Day 4: Pacific Residency–Narrative Techniques in Nonfiction
Doug Anderson is full of Vietnam slang, facts, heartbreak and reality. He can rock it in poetry, in memoir, and in novel. He’s doing what’s been done but he’s doing it in a way that most writers can’t touch with a ten-foot pole. We’re talking bat guano explosives, security patrols, and tracers. We’re talking hypervigilance as a disease, thick tangles, bamboo stake bungee traps, and bunkers underneath the hooch. Motorbike exhaust, human body odor, fish sauce. War crimes and dioxins and, decades later, babies born with half a brain.
But Doug Anderson is more than his experiences in Vietnam and he is more than his poetry or his memoir or his novel-in-progress. He is also, quite obviously, a teacher. “How do you get around blocks in memory?” he asks. “If all our selves are beads, what is the string that holds them together?”
He suggests: Try writing without regard for chronology. Try writing about something you experienced in the 3rd person. Try making a mess of the page. If you’re interviewing someone who is suspicious of you, don’t say much at all or start talking about something else; then get real. If you need more out of something, let your imagination become an imagined tool in the narrative. Make lists of things. Write an imagined tour of a remembered place. Recall smells and write from there. Make a list of sayings and proverbs you grew up hearing.
Point taken. Time to get to work.