Monday, April 30, 2012

Labels - Be Gone!

Reading so many blogs, notes, Facebook posts, literary reviews, and articles in journals and newspapers on the subject of creative nonfiction and memoir, and I have come to this conclusion: DUMP THE LABELS.

It seems the only reason we have labels in the art of writing is to categorize work for the sake of an editor and the shelves of a book store (brick-and-mortar or virtual), but in reality, it doesn't really matter, does it? Oh sure, we want the reader to "know" what he/she is getting, but I wonder if that really matters anymore. Good reading comes from good writing, and labeling what genre it is just doesn't seem relevant in today's world.

Memoir crosses the boundaries of journalism, fiction craft, and personal anecdotes. Creative nonfiction has elements of fiction writing, memoir, essay, journalism, and scene sketches. Fiction, as it always has been, many times (even if just partly) coming from personal experience that somehow enhances, exploits, makes bigger, becomes more poignant in order to create an imagined story. But all of it - every bit of it - comes from one place - the human experience. The lines are so blurred now, does it matter what silo we drop our stories into?

I can't tell you the times I have written a piece - be it memoir, essay, fiction, journalism - and the reader or and editor asks me -- IS THAT TRUE? That question arises no matter what the genre. Sometimes I say "yes" - sometimes I say "partly" - sometimes I say "well, a little" - sometimes I say "I think so, but it's MY truth. Others may think differently." So, if the question is always the same - IS THAT TRUE? DID THAT REALLY HAPPEN? - why put a label on it. The reader's reaction is the same.

Dump the labels and write; write what is in your heart, what is relevant, emotional, passionate, telling, engaging, compelling. Drop the categories and tell the good story, one that resonates over and over again, true or not.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012


It's an old cliche, but spring is for renewal. And that's what I've been thinking a lot about.

First - it's time to renew my commitment to this blog. I have been back at Columbia College with a number of projects underway, including the publishing of my short-short fiction book - AFTER OPIUM. (Kindle version)

I'm happy about getting these works out in a collection. Some have been previously published, but now it's out for good. And getting some decent reviews. Thank you all!

A number of significant things have occurred since we last connected - here's a link to many, including Mike Wallace, memoir writing, and the state of the publishing world...all of which struck me as interesting, telling moments about writing, journalism, authoring, and our culture and society these days...

On other notes - I am honored to be speaking this week at a University of Wisconsin-Extension Educators conference about my memoir, ACCIDENTAL LESSONS. Also honored to be asked to judge personal essay writing for the Southwest Prairie Literary Festival, and to conduct a writing workshop at the LaGrange, Illinois library in late April.

Here's what I leave you with this time around - a quote I recently came across --

"Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson