As we prepare to unveil the shortlist for the 2013 Creative Nonfiction Competition, we're asking the readers what it's like to read hundreds of short stories in search of the best.
Here's Marcello Di Cintio on looking for strong openings and the bravery it takes to write certain stories.
Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write?
I live in Calgary with my wife and three year-old son. I write nonfiction exclusively. In addition to the three books of travelogue I've written (Harmattan: Wind Across West Africa, Poets and Pahlevans: A Journey Into the Heart of Iran,
and Walls: Travels ALong the Barricades
) my work also appears in magazines such as The Walrus
, Canadian Geographic
, and Geist,
What's your day job?
I am a writer by day and, two or three times a week, a waiter by night.
What's your literary street cred?
Three books. A pile of magazine stories. A few award nominations. Even fewer award wins, including the 2013 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. A coffee addiction. A lack of retirement savings.
What are you working on now?
I don't want to say too much, only that I am glancing Middle East-ward.
What do you like most about creative nonfiction?
I love that writing CNF gives you a pass into the lives of fascinating people.
When you’re reading hundreds of stories and trying to choose the most compelling ones, what are you looking for?
I look for a story that has a well-crafted narrative, that is focused, and that grabs my attention from the beginning. I look, too, for writers who aren't trying to be too cute with structure.
What are some of the subjects/themes that people are writing about?
Lots of family stories, especially stories about dealing with an elderly or dying relative. Stories that showed much bravery to write.
Has being a reader changed anything about how you approach your own writing? Would you do anything different if you were to submit to the competition?
If I were to submit to this contest in the future I would be sure to try to focus on the small story. To do less rather than more. The space limitations mean that a writer needs to be efficient, modest and realistic—he or she can't tell everything.
Can you describe a couple of the entries that struck you as standouts?
There were plenty of stories about children being ill—and, to be honest, birthing stories are a dime a dozen—but no entry was as touching and as beautiful as "The boy with the galloping heart." I also smile every time I think of the young man playing Scrabble with the elderly Hungarian women in "The Gods of Scrabble" which included the most memorable line of all the entries: "You could have made orgasms."