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    Writing Prompt: Turn Your E-Mail Into a Story for a Shot at Winning Books

    Categories: Swag-Offs, Traditional Prompts, WD Mag Wednesday, Writing Prompts.

    The towers of swag books are teetering on my desk and WD co-workers are starting to throw nervous glances in my direction, so to prevent Death by Book and thank Promptly posters, it’s high time for a book giveaway.

    Post a story (500 words or fewer) in response to today’s prompt any time between now and next Wednesday, and we’ll randomly draw a name to receive a slew of books, from writing how-tos to novels and general nonfiction.

    If you’re having trouble with the captcha code sticking and can’t get your story to post, e-mail it to wdsubmissions@fwmedia.com with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll make sure it gets up.

    Now, back to editing, while preparing to sound the alarm should the structural integrity of the great book tower fail …

    WRITING PROMPT: Subjective
    Open your e-mail and randomly choose the subject line of a message. Make that the first line of your story. Then, choose another subject line, and make that the last line of your story.

    (Image: Germany’s “Walk of Ideas” by Lienhard Schulz [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.)


    Are you a late-night writer? Check out our Successful Nighttime Novelist Premium Collection. Sharpen your night writes with three craft books, the WD weekly planner, our 12 Weeks to a First Draft independent study course, our Start Your Story Right webinar, and an issue of Writer’s Digest magazine focused on creativity—all at 72 percent off. (Limited-time offer, only 50 are available. Click here for more info.)

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    8. Shara Darke says:

      "Toria and the Summer"

      Toria and the Summer. Was it silly of me to want to name my newest ice cream flavor after my daughter? Probably. But the fresh berries and fruits in all of that smooth cream just reminded me of that summer we had spent horseback riding in northern Utah. We had come out of a wooded trail and into a sweet-smelling field of wildflowers set in an array of subtle pastel. I looked at her, all peace and smiles and horsewoman. The outdoors loved her, and the laughter that sprang from her lips was unashamed, delighted, youthful.
      Now she was going off to college, my struggling child who had dyslexia and perseverance, with a scholarship that she had earned on her own. Though the scholarship did not cover all of her expenses, the money was enough to keep her from having to work so that she could keep her focus on school. Her father and I would do the rest.
      She deserved a unique tribute. The family dairy was full of her precious life moments, but those were too personal to share. I needed her to know that I would miss her, would think about her, but that I was proud in unspeakable, blubbery words of the woman she was. She was enjoying life, ready for her next adventure, and I couldn’t wait for her to tell me all about it! Toria and the Summer. It was perfect.
      The unveiling would happen the day before we settled her and her belongings into a new home. It wasn’t news that affects Utah… just her mother.

    9. Tracy Whitt says:

      "Office Visit"

