True Stories, Podcasts, and Cult Music

December 28, 2016 § 1 Comment

truestory-issue1-coverMatt Tullis has hosted 49 episodes of Gangrey: The Podcast so far, focusing on literary journalism, and how it is reported, written, edited, and revised.  In a recent installment, Tullis talks with Steven Kurutz, features reporter for the New York Times, about “Fruitland,” the story that launched Creative Nonfiction magazine’s new series, True Story.

“Fruitland” explores the story of Donnie and Joe Emerson, “two brothers … who as teenagers in the late 1970s self-recorded an album in a log-cabin studio their father built for them on the family farm. The album, Dreamin’ Wild, flopped upon its release but was rediscovered in a junk shop in 2008 and reissued by Light in the Attic records to critical and cult acclaim–but not without bringing out ghosts from the past and taking an emotional toll and the brothers and their family.”

Also joining the podcast on this episode is Hattie Fletcher. Fletcher is the managing editor of Creative Nonfiction, and is editing each installment of True Story.

Give it a listen.


A Trip to the Zoo (Story)

November 30, 2016 § 4 Comments

TrueStory Issue2 Cover.jpgPeople think I’m joking when I tell them I was once a zookeeper, but I was, for one glorious summer, moving from the big cats to the zebras and gnus to the ape exhibits to the children’s zoo to the polar bears, in two-week intervals, filling in for the real zookeepers as they left for summer vacation. I loved it: every moment.

Understandably then, my enthusiasm for Creative Nonfiction‘s new venture, True Story, was barely containable when I received the second installment, Steven Church’s essay “Trip to the Zoo.”

Church’s startling piece focuses on David Villalobos, a man who leaped into a tiger cage at the Bronx zoo and lived to tell about it. “Much of this True Story, selection focuses on my trip to New York City in 2014 to try and retrace David’s trip to the zoo (or at least most of his trip), and my ultimately failed efforts to get people to talk with me; but it also contains an imagined ‘outtake’ that didn’t make the editorial cut for the final book. So while it’s an excerpt it is also its own unique piece that you can’t get anywhere else,” Church explains.

The book Church refers to, One With the Tiger: Sublime and Violent Encounters between Humans and Animals is out just this month.

True Story, edited by Hattie Fletcher, will come out every month. “The True Story format lets us publish some longer pieces than we would usually be able to accept for Creative Nonfiction—and, I suspect, might have some trouble finding a home elsewhere,” Fletcher explained,”if only because there aren’t too many outlets (especially print outlets) for literary longform. And I think it’s great for readers; some of the most consistent feedback we get on reader surveys is to publish more frequently, and we hope this is sort of a hearty snack in between issues of the bigger magazine. Editorially, it’s been a lot of fun so far … though the turnaround between issues feels really fast, compared to the quarterly!”

gladysgiraffeYou can read more about True Story and subscribe for yourself at the CNF site. Might make a nice holiday gift, come to think of it.

Editor Hattie Fletcher, by coincidence, worked at the Cleveland Zoo when she was in high school, so there is some sort of convergence happening. Maybe.

Maybe not.

In any case, to reward those of you who have read this far down, here is a picture of a much younger Brevity editor and a giraffe named Gladys. She was lovely. And ate Vidalia onions whole.


Dinty W. Moore founded Brevity in 1997. He once was best friends with an elephant named Bubbles.









The View from the Slush Pile, Part 1

November 9, 2015 § 10 Comments

Jen Palmares Meadows recently returned from NonfictioNOW, held this year in Flagstaff, Arizona, and offers part one of her two-part report on the panel The View from the Slush Pile:

NonfictioNOW is an international conference devoted entirely to nonfiction. Compared to AWP, which last year boasted 12,000 attendees, NonfictioNOW is an intimate gathering of about 20 journals/presses, and 400 registered attendees, almost half of which are panelists—the difference being, I think, between visiting a zoo, and living amongst the animals.

In fact, attending NonfictioNOW is a lot like visiting Alaska. The concentration of literary wildlife in one location is astounding. Moments of awe and enchantment are swift and often. At NonfictioNOW, literary beasts can be seen freely grazing the conference hall, queuing up at the local watering hole, and foraging through the modest sized book fair. In the space of a few hours, you might observe Lee Martin picking through his complimentary buffet breakfast, or be surprised by the sudden appearance of Maggie Nelson. You remain alert for a glimpse of the elusive Roxane Gay, and might even respond to the uproarious high jinx of Brian Doyle, with hyena-like laughter. Editors of your favorite journals are within petting distance (don’t) and writers of your favorite essays are within selfie proximity (ask first).

