February 9, 2022 § 3 Comments
By Lindsey Anthony-Bacchione
The Editors of Hippocampus Magazine’s Getting to the Truth: The Craft and Practice of Creative Nonfiction had me hooked from the very beginning when it asks readers which type of Imposter Syndrome they most identify with. Having earned two writing degrees and worked as a freelance story analyst for over ten years in the film industry, I found myself with one foot in The Perfectionist column and one in The Soloist column with a small puddle of self-sabotage as gurgling quicksand below. In Athena Dixon’s essay, she gives grounded questions to help any writer work with this Imposter that lives within, stands in front, pulls from below, and any other form of obstacle it creates, including her own that she has fondly named Derek.
I have never asked myself, what are my aversions to networking, but I am eager to discover more tangible solutions to help me get out of my own way (or at least move my Imposter aside). With Getting to the Truth, The Editors of Hippocampus have given writers in every stage of the writing life a gift. Chocked full of pragmatic tips, how-to’s, creative exercises, and priceless information, Getting to the Truth is the first creative nonfiction craft book I have read that has left me with pages of ideas for future essays, memoirs, and hybrid visual essays I had never considered. What sets Getting to the Truth apart from many other CNF craft books, is its emphasis on the practice of writing creative nonfiction. The Editors of Hippocampus successfully debunk the myth that words just appear when a writer sits down by dissecting the precious challenges that writing creative nonfiction brings. When writing creative nonfiction, our mind can be a most difficult guest at the table.
Tailored specific to CNF writers, Getting to the Truth dives right into what is stopping so many of us from telling our stories: ourselves. The book delves into the neuroscience of memory, the shapeshifting of our traumas, the difficulties of writing about family, and the importance of a faulty memory. In Wendy Fontaine’s essay, she unpacks her own experience of writing a detailed scene about her divorce in the dead of winter only to discover that the court date she references actually happened in the summertime. She asks herself, “What right did I have to render this scene to the page if I couldn’t even recall it correctly?” Fontaine weaves research, science, and the discoveries and observations of other memoirists, to arrive at the well-scavenged advice: “Don’t be afraid to explore your own memory mistakes…. You might find more truth, more meaning in the distortion itself.” It is this search for meaning that The Editors help map for any writer trying to get a story out.
In Kate Meadows’ essay, she confronts the conflict of a “quiet” life and how changing the idea of conflict to one of movement helped her unearth a deeper conflict within, one she had not excavated for the page. She posits, “If we think of an EKG line as a metaphor for story, we want to see a line with lots of rises and falls. In other words, we want a trajectory, a record of movement throughout the story.”
Jenna McGuiggan’s brilliant essay touches on the feeling of overwhelm—a feeling extremely dear to me—about the mountain of stories that can overwhelm the writer, leaving the words buried. She introduces the concept of the One-Moment Memoir, and gives inspired exercises to help writers push through the overwhelm and grant themselves permission to write about one single moment instead of the entire story. As a writer who spent a year traveling around the world and then came home and wrote nothing about this experience, this essay found a home in my heart. But more importantly, a flood of one-moment ideas spilled out on the page. There is beauty in omission and editors of Hippocampus Magazine help writers find the stories that really matter to them. They do this through pinpointing meaning. To sit down and attempt to write about my nine-month adventure around the world is daunting to begin with, boring and self-serving at best. To write about the sheep that was bleating outside of my window in Marrakech for three days, waking me in the early hours of the morning, aggravating me to no end until the absence of the noise sent me off to discover its body strung, its head apart, in preparation for Eid Al Adha, is a moment perhaps worth examining. Speaking to my cinephile heart, McGuiggan compares this mining for meaning to a scene in a movie and asks the writer: “What does this moment mean to you?” Meadows asks “How does your main character interact with their environment?” In Melanie Brooks’s essay she asks, “What are the pieces of the family story that only you carry?”
For those of us who find it difficult to find the words to express meaning, have no fear, Nicole Breit’s essay takes CNF writers down the exciting path of the Visual Essay. In her essay, she leaves no stone unturned and gives writers a wealth of knowledge supported by moving visual essays such as Vivek Shraya’s photo essay “Trisha” or Shirley Harshenin’s quilted essay “When a Jack Fails.”
Getting to the Truth is not only a book where writers can galvanize inspiration, but it is also an incredible teaching tool, a by-product of the successful HippoCamp conference held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, each summer. The collection of essays from different editors and writers makes for a collaborative reading experience, one of shared writing experiences and an encouraging dialogue among writers. In addition to the ideas and inspirations, I collected a page full of magazines and literary journals I had never heard of, essayists and memoirists I had not yet discovered. I created a checklist of actionable items to take in the forward direction of my writing life, one that is often mired in feelings of overwhelm, underwhelm, and a deeply seated fear that despite the writing degrees and work experience, perhaps I’m just not good enough. The Editors of Hippocampus know this mind. They are this mind. Getting to the Truth not only tells us all that there is enough space for all of our stories, but it shows us how. The craft book ends with a bonus section with lists of places to submit CNF work and how to find other homes, as well as an Endnotes section with reading recommendations and all of the essays I scribbled down before discovering the Editors had already graciously done this part for the reader. The Editors of Hippocampus say we can do this, one moment at a time.
