Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Creative Nonfiction: Types, Examples, and Readings for Additional Study

One type of creative nonfiction is the personal essay,
which combines the claim of a thesis with personal observations
and a first person point of view.

All stories, all narratives, have narrators. Sometimes those narratives are fictional, and as readers we accept that the narrator, then, is also a fictional character who has knowledge of the events being told. At other times, narratives are the stories of real events from a writer's flesh-and-blood life. We call those types of narratives nonfiction. When a nonfiction story is told to readers by the author-as-narrator, and that author has told that true story in an artful manner, we call the genre of that piece of writing creative nonfiction

There are different forms creative nonfiction can take, and mostly we determine that form based on either the tension between truth and artfulness, or the scope of the subject or topic. Three types or kinds of creative nonfiction worthy of study, though a limited list, include memoir and personal essays, journals, and even some forms of journalism.

Memoir or Personal Essays

Janet Burroway, author of an oft-used creative writing text called Imaginative Writing, defines memoir as "a story retrieved from a writer's memory, with the writer as protagonist" (391). She defines memoir in relation to personal essays, and her definitions set up a sort of continuum. To the left sits memoir, with its topic narrowed to a story that clearly revolves around events from the writer's past and is an effort to better understand those events. To the right sits the personal essay, also told from the writer's point of view, but perhaps an "intellectual examination" or more likely an avenue for the writer to communicate ideas to a reader (227-228).  As with any continuum, there are many works that fall between the far left and the far right.

Examples of memoir are fairly easy to come by, and the popularity of memoir-based graphic novels (or "commix," as Art Spiegelman might say), makes that particular form particularly interesting. Fun Home, 100 Demons, Persepolis, Blankets, March, and Maus are all memoir-based graphic novels worthy of study, and there are more to choose from than those listed here.

Professional personal essays are more difficult to find, but are often assigned as a type of essay representative of the narrative mode of writing in composition courses. Many editorials can also be categorized as personal essays. Some contemporary writers worthy of study include John Leo, Sherman Alexie, and Marilynne Robinson.


In an article entitled "Journal as Genre and Published Text: Beat Avant-Garde Writing Practices," Jane Falk examines what she calls a “marginal genre,” the journals of several of the Beat writers. She looks specifically at “Kerouac's Book of Dreams, 1961; Snyder's 'Lookout's Journal' published in Caterpillar, 1968 (reprinted in Earth House Hold, 1969); Ginsberg's Indian Journals, 1970; and Kyger's Desecheo Notebook, 1971” (992).

Especially interesting, Falk offers a succinct overview of Kyger’s journal and its publication, making note that it lost something of its artistry by being published, but that the publisher found ways to retain its authenticity as a journal (998). The tug-of-war between truth and artfulness was clearly won by "truth" when helped along by the publication process. However, both truth and artfulness remained of vital importance: Kyger's work did retain its original line breaks and almost poetic forms while showing a "commitment to quotidian or commonplace events" (999).

The opposing view to this, of course, is the contemporary idea that journals are unfinished and unsuitable for publication; a way to express inner thoughts without the pressure to share what has been written. This, perhaps, has its cause in student concerns over privacy or polish, or a concern by publishers as to the relevance of journals in the age of blogging. Nonetheless, published journals that retain both artfulness and truth are excellent examples of creative nonfiction.


As with journals, journalism can also sometimes strike a balance between truth and artfulness. Like writers of personal essays, journalists also focus on communicating effectively with a reader. The New Journalists, specifically, also write autobiographically, much like writers of memoir.

One well-explained example of journalism as creative nonfiction comes from Jason Mosser in his text The Participatory Journalism of Michael Herr, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, and Joan Didion: Creating New Reporting Styles. New Journalism is explored extensively in the text, but defined most simply by Mosser as "a hybrid of news writing and creative writing" (2). In his examination of Joan Didion, Mosser refers to her as "direct participant and narrator" (206), then succinctly analyzes a passage from Salvador, pointing out both her use of literary techniques and her reluctance to accept the certainly of any event without bearing witness (207). We see in Didion's work, as Mosser points out, the artfulness of literature combined with the autobiographical style of memoir. At the same time, Didion's intent to communicate her "intellectual examination" of a real event to her readers remains as fixed as her intent to communicate the real event. Her work comes to us as evidence of both participation and literary journalism.

