Archive for October, 2011

Voices of Gettysburg


copyrighted 2012 by Sherry Garland

There has long been a battle raging in the world of writers.  Fiction writers often think nonfiction writers lack imagination, that their books are stuffy and boring.  On the other hand, nonfiction authors may think that fiction writers are loose and sloppy with research, that they sacrifice facts for the sake of  a good story. It seemed the two opposing teams would never unite.  Maybe not.

I have always considered myself a writer of fiction. Of my thirty books, only two are what I would call pure nonfiction.  However, I write a lot of “realistic” historical fiction, fiction that adheres strictly to the facts, even though the characters themselves are fictitious.  Since I never take literary license with the facts, my research is intense, typically one year for a novel or picture book.  All these years, I was sure I knew the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Fiction had fictitious characters or events, no matter if it was based on real events.  And nonfiction was purely facts with no fiction interjected.  That means that my historical picture books were fiction. And, further sealing the deal, they are written in blank verse, not your typical nonfiction format.

So I was a bit surprised when some of my historical picture books won nonfiction awards. I was also surprised when the publisher decided to write “juvenile nonfiction/history” on the back cover of a book about the Battle of Gettysburg, even though the Library of Congress card catalog description inside the book calls it “fiction.”   I began to think: what am I writing?  This identity crisis came to a head recently when an expert in the field read the manuscript of my forthcoming picture book, Voices of Pearl Harbor [it uses the format of 16 first person narratives, some real, some fictitious, to relay historical events]. The expert suggested I include a disclaimer and that I obtain permission from the descendants of the historical figures that I mention in my book.  Say what? That’s crazy talk. Afterall I am writing fiction.  Or am I?

The Buffalo Soldier

Then I remembered back in the 1990s that someone coined the term “faction” [facts + fiction] and someone had suggested that was what I wrote.  This got me to thinking about fiction vs. nonfiction.  After doing some on-line research, it became obvious that I’m not the only one who has had difficulty deciding what to call the kind of work  we write.  Then I found this wonderful website http://www.creativenonfiction.org/  (Lee Gutkind).  Voila!  Suddenly I have a niche.  My historical picture books are works of Creative Nonfiction.  No longer do I have to hem and haw and look befuddled when someone asks me what category my historical picture books are.

Here, in a nutshell is that website’s definition of Creative Nonfiction (by Lee Gutkind): “A genre which presents or treats information using the tools of the fiction writer while maintaining allegiance to fact… That is, factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid manner. To put it another way, creative nonfiction writers do not make things up; they make ideas and information that already exist more interesting and, often, more accessible.”

At last, the offspring of fiction and nonfiction has a name and face.  And it is a beautiful child, indeed.

Links to more websites about Creative Nonfiction.







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