Volume 3
An Online Literary Magazine
November 18, 2009


Editor's Note


Nick O’Connell


Nick O'Connell


riters have a credibility problem. Readers often suspect nonfiction authors of inventing material. They suspect fiction authors of not inventing material, presenting thinly-veiled versions of themselves. Readers crave original stories with lively characters that explore new worlds, and yet few writers provide them.


How can writers win back their credibility and regain their audience? The answer lies with research and interviewing. In the old days writers came up through newspapers and learned the art of reporting, allowing them to authoritatively treat all kinds of subjects. But as more writers gravitated to creative writing programs, research went out the window, resulting in a constriction of subject matter. Rather than tales of lumberjacks, soldiers, politicians, miners and midwives, we now get millions of stories about oversensitive and misunderstood young men and women, pecking away on their Macbooks while trapped in dead-end jobs at the local Blockbuster.


Writers need to relearn the techniques of reporting so they can emerge from their garrets and open up their style. These forays will yield the rich, telling details that make writing evocative. This emphasis on reporting is "essential for the very greatest effects literature can achieve," as Tom Wolfe observes in "Stalking the Billion-footed Beast: A Literary Manifesto for the New Social Novel." (Harpers, 1989)


In this important essay, Wolfe argues that it's exactly this emphasis on reporting that has made narrative nonfiction so much more compelling than contemporary fiction. Wolfe believes fiction lost its way when it abandoned the techniques of realism that made 19th century and early 20th century novels so enthralling. Spurning these techniques in favor of stream-of-consciousness and formal experimentation, modern fiction began to lose its grip on reality as well as its audience.


At The Writer’s Workshop Review, we’re trying to counteract that trend by encouraging storytelling as well as the reporting that underlies it. Thus it is with great pleasure that we publish an interview with Timothy Egan, winner of the National Book Award in 2006 for The Worst Hard Time (2005) and author of the forthcoming The Big Burn (2009) which is excerpted in this issue.


In the interview, Egan describes how he uses extensive background reporting to get the detail, dialogue, anecdotes and personalities that make his nonfiction books so vivid and moving. He discusses Jayson Blair, a New York Times reporter who was fired in 2003 for fabricating and plagiarizing stories, damaging the credibility of the paper and undermining the field of nonfiction writing. In contrast to Blair, Egan explains his own method of using research and interviews to make scenes come to life—without making them up.


Our third issue includes an excerpt from Egan’s The Big Burn, which dramatizes the panic caused by the 1910 Forest Fire in Wallace, Idaho; Mike Medberry’s harrowing tale “The Dark Side of the Moon,” about his near-fatal stroke in Craters of the Moon National Monument; “Bullets and Sausage,” Claudia Serea’s gripping saga of the Romanian Revolution and how the simple act of making sausage helped her survive it; Richard Holinger’s short story, “Some Hearts You Can’t Even Give Away,” about the surprising epiphanies that occur in our lives, usually when we least expect them; and finally “High Adventure on the Haute Route,” my account of crossing the world-famous alpine ski route from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland.


I'd like to thank the following people for their help in putting together this issue: all the writers who contributed to it; Megan Wilson of Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt for permission to publish an excerpt from The Big Burn and photo of Timothy Egan; managing editor Kathleen Glassburn, Scott Driscoll and Irene Wanner for their careful reading and editing of incoming manuscripts.


We hope you enjoy the third issue of The Writer’s Workshop Review. Please let us know what you think. We look forward to hearing from you!



All best,


Nicholas O’Connell

Publisher/ Editor

The Writer’s Workshop Review






Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List iconSign up for our Email Newsletter








Home | Search | About Us | Submissions | Mailing List | Links | The Writer's Workshop