Whether the continuum by which we gauge creative nonfiction is that what falls between art and truth or a focus on self examination versus an intellectual exploration explained to an intended audience, creative nonfiction is a prevalent and worthy genre; worthy of both analysis and attempts at craft.

Works Cited

Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. 4th Edition. Pearson, 2015.

Falk, Jane E. "Journal as Genre and Published Text: Beat Avant-Garde Writing Practices." University of Toronto Quarterly, no. 4, 2004, p. 991.

Mosser, Jason. The Participatory Journalism of Michael Herr, Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, and Joan Didion: Creating New Reporting Styles. The Edwin Mellen Press, 2012.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Needle Felted Alpaca Kit Product Review

Make a Needle Felted Alpaca!

Needle felting has gained enough popularity in recent years to have encouraged craft supply companies to create easy-to-complete kits. Dimensions kits, available online and in craft supply stores, has several kits available, including kits for making animals in molds or without molds.

Included Needle Felting Supplies

The alpaca kit by Dimensions comes with everything a crafter needs to create a finished felted animal without a mold. I chose this kit because of its reasonable price and because the supplies were all included.  I was able to get started without worrying about whether or not I had purchased all the right supplies or the right amount of wool: The kit includes just the right amount of wool, a felting needle, a small piece of dense felting foam, an embroidery needle and floss, and basic instructions with measurements.

Basic Instructions Included

Needle Felting Measurements
As a complete beginner, I was able to successfully complete the project in about four hours.  I found the instructions sufficient for making the alpaca, but I did read a few "basics of needle felting" posts online after starting.  I recommend anyone starting any kit read ahead before beginning a sculpture. Some of the great tips I learned could have helped me ensure my centers were well felted and I was using my needle properly, pushing it into the sculpture far enough to use all of the barbs on the needle; slowly, but surely, wins the race when needle felting.

One excellent benefit of the instructional sheet was the included measurement charts. I was able to compare my shapes to the 1:1 shapes in the instructions to be sure I was on the right track.

Dimensions Needle Felting Kit Pitfalls

The most difficult part of the process was making and attaching the ears for the alpaca. A very small amount of wool has to be folded into shape and felted for quite some time.  Because the ears are flat and the foam is dense, I was not able to take advantage of all the barbs on the needle as was recommended. Honestly, the ears seemed to take forever, but I persevered . . . after a long break and some more online reading about how to make ears.

The Finished Felted Alpaca
Most importantly,  I only stabbed myself with the felting needle once.  However, because of the danger involved (I did bleed copiously), I would not recommend this project for a child unless the child wears finger protectors of some sort. As a matter of fact, because I enjoyed this project so much and plan to do more needle felting, my next order from Amazon will include a needle felting tool kit that includes finger protectors, a nicer felting mat, and additional felting needles of various sizes. Having these tools ahead of time may have made my project go a bit more smoothly, but I still had an excellent, successful afternoon with this kit, and in the end I made a brand new felted friend.

Want to read more about arts and crafts? Try

Friday, August 25, 2017

Sentence Diagramming - Diagramming Determiners

A determiner is a word or phrase that modifies a noun that cannot be counted.  In this post's first example, the interrogative sentence "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood," the determiner is "How much," and the noun it modifies is "wood." Although we may be able to count logs, which is another word for wood, we cannot count wood.  We can say "There are 3 logs," but we would not say "There are 3 woods."

Because "How much" modifies "wood" in the first clause of this sentence, it is diagrammed on a diagonal line under the word "wood," which is the first clause's direct object.

Would you like another example?

Another uncountable noun is "love." We may be able to count Valentine's Day cards, but we cannot count "love." "Endurance" is uncountable, too, just like "courage" and "fear." Could you diagram the determiner for "fear" in the following sentence?  "She had some fear about her new school, but she showed courage on the first day."

Don't let the length of the sentence throw you off.  Simply pick out the clauses and prepositional phrases, first, then diagram the subjects and predicates.  You can save the modifiers until last, which will include any determiners. In this case, the modifying word for "fear" is "some."

Can you think of any other non-count noun and determiner combinations you'd like to see in diagram form?  Let me know in the comments!

Want to read more about diagramming sentences? Try

Gypsy Daughter's Sentence Diagramming List
Gypsy Daughter's Sentence Diagramming Book

Monday, August 7, 2017

Lyme Disease and Aromatherapy: Rocky Mountain Trail Essential Oil Blend

Hiking near Boulder, Colorado

I was recently diagnosed with Lyme Disease.  Part of the effect of the antibiotic treatment includes the release of endotoxins by the microbes as they begin to die: Those microbes and endotoxins, in addition to making me hurt everywhere all the time, cause hormone imbalances that cause severe mood swings.  