      28 Ways to Love Chocolate. Maria quickly turned the page in the delicatessen magazine. Chocolate, a love of her life. Now a forbidden bean.
      ******
      Dr. Orza had handed her the dreaded diagnosis of cancer on a clipboard, as he exited the exam room. Soon after the death sentence had been issued, Maria heard of a Shaman practicing in Mexico who had renowned success with cancer patients, even those who were terminally ill.
      This Shaman had been vastly different than the ones she had previously read about. He delved into her spirituality, but had also given her concoctions which lined her small kitchen counter. Additionally, he had recommended she no longer eat chocolate. She had a feeling the removal of this cherished treat was just a way for the god’s to punish her.
      Now Maria was seeing another oncologist in Rockford, IL. Unlike Dr. Orza’s cold office of white and gray walls, this one was comfortable. Deep rich colors of brick red and taupe covered the walls of the waiting room. A small group of children brought sounds of joy as they played quietly in the corner. Several plaques were neatly lined up on one wall, giving thanks for his charity work around the globe.
      This was her second time in this office. The first had been for a run of tests to see how much improvement had been made, if any. She would be hearing the results of those tests any minute now.
      Glancing down at her watch, she noticed it was two minutes past her appointment time. One of her thin legs was crossed over the other and was pumping with nervous energy.
      “Maria.” A nurse with blonde hair pulled back into a bun called her name.
      She stood there alone in Dr. Waters’ office, and slowly moved her way toward the chairs which were designated for the patients, and sat.
      Looking down at the desk she noticed an ultra-sound photograph. To her surprise she saw something that resembled a baby. Scooting herself to the front of her chair, she tried to get a better look.
      “Ah, Maria. I am so sorry to keep you waiting,” Dr. Waters pronounced as he quietly flew in the room. Maria jumped back in her seat as soon as she heard him enter. The color of embarrassment crept into her cheeks.
      He vigorously shook her hand, and proceeded to sit in the chair next to her. “How have you been feeling?” he questioned.
      “A little nausea once in a while. Other than that, pretty good.”
      “Ahhh, good. Good.” He reached for the ultra-sound and the stack of papers below it.
      “Well, I have some great news for you today. Your cancer is in remission.” A smile beamed across his face.
      Maria gripped the arms of her chair, afraid to believe something so good.
      “And that’s not all.” Dr. Waters paused, and then added, “You’re going to have a baby!”
      Now the smile began to stretch across Maria’s dour face. “Baby???”

    10. Heather Johnson says:

      "Hamburger Salsa"
       
      “Slow Cooker: Family Favorite Ground Beef.” She tossed her mother’s cookbook onto the table, the cover folded back to reveal the faded title a fingerprint-stained page. She hadn’t eaten a bite of beef in over a decade. She hated the smell of ground beef, and making it in the slow cooker meant that it would not only permeate the house, but there was no chance of it dissipating for hours. The “Family Favorite” part was correct. No gathering of her family had occurred in the past thirty years without this abomination of salsa, processed cheese, ground beef, and chili powder, ladled over bowlfuls of tortilla chips.
      She glanced out the window at her husband, who seemed to be wandering around the yard poking the ground with a stick. Nearby, the rag and spray bottle she had shoved into his hands rested in a planter of marigolds. 
      The hamburger fell into the ceramic pot with a soft, sticky-sounding  smack. She dropped in handfuls of cubed cheese and emptied a large jar of salsa.  After securing the lid, she surveyed the house. It was as clean as it could get. She wished she had replaced the scratched trim in the dining room, but there was nothing she could do about it now. She checked to make sure there was extra toilet paper in both bathrooms. She vacuumed the steps. She scooped a single clump out of the cat’s litter box.
      She heard her sister’s truck rumble up the driveway and looked outside to see kids piling out, a mass of legs and ankle socks and pink. She quickly arranged cookies on a plate and pressed a button on the coffee maker. Footsteps like prairie thunder down the stairs proceeded heads topped with plastic barrettes that torpedoed into her stomach and kidneys, one after another. How many were there now?
      Someone said, “I don’t like these kinds of cookies.”
      “Do you still have a kitty? Can we play with her?”
      “What are we going to do?”
      “I’m bored.”
      Footsteps pounded back up the steps and the front door slammed. Her sister, using a patented weary expression, just shook her head. “Hamburger Salsa?”
      “Yup,” she replied, lifting the lid of the crock-pot and turning her face away from the steam.
      “Did you put taco seasoning in it?”
      “It’s not in the recipe.”
      “Oh. Mom made it with taco seasoning. It’s better. Do you have some? We could throw it in.”
      “No, I don’t.”
      “Well, then Dan probably won’t eat it.”
      “There’s other stuff. Ham, potatoes, green beans, lots of stuff.”
      “Green beans? Gross.”
      She looked out the window. One of the kids was chasing the others with the Windex bottle.
      “Where’s Mom?” her sister asked.
      “Upstairs in her room. First door to the left.”
      “Mummy!” her sister called uselessly with a childish skip up the stairs.
      She looked out the window. Another car pulled up. She took a deep breath and thought, two of six.

