Skip to main content

5-Minute Memoir: The Beauty of Bones

5-Minute Memoir is exactly what it sounds like—a personal essay on some facet of the writing life, be it a narrative or a reflection, pensive, touching or hilarious. Enjoy this installment from N.M. Kleby.

When the bones arrive at the table they are perfect: fat and squat. They look more like ivory; they have a pristine quality highlighted by the pesto that’s drizzled over them.

“Are you really planning to eat those?” my friend says.

A slight bit of salt, and then I dip the silver spoon into the fat, spread it on the hot toast. A bit of fat coats my lips. The marrow is dark and primal. Unapologetic.

My friend ordered the veggie burger. She’s looking a little pale and pushes her plate away. Lunch is apparently over.

The waiter wraps the bones for my dogs, but once in the car, I find myself sucking marrow as I drive though dense woods down a rutted two-lane road, bone in one hand and steering wheel in the other, scanning the darkening horizon for wayward moose. I’m speaking at a writing conference at a lodge where there are no phones or television and, I am told, the deer are so tame they eat dried corn from your hand. They are apparently unafraid of humans. I’m not sure I can make that claim. After all, I’m doing 85 mph and tossing bones out a car window. I know what we’re capable of.

The lodge is as rustic as promised. It winds around a slate-gray lake that blends into a slate-gray sky.

The deer do, indeed, eat from your hand. They take each kernel gently and chew politely. Their eyes are blank with kindness. And so you stand there with your palm open, and, perhaps, your heart, too.
For a moment, I regret spending the winter perfecting venison chili. “I will see you soon on the other side,” I say to the deer, as a way of apology.

That night, I hear the barking of wolves and then a long low howl that leaves me sleepless. I put on my boots and walk down the muddied path to the end of the road. The moon is a tin spotlight. A few feet ahead of me, in a snow-covered field, there is the wolf bending over a small red doe. The deer is on her knees. Her head is cocked to one side as if suddenly seeing something never seen before. The air is brittle. The wolf’s pack is on top of the hill watching, softly barking. Waiting.

I’d like to say that I shouted, shooed the wolf away and saved the deer. I didn’t. Everyone needs to eat.

The next morning, when my lecture begins, I find myself talking about the bones in The Old Man and the Sea. At the book’s end, the great fish he caught has been picked clean by sharks.Without the meat, the old man’s poverty continues. But the bones are proof that he had, indeed, captured it. They are proof of his own greatness. How is this not a metaphor for writing?

“When a writer puts words on paper,” I say, “it is an intimate act. The reader hears your words in his voice and he becomes the bones of your story. The reader is the foundation that you wrap in muscle and sinew.

You build the hero on the reader’s delicate frame until your story is his story. Your sorrow is his; your joy is a communion you both celebrate.”

Before I leave, I go back to the field. The doe’s bones are beginning to dry. It’s difficult not to look at them and imagine muscles, skin and life. And that’s what makes them simply, elegantly beautiful.

“I will see you on the other side,” I say, and get back in the car to make my way back down that long rutted road. This time, a little slower.

Turn your most important personal stories into compelling and meaningful reading experiences for others by considering:
Writing & Selling Your Memoir

Become a WD VIP and Save 10%:
Get a 1-year pass to, a 1-year subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine and 10% off all orders! Click here to join.

Also check out these items from the Writer’s Digest’s collection:
Writer’s Digest Writing Life Stories
You Don’t Have To Be Famous: How to Write Your Life Story

How To Write A Book Proposal
How To Write & Sell Your First Novel
Writer’s Digest University: Essentials Of Writing Personal Essays
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript
Book In A Month
Grammar Sucks: What to Do to Make Your Writing Much More Better
Plot versus Character

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 621

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an animal poem.

Why Is This Love Scene Here? How To Write Compelling Love Scenes

Why Is This Love Scene Here? How To Write Compelling Love Scenes

Not sure which way to turn when writing intimate scenes? Author Jo McNally shares how to write compelling love scenes that make sense for the story you’re writing.

How Can I Help You?

How Can I Help You?

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, your character is a high-end retail salesperson.

Phong Nguyen: On Freedom To Invent in Historical Fiction

Phong Nguyen: On Freedom To Invent in Historical Fiction

Award-winning author Phong Nguyen discusses his lifelong dream of writing his new historical fiction novel, Bronze Drum.

Historical Fiction Authors Don’t Expect Their Characters’ Battles To Appear in Modern Headlines, but Here We Are

Historical Fiction Authors Don’t Expect Their Characters’ Battles To Appear in Modern Headlines, but Here We Are

What happens to historical fiction when history repeats itself? Author Addison Armstrong discusses writing about the past and seeing it reflected in the present.

From Script

Art and Independence (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” television writer Vanessa Benton, Allegoria writer-director Spider One, Hulu’s Prey screenwriter Patrick Aison and director Dan Trachtenberg, and more!

Steven Hartov: On Shocking Truths in Historical Fiction

Steven Hartov: On Shocking Truths in Historical Fiction

New York Times bestselling author Steven Hartov discusses the surprising truths he discovered when writing his new historical fiction novel, The Last of the Seven.

Larry Beinhart: On Rejection Leading to Mystery

Larry Beinhart: On Rejection Leading to Mystery

Award-winning author Larry Beinhart discusses what he learned in the process of writing his new mystery novel, The Deal Goes Down.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: A Competition Announcement, 6 WDU Courses, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our self-published e-book awards, 6 WDU courses, and more!