We attend conferences like NonfictioNOW to observe literary beasts, not only to admire their talent and awe-inspiring intellect, but to learn from them. Thus, I spent three days, copiously taking notes and observing writers in one of their preferred habitats—the panel.

The following are my field notes from The View from the Slush Pile, with panelists: Hattie Fletcher (Managing Editor, Creative Nonfiction), Steve Church (Founding Editor, The Normal School), Stephanie G’Schwind (Editor, Colorado Review), and Ander Monson (Editor, DIAGRAM).

Panel: The View from the Slush Pile

Panelists: Hattie Fletcher, Steven Church, Stephanie G’Schwind, Ander Monson

Date/Time: 30 October 2015, 2:30-3:45

Location: Flagstaff, Arizona, High Country Conference Center, Humphrey’s Theater

Elevation: Approx. 7000 feet

Weather: Cloudy with gentle breeze, light snow atop San Francisco Peaks

zz hattie

Hattie Fletcher

Panelist #1: Hattie Fletcher

Species: Non-writing Managing Editor

Affiliation: Creative Nonfiction (21 year old magazine, publishes exclusively nonfiction, circulation 10,000)

Further Reading: In Search of Moments of Real Connection: An interview with Hattie Fletcher


Creative Nonfiction has changed over the years. In its inception, the journal looked more academic, in order to garner respect for the genre, from the academic community. Now, it is magazine sized with images. They host a regular CNF Twitter contest, and recently published a number of themed issues.

Creative Nonfiction receives over 5000 submissions a year, and accepts 1-2% of submissions.

Though Creative Nonfiction mostly publishes unsolicited work, they sometimes commission work that they need to speak to a themed issue.

Hattie Fletcher: “I rarely love a piece right away. I’m often thinking: What does it do with the theme? How does it work with the other pieces? Are people going to respond to it?

Advice: When submitting, look into all publications, not just journals that publish exclusively creative nonfiction. There is a need for nonfiction submissions in many journals.

SIGHTING: Hattie Fletcher, in a feat of essay prowess, was crowned winner of the Halloween Nonfiction Wow game show competition.

Steven Church

Steven “Nonfiction Fan Boy” Church

Panelist #2: Steve Church

Species: Writer, Founding Editor, Nonfiction Editor

Affiliation: The Normal School (founded in 2007, publishes twice a year, 10-15 essays each issue, accepts nonfiction, fiction and poetry)

Further Reading: Ultrasonic, The Guinness Book of Me, The Day After The Day After


Often considered boundary challenging, quirky, or difficult to classify, The Normal School has published a transcript from an Ebay auction, a Google maps essay, and an entire essay composed of quotes by dead wrestlers. It also publishes traditional nonfiction.

For years its website was static, but recently the online magazine has become more dynamic, and has revived some archived works.

The Slush Process: Every submission gets at least 2-3 reads, and is ranked 1-4. Works ranked 1 or 2 get rejected. Anything 3 or 4 gets printed and placed into a blue folder to be read by Church.

The Normal School has been working diligently to include diversity, to find writers who aren’t getting published as much, like people of color and women.

The Normal School’s Associate Editor has what Church calls, a “Golden Ticket,” which means they can accept any one piece they want, no questions asked, to ensure a variety of tastes.

Church: “I’m a nonfiction fan boy, and 95% comes from the slush pile, but I’ll solicit writers I like.”

Advice: Look for magazines that promote their writers, magazines that end up in anthologies or mentioned as Best American Notables. That means the magazine made an effort to put that writing into an editor’s hands—not every publication does that.

Advice: Send submissions to magazines that seem cool. You never know what might happen. Church submitted an essay to fledgling journal, The Pedestrian, which folded after its second issue. His essay, “Auscultation,” went on to be included in Best American Essays 2011.

Read PART TWO featuring Stephanie G’Schwind of Colorado Review and Ander Monson of Diagram.


Jen Palmares Meadows writes from northern California. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Brevity, Denver Quarterly, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, Essay Daily, Memoir Journal, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a collection of Vegas stories.

Arranging an Anthology: Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers & Fatherhood

June 11, 2014 § 1 Comment


Stephanie G’Schwind, editor of Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers & Fatherhood, discusses the challenges and creativity involved in assembling a coherent anthology: 

A little over a year ago, I decided to venture into anthology land.

I was pretty sure I knew how to do it; I’d been working in publishing for more than twenty years and have a firm handle on both editorial and production matters. An AWP-Boston panel on the subject confirmed I was on the right track. But better yet, I prevailed upon my good friend Hattie Fletcher, of Creative Nonfiction fame, and got tons of great anthology-building advice from her. And in short order, Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers & Fatherhood began to take form.

I put out a call last spring to fellow literary-magazine editors asking for essays on fathers/fatherhood they’d published in their magazines. Throughout the summer, three of my nonfiction editors and I read the essays we’d received, then winnowed them down to seventeen: five from Colorado Review and twelve from other publications.

We typeset and proofread the five from CR first, simply because we already had those files, then set and proofed the others in the order of when we received them from the other editors. When at last, in February of this year, they’d all been typeset and proofread—by our staff and the authors—I printed out the whole collection, knowing I’d need to determine some kind of more thoughtful arrangement before sending it off to the printer.

Stephanie G'Schwind

Stephanie G’Schwind

But how? This was one question I’d neglected to research, though it had quietly nagged at me all along. A procrastinator at heart, I ignored it until the very end, hoping the solution would be magically delivered to me, perhaps in a dream or a fortune cookie.

Alphabetical by author, though perhaps not the most innovative choice, is always an option—simultaneously orderly and random—but not for this anthology: I already knew that the title essay, Bill Capossere’s “Man in the Moon,” would lead, while Dan Beachy-Quick’s pivotal and tentatively hopeful “Puzzle and Music Box” would conclude the collection.

The only, and ultimately obvious, answer was that the essays themselves would determine the order.

Though attached to my computer and all manner of iThings, I knew I couldn’t do this on-screen. I needed to see all the essays at once, in both bird’s- and worm’s-eye view, and most of all, to touch them, move them around, put them back. So I arranged the seventeen essays on my office floor.

Tman in moonhe considerations that emerged were emotional heaviness of the essay (including, where applicable, whether the father was alive or not) and author gender. To keep track of these things, I turned to one of the editor’s best friends: sticky notes. First I applied blue notes to the essays written by men and—yes—pink notes to those by women. Then on those stickies I made notes along the lines of “heavy/alive,” “medium/not alive,” etc, so as not to put the reader through the emotional toll of reading several heartbreakers in a row (though even the heartbreakers might have moments of levity), while trying to achieve the best distribution of male and female writers.

Is it a perfect arrangement? Maybe not. Three of the essays feature ICU scenes, and I see only now that one immediately follows another. But not everyone reads an anthology in order anyway, so even the best laid plans, well, you know. Still, in whatever order one encounters Man in the Moon, it’s an amazing collection of stories and voices.

The 20th Anniversary Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference

May 5, 2014 § 3 Comments


Lee Gutkind

As the 20th Anniversary Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference draws near, Brevity contributor Amy Wright interviews CNF Founder Lee Gutkind about the genre, the journal, and storytelling in the 21st Century:

Amy Wright: Before the term “creative nonfiction” was ubiquitous, someone referred to you as the guy who “does Creative Notification,” as if there were a company that releases starlings to announce you’ve won the Guggenheim. Do you encounter less confusion about the term now?

Lee Gutkind: Of course, much less confusion generally than before, and a growing awareness of the power of true stories in academic and professional circles.  The awareness and appreciation is also taking root within the general public—writers and wannabe writers.  I can’t tell you—couldn’t count—how many people tell me, quite spontaneously, “I have been writing this way for years—and now I know what it is called!”  It makes them feel anchored, as if they belong in and are part of an enlightened community.   That said, there remain many readers and writers in the dark.  We will light them up!

AW: Have you ever been “creatively notified” of anything?

LG: I have been creatively crucified—which is kind of being notified—by James Wolcott in Vanity Fair who called me “the Godfather behind creative nonfiction.”

AW: On the New York Times Opinionator blog, you say the “challenge and goal of all who write narrative or creative nonfiction” is to recreate a scene from which readers can “learn and enjoy at the same time.” Why do you think the two are aided by scene setting?

LG: Well, not to be overly technical, but “scene setting” is only a part of writing in scenes.  A scene has a setting, of course—a place.  But it also has a beginning and an ending and an action in between. Something happens, in other words.  Good scenes have dialogue and evocative characters and memorable places—all of that and more represent enjoyment, entertainment and a compelling storyline or plot.  These story elements bring readers to the plate, so to speak—attracts attention and holds their interest.  Especially the reluctant readers—those whose minds are not open to learning about this particular subject or who are simply too busy to focus on something that he or she knows little about.  The scene, the story—the elements mentioned here, triggers curiosity and creates interest, which then provides the writer the opportunity to add the learning part—to teach or inform or persuade the reader.  (At this point, the reader’s attention has been captured by the scene.)  We are talking about a balanced mix of style and substance.

There’s all kinds of interesting research studies now that demonstrate that readers remember more information for longer periods of time when those facts and information are presented within a story.  Same thing with ideas that will change a reader’s mind or persuade them to think in a certain way.  Why is the personal essay—creative nonfiction—so popular for op-ed pages like the NY Times these days?  Because people don’t want to be told what to do or how to think:  Writers who write true stories that illustrate their ideas will attract attention and make the desired impact.  To use a George W. Bushism—the scene/story is the decider.

AW: But Godfather, surely as editor of Creative Nonfiction you are faced with questions of whether a scene/story lives or dies…how do you decide?

LG: Well, ask yourself:  Does it work?  Does it achieve your objectives as the writer of your essay, chapter, book?  Does it have a beginning and an ending, does it represent an aspect of what you want to say or what you want your piece to say, is it compelling to your reader, will it keep your reader engaged, does it fit in with the overall story line?  Remember that writers have a readership—an audience.  You are not talking to yourself; rather you are talking to a much larger world and that world is where your words and your scene must resonate.

AW: Your more than thirty books make it enjoyable to learn about such subjects as health care, writing, baseball, and how robots think, but considering you teach at Arizona State University and present at conferences, does that guiding principle also inform your lectures?

LG: How could it not?

Amy Wright

Amy Wright

AW: I well remember a point you made at the 2013 CNF Conference about an elderly woman who was never far from Frank Sinatra’s side while Gay Talese was shadowing him for a 1966 piece in Esquire. You made Ol’ Blue Eyes toupee keeper a character as you illustrated the process of finding a buried lede. Do scenes/stories present aloud similarly to on the page?

LG:  That’s a difficult question with more than one answer.  The presentation in public—aloud, in person, etc. and its effectiveness, of course—has mostly to do with the skill of the writer writing the story—the material.  But writers, especially these days, need to work to learn to tell their stories to larger groups—in person—either by reading with clarity and feeling or speaking with animation and passion.  After all, this is the age of the TED talk, Jon Stewart and Morning Edition—we are sometimes presented with the opportunity for writers to go public and become the three-dimensional person their work demands, whether on paper or in the flesh.  This is a new age—it is not your grandmother’s nonfiction anymore.  We are not waiting for people to buy our book and reach out to us—we will wait a long time for that; rather, we are bringing our work to the readers.

AW: In You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, you offer a wealth of writing tips, including the necessary “drawer phase” and how to utilize inner point of view.  Will this guide inspire your presentation at the 2014 Creative Nonfiction conference?

LG: I am going to start off by discussing the basics of the genre—which includes scenes, as we have noted above, the use of dialogue and description—and some of the “R” words I often talk about in my public presentations and in my writing—research, real life, revision and reflection.  I will isolate the elements of a good essay by deconstructing one or two—show attendees the classical structural framework of creative nonfiction.  “Structure” is all-important and not often dealt with in the classroom or in books.  Later that day, after a presentation on the short form, I will deal with “long form” challenges—from essay to book length.  Writing in long form is a different ball game, believe me.  The challenges are different and the satisfactions—awesome.

**Visit the Conference Page for More Information.**

Awp 2014: Flash ‘Em

March 20, 2014 § 5 Comments

flashA belated AWP panel report from Alle C. Hall, on the panel “Getting Short-Form Nonfiction to Readers: A Publication Discussion”:

The place was packed.

Kelly Sundberg opened the panel with words worth my conference fee. She made the case that flash is too often and not thoughtfully enough categorized by length. Sundberg delineated four qualities differentiating flash from short fiction or nonfiction:

1.     Image.
Flash lacks space for explanation and multiple characters. Image is the way into the emotional experience.

2.     Compression.
Nix grammar & punctuation. Fragment good.

3.     Structure
Flash connects emotionally. Intuition is stronger in than in a longer piece. There, lean on structure.

4.     Title
Don’t just label it. Make those words do double duty.

Speaking next, Sarah Einstein, managing editor of Brevity, justified hotel costs by laying out what makes a submission work for the magazine

  • Brevity leans toward memoir over thinky.
  • For thinky-er pieces, try Slate.
  • “We are not the edgyist journal on the planet. Brevity is not usually shocky—raw sex and drugs.”
  • Sex and drugs? That would be a Pank piece.