    11. April newsletter. Typed in bold letters across a bundle of white pages. Standing there exposed on the roadside in nothing but the nubby old robe she had grabbed for the journey, Jaylnn ran her eyes over the letters again, thinking they might rearrange themselves if she cocked her chin at a different angle. No. They looked the same the second time around. Unbelievable.

      If it was April, then she had been in that house more than four months. The idea made something clench deep in her belly and she had to lean against the mailbox to keep from collapsing on the gravel. Her mind resisted, but her body knew. She could feel it in the dampness at the back of her neck. Had felt it every time the wind picked up since she stepped out into the world. It wasn’t a winter wind, she knew that.

      Jaylnn was expecting the green HOLD slip, that was hardly a surprise. When nobody picked up the mail, the post office stopped delivering it. That had happened before. What she wasn’t expecting were the pages that she held in her hand. The bundle had neither stamp nor return address. How did it get here and what did it mean? When she broke the thin layer of tape that held the pages together, the sheet opened and held only four words. A picture for you.

      She snatched her hand back towards her body and the pages fluttered into the gravel.

    12. Lottery.
      It was just the one word and I knew there was no malice attached to it but it still made me think of Shirley Jackson and how easy it is to take people and make them act on their base instincts.
      Which I suppose is still the case, just now we throw money at impossible odds and dream for a day or two before returning to our normal lives.
      I sighed and handed over my two dollars. Better to be in the pool then standing on the deck.
      “You owe from last week.”
      “I do?”
      “Yeah.”
      “I didn’t get in last week,” I said.
      “You have to. If you want in this week you have to pay up for last week.”
      “So, if we had won last week, I would have still been in the pool?”
      “No.”
      “That makes no sense.”
      “Rules are rules.”
      “Who made you lottery king?”
      “You did. You all did. You’re all too lazy to run to the store and buy tickets so I do it. My pool. My rules.”
      I snatched my two bucks back from his hand. “Never mind,” I said.
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    14. Janel says:

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      “You’re joking. Right?”

      “No, it’s true. No rules, except you need to have fun.” The receptionist smiled and nodded at someone to my left.

      “Excuse me.”

      A woman slid past me. Her dark, wavy hair fell almost to her waist. She smelled like vanilla and cinnamon. Our arms touched. I’m sure it was my imagination, but I thought I could feel the snap of a spark between us.

      The receptionist pushed two, blue name tags with the number 31 on them across the table. I pealed the back off one sticker and slapped it onto my chest. At the back of the room people were arranging bowls and casserole dishes on conference tables. I sat my bowl next to a square dish of something white topped with a heavy layer of chopped parsley. I stuck the second name tag onto my jalapeno bacon dip.

      The goal of the evening was to try any of the dips that looked appealing. If you like the dip, match its number up with the person who made it and see if you like them too. Pink name tags for women, blue for men.

      “I thought you might like a drink.” A woman with spiky pink hair offered me a glass of white wine. “My name is Leah.”

      “Thank you.”

      I knew I should smile politely, but all I could do was stare at the pink rhinestone twinkling on her nostril. I took a gulp of wine and forced my gaze up a few inches. Her tawny eyes reminded me of a predatory cat.

      “You should try some of my dip. It’s number . . .”

      “You should try some of mine too.” The brunette I bumped into earlier hooked her arm through mine. Leah glared at her. I tried to remember to breathe.

      “If you like it hot you won’t find anything better.”

      Her lips grazed my earlobe. I’m sure my face turned as pink as the other woman’s hair. Leah growled and stomped back to the bar.

      “Hot is good.” I drained the glass of wine. “What did you bring?”

      “Hot and Spicy Buffalo Chicken Dip.”

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    16. Dare Gaither says:

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      ———————-

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      We can delete that one….but, then again,
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      Oh yeah, that’s the one!
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      Let’s see… I’ve got 2 months til my vacation time.

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    18. Jackie Reuter says:

      Guy on a bike….Incredible!
      Our town is fueled by the automotive industry, and nearly everyone drives a Chrysler. Nobody uses the broken sidewalks�except this odd stranger riding his bike down Main Street.

      I saw him through the window as I was clearing tables. He stopped outside the diner and chained his bike to the �No Parking� sign. From the back of his bike, he untied a small briefcase. He came in and ordered a cup of coffee.

      �Any good hotels in this place?� he asked.

      �There�s the Super 8, or the Holiday Inn.�

      �Ah,� he said. �That�s alright then.�

      �What are you in town for?�

      �I�m on a pilgrimage�

      Pause. �On a bike?

      �Yup. Part of the experience you see.�

      �What kind of pilgrimage?�

      �Spiritual, of course. I�m on my way to see Saint Peter. Figured I might as well do some sightseeing on the way there.� He saw my face and added, �I�ve got lung cancer. Don�t worry, I won�t keel over here. Still got three months, or so the doctor says.�

      I nodded to show I understood, but didn�t answer.

      �Ah, it always makes people uncomfortable when I tells them that. Most of them mumble apologies, like it�s their fault. I know it ain�t. It was them cigars I used to smoke when I was a kid. Only reason I quit was cause my Sally wouldn�t stop badgering me about it after I got cancer the first time.�

      �Your wife?�

      �Yep. Pretty little thing. Had a way with a pot roast any man would envy. Died five years ago, bless her soul. Started smoking again after that.�

      Pause. �Where you headed?�

      �Connecticut, to see my son. He thinks I�m being a stubborn old man, biking halfway across the country. Thinks I�ll drop dead on some county back road. Told him not to worry. I know how to take care of myself. Money ain�t no problem neither. Still employed, and it�s a travelling job I can take with me. All I need is this here briefcase and a computer. Most libraries have those.�

      �What do you do?�

      �I�m an insurance agent,� He opened his briefcase. With a smile he asked, �Do You Have Life Insurance?�

    19. Here comes the Easter Bunny!

      We’re a small town, despite the presence of so many celebrities. Of course, that’s why they come here: because we’re small. They have some sort of rose-eyed-glasses idea that they can shrug off their Hollywood skin and just be ‘reg’lar folks’.

      That’s how they imagine we talk. If they ever stopped to listen, they’d know we talk just like everyone else.

      Maybe I’m just jaded. I don’t know. I’ve been working as an elevator operator here in Marnie’s for so many years, maybe it’s me who’s lost touch with what the world is like.

      Old Jack Marnie likes having all this Hollywood blood in town. He calls them his friends, and maybe some of them are. I know he has dinner parties and they all show up, dressed like they think we dress, even though we dress just like everyone else. They drink his wine and whisky and laugh into the night.

      Every year in the Spring, our little town welcomes a certain actor who is always being called “World’s Most Handsome” or “Most Eligible Bachelor” in the magazines – not that I read them, but I see the covers, you can’t avoid them at the market or the drugstore, waiting in line.

      He has a house here that sits empty most of the year. Then, a week before he arrives in his flashy car, Margaret Sweet gets a phone call to ‘freshen up the house’ and it takes her almost a week to do it, because dust doesn’t care if a house is closed up or not, it finds its way in and settles on everything. Maybe not in Hollywood, I don’t know.

      Every year, Jack Marnie asks his friend to play the Easter Bunny in the store for a few weekends, and every year this actor acts surprised and flattered before he finally says yes.

      So, here he is, ancient white fur costume drooping in all the wrong places, making awkward haste toward my elevator.

      “Going up?”

    20. Daniel Slyfield says:

      "The Voyeur"
       
      Meetings today. A lot of them. Up and down the big concrete walls of building faces sit crowded in a room six or seven young (but soon to be old, aged by this everyday process, and, upon approaching death, forgetting what has been taken from them) men and two or three women all dressed in black.
      The boss will address you by your last name. This is something we all know and take for granted. What it does, it does well. It makes you half a thing, with only the lower parts scurrying around and ejecting reproduction phlegmatically onto only the sacred grounds of aristocracy. Your son will inherit this name. He will inherit your mistakes.
      Dale can be seen from the militant and cold park bench fronting an unmarked building on 21st between 6th and 7th. He’s up there, way up there. I can tell what he wants to do is not be up there. He’s twisting his chin to either side of his face. Rolling his pen around his knuckles.
      Oh, Dale. How did you ever make it out of bed this morning without a thought, the way you do every single weekday, and make it to work on time? We both know your wife is dead. We both know she died last night. While you were out picking up milk at 9:30 in the evening a younger man who needed the money more than you do got in your house and did his business.
      You returned home only to see him over your wife. His face was the size of a frying pan, and charred with acne scarring and general asymmetry. You know what happened next, don’t you? (It was in the paper.) You whimpered, and he took off like a shot, like a bad dog, and at this point your wife was alive still. She was fine in fact, not a scratch on her skin, not a hair out of place. Then what, Dale? Then what? Then you woke up this morning and went to work. And here I am staring at you from the park bench and all is fine, when I know that you will be getting the call any minute.
      Hello?
      Yes, honey, hello. Do you remember that sizable fish tank we spent all our vacation days filling with tap water?
      Yes, quite well.
      I am planning on drowning myself in it at the conclusion of this call. You have mortally wounded me in my sleep with vile outbursts of derogatory slang and entreaties to fantasized lovers. I recognize the imperfection of things, and here is my infantile retort.
      Honey? Why are you talking like this? What are you talking about?
       
      Who are you now, Dale? How does the meeting make sense now, Dale? I’ll be going now. I think I filled my quota today. Once the train ride is through, I will report to my own boss and fill him in on the details of the day. More progress. 

    21. Ruth Knox says:

      I don’t feel so stupid anymore. Everywhere I look there is someone doing something dopier than me. What a relief that is! Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and I’ve already made a bunch of mistakes, or maybe because as I mature I am not so hard on myself. Whichever it is, it’s still good.

      For years I used to fall for every gimmick out there. The first one that sucked me in was on the back of a comic book, and I was 10 years old. "You too can be the proud owner of dozens of shimmering LIVE miniature seahorses….. just add water and they will gracefully swim around giving you untold delight!" I drooled over those seahorses, and visualized them moving together like synchronized swimmers in my goldfish bowl, hypnotic and magical! The only thing between me and my new treasures was a strict rule in our household that we were not to order anything by mail. If we wanted to spend our allowance at the corner store, or the ice cream shop, that was fine, because mom could keep an eye on what we were buying.

      I usually obeyed the rules, but I just had to have those sea horses. I dared not ask my mom because once she said "no", then it would be an act of abject defiance to go ahead and order them anyway. And make no mistake, I was buying them! So I said nothing, but I kept that comic book underneath my pillow, and studied the drawings of the little seahorses with the animated faces, every chance I got. And I saved my allowance. I saved it for more than six months, until I finally had enough to send away for my little seahorse family.

      These were the days before the internet search, pay pal, or worldly children who could google any product and read customer reviews. I had to rely solely on my own good judgment. I counted my cash and with the completed order form, dropped it into a stamped envelope I’d pilfered from my mom, and joyfully mailed it on my way to school. It took seven weeks for my package to arrive, and sparing you the details, let’s suffice it to say, boy, did I feel stupid! It cured me forever of lusting after products advertised on the back of comic book covers.

      With the glow of maturity, I’m now much more judicious about where I put my money. I no longer expect miracles from enticing advertising offerings. I’m a freelance writer and I have lots of deadlines to meet, and a novel to work on…. I keep procrastinating on that damned thing….. Oh, just let me peruse my email before I get into another writing session. Hey! check this out. I’ll bet it’s the answer to all my procrastination woes – "Featured Webinar: Write Your Novel in 90 Days". Hmmmmm….. Do I still have time to register?

