sendak classics, there’s a full wall of rare books both affordable and not (I bought a copy of the original Stardust signed by both Gaiman and Vess for only $100), and the staff is helpful and friendly. Plus, there’s cupcakes.

My only gripe with Books of Wonder is that all their rare books (even the affordable ones) are locked up, and they’re the kind of books which I could spend hours flipping through and looking at the illustrations.

Books of Wonder is located in the Flatiron District, on W. 18th Street, between The Avenue of the Americas and 5th Avenue.

Visit Books of Wonder