Category Archives: Creative Writing Prompts

Story Research: What’s in a Name?

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There is much to be said about the origin of words and especially, names.

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Whenever I hit a snag in getting a writing idea off the ground, I brainstorm some concepts and look up the etymology of the words.  Almost always that sparks inspiration and a clearer sense of direction for my writing.

For example, take a look at the etymology of name:

one’s reputation”             “well-known,”             “the essential thing or quality”

When you know someone or something’s name, you know the main, or essential quality of the thing… or I could take this to mean that one’s name could also describe qualities they are well-known for… this would hopefully help me with naming characters.

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As a mom, I’ve had the opportunity to name these little people who are my children. I was taught this was the single most important task as a parent as the name has the potential to describe a child’s personality and place in the world. I probably feel this way because of stories my grandmother told me as a child.  A little bit of family folklore:  my grandmother used to say that parents think they name their children, but the name actually already exists out in the world and parents only hear it when the creator wanted them to hear it.  Apparently, the name was their destiny anyway as it reveals information about how they would be in the world. She told me that it was no coincidence that my name is Nada, meaning hope. Yes, very nice, thank you Grandma!  I could get into an interesting debate regarding fate versus free will and all the opposing views that often exist side by side, but that’s for another day!

So what’s in a name? For my creative writing, I am inspired by looking at whether names run with or opposite of what is expected. I think it would be fun to create imagery, settings, and characters based on this concept. There is lots of space here to create multilayered meaning, or irony.

Also, I can’t talk about naming without seeing it from a post-colonial lens: that which you name, you own and control. luckily, many of the original names of places in and around Rhode Island survived all these years.

Roger Williams and the Narragansetts

                               Roger Williams and the Narragansetts

In 1636 Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, settled on the east bank of the river and was told its name by the local Narragansett Indians. The name “Moshassuck” means “river where moose watered”.

Here’s some more name info I’ve gathered:

  • Woonasquatucket River (pronounced /wuːnˈɑːskwəˌtʌkᵻt/, Algonquian for “where the salt water ends”
  • Quinnipiac River: (Quinnipiac) “where we change our route”
  • Conanicut Island: (Narragansett) named for a 17th-century chief Canonicus
  • Conimicut: (Narragansett) thought to be named for granddaughter of Canonicus
  • Hockomock Swamp: (Natick-Abnaki) “evil spirit” or “hellish place”
  • Siasconset: (Narragansett) “at the place of many/great bones” (whales?)
Providence

Providence

  • Pawtuxet: Little falls confluence of north and south branches of the river at river point village in Warwick. empties into Providence River at Pawtucket River.
  • The place we call Federal hill,  was known as Nocabulabet: place between the ancient waters
  • Moshassuck : river where moose watered source: pond in lincoln’s lime rock preserve.
  • Woonasquatucket: where the salt water ends, Where I wrote about Here!   

This post wouldn’t be complete without a break down of the name I choose for the blog itself several years ago: Now Approaching Providence.

Providence means God’s grace-and grace could mean- among other things- favor, esteem, regard, pardon, mercy.

Turks Head in downtown Providence; looking graceful.

Turks Head in downtown     Providence; looking graceful.

The name fit as I often feel like I might be approaching, but not quite arriving at… Providence.

 

Happy Writing!

Short Story Research: Taxidermy

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“… And here at last, was a real naturalist — the man who had been the first to explore Lake Okeechobee, who had been bitten by centipedes, who had written a book, who had collected turtle eggs for Agassiz [Louis Agassiz was the director of the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology at the time], and who had been so nearly paralyzed by arsenic, absorbed in his mounting of skins, that he walked with a sort of quick scuff and shuffle!” ~Dallas Lore Sharp

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The early 20th century was marked by an obsession with the act of preserving- whether plant, animal or human.

Folks have always been obsessed with living forever, but taxidermy took it to another level! Early on, arsenic was even used as a preserving agent, hence Jenks resulting paralysis.

Could this obsession with living forever be connected with fears related to expanding urbanism, the failings of European colonies, and increasing industrialization? I see it as all connected and all waiting for a juicy horror story featuring some gory taxidermy details! Yum!

                “Had Bicocur lived in ages past, hc would havc heen accused of witchcraft and enchantment. What wonders has this excellent naturalist been able to unite in his cabinet. These are truly immortal.”  

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Ahh taxidermy!

In 1894, the curator of the Jenks Museum of Natural History at Brown University was returning to the museum from lunch when he dropped dead on the very granite steps that led to the institution he loved and tended for 23 years.

Annie Johnson, a Brown alumna, chronicles in the spring of 1962 how an attic filled with spears, pottery and other artifacts was discovered as a wrecking ball was set to demolish Van Wickle Hall on campus. The items ended up at Brown’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, says Dwight B. Heath, emeritus professor of anthropology at Brown.

How could I not be inspired to create some sort of short story on this Jenks dude and the resulting “artifacts” that were dumped?!

