Sunday, December 28, 2008

Foxfire Book
Edited by Eliot Wigginton
And His Students

Several years ago, my father-in-law presented me with a copy of The Foxfire Book because he knew I loved history and stories of how people used to do things. There are several subsequent books in the series.

Eliot Wigginton was a teacher in a small Appalachian Mountain community in North Georgia in 1966. Things were not going well for the Cornell University graduate and his mountain high school English students. In desperation, he suggested the class put together an issue of a magazine. The students’ choice for the magazine title was “Foxfire” named after an organism that is found in the mountains and glows in the dark.

Students interviewed their parents, grandparents, and neighbors to gather mountain folklore for inclusion in their magazine. Subscriptions funded the cost. One issue grew to more and eventually resulted in an anthology. Many students pursued college degrees as a result of their experience with the project and scholarships from interested supporters around the country.

The books are excellent resources for writers who want to write about early American experiences. The Table of Contents lists topics such as Building a Log Cabin, Chimney Building, Soap making, Churning Your Own Butter, and Home Remedies. Pictures and illustrations help with the instructions.

On a recent trip through North Georgia, my husband and I went to the study site for the Foxfire project. Each summer workshops provide Georgia teachers and other interested parties hands on experiences at the site. A well-equipped bookstore offers more books and local handicrafts.

Do you want to know how your heroine cooked a mountain recipe in the fireplace? Pages 159-165 will have information about the fireplace, and 167-174 will provide some mountain recipes.

Does your hero need to read weather signs before setting out to rescue the heroine? Check out 208-211.

The website for the museum,, states there are a total of twelve books representing forty years of magazines written by the students. Past issues of recent magazines as well as subscriptions for two magazines a year are also available. I want to order the magazine that tells about “sock suppers”. Amazon also listed some books as available.

If you love history, write historicals, or want to know how your ancestors provided for themselves in our young country, I suggest you may want to sample one of The Foxfire Books.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Train-of-Thought Writing Method

Recently, I was privileged to read a book written by Kathi Macias, who I "met" online in a writing group to which we both participate. Her experience as a writer for twenty-five years qualifies her to help writers not as far down the road in learning the craft of writing. As she explains in her introduction, "The Train-of-Thought Writing Method presents the most effective plan for putting your ideas and thoughts into the form of a finished work whether that be a short story, article, or book. Ms. Macias excels in all.

Aimed toward beginning writers with ideas flowing through their heads, but no clue how to put them in publishable form, the book contains easy to understand plans. I found the simplicity refreshing even though I've written all my life and studied the craft seriously for three years. One bit of knowledge I've learned in that time is to write a good beginning hook. Only one problem exists with knowing that. How does one write a good hook? I pondered and edited. I changed and sent it off to another agent only to be told the beginning didn't "grab" her.

Along comes Kathi Macias' "cow catcher." For all you who have yet to read the book, that's the first sentence. Ms. Macias gives examples from other author's works and also many from her own. Then, she offers samples with opportunities for the reader to write a first sentence and compare with the author's version. I found it to be a perfect learning tool all the way to, you guessed it, the "caboose."

This book precipitated me going to the beginning of my work in progress and writing a new "cow catcher." As Ms. Macias suggests, I will also bring it full circle when I finish my "boxcars" and "couplers." The short, concise instructions can be followed or used by experienced as well as beginning writers.

I highly recommend this book. You can find out more about it and other books written by this author at

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Writer’s Digest Flip Dictionary
By Barbara Amm Kipfer, Ph.D.

I once had a friend once accuse me of “cheating” with my writing. She presumed that a writer wouldn’t need a thesaurus or other helps to write a novel or a script. My friend thought that all our fabulous words merely pour out of the writer’s mind and onto the page. (If only . . .) Seeing my well-worn thesaurus she exclaimed, “I could do that.” She meant writing with the use of a thesaurus. I believe she’d still find writing a challenge even with the wonderful tools I use to keep me sane.

All the same, I love to write and I love my readers. I want my writing to be exciting, arousing the emotions of our readers, maybe even heal emotional and spiritual wounds along the way. Words are the only medium I have to communicate what is in my heart. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get.

