I have to wonder what some people think when they’re trying to write memoir, narrative nonfiction, or creative nonfiction. From some of the submissions I receive, I have to conclude that there are writers who believe these forms require simple recitations of events. The creative in creative nonfiction, however, means that the structure, voice, conflict, and other literary elements work together to create a thematic meaning. In my efforts to be a good citizen in the literary community, I enjoy doing things for other writers, including giving feedback on pieces that, in my view, are not ready for publication. But it is very difficult to say to a writer, “The problem with your story is that it isn’t about anything.”
This is not, of course, a problem with any of the pieces I choose for publication, including the ones I’ve chosen this month.
“Age of Consent” by Jayne Martin, on the surface, might appear to be a series of images from the 1970 Flower Power era, although it is actually a meditation on feminism and relationships.
“A Fish Story” by Alan Seeger, on the surface, might appear to be a series of anecdotes regarding—well—a fish story, while it is actually a meditation on parenting and childhood.
“As Though We Had Always Been Kind” by Gale Massey, on the surface, might appear to be a series of vignettes about the author’s deceased mother, when it is actually a meditation on sexual orientation.
“(Can You Believe) Her Name was Giselle?” by Philip Kobylarz, on the surface, might appear to be an episodic story about a trip to France, though it is actually a meditation on the beguiling differences between cultures.
My lightly discursive manner in these descriptions is just as misleading as any surface reading of these tales—my tone is concealing the fact that all of these stories are much more thematically rich than I am letting on. And so I leave it to you to read them for yourself to discover their various additional meanings.
And if you are a writer whose work might appear to be a mere recitation of events, but who is actually up to something more consequential, I would like 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to discovering the deeper meaning of your work!