A Page Before Midnight

Do you like to write? Maybe you don’t know, but there’s something important that happened. What if you wrote it down? Where to start? “A Page Before Midnight” is a series of writing prompts to begin or build a story. Small ideas. I’m gathering prompts I do to help me write, and want to share them with you. Everybody has a story and it’s made up of moments – this moment – of a story. The prompts are about a moment. Scribbles on a page. (I do mine really early in the morning, but if you’re a teen, you might do yours on the phone in the dark.) These are for everybody, teens, kids, adults. No rules. Be a poet. Write a text. Write a paragraph. Make it true. Make it up. Turn the prompt upside down. You are creating the world! If the prompt has a cat, you can turn it into a fox. The prompts are to tap into your experience, your memory, your imagination. Stay in touch. What happened? I’ll post a new prompt on Instagram every Friday. Here are five to begin.

A Page before Midnight #6 A Microplay

Leslie Pasternack, Creative Director “Where does one start? Leslie IS theatre.”

I’m sharing a prompt from Lemon Punch Theatre’s director, Leslie Pasternack. Leslie is running a Lemon Live Microplay Festival adapted from work of the Dramatist’s Guild. I loved this prompt.

Prompt: Write a two-character tiny play – a microplay – that’s no more than 150 words. Relate the play to the theme, no matter how subtly, of the corona virus.

A Page before Midnight #5 The Dance

Girls dancing at Lowell Southeast Asian Water Festival

Do you remember a dance – any movement – you learned when you were younger or are learning now? Can you remember the steps and the way you felt when you were dancing. “How is it that I can remember the movement sequences I learned back then….My body, not me, remembered it,” Alma Guillermoprieto wrote about dancing.

Prompt: Write about being in the moment of dancing. Show the movement and what the rhythm feels like in your body. How does the dance make you feel? or Imagine one of the girls in the photo and write about this moment for her.

A Page before Midnight # 4 Sounds of the Doves


“My father kept birds – about 15 beautiful white doves – behind our house in Kabul,” Aqila Sharafyar wrote when she was a student at The Telling Room in Portland. In this memory of her father, Aqila brings him to life through the sounds of the doves that he loved. “He put bangles on their ankles, which would jingle when they walked.” “He loved to hear that, especially when they were walking at the same time. It sounded a little like raindrops.” (from “The Faithful Doves of My Father” collected in I Remember Warm Rain, (c) 2007, The Telling Room.)

Prompt: Describe a person, or a moment when something happens. Tell it with attention to the sounds you connect with that person or that moment you are describing.

A Page before Midnight #3 The Telling Rooms’ “A Prompt a Day”

Ayat Basil reads on the window sill at The Telling Room in Portland. The program uses poetry, prose and nonfiction as a way to teach language and leadership skills. Troy R. Bennett | Bangor Daily News

Telling Room readers and writers in Maine are creating “#Writing Prompt of the Day” – prompts written by kids for kids. The composers of prompts are amazing, emerging writers themselves. See The Telling Room’s “Writing Prompt of the Day” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Also check out the events, publications at the tellingroom.org

A Page before Midnight #2 A Dialogue in Questions

illustration by Barry Root from The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup

I went to an improv workshop. In one of our activities, I had a conversation with another person. (The cat, above, is not holding herself back from talking to the old man.) In our improv, my partner and I talked, but everything we said had to be a question. This screamed to also be a writing prompt. Thank you, Boynton Improv Education & Korabek Training, Fiercely Human Mindfulness and Improv

Prompt: Write a conversation between you and somebody else, or your imaginary characters. Build the conversation so that you show the relationship between the two. And each thing that’s said is a question. Maybe you reveal a conflict. Can you make it into a tiny story?

A Page before Midnight #1 The Painter and the Cat

I met a painter named Saad Hindal. That’s his cat, Hantouse. And his studio. Saad is from Baghdad, Iraq and now lives with his family in Concord, New Hampshire. He loves cats. He paints cats in many of his brilliantly colored paintings. He says cats connect his memory of Iraq with his depictions of New Hampshire. He wants his paintings to say, “Iraq is more than war.” I dedicate this first prompt to Saad.

