Close Encounters in Nonfiction

September 16, 2022 § 1 Comment

Rebecca McClanahan, in our newest issue of Brevity, uses a scale devised by an astronomer to describe three levels of UFO encounters to encourage encounters of the deepest kind in our memoir and creative nonfiction.

Here is an excerpt of her fascinating Craft essay:

 Indeed, how does any writer make contact with their subject and experience communion? First, by acknowledging the subject as an animated force, a life form with a language and structure different from ours but from which we can learn. This requires listening closely during the writing process, watching for clues. For me, this meant discovering a structure I’d never used before in my writing.

Here’s how it felt: I’m traveling with my ancestors in a space/time vehicle I’ll call the narrative. Sometimes they’re in the driver’s seat, talking through their letters and documents, and I’m in the backseat listening, recording their words. But sometimes I climb into the passenger seat and strike up a conversation on the page—sympathizing, talking back, arguing, questioning, speculating, expanding their stories through what I’m discovering through research, and even imagining their lives from the inside out: “Is this how it felt?” I might ask before entering the landscape of interior thought.

And sometimes, because by now I’ve allowed myself to be abducted by these creatures, they have claimed me as their own. Go ahead, they say, take the wheel.

Read Rebecca’s full essay here to learn more about abduction and achieving depth in your storytelling.

Writing Prompts for Getting Lost

September 15, 2022 § 2 Comments

In a Craft Essay featured in our in our newest issue, Jill McCabe Johnson traces the literary roots of lost and found narratives — reaching “at least as far back as the French poetic form, the Chanson d’Aventure, when medieval poets ‘lost’ themselves in the countryside until they encountered or ‘found’ something inspiring and transformative” — and offers useful prompts, based on the work of Roxane Gay, Victoria Chang, and Joanne Nelson.

Here is a sample prompt:

Prompt:

Draft a letter to someone from your past whose journey entailed loss. This could be to a loved one who journeyed from life to death, or a relative sentenced to prison, or a friend who left home. Ask about what they saw, heard, smelled, ate, or carried.

Read Jill’s full essay in the new issue for the full discussion and numerous additional prompts: Getting Lost—and Found—in Personal Narrative

Brevity’s September 2022 Issue

September 14, 2022 § 1 Comment

Our new issue is here, featuring powerful new essays from Daisy Hernandez, Julie Marie Wade, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher, Shaindel Beers, Angela Morales, Jennifer Battisti, Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach,  Kristin M. Distel, Anna Vodicka, Mika Sutherland, Meg Senuta, Ralph James Savarese, Heidi Fettig Parton, Tyler Mills, and Lori Jakiela. Plus stunning photos from Amy Selwyn. 

Our Craft section features three new essays: Jill McCabe Johnson traces the literary roots of lost and found narratives — reaching “at least as far back as the French poetic form, the Chanson d’Aventure, when medieval poets ‘lost’ themselves in the countryside until they encountered or ‘found’ something inspiring and transformative” — and offers useful prompts, based on the work of Roxane Gay, Victoria Chang, and Joanne Nelson. Rebecca McClanahan uses a scale devised by an astronomer to describe three levels of UFO encounters to encourage encounters of the deepest kind in our memoir and creative nonfiction. Aggie Stewart explores emotional pacing as it relates to writing about traumatic events, showing us how “Scene breaks and juxtapositions—almost any kind of change in technique—affected how emotions were carried or co-mingled, how long they were held, and the way they rose up and dissolved from one narrative moment to another.”

Drop by our newest issue and engage all of this fine new work.

Welcome to Heidi Croot

September 1, 2022 § 26 Comments

The Brevity Blog keeps expanding, growing in readership and fielding an increasing number of quality submission, so we’re expanding our team. A hearty welcome to Andrea Firth and Heidi Croot who join us as Blog Editors, alongside Allison and Dinty who are still on the job, looking for fresh voices and fresh perspectives. Andrea introduced herself yesterday, and Heidi does so today. We are thrilled to have them on the team.

Heidi Croot

Brevity Blog is that place writers dream of.

The writers’ café.

Worn pine floors, rickety round tables crowded together, fragrance of coffee and cinnamon—the place where writers meet for fellowship and deep dives into the kind of craft talk many of us can’t access at home. The place where we get to share our despair with protagonists who refuse to “arc” and rejection letters that missed the point. The place where we exult in our successes knowing others understand what it took.

I love it here as a reader and a writer, and I’m going to love it even more as an editor. Words have been my solace and surprise since I wrote my first (okay, only) novel at 10 and, later, turned in weekly columns about secondary school life to the village newspaper, edited by my mother.

From there it was on to an Honours BA in English at London Ontario’s Western University with no thought to the future other than I wanted to read books and write essays. Happily, I landed a decades-long career in corporate communication that involved writing strategic plans, speeches, trade press articles, and annual reports for both the private and public sectors. Being edited and editing others was just part of the job.

In 2006, I went freelance, and a few years later, feeling edgy and unfulfilled, eased out the screen door and into the garden. I wanted to be a creative writer. 

Writers’ groups were my way in—three at last count—resulting in several shelves of “how-to-edit” books. I was terrified. I knew how to edit for business, but poetry? YA science fiction? Speculative fiction?

What powered me through was the joy in learning that comes with editing and applying those new skills to my own writing, including my memoir, now in its final edit (excerpt here). More joy from admiring what sparkles, noticing where a bridge needs repair, and helping writers add their voice to the buzz in the writers’ café and beyond.

Thank you, Dinty and Allison, editors extraordinaire, for the opportunity to join the Brevity Blog team.

And to the 87,000 Brevity Blog subscribers, those burning with ideas and those rocking the fence: Read the guidelines and submit. This is your time. We are eager to embrace your words. 

Welcome to Andrea Firth

August 31, 2022 § 35 Comments

The Brevity Blog keeps expanding, growing in readership and fielding an increasing number of quality submission, so we’re expanding our team. A hearty welcome to Andrea Firth and Heidi Croot who join us as Blog Editors, alongside Allison and Dinty who are still on the job, looking for fresh voices and fresh perspectives. Andrea introduces herself below (and Heidi will do the same tomorrow). We are thrilled to have them on the team.

Andrea Firth

Hi! I’m a writer, editor and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing and I publish personal essays, literary journalism, and hybrid writing. (Read more of Andrea’s work here.) Five years ago, I co-founded Diablo Writers’ Workshop, which provides writing classes, editorial services, and a vibrant writing community for adults—it’s a big, wonderful part of my life.

Like you, I’m a writer trying to create my best work and get it published. I’ve been reading the Brevity Blog for years (usually with my morning cup of tea and my cat). Starting my day with another writer’s insight into the world of creative nonfiction has taught me a lot about the craft of writing, the ins and outs of the publishing world, and new ways manage this thing we call a literary life. Let’s face it—writing is a solo venture. (My loyal cat keeps me company through my writing days, but she doesn’t say much.) Having a network of writers that I can tap into, who I can support, and who can support me, is essential. In an eight-minute morning read, the Blog gives me that.

At the onboarding Zoom call with our newly expanded editorial team, Editor-in-Chief Dinty W. Moore described the Blog as a conversation, which has been ongoing more than fifteen years now. And I thought, yes, that’s it! We are a community of writers and friends having a regular, intelligent, thoughtful conversation about what we do and how we do it.

I’m excited and honored to be an editor of the Brevity Blog and hope you will consider submitting a post. Join the conversation. The Blog’s guidelines outline what we’re looking for, but just like literary magazines, the best way to understand what we’re all about is to read it.

What am I interested to see more of? I love when personal narrative and technique demonstrate the craft point, or the story underlying the story—get meta! The Blog is focused on CNF, but genres lines are blurring—what can we CNF writers learn from autofiction, hybrid memoir, and experimental prose? And, of course, surprise us.

How Truthful are Memoirs?

August 1, 2022 § 27 Comments

In his essay “How Truthful are Memoirs?”, Roy Peter Clark, a journalist and Senior Scholar at the Poynter Institute, offers a detailed list of ten “rigorous steps to an honest form of writing,” making a firm argument that there is a clear line between fact and fiction in memoir. We present his steps below, followed by a link to the full essay (featuring Mary Karr and Vivian Gornick). We’d love for you to weigh in through our comment section as to your level of agreement with Clark’s standards:

