What is True? What is Creative?


A writer honors the creative nonfiction contract by not presenting anything as fact that he or she doesn’t know to be fact. To comply with the contract, and earn readers’ trust, the writer signals when a bit of info is, in fact, not factual. 

As you read “Good Things” identify the words and phrases I used to signal what I was imagining and interpreting as opposed to what information is factual.

Good Things

cnf-mrs-clair-k-decker-cookbook-cover

“Mrs. Clair K. Decker.”

“Mrs. Clair K. Decker.”

Grandma had fountain-penned her new name in graceful letters on the canvas covers of a recipe booklet. The cover shows a nifty illustration of a youthful woman and tendrils of art nouveau steam wafting out of bowls.

Every four years or so, I pull “Good Things to Eat and How to Prepare Them” off my cupboard shelf and contemplate selling it. Or even donating it. Copyrighted in 1906, the 80-page collection of “more than 250 choice recipes” had cost 15 cents in the early 1900s.

Enjoying the feel of the soft, yellowed pages, I learn that “whether dinner is served at noon or at night it is the hearty meal of the day,” and try to imagine Grandma – whom I was told married Clair when she was 12 – preparing Stuffed Potatoes and Banana Salad.

My imagination fails. Those weren’t dished up at her extra-long oak dining table. Pancakes, I remember, and turkey with bread stuffing. But they’re not in this slim volume.

I leaf though the booklet again, this time with a purpose. I’m looking for the most splattered pages as a clue to what recipes she might have favored as a new housewife.

Desserts. Brown stains freckle the dessert pages. The chapter subtitle is, “ ‘Pretty Little Tiny Kickshaws.’ Shakespeare.” Kickshaws? Might Strawberry Sago be a kickshaw? Or Orange Pudding? Custard Pie?

Custard Pie! I do remember that kickshaw.

I also remember that Grandma hunted deer and went trout fishing with Grandpap. Together they raised potatoes, gladioli and three children.

One page in “Good Things to Eat” depicts the components of an eight-piece place setting arranged just so. The accompanying instructions are stiff with exacting adverbs: carefully, perfectly, squarely.

For the good of the marriage, Katie Kendall must have learned to compromise early on. You only had to notice Clair’s Camels, stinking cigarette lighter and rattlesnake tail buttons on the kitchen windowsill to know that. And what grandchild could forget that gawd-awful sound of his phlegm projectiles?

Once, when she didn’t know I was within earshot, Grandma described someone as being “full of piss and vinegar!” in a voice that sounded, to my young ears, admiring, envious perhaps. I’d hoped I would become a grownup full of those key ingredients.

I tucked the booklet back onto the shelf.

Did I comply with the creative nonfiction contract?

By Beth Fowler, author of “Ken’s War.” Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

 

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Unique Third Person POV Activity

Guesstimate: How much cash do you think you’re carrying? $______

Empty your pocketbook, tote bag, wallet.

man-with-big-bagFrom the third person point of view (he/she, his/her) write assumptions a stranger might make about the person who carries the items in that pocketbook, tote bag, wallet. For example, what would someone assume about the person’s:

  • Free time
  • Hobbies
  • Habits
  • Work
  • Family
  • Fears
  • Health
  • Values/morals
  • Worldview
  • Health
  • Spirituality
  • Idiosyncrasies

How much cash are you REALLY carrying? How close was your guess – within $5, $10…?

Now that you’ve considered the contents:

  1. What Bible verse, adage, popular title or idiom best describes your findings?
  2. What can you throw away right now?
  3. What surprised you?
  4. What do you want to stop carrying around?
  5. What do you want to start carrying with you?
  6. What do you hope to carry with you always?

By Beth Fowler, author of “Ken’s War.” Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

A Matter of Choice

In this award-winning story, teenager Monica sets out to push her parents’ button, but was it the one she was aiming for or something unexpected?

A Matter of Choice

teen girl angry“Your parents didn’t tell me why they want you to stay with me for a while,” Aunt Jo said.  “They said it had something to do with what they discovered on your Facebook page.

“Don’t ask me.” Monica replied. “Talking to my parents is like bumper cars at the fair.” It was OK to talk like this. Aunt Jo was cool.

