Tag Archives: Creative Nonfiction

readin’at: and in fact, this award goes to … (4/99)

True Stories, Well Told

I’m a big fan of creative nonfiction. The more I read it and the more I write it,  the more this feels most natural to me as a writer.

I’m also a big fan of Creative Nonfiction, the literary journal which happens to be published right here in Pittsburgh and has been for more than 20 years.

Connected with the journal is In Fact Books, an “independent book imprint specializing in high-quality, research-driven narrative nonfiction on a wide variety of topics and real-life experiences.”

I recently read True Stories, Well Told: From the First 20 Years of Creative Nonfiction, edited by Lee Gutkind and Hattie Fletcher. As the title promises, this book is an enjoyable collection of 20 creative nonfiction pieces that were published in Creative Nonfiction during the past two decades. (No small feat for a literary journal!)

Standouts include “Rachel at Work: Enclosed, A Mother’s Report” by Jane Bernstein, “Mrs. Kelly” by Paul Austin, “Without a Map” by Meredith Hall, and of course, Lee Gutkind’s retrospective on Creative Nonfiction’s beginnings.

Today it was announced that In Fact Books received a silver medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards (known as the IPPYs) for True Stories, Well Told.

A well-deserved honor indeed.  Congratulations!

(For a very, very limited time, In Fact Books is offering a chance to purchase True Stories, Well Told for half off the regular price.  A great deal if enjoy this type of writing and especially if you’re serious about writing it.)

Pittsburghese for “and so forth,” “et cetera,” “and so on.”

My occasional blog feature celebrating all things literary as it relates to Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. Here, I talk ‘Burgh-focused books (and review them), literary events, upcoming readings, author interviews and profiles, new releases …n’at.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis post is #4 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 


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Nonfiction November: Nontraditional Nonfiction


During this third week (!) of Nonfiction November, our writing prompt focuses on “the nontraditional side of reading nonfiction.” This week’s host, Becca from I’m Lost in Books, elaborates:

Nonfiction comes in many forms There are the traditional hardcover or paperback print books, of course, but then you also have e-books, audiobooks, illustrated and graphic nonfiction, oversized folios, miniatures, internet publishing, nonfiction short stories, and enhanced books (book itself includes artifacts, audio, historical documents, images, etc.) So many choices! Do you find yourself drawn to or away from nontraditional nonfiction? Do you enjoy some nontraditional formats, but not others? Perhaps you have recommendations for readers who want to dive into nontraditional formats. We want to hear all about it this week!

I will admit that I often don’t think much about the various formats of the nonfiction genre (and fiction, for that matter).  When it comes to reading material, my approach isn’t always based on the packaging, per se, but rather the content inside.

Podcasts are the first nontraditional nonfiction format that immediately came to my mind. I’ve recently become a podcast fan and have written several posts about specific shows and episodes that I’ve found to be especially compelling.  I enjoy podcasts that feature personal stories — Death, Sex, and Money; Strangers; The Moth; and — before it was cancelled — The Longest Shortest Time. The storytelling is excellent and almost all of my favorite podcasts could be categorized as nonfiction in some way.

I also need to give a plug for Creative Nonfiction, the literary magazine. If you’re a fan of this genre — and especially if you write creative nonfiction — you need to be reading this publication. From the description on the CNF website: “Every issue is packed with new, long-form essays that blend style with substance; writing that pushes the traditional boundaries of the genre; notes on craft; micro-essays; conversations with writers and editors; insights and commentary from CNF editor Lee Gutkind; and more. Simply put, CNF demonstrates the depth and versatility of the genre it has helped define for more than 20 years.” I love that it has a global audience and is published right here in Pittsburgh.

Audiobooks seem to be the “nontraditional” form of nonfiction that most Nonfiction November participants mentioned. As my friend Trish from Love, Laughter and A Touch of Insanity wrote, I prefer to listen to nonfiction on audio. I’m not quite sure why that’s the case; regardless of whether a book is fiction or nonfiction, I like to have a print copy handy so I can refer to anything I may have missed.

If you need ideas for nonfiction reads, my nonfiction book reviews can be found here.

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sunday salon: the gold of our days

The Sunday Salon

“The secret o’ life is enjoying the passage of time ….” 
~ “Secret O’ Life,” written and performed by James Taylor

“Ah! realize your youth while you have it. Don’t squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar. These are the sickly aims, the false ideals, of our age. Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing. . . .” 
~ The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Whether it was the few crisp mornings this week that seemed to beckon fall or the sun setting off the deck a few minutes earlier each night, I’m feeling somewhat reflective this weekend.

I can attribute this to the shift of seasons, yes, but Oscar Wilde gets a significant share of the blame.  I’ve been listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray on audio, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite classics. It’s all about selling one’s soul for eternal youth and beauty. That seems a little extreme, but if someone wants to make a similar deal in exchange for a few more of those picturesque 75 degree summer days we had last week, I’m willing to talk.

Yesterday marked 25 years since The Husband and my first date with each other.  We both love the chronology connected with such significant milestones and he calculated that this one means we’ve been together for 54% of our lives. Or, looking at this from another perspective, I’ve spent 10 additional years living with The Husband than I did my father, whom I have outlived by two years now.

We have a gift card and had planned to go out to dinner sans kids to celebrate, but something I ate at lunch didn’t agree with me yesterday afternoon. I’ve eaten at this particular establishment before (and had the same meal) so maybe it was just a fluke. It was enough for me to miss Podcamp Pittsburgh, though, which is always one of the best weekends here in the ‘Burgh. Such a bummer, as hanging out with people who are as into this social media thing (or moreso) than I am is always a good time. I’m grateful that the organizers record the sessions and make them available on YouTube, so I’ll check those out when they’re posted.

Friday marked my 7th year of blogging, which is kind of incredible. I reflected on that here, in  “seven years and (almost) 2,000 posts.” 

True Stories, Well ToldIn addition to listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray, I’m currently reading True Stories, Well Told which is edited by Lee Gutkind and Hattie Fletcher. These essays are a collection of 20 creative nonfiction pieces that have appeared sometime during the last 20 years in the literary journal Creative Nonfiction, which I love. I’ve been reading these during my lunch hour and before bed.

They are very well told, solid representatives of the creative nonfiction form. Each piece explores an aspect of one’s relationship to the world – whether that is with others’ aspirations for our lives (“The Wishbone,” by Harrison Scott Key), animals (“Charging Lions” by Chester F. Phillips is one of the standouts in this collection so far) or coping with chemical sensitivity syndrome (“The Butterfly Effect” by Jennifer Lunden).

Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, MaybeThis week I finished Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, by local Pittsburgh writer Lori Jakiela. It’s a lovely memoir on adoption from the perspective of an adult adoptee who is learning to accept the truths about her biological mother (and family) while also being a mother to her young children.

The time has come to do some weeding of my feed reader. It’s been out of control for awhile now and I need to get this into more manageable shape. I am not keeping up as well with bloggers I really enjoy, especially those who I am not connected with on Facebook.

I’m focusing on blogs that haven’t updated in at least a year. (There were some still in my Feedly that hadn’t posted since 2012!) Most of those I am deleting outright. If the last post was a year ago and it is a blog I once liked, I’m moving them to my newly-created category called Blogs That Have Gone Defunct. That way, if the blogger does return, it will still show up in my feed.

This has been a bit of an eye-opening process. It’s sobering to see so many blogs that have closed up shop, which I can certainly understand. You can’t help but wonder about them and how they are doing, what’s new in their lives.

That’s all for this Sunday. Hope you’re having a good weekend.

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READIN’AT: Creative Nonfiction (Issue 48): Lust, Lies and Bad Behavior: True Stories of Southern Sin

Creative Nonfiction - Issue 48
One of the things I’ve come to love about Pittsburgh is how much this city embraces the written word and the authors who bring stories to life. We’re quite the literary town. As a way to celebrate all things “bookish in the Burgh,” I created “READIN’AT,” my weekly blog column focused on Pittsburgh-based literary works and the writers who call this awesome city home. Look for READIN’AT every Thursday in this space. 

Recently I’ve been reading back issues of Creative Nonfiction, which has quickly become one of my favorite literary journals. It has a national circulation and was founded here in Pittsburgh by Lee Gutkind, who continues at the helm as its esteemed editor. Each issue has a thought-provoking theme, and Spring 2013 was on the concept of “Southern Sin.”

I love Southern literature. Ever since being introduced to Flannery O’Connor’s work in college, I’ve gravitated to this genre. This issue reminded me why I liked this writing so much. I mean, c’mon … the characters in Southern novels and whatnot are simply not to be believed. Here in this issue of Creative Nonfiction, it gets real – because these people are real and as the publication’s tagline says, these are “true stories, well told.”

Indeed. That they are.

Several essays in the “Lust, Lies, and Bad Behavior: True Stories of Southern Sin” issue that stood out to me were:

  • Rachel Michelle Hanson’s “Prism,” which recounts the juxtaposition between an employer’s daughter killed in a dating violence incident and some similarities in the author’s family dynamics;
  • Sonja Livingston’s historical look at “Mad Love: The Ballad of Fred and Allie,” a tragic story of forbidden love;
  • “The Renters,” by poet Chelsea Rathburn, about the author’s financial decision to rent a room in her home to a pair of adulterers in the aftermath of her newly-finalized divorce;
  • “Shacked Up” by Mary Helen Kennerly, about the emotions of telling (and not telling) one’s parents about the decision to move in with a significant other.
  • Michael Copperman’s heartwrenching piece “Harm,” recounting an incident from his days of teaching in the rural public schools of the Mississippi Delta.

Chelsea Rathburn’s piece is my favorite in this issue for its pitch-perfect blend of humor and sadness combined with the parallels of the adulterers and a woman moving forward from a marriage that didn’t work out.

A sinfully delicious literary delight, this issue of Creative Nonfiction.


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The Sunday Salon: …And That’s a Wrap (of Armchair BEA and May Reading)

The Sunday Salon

ArmchairBEA 2014

Another fantastic Armchair BEA is in the books! Kudos to all the organizers for a wonderful job in putting this event together. It looks effortless, but it is quite an undertaking along with other responsibilities with work and families, too. So, thank you to all who had a part in this year’s event for a great week!

Although I only participated on a part-time basis, I had a fabulous time with Armchair BEA 2014. I thought it was the best year yet.  The discussion topics were terrific – and I really liked the option of having two to choose from. I’m still reading my way through many of the posts, and loving the fact that I’m discovering so many new-to-me book bloggers. I also had fun being part of the Twitter parties on Monday and Saturday night.

If you missed my Armchair BEA posts, the links are below:

Monday: Introductions and Some Thoughts on Tomorrow’s Literature Today. Or Something. 
Tuesday: Some People Buy Shoes, I Buy Lecture Tickets (some of the authors I’ve been lucky to meet)
Friday: Playing Catch Up (Or, Wait, What Happened to Wednesday?) 

You get a little jaded after nearly six years of this blogging thing, you know? Sometimes it feels like you have nothing to say and other times it feels like you’ll never be able to write all the posts you want to write. You wonder, after you spend so much time writing a review (or any post, really) if anyone is paying attention, if you’re still relevant.

(Andi from Estella’s Revenge had a fantastic post (“Armchair BEA: Relevance in Blogging”) that touched on this on Friday. I encourage you to read it if you haven’t already.)

Yet you still do this because … well, sometimes the reasons vary. But it always comes down to the connections with other readers and the community that exists in this space and sometimes we need a reminder that it really does matter, that we matter. Which is one of the reasons that Armchair BEA came at a good time for me.  For example, it was gratifying to be able to give an encouraging word to some new bloggers this week. Sometimes we forget what it was like to be new at this and how much we “old-timers” know and take for granted. This week reinforced to me that I really want to be able to be more supportive of new book bloggers whenever I can.

Like a lot of bloggers, one of my goals was to get re-energized and Armchair BEA definitely helped in several ways. My blogging feels like it has been slacking a bit lately and my reading definitely has been. (My Goodreads challenge button says I am 7 books behind my 2014 goal of 75 books. Good thing I have a vacation coming up.) In May, I only read these three books:

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryPerfectBlown Sideways Through Life

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin
(which I really didn’t care for at all, unlike everyone else who has read this)

Perfect, by Rachel Joyce
(loved this … probably going to be one of my favorites of 2014)

Blown Sideways by Life, by Claudia Shear
(which was all right)

Part of this is because I’ve gotten myself on a magazine and literary journal kick.  I read an issue of The New Yorker (4/14/2014) and I’m reading the back issues of Creative Nonfiction. This month I read CNF’s Spring 2013 issue, “Lust, Lies, and Bad Behavior,” which deserves its own review. Likewise, the latest issue of One Story featuring Katie Coyle’s “Fear Itself,” will also be getting a separate review.

(I loved both of them, by the way.)

So, OK, maybe May wasn’t such a slacker of a month. My June is looking promising. How about yours?


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The Sunday Salon: Sex, Food, and Death

The Sunday Salon

Sex, food, and death.

There’s your summary of my reading week, baby, right there.

(What can I say? I read about only the important stuff in life.)

Mating CallsI started the week with the very fun and highly entertaining Mating Calls by Jessica Anya Blau, consisting of two short stories: “The Problem with Lexie” and “No. 7.”  Mating Calls is one of the first offerings from Shebooks, the new e-publisher of short stories, essays, short memoirs, fiction, and long-form journalism written by women and for women.

(I’ll have much more to say about Shebooks in a separate post with my full review this week about Mating Calls, but suffice it to say that I am a fan.)

I adored both of these stories, which I read while waiting for my daughter at gymnastics practice on Monday. In “The Problem with Lexie,” this chick – that would be Lexie – is one hell of hot mess. She’s a high school guidance counselor who is having an affair with the father of one of her students. Her life is a bit out of control, to say the least.

Flashbacks to high school resurface in the second story, “No. 7,” when now-grown up Zandra runs into someone she once knew intimately. The reasons why are sad, and how she handles the situation is brilliant.

Pandora's LunchboxFor my audiobook this week, I’ve been listening to Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal by Melanie Warner. This jaw-dropping book, about all the crap (chemicals, additives, preservatives) in our food and how and why they got there, is the modern-day equivalent of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I’m not kidding. This is making me want to eat … well, nothing. That’s kind of the point. Nothing is safe. This is packed full of information and it is unbelievable.

CNF41_coverA much more palatable read on the food front has been Issue 41, Spring 2011 of Creative Nonfiction, which I’m still working my way through. I mentioned in last week’s Sunday Salon that I’m reading back issues from the library, and this one has essays all related to the topic of food. Heather A. McDonald’s piece “How to Fix Anything” is a highlight of this issue. I’m really getting hooked on this quality literary, top-notch magazine, which has an international reach and is published right here in Pittsburgh.

The Viewing Room

Finally, there was a DNF this week. I really wanted to like the short story collection The Viewing Room more than I did. Jacquelin Gorman won The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction for this, which is certainly impressive, but I found The Viewing Room difficult to get through – and I say this as someone who usually can handle books with heavy topics. I made it through “The Law of Looking Out for One Another” about baptizing an infant who died from shaken baby syndrome and “Ghost Dance,” about a spiritual woman with an array of medical complications, including gangrene.

However, “Having Words” – which references a 10 year old girl’s suicide – did me in after just a few sentences. We all have things we can’t handle and that crosses my personal tolerance threshold, right there.

All of these characters have one thing in common: they all wind up in the viewing room of the hospital where Henrietta is the on-call chaplain. This is as much Henrietta’s story as those who are dead. She’s new on the job and unsure of herself (at least in the first 30 pages) and we get the sense she isn’t quite living her life as much as she should be. There’s a holding back, of sorts.

It’s a good concept (it reminded me of “St. Elsewhere,” still my all-time favorite show to this very day) and the writing is okay, but this one just wasn’t for me.


In other news, today is the second and last day of the Mini Bloggiesta. Aside from getting two posts written (including this one) and 135 blog posts in Feedly read, I’ve been a sluggish participant this time around. We’ll see how much of my to-do list I get through today, although other chores around the house are beckoning, too.

Enjoy your Sunday (and if you’re snowbound like we are, you have my sympathies).

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