Monthly Archives: May 2011

Finding Your Muse at Garage Sales

 Late April marks the beginning of a new season in my neck of the woods. I’m not talking about spring, although Mother Nature does usually show up around then as well. No, the season I’m talking about is such an important part of Central New York that it demands media attention: Garage Sale Season. One local country music station, as well as their sister television news channel, cover the Grand Opening of the season at one large community garage sale. The hordes of shoppers get to enjoy an early breakfast before venturing out, and then they spend the rest of the day bargain hunting. This opening day has become an annual tradition in our region, and in fact draws devotees from other states as

Why is this event, and the smaller ones that follow, such a big deal to a writer such as me?  Well, ok I do like a great deal as much as the next person, but more than that, I have discovered that these outdoor shopping centers provide a unique opportunity to add some depth to my writing. Stay with me here as I illustrate how garage sales can help you with your writing a  well.

 Brainstorming Story Ideas

Ideas for stories can come from garage sales. At one of your stops, buy a nice box or attractive container. It doesn’t have to be very large. Then, as you travel
from house to house, select small items from the sales and place them in the box. Back at home, when you need inspiration for a story or article, remove an
item from the box and start writing! Be as descriptive as possible and before you know it, you will have the beginning of a new story!

Gathering Character Traits

Eavesdrop on conversations among buyers and sellers. When people go to garage sales together, they talk a lot between stops and while perusing the wares. They make comments about the items as they pick them up. Often the seller has an interesting story to tell about an item. Note these conversations, including the body language used and inflections in the peoples’ voices. Also be sure to observe their clothing, the way they walk, and the car they’re driving. At one sale I happened upon, a metal junker dickered with the homeowner for her washer and dryer. His nearby pickup was loaded down with the metal he had managed to collect that day. He was an interesting character. Don’t forget about yourself as a character at these garage sales. How do you feel when you come across a toy or game you remember from your childhood? When you get back to your car, grab your notebook (you do carry one with you, don’t you?) and  jot down these emotions and physical reactions as well.

Establishing Setting

What is the weather like on the day you attended the sale? If you went in the early morning, was there dew on the grass and did you clutch your Styrofoam cup of coffee as you strolled from sale to sale? Was it a community garage sale or one at a single home? Did you venture into a neighborhood completely different from your own? What did the houses look like? Were the lawns nicely manicured, the backyard fenced in? Or did the houses looked “lived in” and in need of some TLC? All of these details and more are important to note for future reference.  A hazy-hot-humid day at a garage sale feels completely different from a cold and rainy afternoon of neighborhood shopping.

Building a Story

My daughter suggests that a garage sale shopper/writer can find items that will help them create a visual representation of their story. Buy stickers, stamps and stamp pads, or other items that will allow you to make an illustration, story board, or model of your story. Buy a map and plan a traveling character’s route. Another option is to buy an item that your character would use so that you have it for an accurate description. Does your character drink coffee all the time? Find a mug that looks and feels like one that fits your character and buy it. Keep it around you at all times. Drink from it to get a first-hand feel for how the coffee would taste and how the mug feels to your character. Start writing!

Feeding Your Muse

At a recent community garage sale, I picked up two books from my summer reading list. I’ve also found great deals on children’s books and sometimes reference books (atlases, dictionaries, a one-year-old Writer’s Market, etc). One sale I went to was hosted by a retiring 6th-grade teacher. She had stocked her garage with class sets of novels, as well as teacher reference sources, non-fiction books, and inspirational posters. As writers we need to keep reading. While you may find that many books sold at garage sales are mass market paper backs, you might be surprised to find that one book you’ve always wanted to read, but didn’t want to spend the money on. Now you’d be foolish to pass it up. Also, some sellers offer bundles of magazines to buyers. Don’t turn up your nose at these, as any pictures in them offer opportunities for you to write descriptive scenes, or even great ideas for articles and stories.

So, have you been to a garage sale lately? Go back to your Sunday paper and open it up to the classified/garage sale section. Or you can search on for sales near you.  Find one nearby, or far away, and make plans to find your muse when you get there.

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Filed under Inspiration, Reading, Writing

When Your First Love is Young Adult Fiction

As I’m writing this post, I’ve just come out of #TitleTalk on Twitter. This chat was only the second one I’ve attended, and it was a whirlwind adventure! While not all of the participants of #TitleTalk work with young adults, many of them do, and the talk about YA literature was fevered and vehement. People don’t just like YA fiction; they LOVE YA fiction.

The reasons for a reader’s devotion to YA fiction are varied and can be quite personal. I chatted recently with a few YA devotees and discovered that, for the most part, the characters are the main reason to keep reading. My friend, Jessica told me, “I… love being thrown back into my youth. [The stories] bring back memories of a time of uncertainty and exploration of the world. I can relate with the characters and I find that each character teaches me a lesson about my past or even myself as an adult.”

Writer Jenny Moss also feels deeply drawn to YA books. “Most of it for me is emotional resonance – YA books find that sharp, deep emotional place that our younger selves are so much in touch with.”  I think many of us who connect with YA books do so because we’ve always been book-crazed in general. If we began our early reading lives finding the things in stories that mean something to us, we’re going to attach ourselves to the fiction of our teen years because we’re seeking some kind of affirmation that we are not alone in the way we feel, think, or act. Or sometimes we just want to escape our own world and live vicariously through another character whose fictional life is so different from our own as to be unattainable. It’s a safe, drug-free (although addictive) form of escapism!

One genre of YA fiction that has the most fervent followers is fantasy. My fantasy-loving students are easily the largest segment of my readers. Stacey O’Neale recognizes that YA fantasy fiction has a huge following, so she has created the YAFantasy Guide, where she brings numerous fantasy resources under one site.  Stacey appreciates YA fiction as a reader and a writer. She states, “I love romance and most YA is chock-full of it. There’s something special in that first love that draws me in. I also enjoy watching characters evolve as they move toward adulthood and their lives become gradually complicated. As a writer, it gives you a large pallet to paint with.”

Although all of us read adult books from time to time, high school English teacher Cindy Minnich says, “I love YA fiction because the
storylines are every bit as good as the ones written for adults. And I have tons of S[tudents]s to discuss them with!”And for those of us who do work with teens, sharing book recommendations and talking about what we read is what it’s all about.

Why do you love YA fiction? With what characters do you connect the most and why. How do you share this love of YA fiction with others? I’d love to hear your comments.

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Filed under Fiction, Reading, Writing, Young Adult Fiction