Turn Life into Income with Creative Nonfiction: Part 1

Beth Fowler headshotBy Beth Fowler, who recently won an award for a creative nonfiction story.


In 1959,  Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, two ex-convicts on parole from the Kansas State Penitentiary, robbed and murdered Herb Clutter, Herb’s wife and their two children in their home, in cold blood.

Think of how straightforward and uncreative the Clutter’s newspaper obituary was compared to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Capote said, “I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry.” He wanted to produce creative nonfiction.

Capote compiled thousands of pages of researched notes upon which his groundbreaking nonfiction novel was based. He interviewed the murderers. Even so, some of the psychological dynamics between the ex-cons, for example, would have been supposed on Capote’s part.

Creative nonfiction writers use techniques associated with fiction. They shape events into stories. Characters, scenes, dialogue, suspense and plot help transform a person’s experience into one with universal appeal that touches readers. One small event for a person: One great read for people…that’s creative nonfiction.

Most of us won’t be writing about massacres, so what can we write about? Take the advice Capote gave another writer: “You have to be willing to use everything. Everything that’s interesting.”

Creative nonfiction strikes a universal chord. Any aspect of the human experience can be the focus of creative nonfiction. Unforgettable encounters, life’s milestones, disasters, work relationships, marriage, homelessness, substance abuse, parental abandonment …

For insights on molding your experience into a salable work, dig into Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, Nancy Davidoff’s Writing from Personal Experience: How to Turn Your Life into Salable Prose Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story and Bill Roorbach’s Writing Life Stories.

“Creative Nonfiction Journal” offers online classes. The web site says, “Writers at every level can use guidance when it comes to shaping and refining their work. The Creative Nonfiction Mentoring Program pairs you with one of our seasoned, professional editors and writers who will design a program around your writing needs.” Visit Gotham Writers Workshop at www.write.org and Writers on the Net at www.writers.com to find writing classes. The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a non-credit online Creative Nonfiction class. Also, visit http://writing.shawguides.com where you’ll find The Guide to Writers Conferences & Workshops, a free, online directory of programs worldwide.

Publications that print creative nonfiction include:

Granta (www.granta.com)

Grain (www.grainmagazine.ca)

New Letters Magazine (www.newletters.org)

Memoir (and) (www.memoirjournal.net)

Glimmer Train (www.glimmertrain.com)

Rosebud (www.rsbd.net)

The Sun (www.thesunmagazine.org)

Creative Nonfiction Journal (www.creativenonfiction.org)

Christian Science Monitor (www.csmonitor.com),

Orion (www.orionmagazine.org)

Chicken Soup for the Soul (www.chickensoup.com)

Five Points (www.fivepoints.gsu.edu)

The Pinch (www.thepinchjournal.com).

Stay tuned for Turn Life into Income with Creative Nonfiction: Part 2


 Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

 ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award winning author of YA books.





Book Signings: Profitable Lessons Learned at the Mall

Beth Fowler headshotI was looking forward to my first book signing. Sales were gonna skyrocket…along with my royalties.

During the two-hour autographing gig at the bookstore, I was asked for directions to the restrooms, for a date and if I’d been on TV. Book sales? Look in the dictionary under “embarrassment.” The entry reads “emotional state suffered by authors who, after unsuccessful book signings, must lug stacks of unsold books home, esp. under the watchful eyes of mall security.”

To spare yourself similar embarrassment, employ these battle-tested tactics for a book-signing victory.

Launch a publicity blitz. I assumed the manager (a pro in the book vending biz with a massive national chain store budget to spend) would publicize the book signing. She didn’t. To avoid disappointment, invite friends, family, editors, librarians, writers’ groups, clubs, your hairdresser, and former high school English teacher. Post press releases on the bookstore’s and your websites. Send releases to local papers, magazines, radio and community TV stations. Plaster notices on college, grocery store, café and other bulletin boards. And do that all again in the virtual world.

Arrange a “double header.” Combine the book signing with a free complementary attraction. At my second signing a blues duo performed cool tunes. Serving up a cookbook? Demonstrate garnish-making with rutabaga. Pushing an exercise manual? Offer free pulse rate monitoring. Or be the warm-up author for a Big Name the way lesser known bands front for Dawes.

Set out props & don a costume. Second time ‘round, I wore a camouflage jacket, hung posters of Japan, and designed a window display to draw people close enough to read the title, Ken’s War, I was promoting. The window dressing was on show two weeks before the signing as well as during.

