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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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.

 

 

Did You Get Your Feedback Yet?

ken's war cyms 1

Before Ken’s War was accepted by Melange Books, I asked readers for feedback on sections of it and, if I thought they had time and interest, I asked some people to read the entire manuscript.

This is a delicate, yet oh-so-important step in the writer’s editing process.

First, I had to surrender my ego to sincerely solicit comments.

Then, I had to find people who know how to express constructive criticism. The writers’ circle I attended provided a pool of readers.

I also wanted to choose readers with knowledge about aspects of the story. Because the protagonist in Ken’s War is male, I asked males to be among my beta readers. The story takes place in a military setting during the Vietnam War, so when mistakes were pointed out by a Vietnam veteran, I verified that the suggested corrections were accurate and used them.

Fanstory (http://www.fanstory.com) members pointed out areas in characterization that needed shoring up.

Thank your readers for their critiques. Do not argue with them about their comments. If you have to explain or justify your writing, it’s lacking something…you won’t be able to explain or justify your story to agents or publishers.

You’re the author. You have the final word. In the meantime, get feedback. It’s one way to make your manuscript even better than it already is.

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Ken’s WarWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide.  https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.

Author reveals insights ken's war cover

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.

Boring to Read, Potentially Embarrassing If You Don’t

Beth Fowler headshot

 

 

Publishing Business Terms

ADVANCE: $ pub pays author for book under contract, i.e. ½ paid at signing, ½ at delivery of final ms. Author doesn’t receive more $ until proceeds ($ales) exceed amount of advance.

BACKLIST: books from previous seasons still in print.

COMMISSION: advance payment from publisher to author asked (commissioned) to write something

COPYRIGHT: designates ownership of work. Most pubs © in author’s name, so when work goes out of print rights revert to author who may resell ms to another publisher.

COVER LETTER: accompanies solicited ms sent to agent or publisher.

FLAT FEE: “work-for-hire.” Lump sum for work. No royalties.

FRONTLIST: books published in current season and in publisher’s current catalogue.

INSTITUTIONAL SALES: books sold to schools/libraries, roughly 25% of kids lit is bought by libraries.

MASS MARKET: “rack-sized”, paperbacks smaller than trade paperbacks, usually different cover than hardcover edition, and cheaper.

MASS MARKET PUBLISHERS: companies that produce large quantities of paperbacks inexpensively, titles follow trends that fit markets – tie-ins with movies, TV characters and toys. Sell high volume in short time.

NET PRICE: “wholesale price”, $ pub receives from each book sale after discounts given to bookstores/buyers. Some pubs base author’s royalty on net price.

PROPOSAL: document author sends to agent/pub describing proposed book, length, audience, table of contents, chapt outline, first 3 chapts, competing titles, ways to market book, author’s credentials.

QUERY LETTER: letter author writes seeking permission to send ms to agent/pub.

RETAIL PRICE: cover price on book. Most big pubs pay royalties based on cover price.

ROYALTIES: 3-15% of proceeds from the sale of each copy of book.

SASE: self-addressed stamped envelope

SELF PUBLISH: Author pays for publication. Companies offer different levels of service. Authors must do a lot of marketing themselves.

SUBSIDIARY RIGHTS: pub/agent sells book to foreign pubs, mags, movie studios. If pub sells rights, $ split with author (usually 50/50). If agent sells rights, author keeps proceeds minus agent’s commission.

SUBSIDY PUBLISHER: “vanity publisher”, pubs that charge authors $$$$$ to publish ms. Avoid.

TRADE PAPERBACK: bound with heavy paper, usually same size and cover art as hardback, cheaper.

TRIM SIZE: outer dimensions of book.

UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS: ms sent to pubs who didn’t request them. Often rejected, languish in “slush pile”.

 

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Article by Beth Fowler, author of the beloved coming-of-age novel “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.

 

 

 

Advice Writers Can Bank On

Beth Fowler headshot Beginning writers know that they’ll get bylines without bucks from time to time, free copies of magazines in which their works appear, and a few dollars here and there. No pay and low pay are typical during the apprenticeship phase of writing.

Following the advice of paid writers representing nearly 200 years’ experience can advance your career and compensation to the next phase.

Q: What separates paid, published writers from wanna-bes?

A: Discipline, persistence, hard work and the ability to “get back up on the horse” were common responses from the interviewed writers. Francesca Kelly, Tales from a Small Planet editor (www.talesmag.com), says, “You don’t have to have brilliant talent to be published, but you DO have to have incredible persistence.”

Lucy Clark, prolific medical romance writer for Harlequin Mills & Boon (http://www.eharlequin.com.au), is the personification of persistence. “I received the contract for my first book the same day I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. Life happens! It’s hectic. It’s busy, but if we don’t make time for the things that are important to us, we might have regrets later on. I now have two adorable children who commandeer most of my time. I don’t have time for writers’ block. I don’t have time to waste. My stories have to be planned, the research done, so when I sit down, I can build up word count. There’s no such thing as writer’s block – just lack of planning.”

Q.What rumor about the business of writing turned out to be false?

A. Arlene Uslander, editor of The Simple Touch of Fate (www.uslander.net) which has one of my stories in it, discovered three falsehoods on the road to publication. “Once you have a book published, it’s easier to have the next book published and that when you send out a manuscript, no news is good news. And that having an agent accept your work means you’re going to get published.” Not true. Not true. Not true.

Karen Rose Smith (www.karenrosesmith.com) is a fulltime author with about 40 books to her credit. She sold her first book in 1991. “I thought after I sold the first few books, life would become easier! That’s not necessarily true.  After ten books, I remember being stalled and not selling for about ten months.”

Francesca believed that editors were unapproachable. “They’re usually really nice people who are just overworked.” She should know. She’s an approachable and no doubt overworked editor.

Q. What advice do you wish you’d received (or heeded) sooner?

A. Karen Rose Smith learned to “Write to the market. Study the line you want to write for.”

Studying the magazine she wanted to write for had a lot to do with an editor accepting one of Francesca’s articles. Being published in Redbook was a “sudden breakthrough” for her.

“It’s not enough that you have something to say,” is freelance editor and author Karen Schmitt’s advice. “You have to make yourself understood – connect.”

“Rejection isn’t personal,” counsels Megan Hart, an author whose been paid to write for decades. “They’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting the work.”

“ ‘To be a successful writer, you must write every day,’ ” recalls editor, Dan Case. “I heard this a lot, but really didn’t believe it. When I read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, and he said ‘write everyday,’ I believed it. (Hey, if the King of all writers says it, it must be true.)”

Q. What would you tell a beginner about writing for pay?

A. Writers’ answers ranged from “Don’t write for pay. Write because you love it,” to “Don’t write for FREE!”

Lynn Wasnak, a freelance writer for 25 years, explains that fulltime freelancers urge beginners not to write for free or too cheaply because it allows editors to lower the going rate. Go to https://www.writersmarket.com/assets/pdf/How_Much_Should_I_Charge.pdf.

As for me, I do the writing because I love it. I donate some works to organizations where I volunteer. Otherwise, I sell my work for dollars.

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Article by Beth Fowler, author of the beloved coming-of-age novel “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.

 

 

 

ABC’s for Success in any Career (even writing)

Beth Fowler headshot           ABC’s for Writers (and anybody else who works)

 

 

 

 

Aim for decisiveness

Brainstorm frequently

Change for the better

Delegate the task

Educate yourself

Forget “I can’t.”

Generate enthusiasm

Honor commitments

Invent opportunities

Jettison outmoded thinking

Know your customers

Lighten up!

Make new connections

Negotiate sincerely

Optimize quality

Practice unquestionable integrity

Quit unfit habits

Remember goals

Share the bounty

Think entrepreneurially

Understand your mission

Value openness

Win graciously

X-out negativity

Yield to the future

Zap waste

 

 

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Article by Beth Fowler, author of the beloved coming-of-age novel “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.

 

 

 

Use My Winning Query as a Model to Pitch Your Article

Beth Fowler headshotSo, you’re ready to pitch your article idea to an editor.

Read each publication’s submission guidelines VERY CAREFULLY, then write a well-researched query letter.

Below is my query that led to a sale. You may use it as a model for your winning query letters.

Dear Jean Ann Duckworth:

I benefit from reading Simple Joy and was especially happy to see an article by my on-line friend Rekha. I believe that an article about breathing would support Simple Joy’s purpose.

We all breathe, but do we breathe properly?

Once we’re aware of our breathing patterns, we can improve them instantly. Women who breathe properly report that they feel “calm, poised, energized, a general well-being, centered, alert, relaxed, open” and similar positive sensations.

Does that sound like a miracle? Because God is in every breath, the benefits of proper breathing are miraculous.

I’d like to share what I’ve learned about breathing with Simple Joy readers. This proposed 1500- to 2000-word feature article (one time rights) will:

 

  • Explain physical and emotional hindrances to proper breathing
  • Guide readers through a breath awareness questionnaire
  • Review the breath’s path through the body
  • Include several easy, effective breathing exercises
  • List hobbies and sports that improve one’s breathing as a side benefit
  • Provide surprising facts and additional resources

 

Earning an instructor’s diploma to teach Qi Gong (or Chi Kung, it’s Chinese for “skill with breath”), speaking to women’s groups on “Better Breathing Means Better Living,” my research on the topic and my firsthand experience in improving my breathing give me the background I need to write credibly and convincingly.

Magazines that have published my works dealing with improving the quality of one’s life include, but aren’t limited to Daily Meditations, Evolving Woman, The Phoenix, New Vegetarian and Natural Health (Australia), Woman at Work (Malaysia), and Her Business (New Zealand).

I can write the article for the general interest issues or slant it as a December (holidays) stress buster.

Sincerely,

Beth Fowler

Blog readers, you’re welcome to use my query as a template or springboard for your unique query. All the best!

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Article by Beth Fowler, author of the beloved coming-of-age novel “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.