Ask the Editor is a new resource for our readers and writers in which we review and respond to popular questions about our journal, essay writing, submissions, and literary potpourri type stuff. Have a question you’d like to see answered here? Send it to edg dot longridgeeditors dot com. Chosen questions will be kept anonymous.

First up is a great question that ponders, just what is creative nonfiction writing, anyway?

Q:  I’m new to writing and submitting my work. The story I sent you is non-fiction in that it actually happened to me. I was the little girl. But I consider it fiction in that it is radically embellished.  Am I confused about genres?

A:  If you are confused about genres, you are not alone. Creative Nonfiction is a relatively new genre, at least in terms of a single definition. Within the literary community there is debate about its nature, about its highest and best form. Some people even refuse to acknowledge creative nonfiction as a legitimate genre, and hold that the subject matter of writing is either true (nonfiction) or not true (fiction).

Increasingly, though, there is awareness that our existence and experience are non-binary things. I won’t attempt to go into all of that here, but I subscribe to a couple of ideas about this complexity that guide Longridge Review.

1) We can never recall exactly what happened but still need to write about what we do remember to find the truth in that experience.

There is some science that says every time we recall something, we change it.

(Let yourself sit with that for a minute or two.)

2) The key is to not deliberately and strategically write something that is, as you say, “radically embellished,” and then try to pass it off as anything other than fiction.

It sounds like what you have is a piece of fiction that is inspired by personal experience. Some might say that personal experience is THE launch pad for fiction, at least to some degree. Even if the story is about a murder, say, or an alien invasion (things hopefully of limited personal experience), the writer has to have some experience with the core elements of the story in order to make it work. Maybe she worked at a newspaper and covered the crime beat. Maybe he loved the planetarium as a child and has a keen awareness of planets and systems in space.

I hope this is helpful. While creative nonfiction can cover forms like poetry, Longridge Review focuses on the essay form.

For more on the genre, we recommend this by Lee Gutkind: What is Creative Nonfiction?

The word “creative” has been criticized in this context because some people have maintained that being creative means that you pretend or exaggerate or make up facts and embellish details. This is completely incorrect. It is possible to be honest and straightforward and brilliant and creative at the same time.

“Creative” doesn’t mean inventing what didn’t happen, reporting and describing what wasn’t there. It doesn’t mean that the writer has a license to lie. The cardinal rule is clear—and cannot be violated. This is the pledge the writer makes to the reader—the maxim we live by, the anchor of creative nonfiction: “You can’t make this stuff up!”

Dear Reader:

A heads up, this issue is really heavy. There is recounting of a lot of trauma.

But this is part of our mission, I believe. To bring forth how serious childhood is to who we become. To offer empathy and compassion for adults who are still trying to find themselves whole after harm they suffered at a tender age. Absolutely, sometimes the formative event is love or humor. But often, it is not.

Sometimes the harm is callous disregard. Sometimes it is violent assault. Sometimes it is the betrayal of a friend. Sometimes, it is a parent’s love growing mysteriously cold.

And yet….each of these writers still seems to carry a small, unextinguished light. The search for resolution and healing is much of what these essays have in common.

Christopher Woods‘ photographs carry that same small light in darkness.

We hope you will read each essay with care, and with time. There is much to learn here.

Peace and write on,

Elizabeth Gaucher
Editor, Longridge Review

Some sobering and ethical advice on nonfiction writing from the one and only Allison K. Williams, social media editor for Brevity‘s blog.

“In a subsequent draft, make sure you are at least as harsh with yourself as you are with everyone else. How do you reconcile your own behavior with the situation or the end result? Is there anyone who deserves the benefit of the doubt? Self-hagiography is boring. Nobody wants to be told you’re the hero of your own story, and very few situations truly involve a wronged innocent.”

You can read all her thoughts here: It’s My Story (And I’ll Tell It If I Want To).