Cool, Powerful and Provocative–

All writers would like to believe that their writing is cool, powerful and provocative.

Cool—as in the slang of my youth, meaning very good or pleasing

Powerful—meaning strong or intense; with the ability to persuade

Provocative—meaning with the ability to excite, stimulate or arouse

A presentation by Dr. Lorraine McConaghy, made me think about how, research infuses our writing with these three qualities.  It also made me think about how often we fail to use the resources readily available to us.

Dr. McConaghy was talking about her new book, New Land, North of the Columbia, however when I returned home I realized that my notes contained as many references about her process for researching the book as they did  to the contents of the book itself.  I must admit this didn’t dampen my spirits at all.

Dr. McConaghy’s book is a historical study of Washington through the documents stored within public archives and museums.  She said that she approached each archivist and curator by asking them what they had in their collection that was “cool, powerful or provocative.”

The more she spoke  the more I realized how important the documents stored in our public archives can be to both fiction and nonfiction writers.  As she reminded us, political and legal documents in a local archive can reveal insight into the past to help us understand the present.  Vintage brochures, pamphlets and even art work on an old can found in a local museum, tell us something about the community and why the population believes what it believes and holds the ideals it holds.

For example, in her book Dr. McConaghy shared some promotional materials from an era when federal programs brought irrigation to Eastern Washington in hopes that the “desert would bloom”.  Irrigation, of course, played a major role in turning parts of Eastern Washington into the agricultural centers that they are today.

Don’t tremble at this point because, as Dr. McConaghy points out, these public archives are part of our public inheritance and many are free.   Some of the data, such as land records and patents can be accessed online.

Dr. McConaghy encouraged us to honor the documents and archives of our state and to honor the collection managers charged with the responsibility of maintaining the collections.  This I will do.

I am looking forward to exploring the possibilities and finding inspiration as I spend more time accessing our public archives.  I plan to keep my mind open as I look for ideas that will help make my writing cool, powerful and provocative.



[Note 1:  This piece was written for Three Word Wednesday.  This week’s words are: dampen, tremble and keep.

Note 2:  Dr. McConaghy is an engaging speaker with a delightful sense of humor.  It is clear that she has thoroughly researched her books and can provide delightful antidotes about both the subject matter and her research.   She is the Public Historian at the Seattle Museum of History and Industry.  More about her and her work can be  found at the following sites:





11 thoughts on “Cool, Powerful and Provocative–

  1. I haven’t read her book, would love to read it sometimes. When I was in colleges, I knew how references play a significant part in my scientific research work. There is a saying don’t reinvent the wheel, it helped us to focus more. In Literature also, references are very essential, but the modern literature books hardly have them. I think people reading later will have a hard time understanding the contexts of the statements in the books.

  2. Very interesting and if a speaker can add a bit of their own sparkle it adds a whole lot more interest.
    I agree with technology changing our language now, so quickly too. My teen tells me to use LOL in an essay is totally acceptable at school and now there is Texting and all the online social media chat exchanges such as Facebook and Twitter too, I’ve felt for the longest time that the English language is not so slowly undergoing huge changes and, not for the better either. I agree that in years to come without the references and such in literature, the context of it all (in time) will be lost. I know people love e-readers now but, I can’t think of a better thrill than picking up a brand new book, smelling it, feeling it, and turning the page for the first time. I can’t imagine going into new or old bookstores and not taking a deep breath and just smelling them all. I hope books never become a thing of the past, when technology fails (which it will eventually) what will be left.
    Thanks for visiting me today.

  3. What an interesting way of approaching archivists.

    The importance of passing down the reasons why we do what we do is important beyond the national archives. It’s like the story of the woman who always cut the ends off her roast before cooking it. When her husband asked why, she said she didn’t know, just that her mother always did it that way. When asked, her mother said it was because the roast never fit into her pan if she didn’t.

    • Alice Audrey, thanks for your thoughts. We do all have our own personal archives don’t we? Perhaps some of them will be included some day in the public archives of museums etc. I often wonder how much of our history will be lost because we no longer write letters. Communication is often just a short e-mail and how many of us actually keep them?

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