Sadness and Frustration 

To be clear, the swings of sadness and frustration I am feeling are probably more to do with my lack of physical energy, which has caused me to be homebound for the last few weeks in a dirty home, as I have not had the time or energy to do much of the cleaning I normally like to do.  The depression, itself, however, goes deeper and causes irrational feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and worthlessness, or even hours at a time of complete apathy and emotional numbness.  The feelings, or lack of feeling, comes and goes in waves, luckily, so I "snap out of it" as the day goes on and feel like myself in the late afternoon or early evening - before I take another antibiotic, and it starts all over, again.


Native Cactus near Boulder, Colorado
One thing that is persistent, however, is my fear that I will never again be able to enjoy the outdoors like I once did for fear of being reinfected. Once I take my morning antibiotic, I know that for the next several hours I am going to experience the physical and emotional effects of the microbes and endotoxins, and that my fear is going to grow over the course of the day until my body can catch up on eliminating the toxins causing my reactions. Although there isn't a whole lot more I can do to quickly eradicate the microbes and their toxins, I can combat some of that daily emotional upheaval with aromatherapy via my oil burner. Specifically, I think I have perfected a blend that reminds me of one of my most favorite places in the universe, the wooded mountain trails near Boulder, Colorado.

Aromatherapy Outdoor Blend: Rocky Mountain Trail

I use an oil burner that has been saturated with my own Thieves Blend over the course of several years, which adds a hint of cinnamon and clove to all of my aromatherapy recipes (and helps cleanse the air). If you do not have a Thieves Blend, simply add a one drop each of cinnamon, rosemary, clove, and lemon to this recipe.

5 drops Cedarwood Oil
3 drops Pine Needle
3 drops Eucalyptus
2 drops Jasmine

This particular recipe utilizes all three, top, middle, and base notes for a great balance. Because it is an oil burning recipe only (not meant for skin contact or ingestion), there are few risks for side effects.  It simply helps me relax by reminding me of a place and time that made me happy.

Medical Care 

Boulder, Colorado, 2007
If you are new to aromatherapy, please be sure to research the effects of any oil that's unfamiliar to you - just in case.  Remember to wear gloves, if you aren't using pipettes, to be sure there is no skin contact with any of your aromatherapy oils to prevent irritation.  Of course, you should also talk to your doctor, LLMD, integrated medical practitioner, or herbalsit if you have any questions or concerns about your Lyme treatment symptoms or using aromatherapy, especially if the symptoms seem to be worse than you can handle. Although aromatherapy is a great addition to your care, it is definitely no substitute.

Be well,

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How to Pray the Rosary: Quick Guide

The Rosary is a prayerful meditation for peace, and in the words of Pope John Paul II, the goal of praying the Rosary is "the improvement of the living conditions of all."  

In a world where our brothers and sisters struggle daily with poverty, hunger, inequality, hatefulness, disease, and oppression, the Rosary can act as a daily reminder to come together to help one another overcome those conditions - with the help of God.

Instructions for praying the Rosary are followed by a listing of the daily Mysteries and biblical references to each of those Mysteries.  Remember that "a" following a passage's citation is a call to focus on the first part of a passage, and "b" is a call to focus on the end of a passage.

The Prayers of the Rosary

 Begin by making the Sign of the Cross.
 Pray the "Apostle's Creed."
 Pray the "Our Father."
 Pray one "Hail Mary" per each of the three beads.
 Pray the "Glory Be" in the space between the three close beads and the next solitary bead.
Announce the First Mystery.  The types of Mysteries are the Joyful (Sundays during Advent, Mondays and Saturdays), Sorrowful (Sundays during Lent, Tuesdays and Fridays), Glorious (Wednesdays and Sundays), and Luminous (Thursdays). More information appears at the end of this post, and the hyperlinks direct you to follow-along videos.
 Pray the "Our Father" on the next solitary bead.
 While meditating on the First Mystery, pray one "Hail Mary" per the next 10 beads.  This is called a "decade."
 In the space following the decade, pray the "Glory Be" . . .
 and the "Fatima Prayer."

