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Creative Nonfiction Prize

Jenny Manzer on seeing the world through stories

There are five names on the shortlist for this year's CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize. Before we announce the winner, we want to introduce you to the finalists and their stories. 

Jenny Manzer talks about running everywhere like Forrest Gump, the particular challenge and satisfaction of writing nonfiction, and the terrifying nature of randomness.

Tell us about yourself.
I’m a writer and editor living in Victoria, originally from Toronto. By day I help edit a travel magazine, and in the evenings, after my children are asleep, I write fiction. I have a tendency to run everywhere, like Forrest Gump. I studied writing at the University of Victoria.

What do you usually write?
These days I write magazine features, the occasional creative nonfiction essay, and fiction. I just finished a novel set in Victoria and Seattle called Save Me, Kurt Cobain, which incorporates facts from his life into the narrative. I was a news reporter for several years, both on staff and as a freelancer, and in 2005 I received the Michener Fellowship to investigate Canada’s drug safety system. I’ve had the chance to freelance for publications like Maclean’s, Chatelaine, The Ottawa Citizen, and Reader’s Digest, and in 2007 one of my essays was picked up for a Random House anthology.

What made you write this story?   
My sweet, old dog perceives the world through his nose. I think I perceive it through stories. Cheryl Strayed makes an observation about this in her memoir, Wild. To her, the world was not a graph, equation, or a formula—it was a story. So I wrote this to make sense of the events, I suppose, to make them seem real, and to relate them to other people.
Did you tell the people implicated in your story that you were writing it?
My husband and my father read a later draft. I read a version aloud to my son, too. He was interested, but probably would have preferred Captain Underpants.

What compels you to write nonfiction rather than other forms of writing?
Well, I do write other genres, but there is a special challenge (and satisfaction) in writing this kind of personal essay—trying to use the compelling elements of fiction while staying true to the facts.

Your titleThe Boy with the Galloping Heartevokes the image of horses. What drew you to this image? 
The heart rate rhythm really did sound like a horse galloping, so it seemed an apt description. It fit, I think, because there was this continual hope the rhythm would change, normalize, and we’d finish the race, the journey. Instead, we all kept stumbling.

The events of the story are fast paced but narrative itself has a calm, contemplative quality to it. Why did you choose to strike this balance? 
My hospital experiences were characterized by sudden bursts of activity—ultrasounds or tests done by a medical team—and then hours of waiting and thinking, most often alone. I actually looked forward to the tests because I was so frantic for an answer. Randomness is terrifying. I was trying to show both sides: the hurry up and the wait.

How does it feel to be shortlisted for this prize?
I’m in excited disbelief. I always look forward to reading the shortlisted entries and it is thrilling to participate. 


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