Erika Dreifus's Reviews > The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction by Dinty W. Moore
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Sep 11, 2012

bookshelves: writing-related
Read in August, 2012


By Erika Dreifus

‘Tis the season to focus on nonfiction. For me, anyway. As I struggle with essays of various stripes (and lengths), I’m infused with ideas and lessons gleaned from two new books: Lee Gutkind’s YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WRITING CREATIVE NONFICTION FROM MEMOIR TO LITERARY JOURNALISM AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN (Da Capo Press/Lifelong Books, Paperback, $16.00 US) and THE ROSE METAL PRESS FIELD GUIDE TO WRITING FLASH NONFICTION: ADVICE AND ESSENTIAL EXERCISES FROM RESPECTED WRITERS, EDITORS, and TEACHERS, edited by Dinty W. Moore (Rose Metal Press, Paperback, $15.95).

Time pressures do not permit me to write full reviews of each book. But there is much to admire in them. I’d like to share with you five strengths that I believe apply to both texts.


Both Lee Gutkind and Dinty W. Moore are recognized experts in the subjects their books treat. Gutkind, whose titles include editor of the prominent quarterly CREATIVE NONFICTION, has been nicknamed the “godfather” behind the genre (the source of that reputation is explained in the book’s early pages). For his part, Moore’s name is similarly familiar in the world of brief nonfiction, exemplified by the work published in BREVITY, the online magazine that he edits. Contributors to the FIELD GUIDE TO WRITING FLASH NONFICTION include acclaimed writers and teachers: Bret Lott, Philip Graham, Lee Martin, and many others.


Each book provides a sense of historical context. One of the most interesting sections of YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP is an appendix – credited to CREATIVE NONFICTION’s managing editor Hattie Fletcher – which summarizes “Great (And Not So Great) Moments in Creative Nonfiction, 1993-2010.” If you need a refresher timeline for les affaires Binjamin Wilkomirski, James Frey, and “Margaret B. Jones,” you’ll find it here. You’ll also find reminders of how recent some of the best known books of creative nonfiction – not to mention journals, programs, and other institutional markers – truly are.

For its part, the FIELD GUIDE TO WRITING FLASH NONFICTION features a useful introduction (by Moore) that traces the evolution of “the myriad ways in which authors over the centuries have embraced the very short form of thoughtful, artful nonfiction.” Moore is also careful to cite significant developments in our own times, including the growing popularity of brief *fiction* (manifested in several notable anthologies published in the 1980s and 1990s) and a series of “fine brief nonfiction anthologies,” beginning with IN SHORT (1996), edited by Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumier Jones.


Both books provide not merely excerpts, but rather full-text examples of essays that illustrate key craft points. Gutkind’s choices are interspersed throughout his book. In the FIELD GUIDE TO WRITING FLASH NONFICTION, each contributor focuses on a specific aspect of craft, whether it has to do with image and detail or voice or point of view, and presents an exemplary essay (sometimes the contributor’s own, sometimes not). And the quality of these readings is simply outstanding.


Each of Moore’s contributors also includes a complementary prompt or exercise. That means there are about two dozen exercises in the book – enough to keep any of us going for quite some time. Although they’re less numerous, exercises also appear sprinkled through Gutkind’s book.


Here I refer not (only) to the books’ potential usefulness for the classroom, but also – and perhaps even more important – to their potential usefulness for the individual writer-learner. These are books that I know that I – with an MFA in fiction and four online poetry courses behind me – will turn to again and again as I seek to improve my skills as a writer of creative nonfiction. There’s no way I have possibly absorbed all that they have to teach me in the initial readings I’ve completed so far. But – thanks in large part to their aforementioned qualities - I am confident that I will return to both books. Often.

(These remarks first appeared in the October 2012 issue of THE PRACTICING WRITER. Complimentary copies of both books provided by the respective publishers.)
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth This is so funny! These are the last two books I have received in the mail. Great minds . . . thanks for the review. I look forward to digging in.

message 2: by Erika (new) - added it

Erika Dreifus Elizabeth wrote: "This is so funny! These are the last two books I have received in the mail. Great minds . . . thanks for the review. I look forward to digging in."

That is funny! Great minds, indeed.

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