Precise Vocabulary and Passion

By  Karen Wills

I just finished Helen Macdonald’s edgy, tender, and thought-provoking book, H is for Hawk. It’s about her love for her father, her grief over his death, and her lifelong passion for falconry and training hawks. One goshawk named Mabel helped the writer through her worst pain.

As I grew up, I developed passions for certain activities. My passions had their own vocabularies, far too precise to be jargon. As I remember, I think the vocabulary became a part of my love for both language and ballet. For example, in ballet there are five positions. In each, the arms and feet are placed in only one way. A pas de deux is always a dance for two, and so on.   In class, we were taught the vocabulary of ballet and expected to remember the words and put them into precise movement. Otherwise the beauty we aspired to would just turn uncertain and clumsy. The language of ballet was all language and movement. Most people only recognized the dance.

Macdonald had a passion for falconry even as a child. Here is part of the reason for her passion.

“Young birds are eyasses, older birds passagers, adult-trapped birds haggards. Half-trained hawks fly on a long line called a creance. Hawks don’t wipe their beaks, they freak. When they defecate they mute. When they shake themselves they rouse.”  She adds, “I wanted to master this world that no one knew, to be an expert in its perfect, secret language.”

There’s a dark side to working with raptors that means it could never be my passion, but I fully understand the attraction of words so perfect in sound and meaning that they become irresistible.

I’m grateful this Thanksgiving for many things, especially for words and that putting them down on paper is the longest lasting passion of my life.

Writing has allowed me to feel like a passage, but never a haggard. I hope your passions come with words that feel like magic.


Confessions of a Historical Fiction Fanatic

By Janice McCaffrey

Lately I’ve been thinking about the ramifications of reading historical fiction. Does it smother history under make believe? Or does it inspire readers to reach outside of their comfort zones.

For me historical fiction often whet’s my appetite for facts. That curiosity leads me to research and of course to Google. Over the years I’ve collected eclectic facts from around the world.

But last year a seemingly innocent choice took over my life.

I watched an international historical fiction TV series, Magnificent Century( And now my family and friends roll their eyes if I so much as mention the word “Turkey.” Even during this holiday season.

I can’t help it!

I fell in love with Sultan Süleyman I

. . . of course the actor who portrayed him, Halit Ergenç didn’t hurt.

Süleyman was the Ottoman Empire’s longest reigning Sultan (1520-1566). He set fair taxes and protected ethnic and religious minorities. He updated the Empire’s code of law and instituted free education for boys. He’s responsible for the Empire’s unique artistic legacy. He wrote poetry, was an accomplished goldsmith, and led the world in architecture building mosques and public buildings. In Jerusalem he restored the Dome of the Rock and the city walls (still the Old City of Jerusalem’s walls) and renovated the Kaaba in Mecca.

And what a romantic! During the same era Henry VIII was arguing with the Pope about a divorce, Süleyman changed the law so he could not only marry his favorite concubine, Hurrem, but also live with her. He even bent the mores of the day inviting her to council meetings and taking her advice on matters of state. She was an important diplomat especially between the Ottoman Empire and her native Poland.

Fascinated with the Ottoman Empire and Halit I’ve gone on to an array of historical and contemporary movies, TV shows and books, both fiction and non-fiction. I highly recommend The Butterfly’s Dream (Netflix) a touching story based on two lesser-known Turkish poets, Rüştü Onur and Muzaffer Tayyip Uslu.

Over the past several months I’ve experimented with traditional Turkish recipes and learned lyrics to a few of their popular songs. And, yes, I’m working on the language (thanks Free Turkish Lessons Online or I should say soğul (pronounced sowl).

I guess the answers to my original questions can be both yes and no. It depends on the person doing the reading.

This personal admission of my fanaticism is just one example of historical fiction’s ability to promote a readers’ expansion of knowledge. I’m thankful for authors who give us the facts blended with imagination.

And I wish all of you a very Şükran Günü kutlu olsun (Happy Thanksgiving)


Taming the Monster

By Anne B. Howard-  I am a writer. I’ve been serious about my craft for eight years, but have yet to publish a single work. Instead, I’ve maintained memberships in Memoir and Creative Non-Fiction writer’s associations, completed online and Community College courses on all aspects of composition, development, and polish, participated in critique groups, read and reread developmental-editing books, located my energetic markers, my major complication, the sub-complications, the major resolution, the sub-resolutions, my scene of origin, my protagonist’s primary goal, how she was transformed, and on, and on.

Through it all, I’ve tried, I really have, to apply what I’ve learned to the process of reshaping a flabby diary-like memoir into the compelling true story it is, with half the words. Each time, as I returned to the beginning and worked forward, searching for places to cut, I was hi-jacked by my compulsion to polish the prose. Three years later, I’m convinced that this way lies madness. I lost confidence in my ability to tell my own story.

The breakthrough came like a lightning bolt, via Twitter, when I clicked on a link to a book mentioned by Lisa Cron, author of Story Genius, in one of her blog posts. Lisa suggests that writers seeking help with developmental editing might refer to an “oldie but goodie” by Jon Franklin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, entitled Writing for Story.

On impulse, I ordered the book from Amazon and it has changed the way I think about writing. He opens with two original short stories, and refers to them throughout, illustrating the components of his developmental process. His unique style of outlining taught me how to distill my eight-hundred-page manuscript into an effective outline with five fundamental components, the major complication, three developmental focuses, and the resolution, using no more than three words for each (a noun, a strong concrete action verb, and a direct object). The resolution must match the major complication.

Naturally, there is much more to consider in the layering of a long-form novel or memoir, but, in every case, the fundamental “bones” remain same.

Once the outline has been solidified, and it takes more experimentation to get this right than one might guess, he advises the writer to begin at the end of your story, rather than the beginning, and “write that pivotal moment at the end of the last developmental focus, when the situation first crystallizes in your character’s mind. Follow it with transitional narrative that sets up the first scene of the resolution. Then, write on through until you reach the end of your story. Do it this way,” he says, “because the story does not pivot on the beginning, it pivots on the ending—so write that first. This way, you know exactly what it is that you need to foreshadow.” From there, Franklin lays a clear, easily understood blueprint for structuring any type of story, be it essay, memoir, non-fiction, fiction, etc.

Of all the resources I’ve previously tapped to help tame a monstrous writing project, Writing for Story by Jon Franklin, has made the most sense and been the most helpful to me. I hope that others who are struggling to restructure will find it just as helpful.

As a sideline, as long as I’m chatting up my favorite pro-writing advice, if you are a writer with a Twitter account, try following Jon Winokur @AdviceToWriters, and sign up to receive notifications of his tweets. Daily, I receive around ten bits of writing inspiration, from Jon and other well-known authors, flashed across my mobile device’s locked screen. They are great motivators to “get butt in chair,” and do what comes naturally.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!







By Anne B. Howard


By Author  Nan McKenzie, November 10, 2017

My dad, Ed McKenzie, was forever looking for a way to make money; it was always in short supply in our house.

He began to cut Christmas trees, beginning in early November, and my sisters and I would often go with him to help.  He would walk through the trees with an axe in hand, and with just a few blows, (sometimes only one) would cut down those he thought were the right ones.  We would come behind and pile the trees up, spearing our hands down through the biggest limbs at the end, then hauling six or eight or more at a time down a hill, or up a heavy rise, taking them to the big truck.

One time, my sister Sue started screaming and running, slapping at her shirt and pants.  A hornets’ nest had been jostled loose by all the action around it, and they were letting Sue know how unhappy they were about it.  She was stung several times, the hornets working their way into her clothes and hair.  Dad picked her up and ran to the truck, taking her coat and pants off on the way, hornets following the two of them.  He was able to get most of the little stinkers off her, but our day was done—she had to go to the doctor’s office in Whitefish, about thirty miles away.  Sue cried all the way there, never able to stand pain of any sort.

When we had enough to fill the back of the truck, Dad would climb in, and we girls would toss the trees to him.  He’d try to separate them to save time when we got to the tree yard.

We had a tree yard at our house, and after several days of cutting and hauling, the yard would begin to fill up.  He’d reload the trees on the truck, counting twos, fours, and so forth, meaning the length in feet of the tree, up to eights and tens.  They’d be taken to tree lots in town for sale, or hauled somewhere exotic, like Arizona or Texas, places where there were no Christmas trees to be had.  He’d either rent a lot at the edge of a town or sell them right out of the truck, making enough money to buy gas and food for the trip home.

I loved being in the woods with Dad, feeling the snow falling on my back, the stretch of muscles, marveling at how strong he was.  The smell of the trees would almost explode on us when we walked into our warm house, and we could smell them for days afterwards.

Sometimes, he’d let me burrow into the trees and ride in the back on the way home, so cold that I thought my life was over, but relishing the sense of accomplishment, knowing I could help my dad in a significant way.

For years, I became antsy in early November, thinking it was time to cut trees, but Dad was gone by then, snuffed out in a car accident in 1964.  I still miss the beautiful trees, scuffling through the leaves in the woods, pussyfooting over the tamarack needles.

Happy Holidays from the author of the Big Foot Series