When I first became a professional writer and began focusing on writing articles and essays, the name Dinty W. Moore was one name, in fact the only name, immediately associated with true blue creativity in the genre. Who would have thought that truth could be so fascinating? After all, who else could relate Buddha’s Four Noble Truths with a visit to Disney World in Moore’s down and dirty essay “Fear and Craving in Disney World” or relay the noble truths of the writing life in his book The Mindful Writer? That’s Dinty W. Moore. And that’s the honest truth.
Lori: What is your writing process?
Dinty: I write horrible first drafts full of lousy sentences that run on and on and half-formed ideas that go nowhere. Then I throw away everything but a few moments that seem to be worth exploring in another draft. I’d rather write three bad drafts in two weeks than one good draft of an essay, because I think the disorderly process bring me to say and see things that were not obvious to me when I sat down to write. It is hard to count drafts, since one is always poking in and changing a thing here and there, but between first draft and sending a work to an editor, I’m guessing my average essay has seen forty drafts.
I’d say the state of CNF publishing is strong and getting stronger… I’m feeling very upbeat. — Dinty W. Moore
When did you start writing? When did you discover your passion for it?
I started writing as a kid, like many folks, but starting in high school I channeled all of my energy into newspaper journalism, and that’s what I did in college, and as an early career.
But I found it unsatisfying, dropped out, and ran through a string of other trial careers – filmmaker, modern dancer and actor, waiter, technical editor – until I returned to writing, and then embraced literary writing, at age thirty. That’s when I went off for my MFA, which was relatively late in life, but worked out very well for me.
How has creative nonfiction (CNF) and memoir changed over the years? What is the state of CNF publishing?
What we now call creative nonfiction goes back hundreds of years of course, to Montaigne, or further back to St. Augustine or the Greek orators, but the term itself popped up somewhere in the early 1990s, and for a while people had trouble deciding if it meant the ‘New Journalism’ magazine movement of Gay Talese, Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe or something more. Gradually, over time, I’ve watched as the Creative Nonfiction umbrella drew in memoir, and the personal essay, and to a certain extent the lyric essay, and travel writing, and the best food and spiritual writing, and a host of other sub-genres.
I’d say the state of CNF publishing is strong and getting stronger. We run the gamut from GQ and The New Yorker to literary magazines, large and small, paper and digital. There seems to be an endless market. Not many of them make you financially comfortable, of course, but they offer a readership, and a launching pad. I’m feeling very upbeat.
I take the term nonfiction very seriously. Don’t make stuff up, period. –Dinty W. Moore
How truthful must CNF/memoir writers be? Where is that drawn line?
I take the term nonfiction very seriously. Don’t make stuff up, period.
What I want a nonfiction writer to offer me is her best effort at memory, flawed as it is, with fact-checking, and motive-checking, which means a scrupulous look inside to explore why she sees and remembers the way she does. If as a writer you are unsure, tell me. If you are speculating, tell me. Nonfiction doesn’t offer irrefutable “fact,” since we all see the world though subjective lenses, but what I want is the truth of what the writer sees, and thinks, and feels, and remembers, not some manufactured story designed to entertain or educate me.
If you want to change things to improve a story, write fiction. It is a wonderful genre as well.
What advice do you have for aspiring CNF/memoir writers?
The usual: read widely, challenge yourself on the page, revise endlessly.
What books do you recommend – besides your own?
So, so many. All of Joan Didion. As much John McPhee as possible. Talese, especially Sinatra’s sniffles. Beard’s “The Boys of My Youth.” Patricia Hampl. Gornick’s “The Situation and the Story.” Richard Rodriguez. James Baldwin.
And then there are the contemporary nonfiction folks, many of whom I count as friends. Do I have to name them and risk leaving someone out?
Here is just a smattering: Lia Purpura, Brian Doyle, Marcia Aldrich, Patrick Madden, Ander “The Beast” Monson, Dinah Lenny, Judith Kitchen, Barrie Jean Borich, Brenda Miller, Steven Church. On the more journalistic end, Rebecca Skloot and John Jeremiah Sullivan. And so many more.
What are you working on right now?
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Flash Nonfiction, which I am editing, a new book of essays, and a long, long term project based on Heaven, Hell, and the Catholic catechism.
According to your website, you failed at quite a few jobs in your time. So, to what do you attribute your writing success that you didn’t bring to these other places of employment?
I wasn’t very good at any of those other careers. Writing seemed to be something I could do and grow into.
What sort of inspiration do you get from your current Athens, Ohio surroundings?
I am around young people, graduate and undergraduate, much of the time, which keeps me feeling young. As long as I don’t look in the mirror, I feel about thirty-seven, actually.
There is also a strong eat-local, grow-local, support-local food movement here in the Appalachian hills, and I find that invigorating.
Besides tomatoes and edible dandelions, what else does your garden grow?
Peppers, eggplant, basil, roses, all manner of perennial flowers, kale, spinach, arugula, morning glories, cup-and-saucer vine, a cherry tree, sunflowers, weeds.
Anything else you’d like to add that you want our readers to know about?
Be a good literary citizen. If you read something you really like in a literary magazine, send the editor an email thanking him or her. If you can find a link to the writer, e-mail her as well. Spread the good word.