Tami Lewis Brown lives in one of the oldest houses in Washington, DC. It is (mostly) ghost-free. She escaped from a career as a trial lawyer to obtain an MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. And she’s the author of the forthcoming RADIANT MAN along with SOAR, ELINOR! and THE MAP OF ME, all published by Farrar Straus and Giroux Books for Young Reader.

You’ve heard about the Tollbooth’s Fantastic Detail Challenge.


Submit a literary detail for a chance to win a critique from Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty member Garret Freyman-Weyr. Check out the rules and post your entry here.

For inspiration check out this lovely use of telling details written by founding Tollbooth member Zu Vincent, from her novel THE LUCKY PLACE-


Two Tickets

Garret’s prompt to “choose a beloved room for a character you’re working on, and pick an item from the room which has meaning to your character” is a great one. Such items are more than the sum of their parts for writers. In the opening scene of my novel The Lucky Place, for example, my main character, Cassie, is at the horse races with her dad. He drinks too much and ultimately loses three-year-old Cassie in the crowd. But before she’s left behind, Cassie is charmed by the setting, in particular her ticket to the races:

Jamie is five, so he’s too big, but I can sit on Daddy’s lap. I put my hands on Daddy’s cheeks where the little hairs poke out. He kisses me wet and squeezes. I feel in my coat pocket for my ticket to the races. It’s long and smooth and a horse runs across one end. There are more tickets like this on the floor by Daddy’s feet, because people throw them there and step on them. I look around to see if any of the other tickets are still good enough to save, but none of them are as nice as mine.


Later, that ticket becomes a plot device when Ellis, Cassie’s step-father to be, enters her life. While her father is away, Ellis treats Cassie to an elephant ride, and she keeps this new ticket, too, tucked into her secret place:

A rock pushes against my face. I don’t know why I should be sleeping on it. I open my eyes and Jamie’s bed sags, so I know he’s up there. His mattress is held above mine by wire; if the wire breaks he’ll fall on me. I roll over and the rock is only Mama’s empty powder box, the see-through one with little grooves on top. That’s where I keep my tickets, the ones from the races and the elephant ride. I stand up and poke at Jamie’s mattress.

In this scene, both kids run into mom and dad’s room and find their father has returned. But…


…We aren’t supposed to tell Daddy about Ellis giving us a ticket to ride the elephant. Mama says never take that ticket out of her powder box. Never mention Ellis’s name. She says it’s on the Q.T., which is another word for secret.

Unfortunately, Cassie doesn’t keep her secret, and these small tickets begin a lot of havoc. Cassie is ultimately pulled between the two dads in her life, and the tickets come to symbolize her struggle to understand the nature of love, as well as to comes to grips with the idea that everyone, even little children, are asked to keep secrets:

Not that I realized all this when that ticket suddenly flew into my character’s hand! But I did feel that in-the-gut satisfaction you get when, as Garret says, an idea leaps off the page and grabs you with details that are alive, vivid and full of meaning.

Zu Vincent



  1. Ooohh. What a beautiful way to start my day and put my head into my own very detail challenged work in progress. Thanks!

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