Hand out handouts. In keeping with the theme, I gave out green tea, bamboo chopsticks and a humorous quiz about culture shock to passersby who, in most cases, then stopped to chat. Some window shoppers were inspired to pay money for books written by the generous author handing out freebies.

Be extroverted, yet subtle. I avoid eye contact with salespeople unless I’ve already decided to buy the widget they’re selling. When I was wearing seller’s shoes, I had to devise a way to establish eye contact without coming on too strong. (“Hey, you! Wanna buy a book?”) I engaged people with classic icebreakers having nothing to do with the book. After people defrosted, they’d say, “Did you write this book?” or “My daughter writes, too,” or “I don’t have time to read,” in which case I’d ask what bookworms they did know. Finding common ground paves the road to sales.

Ask the store to purchase your books. Even though selling my books direct to the public would’ve meant higher royalties per book for me; I preferred having the manager purchase books from my publisher. Managers are more motivated to promote sales to avoid having unsold stock after the book signing. Some stores, however, will only sell books available through their distribution channels, cutting out some small and indie presses. How you negotiate this angle depends on your royalty terms, whether unsold books are returnable to the distributor, if the book is POD (print-on-demand), store policy and other factors.

Smile. Junior dribbles chocolate on your books. The U.S. Navy recruiter fishes off your pier. A scarecrow panhandles for coins. Smile, smile, smile and…

Veer from discourses on religion, sex, politics and stem cells unless your book is about the controversial subject.

Sell other stuff. With the manager’s permission, while holding the book signing for the YA novel, I displayed and sold copies of a previously published book. In addition to selling books from their oeuvres, writers can sell articles and pamphlets. They can advertise availability to present workshops and speeches, ghostwrite, write résumés and so forth.

All the best at your next book signing.


 Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

 ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.




“Life is Binary: The Choice to Live Love or Limitation” – book review

On one of his websites Vivbala himself asks, “Why do we need one more spiritual book?”

The author’s self-published “Life is Binary: The Choice to Live Love or Limitation” is divided into eight chapters which are further divided into subchapters. A dedication, acknowledgements and preface precede the table of contents. There is a reference section at the end. Apart from the colorful images on the cover, there are no other illustrations.

Vivbala starts with his personal awakening story, which in itself is engaging reading. Then he follows it with the insights he received.

Unlike “The Celestine Prophecy” that seems contrived, and some other books by authors who’ve made a business out of selling spirituality, “Life is Binary” is one engineer’s true story. Every writer has a voice, and it is Vivbala’s voice that helps set his book apart from others. He comes across as rational, caring, endearing, earnest and genuine. He’s a regular guy holding down a job and going to performances to watch his daughter dance.

Vivbala skillfully uses analogies and examples to explain his experience, insights and various phenomena such as synchronicity. He writes, “The best analogy I can come up with for what happened to me is the reboot of a computer. In computer systems, when the system starts to behave abnormally or at very low efficiency and there seems to be weird problems happening, the best solution is to reboot the system. A reboot kills all the processes that are running including those that are hanging and clears out the memory. It also deletes all the temporary files used by these processes. When the computer is shut down and restarted, it has a clear processor and memory. Spiritual awakening or near death experiences are nothing but the reboot of your mind and body.”

While reading “Life is Binary” I found myself nodding constantly as I was agreeing with the author’s statements, recognizing myself in his examples, appreciating nuggets of wisdom and realizing that retraining the mind is a life-long process for most of us who yearn to move beyond a limited existence.

Some of the ideas put forth, such as avoiding watching the news because it adds negativity to our lives, are easy to understand and are generally accepted in circles where mental health and well-being are the main focus. That we are immortal will be harder to grasp and believe.

In the final chapter, Vivbala reminds us that spiritual awakening does not come about by reading a book, even so, I wished there would have been more pencil-and-paper exercises to help me identify my patterns, fears, dreams and so forth and to help me apply some of his insights to my life.

Readers who notice typos will find a few, and some of the paragraphs seem mighty long.

If you’ve been reading spiritual development books for very long, you might not find many strikingly new concepts in “Life is Binary,” but that’s not a criticism whatsoever.

What is new and refreshing about this book is the being who is delivering the message and the way he delivers it.

So, why do we need one more spiritual book?

Because there might be at least one person left out there who is still sleepwalking through life. Maybe two.



ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.