“Oh my Jesus forgive us our sins save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven especially those most in need of thy mercy.”
 Announce the Second Mystery . . .
 and pray the "Our Father."
 Repeat that pattern through each decade.
End the Rosary by praying the "Hail Holy Queen."

About the Mysteries

If you are unfamiliar with any of the Mysteries, please use the referenced passages to explore their meanings. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Mizeria: A Dairy Free Cucumber Salad Recipe

Polish Mizeria, Cucumber Salad, Made Gluten and Dairy Free!

Traditionally, mizeria is made with sour cream.  However, it's just as tasty made with the tangy zip of Miracle Whip, now also made as "Gold Standard Recipe" with no high fructose corn syrup! 

That makes my mizeria okay for folks who are gluten free, dairy free, or following a low FODMAP diet!  In other words, thanks to the folks at Kraft who brought back the original Miracle Whip recipe, mizeria is back on my menu!  

Mizeria, or Polish Cucumber Salad

I generally make enough for one or two meals serving one or two people.  That is, I don't make a whole lot at once, otherwise I eat it all at once.  You can double or triple the recipe as you see fit.
  • 1 large or 2 small cucumbers
  • 1 green onion
  • 2 tsp Fresh or dried dill
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbs Miracle Whip Gold Standard Recipe
  • 2 - 3 large radishes

  1. First clean, peel (or don't peel), and thinly slice your cucumber and add it to a mixing bowl.
  2. Clean, peel, and thinly slice your green onion and add it to the cucumber slices.
  3. Add 1 tsp dill, salt and pepper, and Miracle Whip to the mixing bowl.
  4. The fun bit: Wash your hands, then toss your salad until everything is evenly coated with the Miracle Whip. Wash your hands, again.
  5. Serve fresh or chilled with additional dill and radish slices on the side. 

Note: For purists, you can add a bit of vinegar to the recipe, but Miracle Whip already contains a bit of vinegar, so I skip it.

Looking for additional recipes that are easy on the stomach?  Try

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Feel free to share, but please contact the author for permission to republish.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sample Narrative Essay: Spelling Bees and Fig Leaves

A few weeks ago I came home from work and did not, like I normally do, immediately change my clothes and spend the rest of the afternoon in my pajamas and furry, plaid, bathrobe.  I was still in my work clothes, a pair of leggings and a soft, blue tunic, when my husband got home from work.

"You wore that to work?" he asked.
"Yes.  Do you like it?" I asked in return.
"It's a maternity shirt, I think," he said carefully.

Let it be known that I am not nor ever have been nor plan to be in a state of M-A-T-E-R-N-I-T-Y, but it was soft and blue and only $2.99 at the local Goodwill store.

A few weeks before that incident, a student announced to the me and the rest of the class that she knew I would be in class that day because she saw me walking across campus, and she knew without a doubt it was me walking across campus because of my plaid, corduroy, wide-leg trousers.

"No one else wears pants like that, anymore," she said.

I have heard, too, that I am a very approachable professor because I "don't dress like the other female English professors."  I dress like the professors who teach video game classes, agriculture and animal husbandry, or maybe shop classes. I have a multitude of examples, so suffice it to say, I have a very complicated relationship with my clothes: But this is not a new thing, I realized earlier this week.  The root of my problem taps as deep as a first grade spelling bee. "A-S-S," I spelled out for a student earlier this week who almost used the word "ass" but did not want to swear in class.  "A-S-S," I spelled, and as I did so I was transported immediately back to the St. Clair County Regional Spelling Bee, 1981.

I was in the first grade, and I wanted to be anywhere but at that spelling bee.  It wasn't that I wasn't proud of being the best first grade speller in the entire elementary school, but that my mother had forced me to wear the most dreadful clothing I had ever seen in my life.  It was ugly, outdated, scratchy, and utterly embarrassing.  The dress was pink, faded-flower pink with a smoky yellow tinge coating its pleated overlay; a nicotine tinge.  It had a frayed satin belt U-N-T-I-E-D in what was supposed to be a bow behind my back.  It was something once loved by someone else years and years prior, and it looked to have been worn for a semi-formal occasion.  The tights were white, yet too small, and the crotch sagged, chaffing the insides of my thighs.  The shoes, however, were casual, too big, and they were burgundy with B-O-O-G-E-R-Y, rubber soles. My hair was down, which meant it was snarly and stuck under my armpits.  An unhappier child you have never seen, so to top off the look were streaks running from eyes to chin where the tears had cut through the tomboy dust on my cheeks.

