Saturday, December 20, 2008

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction ... and Just As Much Fun

And it can be just as beautiful, just as moving, effecting, inspiring and chilling.

But it is a beast unto itself, requiring a different diet, and a wholly unique habitat.

I've been enamored of non-fiction writing since childhood. Some of my most powerful memories of books and reading are of sitting in a big chair, beside the floor to ceiling bookcases that my Father, the librarian, built. On a long, low shelf, wide and deep, sat a row of slender, creamy volumes. American Heritage - now a magazine - was published in book form. Every month one arrived, in its thin packaging. I waited with delight to see the cover, to open each volume and read through the glossy, beautifully illustrated pages. And then I would settle down to read the accompanying text. History - American history - was the sole subject and the topics never ceased to fascinate me.

Old West stories, replete with grisly photos of dead gunmen, propped up in their coffins for the photographers. Tales of disasters - including the Johnstown Flood caused by the greed of tycoons and their failure to heed the warnings of the architects and engineers. Photographs and illlustrations alike with the riveting stories about World War II, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War and all the wars in between. Images of our famous leaders - and our infamous as well.

Subjects as far afield as Broadway history, the Wright Brothers and the statehood of Alaska.

And I devoured them.

Perhaps it was this early training, perhaps it was the special events of watching travelogues and documentary films that my Father brought home in the late 1950's and early 1960's that fueld my hunger for reality (no videotapes then, but the old reel-to-reel and movie projectors that needed threading and a glaring light for projections).

Perhaps it was the biographies that I bought eagerly from the Scholastic Book Service program, waiting for the delivery to my classroom, when I would pore over my new acquisitions, with books about Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan, Anne Frank, Harriet Tubman and one of my favorites, a book about the famous scientists whose discoveries changed our world.

Perhaps it was an innate curiousity about the world around me and where we come from and how we've come to be what we are, or just an all-encompassing love of the written word in all its forms.

Writing creative non-fiction is a wholly different art than fiction. There are, in some cases, more established frameworks on which to build your piece, but it is also a work of expression. Blending emotion, facts, telling details and intelligence into a piece that reflects the reality, but expresses it in a wholly unique way, viewed through the prism of the writer's eye, mind and sensibility.

Writing good creative non-fiction is my goal. I hope that you'll join me on that journey. It is sure to be illuminating!

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