Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Creative Nonfiction

Laurie Voss Barthlow
Manager, Mom, Humorist, Author of several
books of family genealogy.

Creative Nonfiction

We're lucky today to have guest blogger, Laurie Voss Barthlow, give us her viewpoint on-- shall we say-- a particular genre of writing. Before turning it over to her I would like to point out that I was witness to how one young girl put some of her descriptions and methods into practice against her younger brother. For years!

Here's Laurie.

The Blog Gets A Plug

So, my dad has created a website called Writing Fiction, where he posts a weekly blog on his efforts to hone his writing craft and his advice to others on navigating the choppy waters of being published.  He also uses the forum to tell tall tales about his big brother, Roy Voss.  Now, Dad didn’t invent Tall Tales, but he does come from a family of folks who hold with the idea that facts should never stand in the way of a good story. (A practice usually instigated by older siblings -ed.)

A Sprinkling of Fact and Fiction

In any case, Dad recently invited me to be a guest writer for his weekly column. I admit that I've always wanted to be a writer, and I am a big fan of both my uncle's and my father's work, even if Dad mostly lies about Uncle Roy.

Still, who doesn't like a good story?  In contemplating my contribution to the topic of creative writing, one of my favorite cousins came to my mind speaking three of her all-time favorite words, “Got any gossip?”

And Entertainment

Everybody likes some great dish, and it doesn’t much matter if it’s about the president of the United States or your next-door neighbor.

Oh, I suppose there is a voyeuristic aspect to pure gossip that is rather unbecoming.  We always like to hear that someone else is screwing up worse than we are, but I'm proud to say that my cousin and I never outright made up lies (Dad).

My point is that gossip tells a story, and let’s be honest, it can be entertaining. When you’re trying to tell a story and there are details you don’t know, what is an inquiring mind to do but fill in the blanks?  Admittedly, this is how tall tales get taller, and where gossip is concerned, there can certainly be a maliciousness that I am not at all advocating.

The Root of The Story

The basis for my uncle's adventure series is his time and experience in traveling the world as a pipeline engineer for Bechtel.  The basis for some of my dad's tales is his time and experience growing up in Kingman, Arizona.

I aspire to write historical fiction using some of the stories from my own family tree that fascinate me the most about people to which I am directly related.  I am always inspired by the adventures of my forbearers who struggled and overcame tough situations and conditions.  Trouble is, I don’t know everything, so I only have two options – ask someone who does know or make it up.

It Can Get Sticky

My mom and dad have in the past frowned upon my initiative to inquire about certain family stories as bad manners, particularly at family reunions, and research can only take me so far. I am therefore left with the only alternative which is to spin my own tales around those events in my family’s history by which I am most intrigued.

So, allow me to conclude my guest blog with this thought:  Perhaps when such a writer gets stuck – either for a lack of historic details or due to creative constipation – it might be useful to remember these words . . . Got any gossip?
Got Any Gossip?

Personally, I liked the post. Is Laurie on track? Should we invite her back?
Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is posted on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Arizona's Summer Thaw


Arizona's Summer Thaw is Beginning.

Not just Arizona, but the entire Southwest is under what Royal Norman says is a heat dome. He can talk for minutes giving the technical definitions, explaining how the weather patterns move, and he makes it sound interesting.

But the fact is, it's so hot now that the icicles have entirely melted from the eaves of our house in Sun City West. I haven't had to shovel snow off the driveway all week. And it's not even July yet.

The Saguaro Has A Sunburn

Normally, we don't worry too much about our cacti (notice that? cacti?) but the meteorologists tell us that Phoenix is on course to set all-time heat records this coming week. That may be true. I've noticed that the dust is too worn out to blow around. It's lying parched from above while any moisture below has been sucked away by the tough desert plants.

Oh, The Pain

Old Charlie is an expert on the northwestern episodes of Bigfoot. He says that you never want to be out camping and hear one yell. It'll make the hair on your neck stand up.

Well ...

When the Arizona summer thaw is well underway and you hear a coyote scream when he's plunked his fanny down on a hot rock it's more visceral than that. It's a stabbing sound that pierces eardrums, turns insides to mush, and melts bones.

The Consequences

Some of our cooler states may not realize the effects of Arizona living. For instance, at the gas station:
You cannot wash your windshield. The water only stays long enough to smear the glass.
It takes longer to pump gas because it evaporates coming out of the hose. (Anyway, it seems like it.)
High temperature seems to lower flash points. At church last Sunday our prayer leader, Muriel, punched a visitor for saying, "It's a dry heat, though."

Stay in
Stay cool
Stay hydrated
Stay calm - this too shall pass.

And please, stay in touch.
How should we handle the heat? Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is posted on Wednesdays
Thank a veteran.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How Does The Story End?

Nope. I can't let that happen.

How Does The Story End For The Writer?

For those of us who write by the seat of our pants, as opposed to those who have outlined a start-to-finish plot, the ending can be traumatic.

Our hero starts off in trouble and his woes increase until he has no way out. What's to happen? Will he gain what he seeks or lose it? Will he find love, fame, or fortune? Will he survive? Does he still want the things that started his journey?

At The End Of The Second Act

That's where the climax occurs. The hero is in an impossible situation. He or she wins or fails.
As authors, we know how the story should progress, but we've made it almost impossible for the protagonist. We pantsters (vs. plotters) are as eager as we hope our readers are, to discover what our hero will do. How will it turn out?

What Happens When We Know What Happens?

Funny thing. From page 1 we've worried, typed, fanned the thesaurus, lived in a different world, and met characters we never planned on, but our hero wanted them.
But now we know how his story ends. The real roller coaster ride starts.

Third Act 

This is the denouement. Is that a fancy word or what? It's opposite of commencement, but it doesn't get pronounced like it has "ment" in it. It sounds like "mawn." A lot of meaning is packed into the word. It's an untying of all the plot complexities and resolving any outstanding issues.

And it's boring for the pantster author.

We look forward to the rewrite, but can't start it until we finish the last two or three chapters. We have to copy the script in our heads into 12 point Times New Roman manuscript format.


Our minds drift to a short story we want to write, books to read, classes to take, movies to watch - almost anything rather than returning to finish the tale.

Don't give up. Readers deserve our best full measure if they stuck with the story. They should have a good ending.

What's your process for ending a story? Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays

Thank a veteran

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Browning Pork Chops or How To Start A Kitchen Fire

Browned Pork Chops

My Kitchen Expertise

I know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and how to whip up a quick bowl of Cheerios.
Other than those staples, I've depended on Frances for almost 55 years to produce something edible.

Skipping the part about arriving at a guilty conclusion, I bought a slow cooker and a recipe book. It turns out, I can cook. Chef Ramsay will be calling me any day now.

The book has a general theme for most recipes: mix some stuff, called spices, together in a bowl, put some protein in the cooker and pour the mixture over it. About a half a day later, a tasty meal is ready.
I was getting good. The only thing is that the slow cooker doesn't brown the meat and you really don't want it to look raw. I read that it helps looks and taste to sauté pork before placing it in the cooker.

Have you ever had such a firm grip on a fact that you've never felt the need to verify it? I had that experience with "sauté." I thought it might be French but it turns out to be a CIA word to describe an apocalyptical event.

Olive Oil Is Good For Everything

You can stop hinges from squeaking, put it on a red ant bed, and cook with it. I gathered my ingredients.

A Yummy Preparation

Getting back to the "fact", I knew that in order to brown the chops, the skillet had to be as hot as possible. Would you believe that a ceramic stovetop can get incredibly hot? Did you know there is such a thing called a "bridge" burner that is a funny shaped burner between the front and rear burners?

She Knew All Along

Later Frances said she knew that I had the oil too hot. I asked how she would know that. "Oh," she said, "the noise ... the smell ... the way you were jumping."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I didn't want to interfere. Besides, I thought you'd turn down the heat, move the pan away, not drop a cold pork chop into the oil with half of the stove glowing like the flow from Kilauea.

She was right. Have you heard bacon sizzle and been popped by a spot of grease?
I had that on steroids.
Sizzle, hah! The kitchen was inundated with the crackling, unceasing sound of tornado energized hail furiously slamming a tin roof.

Not only did I drop a cold pork chop into the inferno, I did it six times. And the chops were more than cold. The thick-cut chops were thawed in the refrigerator overnight but were still icy in the middle.
When water immediately converts to steam, it doesn't transition gently.

Along About Here, She Said Something

Frances finally came to realize that she had to pull an intervention to save the kitchen.
There was no fire.
There was, however, a ceramic stove top with a cooked-on brown crust, an oily overhead microwave ... and counter ... and floor.

My t-shirt was machine-gunned with grease bullets. Two washings later, after spraying with stain remover each time, the olive oil is still winning.

But, you ask, how about the pork chops?
They came out tender and edible. But the next time, I won't put in two cloves of garlic and a tablespoon of garlic powder. A greasy, garlicky house kind of dims the ambience somewhat. It might be a good thing that the taste of basil, rosemary, or one of the other spices overpowered everything else.

And there will be a next time. Frances is so appreciative of my feeble attempts that she even tried a turkey chowder I concocted. You can't let down such faith.

How are your culinary skills? Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is posted on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran.