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Filtering by Tag: creative nonfiction

A Need for Order | 7.1 Author Lindsey DeLoach Jones

Trevor Sutton

soda7.1 Author Lindsey DeLoach Jones talks rituals and the need for order. I like my drinks very, very cold.

A plastic tumbler, 6 ice cubes, and a can of Diet Coke chilled at least twenty-four hours in a 35-degree refrigerator. Limit one per day.

Occasionally, I joke about being obsessive compulsive or a control freak or both, but I’m neither of these things really.

Maybe it’s the pressure to confront the veiled chaos of the blank page or the daily, private rumpus of my soul. Maybe it’s the anger I hear already in the voice of my one-year-old daughter, anger I didn’t put there and can’t control. Something compels me to keep a very few things in a very particular order.

Writers need ritual, I tell myself. We look for order everywhere, but it often seems in short supply. And so the soda-slush that predictably forms on the ice cubes in my cup are a solace. Order is present, at least, within the insulated confines of my preferred chalice.

A few other things compel this same rigidity: the temperature of the house at night (so cold my husband pleads for just one extra degree), my position on the sofa in front of the television, the relative greenness of my morning banana. It is a ceremonial pleasure to peel back the skin of a banana and find fruit suitably firm and tart.

My inflexibility embarrasses me. My husband should not come home from the grocery store beaming, having found an entire bunch of bananas for me “so green they’re practically neon.” People all over the world would love to eat a mottled yellow banana, drink a lukewarm soda.

How do I know the difference between a tradition that serves something greater than me – the ritual “confession of sin” we make in our church service between hymns numbers 2 and 3 – and a tradition I have begun to serve? Have I become a slave to my man-made rituals?

At 7:30 every evening, before my husband and I sit down to dinner, I zip up my daughter in a sleep sack, spin the volume dial on the sound machine that sits on the floor of her room with my big toe, and push her hair from her forehead before leaving the room. This liturgy is her safety.

And yet soon, she will need to learn to sleep without the sack, without the sound machine, and – one day – without me.

I can excuse the custom Diet Coke experience, for now, can’t I? I can pray that when I am called, perhaps I will be ready to move from ritual into the wild, where lives tepid soda and mushy bananas.

Lindsey DeLoach Jones is author of "Cutting Our Fingernails" in issue 7.1 of Relief.

Our Deepest Thanks to Lisa Ohlen Harris

Kimberly Culbertson

Founding Editor Kimberly Culbertson pays tribute to one of Relief's finest.

As we enter our fifth volume, it is with sadness that we announce that Lisa Ohlen Harris will be no longer be serving as our Creative Nonfiction Editor. The upcoming issue, available for pre-sales now, will end her amazing run at the helm of all things CNF. For years she has lent us her talent and her heart, and we are deeply grateful.

Lisa began editing creative nonfiction for  Volume 1, Issue 4, and her presence has marked Relief's journey over the years since, including doubling as CNF Editor and Assistant Editor for most of Volume 2. She has consistently shaped and crafted this fantastic genre, and we are proud that creative nonfiction has become such an integral part of Relief.

In the time I served as Editor-In-Chief, Lisa was a profound encouragement to me personally. She not only served on my team as a genre editor, but she shared her wisdom, provided a sounding board, challenged me when I started walking questionable paths, critiqued and sharpened my editorial statements, and reminded me of my strengths when I wondered if this whole adventure was just a little crazy (It is, by the way, which is why you need good people around you for the most perplexing of moments).

While we're dismayed to see her go, we are enjoying watching from the sidelines as she continues to flourish as a writer. Her first book, Through the Veil, was recently released from Canon Press, and has already been nominated for the Oregon Book Awards "Sarah Winnemucca Award For Creative Nonfiction" (the winner will be announced in April). Deanna Hershiser, a Relief author and blogger interviewed Lisa before the book was released, and recapped some of its journey quite nicely:

Sometimes editors edit because writing just hasn’t worked well for them. Not so with Lisa. Her first book, Through the Veil, will soon be released by Canon Press. Its offerings include an essay which was listed under “Notable Essays of 2008″ in Best American Essays 2009, along with two others that have made the Notable lists in volumes of Best American Spiritual Writing. Another of the book’s essays was shortlisted for a Pushcart Prize and received special mention in Pushcart XXXIII.

In fact, one of the essays Deanna refers to here, "Torn Veil" was published in Relief's Volume 1, Issue 4. Her success, both as an author and an editor, has helped Relief to become the journal that it is today. And so, as she moves on to new adventures, we at Relief will miss her dearly, but we'll be cheering her on as rabid fans.


Kimberly Culbertson is the Founding Editor of Relief. These days serves on the board of ccPublishing, NFP (the company that publishes Relief and The Midnight Diner), alongside many other adventures. She and her husband live in Bloomingdale, Illinois, with their dog Latte. Their family-by-choice daughter, son, and godson now reside in California, and they are expecting their first biological child in February 2011.