Here are some notes I’ve gathered to help me with the writing process:

taxidermy (from the Greek for arrangement of skin[1]) is the art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of animals (especially vertebrates) for display (e.g., as hunting trophies or museum display) or for other sources of study (like species identification) or simply the preservation of a beloved pet.

– In the 19th century, hunters began bringing their trophies to upholstery shops, where the upholsterer would actually sew up the animal skins and stuff them with rags and cotton.

-In France, Louis Dufresne, taxidermist at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle from 1793, popularized arsenical soap in an article in “Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle'” (1803–1804). This technique enabled the museum to build the greatest collection of birds in the world.

Additional resources:

http://www.ravishingbeasts.com

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxidermy#Tanning_and_early_stuffing_techniques

The ornithological cabinet of Jean-Baptiste Becoeur and the secret of the arsenical soap: http://www.rhinoresourcecenter.com/pdf_files/119/1193254263.pdf

 

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This is just the tip of the taxidermy iceberg folks!  Ima keep digging!

 

Short Story Research: Creatures!

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Who doesn’t love a good creature story?

classic mermaid folks

just a classic mermaid here folks

Nothing gets my imagination fired up like a tale involving mysterious creatures.  Below are some of the creatures I have been researching for some upcoming story ideas.  Enjoy!

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Cackatrice

-Can cause death with a single glance

-Eyes can turn you to stone

-Protection involves-carrying a mirror

-breath is poisonous

-Enemy is a weasel

Cackatrice

The Regal Cackatrice

The Soucouyant

The soucouyant is a shape-shifting Caribbean folklore character who appears as a reclusive old woman by day. By night, she strips off her wrinkled skin and puts it in a mortar. In her true form, as a fireball she flies across the dark sky in search of a victim. The soucouyant can enter the home of her victim through any sized hole like cracks, crevices and keyholes.

Soucouyants suck people’s blood from their arms, legs and soft parts while they sleep leaving blue-black marks on the body in the morning. If the soucouyant draws too much blood, it is believed that the victim will either die and become a soucouyant or perish entirely, leaving her killer to assume her skin. The soucouyant practices black magic. Soucouyants trade their victims’ blood for evil powers with Bazil, the demon who resides in the silk cotton tree.

soucouyant

Lovely Soucouyant

To expose a soucouyant, one should heap rice around the house or at the village cross roads as the creature will be obligated to gather every grain, grain by grain (a herculean task to do before dawn) so that she can be caught in the act. To destroy her, coarse salt must be placed in the mortar containing her skin so she perishes, unable to put the skin back on. Belief in soucouyants is still preserved to an extent in some Caribbean islands, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Haiti, Suriname and Trinidad.[4]

 

The Kappa

The Kappa

These scaly-skinned humanoids hail from Japanese folklore. The name roughly means “water-child,” and myth has them inhabiting Japan’s ponds and rivers. The hairless plate on the kappa’s head carries water, the source of their power. Sometimes they’re tricksters. Sometimes they’re killers. Either way, kappa make excellent stories.

The Kelpi

The Kelpi

Oooh! A mer-horse!  The Kelpi

You’ll find kelpie myths near water too, but only in Scotland. Their names are associated with horses, and this is their native form. But they’re just as likely to take on the guise of a human. That makes it easier to lure unsuspecting men and maidens into the water.  Read more on the Kelpie:  HERE

 

The Ichneumom

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 35–36, 37): ” The ichneumon is known for its willingness to fight to the death with the snake. To do this, it first covers itself with several coats of mud, drying each coat in the sun to form a kind of armor. When ready it attacks, turning away from the blows it receives until it sees an opportunity, then with its head held sideways it goes for its enemy’s throat. The ichneumon also attacks the crocodile in a similar manner.”
Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 2:37): “That which is produced from the smell of this beast is both healthful and poisonous in food.”  Ewwww!

The Ichneumon

Our old pal the Ichneumon

Leonardo da Vinci [16th century CE] (“The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” edited by Jean Paul Richter):” This animal is the mortal enemy of the asp.

The Asp

The Asp

It is a native of Egypt and when it sees an asp near its place, it runs at once to the bed or mud of the Nile and with this makes itself muddy all over, then it dries itself in the sun, smears itself again with mud, and thus, drying one after the other, it makes itself three or four coatings like a coat of mail. Then it attacks the asp, and fights well with him, so that, taking its time it catches him in the throat and destroys him.”

The one and only Cthulu

……and of course I live in Providence so I can’t leave out Cthulhu!  According to Wikipedia, Cthulu is considered a Great Old One within the pantheon of Lovecraftian cosmic entities. The creature has since been featured in numerous popular culture references.Cthulhu’s anatomy is described as part octopus, part man, and part dragon.

Cthulhu

Dead but dreaming

I wonder what lurks beneath these waters…?!! hmmm?!

Providence River

Providence River

 

I hope these inspire me as I set out to create my own Providence River monster! My wheels are turning; More info about our local gator: HERE