Exploring the art of prose


Author: Val Bramble

Author’s Note

One day, in casting around for a story, a line came to me: Sometimes Mrs. Bowman rode the school bus to her jobs, and I paused to think, what a boon, there she is—that adult in a coverall, who rode my school bus a couple of times before the days I was able to read. That single scrap of far-off memory set my imagination on a tear. “Don’t Laugh” is pure make-believe, and yet, with such an honest scrap pile to pull from (kindly bus drivers, fields of derelict cars, hand-me-down bookbags), writing the scenes felt truer and truer as I went along.

It’s been many years since I left the rural community where I grew up, and I’ve spent a lot of time writing stories about the new places I came to independently. With this story, it was a delight to craft a tale out of so many pieces of earliest memory, and to push its narrative along through the voice of a kid, Rosie Cotton, to whom I had easy access. By providing Rosie with a couple of tools I had myself at her age, I was able to better perceive what her reactions would be, and what path she’d choose to put herself on. The tension of the story would be in the space between Rosie’s thoughts and actions, and in letting her decide how far she’d go with her impersonations of the people she lived among. Unconsciously, I protected Rosie’s sensibilities—her awareness that people deserved her attention, that people were brave and easily misunderstood—even while Rosie’s own intentions were being misconstrued.

How people talk and carry themselves through the world, how they engage with others, or disengage, has always been something I’ve paid attention to. Among my earliest memories is one of a stranger, a local preacher, who visited our house out in the country. What made the man stand out was the quality of his voice, whatever he said, and his way of looking at my parents, and their way of looking at him, as they made dialogue together. While I don’t remember it, I’m certain I would have tried impersonating him after he left—not for the attention, not for a laugh—but because he left his impression upon me, and it’s always felt oddly reassuring to connect, to notice some quality about another person that is absolutely theirs alone, then be able to reveal this trait to other people in a true enough way that they re-see it for themselves. A carefully rendered impression can sometimes feel exactly like crafting a story.

It was a pleasure writing “Don’t Laugh” and remembering what it felt like being little, with a hardwired compassion for other people who lived so differently from almost everyone else. I wrote this small tale to fulfill a challenge, and unexpectedly, I’ve tapped a vein, and found a character, Rosie Cotton, with a voice that keeps talking, story by story.


VAL BRAMBLE is a nurse at a small island health clinic off the coast of Portland, Maine. When writing stories, she draws from what she is learning about people struggling with illness and social stressors. She also draws from her experiences trying to pursue theater acting, and from her childhood growing up on farmland with her sisters and brothers in rural southwestern Pennsylvania. “Don’t Laugh” is her first published story, and she’s so grateful to CRAFT.