  1. Any degree of fabrication turns a story from nonfiction into fiction, which must be labeled as such. (A story cannot be a little fictional.)
  2. The writer, by definition, may distort reality by subtraction (the way a photo is cropped), but is never allowed to distort by adding material to nonfiction that the writer knows did not happen.
  3. Characters that appear in nonfiction must be real individuals, not composites drawn from a number of persons. While there are occasions when characters can or should not be named, giving characters fake names is not permitted. (They can be identified by an initial, a natural status “The Tall Woman,” or a role “The Accountant.”)
  4. Writers of nonfiction should not expand or contract time or space for narrative efficiency. (Ten conversations with a source that took place in three locations cannot be merged into a single conversation in a single location.)
  5. Invented dialogue is not permitted. Any words in quotations marks must be the result of a) written documents such as trial transcripts, or b) words recorded directly by the writer or some other reliable source.  Remembered conversations — especially from the distant past — should be rendered with another form of simple punctuation, such as indented dashes: — like this –.
  6. We reject the notion in all of literature of a “higher truth,” a phrase that has been used too often as a rationalization in nonfiction for making things up. It is hard enough, and good enough, to attempt to render a set of “practical truths.”
  7. Aesthetic considerations must be subordinated — if necessary — to documentary discipline.
  8. Nonfiction does not result from a purely scientific method, but responsible writers will inform audiences on both what they know and how they know it. The sourcing in a book or story should be sufficient so that another reporter or researcher or fact-checker, acting in good faith, could follow the tracks of the original reporter and find comparable results.
  9. Unless working in fantasy, science fiction, or obvious satire, all writers, including novelists and poets, have an affirmative duty to render the world accurately through their own research and detective work. 
  10. The escape clause: There may be occasions, when the writer can think of no other way to tell a story than through the use of one or more of these “banned” techniques. The burden is on the writer to demonstrate that this is so. To keep faith with the reader, the writer should become transparent concerning narrative methods. A detailed note to readers should appear AT THE BEGINNING OF THE WORK to alert them of the standards and practices of the writer.

_____

You can read Clark’s full essay here at Poynter.org, and please take some time to let us know your thoughts, agreements, disagreements, questions.

The Brevity Blog: Should We Rebrand?

July 27, 2022 § 59 Comments

As both Brevity (the magazine of original essays) and The Brevity Blog (discussions of craft and the writing life) both grow and expand their audience, we see more and more folks confusing the two. That’s not a huge problem, and mainly we are just happy you are here, but maybe some folks don’t realize we have twice the flavor.

So a small thought for a late July Wednesday: should we rebrand The Brevity Blog as The BrevityBlog, or maybe just BrevityBLOG to make the distinction more apparent?

Vote in the comments, and thanks in advance:

The Brevity Blog and Book Reviews

June 25, 2022 § 5 Comments

We understand the disappointment that some have shared since learning that the Brevity Blog will not be featuring book reviews going forward. The decision is not taken lightly, but was deemed necessary due to time and staffing issues. Though our blog editors understand the importance of promoting small press books, it became increasingly obvious in tracking our site statistics that book reviews were our least-read feature, while also among the more time-consuming.

Please note that Brevity and the Brevity blog will still promote small press memoir and nonfiction, but primarily through craft essays by book authors, author interviews, and other posts that contain explorations of the writing and publishing process.

Our blog editors are working on a volunteer basis, and we are doing as much as we can with the resources available. We’re grateful we can provide a venue for hundreds of writers who generously share their knowledge and their work with the Brevity blog audience. 

Dinty W. Moore

Editor-in-Chief

Writing as a Doorway to the Unknown

May 30, 2022 § 1 Comment

In our May issue, Degan Davis uses uses the words of Dante, Mark Doty, Rebecca Solnit, Bret Lott, Sue William Silverman, and other outstanding writers to explore “how to keep our eyes open in the darkness of our writing process.”

Davis writes:

Dante’s often-quoted beginning of the Divine Comedy has the narrator arriving at a dark wood, unsure of which way to turn. To many writers and artists, Dante’s predicament is a familiar, disquieting, and essential starting place. Leonard Cohen wrote, “I write to reveal not what I know, but what I don’t know.” And of an artist’s profession in general he said, “You’re married to a mystery. It’s not a particularly generous mystery…” In other words, a writer has to enter into the dark, the unknown, to see if their path leads to art.

You can read the full discussion of how we “enter into the dark, the unknown” in our writing in Brevity’s Craft Section.

Revising a Tiny Love Story

May 26, 2022 § Leave a comment

In Brevity’s newest issue, Lori Tucker-Sullivan talks about revision, feedback, and how much is too much when taking the advice of editors or other writers. What do we owe ourselves as writers, through revision? Is it right or wrong to release our control of our own words?

Here is an excerpt:

… crafting a one hundred-word piece for The New York Times’ Modern Love Tiny Love Stories. It was a demanding exercise to tell a story that took place twenty years earlier about a letter written by my husband now also gone many years. There was the letter’s content, my response, new grief, old pain, so much to delve into within such a minimal word count. Once finished, I became attached. This piece was therapy, release, discipline, and acceptance, perfectly wrapped in exactly one hundred words.

You can read Tucker-Sullivan’s full essay, and see how her Tiny Love Story changed across drafts, in Brevity‘s Craft Section.

%d bloggers like this: