The misfit genre

I have this story. And like most things I write it’s dark, but funny – funny in the way that only really really terrible things must be funny in order to diffuse how screwed up they really are. Think David Sedaris or Augusten Bourroughs, maybe?  I know you aren’t supposed to be married to your work, but I love this one piece more than all the rest. I’ve worked really hard on it. 2+ years hard on it. It is my favorite story and I would give my left pinky toe to see it published somewhere. It’s good. Really, I’m not just saying that, it’s actually good. But I just can’t seem to find it a home.

I’m learning that in the world of literary magazines, there isn’t a lot of room for creative nonfiction like short memoir. CNF seems like the bastard step-child of the short story world. It a relatively new genre, at least in the literary short story realm. I’s not specialized enough to truly have its own place, naming it fiction is a lie, and it doesn’t fit with non-fiction essays. There are a handful of publications that cater specifically to CNF, but they are typically either in their infant stages and don’t offer any author compensation, or very well established and primarily publish already well-known authors.

Reading back issues is super important when researching where to send your work. A story might be brilliant, but if it doesn’t fit the style of the publication it’s probably not getting in. I made a list of dozens of mags, scratching off those I didn’t feel were a good match. Then I narrowed them down by acceptance rate. Just like applying for college, I chose a few reaches, mid-rate, and shoe-ins. I put a lot of effort into the final list, but I’m still not happy with it. My biggest peeve is submitting CNF as fiction. The ethics of this are debated, but there aren’t many other options. For example, if there is a respected magazine that publishes work in the same style and tone as mine but they only accept fiction, I’m probably going to send in my stuff. But that annoys me, because my stories are real life and presenting them as fabricated somehow diminishes their significance. Also, I suck at writing fiction and wouldn’t want anyone to think otherwise.

I feel like there must be an entire land of mags for memoir misfits that I’m missing. If you know of any places for short creative nonfiction please, please, please share them with me. 🙂

I’m also looking into graduate programs. Just looking. I’m not yet sure if the sound of an advanced degree is more alluring than actually attaining one. “She got her undergrad in anthropology,” they’ll say. “now she wants to be a writer? You’d think she’d know better” Sigh, I’ll never get a job. Do I even have enough to say? And does what I say matter? It seems like soooo much work, for a field that promises only an uncertain future. But, I really like writing.

While researching MFAs and Post-baccs I’ve run into the genre problem again. There are dozens of well-respected graduate writing programs, mostly in fiction or nonfiction journalism. Some offer a small concentration or electives in memoir or personal essay, but I haven’t found many that are tailored to the CNF writer and this worries me. It would be great to buff up or round out my portfolio with some fiction, or to maybe someday write a novel, but do I really want to spend all that time and effort focusing on a genre that is only secondary to what I actually want to learn? Where are the CNF programs?!

U.Wash in Bothell, the branch closet to where I live, offers a memoir certificate course. I’ve decided this might be a good match because it’s dedicated purely to memoir, and costs only a fraction of a graduate program. Kind of like a test run to see if this is something I really want to pursue. But the classic overachiever in me says a certificate is not enough. That’s probably not true at all, since advancement at any level should be celebrated. And it’s probably a much smarter idea than making a long-term MFA commitment that might not be what I wanted or expected.

To all the lovely writers out there, aspiring or established, CNF or other: any suggestions on how to move forward in the literary world? 


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