Tag Archives: creative nonfiction

Story Shots: Pumpkin

‘Tis the season – for pumpkins. Carving pumpkins is a long held American Halloween tradition that’s on par with, well, pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. For those not already familiar with our Story Shots as a series, Story Shots are short creative nonfiction pieces (generally but not always in the form of a story) in which our writers all write with the same theme in mind and come up with vastly different stories for your enjoyment.


In college, I squatted between classes into a miniature chair—knees crammed to chest—and faced seven pairs of eyes.

“Tummies touching the table, please,” I said in the only place I said words like “tummy.”

I let Kyndal start the bread basket and passed a bowl to CJ, his hair as orange as a clownfish, as orange as a corn snake.

“Teacher, I don’t want those,” he said with a fantastic lisp, eyeing the willowy vegetables. “I just want ranch.”
“Just take a look-at-it bite, bro.”

CJ took the tiniest carrot with a martyred frown and shoved the bowl to Frankie. She took five slender sticks and blinked with the narrow eyes of a Cabbage Patch doll.

“I like carrots,” she said in that pious way so absurd for a four-year-old.

“Good.” I spoke slowly. “Carrots are healthy for us. They are good for our eyes.”

“And even milk!” CJ said.

I rubbed his buzzed head, his hair as orange as the leaf pile outside, as orange as the carrots he hated.

“Yes, milk makes us healthy too.”

“When my mom eats carrots, she even sees in the dark!” he said.
Lies.

“Oh, yeah?” I said anyway.

The wobbly rotation of dishes finished its first lap.

Frankie frowned. “I can’t see in the dark, even when I eat carrots.”

“You don’t?”

“No.”

“Hm.”

“But I see fog!”

“Well, that’s good.”

CJ’s meatball slipped from his fork and hit the floor with a splat. Goofy laughter erupted from the table, and every preschooler stabbed their own slippery globes of meat.

I put on my most dangerous Teacher Face before a dozen slick meatballs could fill the air.

“Hey! Where do our sillies belong?” They froze, rearranged their impish faces, and licked solemnly at the gravy instead, their round cheeks already smeared and brown as acorns. “Where, CJ?”

Sheepish, he pantomimed throwing something outside.

“Teacher, my sillies are in my pocket,” Frankie said and hugged my arm. I felt a rush of affection for her and kissed her forehead, bangs straight as a ruler.

“How’s that look-at-it bite coming?” I asked CJ. “What about what your mom can do?”

CJ pushed his carrot off his plate. Even his fingers were freckled. “I don’t want to eat a stupid carrot to see in the stupid dark.”

His head was so round, his hair was so orange, and he looked exactly like a pumpkin. I imagined lighting a candle in his mouth, flames shining out of his eyes so he could see in the stupid dark.

I bit my own orange, bendy vegetable. I didn’t like carrots either.

– Missy Lacock


Story Shots: Fall

The fall is a time of leaves changing colors, weather cooling down, harvest, pumpkin festivals, people going back to school, and so much more. Story Shots, our creative nonfiction series, has taken on this theme in our latest installment. Below we have four fall-themed pieces from different writers for your pleasure.


A List: We fall…

into bed.
and asleep.

in and out
of love.
into another’s arms.
in and out
of bad habits.
apart, and
together.

into debt.
onto hard times.
into a deep depression,
and on our knees.

down the rabbit hole,
like fall leaves;
ashes, ashes,
we all fall down.

– Nicole Embrey


As a child, I mainly remember triangle sandwiches at bible camp, but I also remember believing in the God of Israel as much as I believed the sun would come up each day. I was raised by a Christian, single mother and attended those camps at my grandma’s church every summer in an old logging town pared into mountains as green and buckled as elephant apples. The fundamentalist church preached a tough no-sin doctrine, and I pled for salvation at camp the summer before I turned fourteen, old enough to engage with an ancient text about God’s chosen people and a certain Israeli.

I entered the Bush administration wild with purpose. My love affair with Israel had begun.

Story Shots: Renew

While The Poetics Project was on hiatus for a while, the blog has now been renewed. To celebrate this renewal, we’ve revived our popular blog series called Story Shots. Story Shots a place where our writers all write a short creative non-fiction piece around the same concept and we share the stories with our readers. We have three short creative non-fiction pieces here for our readers today around the theme of renewal.


When your best friend dies at 26, you find what little strength you actually have. You thought you understood death by this point, that you knew how to best cope. You knew your grieving process and you knew how long each stage took. Too logical. Death is not logical.

I remember vaguely my phone ringing at 5:00 in the morning and hitting the dismiss button. I was in a dream with my best friend Jessie. We were at Disneyland and Paris and all her favorite and want-to-visit destinations at once. I ran to keep up with her, but she always seemed out of reach. The sky was a mixture of pink and reds. Strangely beautiful, and unsettling.

My alarm went off for work and I jumped on Facebook; my typical morning read. I thought to myself “what if Jessie is gone” when I spotted a belated birthday wish on her wall. My heart threatened to stop beating and I shrugged it off as another weird and morbid thought. I then realized her mother had called me, that she was the dismissed call. My heart threatened me again. I called her, convincing myself that everything was fine.

“Nicci?! Where you with Jessie yesterday?”

“No? I know she went to Disneyland with Richard, but I don’t…” At this point, I sensed the panic in her voice and was pushing the sheets off me to locate my dirty sweats in the hamper. I got caught in the sheets.

“Well did you know that she was in a car accident and died!?”

I had freed my legs in time to sit up straight, “What?”

“She’s dead!”

“What….” my throat started producing croaks.

“Nicci? Nicci, call your mom. I don’t want you to be alone.”

“O…okay.” I live in the back house of my parents’, so I got up and stumbled like a zombie to their door. They leave it unlocked. My mother was up before I collapsed against her dresser.

“What happened? What happened?!” I mixture of fear, anger, and distress.

“Jessie…Jessie’s…she’s gone. She’s dead.” My father was rounding the bed when he turned to stabilize himself and let out one sob. He covered his eyes. My mother shouted and held me as the floor threatened to consume me. My lungs kept pushing air out and wouldn’t let me breathe. And then, I stopped. “Mom, I don’t know where Richard is.”

Story Shots: May Day

Story_Shots

May means different things to different people. In May, memorial day happens to honor people who have served this country through military service. May is a great time for weddings. May is when the flowers start blooming and the bees start pollinating. But May 1st is a different kind of day. May Day in America has a history surrounding worker’s rights. This month’s creative nonfiction post is an ode to May Day.


The FM radio broke about a year ago. I don’t know why. My car’s a 2001 Kia Spectra and it’s 2015. That’s probably why.

KNX1070, a Southern Californian news radio program that ran on AM, was playing as I drove home. I had work until 5 p.m. I tell myself that work was the reason I didn’t go. I don’t tell myself even if I went, my busted hip and knee would have kept me from marching.

“Let’s go to your eye in the sky and get the latest on Traffic in L.A.” the male radio host said, over pronouncing every word through what sounded like a tight, forced smile.

“Well, there are a lot of freeway closures in L.A. today due to the march,” came the reply from the CBS News Helicopter.

“Thank you Denise. Are there a lot of people marching in L.A. today for the fight-for-fifteen movement?” The inflection of his voice was supposed to make him sound interested, but the over enthusiasm in his voice just made every question and statement that fell from his lips feel false.

“Oh gosh,” she started, “like 200 people are so. You can’t miss the flag they have. It’s a big flag. They’re leading the march with it.”

I texted my friend at the march asking how many people were there.

“About 1,000, maybe more” he replied.

5 Creative Nonfiction Writing Tips

We here at The Poetics Project regularly partake in the Creative Nonfiction genre with our monthly Story Shots posts. I have a lot of fun with the genre, but I know that many people struggle with creative nonfiction.

Specifically, how much is creative and how much is nonfiction? Where does the line blur and creativity starts taking a nonfiction piece into the realm of fiction?

There are no solid boundaries nor are there any set percentages, e.g. 25% of your story must be “creative” while the other 75% must be nonfiction to obtain the label creative nonfiction. Essentially, the creative part of creative nonfiction refers to how the story is told and the nonfiction part of the creative nonfiction refers to the subject matter of the piece.