Monica lifted her suitcase onto her aunt’s spare bed and glanced around the guestroom. Aunt Jo’s large, carved Kachina doll, known as Left-Hand in Hopi tradition, stood on the bureau. Monica knew her mom would geek out in here. Her parents’ bedroom was mauve, which Monica pronounced moo-vah to irk her mom. It did. Their room resembled a furniture showroom. Stiff. Formal.

“It’s not like I’m pregnant or anything. I’m not stupid.” Monica shook her head at the ridiculousness of it all.

“Ah, I figured it was a fella.” Aunt Jo said.

Monica laughed. The Kachina doll was called Left-Hand because he did everything in the opposite.

“I knew it would freak them out.” Monica confessed. “I mean, I always left the room when he called me when I was at home. And I’d tell ‘em I was meeting Ashley at the mall or the library.” Monica told herself she’d done her parents a favor by preventing them from knowing about Zeki. “Besides, staying here with you doesn’t mean I can’t see Zeki. They just don’t want to be bothered with me. They don’t know how to handle me.

“He must be some special fella.”

“He’s African-American.” Monica felt her head float like a balloon. “And Muslim.”

Aunt Jo’s eyebrows shot up. “And you think that’s why your parents are upset?”

“They’re old school, you know?”

“They’re of a different generation, but I don’t think…Tell me about your friend.”

“I dunno. He’s cute.” There were lots of cute guys. Some of them were her friends. She pulled her shirts and shorts out of her suitcase and tossed them into a drawer.

“You’re doing what every girl does. Stretching your wings. Finding out, exploring, growing. Better now than when you’re my age.” Aunt Jo hiccupped.

“Did you ever do something sneaky, Aunt Jo?”

“Yes! I dated two fellas at the same time. They tried to outdo each other. Your mother and your grandparents scolded me and lectured me. ‘People are talking!’ they said. ‘It’s time to settle down with one fella.’ I ended up losing both fellas. I was seventeen then.” Her eyes sparkled. “Your mom got married when she was seventeen, you know.”

“I know. Nineteen ninety-eight.”

“Ninety-nine.”

“You got your years mixed up,” Monica said. “Mom and Dad were married in ’98. I was born in ’99.”

“Somebody told you the wrong year. You were born in ’99, the same year they were married.” She smiled ruefully.

Monica’s thoughts knotted. Simple math. “Mom had to get married! I was a surprise. Wait till I tell her!”

Should she make a big scene? Blow her mom’s cover? And be a self-righteous geek like everybody else? Monica squinted at Left-Hand Kachina, whose expression sometimes looked angry and other times surprised. Let Mom and Dad have their little secret. And then the next time they got all flamed about something, she would give them a math lesson.

“Do you love Zeki?” Aunt Jo asked.

“We’re just friends. We hang out together. I’m not gonna fall in love until after I graduate from college, and I’m not gonna get married until I have a career, and I’m not gonna have kids ever! Too much hassle.”

“Why were you sneaky about your new boyfriend?”

“I asked Mom, what if I dated someone of a different background.”

“And?”

“She got twitchy. She was peeling potatoes. Cut her finger. I ran to get a Band-Aid… They’re always around, my parents, but never there. You know?” Monica’s face twisted. She unfolded the skimpy top she had worn when she went with Zeki to the party. “Mom didn’t say I couldn’t date someone different…a Muslim.” Monica knew she was using what her English teacher called “specious reasoning.” What would Left-Hand Kachina do?

Monica rolled her eyes at Aunt Jo. “OK, yeah. I knew Mom and Dad would geek out big time. Zeki didn’t pick what color or religion he is!” Monica slammed her empty suitcase shut.

“I guess I did,” Monica said.

“And you chose to lie. Numerous times.”

Left-Hand Kachina waited patiently, his inscrutable expression seemingly on the verge of shifting to something altogether new.

This story by Beth Fowler won 3rd Place Creative Nonfiction in the York PA literary contest. Fowler is the author of “Ken’s War.”

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQjZBjqFNzs&feature=youtu.be

 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.