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Creative Nonfiction

An unusal perspective or epiphany: CNF reader Joan Dixon

As we prepare to unveil the shortlist for the 2013 Creative Nonfiction Competition, we are introducing the readers who read hundreds of your stories in search of the best. 

Joan Dixon believes that, "True stories, artfully crafted and compellingly told, can be as or more enthralling than fiction."

Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write? 
For the last two decades, my home base has been in the foothills of the Alberta Rockies, where the blue skies and mountains conspire to keep me away from my desk. Stories from Canada’s recent past have provided me with plenty of inspiration, ranging from trailblazers in sport and space to extreme weather events and iconic legacies, such as the Avro Arrow and the Calgary Stampede. 

What's your day job? 
Editor/researcher/writer. Aka cultural archivist.

What's your literary street cred? 
My last book project was an anthology of literary nonfiction essays about life on the (military) home front, Embedded on the Home Front, Heritage House, 2012. I was its compiler and co-editor but also contributed an essay about finding myself the mother of a soldier headed to Afghanistan. The piece won an Alberta Literary Award for short nonfiction, was published in a national magazine and kickstarted the idea to collect others’ experiences in a book. 

What are you working on now? 
My latest obsession is travel, which has spawned some writing. And I have two other anthologies in mind that I’d like to read, write for and/or edit. 

What do you like most about creative nonfiction? 
True stories, artfully crafted and compellingly told, can be as or more enthralling than fiction. 

When you’re reading hundreds of stories and trying to choose the most compelling ones, what are you looking for? 
An idea or theme that resonates, grabs my empathy or offers an unusual perspective or, maybe, an epiphany. Strong writing, and a structure that complements the story, keeps me reading. 

What are some of the subjects/themes that people are writing about? 
Many of the stories I read focused on a significant episode or person in the writer’s life, and sometimes both—such as the death of a family member. 

Has being a reader changed anything about how you approach your own writing?  Careful reading, like editing, forces you to consider what makes a fine story work; you can also more easily recognize weaknesses (likely also found in your own writing) such as overwriting, or humour that falls flat. 

Would you do anything different if you were to submit to the competition? 
Get more feedback before submitting? The competition attracts many interesting and powerful stories; a submission cannot possibly stand out without the effort and scrutiny of multiple revisions. 

Can you describe a couple of the entries that struck you as standouts? 
I was drawn to three particular reflections about loss (or impending loss) not only because of the powerful emotions they invoked but also because of the insight they shared. 

“Angus Gregor” is a mother’s heartbreaking account of her baby’s birth that starkly contrasts all normal expectations.

“Regrowth” relates the lingering effects of a father’s death.

The author of “Szeretlek” ponders multi-generational legacies over a lunch-hour visit with an ailing grandparent.


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