Memoir Writing and Publishing Tips
Interview with Ina, reported on Bottomline.com,
Ina's article on tips to get started, on expert site, SelfGrowth.com
Among the tools we use to stimulate creativity and help people write
stories of their own lives, are Ina's Weird Prompts™. We also use
prompts (first lines and titles for stories) from the book,
Write Your Memoirs...Fun Prompts to Make Writing...and Reading...Your
Life Stories a Pleasure!
Why include offbeat prompts, that usually lead to fiction? Because they
loosen us up to write more creatively, and even help to recall stories
from long ago. All in all, both memoirs and fiction are better for the
exercise. Writing is enriched, the writers have fun, and so do those of
us who get to read the stories!
What's also fun to see is how everyone's voice comes through. No two
stories from the prompt below are alike.
Take a look at what happens from the prompt, The first stories below are from our latest class book,
Stories From The
Heart, Vol. 3.
And then there's a brand new tale
from Harrison Stephens, inspired from the stories by our authors at our
Spoken Word show, during which he graciously played, along with Ira Westley.
What an up!!!
Try using a prompt yourself, after reading these stories.
As Harrison put it,
Your “weird prompts” are a clever idea—and they do
stimulate. (Matter of fact, I was so intrigued I wrote a story on the
black-cat prompt when I got home, just for fun.)
"The moment the black
cat stepped in front of me, I knew..."
Prompt and stories © 2007 Ina Hillebrandt. All
Short stories from
the book, "Stories From The Heart, Vol. 3":
GOOD LOUIS/BAD LOUIS
By Louis Weinstein
The moment the black cat stepped in front of me, I
knew, as the saying says, bad luck was on its way. But what was I to do
I had been a good child, did what my mom told me
even before she told me. Never cheated in games, either physical like
hand ball or intellectual like checkers. Didn't steal a piece of candy
from the corner candy store when Mr. Sharp's back was turned. Did my
school work on time, ran errands for neighbors, all of these and much
more as I went through my twenties to forties and now past middle age.
What had I done wrong?
I happened to glance at the clock. It was time for
my favorite TV program. Suddenly, breaking news came on. There was
George Bush, whom I had just voted for. My answer to my forthcoming bad
luck was right there on CBS.
By Sophie Chudacoff
A cat lover I have never been. Since early
childhood I had a longing to escape any sight of a “house cat” or a
It probably began when I was three. Mr. Cat (no,
it must have been Mrs. Cat, I’ll tell you why later) belonged to Mr.
Cassell, our neighbor on the second floor.
The first floor was occupied by my father’s
business — haberdashery, wigs and toupees, curly false hair pieces. Our
apartment was on the third floor. So Kitty Cat, on the second floor, was
One day, I can’t tell why, I developed an aversion
to her and I can’t even remember her name. But she was there and loved
by everyone, except Sophie. Why? Was I jealous? Being an only child, did
I crave all the attention? Could well be.
Anyhow, be that as it may, one day there was a lot
of commotion, and instead of one cat, there was a litter! Oh, my! Now to
find homes for three or four kittens, which Mrs. Cassell did in no time.
So Mother Kitty Kat was an accepted member of the
family and we all lived happily ever after.
By Kay Roberts
The moment the black cat stepped in front of me, I
knew I was in the right place. Of course I took the precaution of
turning around three times and spitting. As everyone knows that is the
only way to keep the jinx from affecting you.
I’m not superstitious, but I will not take
unnecessary chances. What if there was something to these things? There
must be a reason they have been around for so long. I always toss
spilled salt over my left shoulder. Avoid walking under ladders. Try not
to step in cracks even if my mother is gone, and can’t sustain an injury
from my doing so.
I count my sneezes so I can know what they
portend. Everyone knows I’m a sensible person and don’t believe in silly
things but still here I was on my way to the wishing well to ask for a
change of luck.
By Laurel Shapiro
The moment the black cat stepped in front of me, I
knew that the witch was on her way. She always followed six seconds
after the cat. The cat, whose name was Oz, would look back and there
would be our Village Witch.
We were very fortunate. Not every village had a
witch and not every witch had a cat. One witch in a village far away had
a dog named Toto.
We would all gather round and wait for Wisteria
the Witch as she would grant favors if she was in the mood. She was
particularly fond of handsome young men, and sometimes bestowed small
favors on them if they kissed her hand and told her how beautiful she
Now, lying came easily to the men of this village,
so Wisteria would grant a lot of favors, especially to her favorites.
Favors for the favorites.
Then as she left the black cat would look back and
wink, because he would never tell Wisteria that she was the ugliest
witch of all.
and other folks now in our class who will be appearing for the first
time in Book 4, are featured in a commercial jingle contest for Oreo
cookies. You can see them on the Oreo site.