    22. YOU MUST READ THIS….GREAT LAUGH FOR THE DAY! I am a stay at home mother with a charming 12-month-old son named Ian. I always changed his diaper after he wakes up because I know it is full. Yesterday morning I was on the phone with technical support for my printer. If you know how long it takes to talk to someone, you don’t get off the phone for anything short of an emergency. Anyway, in the middle of troubleshooting my printer, my son wakes up from his nap. I pick him up but can’t change him at that moment, so I decide to wait. Of course, Ian won’t be quiet unless I am holding him. I must have looked a sight! I had a baby on my hip, while cradling the phone on my shoulder and cleaning the printer ink head with the other. Not an easy task. I had just finished cleaning and was waiting for further instruction when I heard this splashing sound and felt a warm sensation all along my left hip and leg. Immediately I knew what had happened, Ian overfilled his diaper! Silly me thought I had time, I guess not. With no time to wonder how I was going to do it, I washed my hands of ink, changed his diaper and clothes, changed my clothes, cleaned the floor and got back to troubleshooting the printer in less than two minutes. The technician never suspected a thing and my tone never let on. It was a relief to know the part was broken and I still had eight days before my warranty expired. By the time I got off the phone I was no longer stressed. Shortly thereafter I received my email that read HP SHIPMENT Notification.

    23. Zac says:

      Hi, D.M. — Yep! Looking forward to your piece.

    24. Lily Elderkin says:

      “Chocolate cake with chocolate icing,” she told me decidedly.

      I looked at her with raised eyebrows. “Chocolate cake with chocolate icing? Really?”

      She giggled. “Yes! Now what does my dessert choice say about me?”

      “Alright.” I cleared my throat and read, in my best announcer voice, “Chocolate cake with chocolate icing: Sexy. Always willing to have fun and be adventurous. Very passionate and driven. Not afraid to take chances. Can appear to be cold but are delectable on the inside. Love to laugh. Never let life pass you by.”

      “Hmm.” She tapped her finger to her chin. “Well, sexy is definitely accurate.”

      I snorted, and she giggled again. “Okay, so maybe I’m not the biggest seductress in the world.”

      “Yeah. Let’s say that, why don’t we?”

      “Well, what are you?”

      “Angel food cake. I’m sweet and loving. Sometimes people think I’m immature and unable to handle things.”

      “Sure.”

      “Yeah, that’s not like me at all.”

      “So it’s official; our dessert choices say nothing about us.”

      “Agreed.”

      We sat in companionable silence for a moment until she said, “So why did we take that test, anyway?”

      “I’m trying to get to know you. That’s what girls do, don’t they?”

      She looked at me sideways. “That’s right. When they’re scared to talk about the real stuff.”

      “You know, they never said chocolate cake was so perceptive.”

      She shrugged. “I’m really not. I just…like to read people.”

      I raised my eyebrows. “Well. Here’s some things you should know about me, now that we’re going from just college roommates to actual friends. Finally.”

      “Finally,” she agreed, undoubtedly thinking back to the awkward silences we’d shared in the first month of school.

      “I’m a virgin. Embarrassing, I know. I love my little brother more than anything in the world. I never thought I would make it to college.”

      “What’s your dearest ambition?”

      “I want to write a book.”

      And that’s what started the friendship.

      You know, I still have to thank her for this whole thing. I still have to write her into every acknowledgments section. I still have to hug her every time I see her and refuse to cut off contact, even after all these years.

      Because it’s thanks to her that I ever got that email from that agent.

      That email that started, “I finished your book.”

    25. D.M. Grace says:

      Is this open to people in Canada as well?

    26. Mstealth says:

      Great artistic design and I love such art. The book model is really cool.

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