I had to sit on stage like that, in front of people who were going to judge me and my hand-me-down, mismatched clothes. The other kids looked nice . . . until they looked at me and made faces, however.  None of them would talk to me.  They laughed and pointed.  It was mortifying, devastating, and demoralizing.  I sat in the back row and hoped the adjudicators would never call my name. But they did. And the word was "as." Could they have made it any easier?  Did they feel bad for me or something?

"Use that in a sentence, please," I said to buy more time as I considered my options.  I wanted to sink into the stage floor, but that was not an option. I could feel hot, angry, frustrated tears welling up behind my eyes.  My cheeks were steaming, but letting those tears pepper the stage floor was not an option.

"She ran as quickly as a cheetah," the adjudicator read from the card. I wanted to run away as quickly as a cheetah, but that was not an option, either.

I thought of the one option that would allow me to go home early, though. "As," I said. I tried to conjure enough saliva to do what needed to be done next.

"A-S-S," I spelled.

A few people laughed.  I was off the stage before they even had to ask me to leave the stage. We were in the car shortly after that, and no one spoke.

As I recall, that dress and those shoes never saw the light of day, again.  I never competed in a spelling bee, again, either. Was there a better option?  Did I really need to throw the game to save face?  In the moment, I sure as H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks thought I did.  But would I do it the same today?  Probably not.  I'd probably note the people laughing at the way I dressed and out spell them all, anyway, paying particular attention to enunciate any bad words that appeared within another word while looking at the laughers.


But I'd still feel bad about them laughing at me, and my complicated relationship with my clothes would get ever still more complicated.  It's human nature, I think, and until we all get back to the fig leaf or go naked, it's a complication that will persist.

Want to read more about my complicated relationship with my clothes? Try

Project 333 Math: Making my Own Rules
Stitch Fix Review: Styling at 40

Want to read more narrative essay examples? Try

Sample Narrative Essay - Pig
Sample Narrative Essay - Holding Hands

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Monday, January 23, 2017

What's a Poster Presentation?

A poster presentation is generally a quick, visual and verbal presentation that uses a poster as a visual aid. While the visual aid, the poster, can usually stand alone to explain the presenter's research using text and images, a short speech will help answer any additional questions a viewer may have.  

What's the Purpose of a Poster Presentation

Poster presentations allow for viewers, generally conference attendees, to gather as much information about current research in their fields as possible in a short amount of time.  This method of "quick introduction" can help spur additional research, partnerships, sponsorships, and scholarship.

How to Plan the Poster Part of a Poster Presentation

A poster should introduce the most pertinent parts of a scholar's research.  Remember, it should be able to stand alone as an explanation of a scholar's current research.  The poster should be designed with viewers in mind, viewers who will be standing 4 - 6 feet from the poster. For example, all fonts should be large enough to be easy-to-read, and images should be clearly labelled, crisp, and interesting in color or texture.  The poster should include white space, and information within the text and as part of images should be grammatically correct and placed in a logical order. Headings for each section of the poster are also helpful for viewers.

A poster should include, at minimum

  • A Descriptive Title and Contact Information
  • The Research Question or Hypothesis
  • An Explanation of Research Methods, Materials, Approaches, and Process
  • The Informative Results of the Investigation

Additional information might include an overview, summary, abstract, bibliography, a list of partners or assistants, or additional research information.

How to Plan the Presentation Part of a Poster Presentation

The speech portion of the poster presentation should be short and to the point.  The time limit for such a speech is generally between one and two minutes.  Interested parties may wish to ask additional questions about the scholar's research: Anticipating those questions and preparing articulate answers shows professionalism.

A short speech should include an attention-getter, which in this case could be asking a viewer if he or she would like to know more about the research. From there, the scholar can present his or her thesis before transitioning into each main idea presented on the poster, giving examples or pointing out evidence in an appropriate order.  The scholar may wish to reiterate the thesis in the conclusion of the speech or use an additional conclusion technique for impact. Furthermore, the speaker should enunciate and speak with an appropriate volume and tone.


A poster presentation is both a visual and audible presentation of a scholar's current research.  Both the poster and the speech must be prepared with unity, coherence, and clarity. When designing a poster presentation, a scholar must remember to be concise: Poster presentations should be pleasant and interesting for viewers.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.