Click on the spelling bee commercial shot in LA. And you can put in a
vote for them -- they'll win a trip to New York, have a lot more fun,
and they really did a swell job! You'll be taken to a sign-up screen to
establish an account that allows you to vote, and from then on you can
vote every day until September 4, by using just your user
name and password.
By Henry Markosian
The moment the black cat stepped in front of me I knew. I was not
superstitious, but my mother sure was. To her, all cats were an
abomination. My mother had even less tolerance for dogs. Absolutely no
dogs were allowed for pets. However, she did tolerate, up to a point,
one large gray and white tom cat that we had as young children. Though
the cat was never allowed in the house, winter or summer, practically
every day after milking the cow I would pour some of the warm milk in a
dish for him.
Stray cats were another
matter to us kids. They suffered a terrible fate in our hands. They were
caught and a string of tin cans tied to their tails. In wild horror they
ran away and were never seen again.
In my adult life I have never
been a cat lover, but I have tolerated strays. I don’t catch and tie tin
cans on their tails anymore, but I don’t bother to feed them either,
except unintentionally when I throw food scraps on the compost pile.
below is from our talented guitarist friend, Harrison Stephens, whose
work is not in the book, but who, to our delight, said he
was "stimulated to write this little story" from the black cat
of "Ina's Weird Prompts" after generously donating his
services and time to play in our most
recent show ...We're awfully glad he felt so inclined, on both
BLACK CAT TAIL
By Harrison Stephens
The moment the black cat stepped in front of me I knew
him. I can’t say that we were friends, but we’d met.
Identification was easy.
He’d stand out in a police lineup of black cats. He had a torn ear and
an unnatural kink in his tail, emblems, I suppose, of old battles won or
lost. I’d seen him in my back yard from time to time. Maybe he’d once
caught a mouse or a bird there and was prowling for more.
was feral as a coyote and had the wary ways of all such animals. If I’d
call “Kitty, kitty,” he’d stop at a safe distance and stare at me with
his big yellow eyes. They seemed particularly bright and baleful against
his ebony face, and he watched me with what I fancied to be a
combination of apprehension and contempt. Sometimes he’d sit down
insolently and tidy up some spot on his glossy black fur, emphasizing
the contempt, I thought. But if I made a move toward him he was gone.
day I looked out the kitchen window, saw him and, in a mischievous
moment, crumbled some raw hamburger onto a saucer. I put it on the porch
step and sat down in the swing to test his courage.
crept toward the feast a few steps at a time, watching me intently.
Finally he arrived at the dish. Scarcely taking those yellow eyes away
from my face, he gobbled all the meat, backed away as if waiting for
some sort of trap to spring and skittered out of the yard as though he’d
stolen something. I didn’t see him again for a week or so.Now
here he was in front of me, much closer than usual, and he had troubles.
Only one yellow eye glowed in his face. The other was half closed. I sat
down in the porch swing again to see what would happen. The cat suddenly
bounded up on the porch and then onto the swing next to me, and I could
diagnose the eye problem. It was a barley bristle—one of those pesky,
one-way darts that catch in your socks when you cut across a weedy lot.
In some way the bristle had gotten under the cat’s eyelid, pierced the
lid and worked half its length through it, providing a constant brush
against his eyeball. It must have been maddening.
went in the house for tweezers and fingernail scissors. The cat hadn’t
moved when I came out; I’d rather thought he wouldn’t. I put him on my
lap, receiving no objection, grasped the bristle top with the tweezers,
snipped off the lower prickles and gently pulled what was left on
through. Still on my lap, the cat licked a paw, swiped it over the
just-freed eye and blinked a couple of times to be sure he had two
functioning orbs. Then he jumped off my lap and left the yard, but this
time he didn’t skitter. He walked out majestically with that crooked
tail high in the air.
haven’t seen him again yet, but perhaps now I can consider that he and I
are friends after all. Or maybe he perceives the episode as conning the
enemy into doing his bidding. He is, after all, a cat.
A bit about Harrison...
Harrison graduated as a journalism
major from Stanford University, and worked for several publications,
with time off the U.S. Navy in WWII. Later, he had his own weekly for
three years, then spent twenty years in various newsroom tasks at the
daily Pomona Progress-Bulletin, the last as news editor. He spent his
twilight career years working as director of information at the
Claremont Colleges. Since retirement, Harrison’s written (on
consignment) four non-fiction books, numerous articles, and in his
“doddering years” writes columns for the Balboa Yacht Club and Stanford
magazines, and plays gigs with a small jazz combo. He lives with wife
Doris in Claremont, CA. The couple has two sons, two daughters, ten
grandchildren, and, at last count, fourteen great-grandchildren.
Prompt and stories © 2007 by the authors and Ina Hillebrandt. All rights