Can you make up dialog? No, but if you don’t remember the exact words spoken but can approximate them, that’s fine (in my book – others may disagree). Can you change names, dates, and locations of a creative nonfiction piece to distance the people involved from the story? I think you can, as long as everything else in your story is true.

In other words, use your best judgement when it comes to how much “creative” and how much “nonfiction” goes into your creative nonfiction. If you started out writing a creative nonfiction story about an experience you had in high school and it suddenly becomes an epic fantasy-romance, it’s probably no longer creative nonfiction. Lots of fiction is based on true and real events, but once enough of that story is manipulated, it’s no longer nonfiction and crosses into the realm of fiction.

But you don’t need to add a ton of fiction into your creative nonfiction to make it interesting. There are some very basic tricks you can use in creative nonfiction, as well as in other literary forms, to make your story creative without sacrificing the nonfiction part of your story. Here’s a quick list of 5 tips to help make your creative nonfiction really pop.

Story Shots: Shakespeare

Story_Shots

Today, in 1616, William Shakespeare, beloved playwright and poet, passed away. For the past 399 years, Shakespeare has continued to live through his work. An author, you see, can die twice. Once is his or her actual, physical death, and the second death is when no one reads nor remembers your work any longer. While Shakespeare has died once, he has yet to experience this second death. This blog isn’t about Shakespeare’s death, but rather is about his continued life through his works.


Sonnet 74

But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee:
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My spirit is thine, the better part of me:
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead;
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered.
The worth of that is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.

– William Shakespeare


I am a rumor – a story. I just happen to be true.

I started one day in a Shakespeare course at Cal Poly Pomona.

They were paired up – the brightest and most talkative girl in the class – big in size and personality. And he was the handsome, fit, and quiet boy – quiet because he slept through most of the class.

He had all of the lines, literally. He was Henry V and she was Catherine – his French speaking princess. Only, she didn’t speak French. But Catherine did in eight lines of the scene they were assigned.

Henry V had issues remembering his long-winded speeches. It might have been because they were so long. It was most likely because he had put off practicing them until the day of the scene.

Catherine had issues remembering how to say things in French. She tried to write the lines down on her hand, but she realized she also had issues reading French. French, overall, was the issue for the princess of France.

Henry V and Catherine, while never having practiced the scene completely through together, did have one agreement though – they would end their production of Henry V right before Henry’s line “Catherine, you have witchcraft in your lips.”

Catherine was happy with that plan. Henry V had a surprise.

This is where the rumor was born. This was how I was made.

Henry V pulled the teacher aside before class and begged to use his copy of Shakespeare’s play to remember his words.

Catherine declined and tried to read her horribly scribbled French lines off of her hand.

Henry V and Catherine both forgot about Catherine’s maid, Alice. An Alice was pulled out of the audience and stuck into the scene.

Alice didn’t know her words either nor any of the staging. She assumed there would be staging. Henry V and Catherine never really got that far.

Alice was standing between Catherine and Henry when the dreaded line was said “Catherine, you have witchcraft in your lips.”

Catherine’s eyes opened wide and a slight look of horror swept across her face as Henry pushed aside Alice and took Catherine in his arms.

Henry V pulled Catherine close. His hand touched her cheek.

His thumb found itself over her lips, so when his lips approached, they were both kissing his thumb.

The class gasped.

Catherine exhaled.

Henry V thought himself clever.

Overall, the performance was awful. The Bard was probably rolling over in his grave.

The teacher gave Henry V and Catherine a solid B.

And now everyone remembers me as that time that one girl got kissed in Dr. Aaron’s Shakespeare class.

– Amanda Riggle


Story Shots: Rejection

Story_Shots

J.K. Rowling said, over a Twitter interview, that Harry Potter was rejected “loads” before it was accepted by a publisher. And, after that story was published, J.K. Rowling not only became one of the most popular authors of her time, but one of the wealthiest as well. What’s the moral of this story? We all get rejected, but it’s what we do with our rejections that makes us who we are.


No one likes rejection letters.

You know the ones: “Your work was one among many excellent submissions, unfortunately…”

However, have you ever been on the other side of the editing table? If you have, you know the task of an editor is arduous and exhausting. And maybe somewhere along the hundredth rejection you decide on, you start to forget that these are writers your dealing with behind the blind submission numbers.

My mistake during this process was using my position as an editor for a literary journal to my own advantage: getting to listen in on the discussion process about my piece. I submitted my own work, which I knew would not be sent to me or my group of editors, but would be sent to another group I worked with for consideration.

Once blinded and given a number, it was handed out. I decided to find my submission’s number and locate the group it was assigned to.

I sat close to them as I eavesdropped on their deliberation, but this did not last long.

“So what did we think?”

“Mediocre at best.”

Suddenly, the passive rejection letter didn’t sound so bad.

– Nicole Neitzke


“Everybody gets rejected straight out of their bachelor’s degree,” Professor Powers, soon to be Dr. Powers, said.

I got the first rejection January 31st, 2015. It was from USC – the school I had been able to visit and speak with professors at. I didn’t take that as a great sign.

I was applying for my Ph.D. in Early Modern English, with an emphasis in critical theory, namely performance theory, and digital humanities.

I was applying so I could one day teach and share my enthusiasm for Shakespeare.

“If you want to teach Shakespeare,” my friend and former professor yet again continued offering much needed insight and advice, “you’re going to have to do lit. If you do rhetoric they won’t ever let you teach literature, especially not Shakespeare.”

Other rejections soon followed. On February 6th, 2015, UCLA rejected my graduate application. Ten days later, Cornell sent a rejection. Three days after that, UC Santa Barbra rejected me as well. UC Santa Barbara had a professor there that had, kindly, sent her regrets at my rejection.

“In my graduate program at the University of Iowa, only one student of the thirty was straight out of their undergraduate degree. Only myself and one other student of the thirty were two years out. It’s really competitive. They want to know you’re a serious student. They don’t want to waste their time on English majors who are just continuing school because they don’t know what else to do,” Professor Powers continued.

UC Santa Cruz rejected me February 27th and the University of Pennsylvania rejected me March 10th. I was getting numb to the rejections by now. My last hope was UC Davis.

Story Shots: Be Mine

Story_Shots

Love is an interesting concept. I’m not sure I quiet grasp it – especially romantic love. All of a sudden, we stop being a “me” and we start being a “we.” What’s one is the other’s. Thoughts and feelings and decisions and plans start becoming a topic of discussion rather than a choice you just make. Love is about union. About sharing. About belonging to one another. But is it ever really possibly to posses another person? Little chalky candy hearts proclaim it is – “BE MINE!” they shout as loud as any candy has ever shouted. “Be Mine” is the theme of the holiday, and the theme of our stories.


Dollar store chocolates. On sale dollar store chocolates. We put on a movie.

“Raspberry. Eww. Do you want it?”

“No. Want my coconut?”

“I guess. What’s this one?” She points at a dark round one.

“I don’t know, I haven’t tried it yet.” I take a bite. “It’s gross too.”

“If I ever get a boyfriend, he’s going to buy me expensive chocolates. And teddy bears. I want roses, too. He’s going to be so romantic.”

“Okay.” She has this idealized version of a man that doesn’t exist. She always spouts off this long fictional list of what her one-day, long-awaited boyfriend will have.

He’ll be emo.
He’ll be rich.
He’ll hate his parents, like she does.
He’ll give creamy kisses.
He’ll want to marry her right away.
He’ll take care of her.
He’ll be a little nutty.
He’ll teach her how to drive.
He’ll wear eyeliner.
He’ll listen to Green Day.
No, now he’ll listen to Fall Out Boy.
He’ll be sweet.
He’ll be romantic.
He’ll take charge.
He’ll be dark.
He’ll always text her back.
He’ll visit her at work with surprise lunches.
He’ll get her flowers to brighten her day.
He’ll pick her up from school when she gets out of class early and won’t make her wait.
He’ll want 2.5 kids.
He’ll worship capitalism.
He’ll be milky and smooth.
He’ll spoil her.
He’ll love her.
He’ll understand her every need.
He’ll be a little crunchy.
He’ll melt in her hand.
He’ll watch all of her reality T.V. shows.
He’ll tell her she’s perfect.

