Exploring the art of prose


Tag: Language

Ghosts by Amy Stuber

alt text: image shows chain link fence in the foreground and vinyl siding in the background; title card for the short story "Ghosts," by Amy Stuber

  People will say Ry must have planned the robbery for weeks. They’ll want purpose and emotion and strategy. They’ll say she had a gun tucked into a pocket. They’ll say she must have been desperate: four kids at home…

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From the Earth by Randy Nelson

alt text: image is a color photograph of hanging flower baskets in a nursery; title card for the flash CNF piece "From the Earth" by Randy Nelson

  In the gathering dusk of an afternoon that still lingers, I followed my father into the woods. He had not prospered in his first attempt to start a nursery business, the crimson-budded azalea liners withering only days after he…

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Census by Jade Hidle

alt text: image is blurred, grayed screenshot of a government census form; title card for Jade Hilde's "Census"

  They always knock with questions and promises. They assure me that checking these boxes will only take a few. forward. minutes. But time winds serpentine when so many voices crescendo with each box that asks me to fit inside.…

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Yield by Jolene McIlwain

alt text: image is a color photograph of cows in a pasture; title card for the flash CNF piece "Yield" by Jolene McIlwain

Content Warnings—cesarean section, traumatic birth   I could not milk. Was it due to upset levels of oxytocin, prolactin, beta-endorphin? May have been the morphine pump I kept firing like a trigger from my hospital bed in the postlabor/delivery room.…

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Kept by Jane Marcellus

alt text: image is a color photograph of white church doors; title card for Jane Marcellus's flash nonfiction piece "Kept"

  Moores lived next door. He worked construction; she stayed home. I don’t know how old he was, but I remember that on her birthday, she turned twenty-two. It seemed old. I was twelve. Moores had a baby, Sidney. Their…

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Author’s Note

This incident haunted me for decades. One day when I was working on another writing project, the first lines presented themselves. I wrote them down to get them out of my head but didn’t develop the essay right away. It was such a dark little memory that I didn’t want to go there, but it kept knocking—wanting to be written.

I like memoir written from the perspective of childhood. I think children are still trying to articulate raw experience, unencumbered by adult language, so their perceptions can offer insight into what is otherwise unsayable. The trick is to get out of the way and let the childhood voice emerge on its own terms. If you’re writing about something that happened when you were twelve, it’s important to let the diction be that of a twelve-year-old. For example, I would not have said “domestic violence” because I had never heard that term. A Google search tells me that the phrase wasn’t even around yet, but even if it had been, using it would have taken away from the twelve-year-old’s perceptions.

I also like metaphors and have noticed that they have a way of arising organically in memoir. Our memories give us the details we need to give a story meaning. An object can be both literal and metaphoric, which I find fascinating. The bookless bookshelf, the scent of the diaper pail, the teddy bear safety pins, the ice, and the cake function as metaphors, I realize now, but I didn’t think about that when I was writing.

It was in revising that the word “kept” became more meaningful. In my childhood it was a synonym for babysitting, but of course it also refers to women’s economic powerlessness. When I started trying to reflect on what this experience meant to me, the word (as “keep”) emerged again in the long paragraph near the end. (Thank you, subconscious!)

Finally, I like the idea that we writers are multiple selves—the ordinary self, the writer self, the narrator self, the character self. In my case, this morning, my ordinary self feeds the cat and runs the vacuum, while my writer self makes sure the printer has paper, my narrator self directs the story as it unfolds, and my character self emerges on the page. While writing this note, my ordinary self was curious about that house. The Zillow real estate website showed me interior photos, and I spent some time admiring vintage details—gorgeous hardwood floors, kitchen cabinets we would now call retro, and of course, that built-in bookshelf. Wow, I could live there, I thought. But then I remembered that for character-me, that house would always be haunted.


JANE MARCELLUS’s work includes literary nonfiction, critical analysis, and journalism. Her essays have appeared in journals including Gettysburg Review, New Ohio Review, and Sycamore Review and were listed as “Notable” in Best American Essays 2018, 2019, and 2020. She can be found on Twitter @janemarcellus.