Unpacking Creative Speculative Non-Fiction

When I plan a vacation, my first thought is the box of books.  Which can I finish?  Which will inspire me?  Which will propel me forward in life?  I stare at the piles of books and the corrugated box.  I want to include everything and nothing.  I want the selected few, but I don’t know which fall into that category.  Should I take the books waiting to be reviewed or the ones I didn’t finish last year or the year before or the year before that?   

This year, I became wise.  I took one fiction book

Valley of Bones (Jerusalem's Undead Trilogy)



one book of creative non-fiction 

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America


an academic book I have been reading 

On the Reliability of the Old Testament

and my Kindle which contains my Bible and other books.


So how did I do with the reading?  I never picked up Valley of Bones.  I never picked up On the Reliability of the Old Testament.  I completely finished The Devil in the White City.  And I read a few out of print short stories on my Kindle.

The Devil in the White City is a work of creative non-fiction.  I am not completely convinced that this genre should even exist.  Creative non-fiction is factual writing mixed with “what could have happened.”  Now, if you take this to its extreme, it is historical fiction.  Historical fiction is a fictional story set in a historical period.  Could it have happened?  Maybe. 

The Devil in the White City is a true story set in a historical period with what may or may not be fictional elements.  I am writing a series of novels about the Prophet Elijah.  What we know about him would not fill a single book.  However I have set his story in its historical time and included elements of modern thought, technology, clothing, etc.  How would I have to modify my novel to make it creative non-fiction?  I could take out the modern elements, thought, and place names.  What then?  The characters I invented could have existed.  There is no evidence for or against their existence.  The action I wrote could have taken place.  There is no evidence for or against it. 

Others have told me that my fiction is speculative fiction.  How about creative speculative non-fiction?  If I include footnotes will that make my novel non-fiction? 

And what is true?  If we add what might have been and call it “creative” is it still true?  And if it is not true, can it be called “non-fiction.”  I have always believed that the untrue was fiction.  Have we so blurred the lines of demarcation that we no longer call what is true, non-fiction?

There is a writers conference in the spring on narrative non-fiction.  If I attend will they answer my questions?

What do you think about all of this?

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Authors that Disappoint: A Review of Two Books

I recently had the opportunity to read two novels:  one by a best-selling Christian author I have long known and read, the other by an author I had never heard of.  The first book is One Step Away by Eric Wilson; the second, Indelible by Kristen Heitzmann.

These novels are set in the current time, in recognizable places in the United States.  What both novels also share is unexpected poor writing.  Let me qualify the remarks that follow by noting that One Step Away was in paper book format, Indelible in Kindle format.

Both books suffer from grammar and punctuation errors.  The first is homonym confusion.  Homonyms are words that sound alike or similar but have different meanings.  For example, you can pique someone’s interest, but you cannot peak their interest.  That was an actual example of homonym confusion from Indelible.  Other words were simply wrong and I suspect the author consulted a thesaurus rather than a dictionary.  Among these are canted which is never something done with a neck as the author states and a word not used at all in this time; spewed which is poured out of something, not as the author used it for rocks sliding away from a trail runner.  And two characters drive their hands; one into dense clay which is an acceptable use, one into water, which is not.  One Step Away contained missing words. 

The worst offender, Indelible, contained hyphenated words that should not be hyphenated and  individual words that should be hyphenated left unhyphenated.  Some paragraphs were indented; some weren’t.   Some phrases were in a much larger font than the rest of the book.   Some words were combined which should have been spaced.  Finally, the letter “r” or “S” in a different font was inserted sporadically. 

One Step Away contained characters that acted out of character, creating unbelievable characters and a predictable plot.  Indelible had characters with silly names and a predictable plot.  Indelible used at least one unbelievable metaphor (eg. disturbed leaves in a rocky mountain stream compared to goldfish—which would never be found in a cold Colorado creek) and other descriptive terms pulled inappropriately from other disciplines (eg. segue, a musical term).  Possibly Indelible’s most inexcusable error was to use bits of the the epic poem, Paradise Lost, pulled out of context to drive a subplot.   

To be fair, Indelible ‘s author had greater dexterity in describing scenes and places than did the author of One Step Away.  But I found myself racing to the end of both books merely to be done with them.  Do authors realize how much grammatical errors distract from their writing?  Have publishers stopped editing?  What more can I say about these books?  If you want to read a well-written novel, stay away from both of them.


I was provided a free review copy of Indelible by the publisher for the purpose of this review.  I purchased my copy of One Step Away.

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