She wants all of these things in one person. She is unforgiving. She is unrelenting. She insists he will be hers. This mythical creature is both beautiful and horrible. No man can live up to this image. But what do I know? Whenever I doubt her monstrosity of man, this is the question I’m greeted with.

Her list grows every year. She’s 20. She’s my sister. Right now she doesn’t have him, she only has me. So we get dollar store chocolates and we watch movies and I listen and I don’t agree. I just nod my head and try another chocolate.

“This one is toffee. It’s crunchy. It’s good.”

– Amanda Riggle


She kneaded my abdomen. “How long have you been experiencing pain?” I was clay.

“A few weeks.”

She peeled off her gloves like fruit rinds, all elbows and moles.

“How often? After meals? After exercising?”

“Most mornings. I usually feel nauseous riding the bus to campus.”

Her face changed, as if she recognized the word in Hangman, gaps in its teeth. “Is there a possibility you’re pregnant?”

The exam room leaped to life, pulsing and yellow. “That I’m what?” But I didn’t want her to say it again. “No.”

“Are you sexually active?”

“Well, yes.” My heart sprinted. “But we practice safe sex.” Dirty and safe.

“Let’s do a pregnancy test. I’ll put in a lab order.” She sat in front of the computer.

I was levitating, suspended in midair.

Story Shots: Resolutions

Story_Shots

I have a very negative view of resolutions. I see them as promises we make ourselves that never work out. We make these promises because of cultural pressures to be better, or different, or new, but really, we are what we are, aren’t we? And if we want to change, a resolution isn’t going to be the motivating factor that does it. This is just my personal perspective, though. Our writer’s have other opinions.


It was the end of a particular nasty year, crammed with failure, transition, and plain bad luck. If I ever needed a year of salvation, this shiny 2011 was it. Farewell procrastination and debt—welcome gym and flossing! Tonight was my conversion to the real new Missy. I celebrated by buying another goldfish.

I have an affection for goldfish despite their lidless eyes, floating strings, and general refusal to stay alive. My room was never complete without that shimmering drop of gold. Each unlucky fish, however, became the next white belly tossed about by the bubbles from my air filter within two weeks. The day I flounced home with Ivan floating grumpily in his bag, I was resolute: This one was staying alive, damnit.

When two weeks came and went, my future with Ivan seemed promising. Although he wobbled his fat body away from my every friendly gesture and seemed bored as hell, Ivan was healthy. I fed him, cleaned his tank, and infused his water with oxygen and the best of intentions. Then one day before the three-week mark, my fish was suddenly a chunk of orange floating upside down, his magnificent fantail wilted.

Frraaaaaackkk!

I accepted defeat. I sanitized my one-fish-tank for good, zip-locked the purple rocks, bid all my wasted fish names goodbye, and locked the mess in the attic, weary. I had wanted to check each goal from my list; I had wanted to enjoy a happy life with Ivan; I had wanted to be a proud, accomplished, content version of myself. Trust a goldfish to put you in your place.

I don’t know why I saved that fish gear. Maybe I’m just secretly afraid I will never try again and this time succeed.

– Missy Lacock


She was just a girl in my class in summer school. I guess we were friends. I didn’t really like her all that much, but she was dating one of my friends from school so I had always been nice to her.

She was at my house. We didn’t have any plans. It was a slumber party with just two people. It was December 31st, 1999. Y2K was the great fear of the day, and we spent the night listening to rock music on KROQ and DJ’s crack jokes about the end of the digital world.

We were 16 years old and in my parent’s house, so there was no alcohol to speak of. We were eating chips and drinking Coke. My house had always been a Coke house, despite my personal like of Sprite and Pepsi. I wasn’t in command or control, so Coke it was.

“Sean isn’t very big,” she started to comment. Sean was my friend. I really didn’t want to hear about his dick size.