"The Greatest Show on Earth"

Ian David Philpot

Gwen Weerts, author of "The Greatest Show on Earth" which will be appearing soon in Relief 4.1, writes about how her Creative Nonfiction story began.

I began drafting “The Greatest Show on Earth” in response to a very underwhelming circus performance, which at first led to an inquiry into the nature of spectacle. Interestingly (at least I think it’s interesting), the first draft of the story was written in play/script format, with scene details in italics, and narrative commentary ascribed to a narrator or voice over. I loved the form for this essay, but as the story developed, it became more and more about wonderment, the terrific, the terrible, and less and less about the observer and the observed. The narrator, stage directions, and voiceovers also quickly subsumed the dialogue. As I began to revise the story, I twisted and contorted the storyline to justify the form, but in the end the story won. Still, I love the idea of using the form of a script to advance a narrative, and I’ve been waiting for just the right opportunity to revive it.

I’ve heard it’s a bit of a faux pas to share early drafts of unrevised work (after all, we revise for a reason), but to convention I say “Ha!” So here it is, the opening scene to “The Greatest Show on Earth,” as first conceived:

Act I

Scene One

A mountain vista in the background.  This is Skyline Divide Trail on one of the last beautiful days of the fall.  The low blueberry shrubs have changed into their late-autumn attire, a brilliant russet garment that transforms the alpine meadows from gold to ruby.

    Voice Over:  About Skyline Divide, the Hiking Whatcom County book says, “The hike is steep at first, then eases off in old-growth forest for 1.5 miles before reaching a small opening around 5,200 feet. The path soon crosses the wilderness boundary and meets the meadowy crest of the ridge, at one of those places where your whole body involuntarily just says ‘wow.’”

Four hikers enter, wearing packs.

Jen: So, how was the show?

Gwen: Mm, it was interesting.  The drumming was fantastic.

Joshua: The contortionist was . . .

Kris: Pretty amazing?

Gwen: Uh, went on too long. The woman finishes his sentence, one of those irksome things that married people do.


Gwen Weerts has an MA in nonfiction creative writing from Western Washington University. She works as an editor for an optical engineering society, and after spending her days immersed in algorithms, debating the most judicious use of a hyphen in the present lens design textbook, she spends her evenings and weekends writing and speaking in run-on, but grammatically perfect, gibberish to her husband, dog, cat, chickens, garden, and anyone else who who will listen. Her essays have appeared in the quarterly publication Adventures Northwest, and she is working on a collection of stories from her year living and learning in sub-Saharan Africa.  Her short story, "The Greatest Show on Earth," can be found in Relief issue 4.1.

Shining Light into the Pit

Guest Blogger

Laura E. Steer joins the blog to share an editing challenge for a story she submitted to Relief.

Last year I was enrolled in a Non-Fiction Creative Writing class, but I didn’t have anything interesting to write about that had happened to me. After feeling sorry for myself that I’d never survived a natural disaster or overcome a terminal disease, I wrote the closest thing to fiction that I could get away with—a dream.

It was an epic tragedy. After journeying through miles of tunnel, I emerged into a sort of cavernous purgatory, where I found a young mentee of mine awaiting her sentence. The cave was complete with red lighting, smoke, and a gaping abyss that “beckoned its children to leap into its endlessness,” or, to take the drama out of it, a big hole representing eternal death. I begged the girl to escape with me, she begged me to stay in purgatory with her, and when I finally refused, she hurled herself into the pit. I then fashioned a story around the dream scene—blurbs of interactions between me and the girl, all of which built up to the emotional climax, which was the dream (and was much more exciting than anything I had to write about that had really happened).

I submitted it for publication at Relief, and it was accepted. Under the condition that I edit the dream scene. Heavily. Or remove it.

So I set to work editing. I had built the story around my dream. But the dream had morphed drastically from the abstract series of mental images produces by neurons firing back and forth in my brain that it had originally been. Somewhere along the way, I had written myself right into that endless pit and, at the bottom, found myself swimming in a vat of thick, sticky metaphor and imagery.

But the goal isn’t to fill in the Metaphor Pit with mounds of dry, subject-verb sentences. The goal is to shine a light into the pit and show its shape, to climb into it thoughtfully and chisel stories that are unique and stirring, worthy of being submitted to the public for scrutiny and applause.

I edited the dream scene down from 458 words to 87. It was scrutinized and applauded.


Laura E. Steer is a recent graduate of Malone University, where she majored in English (no, not to teach!) and minored in both Bible and Communication Arts. Though her ultimate goal is to pursue careers in editing and freelance writing, she has, in the meantime,accepted the position of Drama Director at her church. She also volunteers there as a middle-school youth leader, and plays keyboard and sings backup vocals for a Christian rock band. Beyond writing and music, Laura also enjoys consuming and creating visual art, namely photography. Her future plans include artistry, travel, and a possible move to Chicago. Laura's story "Phantom Child" can be found in Relief Issue 3.2.