Lindsey Anthony-Bacchione writes creative nonfiction and book reviews. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Antioch University Los Angeles and a BFA in dramatic writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her work can be seen at About Place Journal, Sentience Literary Journal, Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, and a book review forthcoming in The Rumpus. She is currently working on a memoir and can be found on Instagram @thingsivelearnedfrommydaughter and Twitter @LABacchione.
November 2, 2017 § 2 Comments
Not long ago I was working on a piece I was pretty sure was about the woman who founded forensic science. My editor, however, pointed out it was also about the struggles of women past a certain age, who are pegged only as grandmothers, lacking usefulness. Her comment made me realize: I usually write about the experiences of women whom society sees as past their prime. This shouldn’t have been a revelation: I write a monthly magazine column about intergenerational dialogue and have a degree in women’s history. Yet the new awareness of my specific focus has already helped me prioritize projects and pitch pieces to new outlets.
While much has been said about how writers must ‘build platform,’ in the sense of becoming a marketable expert on their book’s subject, this thematic focus seems more like a beat—that is, developing authority while writing on a number of related topics. So how do you create your beat? How can you nurture it?
Bustle writer Tabitha Blankenbiller says her beat
is fashion and style, which like any good subjects, parlay into a myriad of other themes: pop culture, body image, class issues, aging, feminism…[but] I find that when I put out fashion-related writing, it tends to be some of the better-received work. It feels like it ‘has legs.’
When she founded Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Athena Dixon embraced her editorial beat to “further diversify our current writing community by calling attention to the glaring diversity issues and offering at least one safe space for writers to submit and be read.”
Maisha Johnson has worked as a domestic violence survivors’ advocate and holds an MFA in poetry. She writes primarily about abuse and healing, race and racism, and intersectional feminism, as well as everyday ways we come across these topics, like pop culture, creativity, and identity. Articulating these intersections helps her deepen the lens and purpose of her work, and define who she is as a writer.
A writer’s beat ties into their social media presence, but isn’t just a marketing construct. Maisha says it can be equally important to unplug.
Because I work around issues like racism, trauma, and abuse, I know being constantly plugged in is going to take a toll. But also [I can’t be] totally absent from trending conversations. So I’ll use a social media tool like Hootsuite, and schedule articles I see trending from other writers. I’ll also add older [or evergreen] articles of my own that relate to the current topic. I don’t have to be on the cutting edge of every conversation in order to maintain a digital presence.
Your beat also needn’t be constantly “on.” Tabitha, whose book Eats of Eden comes out March 2018, says her beat requires
less hoop-jumping and more mountain-scaling. I am a slower writer than many freelancers I’ve known, who are churning out essays and stories along with news cycles… I can’t keep up with that pace, so when I’m writing standalones, I have the luxury of bowing to what’s really screaming at me. It may not be the hottest trending topic, but every so often you have good timing and what you’ve been obsessed about is in sync with the rest of the world.
Relevance can be serendipitous, Tabitha says.
Sometimes the fire comes totally from left field…[for example], a little essay I wrote for a now-defunct food site about my tendency to steal things like condiments, pint glasses, and steak knives from restaurants stirred up this big viral trollstorm.
For Athena, managing a beat is all about making choices: “I made a conscious decision to include all black women on my editorial board and to champion voices I believe may not be given a fair and equal chance to be published.”
How do you decide what to focus on? Maybe you already see a common thread in your work. You might make decisions based on pragmatic goals for publication in particular venues, or by paying close attention to what makes your writing flow and what works best for you and your work specifically. I jump at any opportunity even remotely related to aging, because juggling multiple projects keeps me on deadline. Maisha keeps a list of potential articles, prioritized by what she’s most passionate about.
Tabitha says, “Don’t discount what you love. Passion and joy are your greatest allies, no matter what sparks them within you.”
“Don’t be afraid to begin with what you know best, no matter how unique or particular,” Maisha says. “If you’re the only person who can write the story, that story might really need to be told.”
Athena Dixon agrees. “Be confident in what you know and share it widely. You have no idea what kinds of opportunities you may be unlocking.”
Hillary Moses Mohaupt serves as Social Media Editor for Hippocampus. She holds an MFA from Pacific University in Oregon, and her work has appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle and Distillations. In her fiction and essays she frequently writes about the presence of the past, intergenerational relationships, and lying. Follow her on Twitter @_greyseasky_.
December 12, 2016 § 1 Comment
It’s time once again for the Brevity Podcast! Listen right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.
Episode #3 features an interview with Rick Moody on form, function, life coaching and how to handle the part of depression that makes one want to walk in front of a bus, without losing access to one’s creative spirit. We also speak with Athena Dixon, editor-in-chief and founder of Linden Avenue Lit, about where and how to find new voices of color, and the evolution of her writing from R&B fan fic to establishing a strong new literary magazine.
Our episode sponsor is the recorded webinar, Developmental Editing for Fiction and Memoir – useful for authors and editors, and available at Editors Canada (note that the price is in CDN$).
Show Notes: Episode #3 People, Books and Places
Athena’s favorite poem, Euphoria by Major Jackson
Athena’s favorite Another Bad Creation song, Jealous Girl. (The band looks like they’re about 9 years old!)
Crossroads: the story of Robert Johnson and the Devil, on Radiolab