The Gamut of True Stories

Creative Nonfiction Magazine

(Fall 2010 – Issue 39)


Yet another litmag appeared in my mailbox recently – I’d entered a contest the magazine sponsors, and a subscription came along behind. This was my first exposure to the magazine, and since I’ve been doing some serious dabbling in nonfiction writing (and historical fiction), I decided I’d give the magazine much more than a glance.


I like it.


There, I experienced a tribute to Norman Mailer and his nonfiction books and a peek into Gay Talese’s writing regimen via his papers. But best of all were a series of essays, memoirs, reflections, and other creative nonfiction pieces by up and coming writers.


For the writers among us, I note a mote of encouragement here – several writers showcased in this issue were having their first-ever pieces published.  As with fiction, one’s skills never seem to be complete – there’s always refinement of tone and voice, if not sentence and paragraph construction and structuring of the piece as a whole. These pieces display good, journeyman writing, all with interesting if not always spectacular stories to tell. A few were overlong – a sin one overcomes as one learns that succinctness is a virtue.


My most memorable pieces were:


“Why I Run,” by Rachael Button. This piece takes on the mystique of running in general, running in a natural setting – sometimes barefoot – in particular. It’s a well structured piece, cool in tone, with an amazing anecdote about a woman who once ran with wild wolves.


“End of the Line,” by Jim Kennedy. This piece is the reflection on a son’s death, set metaphorically against Boston’s rail line – and one of its termini. It’s an emotional piece, but the author has put enough distance between himself and the incident to reflect on it – and so his readers might learn from his experience.

Yet another article – an instructional article on how to consider structuring such pieces  - edified this writer/reader.

All in all a fine experience in true stories. Looking forward to the next issue.





You Takes Yo’ Lumps

I had a novel manuscript I was particularly proud of and when my writing pal, Lyn, mentioned the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, I said what the hell, and I entered. Mine went into the general fiction category, and Lyn, who has written a bang-up young adult novel, entered the YA category. 

The first cut was made today, following a review of a "pitch" made by the authors for their novels, much as one would send as a query to a literary agency. Lyn paid attention to the criteria for said "pitch" and so did I – – up to about an 80% point. She made the cut – I didn't.


The moral of this fable is this: when you're in competition with so many other writers, the absolute minimum you must do is follow the directions. This is the difference in having your query read by an agent and having it ignored. Each agent wants to see certain things in a certain way – no matter how irrelevant it might seem. Give it to 'em, and you'll get that serious read. 

The Millions : Modes of Imagining the Writer of the Future

I've been preoccupied this week, preparing a book of short stories for a contest I'd love dearly to win – and fighting off bronchitis and a sinus and ear infection. Amazing what one can accomplish while ailing. 

But I wanted to take time to bring to readers' attention this somewhat whimsical book of essays on the future of the novel – and of writing itself. 


The following is excerpted from the collection of essays The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, co-edited by Jeff Martin and Millions founder C. Max Magee. The book includes inventive, thoughtful, and funny pieces in which Jonathan Lethem, Rivka Galchen, Benjamin Kunkel. Joe Meno, Deb Olin Unferth, and many others consider the landscape as the literary world faces a revolution, a sudden change in the way we buy, produce, and read books. The book is available on Amazon and in some stores already, and the official release date is March 1st.


Nature and Human Nature


 Crazyhorse Litmag – Fall 2010, No. 78


I’m always curious to pick up a new litmag, if not for my personal marketing purposes, then simply to see what’s being written – and published. It’s always fun, too, to try to divine general trends the editorial staff may have for the mag, long run or for a specific issue.


To me, Crazyhorse’s selections have always been up and down on my like meter, and I’ve slowly come to realize they’re not a magazine I should put a lot of time and effort toward courting.  Still, I read it when I have it, and almost always find pieces I find eminently enjoyable – and publishable.


The mag publishes a lot of poetry. For a writer who once had great designs on being a poet and songwriter, I find myself impatient with poetry these days – most contemporary stuff seems overly self-conscious, if not a bit too arty-technical for my tastes. But Crazyhorse can pride itself on publishing a gamut of styles, voices, and subject matter in its poetry.


My faves?

Charlotte Boulay’s “fruits of my labor” is one of those poems that compels deeper reading – it lures with its overall coherence and eventually displays paradoxes and varying sensibilities.


And  James McCorkle’s “Verge of Summer” is another one to resonate with this reader. Impressionistic images that, strung together, paint a picture of life in both its continuity and ephemerality.


I always have a hard time being impressed by the mag’s fiction, but once again there’s variety, and I can usually ahhh! over at least one.


Dennis McFadden’s “Blue Side Up” is a rather rambling piece, but it held my attention. It’s earthy in places, somewhat poetic in voice. 


Far and away my favorite piece in this issue is Anne Lacy’s “A Partial Tally of Sins against the Fauna.” This essay is simple while being elliptic enough to summon a poetic feel, discriminating in its view of the human versus nature thing without being didactic. Ms. Lacy’s prose is a bit cautious in places, but she’s apparently a youngster, and I know she’ll be a monster soon.


The issue seems to play on Lacy’s theme throughout in varying degrees – the constant push and pull of  humanity, our arbitrariness set against nature’s more accommodating ways.






The Arts

With pressure on state and national legislatures to trim budgets, our collective investment in the arts through tax expenditures is threatened.


What about it, folks? Is tax-funded art worthwhile? Is it's value to society different from grass-roots art?

And what do you think is the value of art in our modern society?

 I suspect there is a variety of values and perspectives placed on art – let me know yours – it's important, I think, to add this to the national conversation. 


More clues point to iPhone nano debut –

Not everyone has wanted an iPhone or a counterpart – most people simply want a phone – maybe with a few minor peripherals. iPhone's nano may attract more buyers because of that.

(Mashable) — Is there a smaller, cheaper version of the iPhone on the way? Rumors abound, but now the Wall Street Journal has found "people familiar with the matter" who have actually laid hands and eyes upon it:


One More Thing…

In case it doesn't make sense that writing partners – working hard and conscientiously – might turn out a product better than either of their capabilities…all I can say is try it.

To the best of my understanding, this is how it works:


You've considered a piece you want to write, you've put it on the page, and you've edited it – well – many times. You know what you wanted to say and, to the best of your abilities, you've laid it down.

Then you turn it over to your writing partner – with maybe a few concerns, some comments in general regarding what you want to accomplish. Your writing partner reads it, understands it – as if it's brand new – never been seen – just dropped from the clouds. S(he) sees it, then, more holistically, i.e., sees it as a completely formed literary idea – maybe with a few imperfections. S(he) makes a few comments, offers some suggestions, maybe asks for a bit of clarification, then shoots the piece back to you.

(Remember here that the two of you are peers with respect to your development as writers.)

You take the comments in hand, consider them. The nature of drafting  literary ideas (read: story, essay, confession, etc.) is that you began with a germ of this idea – you then developed it according to structure, voice, pacing, etc. – all the technical details you have in your quiver. When your partner saw your draft, the idea was more tangible, more grounded in life, in the human condition, than before you began to write. But your work on it to this point was detail, detail, detail – more like putting a jigsaw puzzle together than having the idea's "big picture" drop from the heavens in its complete form. 

Your partner's ideas, then help round out the big picture of your original idea, i.e., s(he) is helping you smooth its outer shape. But you do more – you're "inspired" by his/her perspective of the piece, and you use those comments to go deeper. You know the paradoxes present in your piece, the quandaries, the way the piece should fit together at different levels of meaning. So you accept some of his/her comments, reject others, in order to embellish the many aspects of depth you see in your work.

So…this collaboration of idea/piece, writer, and partner  - – working together – – create something of a  hologram of the idea. Something you couldn't have done so well alone, and together done better than either of you. 

As you and your partner look back at the piece following this process, you both have a deeper understanding of what is possible to do with an idea, with the techniques of writing. You've grown as writers.


Which brings me, briefly, I promise, to The Sunset Limited, Cormac McCarthy's two-role play done in such fine form by Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. 

These two are talking in the play about why life is worth living – or not. TLJ comes from a refined, educated viewpoint, SLJ from native insights born of the streets and of prison. Their perspectives on life are so completely opposite – so opposite, in fact, that neither sees that both have the same deep understanding of life.

Dialogue, communication, grasping for an ever-enhanced perspective of the human condition – – these are the keys to reaching beyond oneself, whether in writing or in real life.