Tag Archives: genre

Writing Outside Your Genre

Posted by Jamie Henshaw, CNF Reader for 8.2

Fiction is my jam. There’s usually a story, character, or idea occupying the synapses of my brain like the roots of a blossoming flower. Or a sturdy tree. …and sometimes an errant weed, to be honest. While this might make it sound like I have ideas just pouring out of me – and that’s often true – a lot of it is rubbish.

To add another metaphor to this discussion, I’ve learned that you have to be good at gold panning to be a good writer. You have to sift through a lot of rock to find the little nuggets of gold. You have to remember that gold is just a valuable kind of rock. You have to understand that good writing takes time and effort; the best writing requires exponential levels of time and effort. In fact, Malcolm Gladwell, Canadian author and journalist, says in Outliers: The Story of Success that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to be an expert. Let’s see… that’s 416 days of really, really trying.

That’s not something I’ve achieved, personally.

Not even close.

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In Defense of Fantasy

Posted by Cal Hoag, CNF Editor for 8.1

The first books I remember actively reading were a series of children’s books called Dragon Slayers’ Academy by Kate McMullan. These goofy kids’ books kicked off a life-long love affair with the fantasy genre. I’ve read everything there is to read, from young adult fantasy like Harry Potter and Eragon, to classics like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and even contemporary masterpieces like my all-time favorite book: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. All this to say that I have a significant personal bias for the genre, and genre fiction in general, and so I take offense to the way it’s often looked down on across academia.

Although it isn’t always appropriate for a literary journal like Gandy Dancer, genre fiction, and fantasy in particular, is an interesting and important aspect of the literary world that’s often overlooked in favor of realistic literature, which is considered more valid. This view can end up being super condescending. Literary purists should reconsider fantasy, and, if they don’t enjoy it, perhaps find a way to respect it.

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Writing into Your Fear

Posted by Hannah McSorley, GD Fiction Reader for 7.1

At the beginning of this semester I decided I was going to do things that I was scared to do—and number one on that list: write a creative nonfiction essay about being born without some of the muscles in my left leg.

This is not a new topic for me. In fact, most of my early childhood writing attempts took on this topic. Despite my numerous attempts to use writing, specifically fiction, as a tool to understand and communicate my experience, I always ended up abandoning what I’d written. This time I decided that nonfiction was the way to approach this material. I determined that I would see my essay through to a final draft, even if I decided not to share it. Continue reading

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In Defense of Nonfiction

Posted by Jeremy A. Jackson, CNF reader for issue 4.2

CreativeNonfictionGandy Dancer consistently receives less creative nonfiction than any other genre, and 4.2 was no different. We received very few CNF submissions and accepted even fewer—though this issue has more than several (2.2 had only 2 pieces). This fact kind of baffled my mind, because CNF has for several years been my wheelhouse, my muse, my favorite genre. It is a genre that allows the writer to expunge from themselves a story that may have been eating away at them; most of my own writing is research-based CNF, the blending of my two great passions, academic and creative writing. I often find that creative nonfiction pieces are some of the rawest pieces of work—the submissions this semester, as scant as they were, dealt with themes of death, mental illness, growing up, and deep-rooted societal issues. Why, then, are there so few SUNY CNF writers? Why are there less than 20 fully-funded creative nonfiction MFA programs in the entire country?

One of my best writing friends, Katie Waring, also happens to be a Gandy Dancer Alumna, a former creative nonfiction editor, a former Managing Editor, and an Advisory Editor for issues 4.1 and 4.2. She is also the person who singlehandedly inspired my love for creative nonfiction, and in thinking and musing for this post (which started just with the title, “In Defense of Nonfiction”), I got to pick her brain a bit about CNF. She began our conversation with a passage from Brian Oliu’s new essay “Kilometer Zero”.

An essay, in its purest form, is an attempt: it is in the word, ‘essais’–as Montaigne put it, ‘to try’–a concept that I find myself returning to over and over again, not just in my writing, but in my life: all of our existence is, in fact, an attempt: we have no idea of the proper way to do anything, but we have some guidelines that we have to adhere by–we have a general amount of base notes that we have put our trust into–that these elements of truth will guide us toward something complete.

She went on to expound upon how spectacularly important creative nonfiction is; it’s probably the fastest-growing of the three primary creative genres, with more and more people picking up memoirs and historical biographies every year. However, in many circles, creative nonfiction is, as Katie said, considered “navel gazing,” a self-serving experiment where a writer goes on for pages about how great/tortured/brilliant he or she is. This is rarely, if ever, the case, however, for published works. Memoirs are more often than not intense, revealing looks into the lives of incredibly interesting people (this is, of course, coming from a person who believes everyone is interesting) who, through the power of their own voices, are able to elicit in their audiences a visceral appreciation of these lives—from Katie: “I’m drawn to writing nonfiction because it allows me to process what’s happening in my own life and contextualize it within what’s happening in the world around us. And I’m drawn to essayists that do the same in their writing—that take something personal, and connect it to something larger than just themselves.”

All of that being said, why does Gandy Dancer need a contest like the one Katie ran when she was managing editor in order to garner more CNF submissions? Katie, again, said it better than I probably would be able to: “Because not every school teaches it. Because I think English departments are less willing to hire professors who specialize in nonfiction to teach it. Because sometimes people, especially young or new writers, are afraid to write it—and then when they do, they’re afraid to submit it for publication. Because writing creative nonfiction means making yourself vulnerable on the page in a way that doesn’t happen in any other genre. And because essayists have to own up to that vulnerability in order to be published.”

My own most recent CNF piece was a very powerful, painful essay about my mental illness, which took me a very long time and a lot of edits to get right, and even then, I struggled with letting others see it. But I did, and it was well-received and actually garnered accolades from the Geneseo Writing Contest. Above all of that, however, was the importance of the catharsis that came with putting fingers to keys and writing something true to who I am, telling a story that is grounded in my own experiences and trials and tribulations. A creative nonfiction piece becomes a new way to see the world, as the writing of something from one’s past or the past of humankind reminds us that no matter “how separate our bodies and lives and cultures might be, we’re not all that different—that we’re all just striving to put an order to the chaos,” as Katie tells me.

That is ultimately the importance of CNF, and why I encourage every writer reading this to try his or her hand at a little Nonfiction.


(Special thanks to Katie Waring, my friend and CNF muse. Your input, as always, was invaluable.)

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The Importance of Literary Citizenship

Posted by Klarisa Loft, Fiction Reader for issue 4.2


As a student who is currently taking a senior seminar in creative writing as well as the editing and production workshop in which we create Gandy Dancer, I’ve been hearing a lot of discussion on what it means to be a literary citizen. I feel like this is an important topic to tackle outside the classroom as well. The literary community is a small one, especially in a modern world where the study of humanities is confusing to many since it doesn’t lead to a particular job.

In other words, we need all the support we can get.

This is where that literary citizenship comes into play. Writers have our love of reading and writing in common, so how about we fuel each other with that positivity? Don’t lurk in the literary shadows. Come out. Attend readings near you; help promote your friends’ literary accomplishments through social media. Subscribe to a literary journal you enjoy. Buy books! And when you read something you truly like, let that writer know. Every writer deals with a fair amount of rejection; it comes with the territory. But, as accustomed to it as someone might be, it never hurts to know that there are people out there who genuinely like and believe in our work. This is what spurs us to keep going. In her book Making A Literary Life, Carolyn See suggests writing charming notes to the writers whose work you enjoy and appreciate. She says that a notecard is all you really need for this; it takes a few seconds and has to power to drastically improve someone’s writing confidence.

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