One of my pleasures in presenting creative nonfiction to you every two months is acknowledging the great variety of work that qualifies as such. While it’s generally agreed that creative nonfiction employs stratagems and techniques borrowed from the short story and the novel, some elements are borrowed more routinely than others, while other elements are borrowed from genres other than fiction.
“Pulp,” by Diane K. Martin, is the author’s account of having secured a position of responsibility in the publishing industry. I’ll allow Martin to tell you about it in her own voice: “ But even later, when the job had become both demoralizing and boring, I got a kick from mentioning casually, in passing, that I was the editor of a porn magazine—for instance to my former high school English teacher, Mrs. Beale.” Most examples of creative nonfiction are told in a straightforward manner, which is to say un-ironically—Martin manages to be straightforward and ironic at the same time. This quality, when it appears at all, is usually the gift of fiction writers, so it’s a pleasure to see a writer employ it—ceaselessly and mercilessly—in nonfiction.
In “Hustlin’ New Orleans,” Richard Stuecker borrows a narrative technique that is ubiquitous in fiction, but rarely appears in nonfiction. Novels and short stories are full of plot surprises and unanticipated endings, and you would think that if creative nonfiction writers were truly interested in borrowing techniques from fiction, they’d try to borrow everything. Of course, it’s hard to apply narrative surprises to true stories that don’t contain any, but even a nonfiction story can be constructed in such a way that certain aspects of character, setting, or plot are withheld from the reader until they can be presented at the most dramatic juncture. That is what Stuecker does here. Naturally, I cannot tell you what I’m talking about! You’ll just have to read the piece.
Most personal essays, whether they’re termed “memoir” or “creative nonfiction” or “real-life narratives” or something else, borrow the first-person point of view that regularly appears in fiction. In “The Moment the Light Shifts,” Jeanne Althouse does something different. There’s no law that says creative nonfiction has to be presented in the first person, although it almost always is. Althouse chooses the third person for her story, providing an interesting and distinct perspective from what we are used to. Why not? If creative nonfiction likes to borrow its approaches from fiction, why not borrow the third person? It’s probably more common in fiction than the first person anyway.
In “Darkened Churches,” Terry Barr presents us with a subgenre of creative nonfiction that is unusual, though I’ve presented examples of it from time to time in the nine years I’ve served as CNF Editor here at Connotation Press. Barr is giving us literary criticism in essay form, with the personal combining with the analytical. If you think this leads to results that are much drier than fiction, then you are mistaken. When personal storytelling is combined with literary criticism, both genres can prosper beautifully—as happens here.
As always, I’m interested in your unique approach to creative nonfiction. 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 look forward to enjoying your work!