Unbelievable! Casting Truth as Fiction

May 22, 2013 § 1 Comment

Cheryl Diane Kidder explores the difficulty of turning true events into fiction, and how some truths, like those in her recent Brevity essay “Cut,” want to be told in the nonfiction form:


Cheryl Diane Kidder

The hardest thing about writing “Cut” was getting it into a form that both got the facts of what happened, or what I was able to recall, and how my thought processes were working at the same time. That, and waiting until my daughter was old enough to listen to the whole story. My daughter is 24 now so I’ve been trying to get this right on paper for about 23 and a half years.

I wrote several versions of these events in third person, pushing the story out and away from me, claiming it only as fiction, certainly nothing I would have personally gone through. Trouble there is, presenting the piece as fiction in a fiction workshop I kept getting these comments, “Unbelievable,” and “This could never happen,” and “What woman would leave her baby at home alone?” Clearly it wasn’t working as fiction.

So, I rewrote it as nonfiction, and I found that the facts spoke for themselves, my voice was stronger and my ability to recreate my mindset at the time of the event came easier to me. The piece was never more than a thousand words in any of its permutations. I didn’t want to spend more time in that place than I really needed to. And once I had it into a shape I felt OK about, I still kept it in a drawer for a couple of years. Getting it right and getting it out in the world were two completely different things. I had accomplished the one and never quite knew if I was ever going to be brave enough to do the second.

So, when I first sent the piece out to magazines I sent it as fiction, and although I got no written comments from editors, I did get several rejections, form rejections, and I was pretty sure what those editors were thinking: “Unbelievable, This could never happen, What woman would leave her baby at home?”

So, I sent it to Brevity as nonfiction and was over the moon to get an acceptance. And now comes the biggest hurdle of all—it’s out in public, anyone can read it.

Let me just say this: this did happen, my daughter was sleeping and safe when I got back home and now, 24 years later, she reads all my writing and forgives me and loves me anyway.

Cheryl Diane Kidder has a B.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her work, nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared or is forthcoming in CutThroat Magazine, Weber: The Contemporary West, Pembroke Magazine, Tinge MagazineIdentity Theory, In Posse Review, and elsewhere.

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