Monday May 27

RobertClarkYoung3 Creative nonfiction. What is it?

I really like what Caleb Coy does with the vultures in “Vultures.”
In reader’s minds, there is often a confusion as to how “creative nonfiction” works. The usual explanation is that creative nonfiction is nonfiction that uses some of the techniques of fiction. If you’re reading a straight news story, you certainly wouldn’t expect to see any vultures in it used symbolically. This would probably not be the case in a strongly written features piece either. But creative nonfiction certainly allows it, along with many of the other techniques of fiction writing. It doesn’t make the story less “true.” It just makes it more evocative.

“Heroes and Domestic Tyrants,” by Lisa Ampleman, does something else I like. The first-person grabber line is usually the province of fiction, rather than nonfiction. Here’s this one, and I defy you to read only the first line of the piece: “When my cousin’s wife, Lorrie, was around twenty weeks pregnant, her pelvic bones began to separate.” The reader who is unsure of genre may well get so caught up in the story as to forget all about genre. And yet the piece is not only a good example of creative nonfiction, but a great one.

The same can be said for “The Reluctant Organ Donor,” by Penn Stewart. This isn’t just the story of a musical instrument; it’s the story of a family. I’ll allow you to experience its emotions for yourself. Try the first line: “Back in the early 70s my grandparents’ house burned down.” The story is all true, and it reads as being true, yet it employs the fictional techniques of getting hold of you with the first line, keeping you interested with suspense, making you feel compassion for the people in it, and organizing itself around a central symbol. 

Finally, I’m publishing “Memorial Day,” by Lavonne J. Adams, in this month of November, in honor of Veteran’s Day. You get to do that sort of thing with creative nonfiction. You’re not bound by the calendars of straight nonfiction. You get to be creative. And so I hope you will take advantage of this month containing Veteran’s Day in order to consider Memorial Day. And you’ll see that there’s quite a bit to consider.

I’m always looking for new essays to publish. I invite you to submit nonfiction on a topic of your choice. I’m looking for creative nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, memoirs, and personal essays—with the understanding that these categories often overlap. Up to 10,000 words. Please submit work directly to me at [email protected]. I very much look forward to reading your work.