Twenty writers share how they drew upon personal experiences to write short fiction.
Gary D. Schmidt kicks off the collection with a fine story based on a summer-camp job in which his fictional character falls in love and deals with some scary peer pressure. Claire Legrand transmutes a personal experience into an eerie dystopian tale with a tone akin to that of “The Lottery.” Julia Alvarez’s “My First True Frenemy” combines the politics of the Dominican Republic, immigration to the United States, and the difficulties of forging a friendship. A brief “What Really Happened” section precedes each story so that readers can compare the real-life experiences with the fictional renderings. Stories are arranged by theme—peer pressure; regret, guilt, and sadness; being surprised by what some people do; putting others first; asking questions about the world around you; and dealing with change. The stories are purposive, out to show the connections between personal experience and fiction, so there’s a sameness in the first-person point of view and the reminiscent tone, though variety is provided by stories in a graphic novel format, monologues, and verse. Though no single story is a knockout, the collection is consistently strong and useful. What Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe did for personal essays in Breakfast on Mars (2013), Winchell delivers for teachers of short fiction.
A fine collection and a boon to writing teachers everywhere. (Anthology. 10-16)