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Creative Nonfiction

An authentic voice: CNF reader John Vigna

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 John Vigna on looking for an authentic voice, humility, and wisdom. 

Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write? 
I live in Richmond, BC, a stone’s throw from the seaside village of Steveston where, in addition to watching large tanker ships silently cruise past my office window, I write fiction and literary non-fiction. 

What’s your day job? 
I teach fiction, literary nonfiction and professional writing at Douglas College. I also teach business writing at the University of the Fraser Valley. 

What’s your literary street cred? 
In September 2012, I published a short story collection of linked stories called Bull Head. While completing my book I also edited Marcello Di Cintio’s award-winning nonfiction book, Walls: Travels Along the Barricades

What are you working on now? 
I’m anxious to begin work on a novel that shares the same geographical setting as Bull Head. 

What do you like most about creative nonfiction? 
The possibilities to mix different modes of telling; strong, compelling narrative voices; brutal truth but restraint in calibrating it throughout the story. 

When you’re reading hundreds of stories and trying to choose the most compelling ones, what are you looking for? 
An authentic voice. Humility. Wisdom. Complete mastery of the story and finding the right way to tell it. 

What are some of the subjects/themes that people are writing about? 
 One of the great things in reading through hundreds of stories that were submitted was how brave and honest many of the writers were. It was evident that many stories were told because they were “necessary” for the writer’s own personal process, stories that seemed to haunt them until they set down to the process of capturing and trying to make sense of the story. Prevalent themes included the death of someone close; family history pieces; love, loss and infidelity; substance abuse and recovery. 

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? 
I was inspired by the courage of many of the entries and struck by how vulnerable many writers made themselves in the stories. At the same time, I appreciated the approach some of the notable entries took to the craft of telling the story, the art of knowing what to leave out, the subtlety and the ability to express deep emotional moments without sentimentality, letting the details and characters speak for themselves. 

Can you describe a couple of the entries that struck you as standouts? 
Without pointing to any specific story, the stories on my shortlist were standouts for me because they aspired to not solely tell a this-happened-and-then-this-happened type of story but they offered insight into something bigger than the events in the story itself, something that readers could connect with in themselves and the world around them.


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