A second edition of Moe's Cafe is in the works. It's called Joan's Junk Shop and is filled with 48 more starter ideas and samples of student writing. Here is the first prompt. Ask your kids to give it a try.
You're on the road and looking for a place to kill time. You spot a sign that says "JOAN'S JUNK EMPORIUM-Old Treasures." "Why not?" you say to yourself, so you pull into the gravel parking lot.
Once inside the store, you find more junk than you ever imagined could exist in one place.
- The front of the place looks strangely familiar. What does it remind you of?
- You immediately find yourself in a large room packed with furniture. What do you notice first?
- Next you wander into a smaller room that says "Hobbies." What do you find there? How is it arranged?
- In the back yard you find a collection marked "Outside Stuff." What do you find there?
- There's a heated argument going on in the back yard. Who is involved? Why are they fighting?
- Toward the back you find a room marked "For Readers." What does this room look like? What are some of the books? What other reading material is there?
- Your last stop is the basement, where just about anything can be found. What do you find there?
- In the basement you find someone crying? What do you learn about this person?
- At the cash register you meet Joan, who does not look at all like you expected her to be. What does she look like? What do you talk about?
- What do you decide to buy? Why that particular item?
Starting Up: (Get Set....)
Write three ninety-word mini-stories that begin and end in Joan's Junk Emporium. In each you, as the narrator, discover a solution to a problem that has been haunting you:
You are a/an…
- Location scout for a reality TV show
- Unemployed writer
- Lonely widow
- Unappreciated teacher
- Frustrated artist
- Discharged army veteran
- Unsuccessful stand-up comedian
Write Away: (Go!)
- Pick the story you like the best and write a much longer version. Although the story should take place within the confines of Joan's Junk Emporium, you may choose to incorporate flashbacks to add context to your story.
- Study what you have written. Have you made the right choice of narrator? Are the characters well motivated? Have you created and achieved suspense? If you've chosen to use flashbacks, do they add or distract from your storyline?
- Try this once more. This time begin in the middle and use a flashback.
Read to Write:
Consider reading Ch.16 from Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon, the true story of a man who faces a life crisis by driving his van on a 13,000 mile road trip on the back roads of rural America. In this chpter Moon enters J.T. Watts' General Store in Nameless, Tennessee, and discovers a place where they "could fix up a horse or a man or a baby." Notice how entering the store is like stepping back into a forgotten era in time.
On the Screen:
Enjoy the made-for-TV movie, THE LIBRARIAN: Quest for the Spear (NR), starring Noah Wyle in the title role as the geeky but impressive keeper of the greatest collection of priceless treasures ever assembled. Notice the comic irony of various "bookish" types successfully taking on the job of saving the world.
Write stories that could explain this unusual behavior:
- Minister joins a motorcycle gang
- Teacher ignores a student plagiarism.
- Old guy returns to college.
- Librarian burns books.
Write a first-person story that begins with one of these questions:
- Why do shadows always follow me?
- Why is there an extra hundred dollars in my wallet?
- Why are parents so stupid?
- Did I ever tell you why my brother spent the night in jail?
- Birds? Why do so many people own birds?
Describe these places:
- archaic attic
- bland bedroom
- corny cab
- depressing depot
- edgy entertainer
Red Sky at Morning: An Overlooked Gem
Over the years, I've used a number of prompts from Moe's Café: 48 Decidedly Different Creative Writing Prompts to spice up my literature units. Since my high school does not offer a creative writing class per se, most of my creative writing activities are designed in conjunction with some piece of literature I'm teaching at the time. Although Moe's Café was not written to be used with any particular book, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could match up all of the chapters of a novel that I was teaching with pre-reading/writing prompts from Moe's Café. I chose Red Sky at Morning, the opening work for my English 1 class.
Richard Bradford's Red Sky at Morning tells the story of Josh Arnold, a wise-cracking yet engaging teenager forced to grow up quickly in the waning days of World War II. First in Mobile, Alabama and then later in the mountains of New Mexico, Josh must come to terms with the universal problems of growing up. Along the way, he encounters a number of colorful characters who both help and hinder the process. Josh's wry interaction with these people makes for compelling reading. The novel also offers enough insight into the power of nature and the foibles and strengths of human beings to be worth teaching to the freshmen in my English 1 course.
Although it's unlikely that any teacher would have the time to assign all twenty-one of these prompts in the course of teaching the novel, each chapter having its corresponding prompt affords a teacher a number of alternatives. The prompts can be used as pre-reading activities, discussion starters, extra credit opportunities, narrative assignments, portfolio entries, substitute teacher lesson plans, etc.
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