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ON THE COVER January, 2008

Free Writing Resources!

The Creative Nonfiction Police? (Excerpt)
By  Lee Gutkind

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'm giving a reading in Austin, Texas, on a Thursday evening after a day of visiting classes and answering questions about essay writing. The audience in the auditorium is sparse.

My host is embarrassed; she informs me that a popular Latino poet is reading on campus at the same time, so the potential audience is divided. I have a feeling that I am the lesser of the two. This is a city with a high percentage of Mexican-American residents. And poetry is written to be read aloud, unlike nonfiction, which is factual and informative and which, students might assume, can be tedious and boring.

Of course, I am a creative nonfiction writer, "creative" being indicative of the style in which the nonfiction is written so as to make it more dramatic and compelling. We embrace many of the techniques of the fiction writer, including dialogue, description, plot, intimacy and specificity of detail, characterization, point-of-view; except, because it is nonfiction-and this is the difference — it is true.

But writing nonfiction so that it reads like fiction is challenging and extraordinarily difficult-unless, as some critics have pointed out, the author takes certain "liberties" which, then, may corrupt the nonfiction, making it untrue, or partially true, or shading the meaning and misleading readers.

This is the subject we are discussing in the auditorium after my reading: what writers can or can't do, stylistically and in content, while walking that thin, blurred line between fiction and nonfiction. How to be sure you are on safe ground? The questions pile up, one after another; the audience is engaged. "How can you be certain that the dialogue you are remembering and recreating from an incident that occurred months ago is accurate?" asks one audience member. Another demands, "How can you look through the eyes of your characters if you are not inside their heads?"

I am answering as best I can. But the dialogue goes on and on. After a while, I throw up my hands and say, "Listen, I can't answer all of these questions with rules and regulations. I am not," I announce, pausing rather theatrically, "the creative nonfiction police!"

There is a woman in the audience-someone I had noticed earlier during my reading. She is in the front row-hard to miss — older than most of the undergraduates, blonde, attractive, in her late 30s, maybe. She has the alert yet composed look of a nurse, a person only semi-relaxed, always ready to act or react. She has taken her shoes off and propped her feet on the stage; I remember how her toes wiggled as she laughed at the essay I had been reading.

But when I announce, dramatically, "I am not the creative nonfiction police," this woman suddenly jumps to her feet, whips out a badge, and points it in my direction. "Well I am," she announces. "Someone has to be. And you are under arrest."

Then she scoops up her shoes and storms barefooted from the room. The Q and A ends soon after, and I rush into the hallway to find the woman with the badge. I have many questions, beginning with, "Who the hell are you? Why do you have a badge?  And how did you know what I was going to say, when I didn't have any idea?"  I had never used the term "creative nonfiction police" before that moment. But she is gone. My host says the woman is a stranger. We ask around, students and colleagues. No one knows her. She is a mystery to everyone, especially me..

See Lee Gutkind's INside Interview about writing.
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From the introduction to In Fact:The Best Of Creative Nonfiction, an anthology of the first 10 years of the journal, Creative Nonfiction published in 2004 by W.W. Norton.

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IN This Issue
Gory Glory
Undertaker's Moon (Excerpt)
Romantic Intrigue
No Safe Place (Excerpt)
From The Docks To The Commons
The Care Vortex (excerpt)
Irish Mists And Histories
Shadows Will Fall (Excerpt)
A Mind On The Move
The Rush To Here (Excerpt)

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Each writer’s block is not a rock,
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Poetry Is Not
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Caught by tears on fire.

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A quiet rhyme upon a page
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Are not so far apart;
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Fine Vintage
Don’t plant your poem on the page
As though you’re hanging drapes;
It’s shape and flow should come and grow
Like wild summer grapes.

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Writers write what they know best,
Their passions, fears, and dreams;
Writers rarely write about
What other call their “themes.”

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A writer’s life is paradox,
It’s more than what it seems;
We write of our reality,
The one inside our dreams.

The echo of a promise,
The thunder of a sigh,
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Can send a soul to heaven or torment it with rage,
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The jump from writing just for fun
To getting paid for it
Begins when you first realize
You know you’ll never quit.

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That sets us free from our bond.
It is the muse within ourselves
That lets our words lift us beyond.

Photo Poet
Consider your mind the darkroom,
Consider your life the lens,
Consider your eye the camera
On whose focus the poem depends.

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A poem is a rising moon
Shining on the sea,
An afterglow of all we know,
Of all we hope to be.

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Writing a poem,
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In making good art
We find who we are.

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A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.

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At last my poem’s through;
A verse of only four short lines--
I rewrote twenty-two!

Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at

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