Last month, I was excited to receive two acceptances. The first was from Hi Vis Press for a poem titled “Yahoo, I’ve Been Hacked.” It will be appearing in the inaugural issue of Hi Vis Press’ new magazine, Low Light, in September. Hi Vis Press is run by the same good folks who used to edit Hand Job Zine, which published a couple of my poems last summer.
The second was from a new online journal, Ellipsis Zine, for a short creative nonfiction (or CNF) piece titled “The Twelve Opossums.”
I’ll talk about the poem and the somewhat unusual inspiration for it in a future post, but today I’d like to talk about writing “The Twelve Opossums.”
If you glance at the tabs on my website, you’ll notice “About,” “Fiction and Poetry” and “Book Reviews.” There’s nothing about nonfiction or CNF. (By the way, I guess once “The Twelve Opossums” is published, I’m going to have to change the name of that second tab.) Not to say that I have never written nonfiction at all—I had a brief career as a journalist back in the nineties, and I’ve chronicled my writing (mis)adventures in this blog—but this is the first time I’ve written a nonfiction piece specifically written for a literary magazine audience.
Also, for the first time, the main character of a work is, well, me. Sure, I’ve written about myself in the blog posts (probably more than I should), but this time, I’ve become a character (although some people already think I’m quite a character). Of course, this character is obviously one I know very well, but still, it feels strange to be looking at yourself from the point of view of a creator.
As other writers do, I mine my experiences for my fiction and poetry, but I’ve never written anything I would consider autobiographical (“Against the Waves” was close, but the main story was a synthesis of different events that had taken place over years, and some of the characters were also conglomerates). The reason I hadn’t tackled CNF in the past is quite simply because I didn’t think any of my life experiences were that interesting. If Haruki Murakami thinks his life story could only fit on one page, I think mine would fit on a quarter of a page.
In fact, the event that inspired the piece was not earth-shattering; to be honest, it’s really nothing more a humorous anecdote. But I wanted to at least try turning that anecdote into something else. Doing that required me to not only relive that moment but dig deeper into it. Why do I want to tell this story? What can readers get out of it besides a few laughs? Also, while I’ve recounted this anecdote to many people over the years, I’ve never really considered the details, which is what I had to do for this piece. (Considering that the event took place thirty-four years ago, I’m surprised how much of it I remembered.)
At first, I was going to make it a straight memoir piece, but then I decided to really the put the C in CNF by borrowing techniques from experimental fiction. Doing this helped me to look at the event from a different angle, and I think it adds a different layer to the story. Using these techniques may not work for all CNF pieces I write going forward, but I think they worked for this particular story. I hope you will feel the same way when the piece is published later this month.
In the meantime, have you written/published any CNF pieces? If so, please feel free to talk about them and provide links in the comments.