“Did you want to watch a movie or something?” I awkwardly tried to change the subject.

“And he’s about this thick,” she continued, holding up two of her small fingers.

Story Shots: Silence

SS_Circle

Sometimes the most terrifying thing isn’t what you hear, but what you don’t hear. Silence can be tranquil and peaceful, but often what breaks that silence isn’t something we wish to be greeted with. For October’s Story Shots, we asked our writers to tackle silence and this is what they came up with.


“I don’t think it’s natural.”

“What isn’t?”

“The silence.”

“Let me see,” the doctor said in a heavy accent as she pulled her chair close to me. I had small ear tubes or something, which made me prone to ear infections all of my life. If I got any sort of cold or sinus infection, an ear infection wasn’t far behind.

“I think there’s a blockage,” she said as the warmth of the light made my ear slightly uncomfortable. I sat there in jeans and a t-shirt on the doctor’s table while my little sister sat in the room with me. I didn’t want her to be afraid of doctors, so I took her into simple examinations like this with me. I thought it was good to teach her not to be afraid by showing her not to be afraid.

“I think it’s just my inner ear being swollen,” I offered. This wasn’t my usual doctor. I had an HMO—Kaiser Permanente, so really, I never had a usual doctor. I had whoever was on at the time at whatever hospital I happened to stop at.

“No no no, it’s a waxy buildup,” she insisted.

I hesitated, “I’ve never had that before, but I’ve had ear infections all of my life. I have small tubes and I get them frequently when sick.”

“Trust me” she said as she fetched a long blue plastic stick with a loop at the end. “I’m just going to pull this wax right out and your hearing will be fine again.”

She had me sit still while she fished around my ear with the long blue noose until she hooked what she wanted.

“I don’t think that’s wax; I can feel that,” I said as she yanked.

Blood started to pour out of my ear.

“Oh!” she exclaimed as she got up to fetch something to catch all of the blood.

My sister recoiled and started to cry, “Manda!”

“Fucking shit,” was all I could say as I felt the warmth of the blood from my ripped eardrum sliding down my neck.

The doctor pressed some cotton to my neck and then left the room. Another doctor came in to look at my ear.

“It’ll just need to heal. Here’s a prescription for amoxicillin for your ear.” He handed me a piece of paper. The thing I wanted in the first place instead of the bloody and ripped ear drum.

The silence in my left ear lasted for months as it healed. It never fully recovered due to some scarring from the ripping itself. And, to boot, my sister was now terrified of doctors. And, to be honest, so was I little, now that they had ruined my dreams of being a recording engineer.

How could I mix music if I couldn’t hear it?

– Amanda Riggle


The headboard presses at the back of my skull as I close my eyes and sink into it. For a while, it’s just me, alone in my basement bedroom. I imagine my brother sleeping across the hall, his arms stretched out. The hair on his forehead slick with sweat—the musty scent that is teenage boy in the air, sticking to his sheets. And my mother, in the room above me, face-down on her king-sized bed, her thin hair a halo, her deep snores a lullaby. My sister and her newborn son in my old room. His body rigid. “Relax,” his brain screams, but his muscles don’t listen.

My body screams “sleep,” but my mind won’t listen. In the darkness, I begin to hear voices—muffled, but familiar. I open my eyes and walk to the door. I open it, peer around the corner. Left to right. Right to left. The house is dark and silent, but in the distance, a man laughs. His voice is raspy and high. I quietly close the door.

“Matt,” I call, but there’s no answer. Padding back across my bedroom, back to the bed, I dig my knees into the mattress, lean over, and draw back the curtains. Outside my window is a sea of black, but a woman stares back at me. Her short, brown hair curls away from her face, round and grey as the moon. I lean closer, pressing my skin against the cool pane until she disappears. I squint, trying to make out the landscape of our backyard, the weeds overtaking the flowerbed, the glow of the street lamps lining the freeway behind our fence. The window pane vibrates as a semi passes. The thin walls shake. My world is blue, and there’s no one it.

Back in bed, I reach for the phone on the nightstand. I dial his number with shaky fingers.

“Are you here?” I ask.

“I’m at home,” Matt answers.