Folsom's 93

The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men

Book Review: Keep it Real, edited by Lee Gutkind

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When it comes to writing, my first love is fiction, so when I took on a nonfiction project, I had no idea where to begin. I knew how I wanted my book to read, but I wasn’t sure how to get there.

As the Chinese proverb says, to know the road ahead, ask those coming back, I turned to the experts, namely Lee Gutkind, a creative nonfiction guru. In Keep it Real, various authors contribute their sage advice in this 161-page book. The chapters follow an ABC format and are laden with examples from published nonfiction. Gutkind covers all the bases with short and concise chapters that give practical advice concerning everything from the legalities of writing nonfiction, to deciding whose story to tell.

One contributor (although a list of authors are named in the beginning, the chapters are not credited) discusses the importance of research and immersing oneself in the subject:

 “By staying close to the informational, journalistic roots of creative nonfiction, by simply hanging out in the world and paying close attention, we may find that a large chunk of that mundane fact collecting and routine research will lead to untold stories and to  places that we, as writers and readers, didn’t know we could go.”

 The purpose behind the book is to teach writers that nonfiction doesn’t have to be a boring narration of facts; there is a place for imagination in nonfiction, in fact, it’s imperative. Gutkind urges writers to become the reader’s “tour guide” by “[leading] a reader on a journey, allowing her to discover parts of the world that she might not normally see.”

 Keep it Real is a great read for memoirists. There are several chapters devoted or pertaining to those who are telling their own stories.

 “A good memoir offers readers a human connection. A good memoir uses life experience, not to go more deeply into the self but to reach out to others. A good memoirist makes connections. A good memoirist’s primary goal is to show us something true about ourselves, about what it means to be human.”

 Keep it Real is an easy to follow, quick read with a plethora of examples to learn from. It opened my eyes to the different ways to effectively approach creative nonfiction (including 14 different point-of-view options)! While the book stresses the importance of writing nonfiction creatively, it also shows how important the writer keep it real.

Author: April Moore

I am the author of two books: Folsom's 93, a historical nonfiction about the men executed at Folsom State Prison; and a women's fiction, Bobbing for Watermelons. I'm also an illustrator and I love collaborating with other writers and artists. Catch me at

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