Prompt: Write about a cat – or other animal – that connects you or your character with two different places, real or imagined. Include a color. Include a cat. OR, paint a cat with your words.

Why We Write the Poems


Sarah, aged 13, and I, with the poet laureate of our city and all of us in the photo have been gathering on Tuesday nights to write together and be part of New Hampshire Humanities New Voices project. Sarah, her mom, and little brother are new Americans and bring their first language to the poems they’re writing in English. Sarah is a poet and and an artist. Here’s one of her anime drawings.

illustration by Sarah Cristina, grade 7

In the New Voices project, immigrant writers partner with local writers to write together and present together at a public reading. Thank you to teacher Carolyn Hutton who invited me to be the writer with her students. We’re gearing up to do our public reading. Here’s a poem I wrote about the magic that happened when we wrote together.

Why We Write the Poems

Because it stops raining and the dogwood tree finally

  relents and blooms,

Because it’s June and we can wear dresses off our shoulders

  and flip flops and our bodies can feel the sun,

Because, on the night Leidiane invites us over, the moon

  grows enormous and lights the expanse of the sea,

Because Tammi brings blooming azaleas and Carolyn brings

  miniature clipboards and pads she found at the Dollar Tree,

And because there are still people in the world singing love songs,

   we begin to write poems.

Because Pedro is two, his poems are giant circles on his Dollar Tree pad.

Because, combined, we speak Portuguese, English, Spanish, Music,

  Youth, Age and Indonesian coconut pancakes, we have

  immensity of imagination.

No one can stop writing the poems.

No one can stop remaking the world.

A Good, Good Year for Joseph and Whoosh in Joseph’s Big Ride

Ken Daley’s gorgeous illustration of Mama, Joseph, Whoosh with ALL her hair, and the bike in Joseph’s Big Ride.

“The narrative, which focuses on building a friendship, is paired with Daley’s vibrant illustrations, which depict just how fast the minds, and bikes, of young children can go…An ideal addition…”                      School Library Journal

This has been a good, good year for my characters, Joseph and Whoosh, in Joseph’s Big Ride.  Their bike – the one Joseph FINALLY gets to ride, his wish come true! – came to life in a school in Westbrook, Maine. Master’s of Education students at the  Maine College of Art made it happen with an Art Lesson they did with the students beginning with drawing lots of kids’ hands and the connected hands become the spokes of the bicycle’s wheels.  Like this….

Then like this…

Then all the children’s hands come together like this….

The children and these extraordinary art teachers put Joseph’s – really Whoosh’s (but she likes him) – bike all together like this…

You can see the steps to make the bike is this gallery of images and videos. The Art Lessons for Joseph’s Big Ride are created as part of a tool kit for a collection of children’s books called the,  Welcoming Library

Libraries and community centers can purchase the Welcoming Library of children’s books, mobile exhibit, and program resources to help new Americans and U.S.-born families in the neighborhood  meet each other through story.  See all the books and meet the creator, Kirsten Cappy, champion of books and children, at Welcoming Library.   

A Welcoming Library display in Maine.


 Joseph’s Big Ride also comes to Dads in correctional facilities to help parents connect with their kids through stories

I had to get this for my daughter. She’s got hair just like Whoosh.

Dad at Concord State Prison

The Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF) gives brand-new children’s books to incarcerated parents in New Hampshire and Vermont prisons to support family literacy.  I’m one of the writers who visits schools and prisons to tell stories and talk about reading.  We imagine ways to read aloud to their kids which parents can do, depending on the facility, by Skype, phone call, or making a recording.  CLiF also gives children brand-new books in schools and community centers. I’ve brought Joseph’s joyful tale to many, many children in schools in immigrant neighborhoods. 

With students at Dr. Norman Crisp School, Nashua, New Hampshire 

Meet OD 

Finally, for this good, good year for Joseph and Whoosh,  South Sudanese rapper, OD Bonny and I  have teamed up to write a new story for Joseph called AII YEE, JOSEPH!  I first met OD when he wrote a tribute song, “A Girl from Juba”  for Viola,  the heroine of my novel in verse, THE GOOD BRAIDER.  I am very excited to work with this talented singer and storyteller who brings his music around the world to the Acholi people and all of us. 

OD Bonny, on the go