A Little Pinot, a Little Prompting
Writer’s Center Director Joni Cole discusses a prompt response while Sasha Mordecai of Plymouth, Vt., listens during Pinot and a Prompt night at the Writer’s Center in White River Junction earlier this month. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Paula Nulty concentrates while responding to a prompt during Pinot and a Prompt night at the Writer’s Center in White River Junction. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Kim Moore of Rutland scribbles out a story after hearing a prompt that directed her in a bit of spontaneous writing. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Mike Humphrey of White River Junction reaches out to pour Paula Nulty a glass of champagne between readings during Pinot and a Prompt night at the Writer’s Center. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Unleash a ferret in the minds of writers, and watch them come up with any number of uses for the creature.
Some prefer keeping ferrets as pets. Some would grill one and serve it for dinner. Others would use the fur to create a stole. These were only some of the ways to use a ferret dreamed up by writers at the “Pinot and a Prompt” night at The Writer’s Center in White River Junction on a Friday night earlier this month.
Writer’s Center co-founder Joni Cole gave a one-sentence prompt (Such as: “Well, someone had to say it.”) No further directions were given, or needed. For the next 15 minutes, “You’re just gonna write your face off,” Cole told the group. Occasionally, to test their creative processes, she added mini-prompts to include, like “hot pink” or “water balloon.’’
To get creative juices flowing even more, bottles of pinot grigio and dark chocolates were available. But the promise of pinot did little to bring the writers to The Writer’s Center. The chance to be challenged by prompts, to write uninterrupted for 15 minutes, and to share their work in a friendly atmosphere, was all the motivation they needed.
“It’s spontaneous, it’s a one-shot deal, it comes and it goes, and then I’m done with it. You just don’t know what’s going to come out,” said Mike Humphrey of White River Junction, the lone male to attend.
Sprawled on sofas and chairs in a room with marigold walls, and with the starting words “Well, somebody had to say it” echoing in their heads, the writers took to their laptops and notebooks for 15 minutes, some scribbling or typing furiously, others pausing to think. Save for the tap-tap of computer keys and the occasional cell phone ring, the room remained silent, but the creative energy buzzed.
After each of two writing periods passed, it was time for the writers to share their work aloud. For Meg Brazill, a freelance writer from South Woodstock, the prompts brought back memories of shooting a music video in the early 1980s as the bassist for the New Wave rock band Los Microwaves, complete with prompts like a hot pink suede miniskirt and the aforementioned ferret stole.
The idea of how their work will be received is enough to prevent many would-be writers from sharing with others. But this was not a tough group of literary critics. It was a circle of writers who each wanted to craft a good story, and could appreciate one when they heard it.
“I really liked how you set the place and the time,” said Linda Hazard, while Humphrey praised the way Brazill seamlessly incorporated the prompts into her narrative.
Seated next to Brazill on the couch, Paula Nulty of White River Junction produced a story about her mother finding her father after he had a stroke.
Little details she used, like a letter on the Gillette Stadium sign with a burned-out light, struck poet Laura Davies Foley. “I’m right with you, each step, with all the details,” Davies Foley said. Another participant, Katharine Alexander, appreciated the pacing of the story.
“The beginning was very matter of fact, but when you stepped into the rich description … it occurred to me that in the beginning, time was slowing down,” she said.
Nearly all of the participants were alumni of past Pinot and a Prompt sessions, but there was one newcomer: Kim Moore of Rutland, who accompanied Sasha Mordecai, a colleague from Clarendon Elementary School.
As a middle school math teacher and a busy mom, Moore doesn’t have a lot of time to write for fun. “Checks,” Moore quipped, when asked what her preferred genre was. But if she was a bit rusty, it didn’t show in her piece, in which she reflected on hearing her grown children ask, “What’s for dinner?” It’s “a melody that drifts not only to my ears, but to my heart,” Moore wrote. “Someone had to say it, and I’m glad it’s my kids.” The funny, touching piece yielded a round of applause, and had a few writers dabbing at their eyes.
“That was a tour de force!” Cole said.
“That piece made me want to be a mom,” Alexander added. “The human experience of being a mom … you wrote about it so well.”
The genesis for Pinot and a Prompt came from two of Cole’s favorite activities: writing, and enjoying a glass of wine. It’s now a signature class in The Writer’s Center schedule (the next session is tonight at 6), and it has drawn reluctant or out-of-commission writers who want to jump-start their creativity.
“They really are here to write something meaningful,” Cole said. “Some people go to dark places and some are just humorous. People think writing is such a solitary craft, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one.”
Katie Beth Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3242.