The tough thing about nonfiction – it’s real


In 2013, I left daily journalism and turned to daily fiction. It’s been a terrific couple of years, with two novels under my belt and a third, Disgraced (Midnight Ink) scheduled to come out in March.

I haven’t quite cut the cord to journalism, though. I’ve been fortunate enough to teach as an adjunct professor at the University of Montana School of Journalism, something that still lets me get a whiff of great stories, and reminds me why the job was so much fun.

MISSOULA-3DBut this week’s release of Jon Krakauer’s new book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, provided a good reminder of one reason I ultimately prefer fiction to nonfiction.

The cases Krakauer recounts are heartbreaking—in my case, doubly so, since I covered many of them in my final years as a reporter. Reading the book brought back the thing about journalism people rarely tell you.

Sure, there’s the fun stuff—the big, first-draft-of-history stories; the human interest tales; the critter stories, oh God, so many critter stories. But there’s also lot of pain, especially when it comes to covering crime, as I did. That pain is real, and its ripple effects extend to family, friends, first responders; more people than I’d ever realized.

I’d been writing fiction at night and on weekends for twenty years when I finally left the day job, but I dove into it full-time with equal parts enthusiasm and relief. Sure, I kill people in my books. And I write about the pain of those left behind. But it’s all so wonderfully unreal.

This week, when I read Krakauer’s book, I remembered what it was like to sit in those courtrooms and watch the kind of anguish that doesn’t vanish with the last chapter. I don’t miss it. But I’m glad Krakauer had the fortitude to take on this terrifically difficult subject and stick with it because, unfortunately, it’s so very real.







Filed Under: Journalism

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