Moving to what she sees too often, Einstein said, “Ten – 15% of submissions are set at a funeral or doctor’s office.”

  • “Those are the moment that hit the writer in gut … (but they do not necessarily) hit the reader in the gut.
  •  If writing about the loss of a loved one, write “the moment that you get it, that they are gone for good, and what you will miss. Write what you are doing at the time.”

Then came Creative Nonfiction’s Hattie Fletcher. Although CNF recently published several two-page essays, their tweet feature is where they do short. In the name of parallel structure, I thank Fletcher for covering my coffee expenditures.

Fletcher summarized a CNF certified-good tweet:

  • Tell a story.
    • You don’t have much room for reflection, but you must have a “my take.”
    • Find meaning.
    • You see a crazy person on the bus, and then another person says this.
    • Use the juxtaposition to convey observation.
    • Too many read like jokes, observations or description.
    • Or settle for describing a character.
    • The biggest challenge:
      • Get outside your head.
      • Don’t make your tweet cryptic.

The final speaker, Chelsea Biondolillo, posted a summation of her presentation here. Astoundingly, it includes a list of magazines accepting short nonfiction. To be clear, she is sharing what must have been hundreds of hours of research.

With this post, she is saving us all that time and all that rejection heartbreak.

The more I sift through the gifts of the panel, the less I want to poke fun at monetary value or highfalutin’ academia. I’ve been to plenty of commercial conferences. Not once did a writer make as selfless a gesture as Biondolillo’s. Not once did editors give as much submission information about a competing magazine as they did about their own.

AWP is a special experience. Thank AWP. Join. Return. Thank the presenters. Subscribe. Buy books. Donate. Today.

Alle C. Hall won The Richard Hugo House New Works Competition. Favorite publications in Creative Nonfiction, Bust, Literary Mama, Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, and The Stranger (Contributing Writer). She blogs at About Childhood: Answers for Writers, Parents, and Former Children. Stop by. She’s happy to talk your ear off.

A Report from Welcome Table’s Essay Symposium

April 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

Welcome Table Press, a nonprofit “dedicated to publishing and celebrating the essay in all its forms,” held its inaugural symposium, “In Praise of the Essay: Practice & Form,” in New York City this past weekend in collaboration with Fordham University’s English Department and Creative Writing Program. Ohio University MA candidate Amanda Dambrink was able to attend, and brought back this report:

Kim Dana Kupperman, founder of Welcome Table Press, and VP Penelope Schwartz Robinson put together an excellent program featuring some of the top practitioners and publishers of the essay around these days–like Robert Atwan, Vivian Gornick, Paul Lisicky, Lia Purpura, Mike Steinberg, Linda Underhill, Katie Dublinski, Brian Doyle, and Hattie Fletcher, to name a few. Those lucky enough to have been in attendance left with complimentary journals, copious notes, teaching handouts, numerous book recommendations, and valuable insights into the ins and outs of writing, teaching, and publishing this most protean of forms.

Robert Atwan, series editor of The Best American Essays, started the day off by discussing the relationship between truth and lies in nonfiction–especially autobiographical nonfiction–coming at last to their inseparability: “The compound seems inescapable: a piece of writing may be aesthetically true, yet verifiably false; just as it can be–as is so much contemporary memoir–verifiably true but aesthetically false.”

Several themes emerged throughout the symposium, including the need for  humility and sympathy in essays, the impact of technology on genre, and the endless potential essays have to do and be, well, whatever we want them to do and be. The bottom line: For those of us who teach, write, publish, or read essays, it would be wise to make attending the Welcome Table Press Symposium a priority next year.

Tweet Tweet Nonfiction

June 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

Many people are confused by Brevity‘s relationship with Creative Nonfiction the print magazine.  Well, let us put it this way: we read submissions separately, have offices in different states, have separate production teams, and we are better looking.  CNF allows us to piggyback for free on their server space (thanks), and in return, they steal all of our good ideas, like the whole idea of brevity.  Thus, the new CNF twitter challenge:

Forget 6-word memoirs. Can you tell a true story in 130 characters or less? Prove it. Trend topic #cnftweet, and we’ll RT our fave everyday!

We don’t tweet here at Brevity, because you have to draw the line somewhere, but if you want to follow CNF on Twitter, here’s where you can go:

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