Writers paint images in the mind and we find the colors for our pallets in dictionaries, thesauruses, and other prayer answering resources. I have a “tool box” at finger’s reach from my desktop computer. Among my favorite tools is my Hitchcock’s Topical Bible that I reviewed last time. I also have various types of dictionaries.

The classic Merriam Webster isn’t the only show in town. There are all sorts of dictionaries that help us find the words we want to use to set a particular emotional stage. One of my favorites is the Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipher, Ph. D., a publication of Writer’s Digest. This dictionary is designed to help the writer find the perfect word to fit the context.

We all know how frustrating it is to have a word “on the tip of our tongues” and not be able to spit it out or, worse yet, write it down. Maybe you want to need a word to describe a specific action or thing. You might need a specialized technical term. The Flip Dictionary will help you find exactly the right word you’ve been looking for.

The Flip Dictionary uses clue words under broad headings—such as Furniture Terms, Combat Sports and Martial Arts, or Types of Boats and Ships with thousands of entries in between. The Flip Dictionary will save hours of frustration; Googling and praying to come across the correct verbage. The word you seek will always be right at the finger tips.

The Flip Dictionary is formatted by subject in alphabetical order and is very easy to use and also doubles as a thesaurus, giving the writer and even broader choice of words to use. No writer should be without this valuable tool.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Fantastic Historical Research Book!

The Women: The Old West Series, by Time Life Books is an invaluable book to own when researching women's lives of the 19th Century.

I first found this book at the library among the entire collection, The Old West Series, which included The Gambler, The Trailblazer, The Railroad Men, The Lawmen, The Gunslinger, and many others. I had read about half of The Women when I knew I must own this book.

The first five pages of the book are black and white photos of women performing their daily tasks. These are not the only images. Throughout the book there are other photos which are in full color. There are pictures of women riding, cooking, teaching, farming, and best of all my favorite...items from the past. Such as a box mill, china, quilts, a fluting iron which pressed pleats into cotton fabric, a "choke" used to catch mice and snakes, a candle mold, and a butter mold with a pretty picture.

There are pictures of dresses plains women wore. One dress, the owner boasted she had wore all the way to Oregon without repair. This woman was so creative. When she fashioned the dress, she took her pattern pieces and sewed the cotton fabric to canvas material (the material used for tents and wagon covers). Then she pieced the dress together to sew. No wonder it made it across the country without repair! The woman knew practicality and fortitude would be needed for the journey. Another picture was of a slat bonnet. Ever heard of it? Me, neither. Apparently, for a long, arduous journey west, plain bonnets didn't protect the eastern women's faces well enough. So, the clever seamstress would sew little wooden slats into her bonnet to strengthen the bonnet against wind. Other pictures include furniture (even ones from brothels), dishes, cookingware, and documents.

The second thing I love about this book, is the multitude of journal entries. I read of a wagon train heading west. Three women, all newly weds, wrote about their journey. Each woman had a different prospective of the same trip. I felt so sorry for this one woman. All she wanted to do was please her husband. If she tried to carry on a conversation with him, he would say she talked too much. If she tried to limit her conversation with him, he would say she had ill spirits. If she tried to talk in a group setting, he would reprimand her in front of everyone. In her journal, she believed the trouble with her marriage was all her fault, well mostly her fault, one couldn't discount her husband's roaming eye. She was convinced her husband was more pleased with their neighbor's wife.

The third thing I love about this book, is its many topics. We begin the book reading of the wagon trains heading west. Then we read about the hardships of life and the reality of marriage of convenience. What I really love is how the book reveals occupations of women during the 19th century, which all seem to end in prostitution. If the woman was a laundress, she made extra money on the side. If the woman was a cook, she supplemented her income. (I can just hear the local, upright women saying, "She doesn't have no man. You know she just said she's a laundress. Why there's no telling what she does a night!") And even if the woman willingly became a prostitute, there was still money to be made by becoming an owner-operator. Madam's would make an agreement with seamstress' to allow her girls to charge to her account. Then the madam would hold the debt over the girls head, so they couldn't leave.

Whether a prostitute, an adventuress, or a woman with a cause, this book seems to to have it all. This book opened up the old west for me in ways other books could not. The only drawback to owning this book is that it was written in 1974 and is out of print. I bought it at from a used book seller for $2. The shipping and handling cost more than the book.

So, this is my favorite research book. Tell me yours.

Writing Tip of the Day