“Walking the Trail” by Jerry Ellis: Long Trail-Short Book

Beth Fowler headshot by Beth Fowler




When I bought “Walking the Trail” by Jerry Ellis, I crossed my fingers and hoped it would be the kind of travel memoir I would savor while reading and cherish when finished.

My hope was met.

The dreadful history of the Cherokee Trail of Tears is skillfully interwoven in “Walking the Trail.” And we learn a little about Ellis’ family back home, too.

During his walk he, of course, meets people, all of whom are broken to some degree or other, yet they remain kind and philosophical in their approaches to Ellis and life, respectively. He seems to bond with them on a soul level, even though the meetings are brief, a pattern that was cast when he was a boy. He tells us about the time this pattern was created in a passage describing a dove that would come to him when Ellis whistled. I think every human being has had a dove in his or her life, and then learned that doves aren’t forever. The passage is as pure and true as anything you could wish to read.

Readers are rewarded with gems of observation, self-revelation, lust, loss, peace, one-of-a-kind Americans and forward momentum. I was confused only twice by the absence of quotations around dialog.

Ellis wrote about his 900-mile walk in a voice that is both masculine and vulnerable. Now that I’ve finished the 256-page book, I wish the book was longer.

Walking the Trail

Visit Ellis on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/#!/NATIVEDEFENDER



ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.




“Personal War Rages Inside,” book reviewer says

Rhonda Cratty’s review of Ken’s War –

With video and computer games, sports, and life, how do parents and teachers get a boy interested in reading a book? It needs to be full of action from the start, have a well-defined relatable character, as well as a plot that hooks the reader. Ken’s War by B. K. Fowler is a book that teenaged boys would get so involved in that they will choose to sit and read.

Chapter One begins “Between Purgatory and Hell ” and that is just the title. Fowler immediately grabs the reader’s attention with, “Everything was going wrong in Ken Paderson’s life. He was supposed to be practicing for his driver’s permit.” By the end of the first page the reader is drawn into Ken Paderson’s world. He and his father are moving to Japan because his father, who is in the military, has been reassigned. Ken and his father have issues, there has been a fight with his father’s commanding officer’s son, he has a broken arm and they are on an U.S. Army transport plane -in the Vietnam era.

Soon he finds himself on the remote post on Kyushu. Ken struggles with culture shock as his thoughts and beliefs are challenged. B. K. Fowler challenges the reader’s thinking through the way Ken makes sense out of his new world. How he thinks about friends and allegiance, enemies and duplicity.

Ken’s War is not just about the Vietnam war, which is always in the background. It is also about the personal war raging inside Ken as he tries to make the journey from teenager to young man.

A journey filled with lots of action, a Japanese girl, a budding but forbidden relationship, misfits, lessons in martial arts, even baths at the communal bath house.

Through it all, Ken struggles with the normal teenage difficulties, finally, coming to empathize with others around him, including his father, and to see the world through other’s eyes.

B. K. Fowler writes in depth of the time, area, as well through a teenage eye that comes through on every page.

Ken’s War would be a wonderful gift to encourage reading and difficult conversation. Ken’s struggles make him a good model for boys and young men. Ken’s War by B. K. Fowler is a well written action packed book, sure to help the teen boy in your life get interested in reading.


ken's war cover


-Learning at home by Rhonda Cratty is a parent resource, filled with ideas to help children become the best they can be. Daily activities for family fun, that make subjects become more than pencil and paper, moving learning into everyday life. Learning at home can be purchased in print ($8.48) or eBook($4.48) form through http://www.amazon.com/dp/1494917203

For more information please see http://famfunlearn.com/.


A Great Resource for Parents – Needs Professional Editing

Rhonda Cratty’s self-published Learning at home, (the author opted not to capitalize all words in titles), is chock-full of educational ideas and activities for parents, (and other adults) to do with their children.

In the acknowledgement, we gather that Cratty is or was an educator, though she didn’t include her credentials or experience. Even so, it’s apparent this book was written by a person with a formal education in and practical experience with childhood learning.

The 93-page eBook (126-page paperback) is organized into four chapters for each month. Chapter titles, while descriptive, aren’t particularly imaginative or inviting, as in “Encouraging Critical Thinking with reading and conversations” and “Home Activities to encourage a positive attitude toward mathematics.” Topics often tie into events and holidays, such as Poetry Month (April), Hobby Month (January), Columbus Day and so on. Had I been exposed to the concept of circumference when shopping for pumpkins, I would have a sunnier view of math today, I bet.

The author cautions against using “drill and kill” methods most of us experienced at some point in our educations. “If something is fun, children will turn to it even if it is difficult at first. Think of it like riding a bike.” Cratty’s book helps parents turn that statement from being yet another bromide into reality. With the book as a coach, parents can make adding and subtracting, and following directions (to cite two examples) fun for their children.

The author’s authentic care comes through…“Perfectionism gets in the way,” “Honor your child’s writing,” “Avoid yelling directions from another room.” In fact, being authentic is something Cratty mentions more than once.

This great resource for parents is in dire need of professional editing. (If you’re thinking of self publishing, hire an editor with a track record!) Readers who aren’t distracted by incorrect antecedent/pronoun pairings and fragments posing as sentences will be rewarded with a treasure trove of wise advice, practical tips, useful lists, engaging educational activities, pedagogic facts and even a few recipes.

One wonders why the author didn’t insert illustrations in spaces left unused due to the way the lists are formatted – and there are many lists.

Learning at home is a book that can be used by caring parents more than four times a month. Homeschoolers, teachers, grandparents and other adults of all socio-economic levels, who know that education is a priceless key to future contentment, will want to investigate the book’s offerings.

This resource will likely be passed from generation to generation by parents who cherish memories of their parents taking time to love them, take an interest in them, engage with them and encourage them while Learning at home.


Ken’s War by B.K. Fowler: Army brat Ken finds himself in Japan when his hot-headed dad is deployed to a remote post there. Culture clash is one of the many sucker punches that knocks Ken’s world upside down in this coming-of-age novel for teens and young adults.

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.

Print and e-books at http://www.fireandiceya.com/authors/bkfowler/kenswar.html and other book sellers. Ken’s War is published by Melange Books. ISBN 1612358993

Contact Fowler at https://www.facebook.com/kenswar for review copies, writers’ workshops, presentations to your group and more.

School librarian and mother of boys recommends Ken's War for teen boys.

School librarian and mother of boys recommends Ken’s War for teen boys.

Tips for Writers Working at Home, But Not Alone: Part 2






Blog readers sent heartfelt comments about Tips for Writers Working at Home, But Not Alone: Part 1….it seems carving out writing time is a challenge, especially during the summer and for  writers who have kids, spouses, houses and a life.

  1. Write to write. Beginning writers spend more money than they earn from writing. This economic fact can be a source of guilt. Comments like, “You spent how much for ‘Writer’s Marketplace’?” weigh heavily. Invite your family to discuss their feelings. Does your writing really strain the budget, or is something else bugging your family? Meanwhile, keep writing.
  2. Write about it. Writers experience heavy demands on their time and emotions from family members. In an ideal world you might be spared this, but if you were, would you have as much to write about? Every experience is an idea for writing.
  3. Be honest. Some writers use outside circumstances as excuses to not write. This is dishonest. Putting the burden on others with comments like, “You trim the hedge so I can write,” is unfair. Hedges need trimmed, regardless. Say, “It’s your turn to trim the hedge,” and then go write. (You did trim the hedge last time, didn’t you?)
  4. Streamline and economize. Writing takes time and money, so I’ve streamlined and economized. I moved to a smaller house near two libraries and sometimes serve stir-fried rice instead of complicated meals. I swap magazines with writers’ circle members and buy used books.
  5. Search for nuggets. Angela Raeburn, a beginning freelancer, has two sons, a part-time job and a home to run. “I search for nuggets of time for my writing in between the school run, play group duty, taking the dog to the vet and delivering hubby’s suits to the cleaners,” Angela said. She added that she doesn’t feel guilty when ironing piles up because “I get paid for writing, I don’t get paid for housework.”
  6. Manage time. Susan Wilson, another freelancer, shared her time management technique. “Time mismanagement can be turned into positive control by actively noting daily what you do, when you do it and how long it takes over a period, say two weeks. Draw up a chart showing the chunks of time and concentrate the activity into that time.” Susan is partially paralyzed, but her determination takes her from England to Asia gathering ideas and material for writing.
  7. Divide and write. Horror writer Mark Morris shares domestic chores with his wife Nel, an artist who also works from home. “I work in the mornings and look after our one-year-old son in the afternoons, and Nel does it the other way around.” While one parent bathes and beds their son, the other cooks supper. Evenings and weekends are free for relaxing and socializing.

Making adjustments and finding solutions to meet each other’s needs—that’s what living and working together is all about.

“They lived happily ever after” is not a trite story ending. It’s the beginning of your story.


ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.