Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Walking the Fiction/Non-Fiction Line

Catatonic in Culver City writes in...

My question is this: As I look over old work and even more recent
work, it seems that I can't escape that a lot of my stories have truly
been memoir essays. They're not all completely true and there are
embellishments for the sake of humor and for the sake of moving the
story along, but they're written in the first person and my worry is
that they won't be respected by "fiction" writing programs. I have
looked into creative nonfiction but I guess what I'm looking for is
some clarification (most especially now that we're in the wake of
James Frey and others). If I had to make a comparison, my work falls
more in the vein of Augusten Burroughs and Sarah Vowell. Should I
avoid fiction programs and apply only to creative nonfiction? I love
both genres but am sensing my gift is in the latter. And would it be
acceptable to send these stories in a portfolio asking to be admitted
to a fiction program?

Well, this will be total man-facting, since I don't know the work and can't comment on it specifically. My sense is that there's a wide berth in fiction writing land. I don't sense that there's any hesitation for readers or committee members about first person, near to true life narratives. Just the opposite actually.

As far as non-fiction goes, I'd obviously push you in that direction for market reasons. Nonfiction sells a lot better than fiction. Of course, as a number of readers have recently rallied to and strongly stated: the market is far from everything. We follow our own muses.

Look, part of creative nonfiction is its subjectivity. We all see different things. Part of what makes a writer is how he or she focuses on the humor, sadness, strangeness, or what have you, of a particular situation. We see what other people don't see.

James Frey got into trouble because he changed the facts. As in: he said one thing, and the official police report said another. You can do that of course, but you do it in a novel, not a memoir.

I'm all over the place with this answer. My sense is that you're interested in nonfiction. Go for it. Of course, there are many more fiction programs than nonfiction, and it sounds like you can walk that line too. Either way, get your eight to twelve programs. Best of luck.

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