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.

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.

 

 

 

“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.